Hey there grads, congrats!
Finishing college is hard, kind of, and you finally did it. Most people don’t. You should be moderately proud of yourself, and enjoy your moment in the sun. And I don’t mean to rain on your parade here, but I am going to let you in on a secret that you don’t hear often in the academic world.
No one gives a sh-t about college.
Don’t say it too loud, or you might scare the incoming Freshman. You might scare your parents, who probably just dropped $60,000 to put you through that school. You might scare yourself, because you are now saddled with an insane amount of debt and entering the ‘real world’ for the first time.
Here is exactly what is going to happen when you graduate: At all of your ceremonies you’re going to see and hear a bunch of people telling you that you are in charge of this country’s future, that the nation’s prosperity rests in your hands, and only you can bring about all the positive changes that need to be made with your energy and intelligence.
You will never hear anyone seriously tell you that again.
The instant that you walk out of the auditorium, the instant you cross that line on stage, you become another punk kid trying to get a job. If you’re anything like me and my friends, you will saunter into that first post-college position ready to take over the company, entitled to all the perks and special considerations because you’re a college grad. Then, about six minutes and forty two seconds into your first day, you realize that no one cares about you or the school you went to. You realize that the four (or five, or six) years and tens of thousands of dollars you just dropped were spent to make you into a nameless, faceless, drone for a company that would terminate you in a second if it were profitable.
You think quietly to yourself: This kind of sucks.
This little seed germinates, then grows, and finally becomes an infestation in your mind, that makes you hate your job — and if you hate your job, you eventually will hate your life.
I’m not judging, or being condescending, or even hostile toward corporate America, no matter how bitter I sound. Hell, I am not even bitter. I worked for some good bosses, have made many friends, and liked most every person that I worked with. I am merely speaking from experience, and not just as a man who once thought it was significant to graduate from a top 20 institution (this means nothing) with a degree in the humanities (less than nothing), and obtain a job that paid pretty decent in a Fortune 500 company (again… sigh). I was once a man who felt he was on top of the world because he could afford an Xbox, flat screen, movies, and booze.
But happiness that is defined by products that you purchase isn’t happiness, it’s an illusion. The new car. The TV. The nice apartment. The condo. The house. Each one is a step up. It’s addicting to improve yourself materially. But every purchase you make, every loan you take, becomes a link in the chain that keeps you in a place you can’t stand.
“I can’t leave my job because of my mortgage.”
“I can’t find a new job because of my car payment.”
“I can’t quit because I have kids.”
This is the Greek Chorus of any office, and you will hear a few people say this every day for years. Older people. People who have been working for about as long as you and I have been alive. They aren’t bad people. They have just been working at a job they didn’t like for so long, that they forgot that life shouldn’t suck. They are miserable, they complain about everything — and worst of all — they are hopeless. None of them looked forward to anything more than a long weekend, or a week at the beach, and retirement/death.
They were island castaways, who don’t even bother to keep a fire going anymore. That job will occupy the substantial majority of waking hours for the next 40 years of their lives. Then they will die.
This can happen to you.
Did you go to Yale? Harvard? Or a top three state school? No? Then prepare yourself for at least a decade or two of menial office work. Remember Office Space? That is about to be your life. Remember Fight Club? Guess who is Edward Norton. And real life Office Space is not hysterical, and real life Fight Club is not awesome.
It is terrible.
My experience in the corporate world was comparatively brief, but Russian soldiers didn’t need to fight in Stalingrad to see that their surviving comrades had been through hell. As someone who saw what the Machine can do every day in the hollow, desolate faces and destroyed attitudes of some of my older, more seasoned coworkers and managers, I believe with all my heart that what grads need most isn’t a congratulation message, but a warning.
Since childhood this generation has had it drilled into their heads that college is the answer to everything. It isn’t. In reality, college is the answer to nothing. Whatever you do after you finish, if you do it for money, or to make your folks happy, or because you think you have to, and not because you love it, you’re going to be miserable.
That is all you need to know about life after college, and it’s something they don’t really tell you in college.
It took me about six years to work up the courage to quit my job, and to acknowledge that what I was doing was slowly killing me inside. Now I write, poorly, and barely eke out a living selling pizzas and sweeping floors, trying to scrape a living together writing a blog that no one pays attention to, and pitching article ideas no one wants to read, let alone pay for.
I am not complaining about my situation. I am celebrating it. This is the happiest I have been in my entire life. I am more proud of myself for quitting my job than I ever will be for graduating. I will be more proud of getting paid $10 for a piece than I will about the couple hundred thousand I got with my degree. I care more about the quality of this specific essay than I ever cared about anything any company ever paid me to do.
I have read more, learned more, and thought more this past year, than I ever did during my five in college; and I did it all so that I could work up the courage to escape the place where my bachelor’s degree brought me in the first place.
So, grads. That’s my unsolicited, unwanted, unwelcome advice.
Throw your degree in the trash — it’s just a piece of paper — and start working on making your life yours.
Because school’s out forever, and you don’t know anything.