[commentary] The Transition from Student Life to Work Life


[commentary] The Transition from Student Life to Work Life, and The Paradox of Gulfstreams and Favelas

July 2016


It's funny how the smallest recognition can be so gratifying. Mornings have been difficult as we wake at 5 and leave the house by 530. My father asked why we sleep so late (around midnight) even when we have to get up so early, and I responded that I always feel like reading and writing after taking a nap, by which time it is late in the evening. While I might be tired the next day, it’s worth it because I feel that much more fulfilled.

“Mm that means that’s what you really like doing.”

It felt good when he sympathized with how from 6am to 5pm we worked hard at the company doing something that was not necessarily our most ideal type of work. It would be foolish to say that he understood my sacrifice, because that word “sacrifice" is reserved for much more difficult situations. It is quite a privilege to work for the company in the capacity that I do. So I mean sacrifice in the sense that part of growing up is realizing that the way you spend your time is a negotiation. This is something we must understand as we grow older. I didn’t quite get this earlier in the summer. I thought that the discontent i was feeling was specific to the company. But I realized a few weeks ago that the discontent was not about any particular company, but instead work life as a whole.


My opinion is that modern “working life” is to a certain degree a compromise. I think many a youngster would passionately disagree with this. Perhaps they might quietly even disapprove, determining your dissatisfaction to be symptomatic of a poor attitude or complacency. We want to believe in this idea that as long as you are ambitious and persevere, working Life is definitively just as good, if not better. There is an instinctual reaction against the idea that years 30-60 are in some ways harder than our 20s. But very simply, if Working Life is so good, why does our culture glorify “retirement” and “childhood”?


Below are some numbers that I came up with, in order to understand the different attitudes/evaluations surrounding work I encounter in culture:

0.5% of us get to find some career that requires no negotiation whatsoever. These folks are so lucky that there’s nothing really further to discuss. One must be born and located in just the right structures.

5.0% of us get to find a career that is relatively right up our alley and is mundane 10% of the time.

70% find careers that are mundane 90% of the time.

The remaining 24.5% find careers that are 100% mundane.


Of course, the nature of man is extremely diverse and different individuals have different propensities. In this way, a job that might be mundane to Jake might in fact be quite satisfying to Will. So it’s important to note that the above statistics are relative and change from person to person.

Statistics aside, the division of labor as a whole is a beautiful system. But assuredly, some niches are better than others. Generally, your class position and social capital determine where you are located in this vast constellation of jobs. I say generally because through enormous effort, one can ovecome structural constraints. We do possess some agency. This tension between the two should be discussed more.


The point must be made that happiness however, is not inextricably tied to ones position in the division of labor. We are remarkably adaptive creatures. We create new philosophies when the situation demands it. Think of Stoicism which was the product of a slave with no control over his life. The worker in a manufacturing facility (who is more suited for nonprofit work) can be just as happy as a guy working in a non-profit. Potentially. Attitude is the complicating factor. The degree of control humans exercise over the meaning making process is remarkable. Considering this, the relationship between environment and self is never a simple x to y relationship. There is always a z factor.

Happiness is a complex affair. My point is only to say that even if our lives are constrained by economy, we might still find meaning and purpose.


The human might go down two paths when faced with a bad job. He might work extra hard and escape his environment, finding a better job and more happiness. Or he might develop a mental sturdiness, and learn to be happy even with this position.

I don’t think either of these paths are inferior. Both demonstrate character.


As a final word, perhaps this is all a valiant attempt to reconcile my life and the life of many others. Some of us purchase private jets, others of us make our homes in crowded shanties. It is an inescapable fact that some people are lucky to be in better positions and don’t have to fight as hard for their happiness. This is a difficult position for privileged individuals to accept. I think feelings like “guilt” and “sadness” frequent their minds. Some people shoo these thoughts away by entering a comforting fantasy in which structure is nonexistent. They buy into the false idea that society is a pure meritocracy. They can’t handle the fact that there success is complex combination of luck and skill. But for those who find it impossible to delude themselves, what to do?

I’ve come to the realization that the only way for the privileged to genuinely reconcile themselves with the conundrum of social inequality, is to decidedly invest a certain portion of their time and energy into helping those less fortunate. My intention is not to demonize unearned wealth. The goal is not to take the upper class’s wealth away. The goal is to help people from other classes also obtain wealth and join this class.