Things they don’t warn you about in school…

This is for one of my family members who, despite the testimony that is my life, still harbored some delusion that going off to college would somehow allow him to escape (his words here) “all the bullshit”. Sorry champ, the bullshit is a permanent feature. And you are just seeing the wee tip of the fecal iceberg so to speak.

A few quick things that you might want to go ahead prepare yourself for…

1) No one tells you that your professional life will likely consist of performing the same meaningless tasks endlessly for a series of demoralizing bosses and under appreciative colleagues. I was originally going to say that the exception to this rule would be if you decided to become a rock star or a mountain climber, but the more I think about, what could be more demoralizing than the music industry, and what could be more repetitively meaningless than plodding up the side of some frozen rock out back of beyond?

2) It is impossible to appreciate how much importance you will eventually place on such petty things as the ready availability of office supplies you can steal, who got a new desk chair, the availability of at least five different places to eat lunch within walking distance (or at least a short drive) of your place of employment, and the size of the power supply for your company issued laptop.

"Excuse me, I believe you have my stapler...

Image by pobrecito33 via Flickr

These issues will actually dwarf such concepts as professionalism, business acumen, or job related skills. Bitter wars will be fought over empty and uncleaned coffee pots. Friendships will be made and lost over access to the one color printer in your department. “I believe you have my stapler” will become less funny the more times your own stapler disappears from your desk. You will develop an unhealthy obsession with the label maker.

3) Business travel is not glamorous. It is grueling hard work that leaves you bitter and in pain at the end of the week. It generates at least as much work as it accomplishes. Your spouse will not understand why you aren’t interested in going out to dinner the day you arrive home from a week on the road. Your dogs will forget who you are, and if you have children, don’t be surprised if eventually they begin asking if you are another “uncle” come to visit mommy.

4) Everyone gets fired. You will learn in school, usually in either an organizational behavior or psychology class, about the firing process and the effect on both the company and the individual. You will not imagine for one minute that you will one day be that individual. You will be. Accept it now. Relish it when it happens. You will have finally earned the right to take the training wheels off your career.

5) When you have minimum wage jobs working in the university cafeteria, you can afford to get pissed off and quit because your boss doesn’t respect you, or because the job sucks or because you want to take an epic road trip to Portland to see a band no one else has ever heard of play a fifteen minute set in a bar you can only enter illegally. What you learn much later on is that despite your self perception as being highly principled with regard to what you will and will not tolerate in a work place, you too have a price. You will suffer an extraordinary amount of shit from people you truly despise just to ensure you can pay your cable bill. It is impossible to say at what point HBO becomes more important than pride, but it happens to the best of us.

6) There is always someone less capable than you earning a bigger pay check and winning all the corporate contests. It is OK to hate that person and secretly dream about keying their new car in the parking lot. If it makes you feel any better, someone probably feels the same way about you.

sadly, mornings like this don't stop happening just because you got an MBA

7) College does not really prepare you to do your job better. College prepares you to deal with peer pressure, unfair judgment and crushing deadlines while hung over. It is also your first chance to take on truly staggering amounts of debt, the amount of which and the painfulness of the repayment plan will be directly proportionate to how much you slacked off for the preceding four years. This is a practical lesson you might consider a warm up to buying a house.

8 ) Despite the fact you may only speak to him once every five years your best friend from high school will in all probability still be a better friend for you 30 years from now than almost anyone you ever work with. You will spend 2500 hours a year with your co-workers. You will share professional triumph and defeat, cheap birthday cakes and inappropriately named “happy” hours with these people. And you will never get to know them as well as the kid you sat next to on the bus for half an hour a day when you were growing up. I don’t know necessarily what this means other than this: Your adult life may turn out to be a lot more lonely than you think, even when you are surrounded by people you like. Think about that before you set the torch too firmly to your past.

9) You may elect to drop out of college before you get your degree. You may decide to get several graduate degrees in various unrelated fields. Neither of which really amounts to a hill of beans once you manage to get hired into a company. Those degrees may not even make it easier to get hired in the first place. The thing to remember is that once you are “in” your main job immediately becomes not getting fired. I don’t care what job you were hired to do and how enthusiastically you set about performing the functions of that job. Your REAL job is to simply stay employed. This is where those electives in psychology and political science will really pay a dividend. So make sure you at least get those courses out of the way before you drop out. You might also want to refer to item 4 above and stick around for a couple of the psychology classes as well.

10) Money doesn’t really matter. Sure, you will find it is important, and in many occasions in can indeed buy happiness – at least in the short-term. I am sure too that it is probably very fulfilling on a deep and personal level winning a multi-million dollar lottery. However the odds are pretty well stacked against you hitting the jackpot (in either the lotto or your salary), so doing something you really enjoy matters a lot. Maybe not when you are just starting out, but eventually it will. Schools don’t do a good job of teaching you how to milk the system for a while to build up a nest egg and then switch careers 20 years later to something you actually give a toss about. I don’t really have any good advice here either other than to point out that if you are like 95% of the rest of the population you will eventually realize that you never really were that passionate about adjusting insurance claims or forecasting product line profitability or rubber stamping applications in some anonymous government office. Maybe if you think about that now you can at least build in an escape hatch from the loony bin that is corporate life and start fresh before you get fitted for your first pacemaker.

Now you’ll have to pardon me while I get back to my thrill a minute day job…

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About Mark

Not as grumpy as everyone assumes I am. Consider me optimistically sarcastic.
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