Personal Development – Action Plan

Friday 5th March, 22:24

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: Personal Development – Action Plan

Good evening David,

It has been five years since you began your reputable, highly sought-after role in a top-tier company. It feels like only yesterday that you were at your university careers fair, laughing at all of the corporate suits posing at their cloth-covered tables. Your primary concern was snatching up all of the free highlighters, water bottles and keychains. Somehow, you managed to pick up a graduate role too…

Smashing away at your keyboard the world has flown past. In order to meet your self-imposed deadlines you’ve missed sleep, you’ve missed meals and worst of all you’ve missed toilet breaks and developed chronic haemorrhoids. Just when you thought squatting in a cubicle all day long couldn’t get any worse!

My therapist was right – writing everything down is helpful. I feel better already! I was told to focus on pain, which is a perfect segue into my next topic – my beloved colleagues.

My colleagues don’t smile, not really. Sure, their mouths move (the lips twist upwards and they bare their polished white teeth) but it’s the eyes that give them away. They stare at you too intensely, hidden motives swimming behind glassy veneers.


Hi David *‘smiling’*,

Could you action this?
Should we follow up on that?
Have we remembered to tell a that b is due on c? And that x needs y in order to complete z?

Kind regards,
Beloved Colleagues


The passive-aggressive grin is not a smile.

The only thing that comes close to bringing a flicker of a smile is gossip. Corporate vampires are thirsty for schadenfreude: it feeds their fragile egos. Rumours are the trickling lifeblood of the office, they seep through the cracks between the cubicles and permeate every inch of the carpeted box where we reside.

The titters from the secretaries, the bellows of the middle managers – they are usually background noise. Not anymore – recently, the rumours have been about me.

Everyone has a nickname, mine was “the Troglodyte”. After hearing about my title I googled it and in the Oxford English Dictionary I found the below definition:

troglodyte noun
BrE /ˈtrɒɡlədaɪt/ ; NAmE /ˈtrɑːɡlədaɪt/

a person living in a cave, especially in prehistoric times

Apparently one of the grads who sat next to me during a learning lunch said I smelt bad. Other graduates had worse nicknames: Henry was dubbed the Gloop – a networking sycophant who spends much of the day hunched over the espresso machine digging for small talk with the line managers. If I live in a cave, at least it’s a nice cave with good lighting and an Xbox.

Anyway, recent rumours have been centred around the Troglodyte. Apparently I’m on my way out. I’ve never really understood office politics – ass kissing is not really my thing. I’m more of a sit quietly and work hard kind of guy. Alas, in corporate land the ass kisser reigns supreme. We came. We kissed ass. We conquered.


My review is in three weeks and it’s far too late to turn anything around. I guess I’m resigned to unemployment and bringing shame on my loving parents. After half a decade, my life has been reshaped into corporate efficiencies:

  1. My existence has been reduced to an email address
  2. My happiness is now measured in “approved” slots on my holiday leave calendar
  3. My achievements are laid out in cells on an excel spreadsheet

It’s not a huge surprise and to be honest I’ve seen it coming for some time. “The wheels keep turning” – that’s what they say about leaving the company. Happy monkey in, sad monkey out. Everyone is replaceable.

I just realised that Human Resources can probably read my emails. Well HR, take note: your company sucks. Oh, and you’re like the worst of the monkeys – a gibbon or something.

I can’t stop the machine, but if I’m going anyway I’m going to place myself upon the gears and levers and see what snaps. Just like my therapist said – it’s time to focus on me. This weekend I’m developing a personal development action plan and I have three weeks left to implement it.

Warm Regards,
David Butland

Friday 12th March, 21:37

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: Week 1: Personal Development – Attention to Detail

Good evening David,

Happy Friday! What a week!

Last weekend I formulated my action plan and am delighted to report that we are on track. In previous reviews, my superiors had always been keen to point out three main shortcomings of mine and I thought it fitting that I would tackle each of them in turn.

As a senior employee at this firm, you get away with the most ridiculous stuff. Tommy is the perfect example of this: an old school American partner with eternally flushed cheeks and a voice that carries across the city – he does whatever he wants. On my third week at the firm, I had to run him through one of my proposals.

