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Too many people are drug addicts these days. There’s a real drug problem, and it surrounds us.


Makes it possible to work.

The “drug problem” isn’t with pot, or coke, or even meth: Nothing “fun.” Nothing Bill O’Reilly shouts about, getting the puritanical old folks all worked up watching from their electric recliners there at the home. Hell, he’s probably an addict too — the kind of addict I’m talking about.

Nice, educated, tax-paying, professional people consume Xanax, Adderall, Atavan, Ambien, Ritalin, Wellbutrin, Zoloft, and other drugs by the handfuls, mainly because they find that they can’t work without them, or can’t take work as seriously as they are told they must, or can’t get work off their minds long enough to sleep. They are hooked on performance-enhancers in some cases, tranquilizers in others.

It’s as though they need an antidote to their own lives — just like the vilified ghetto-dweller hooked on crack.

There’s no place for slack in the world of work these days. Where is your intense, continuous commitment to excellence? It’s a world of machines tuned for 24/7 operation and five-nines service attainment, so you need to work like a machine as well. You’re already the weakest link in the system, anyway. Best not remind anyone unnecessarily of your fleshy needs.

But as work has gotten more  abstract and less relatable (Just what the hell do you do for a living, after all? Something to do with spreadsheets, likely. But what do you really do?) it’s gotten harder to care about it. Even the assembly-line worker at a Ford plant in 1966 knew what he was doing and the direct consequences of not doing it well. It was plain as day: Screw up once, no seats in the Torino.

Now, to supplant that direct awareness of what we’re doing — and to mute our inner demands for meaning — we have drugs. Drug addiction makes our dreary cube-life more livable and keeps us from feeling like a beige appliance on a desk–or rather, caring about it. Drugs stave off indifference or suicide — for a while, at least.

I once volunteered at a food bank with other up-and-coming (at the time) IT managers and executives. It was grueling work sorting cans and stacking boxes. We dug in, worked fast and started sweating. Mentally, it wasn’t demanding: check the expiration dates of each can against a list and sort them in “keep” or “toss” piles. But as we watched the pallet  before us deplete,  a solid sense of accomplishment emerged that I could tell some of us hadn’t felt in years.

Executives who made triple my salary gazed at the rapidly-filling boxes with pride. We smiled at each other. Some stayed on to work an extra shift.

I once had a manager  — a midlevel executive at a major IT company — tell me his dream was to work at Costco stocking shelves. He just needed to pay off his house and his dream would be within reach.

The food bank provided us the joy of work. We collaborated, talked, joked, and felt human again while we sorted those cans. We were sad we’d soon need to leave the charity food warehouse to return to the high-paying world of unintelligible transoceanic conference calls, political stalemates, undetermined or changing requirements, ignored standards, angry escalations involving reports read by no one, maintaining-a-spreadsheet-until-we-were-dead, and the feeling that somewhere, somehow, we were being watched by a computer algorithm that would terminate us when we were no longer cost-positive.

Almost no one can live this way without indulging in some sort of chemical coping, and so the drugs flow. There’s really no difference between the bored and stressed-out IT middle-manager on Adderall and Peruvian miners given coca leaves to keep them on the job past the point their bodies would naturally start giving out. Any moral outrage at one should apply to the other equally.

So, no: If you have a job that requires you to be on drugs to succeed, or to keep you from falling into suicidal despair, you need a different job.

It’s not you who’s broken.

photo credit: aerie. via photopin cc