Post-university life isn’t that different from post-secondary life

I keep thinking about graduating students and how excited they are to get into the work world. Graduates should be rightly proud of their achievement, and I don’t want to sully that and take anything away from them and their moment; but I have to ask, should we burst their bubble now?

They’re so happy that the school phase of their lives is over; that they can embark on their real lives. I truly hesitate in telling them that the work world is not so different; and that they will likely look back on their post-secondary education as a special and perhaps easy time in their lives. Since they’re probably not reading this, I’ll just take this trip down memory lane.

After university, I couldn’t wait to start my career. Four years of anything can be tiring, and I was dying to “get out on my own” and was honestly expecting that in that moment, happiness would land in my lap. I wouldn’t have to do any more homework, I wouldn’t have to study for another test or exam, and I wouldn’t have to listen to professors who didn’t know what they were talking about (or at least that was my perception at the time). Most importantly, I would be able to experience the freedom I thought that came along with a paycheque. I dreamed of a studio apartment, a new car, and stylish corporate clothing (not thinking of all the bills that I’d have to pay monthly before I could splurge on anything).

I don’t know anyone who didn’t have similar dreams, though the make and model of the living accommodations, car, and clothing ranged in my peer group. It didn’t matter if they went to a big-name university or a local college; everyone had the same gripes about their courses and professors.

I remember complaining about too many competing deadlines at university and being especially frustrated with low-performing team members. I disliked (OK who am I kidding? … I loathed) getting up for early classes, especially on Fridays. I lamented about the professors who hadn’t undated their class material in 20 years, who seemed unprepared, or couldn’t answer my questions.

(Anyone who has worked for more than four months is probably seeing the irony at this point.)

There aren’t a lot of jobs without multiple, competing deadlines (are there?). In an era of constant pressure to get more done in less time, deadlines are crazy, and jobs often hang in the balance.

In terms of team work, slackers, loafers, and other badly behaving team members are everywhere. Just as in school, they’ll take credit for the work that isn’t theirs, and/or they will ultimately affect the outcome of a team’s work.

And how many jobs do you know that don’t have an 8:30 a.m. start? All of these students who groaned at 8:30 a.m. classes (or showed up late) are trading in 8:30 a.m. classes with time for a nap in the afternoon for the daily grind of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Along with a ton of deadlines, and early start times, graduates will have to contend with some superiors even more aggravating then their professors. Bosses don’t take a lot of excuses or tolerate late work, they also give you all kinds of “homework” or late nights at the office, and just as with some professors, they may not even be qualified to hold the role they do. They will tell you to do things that you don’t know how to do, and you can’t ask for direction because they don’t know how to do it either … that’s why you’re being tasked with it. There is no solution to look up in an instructor’s manual.

On the good side, the advantages of working obviously include the paycheque, which can help stifle more than the occasional complaint. Another advantage is the fact that you typically only have one boss, thus eliminating multiple assignments from multiple professors potentially all due at the same time. Vacation time flexibility is also lovely in the workforce. During school, it was difficult to get away and enjoy last-minute bargain vacation destinations in the middle of the term. Last but not least, of course, the satisfaction of a job well done and all the praise and admiration from peers and superiors is a nice bonus as well. (Hmm, I don’t think that I made that last part believable enough.)

Regardless, congratulations to the graduates!

If I run into them, I’ll wish that they find the perfect job that allows them a ton of flexibility and freedom, that engages them, fulfills them, pays exceptionally well, provides opportunities to positively affect their community, city, nation and/or this planet, and makes post-secondary schooling seem like the chore it felt like at the time.

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