the Gauntlet

The future shouldn't be nine to five

As graduates search for their next step, many choose not to take the career route.

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For several weeks now, university students have been searching for summer jobs, hoping to find something that will pay well enough to cover next year's tuition. Finding the money to finish a degree is a mere precursor to a dilemma many students face upon graduation: how to parlay said degree into a viable, long-term career.

Some students have an advantage over others, such as those in co-op programs who have already made connections in their field. While this might work for engineers, Science majors and even Communications students, this still leaves a large number of graduates in programs not necessarily conducive to work terms and internships (would someone please tell me, once and for all, what a co-op English student would do?). Additionally, co-op students might be in certain employment-friendly programs for the job opportunities, not because they are passionate about chemical bonding. They, too, face the daunting task of making a career out of something they love, and might in fact return to school to pursue studies in another discipline.

I know many people in a post-convocation state of wandering and self-discovery. One artistic friend describes all the nine-to-five jobs she has ever held as "prison sentences" because she always finds herself counting the days until her term ends. Other friends and acquaintances have left Canada for (sometimes) lucrative careers teaching English overseas. Their reasons for going vary from needing to pay off student loans to delaying major career decisions to wanting to travel and see the world. Most of them, however, will not be teaching English in Japan in ten years.

It used to be that people worked in order to have a life, that nine-to-five meant leaving the office at five and not taking work home. Work was a means of paying for a better life--a way to support a family, go on vacation, buy a new car, etc. But between then and now, something happened, and suddenly work became life.

For some, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Job satisfaction is important to a person's overall happiness and should be taken seriously. Yet we are dangerously nearing the point where job satisfaction is often the be-all and end-all of personal happiness.

With the increased emphasis on work come falsely raised expectations. In high school Career and Life Management courses (ironically abbreviated C.A.L.M.), we learned the important distinction between a job and a career. A job was a job, but a career was and is supposed to be emotionally fulfilling as well as financially satisfying. No Dilbert-esque cubicles for us; it was either love your work or change employers.

It does not help that the latest issue of the U of C Alumni magazine, Arch, touts the university's ability to prepare graduates for careers in a story titled "Hot Jobs for U of C Grads: Choosing Tomorrow's Careers Today." While advocating the importance of following one's passion, the article also profiles five students who graduated in the last three years and found well-paying, secure jobs in related fields. I heartily congratulate all five alumni on their careers, but the article feels like a slap in the face to current students and recent graduates. As an alumni publication, Arch can hardly be expected to interview students struggling to find their place in the job market, but a story like this creates an even greater sense of inferiority in recent graduates, and further raises career expectations.

It is important to remember that as long as there has been paid employment, there have been people who hate their jobs. Someone, after all, has to do the drudging drone work in major corporations, or slave for near minimum wage in retail. This will always be the way--if everyone did what they loved to do, would the world have enough claims adjusters? Furniture salesmen? Convenience store clerks?

One of the first issues of the Gauntlet I ever read was published during convocation week. To mark the occasion, the illustrations editor (who is currently pursuing a career as an artist) drew an editorial cartoon showing students lining up to receive their degree, only to be pushed off the side of a cliff immediately afterwards. The sign at the cliff's edge read "Welcome to the Real World."

Welcome to the real world, everyone. Good luck.