I’m nearing the end of my 4-year university experience. Although I will graduate with a degree in finance, I no longer have avid dreams of working corporate. Until a few months ago, though, I had been ready to don my pressed shirt and Hermes tie (or maybe it’s WalMart, I can’t tell) every morning for the foreseeable future. I was conditioned throughout university to find that corporate job and spend my days in cubicles and meetings. It was simply a result of the business school environment: the colleagues I interacted with, the corporate representatives that trawled the campus, and the professors and career counselors that guided us down that path. I was sucked into this.
Yet there was a growing dissatisfaction in me as I sent that next application or dragged myself to networking events and job interviews. I knew I wouldn’t be happy. I had experienced it in every one of my internships; the initial interest, soon followed by a mounting complacency. The snoozes on my alarm would happen more frequently and begrudgingly as the weeks dragged on. If an internship was this painful, what would working full-time be like? I knew it wasn’t the life I wanted.
We’re taught from an early age that the path to success is to go to a good college, get good grades, find a job and settle down. It’s so ingrained into our minds from our friends and family that we never stop to question it. But why blindly follow the herd down the cliff? Student loan debt in the U.S. is over $1 trillion and more than two-thirds of students graduate with debt. They’re forced into jobs to pay off their debt. Many students then realize the job they were promised doesn’t exist. Those that do find employment still remain unhappy, switching jobs on average 10-15 times over the span of their career. The “prestige” of the illusion is revealed, but to dismay and panic rather than amazement.
A question that’s commonly asked is why do so many people hate their jobs? There are a myriad of possible reasons, of course: their boss, the commute, the salary, the colleagues, their cubicle, the office politics, you name it. But I believe it’s something bigger. It’s the fact at some point, life itself somehow became a job known as the “daily grind.”
Life, as with anything, quickly becomes lackluster when you engage in the same routine day in and day out. Wake up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, watch TV, go to bed, and repeat. We become corporate drones, devoting 50 weeks of the year for two weeks of vacation. We assure ourselves that everyone else is doing it, that it’s what others expect of us. It’s comfortable and safe to be in the majority, and so we settle for the way things are supposed to be. To paraphrase Paul Graham, jobs are a lot like pizza – they offer immediate appeal and are heavily marketed, but the drawbacks will appear later in a vague sense of malaise.
At some point in every climb-the-ladder-oriented job, people realize they are unsatisfied. And so they switch jobs in the hopes of obtaining a better work-life balance or some other lifestyle improvement. Unfortunately, there seem to be very few of these ideal jobs nowadays. The rules are generally the same each time – do as you’re told, don’t cause trouble, and wait for someone to tell you you’re qualified for a promotion, or until you’re fired. Employee loyalty disappeared decades ago.
Everyone wants happiness in life. Happiness is the universal currency, while time is the most precious commodity. If this is true, is it not absurd to spend 10 hours every day doing something that makes you unhappy?
We often go through life blind to the diverging paths along the road. We opt for the pizza because it’s what everyone else wants and gets. But we now live in a digital and information age with a buffet of choices.
Realize what makes you happy and shed the obligations you feel towards the opinions of others and how they view you. Until then, you will always be working towards some ideal that will ultimately be unfulfilling.
Otherwise, you may wake up one day and find a stranger staring back at you in the mirror. Of all the masters one can serve, “the opinion of others” is harrowing in its ability to command every single element of your life and consume you whole.