I had delivered my rehearsed speech, careful to put particular emphasis on those buzzwords that executives love to hear. Bottom line. Synergies. Leverage. He never took his eyes off me and had clenched his fingers together until they were white, like a nest of bones. When I finished, the room was still and everyone stared into their notepads. Slowly, Tommy drew his seat backwards and stood. His gaze never leaving mine, he strode over to where I was seated and snatched my notes from the table. He crumpled the papers and tossed them neatly into the large aluminium bin. Tommy mumbled “attention to detail” and sang the chorus of “American Pie” as he left the room.

I hate that song.

It was all because of red. Tommy hated it – the colour of failure he called it. My notes had been written in red ink and when his eyes connected with my incomprehensible scrawl, he had shifted into a trance-like state of loathing. I had always been a fan of red, I often imagined what some of my colleagues would look like if they were turned inside out – various shades of beautiful, dripping red…

I’m joking HR – please don’t report me to the police. Thanks. Oh, and if it makes you feel any better, apparently gibbons aren’t monkeys, they’re apes. You’re welcome.

I was keen to show Tommy that I understood the importance of attention to detail and that it was a trait that I possessed in abundance. A practical demonstration of this attribute seemed like a sensible approach.

I had my first taste of success on Monday morning.
“No!” Thunk.
“No!!” Thunk.
“No!!!” BOOM.

I looked around to see all of my colleagues peering over the cubicle walls like meerkats, their beady eyes soaking in the drama. Tommy had kicked over his rubbish bin and was shouting at his secretary. I had replaced all of the black ink cartridges in his office with red ones, making sure to retain the black lids to ensure maximum frustration. A bit lame perhaps, but I wanted to start small – Rome was not built in a day! I smirked into my latte as Tommy stormed out with a pack of Marlboro Gold (Red was for losers of course).

The next day I stepped up my game. For ease of vandalism, the building conveniently doesn’t have CCTV and it was very easy to slip into Tommy’s office unnoticed. Once my colleagues had left for drinks, I set about my work. I have never considered myself an artist but I was rather proud of my accomplishments that night. With regards to surface area, the room was vast: stacked shelves lined the walls and the centrepiece of the room was an oak desk, beautifully carved and glossy with varnish. To perform my craft I had raided the stationery store, purchasing twenty packets of circular red stickers (15mm x 15mm). It took me over three hours but by the time I was done, every surface in the room was coated in a chicken pox of red dots (except the floor, which was carpeted). Every sticker had been evenly spaced and pressed flush to the wood. It was nauseatingly perfect.

By the time Tommy arrived the following morning, his secretary had already noticed the stickers and, through whispered invitations, was organising a number of tours for my treasured colleagues. No one had ever paid this much attention to my work before! When Tommy stepped into my temple, he was silent. I had to stifle a laugh as I saw his face glow hot with exasperation – a perfect ruby red. We all watched through the glass walls as he ran his fat fingers over each sticker in turn, first along the desk, then across the shelves. Before Tommy had a chance to explode, I saw the Gloop saunter towards the office door, his neatly combed hair stuck to his forehead with thick, odorous hair gel. They had a muffled conversation and the Gloop released a toothy grin before stepping to the side. Tommy strode out of the building, crushing a pack of cigarettes in his fist.

The five junior members of staff spent the rest of the day on our hands and knees, scraping the stickers off with our fingernails. The Gloop had kindly volunteered us for the task but had so far been unenthusiastically scratching at a couple of stray red circles on the corner of a cupboard. Typical – he was always volunteering for tasks and claiming all of the credit for the hard work of others. For the last few months he had been working on a big presentation for Tommy and he thought that kissing ass the day before the big event was the best way to draw attention to his contribution.

I stayed late again that evening, it was Thursday and I only had one day left to complete the first stage of my action plan. I was entirely devoted to ensuring flawless execution. I always triple-check my work – attention to detail is paramount.

