The 5 people you meet from Corporate Heaven

If you’ve ever worked in a very corporate environment like me, you know that it has a tendency to suck the soul out of things. A bit like a vampire that drains your energy or a vacuum cleaner that filters out the human particles, leaving only bureaucratic dust, Corporate Earth can be a drag. Layers upon layers of processes and galactic-scale distances between efforts and real impact make everything feel uphill on Corporate Earth, a bit like climbing a Penrose staircase.

With all that process climbing, it can be tough for residents of Corporate Earth to take time to pause and act human. Making things more difficult is the legacy of our business culture. Drenched in the philosophy of the industrial revolution, it often (intentionally) reduces workers to literal machine parts in a larger system. With all that profit-maximizing philosophy saturating things, it’s easy to slip and fall down where things feel soulless and overly mechanical.

But it’s not all doom and gloom. The normal distribution and law of large numbers require that there will always be a few bright spots of soul and emotional realness lurking on Corporate Earth. There are angels in disguise, making your journey brighter…and more human. They are Beatrice’s to light your way through endless layers of corporate process (hell). These people who impact your journey through Corporate Earth in a positive way are there — even if you don’t recognize them at the time.

Inspired by the year’s annual slide into the Christmas season, I had Biblical metaphors on my mind. Amidst the flurry of angels and scriptures, I stumbled down a Wikipedia-hole reading about Mitch Albom’s acclaimed book The 5 People You Meet in Heaven. Very 2019 of me: to read Wikipedia entries about a book I could just, instead, read. Sigh.

Nonetheless, it got me thinking about these people we meet on our professional journeys who ground us or positively impact our experiences. So after that thinking, I did some writing.

I present to you 5 people you meet from Corporate Heaven…not quite a direct parallel from Albom’s book, but close enough…here we go.

1. Most executive assistants & admins

They are true angels helping us down on Corporate Earth. Often filling the role of an adopted parent or an elder brother / sister who shows us the ropes, Executive Assistants and Admins keep the wheels running. They know how to do EVERYTHING that could ever possibly be done. I can’t count the number of times that EA’s working for my team have gotten myself and others out of jams with expenses, HR, finance, or travel issues. I find they play a large role in brightening the workplace with care and good humor, creating a place where you feel taken care of and supported. That might sound small, but for me it makes a big difference in how much I enjoy being at the office — which impacts my productivity.

Sure there are some who can be real pains-in-the-neck. But in my experience, most are a bright spot in the day. There are several EA’s who I will remember for the rest of my life because of their unbridled optimism and compassionate mindset about life and work. And also, who doesn’t love most EA’s proliferation of cheesy inspirational quote posters and/or family photos?

They bring compassion into the office and teach us lessons about the value of supporting and caring for those around you.

2. Great lunch buddies

What defines a “great lunch buddy” you might ask? Well just like pornography, you know one when you see one. I’m talking about the those colleagues who take you to cool new lunch spots (not just the fucking office cafeteria for the zillionth time); who talk about interesting things far beyond office gossip or project complaints; who make you laugh or pull you out of the drudgery of the copy/paste corporate day. Some people give us energy and others drain it — regardless of whether you like them or not. Great lunch buddies are definitely ones who give you energy and leave you feeling a little bit restored.

I, like many others out there, am too stuck in my own bad habits to branch out at lunch. Usually it devolves into going for convenience, lapsing into unproductive complaining or gossip, and returning to my desk not feeling like I’ve actually taken a break. Oof. The great lunch friends I’ve made over the years have provided the antidote to those bad habits. They’ve introduced me to new eating spots and pulled me out of the rut of slow days. From new food trucks and legendary noodle spots, to hidden cafes and bustling markets, my best lunch pals have shown me some awesome places I would never have discovered on my own. And during this, they’ve injected my day with levity and good conversation.

These invigorating lunch friends teach us the value of taking breaks to enjoy life in the midst of stress and focus, and how a change in environment can change the entire mindset of a day.

