Out in the Open

Dreaming of a job doing absolutely nothing? It's not what it's cracked up to be

Ted Geltner thought he hit jackpot when he landed a stress-free job as a magazine editor.

Ted Geltner thought he hit jackpot when he landed a stress-free job as a magazine editor

Ted Geltner left his former job as a newspaper editor after being overworked and suffering burnout. (Submitted by Ted Geltner)
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When Ted Geltner discovered that his new job as a magazine editor required him to do literally nothing every day, he was ecstatic.

"I was the person who dreamed about this job. I thought this was nirvana," Geltner told Out in the Open host Piya Chattopadhyay.

The journalist from Gainesville, Fla., signed onto a job that consisted of producing in-house, monthly magazines for various associations. Editors were hired, and had to be prepared to work prior to these associations signing on, so Geltner started off without any accounts.

Other editors had multiple accounts, but wouldn't pass off their work because the more magazines they published, the more they could cash in on bonuses. So he had no choice but to wait.

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As a former newspaper editor who was constantly overworked and bombarded with never-ending deadlines, Geltner relished the opportunity.

"This is what I want. I just want to sit somewhere, earn my money, then I go home and relax," Geltner had thought.

'It just eats away at you'

Ted Geltner currently teaches journalism at Georgia's Valdosta State University. (Submitted by Ted Geltner)

At first, things were great. He spent time surfing the internet, taking walks, or grabbing a coffee and sitting at the picnic tables to read the paper. The only stipulation was that he had to arrive to work on time, and stay the full eight hours.

But it wasn't long before Geltner became extremely bored. He didn't know what to do with himself.

"When you get to that point, and there's absolutely nothing to do, it just eats away at you. The time won't pass, and the days seem to be endless," said Geltner.

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Eventually, he was assigned accounts, and the work came. But at that point, he realized that the actual work was nearly as boring as having no work.

So Geltner quit, and said goodbye to what he initially thought was his dream job.

"I learned that it's not what it's cracked up to be, it's really a mental torture that no one should be forced to endure," Geltner reflected.

Why not allow people to decide for themselves what they have to contribute to the world? It would make them a lot happier than people sitting around, filling out meaningless forms all day.- David Graeber

'Bullshit jobs'

David Graeber, an American anthropologist and author of Bullshit Jobs: A Theory, argues that there are many middle managers working in office jobs that simply shouldn't exist.

"I defined 'bullshit jobs' as any job so completely pointless that even the person doing it secretly believes that, were that job to disappear, it would make no difference," Graeber told Out in the Open.

According to him, some of those jobs can range from people in telemarketing, advertising, public relations, finance, and even people who produce "in-house magazines no one would ever look at."

Work as a form of suffering

After Geltner quit his job, he landed a spot teaching journalism at Valdosta State University, where he's able to find balance in his schedule. He's also realized that fulfillment can be found in different ways.

"People should find other modes of satisfaction that don't have to do with clocking in and clocking out," said Geltner.

Graeber believes that work has become a form of suffering that helps justify consumer pleasures. He wonders what universal basic income would do for society.

"Why not allow people to decide for themselves what they have to contribute to the world? It would make them a lot happier than people sitting around, filling out meaningless forms all day," suggests Graeber.


This story appears in the Out in the Open episode, "Inside Job".

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