As I’m writing this email, it’s Friday night and I actually went out for team drinks today! I believe that it is important to celebrate one’s achievements. As I type, there is an army of cleaners milling around Tommy’s office, gingerly collecting shards of glass. With all of the walls smashed to pieces I can see into the room and can just about make out a few red stickers that had only partially been removed (the Gloop’s sloppy work I assume). It’s safe to say I won’t be seeing either Tommy (or the Gloop) for a while now.

Flawless execution indeed. At 10am, I watched as our A-Team filed into the conference room, exchanging handshakes and niceties with the clients: Tommy was in a perfectly tailored grey suit and threw his head back to laugh at one of his own jokes; there were a few other partners shuffling towards the door in their identical polished brogues and of course there was the Gloop – loitering at the rear of the pack, a silken pocket handkerchief vomiting forth from his jacket. They were in the room for less than ten minutes when the commotion started. First I heard Tommy’s roar, then I heard the Gloop’s squeal. There was a loud clattering from behind the meeting room door and Tommy burst out, beads of sweat steaming from his brow. He marched over to his office, lifted his desk chair above his head, and hurled it through the glass wall. There were gasps of panic and then silence; the only sound was that of Tommy’s thickset feet crunching the broken glass as he stormed out of the office.

I got the full breakdown at team drinks. The meeting had begun well, introductions were completed satisfactorily and Tommy had suggested moving on to the presentation itself. The Gloop then proceeded to load his pen-drive onto the large screen in the board room. It became evident immediately that something was not right. Whilst the formatting was in standard company design, the writing was hardly legible – it had all been changed to a vivid red. Whilst clearly uncomfortable, Tommy continued his presentation as if nothing was wrong. A few slides in, however, he froze and turned to face the Gloop. The clients began to snigger and soon the whole room was shaking with laughter. The slide was largely ordinary: there were a number of bullet points detailing key metrics and a pie chart displaying drivers of revenue. However, at the bottom of the slide was a photo of a teenage Tommy, clearly distinguishable from his broad cheeks. He was on stage, wearing make-up, a wig and a flowing red dress.

The internet is a marvellous creation. It had taken me hours of digging, but I had managed to connect with one of Tommy’s former classmates and obtain a copy of his secondary school yearbook. Apparently, he has always been quite the drama queen and had played Ophelia in the school’s production of Hamlet. I guess at an all-boys school someone had to do it. From what I gather, Tommy has been suspended indefinitely and the Gloop is on occupational leave.

Tonight I eat steak and ice-cream.

Warm regards,

Monday 15th March, 15:34

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: Week 2: Personal Development – Time Management

Dear David,

Over the weekend, the glass was cleared and the walls of the office replaced. Whilst all physical signs of last week’s accomplishments are gone, tales have spread across the regional offices; my feats immortalised in company lore. During my time at the firm I have always striven to make an impact. I am filled with pride.

I may be a vandal, but that is not such a bad thing. I have long believed that the Vandals are the most misrepresented group in history. By sacking Rome in AD 455, they have become known for destruction of property. But think about the greater ramifications of their actions – they represented the toppling of the elite. The mighty Romans had not existed since the dawn of time – they were once nothing more than Ophelias in little red dresses. The Vandals showed that anything can be achieved if you adopt the right mind-set. They exemplified one of our company’s most important traits – challenge the status quo.

This week, I have decided to shift my focus to address another shortcoming of mine – time management. Watch this space.

Warm Regards,

Friday 19th March, 16:34

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: RE: Week 2: Personal Development – Time Management

Dear David,

Congratulations once again on another successful week. Another key competency achieved.

Henry doesn’t mean to be a bad guy. I think he was born that way. He is athletic, in his early forties and wears a well-manicured goatee. In society he is a villain, but amongst the apes he is the alpha (sorry HR, that means he is ranked above the gibbons). The man is outrageous – he wears crocodile skin oxfords and often pumps bicep curls at his desk. Unfortunately, he is also outrageous in his treatment of junior colleagues. If you were one of the chosen few, he would lavish you with Michelin star lunches but if you were out-of-favour (like poor David) he was renowned for enforcing 18-hour shifts. He would set tedious tasks with tight deadlines and smile as he remarked “you just need to work smart, not long.” I am an effective time manager and this week, I was keen to make sure Henry understood that.

