Naked at Work and Other Fears: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy by Paul Hellman

Nikki Tranter

Just because your boss grunted at you does not mean he hates you and is about to fire you . . . he may just be having a bad day.

Naked At Work and Other Fears

Publisher: Penguin Books (Australia); New American Library (USA)
Length: 259
Subtitle: How to Stay Sane When Your Job Drives You Crazy
Price: $22.95 (Australia)
Author: Paul Hellman
US publication date: 2003-03
"What about your work?
(It's defective!)
It's a crock and then you die."
� Meatloaf, "Life is a Lemon and I Want My Money Back"

AAs seems often the case for folks who work closely with others in an office, I have a co-worker who hates me. Though his job is head journalist at our newspaper, he seems to consider one of his responsibilities to do everything in his power to make me look bad.

"He's a control freak," they tell me. "He's jealous of you," they say. "He sees you as a threat." "He's just a complete asshole."

He may very well be all of these things, but his devious (and childish) antics pushed me so far that I recently handed in my four weeks notice. When my boss asked me why I wanted to leave my rewarding, easy-going and well-respected position, I told him it was time I found myself, moved on and up. What I wanted to say was, "I'm leaving because Finchy's a control freak, he's jealous of me, sees me as a threat and is just a complete asshole."

Though, I'm already excited at the prospect of finding a new job, after reading Paul Hellman's Naked At Work and Other Fears, I feel I now have a significant hoof up in knowing how to survive such a situation if ever it should arise in my new job (should I find one, fingers crossed). If only he'd written it two years ago.

Hellman's book is honest and confronting, while at the same time, refreshing and devilishly funny. With a Masters in Management from MIT's Sloan School and "several degrees in psychology", Hellman takes his knowledge of the working mind and blends it with his obvious experience in the workplace. This is a man who knows the office. His descriptions of everything from dimwitted bosses to employees' desire to always carry "enormous bottles of water" into company meetings are so utterly flawless, you'd be mistaken for thinking the odd-looking man beside you at the AGM giving you sideways glances as you attempt to stay awake isn't Mr Hellman himself.

Hellman's major workplace philosophy is that every rough situation faced can be "reframed" to make that situation a lot easier to deal with. He believes there's no need to get so strung up at work, so stressed, or so ragingly mad at those working around us. It's all a matter of rethinking the situation and making light of it by challenging three straightforward, "irrational beliefs" concerning Circumstances, Ego and Others.

Circumstances: The universe should never discomfort or inconvenience me. It should always give me what I want, never what I don't want.

Ego: I must always perform well and be approved of by significant others (in order to prove my worth as a human being).

Others: Other people should always behave nicely toward me.

Counteracting his CEO non-ideal is the basis for the first part of Hellman's book. He explores each of these "irrational beliefs" by reminding us that life doesn't always comply with our desires. According to Hellman, inconvenience is a part of life, so much so that the two go almost hand in hand, and though we may complete every task set us to the best of our abilities, we're not always going to do it well. As for other people, well, they're often just downright strange.

In order to get his numerous points across, Hellman chooses not to dictate, opting for a much more relaxed style of convincing. He does this by recounting small anecdotes, funny little stories that not only office workers can relate to, but anyone who's ever had so much as a passing thought. Many of these anecdotes are separated from the main text in groovily framed boxes:

Anecdote #20: Traffic Item in the paper: A union debate whether to block rush hour traffic to "draw public attention to worker' gripes." Is there a connection between rush hour traffic and workers' gripes? I think yes! I'm a worker, and one of my main gripes is -- rush hour traffic. Maybe the union's motto should be, "We're not going anywhere and neither are you." But I doubt the public would react favorably: "This traffic is driving me NUTS!!! And yet -- it's also increasing my sympathy for workers' gripes!" Anyway, it doesn't really matter. You can't block rush hour traffic. It's already blocked! That's the whole point of rush hour traffic. If the union really wants public support, they should figure out a way to unblock it.

And so it goes. Hellman's observation slices throughout his book are an absolute gas. Not only is he right on target with obvious workaday issues such as rush hour, he's just as cluey when it comes to mysterious resignations, company mergers, jet lag, falling asleep at your desk, urine tests, empty elevators, productivity goals, the pleasures of receiving voice mail and the horrors of "casual day".

His CEO vibe slyly works itself into each of these situations (and about a hundred others) with Hellman constantly reminding us -- forcing us to recognize, even -- that life is inconvenient, we are not super-human and that other people often suck.

The final part of Hellman's book outlines his strategies to overcome these issues. How to change them is not Hellman's job -- all he attempts to do is give the reader a few simple tactics to help them become less bothersome. They're out of our control, after all. CEO is again applied:

Challenge your assumptions.

Energize your thinking.

Outplace yourself.

Hellman devises ways to take control of our thoughts (we have 60,000 of them per day, you know) and to make them work for us. What we believe to be true isn't always, we must challenge the way we see things, reframe situations with a positive spin. Or at least one not so irrational and negative. A simple example would be, Hellman says, that just because your boss grunted at you does not mean he hates you and is about to fire you, sending your world spiraling into the toilet -- he may just be having a bad day. This technique is surprisingly basic, but can work wonders when put into practice.

After reading his strategies, I sat at my desk at work and opened my eyes for the first time in ages. Listening to the sounds of the office, the voices, the conversations, watching people as they struggled with ridiculous questions, fumbled easy answers and made walking down the hallway seem the most important job of the day for once didn't make me want to tear my hair out. It made me smile, laugh even. I didn't feel happy to be where I was (it is the rare child who is happy in their workplace), instead making me feel enlightened. I know the copier never works (PC load letter!?), but I needn't let it bother me. Who really cares? I'm outta here in (for example) three hours and fourteen minutes.

It's a lesson, Paul says. Everything in the workplace that bothers us actually challenges us, molds us, and teaches us very definite, very important lessons. Even asshole co-workers.

With his sharp wit and even sharper eye for even the tiniest of details, Hellman's simple and clever ideas on surviving your job not only make the workplace a lot more tolerable, but can also make it seem like a wonderland of hilarity. I miss the place already.





'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.