I grew up with certain understandings about the world. Work hard and you will reach the top, find your passion, follow your dreams, you can be whatever you want, and good triumphs over evil.
As I was sitting stuck in traffic the other day I was ruminating on all these beliefs and wondering if they were ever true since they certainly aren’t true now. I grew up as a privileged white male which is synonymous with playing the game of life on easy. And yet as I am now approaching 30 I can say that real life cannot be quantified with banal platitudes. Working hard does not always mean you reach the top, you need connections and luck. You can’t be whatever you want if you want to earn a living. There are only so many places that need oceanographers, Medieval Latin experts and art historians. Most of the time only evil triumph over evil.
So I was sitting on a highway parking lot. Inching my way forward wishing the earth would just swallow me. There is this absolute horrible trapped feeling that I get in traffic that I have only experienced on a transcontinental flight before. A feeling where you know you can’t get out and whatever happens you need to follow this thing through to its destination. I see being part of the working class in the same way now. I cannot opt to not work. I cannot find that ephemeral dream job because I don’t even get a choice anymore. I am lucky to have a job at all. And people keep asking me what am I going to do next? It’s called work for a reason. If I had the choice I would not work.
I imagine that many seasons ago it was a great achievement to graduate as an engineer. That your degree in itself was a meal ticket. These days you need to somehow prove that you are better than the hundreds of other candidates with their community service and perfectly typeset resumes and pristine cover letters only to receive a badly written boiler plate rejection letter if an employer even responds at all. I am stuck in no man’s land of having to little experience to apply as a senior anything and having too many years behind me to apply for entry level positions.
And if, not when, you are lucky enough to find a job remotely related to the degree you studied you find that that degree did not really prepare you for anything that you really need to do. There is just unending paper work and office politics and endless repetition of some profitable action. None of the interesting things you studied ever feature in real life making a university degree seem like some crazy expensive 4 year playgroup.
There has been a lot of moaning in the media recently about the millennial generation and Gen-Y being whiners and feeling entitled etc. Maybe that is true. Maybe I should have stopped and thought when I was 13 that what the world would be more willing to hire would be bankers and economists in a few years since we don’t really create wealth by creating value anymore we just conjure it into being by being clever with the economy. Or perhaps when I was 16 I should have done my best to job shadow at an engineering firm for longer than a week to see what an engineer in the real world does. All I know is that when I was 19 and optimistic I charted a course for my life by deciding to study engineering, filled with the belief that I had certain career prospects, that I would be able to get somewhere on merit and that if I followed my passion it would lead to a rewarding career.
This belief was reiterated again when I was able to get a job after university through a lecturer. I was spared the hassle that I am sure many of my peers faced with CVs and cover letters and how to dress correctly for an interview. A few months into my new job I began to realise that what I wanted and what life was willing to pay a salary for where two different things.
It’s a lottery. You have similar odds of landing that dream job. We can’t all come first. Automation means fewer people are doing more with less. And there is no connection between how many people graduate and how many jobs are available.
So go ahead. Call me an entitled, spoiled, white kid who doesn’t know how good he has it. I am very grateful and keenly aware that I am miles better off than most of the world in all aspects of life that keep you alive. Water, food, clothing, housing. And yet I find that satisfaction, achievement, recognition and passion are missing from a 40 hour chunk of my life every week.
So in closing I guess it’s all in the mind. I need to accept that I am being held hostage by what my 18 year old self thought was a good career move and that work is work and only a select few find a passion that pays. That no matter how good you are or even who you are, if there is an economic pile up on the highway of life you will be left stuck in traffic.