On Thursday morning, I sat at the reception at 2:45pm. The visitor arrived just after 3pm, I smiled and pointed to the conference room, where she tottered awkwardly in her heels. By 3:15pm, security had arrived and no less than three individuals were hauled out of the building, including (to my delight) Henry.

Despite being a family man, Henry was desperately proud of his reputation as a serial womaniser. The man’s polygamy was blatant. He would send calendar invites on outlook to various women entitled “Fun Times” with the location specified as “My Bed”. We all had access to his calendar but none of us ever dared to say anything. His latest fling had been with a twenty-something-year-old named Joanna in the finance department, she would come to his office and he would take her hand and lead her out of the building. Perhaps they preferred to discuss accounts receivable in a quieter setting?

With complete disregard for information security, no one in the office seems to lock their computers. I had sent 3 simple emails:

The first was from Joanna’s PC asking Henry to wait for her in the boardroom at 2:45pm. “Your strong pecs would make my day – please remove your shirt before I arrive.” Disgusting, but somehow the kind of thing I’d imagine Henry would love.

The second was a reciprocal email to Joanna from Henry’s computer. I filled in the subject line with a laconic – “Meet me in the boardroom just before 3pm. Thx”

From Henry’s computer I also penned an email to his wife entitled – “URGENT: Please Read”, it asked his wife to come to the office at 3pm and ask for him, “I have some big news for you. Don’t call, just come to the office!”. I added a delay to the email so that it would leave Henry’s inbox at exactly midday on the following day. The marvels of modern technology: making workplace efficiency thrive.

When Henry’s wife opened the boardroom door, she screamed. I kept my distance from the situation as a matter of professional courtesy but last night I dreamt that the two of them had been going at it like rabbits when she arrived. I imagined how Henry would have felt – his two worlds colliding: the bliss of family life and the roaring party of his office alter ego. For the last five years, the man’s antics had stilted the development of both my career and social life. Setting your goals and fulfilling them can be an incredibly energising exercise.

Henry – I don’t work long, I work smart. And today I am leaving the office before 5pm.

Warm regards,

Thursday 25th March, 12:34

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: Week 3: Personal Development – Integrity

Dear David,

I’m taking a sick day today. I don’t feel that great as I’ve just had a massive lunch and I spent the whole morning staring at my TV screen. I think I’ll take tomorrow off too. My final review is on Monday and it will all be over soon anyway.

This is the first time I have taken a sick day in my entire career. It’s not like I’ve never been ill – on numerous occasions I have arrived in the office spluttering and shaking with disease. But every time someone comes over and tells me to go home, they also come bearing gifts – spreadsheets that need to be updated by the end of the day, briefing memos that need to be written before the 4pm meeting. Through my feverish delirium I may as well have been staring through Alice’s looking glass, my colleagues delivering Cheshire Cat smiles at my discomfort.

Besides, this week I fulfilled the final part of my personal development action plan: I demonstrated integrity. It was only six months ago that the office manager, James, called me over to his desk and attacked my print record. “Four hundred colour pages printed this year David! Are you trying to become the leading cause of deforestation on our planet?” No. But I would be delighted to dispose of the army of bonsai trees on your desk, James. Unfortunately, they are all made of plastic and binning them would leech poison into our soil, killing real trees. Printing was part of the job but the out of touch James just didn’t get it. Every day, I would receive numerous emails with the title “PPO Colour” which of course meant: “Please Print Out in Colour”. The rest of the office had been taking a machete to my environmental record. I would need to right this wrong and do my part to make the world a better place.

Yesterday, we had a team building offsite. At 8am, we filed into a long, narrow coach and drove two hours to a rock-climbing centre in the middle of nowhere. Blistered hands and bruised knees were accompanied by a twenty-minute photo shoot in which we could be paraded in the company’s newsletter and waved in front of senior management as a happy, cohesive unit that could scale any obstacle together.

