Here’s an interesting and sad example of Toilet Paper Fairy Belief from a low-level employee writing to Dear Prudence (see the first letter below the video). She thinks she’s set appropriate boundaries by demurring when a senior member of her company asked her to fetch lunch for an important client meeting. Already resentful to be asked to do something not explicitly in her job description (the subtext is that this is a menial task that’s beneath her stellar abilities), Toilet Paper Fairy Believer seethes further when the hour appointed to purchase lunch goes by and she’s not given money or instructions. And so it is that she’s in the midst of consuming her own lunch when the exec pops into the break room and thrusts some cash at her. I admit, that might be not be most polite approach from the exec, but TPFB makes matters worse by upping the rudeness ante: she actually “waves [her] sandwich” at the exec, indicating that she is at lunch and is therefore not available. This forces the exec to go get the lunch, and, naturally peeved, she follows up by demanding that of TPFB’s boss that the young lady be fired. Amazingly and extremely fortunately, her boss refuses to fire her.
I give TPFB enough credit to finally question whether her actions were appropriate, and Dear Prudence quite rightly explains that they were not, and that in fact, TPFB dodged a bullet here. It’s likely, however, that it may yet come back and slay her career, at least at her current company. Now that she’s made an enemy of one of the Powers That Be, how likely is it that she’s ever going to advance and gain the title that she thinks ought to be bestowed upon her in a shower of rose petals?
The letter doesn’t mention if there is a support staff working there; she never really says whom she thought was going to fetch lunch in this scenario. In the absence of the Toilet Paper Fairy, the Lunch Fetcher Fairy, or some nameless flunky to wave her magic wand and conjure up sandwiches, how could TPFB seriously think it was appropriate for a senior exec to go get lunch instead of talking with the clients; you know, actually conducting business so that TPFB can continue to draw a salary? And if she’s really wondering whether she should’ve been assigned the responsibility of getting lunch, shouldn’t she have asked her boss about it prior to lunchtime, and certainly way before the senior exec called for TPFB’s firing?
It can be hard for recent graduates to understand that the world is not universally aware of their wonderfulness. Many smart kids expect to immediately be anointed Queen of the May and allowed to run the world, not realizing that a good brain and an expensive education are not enough in the workplace: You’ve simply got to add experience to that equation. I sympathize with the graduate’s blinkered viewpoint; sadly, my younger self sort of empathizes with that viewpoint. But most really interesting jobs are built on an apprenticeship system. Your boss is not just your boss, but your mentor; you watch what he/she does, and he/she gradually gives you more and more important work to do as you learn the ins and outs of your chosen field. The rest of your days are filled with phone answering, making copies, filling out other people’s expense reports, and yes, catering client lunches to which you are not invited.
You absolutely cannot assume that you are too good to do those tasks. Resentment of that type will, without a doubt, torpedo your climb up the ladder. And believe me, that kind of attitude will definitely be noticed, no matter how hard you try to hide it. On the flip side, willingness to pitch in, be flexible, and be a team player will also be noticed, but positively, if you’re working in a good office environment.
The important thing to do is glean what learning experiences you can from the drudgery. Filling out other people’s expense reports teaches you how to fill out your own when you’re finally vetted to represent the company in other locales. Answering your boss’s phone acquaints you with the client list, and may even allow you to develop your own important contacts. If you glance at those papers you’re copying, you may gain insight into advanced business dealings. And good eavesdroppers and observers may pick up useful tips about high-level corporate etiquette and the internal workings of one’s industry while setting out the sandwiches.