To add to the nostalgia, last week, I met up with some university classmates whom I had not seen since convocation. The experience was very odd. It was as if everybody there had something to prove. Where do you work? Where do you live? What kind of car do you drive? WHY did everyone have something to prove?
When I was growing up, it was drilled into my head that in order to be successful in life, you had to get good grades in high school. Good grades in high school meant that you got to go to a good university, and going to a good university meant that you got a good job. And a good job led to a good life. And so, that's the path I chose for myself.
I worked hard in high school to get the best grades in the entire school, and ended up going to a very reputable engineering school. I worked hard in university and got an award for my 4th-year thesis. After I finished university, I had a job all lined up with a major consulting firm. Except for a few kinks along the way, everything went according to plan. And then, I started working. My first full-fledged project at my new company required that I work 16-hour days 7 days a week for almost 2 months. And these insane 16-hour days started on my very first day on the project. Needless to say, it didn't take me too long to burn out.
Sure, I got paid overtime, but what was the point if I never got to spend any of the money that I made? How did working weekends make my life any more meaningful? Getting told that my work wasn't going unnoticed didn't really mean much. I never really did figure out what "your work hasn't gone unnoticed" actually did for me. I didn't get a raise that year, and I didn't get a bonus. So why the heck was I doing this? Because that's what people in consulting do??? Not a good enough answer! And then, my moment of epiphany came: I learned how to say the word that every corporate suit hates to hear: "No!". And so began my life as an enlightened human being.
So what does all of this mean? In the 5 years that I've been in White Collar Land, I've learned some very valuable lessons:
- I should have had more fun in high school. I'm not saying go crazy, but did I really need the stack of awards certificates that I have sitting in my drawer? What exactly do they mean now? I did well in grade 12 math. Big deal.
- I should have had more fun in university. I didn't study nearly as hard in my last 2 years as I did in my first 2 years, and guess what? I did better in my last 2 years than I did in my first 2 years!
- A job isn't the be-all end-all. Work is not life, and any Crackberry-weilding workaholic who says otherwise needs to go work out his deep-hidden emotional issues with his shrink.
- The school doesn't make the person - it's the person who makes the school. I've met some very dumb people who have defied the laws of nature and managed to graduate from so-called "elite" programs from reputable schools. I've also met some very smart people graduating from less reputable schools who could put those fru-fru elitists to shame.
- A housewife's job is as important as or even more important than any white-collar job out there. Even though I personally have no intention on becoming one, I have the utmost respect for them. I'll bet you that they can out-negotiate the best slick-talking ass-kissing corporate head honcho any day.
So the bottom line is that modern Western society places all sorts of great expectations on us all. If we're anything but a clean-shaven (men only, folks!), pressed shirt, Blackberry-weilding, fancy university degree-carrying person, we're no good. What makes the tatoo artist with a million body piercings, or the greasy mechanic any different from our white-collar friend? Nothing at all. I know that some people enjoy the workaholic corporate life, but I'm not one of them. I left my consulting job over one year ago, and it was one of the best decisions of my life. Sure, my salary will never ever grow as rapidly as it did while I was in consulting, but I still make a good living, work 9-5 on most days, and have no risk of developing a stomach ulcer. That alone is priceless.