Get out of the box: Lessons from Clockwatchers
I would have missed the movie, Clockwatchers, if I hadn't
happened to catch Daphne Merkin's rave review in The New Yorker.
Now it's available on video and you can get copies from your
public library or video store.
I am recommending this video to everyone who feels trapped
in a career or a life. Four temporary office workers meet
in a featureless building.
We meet the heroine, Iris, as she spends much of her first
day sitting in a chair where she was told to "wait till
someone comes for you." When the supervisor shows up,
she berates Iris for sitting so passively; ironically, unquestioning
adherence to rules and orders will be the keys to survival
on the job.
The building, with square corners and cubicles, becomes a
metaphor for the box that contains everyone's dreams. The
temps feel ghettoized and eventually are physically segregated
into a separate office.
Their isolation is real: temps rarely cross the border to
permanent jobs in the company. To escape they will have to
think outside the box,, yet as the film begins, each temp
focuses on her immediate four walls.
Everyone has a box...
Iris seems overqualified yet she lacks confidence. She tells
her father she feels comfortable and accepted in this job
and doesn't want to move on.
Margaret deals with frustration by rebelling and acting out.
She defeats her own possibilities by stealing time from the
company and cosmetics from the department stores.
Jane is engaged to a man who, we are led to believe, will
offer her money and security but not love.
Paula too believes she needs a man to escape; she jams the
copy machine so she can flirt with the repairman.
Everybody's waiting, like a hot summer day before a storm.
Everyone tries to look busy and amuse themselves till they
can begin at nine; at the end of the day, they crouch in their
chairs, waiting to leave precisely at five.
Crack in the Wall
Change comes about not by drama but by small events that have
significance only in the context of an office world. People
report thefts of coffee money and clothing.
What is significant is Iris's response when she realizes
her umbrella and her notebook were stolen. Iris refuses to
play victim. She confronts the thief over lunch and silently
but dramatically makes her point. The thief gives Iris a new
notebook inscribed with an apology.
As Iris gains power, she wears her hair differently and,
at last, wears the power suit her father gave her for job
The film ends ambiguously, but we sense that Iris was transformed.
She has used the box as a temporary comfort zone to build
her confidence and test new behaviors. She has observed and
learned; while her coworkers twirled idly in their chairs
or played games with rubber bands, she kept a journal. And
now, we sense, she is ready to leave the box behind.
I won't give you details of the final scene. Iris uses her
new-found power to defy the corporation and help a friend.
She turns the firm's own refusal to acknowledge her into a
source of strength. It's believable and strong and well worth
|Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D. is an author, career coach, and
speaker. She works with mid-career professionals who want to make a fast
move to career freedom. Visit her site http://www.movinglady.com
or call 505-534-4294.