Would you rather go to work or go to school?
From May 2014 to April 2015, I worked full time for a year instead of doing courses for my degree. I was part of my university’s co-op program, which puts you in work placements related to your field for semesters at a time. (The program is extra-curricular, so it doesn’t grant you any academic credits and delays your graduation; but hey, money and work experience!).
It was my first time, ever, in my life, that I worked full time in offices and not behind some fast-food counter. I definitely felt more “adult” this past year, but I’ve also been a little nostalgic about the student life.
1. The 9-to-5 lifestyle is both amazing and meh.
The number one thing I envied as a student throughout high school and university was the adult ability to come home at 5 and just relax for the rest of the evening. No homework! No studying!
As a worker, this was indeed a nice thing. But it wasn’t as nice as I imagined. You don’t come home right at 5, for example, and when you finally do, you soon realize that the evening is very short. And you’re honestly way too tired after 8 hours of work to do anything worthwhile. That novel you were writing? Yeah, ain’t nobody got energy for that.
In fact, for much of my worklife, all I did in the evening was squeeze in as many Orange is the New Black episodes as I humanly could before I had to go to sleep. As for the weekends, I mainly used them to recharge, chill, and read all those books I’ve put off reading.
This theme of lethargy isn’t true for everyone, of course. Some people go on super-intense hiking expeditions on the weekends, work another job, or party their hearts out.
Depends on the type of person you are
2. Getting along with your co-workers is the coolest thing ever.
If you think about it, it’s a real risk grabbing a bunch of people who otherwise don’t spend their lives together, put them in the same space for 40 hours a week, and expect them to be co-operative and productive.
That’s why getting along with your colleagues and finding colleagues you like is so rewarding. When I asked my colleagues what the best part about their job was, the oft-repeated answer was “the people.”
Probably the most important ingredient to a satisfactory career is having good colleagues.
3. As a student, your time is more flexible, but this can have its pitfalls.
University students are more likely to have occasions where they can sleep in and maybe even not show up to class. This is great, and it’s easier to schedule things like dental appointments and matinee concerts around this kind of schedule. But it also breeds something nasty: procrastination. When you have time that’s putty in your hands, that’s a power that’s easily abused!
As an office worker, you go into a set space and time allotted for work. For me, this really helped me focus and get shit done. Of course, I could make myself a 9-to-5 schedule for my schoolwork, but please, who’s going to stick to that?!
4. At the end of the day, work is more rewarding because of the money.
Because now I have a big pile of money I’m inevitably going to toss away on my exchange trip to England. Yay.
5. But school can be equally, if not more, rewarding if you’re studying something you’re truly passionate about.
One thing I missed at work was intellectual challenge. This is probably due to the fact that I was naturally working entry-level positions. But still. Perhaps I belong to academia, or perhaps I’m just a big fat nerd who loves studying literature, but I missed the type of conceptual thinking I was challenged to do at school.
6. Work makes you feel like an adult.
Which is great, because I’ve been a kid for most of my life so far. I felt more important as a worker; I felt like I was contributing to society, that I was responsible and independent. I learned how taxes worked. I learned about unions and laws and stuff like that worked.
Most of all, I learned how to conduct myself as an adult. I learned how to speak tactfully, to meet new people and behave in socially-appropriate and professional ways. To help people and ask people for help. To be a productive member of a team. I learned a wicked amount of social skills and matured a lot in a short amount of time.
But I wonder how long this novel adult/maturity feeling would last. Would I eventually feel like an old hag, repeating the motions of my career lifestyle for decades until retirement? Which leads me to my next point…
7. It’s easier to anticipate a “grand goal” as a student.
The attractive thing about being a student is there’s a sense of something rewarding at the end of the road: graduation, a diploma, a degree. You have a goal. However, career paths are not as well-defined. You’ve landed a position. Cool. Now what? How long will you be here? Will you advance? What happens if you don’t advance? And even if you do, do you want to just slowly crawl up the corporate ladder until you’re 65 and ready to retire?
Which brings me to my conclusion…
Many students want to work. Many workers want to be students again. We all want what we can’t have, right? Perhaps the work life and the student life are more intertwined than we think.
For me, in both scenarios, I had a similar anxiety of “what next?” I work, I enjoy, my contract ends—what next? I study, I graduate—what next? I work again, then more, then more—what next?
Both paths—academic and professional—are just that: paths. As humans, we like linearity. We like our paths to end up somewhere, and we think they will—after all, we’re building up things like experience and grades that add to our Resume of Life—but to many of us that end of the road is something we can’t see. Something uncertain. Whether we’re students getting ready for work or workers getting ready to do more work.
We always want greater work.