How Not To Be That Bitter Old Person In The Corner Cubicle

If you’ve ever worked in an office, you know that person: the one who is always complaining about work, various health woes, bills to pay, their children, traffic, the weather and about life in general. I refer to this person as that bitter old person in the corner cubicle. As someone hitting 40s soon, I hate to say it but this person is often middle-aged.

When I was in my early 20s, I never understood why anyone would be so negative about their life. Why did they stay at a boring, unrewarding job? Why didn’t they just move or change jobs? Why don’t they write to their congressperson? Why do they shoot down my dreams? Why do the parents on My So-Called Life whine so much?

Now, in my late 30s, I understand all too well. Most people are hit with difficult challenges and setbacks and this takes a toll after so many years. Most big dreams do not come true. It’s not easy to become a famous writer, news anchor, international spy or [insert your BIG dream here]. It’s difficult to change jobs when you hit your 40s. By that age, you have a family, a mortgage, childcare or college tuition costs and a lot of other responsibilities.

Life is often unfair and is not what you imagined. When you’re young, you know this in the abstract but you still have time…You can still dream big. Even if you had more modest goals in mind, you still envision yourself with a rewarding career, a wonderful spouse and two lovely kids. Only later, in middle age, do you face the fact that you’re not management material, you may have married the wrong person, and your teenage daughter daydreams about stabbing you..repeatedly.*

Some people, usually women, get out of the work force altogether. That’s one way to avoid becoming that bitter person in the corner cubicle. If this is not an option and you don’t want to go through the typical mid-life crisis (i.e. buy a sports car, have an affair, quit your day job to open a restaurant, etc.), what can you do?

I believe that embracing a simpler frugal lifestyle is the key to mid-life happiness. You may not have a big house or luxury car, you may not have achieved your childhood dream, and you may not even have the perfect family. However, instead of focusing on what you don’t have or did not accomplish, you can focus on the good things in life, however small.

Here are some tips to prevent a full-blown mid-age crisis (or a quarter-life crisis for that matter):

1 ) Find reward outside of work

At some point, you have to accept that you are not getting a corner office at your current company. If you enjoy your work regardless, you can stay put and find meaning outside of work. This could be time with family and friends, a fun hobby, a creative pursuit, volunteer work, travel, etc.. The possibilities are really endless.

2 ) Change jobs

Yes, it’s hard to get hired when you get older. However, it’s not impossible. You can improve your skills and marketability through professional certification programs, night classes, volunteer opportunities, or projects at work. At least send your resume out there!

3 ) Never shoot down other people’s dreams

You may think you know better and maybe you do have some words of wisdom. However, realize that even if you didn’t become a world-famous writer, news anchor or international spy doesn’t mean someone else can’t achieve their dream. If you’re the younger person receiving the advice, try to listen (a little). Sometimes even that bitter old person has good tips that can help make things easier.

4 ) Minimize complaints to one area

Okay, you hate your job, traffic, weather, your bad kids, etc. You can’t complain about everything or people will start avoiding you (unless they’re also a complainer). Too much negativity is bad for your health. Yes, traffic is bad. Traffic is bad every morning. It’s okay to vent once in a while but not daily.

5 ) Appreciate the “small” simple things in life

This is probably the hardest and most important one.  You drive an old car and can’t afford all the cool tech toys.  You’re still paying off your student loans. You may not have the right clothes or your dream house.  Whether the cause of this negativity is financial or not (i.e. you’re not keeping up with the Joneses),  it’s important to think of a positive to counterbalance the negative.

For example: I sometimes dwell on the fact that I don’t have a six-figure salary.  I need to counter that negative by remembering that I do make a decent salary in a respected job that makes use of my experience and degree. Plus, I still have time to enjoy other things in life!

It’s important to remember the small things that you love about yourself and your life.  What small things are you grateful for?

For more on this topic, check out a recent Wall Street Journal article about having a positive mid-life crisis.

* Morbid reference courtesy of “My So-Called Life”

20 responses to “How Not To Be That Bitter Old Person In The Corner Cubicle

  1. Pingback: Festival of Frugality – How To Eliminate The Muda And Live More Frugally Edition! « Eliminate The Muda!

  2. Changing jobs is not easy, especially if you have a very specialized set of skills. I became very disaffected with my job and, quite frankly, welcomed the inevitable layoff. Fortunately, it happened when I had plenty in savings and had reached Social Security age, and thank god for Obama’s COBRA discount, which will carry me through to Medicare age.

    Unhappiness with your job casts a pall over your entire life. It makes you sensitive to the shortcomings and dissatisfaction that surround us all and permeate our lives. When you can’t get another job, the only way around job misery is to put in as little effort as you can and to disconnect psychologically and, as much as you can, physically from the workplace.

    Possibly the rest of us might consider the cause of a coworker’s unhappiness. I was fortunate not to have to work in a cube…that would have made me screaming miserable, and it’s hard to believe most people are not set on edge by this kind of work environment. Incompetent, heedless, or unethical management will also go a long way toward making you dissatisfied with a job, particularly if you’ve spent a lot of years getting an education to qualify you for the job or a lot of time and energy trying to produce top-flight work. Poor wages are also effective at producing job dissatisfaction.

