Let’s all welcome Alex!Alex McHotstuff is a writer in spite of his failed attempt at university. He creates short stories, satirical pieces, as well as reviews of craft beer, video games, and more on his blog that you can find here. You can also follow Alex on Twitter @mcwritestuff .
My whole childhood revolved around getting an excellent education. Early on I was pushed to get good grades so I could enroll into college or university and obtain a degree in something that will make me an enormous amount of money in the most comfortable office chair possible. My grades were pretty decent with the exception of a few subjects I vehemently sucked at. But that improved in college when I could pick courses that were of interest to me. Funny how that works, getting people engaged in learning with topics that they actually want to learn about.
I had a plan, you see. I wanted to be a lawyer, but not just for the money or because I was a fan of the Phoenix Wright games. No, I also liked solving puzzles, riddles, and crimes. Kind of like Batman, but without the need to work out a lot. In my eyes, looking through law books in order to try and find either a link or contradiction to a certain situation, was basically singlehandedly solving a murder case. My only other passion was writing, and there was no lucrative business model for me to pursue that, so a law degree was my best option to fulfill my destiny. You know, the one we all have: obtain a career, because otherwise you have nothing to show for.
Half-way through my journey in the transfer from college to university, a personal tragedy pierced my heart and rendered me unmotivated for a long period of time. First my grades dropped and eventually I did, too. I needed a break from this meat grinder and left my degree unfinished for the time being. It was during that break that I realized something important that changed my view of careers and made me decide to never return to university.
My oh-so-educated mind gave me a glimpse of what my life would have been like if I continued on the same path. I imagined that I would have finished my bachelor’s degree with adequate grades and applied to law school. I needed to be lucky that year would have fewer applicants or fewer applicants with much better grades than me, in order to be guaranteed a seat. Of course, I still needed to pay for that school, which meant enrolling in more debt with student loans while simultaneously working another job just to make ends meet. This would work out fine if it wasn’t for that damn 24 hour limit a day.
During law school, which would be much harder than the average university courses, I would also have to seek out unpaid internships at law firms to gain experience and connections. So I could definitely strike time for friends and hobbies off my schedule. If I were to assume that I’d make it through all of that stress and come out with relatively decent results on my final grades, I would be handed a handsomely paid job immediately with my graduation certificate.
Oh wait, no, that’s not how it worked at all. Because in universities, hard work and dedication is not rewarded the same way video games do it. You don’t level up and learn new skills to use in your adventure through life. Most of the stuff you learn you forget immediately because you’ll have to study for something entirely different week after week.
When you graduate you still won’t get a job in the field you’ve been working for free at for so many years. No, no, if I was to become a lawyer, getting a degree in that field wasn’t sufficient enough. How dare I think that a certified qualification would mean I was qualified? I needed to send out dozens of applications to companies in the hopes that they would favour me over all the other students who went through the same thing I did. However, since it would be unlikely that they would hire someone whose only experience was sitting in a classroom, I would have to accept an unpaid internship instead in order to prove my worth to the law firm that would hopefully one day show mercy and compensate me for my work. You know, like a job.
This meant of course that even after graduation I’d still have to, next to working for free, keep a job somewhere else to pay for shelter and food. Which is a huge sign to showcase how insane the education system is. I could work fulltime at the job that is already paying me to provide for myself, but no, I have to have the prestige of a higher education to be considered a worthy human being, or else I’m just a moron who works in retail.
If I didn’t lose my mind by that point I might finally get paid for the work I provided to them pro bono (that’s lawyer speech for “with no pay”. See? I learned stuff). That, of course, didn’t mean I was off the hook from stress and overworking. When you get your career, there’s no time to relax.
Being employed in the career you worked so hard for was just the beginning. I would have to work hard for the rest of my life to prove that I was worthy of the job opportunity. If I’d lose my job because they don’t like that I don’t work overtime every day, I’d have to struggle again finding another position or else would have wasted all this time spent in university to end up in a minimum wage job.
Once I turned 65, I might finally retire. That’s when I could start to enjoy roughly 2-5 years before I died doing whatever I liked. What? You think I would outlive the 70s after spending the biggest chunk of my life engulfed in stress, despair, and panic? I’d have spent more hours at night cramping through books just to keep up with everyone else, rather than sleeping to recharge myself and stay healthy. There’s no reason to believe that I should be exempt from an early death.
But why would I have to do all that to myself? What if I didn’t work myself to death for the mere opportunity to keep working myself to death? What if I didn’t try to identify myself by my career, and instead be my own person?
That’s the problem we all face, and the reason so many of us are driven to a “real” career. People ask us “what do you do for a living” and we have to respond with “I’m a nurse”, “I work in retail”, or “I’m an office assistant”. There’s a stigma involved with every occupation that had not been obtained through years of education. Entry level jobs don’t have as much prestige value as those requiring at least a bachelor’s degree. But that’s not right. A job shouldn’t define what we do for a living, it’s what we do while we live that makes us who we are.
Right now, I work as a sales associate at a liquor store. But I do that to pay for rent, food, and whatever I like to spend money on. Maybe by the time of you reading this, I have moved on to another job. What I do there doesn’t matter because it is all for the same purpose of acquiring enough money to sustain myself, and that’s it. When I’m off from work, I do what I want. I play video games, play soccer with friends, go out for dinner, fight crime in a bat-suit, and spent time with my girlfriend. I am not bound by the confines of the definition of “sales clerk”. Once I clock out, I’m myself again and free to do anything I like. I don’t work towards a career goal that will only end with my final breath. My only goal is being content with myself as a person and my impact on those closest to me.
It makes a huge difference if “spending the rest of your life doing what you love” changes from 5 years to 50. Instead of spending my days that I’m finally free from the grind when I’m too frail to move and too senile to enjoy anything, I’m getting a head-start on the enjoyment right the fuck now.
Our social structure is trying to tell you that you are defined by your occupation, that you can measure your worth by your annual salary, and that success is a guarantee for happiness. But the fact is that you’re happier doing what you love instead of what makes you rich. If a high-pressure career is what you always dreamed of, than go for it. But let’s face it, we’re not all workaholic entrepreneurs that want to be the next Elon Musk. Most of us just want to get by. We want our jobs to be nothing but a paycheck and we don’t feel the need to dedicate more than 8 hours a day to it.
When I die, whether it is of old age or next week in a car accident, I will have spent my life living the way I wanted to and do the things I enjoyed.
As you can see, I’m also fulfilling my passion for writing, even though it doesn’t make me a millionaire. Whether I get rich and famous through my love for telling tales or only have a handful of readers, doesn’t matter. I prefer this over the regret of giving my life to a company that would replace me instantly with the next available, hardworking student who was not given a chance to evaluate their wants and needs before being pushed into this glorified system.