When we got back to the office after lunch, the main entrance hall was blockaded with mobility scooters and Zimmer frames. Exclamations of confusion were replaced with violent cursing as my colleagues made their way past the reception and into the main building. The cubicles were gone. In their place were long plywood tables laden with teapots and biscuits. Flocks of cheerful elderly men and women turned to face us. An organiser of sorts with curly grey hair and oversized spectacles came over and planted a giant hug on each of us in turn. No one recoiled, they all just stood motionless, accepting her flabby arms as she thanked us for our generosity. Our desks had all been swept to the side of the room and our documents heaped into a disorderly pile next to the bins. I laughed when I heard an octogenarian release an almighty fart on Tommy’s £1,000 Aeron desk chair.

Within minutes, a number of the old-timers had made their way over to us, offering tea and cakes. I graciously accepted both and spent the rest of the afternoon discussing the weather and the nuances of the orange jelly in our Jaffa cakes. It felt great to give back and I loved spending time with the elderly. I was disappointed that most of my colleagues disappeared off to the pub. I saw James stuck in the queue for the Earl Grey as he tried to make his way back to his office for a conference call.

It had all been much easier than I had expected. Michelle was on holiday this week: she was responsible for “corporate social responsibility” and was the most bitter colleague I had ever worked with. She looked as though she had never smiled, let alone dabbled in philanthropy. Using her credentials, I had dropped an email to the charity “Generation”, offering them our offices for an afternoon tea party for the over-70s. “Feel free to use the main office area” I had written, “We have removed all of our important documents so please ask your events team to throw away all of the loose paper and move all of our desks to make way for the important occasion!”. They had been desperate to find a venue and accepted immediately. Another couple of emails to the security and reception teams had been all I needed to facilitate a successful event.

Filled with an enormous sense of well-being, I now retreat to my cave for a long weekend of video games and wallowing in my own success. The action plan is complete. The job hunt can wait until next week.

The Troglodyte

Monday 29th March, 09:54

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: Week 4: The End

Dear David,

It has been quite an adventure! In 5 minutes’ time I will be stepping into my boss’s office for my final review. My progress over the last few weeks has given me comfort that I will bounce back in all aspects of my life. No longer will I be a corporate lapdog, chained to my desk to meet time quotas.

I would just like to take this opportunity to say that it has been an absolute pleasure and that I hope this is goodbye forever.

Good riddance,

Tuesday 30th March, 09:54

To: David Butland
Cc: David Butland
From: David Butland

Subject: PS.

Dear David,

It seems there has been a change in plans. The meeting did not go quite as I had expected.

I wasn’t nervous before I entered the room, in fact I was positively glowing. This was my chance for a fresh start and I was looking forward to embracing freedom. As anticipated, the company’s CEO was there – they usually brought in the big guns to deliver bad news. The meeting started with small talk, they asked about my work-life balance (excellent as I had just taken a 4-day weekend), my extracurriculars (fantastic, I had just arranged for 100 elderly guests to swarm our office) and whether my schedule was too packed (absolutely not, I pride myself on my time management).

Then he offered me a promotion.

Apparently, there has been too much commotion in the office in recent weeks and a number of key individuals have unfortunately shown themselves in a negative light. With my stability and strength of character, they thought that I would be an excellent candidate to bring the company forwards.

My parents are happy, I get Tommy’s office (the desk chair too) and hopefully I won’t have to print anyone else’s documents for them anymore. I accepted immediately.

If you have ever considered putting a personal development action plan in place, I would highly recommend that you do so as soon as possible. It has significantly helped me progress in my career and I have developed a skillset that will stand me in good stead for my future personal and professional endeavours.

This email chain will now be deleted permanently from the servers. I think it was a stupid idea to use my work email address for this diary anyway.

Kind regards,
David Butland

Originally from London, Jonathan Tham is a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Jonathan’s writing has been published by STORGY and Foliate Oak Literary Magazine. He maintains a short story blog which you can follow at

This entry was posted in Fiction and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Personal Development – Action Plan

  1. varjakBaby says:

    God I hate reading. Does that say something about me, or about modern literature?

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