    Low pay, bad management practices, uncomfortable working conditions, trapped in a job when you really should move on: who can live with those for any length of time without feeling unhappy?

  3. Copyeditorsdesk,
    I really appreciate your feedback about the causes of job dissatisfaction. I worked for a company with horrible upper management, poor wages, and a boss that few people respect due to her incompetence and lack of leadership skills. It was truly demoralizing. I was able to change jobs and my general happiness skyrocketed. I think who you work with is more important than money or titles. If it’s not possible to change careers, there is still the possiblity of finding a better work environment in the same field.

    • I just got this same advice a few weeks ago from a respected mentor – he said he’d willingly work at some really boring, menial job with great coworkers, rather than a challenging/interesting job in a toxic environment.

      I think you’re right on when you say it’s important to focus on your life outside of work. In our culture it’s even more important since we’re such workaholics and into the “status” of what a person does for a living.

  4. Pingback: My Post at the Festival of Frugality Today | Out of Debt Again

  5. For 30 years I keep asking myself the same question. Am I earning a living or living an earning. As soon as I can say I am living an earning I begin a search for a new career goal.

  6. I love this post. Once upon a time I started one similar in content but was too irritated to write rationally so I dropped it entirely. I sat facing a woman of this ilk and her most positive comment was only “I can’t complain” followed by a slew of complaints.

    Let’s not any of us become that bitter old person, cubicle or not!

    • Thanks. And I agree, I hope everyone who reads this tries hard not to become that bitter, old person! Some days, when life hits you hard, it IS tough to remember my own advice. I may do a follow-up post…just more thoughts on how I’m working on keeping both work and life more interesting.

  7. Pingback: Say No To Bitterness…Tips To Improve Your 9 to 5 Work Life « Oilandgarlic's Blog

  8. Good article it is hard not to become that grumpy old person when you hate your job. it gets harder and harder for me everyday to the point where I leave with migraines. I know my only option is to leave but it’s all I know how to do. I’m even willing to take a pay cut but still where are the jobs! 😦

    I’m only 33 and the STUCK does apply to me…

  9. I’m a 59 year old woman still working as a preschool teacher. I retired 2
    years ago but took another job in the same field last Oct. The young people
    I work with are making me crazy! I’m tired of being teased about my age and
    being left out because I’m “old”. The boss however who is way young too
    seems to adore me because I don’t be”sick” and I’m fabulous with kids.
    Any answers out there?

  10. Barb — In your case, I would focus on the fact that you get along with your boss. I have had clashes with co-workers in the past but what made the biggest difference for me was a good, strong relationship with the boss. I also have been in situations where I loved my co-workers and did not get along with my boss and believe me, the boss is the most important. You can ignore the young ones or just smile and ignore their remarks.

  11. Thanks for writing this. It definitely gave me something positive to think about. As an UNmarried, haven’t-been-happy-at-my-job-for-years, no kids, no boyfriend woman approaching her mid-30s in a world of social media where everyone posts in detail about their family-filled fun weekends, it’s easy to slip into the “life is so unfair, I hate happy people” mode. This was helpful. 🙂

    • I’m glad it helped you to read this. Right now, I’m going through a “bitter” period and self-assessment. I have to read my own advice sometimes. We all go through this even if we cross some societal-approved choices off our life list!

  12. It’s interesting, I’ve been in this situation before where I feel bitter about my job because it feels like I no matter what I do, I can’t get things to improve. In the past I’ve changed jobs and it really has helped, for a while. Usually about a year and a half, then it starts to creep in again. I’m no longer learning new & exciting things and instead I’m trying to get things to improve but it seems like everyone and everything is working against me. If I identify a problem, management will pretend to listen but will basically blow it off and tell me why it’s not really a problem, and if I keep pushing it they treat me like I’m just being difficult.

    I really do want to be optimistic about how things work but so many times the optimism falls flat because of reality. As a result, I am beginning (yet again) to just feel resentful and bitter. You can’t go through life changing jobs every 2 years, though, because that looks terrible on a resume.

    I appreciate this post and the 5 items you listed are very important. I find myself slipping on #3 sometimes with my wife. I get in a cynical attitude at work and then that evening we’ll be talking about our dreams and I’ll end up coming off as if I’m downplaying hers, when all I really mean to do is identify the problems so we can solve them together.

    Also I’ve lost sight of #5 lately. That’s a really good tip. A lot of us who are bitter actually have a lot going for us but are so focused on what’s bad that we completely miss what’s good. Any ideas how to remind ourselves of this? I’m thinking putting a sign on my cube that says “What’s going well today?”

  13. Pingback: Just add a little cube of sugar in it | A Story Told In The Silence

  14. Thanks… I really needed to read this.. I just realized that I am becoming a bitter old guy. I actually Googled “bitter middle aged man failure life career” and found this post. I’m so stressed out by my job, and my numerous failures and losses in life, but I’m going to re-commit myself to not becoming a bitter old man.

    • Eddie- Glad you found this post helpful. It’s still one of the main ways people find my blog! I, too, go through moments of work bitterness but we only hurt ourselves if we dwell on it too long. Best of luck in finding your way!

  15. Going to work is much easier when you don’t have debt. It’s actually fun. There’s something to be said about your paycheque going to you and not “the man”.

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