To All of the Nine-to-Fivers
This is a wake up call.
As I mentioned in my introductory post, I am currently dually employed.
1. Office assistant in Moffitt’s serial accounts payable division. Basically, I sort, process, and approve all of the invoices for our serials and standing orders (journals, encyclopedias, multiple volumes of any kind), plus do a bunch of smaller projects that keep our two-person unit up and running. It’s not particularly fun, but it’s not so tedious as to insult my intelligence and I rarely have to work alongside other people, making my interactions friendlier and generally more positive than if the effects of any possible incompetence actually mattered to me. Unfortunately, with the current budget crisis the University — and the world — is facing, I have fewer hours than I’d like, at a capped — and almost exploitatively low — wage.
These conditions have led me to a critical point: do I quit and attempt to find another better-paying, emotionally-fulfilling job in the last few months of my American residence? Or do I just suck it up and close my eyes to this blatant capitalist degradation, all the while realizing that if I end up working 40 hour weeks after my graduation that I’d be losing an earning potential of around $2,500? [Yes, I would like your opinion on this subject. This is not rhetorical.]
2. Content editor for a Berkeley-based start-up, Go Overseas. My usual workflow includes editing and publishing all content on our articles silo, organizing and tagging all existing content, and occasionally writing an article or two. This is much more in the vein of what I’d like to do professionally – particularly since I’ll be traveling for the next year and will need something location independent if I hope to recoup some of my astronomical losses. However, I’m essentially a glorified intern, though I contractually and effectually am to be taking on responsibilities substantively as meaningful to the company as a full-time staffer. Of course, my schedule and their funding do not allow it, so I’m not too concerned – plus, I work in an eye-poppingly beautiful office with a 360˚ view of the entire Bay Area, collaborate with a fun and engaging team, and had the good fortune of having met an adorable entrepreneur in a neighboring office space who I’ve since been dating. So, life’s good, though I – on account on wanting to spend more time with the Workaholic – spend way too much time at the Skydeck.
What these two career paths have shown me is that pursuing a life I love is pretty simple – it’s a matter of asking myself whether I carry on with the grueling, soul-crushing, dead-end job that pays a steady (but insultingly low) wage, or the adventurous, inspiring, and upwardly mobile job that might not pay well now, but opens the doors to more opportunities and experiences – some of which are priceless. Since I’m leaving the country in a few months, and will most likely terminate my existing contracts with both, I have figured out a way to balance both. Money is money, and my restrictive schedule doesn’t allow me (until after graduation) to work the hours I would need if I were to demand a full-time position anywhere.
But if this were my life, my every-day grind, my 9 – 5? I definitely would stick with a company like Go Overseas, where a 9 – 5 isn’t as much a requirement as a suggested timeframe. I wish I had realized this earlier, since my limited remaining time in the States makes finding another time-flexible, intellectually-enriching (and better-paying) replacement of my office work pretty difficult. Don’t get me wrong; I have no regrets. I generally like working on campus and managing the flow the way that I do. But I’d much rather spend my forty hour workweek pouring myself into projects I care about, constantly learning about the world, with more flexibility to redefine how the work I do affects the company and our audience on a whole.
Why am I writing this to you? Because so many qualified people settle as ice cream scoopers or coffee baristas, simply because “it pays the bills.” I understand that the average college student needs to take jobs where they can get them – believe me, that’s how I started with the accounts gig in the first place. These positions are great supplementary sources of income. But they shouldn’t be your primary career. Hold onto that jug of milk or that ice cream cone, but keep your eyes open for listings that appeal to your true intellectual interests. If you’re interested in law, look into interning at a law firm. If you’re a comedienne, don’t let your jokes fall flat on hungry college students who dully stare at your chest and envision the food they could be eating. If human rights violations really fan your fire, find a local NGO that cares about the same subjects as you do – or better yet, pack up and move to the country you want to help, and volunteer directly or indirectly through a network of different connections.
The only way to truly find your passion is by doing things you genuinely believe in, and then examining whether those things brought you closer to or further from your ideal of a happy future. So many people deride “student jobs” as temporary fixes until they get their degrees and move onto bigger and better things, but the truth is that you’re living your life every day – what you’re doing now is influencing your future, so unless you want to be a barista for the rest of your life, your minimum wage job isn’t going to advance your ultimate goals. At the very least, take an internship, shadow someone in your field, or attend club meetings in a subject of your interest. Don’t just sit on your laurels and think things will change magically after graduation. From what I’ve heard, they won’t. The only people who are doing what they love now are people who worked at it for quite a while – so why not start now?