One of the cons (or pros, I haven’t decided yet) of my education is that it taught me that life is a mad dash through the jungle. And the jungle is thick, it takes up your whole vision, you can’t see the sky or the end of it. Every tree is different and every route takes a different strategy, the only consistency is how fast you have to keep running and how many trees you have to dodge.
Now that I’ve gotten the broad, vague metaphor out of the way, let me elaborate.
It starts pretty early, maybe even in elementary school for some kids. We’re taught that life is work. You wake up in the morning, get ready for school, go to school, go home from school, do more school, do some chores, then go to bed and do it all again. Most kids have recesses and extra time after doing their homework, so this is alright, but it gets worse as you go on. In my high school experience, I would often get to school at 6am and stay until 6pm, and on my worst days I would be there until 10pm. After which I would still have homework to do.
One of the main ideas that drives this is that there are things you have to be involved in and then there are things you want to be involved in, and you should be doing both of them. I’ve always been a bit of an overachiever. In High School, I wanted to be a top International Baccalaureate student while also being a leader in the performing arts department. And I wouldn’t trade either of those experiences away, but I think most adults with full time jobs would shudder at the thought of staying at that job for 16 hours a day, and then going home and doing more of that job. Simple arithmetic will also tell you that’s not healthy for a sleep schedule. And I was lucky enough to not have a part-time job while I was in High School.
They actually told me at my High School that, compared to my experiences there, college would seem easy and free. And they were right for a while. When I first started college, the idea of only having 15-20 hours of in-class time instead of the 35 I was used to left me with a lot of free time. I got a part-time job to pay for rent while scholarships were paying for tuition and I was able to join some clubs. My schedule was sporadic, with overnight shifts and evening classes, but at least it had breaks.
But I soon started to slip into the dash again. Clubs turned into opportunities for advancement, which were opportunities for personal and portfolio growth. Classes became more difficult and project-based, also to build a portfolio and prepare for the real world. Scholarships that were only intended to draw me to the university dried up, and so more money was required to stay in school. Everything I was doing was working towards an ultimate, worthy goal, and a lot of it was stuff I enjoyed doing.
In my last semester of college, I was taking three classes, working two part time jobs, running my own business, producing two video games, running a third of Student Media, and seeking out a new job after graduation. Some of those things overlap, but it was still the equivalent of working 5 part-time jobs. I was working all day, every day, and when I was trying not to work, I was thinking about work. My ability to focus on any one thing visibly diminished as my mind never stopped thinking about the work I could be doing. I started double-booking myself and hoping that I’d be able to leave something early or arrive late.
I don’t write this down to complain about any of it. I loved everything I was doing, I actively chose to take most of it on. I also feel like I’ve been lucky enough to be able to say that. There are probably plenty of other students doing just as much work as I am, but a much bigger percentage of their time is spent doing stuff they don’t enjoy. I worked my tail off for years so that I could prove to people that I could do it. As I’ve reflected on it, it all seems a little ludicrous to me. It doesn’t really feel like a healthy way to live, even if it does feel fulfilling.
One of the funniest parts of all this is that ever since I graduated, I think I’ve been going through withdrawals. Without deadlines to hit and people to manage and expectations to live up to, I’ve found myself loafing and being unable to decide what I should be doing. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, and I’ve still been doing plenty: applying for jobs, working on some new projects, reading the books and playing the games that have been on my shelf, and now finally getting around to writing. But there are other things on my to-do list that I can’t seem to find motivation to do, and somehow I’ve trained myself to feel like I’m being unproductive nearly every time I try to relax. I’m getting better, but it’s odd.
There is one big advantage to this workaholism I’ve been taught: I’m so excited to start my career. I really want to be able to go into an office and focus on a single discipline or project for eight hours, and then go home and relax until the next day. Maybe that’s an idyllic vision of what a career is like. I’ve spent years training to be the best that I can in that office, and I’m ready to get there and become even better.
The saying goes, “Enjoy what you do, and you’ll never work a day in your life.” I think that the working is part of what I enjoy. Working hard feels good, it suits me. There are certainly worse things to be addicted to.