Ninja, Pirate or Zombie: What’s Your Attitude to Work?

Image courtesy of brunkfordbraun

I’m going to ask you something you’ve probably not been asked before in the context of your work: Are you a ninja, a pirate, or a zombie? Or a bit of all three?

The Ninja Attitude

The Ninja is sickeningly efficient. He gets up at five am. He reads blogs about “life-hacking”. He custom-codes his own Firefox plugins. He multitasks by listening to audiobooks at triple speed whilst jogging to work. He sets up complicated systems to manage every aspect of his life. He knows twenty uses for a paperclip. His computer is, frankly, a bit terrifying.

You might be a Ninja if people have said:

  • “I don’t know how you get so much done.”
  • “Why do you need three computer screens?”
  • “What do you mean, hack a moleskine notebook?”

The Ninja is efficiency taken to its extremes – without much regard for effectiveness. He has no hacks for finding purpose, joy or meaning in life. He treats all work as equal, and gets bogged down in trivia. The Ninja has achieved an empty inbox – but at the cost of an empty life.

You can escape the Ninja trap by:

  • Unsubscribing from blogs with “hack” in their name.
  • Taking some time out to focus on the big picture (even if that means letting the emails pile up for a while).
  • Remembering that “fun” isn’t usually found on a to-do list.

The Pirate Attitude

The Pirate lives life on his terms. He rolls out of bed late (and questions why the rum is all gone). He doesn’t work unless he wants to. If this leads to client or boss issues, he’s always got an excuse and a cheeky grin. He’s driven by profit, and won’t waste time on anything that doesn’t make money immediately. He cuts corners, drops commitments, ignores emails and rarely answers the phone. If it’s not fun and/or profitable, he won’t do it.

You might be a Pirate if people have said:

  • “I don’t mean to rush you, but you said we could have it three months ago…”
  • “Is that ethical? Is that even legal?”
  • “You %&*$!”

The Pirate can be quite effective – for a while. His ruthless focus on the bottom line means that he “cuts the crap” and focuses on what makes money. But after a while, the hordes of furious customers, disappointed clients and irritated fellow employees start to cause problems. The Pirate goes for short-term fun over long-term fulfilment, and inevitably ends up disappointed.

You can escape the Pirate trap by:

  • Being willing to put in hard work for future, rather than immediate, monetary reward.
  • Focusing on good relationships with customers, clients and co-workers. (It’ll pay off in the long run.)
  • Thinking about your values. Are you really only driven by profit at all costs?

The Zombie Attitude

The Zombie is a model employee in many ways. He shows up bang on time. He gets on with the work assigned. He never asks for more work. He never asks for a pay rise or promotion. He never offers to take on anything outside his job remit. He never shows any initiative. His desk is unadorned with any personal items. He still uses Internet Explorer 6.

You might be a Zombie if people have said:

  • “This is a bit of a boring job, but I know you won’t mind.”
  • “You’ve been working here for twenty years?”
  • “What’s your name again?”

The Zombie is unconcerned with being efficient or effective. He just keeps going through the motions. He avoids taking on any tasks which might involve his brain. He obeys orders unquestioningly, and never shows any initiative. The Zombie is going to stay in the same job, on a fairly low wage, until he retires. The Zombie will be confused if anyone asks what his purpose is, or what his goals are

You can escape the Zombie trap by:

  • Waking up! Your work should be something that you’re passionate about (at least most of the time).
  • Thinking about what you really enjoy in life. What makes you feel fulfilled?
  • Taking a big step outside your comfort zone: quit your job, go travelling, live life.

What’s Your Work Style?

I could end this article with some supposedly perfect example of the right attitude to work (“the Superhero”, perhaps). But there isn’t one single way of working that suits everybody. The trick is to find your own style, to figure out what you want to get from your work – or what you want to contribute through it. That’ll depend a lot on what you value. Fortune? Fame? Family? Fun?

What would it take to make your daily work as fulfilling as possible for you? And, just for fun, how would you describe your work attitude in terms of popular figures (cowboy, spaceman, princess, etc…)?

About the author: Ali is a postgraduate student and professional writer. She runs Alpha Student (grab the RSS feed), a blog which aims to help students get the most of their time at university.


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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