How to Survive the Island of Misfit Toys at Work

MisfitIslandBLOG510563081One of my all-time favorite scenes of all the special TV shows that air this time of year is when Rudolph enters the Island of Misfit Toys. I’ve always been drawn to misfits, and that has carried over into the workplace.

Bring me your misunderstood, under appreciated, and sometimes even misdirected employees. If they don’t seem to fit tightly into a workplace’s culture, most times they’re the ones who will get your attention. They’re also the ones who can cause you a ton of headaches.

I can find some value in a polka-dotted elephant, a doll with abandonment issues, or a toy cowboy who rides an ostrich. It definitely makes break-time chatter way more interesting. But being that odd square peg surrounded by mostly round holes is going to be tough in most conservative workplaces. Now I’m no King Moonracer, but if you’re looking for career advice from a stop-motion animated winged lion, you might be a lost cause.


“That’s why I’m a misfit toy. My name is all wrong. No child wants to play with a Charlie-in-the-Box so I had to come here.”

Poor Charlie-in-the-Box. He looks like a Jack-in-the-Box. He functions like a Jack-in-the-Box. He even sounds like a Jack-in-the-Box. But because his name is Charlie, he’s not considered a true Jack-in-the-Box.

Companies can get so hung up on job titles that an employee’s strengths might be overlooked because they have been hired for a particular position. While their experience might actually suggest they’d be a better fit in a different position, it’s tough to make that transition sometimes without the help of a sharp management team. Some great long-time project managers out there might not be seen as viable candidates for roles that take them beyond project management despite the fact that, well, what job doesn’t require a certain level of project management skills to be successful?

It’s no different than a golden-haired elf with most excellent dentistry skills. If you want to get in on any of the reindeer games, you’re going to have to get the word out about your experience. You might also have to take on some extra tasks to let your peers and hiring managers know you have the skill and aptitude for any position you may not readily be associated with in your department.

Hopefully Santa drops you off under the tree of a company where you don’t have to be named Jack to do your job.

Like a Wind-Up Mouse in the Clown Nesting Dolls

Similar to the plight of Charlie-in-the-Box is the poor wind-up mouse at the center of the clown nesting dolls. When you open up a nesting doll, you expect to find a smaller one and then yet another smaller one. But who’d expect to find a wind-up toy on the fourth try?

I’ve been lucky to work on some awesome teams, but unfortunately I have had to collaborate with some other teams that seemed a lot like a bunch of clowns of varying sizes. The great thing is that usually there’s that wind-up mouse at the center of even the most disappointing team. They might be the smallest of the bunch, but when you’ve dealt with as many clowns as I have over the years, it’s easy to tell where to find the wind-up mouse, and that might be the only way to get a project done.

A Choo-Choo with Square Wheels on its Caboose

Sometimes you just have to make the best of what you’ve got when it comes to working with others. Having worked on numerous projects over the years, I always find it interesting when I’m working with peers at other companies or in my own department who obviously shouldn’t be involved in certain projects.

A great example is when I’ve had to work with engineers on marketing materials. It’s just not their forte, yet they have the information you need to convey in marketing terms. Luckily if you are allowed to do so, these are times when you can show your expertise and shine.

Like with a toy bird who swims or an airplane afraid of heights, sometimes you just have to steer them away from the cliff and hope they don’t crash and burn. Or if they’re a toy boat that can’t float, keep them close to the shore.

If you find yourself working with a choo-choo with square wheels on its caboose, it doesn’t take one of Santa’s elves to figure out that sometimes it’s just best to unhitch the caboose. But if it’s a big teddy bear on a bicycle, you’re going to have your work cut out keeping that project rolling along.

A Water Pistol that Shoots Jelly

Just when you’re at your most frustrated at work, sometimes there comes along that ambitious reindeer despite the unusually brightly colored red nose at just the right time. Or even a water pistol that surprisingly shoots jelly. While not everyone might think this is a good thing, I love jelly. Strawberry. Apple. Grape. Yes, yes and yes!

For example, you’re expecting someone to do their job within their duties, but then all of a sudden they go above and beyond and have this other skill that just makes your project that much better or your job that much easier. That, boys and girls, is a Christmas miracle!

I hope this was helpful and wish you a shiny new year!

In this article

Join the Conversation

1 comment

  1. Holly Berry Reply

    I had a dream once where I was speaking to an audience of “Misfits”…marginalized, outcasts, broken individuals…In the dream I said,” If He can do it for me, He can do it for you!” Then I woke up…I call it my “Island of Misfit Toys Dream.” I’ve always been a bit of a “misfit toy” myself but rather than “trying to fit” with others, I’ve learned God designed me this way! Thanks for your post…the title caught my attention and your writing and application kept my attention! Well done!