3. Cool Project Managers

Everyone knows a Project Manager, but usually no one wants to be them. I mean, perhaps some people do grow up wanting to be a PM (recall the law of large numbers and normal distribution, etc.); there will always be masochists. The job that no one wants to do doesn’t always attract grade-A cool people. We all know the PMs trying too hard (i.e. vocal about their Cross-Fit membership and likely drives a Mazda convertible) and they’re usually a bit too rigid in managing milestones and work-breakdowns. But the ones who make it here and stay cool…hoo boy…the diamonds in the proverbial rough. Nobody does cool as well as a cool PM.

Let’s paint a picture, shall we? Cool PMs come from all backgrounds and almost always have diverse interests outside of the office. They rarely come on strong, but are filled with crazy stories to keep groups entertained for days. They’re the type of people who somehow relax you and leave you feeling energized at the same time. I knew one who after months watching him calmly manage a particularly political project, mentioned casually that he also ran a cattle farm on the side…like, uh, what? Another equally talented PM colleague was in a rock band and had spent months backpacking in Nepal. I learned these things after months of watching her diffuse tense project issues and keep a veritable herd of cats aligned and on schedule.

Like a St. Peter who also might smoke a little weed on the side, cool PMs keep teams moving through the (project) gates while diffusing stress. The connecting thread between all the cool PMs I’ve known was how they maintained active interests outside the office and encouraged people to do a good job while not taking things too seriously.

Cool PMs teach us that it’s important to maintain a healthy balance of working hard while also realizing that work is just one part of our lives.

4. Service staff

What is it for you that adds joy to a day at the office? OK, the answer “not being at the office at all” is understandable. But let’s say for the sake of this post that you’re physically present. When I’m at the office, I often get bogged down with the endless flow of corporate knowledge work. It’s the little connections and interactions with other humans that usually give me spots of cheer during the day — particularly the ones that have nothing to do with Important Business Topics. My favorite source for these connections are from the Service Staff who support the office.

The people who keep the office running, like baristas, cashiers, janitors, and security guards, are wonderful sources of learning and inspiration. They’re some of the realest humans in the workplace, yet they often get overlooked amidst faux-important torrents of deadlines, escalations, and reorgs. You want to hear a good story? Ask a Security Guard. Need honest advice about handling something in a relationship? Talk to a Barista. Stressed and just need a bright spot of connection with another person? Janitors have been some of the most disarmingly charming people I’ve ever met.

Less entangled in the (hypothetically) important topics of the Business, Service Staff offer wise perspectives on life in and outside the office. I’m a believer in the power of small connections to have big impacts on our mood over a day. In my experience, Service Staff have been one of the most consistent sources for interactions that put me in a more positive place.

Service Staff have taught me to value and be mindful of how little interactions you have with others during the day can positively affect them (or you).

5. Managers who are actually good listeners

There are some special people out there who arguably have a larger influence on your mental and emotional well-being than your friends or family: your managers. Despite the profusion of books, degree programs, and blog empires about how to be a good manager, it turns out that most people struggle with it. Organizations often overrate the value of subject-matter expertise, which means many managers are people who were skilled at copy/pasting a technical process — not at navigating the planet’s most difficult thing: other people.

The hardest thing about other people is that you need to listen to them. When that happens, you usually discover that they’re equally crazy and equally full of truth that challenges your biases. For many managers who’ve been conditioned to always have the answer, getting challenged like that is not easy. Listening does not come naturally. But there are plenty of managers out there who have developed this rare skill and use it to beautiful effect.

Feeling that your manager listens to you is a wonderful thing. I’ve been lucky to have worked under some great managers. Their demeanor created an atmosphere where I felt best positioned to succeed on a daily basis. Good (manager) listeners also promote healthy sharing of ideas and perspectives which can help a team navigate conflict over the long run. Attitudes and mindsets are far harder to change than processes, yet they impact everything. Authentic listening plays a big role in setting things for success at the mindset and tonal level. Though listening is not everything a manager must do, it’s the skill most often lacking. So when you experience it, it’s like encountering a fresh breeze that fills you with confidence.

Managers who listen well teach us the value of owning how your behavior and tone can open potential in the people around you.

So there you have it, 5 types of people you meet from corporate heaven

As we trudge back to our daily grinds following the holiday season, be on the look-out for “hidden” angels who add little sparks of joy to days otherwise filled copy/paste-ing corporate tasks. I promise you they’re out there shining light and impact on your day.

Originally published at

A wanderer, a water-drinker, a wastrel, and [something pithy]