Life in a Box:
Career Freedom Coaching 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
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
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.
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 interviews.
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 a viewing.
Cathy Goodwin, Ph.D.
Author, Career Consultant, Speaker
*Fast Track to Career Freedom*