Thursday, May 05, 2005

You're not the boss of me now...

Tomorrow is my last day at my Very First Real Job (VFRJ - yeah, it's a crappy acronym, but I've been packing boxes all week and creativity is just a bonus at this point). I have to admit, the juvenile part of me wants to jump up on the conference room table at my farewell party and belt out the title of this post while everyone gapes. I'd love to go Office Space on my printer, draw a few brightly colored sketches on the hospital-style walls and paint over those interior windows we're not allowed to touch. But the rest of me, the older, wiser part, will muster up the gravitas to keep my feet on the floor. As much as I'd love to shock a few people, I don't want to create the impression that people from my little office crew are rabble-rousers. It's not really fair to make a scene when you're exiting the stage.

I can't believe I've already worked at VFRJ for a year -- I also can't believe that I think a year is a long time. It feels long, however, probably because it represented such a change from the fluid time sequences in college where your schedule changed at least once per quarter.

At first, I really hated the 9-to-5 for all the old reasons. I didn't like having to be somewhere at the same time every day, and I despised being unable to sleep in and skip out like I used to for my classes. It was weird to work at the same litany of tasks for weeks on end and to see the same people each morning.

Yet, there are some very good things about a VFRJ as well. The 9-to-5 became a great thing because my day STOPPED when I left the office. I didn't have to lug home sixteen pounds of textbooks and several notebooks worth of journal articles. I could kick up my feet and turn on the television for more than 20 minutes without feeling guilty. I could waste an entire evening -- make that multiple evenings! -- and never feel a twinge of panic. No papers. No due dates. No late nights studying if I didn't want to. God, this year's been so good, and now I'm willingly subjecting myself to the grad school grind?? Clearly, I am a sick person.

The other thing that work taught me is that it's okay to leave things for a day. If it doesn't get done, life goes on! People may not always be thrilled with you, but it's actually not the end of the world if you don't give 110% on every task. Those extra moments you gain to spend with family and friends are well worth any missed opportunities to shine in the office. Giving your best is acceptable, and giving more than that is a little insane. I'd like to think I will remember to maintain this balance in grad school, and maybe I will. Even though this arguably has been the most stressful year of my life, I don't feel it. I'm relatively relaxed, apart from the occasional freakout when the fucking pots and pans won't fit in the damned box no matter how many times I rearrange them. Still, given everything that's happening, I think occasional freakouts like that are okay and encouraged. It's that or bust a blood vessel in the middle of my more tranquil moments. Anyway, I think the thing that's kept me sane is the ability to delineate my work life from the rest of my life. My job is part of me, but it doesn't dominate my life or shape my persona more than any other component. It's just a job.

I don't think I'll ever be one of the people who pulls 60-hour weeks to make the big bucks and attract the attention of prestigious colleagues. Many of my fellow Gen Y'ers share this outlook - and we're getting a lot of crap for it. Law firms are upset because of their experiences with Gen Y lawyers -- they point to reports, like the one issued by the Families and Work Institute in October 2004, and argue that we are selfish workers who take our positions for granted because we refuse to put in extra hours. Well, that report (Generation and Gender in the Workplace) "found that younger employees are less likely to be 'work-centric.' The study also found that young men and women are more interested in staying at the same rung on the career ladder in order to preserve their quality of life."

Oh my god, we put our quality of life ahead of the money we make? Well, there must be something wrong with us! Sheesh. Shouldn't we be praised for recognizing that there's more to life that one's job title and for being willing to prioritize personal/family life? You'd think that would be a good thing, especially since the workaholic attitude of the Baby Boomers didn't exactly create a healthier, happier society. If we want to live balanced lives, let us!

Personally, I am making a vow that my career will never eclipse the rest of my life. It will never become the sum of my identity. I hope my experiences with my VFRJ will remain with me when pressure increases to work a few more hours a week for a new job title. Thanks, but I think I'd rather stay sane (and HAPPY).

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