The Everyday Twilight Zone

Rod Serling’s famous intro to The Twilight Zone says:

There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Though Serling’s mysterious prose describes a fictitious place, I believe there is a portal to a very real Everyday Twilight Zone. It is a dimension that lies between 9AM and 6PM Monday through Friday. It is in the Everyday Twilight Zone that common sense is replaced by anxiety and fear, basic words are replaced by jargon, and interpersonal competition reigns fierce among people serving on the same team.

And there is a portal through which we travel to get to this Everyday Twilight Zone. It looks something like this:

Pass through me. It is what you need.

In the Everyday Twilight Zone, I have been yelled at, condescended to, secretly ridiculed, politically directed, publicly insulted, and driven to the point of a breakdown. But enough about my last job! (Hah!) And my home life. (Aww.)

The reality is that we all go into some sort of “work mode” in which we chat through screens using strange tools, look at the world more fearfully, sit for hours hunched over a keyboard, vie for status and recognition, lie, cheat, steal, and murd — uh, drive home to poop. And because of this, we often are often protective and defensive over desk space, credit, contributions, hardware, nicknames, relationships, and snacks in the fridge.

My job at meltmedia is super low on politics (we’re hiring!), but it’s not devoid of politics. Compared to my previous roles at Pearson, it’s like a magical vacationland. The problems we have are wayyy smaller in scale. Pearson had revenue in the billions with tens of thousands of employees whereas meltmedia has revenue in the millions with dozens of employees.

Still, though, when you’re facing a problem at work, you’re usually not thinking relatively about how much worse it could be. And I’m sure it sounds like I’m invalidating stressful experiences people have had at meltmedia, which I’m definitely not intending to as everyone has their undeniable emotional truth and experience. (Where am I going with this?)

The point is this: it’s funny to me how I’ve seen hundreds of people in my career transform from normal, everyday, cool people to competitive, political, anxious monster-people by merely walking through that portal to the ETZ. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to seeing it in myself, too! It’s taken a lot of work to manage/kill this part of me, and I really hate me when I see me falling prey to it. But on the days I’m successful, the rewards in simply being aware of the ETZ have been amazing.

It’s so much easier to “see the forest for the trees” when I’m not putting on political blinders. I am more effective and helpful to others when I’m not succumbing to the ETZ. I enjoy life more when not in the ETZ. And I am super appreciative when I see other people who avoid the ETZ better than I ever could.

I’m sure you know these types of people, too. They’re the ones who effortlessly navigate through problems. They jump onto projects mid-stream and fix everything. They make you feel like you can do anything! One quick chat and they’re fixing everything fast. They’re the heroes of the company and the ones who embody respect, calm, and normal.

So, take a moment to thank your company heroes. Show them you care by emulating their behaviors and being a beacon of hope in the workplace. If they can do it, you can too. And if they’re affecting groups of people like you think they are, imagine yourself being that person and being a force for good.

Author of “Clueless at The Work” and founder of Make Weird Music. I write about management, music, and technology. Mesa, AZ, USA.

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