When I am at work, I do not like being reminded that I have a life outside of it. This is for a few reasons. The first is that I don’t actually *have* a life outside of work, and dwelling on that fact brings me a level of sadness that can only otherwise be achieved by reading the end of Old Yeller while simultaneously putting down my own dog. The second is that, even if I were to have a life, reminders of that life while I’m not living it can serve as nothing more than an unwanted distraction. “Hey Tom, you know how you really enjoy reading, having a glass of bourbon, and spending time with your friends? Isn’t it super cool how you’re not doing any of that right now? Doesn’t knowing that make it *soooo* much easier to focus on this particularly finnicky index-match formula? Thought so. Well, good luck! Remember – your childhood self resents what you have become.”
Which is exactly why I’ve never fully understood the notion of decorating your desk area with personal affectations. Personally, I keep my desk extremely bare. Admittedly, this is fairly on theme. Since I do not have a life outside of work, it makes perfect sense that the only things on my desk would, in fact, just be normal office props. No photos of that trip to Cancun for this guy – a small chart indicating compound sales growth over time is a far more representative depiction of my time on PTO. Framed pictures of my friends or family would simply suggest to me that this particular corporate office isn’t the center of the universe, and that other people are actively living their lives beyond it. Since this is an absurd concept, and nothing of any meaning ever occurred outside these hallowed cubicles, a framed picture of the company supply chain team circa 2014 should suffice just fine for me. A few personal favorite books to look at fondly, and chat on with coworkers as they stop by and comment on them? I personally believe that anything of any value that’s ever been written is fully contained within the collective works of Simon Sinek and our corporate handbook.
Honestly, there are only two things of somewhat personal affection that I keep at my desk at any given point in time. The first is a picture of Avril Lavigne. If your reaction to that is “Wow, that’s exceptionally creepy” well then, buckle up – because shit’s about to get weirder. This particular picture of Avril Lavigne is taken with her former husband, former lead singer of alternative pop-punk band Sum-41 and all around sk8ter boi badass, Deryck Whibley. Admittedly, it’s unclear at this point in the story on whether this makes it creepier or not. On the one hand, it means I no longer just have a random picture of a pop singer in an otherwise corporate professional desk environment, thus making it less creepy. On the other hand, it means I now have a picture of a random married couple overseeing my workspace, slightly boosting the creep scale. However, it ultimately doesn’t matter. Because nobody looking at this picture would see Deryck. All they’d see is my own face cut-out placed over his, thus giving the impression that *I* am married to Avril Lavigne. And while this would certainly be a dream come true, and remains one of the only motivators left in my life, it remains utterly and emphatically *creepy*.
The second personal item I keep at my desk is a stuffed otter. I have a particular affinity for otters. Because honestly, what’s there not to love? They’re cute and furry. They eat like demented toddlers. They squeak like overgrown gerbils on crack. And they carry around little rocks (*Their favorite rock*) for use in cracking open shellfish and perpetrating general otter warfare. Now, those of you of wit and intellect should be thinking of the obvious follow-up question: Is the otter in question a *sea* otter, or a *river* otter? For those of you that did not ask this question, please submit to me your credit cards, car keys, and cell phone at your earliest convenience – you clearly lack the intellectual fortitude to be entrusted with such delicate items. But for the rational adults out there, it is a *sea* otter. Admittedly, both the sea and the river otter have their own respective merits. Sea otters tend to be fluffier and hold hands with each other more readily, and river otters tend to stand up on their hind legs in an adorably photogenic manner more often. Regardless, both are perfectly worthy of being represented in stuffed form, and both are suitable reminders of a life of play and frivolity that is so at odds with the otherwise “corporate austere” aesthetic I’m aiming for. Truly, for a desk devoid of personal affections, it sticks out like…well…much like a picture of Avril Lavigne with my face plastered over it.
But outside of these two items, these two *small* representations of personality and a *life outside*, I have no intention of ever adding to my corporate cubicle collection. Other people clearly like to turn up for the cause, however. Walking through campus I see all sorts of sadistic reminders of the world at large: Dozens of framed pictures of spouses, children, and loved ones; drawings from their children; pictures of family vacations and weekend trips and camping adventures; humorous mugs and birthday cards from loved ones; and it continues to baffle me. It’s like spending your entire day in a prison surrounded at all times by a carnival, where you’re forced from sun-up to sun-down to watch the free people go about their whimsical days as you stand shackled to a wall with an armed guard watching over you. And while Dennis (the guard) is probably a lovely man, and they did make *extra* sure that your manacles wouldn’t chafe, it’s really hard to not dwell on your incarceration when surrounded by ring tosses and roller coasters. While I have in some small ways made exceptions to this, I would argue that my personal items still very much fit in line with the prison theme. For how many prisoners keep a picture of a wife or girlfriend on their wall? How many might have a single important personal item, like a shank, to get them through the day? And while my wife is admittedly fictitious, and my shank is a stuffed animal, I still believe the sentiment holds.
Ultimately, I would propose that we must let things happen within their natural environments, and keep such things separated to avoid unintended disasters. Think of it as being conceptually similar to separating the lion exhibit from the reindeer exhibit at the zoo. You can still enjoy both separately in their own time, but it’s critically important to keep them fenced off and as far away from each other as possible, lest you want to incite a bloodbath and a lot of emotionally scarred children. This would, in all fairness, keep a lot of therapists employed for a long time, but would be a significant detriment to the mental health of the nation as a whole. So too must we not allow memories of our personal lives to permeate our work environment. Keep them at home. Keep them where they’re safe. The more time you hold things in your working memory, the more likely they are to become changed and warped. Don’t let this happen while your mind is negatively bogged down by an anxiety-ridden workday. Don’t let the stress of a passive aggressive email from Jonathan or a dumb comment from your boss mar an otherwise untarnished memory of your child’s first baseball game. Remove those pictures and drawings, and replace them with charts and financial statements. Stow away those funny mugs and throw an extra stapler on your desk. Print off a picture of Pete Davidson and Selena Gomez, and plaster your likeness on one of their faces.
Trust me. Your long-term mental stability will thank you.