It’s been a while since I’ve watched The Office. (After Jim and Pam got married, I think my heart broke in half, and I was unable to continue watching, knowing that Jim would never be mine.) But up until that point, I loved the show. When I started working in an office full-time, the summer before my sophomore year, the show started becoming a lot funnier to me. Understanding the dynamics of office interactions at an introductory level made the antics in every episode more interesting and, somehow, relatable. Of course, most offices (thankfully) do not run like they do in The Office. But nevertheless, I did learn a couple of worthwhile lessons about the working world from observing Jim’s daily life:
1. You won’t always like your first job …
Jim Halpert had a great quote that said: “Right now, this is a job. If I advance any higher, this would be my career. And if this were my career, I’d have to throw myself in front of a train.” But as any viewer of The Office knows, the job doesn’t turn out so bad. He makes money, finds ways to make daily tasks enjoyable and meets the love of his life. But above all, Jim ends up getting great experience from this job that inevitably pushes him to becoming Regional Manager of Dunder-Mifflin’s Scranton branch in the most recent season. So even if you start off with a job that you’re not fond of, that doesn’t mean the road is over for you and you’re stuck there. That also doesn’t mean you’re always going to dislike it. Sometimes, the jobs that start off like this end up being the most rewarding experiences and lead to great things.
2. … but don’t lose all ambition.
When it comes to his career, Jim is sort of ambition-less, at least for the first few seasons. He falls into complacency early on, not sure what he wants to do when he “grows up” and seeming fine with that. But that’s never a good idea. In one episode, he tells Michael Scott that he won’t be at Dunder-Mifflin in 10 years, to which Michael responds with, “That’s what I said.” If you still find yourself unhappy with your job after a while, it’s time to move on. No one wants to be miserable, and no one wants to miss out on a different job they would value much more. Once you realize this isn’t what you want to do, start planning how you’d like to move on from there. But be sure to show respect for your work while you’re still there.
3. Put your skills and interests to good use.
As an extreme example, Jim’s pranks and high jinks end up becoming useful in some cases. Of course, I wouldn’t recommend trying that route, but what it does show is that the skills you might not think are useful to your job just may be. I was once encouraged to play my saxophone for a Mardi Gras-themed parade my first employer had a float in. I never would have thought that would come up. So while you might say, “I’m never going to use this in my job,” you might be wrong. Keep up your other hobbies outside of the work environment, and focus on other skills you might be able to bring to the workplace. You never know when they might be needed!
4. Good office relationships are crucial.
In the real world, the pranks Jim gets away with probably won’t go over as well. But what every episode does illustrate is that it’s important to interact well with your co-workers. If you can’t be friendly to each other, it becomes difficult to get work done, which The Office shows multiple times. A good way to work on this is to start right now. You don’t always have to be friends with your co-workers, but you do have to be cordial. Jim keeps up good relations as best as he can by involving himself in office events and get-togethers, which is a great way to do that if you’re having trouble adjusting to the environment.
5. Being completely different from your boss isn’t a bad thing.
Jim and Michael are as different as apples and vacuum cleaners. Michael is awkward, immature and tends to lose his cool at the tip of a hat. Despite all that, he truly loves his job and cares about his employees. Jim is level-headed, professional and approachable, but in early seasons, he doesn’t seem to care one way or the other how work gets done, if it gets done at all. But in the moments when they truly work together, Jim and Michael are the perfect team. Having someone who can keep him in check helps Michael focus his energy in the direction and method it needs to be targeted. So while you might be concerned that your boss won’t like you because you’re so different, chances are you’re just what the doctor ordered.
6. Make time for your family and friends.
Jim and Pam end up getting married at the end of one season (and my heart ends up breaking into a million pieces). They also buy a house, have kids and keep up a great relationship. Of course, you won’t always work with your spouse, and a lot of places discourage dating within the office. But what this does show is that it’s possible to work and make time for your family. If this is something really important to you and something you want to start working on, ask about it at your interview. A lot of companies are very responsive to the needs of young people who want to start or be with their family. If this isn’t something you want to think about for the next five or 10 years, think about your friends instead. At the end of the day, Jim makes sure he’s spending time with who he cares about to take his mind off of work. While work is very important, your life needs balance so you can do your best work.
7. Appreciate every opportunity.
Although Jim often shows frustration with his job, deep down, you can tell he learns to value and enjoy it as the show progresses. Not only is it providing him income, experience and friends who care about him, but it’s teaching him more about his life and helping him transform into a better person. The ambivalent, apathetic Jim of the first few seasons isn’t the same driven, family-oriented Jim of the most recent ones. So remember to look for opportunities to grow in whatever career you’re in, and be grateful for a stable job that is often difficult to find. Even if you end up changing careers, it’ll be important to future employers that you had an appreciation for this experience. Don’t forget to cultivate that.
Tracy Lytwyn is a senior political science major at Illinois Wesleyan University, minoring in business administration and religion. She currently writes her university’s career newsletter and blog, and tweets.