Yesterday, in an email that was perhaps too frustrated and desperate-sounding (yes, about my search for my next job), I mentioned that I am the kind of employee who works until 10pm on a Friday night if that’s what it takes to finish a task. And then I though, hmmm, it’s been kind of a while –at least two months– since I worked that long in the office (not counting, of course, the work I bring home and fiddle with until 2am.) But wouldn’t you know, it happened last night. My colleague Steve and I worked until 10pm to finish the most mind-numbingly boring part of a proposal that went to DC this morning on a train with one of our other colleagues. By the end of the night, our eyes were crossing in and we were slap-happy from doing tappy tappy computer work for roughly thirteen hours.
Our boss drove us home. Earlier in the evening, he had brought up with me the subject of Steve’s and my desire to work in Afghanistan. His take was, and is, that we’re just in our early twenties, we should be bullshitting around, trying to discover our paths for a few more years. As usual (this is a conversation we have often), I groaned, slapped my hand to my forehead, and explained that I’ve been on the same path since I was in junior high school. I know what I want to do indefinitely. Steve knows (mostly) what he wants to do right now. Isn’t that enough?
In a more practical sense, the economics of being young have changed dramatically in the thirty years since my boss was the age I am now. Back then, someone of middle class status of above could extend the “I don’t know, I’m just trying different things” period into her or his late twenties, or longer. Today, it’s extremely unwise to do so beyond, say, eighteen. And if you go on to higher education, you damn well better know what you want to do with your life, because you’ll be sunk if you set yourself back tens of thousands of dollars in debt only to realize too late that you hate what you’re studying, or can’t make a living with your degree after graduation.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I think this system is bad socially and that the kind of debt students are put in is unethical, but it’s still the reality we (recent graduates and soon-to-be graduates) have to confront in at least the short-term. The uncertainty part doesn’t apply to me, and I’m thankful for that (again, I’ve been blessed with uncommon certainty in what I want to do). I know my boss means well, but I wish he would stop writing his young employees off as overly serious children in need of more playtime and socialization. It’s not helpful, it’s just frustrating.
Slightly related: I kind of miss the communal “all-nighters” at the resettlement office. The office I work in now is very professional. Everyone has his or her own office with a “please knock” sign or a solitary cubicle. Even if staff stay long after closing, it’s not the kind fo place where you gather around the grubby kitchen table with beer, pizza, and piles of case notes. For all the fuming I did over how “unprofessional” the resettlement office could be, there really were things about it I found very endearing.
The career subject came up with my boss again today. He suggested I do the Peace Corps. No.