Everyone’s telling me the workforce is soul-sucking and I don’t want to hear it
I’ve always been a dreamer. By this, I mean that I’m optimistic about the future and my part in making the world a better place. Of course, all of my ambitions don’t revolve around ending global poverty or eliminating health inequities. On the side, I also plan on cracking capitalism and owning apartments in New York and London, a holiday home in Bora Bora, and seven Teslas—one for every day of the week.
I’m not so jaded to think I can single-handedly achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals in my lifetime (although, if we unlock immortality, I might give it a good go). There’s a reason no one’s managed to do it yet. The world’s biggest problems are so complex and interconnected that progressing in one area might just start a war or put another area’s progress back 20 years. Nevertheless, the people who know me know I’m hopeful I can have a positive impact. Whenever I pop-off about the day’s chosen injustice, these people also tend to give me a smile that reads, “that’s nice, dear”, making me wonder if I’m more delusional than I thought.
To further fracture what I’m beginning to fear is the illusion I like to call my dreams, my placement supervisor said something earlier this semester that’s been playing on my mind, increasingly so as my final undergrad exam nears closer. He said something along the lines of, “I used to be like you, until I realised that trying to fix a system that was broken since its inception was not worth spending less time with [his] family and the subsequent burn out.” So, is my dream of being Features Editor at Craccum the only dream that will ever come true? BRB, I’m off to demand a refund from the fairy godmother.
A person as smart as my supervisor probably wasn’t telling me to throw in the towel just yet. Maybe he meant that even if a person’s dreams get “smaller” as they learn more or they don’t end up being the embodiment of every Avenger, it doesn’t make their life purposeless. I think he was trying to comfort me. And it did to a certain extent. But there’s also a not-so-quiet part of me still screaming, “I’m not like other girls!” I’m scared to leave uni because I’m scared of the reality check. I’m scared to learn that my dreams can only ever be dreams. In a truly masochistic move, I indulged my catastrophic thinking. I asked people who have been in the workforce for varying lengths of time how relatable my supervisor’s statement was.
It turns out that all of the people I talked to said that their dreams had changed. But not in the way I was most afraid of. Jessica* graduated from uni in 2020 after studying drama and screen production. Her dream at uni was to be a performer and actor. Although she initially thought her job as an administrator in a high school’s performing arts faculty was just a means to an end, she has since realised that it “is a really good side gig to have until I get into the career that I want”. While acting opportunities have been slim due to the pandemic, Jessica has enjoyed exploring other creative work like stage management and illustration. Ultimately, she feels like her “goals and ambitions have changed”, but they’re still aligned with working in the arts industry.
Like Jessica, Sarah* feels she’s discovered new ways to help people since leaving uni. While studying biomedical science, Sarah dreamed of becoming a health professional. For the past two years, she has been working in government. She has learned so much about the dynamics of New Zealand’s health system, “the different systemic challenges communities face and how these challenges affect their health outcomes”. So, while she still hopes to be a health professional one day, her “perspective of what a health professional looks like in Aotearoa has changed”.
Steven* “always had dreams of doing [his] own thing, whether it be starting a business or becoming big on YouTube.” His plan was to pursue his dreams on the side until they became big enough to sustain him. However, his work as a Computer Science graduate was more “draining” than he thought it would be, leading him to get a diploma in Web and Graphic Design. Steven has worked as a graphic designer for the past four years and, at this point, doesn’t see YouTube or business ownership becoming a full-time job. Steven says, “The drive to keep pursuing something better hasn’t changed. It’s just that I have to balance the priorities of surviving with pursuing my ambitions.”
The way Jessica, Sarah, and Steven describe how their ambitions have changed is not so hard for me to understand. I mean, every semester, there’s at least one paper I find myself enthralled with and subsequently re-planning my life around so that I can learn more. Reassuringly, I don’t think any of these people’s ambitiousness decreased after entering the workforce. Elon* even said that he has become more ambitious since leaving uni five-and-a-half years ago. After graduation, he expected to work 40 hours a week and pay the bills. He didn’t expect to find his passion. Equally, he didn’t expect to learn that grinding hard for a few years can allow you to follow and discover other passions and hobbies with fewer financial worries. I think that, if anything, working has given Jessica, Sarah, Steven, and Elon more concrete ways of finding contentment in life’s unpredictability.
Another thing that’s particularly reassuring to me is that nobody I spoke to seemed unsatisfied with their lives. In fact, Sarah said she was excited because her work experience means she is better positioned to help people. Steven admitted that he does “sometimes feel sad about the ‘what ifs’…if [he] had pursued [his] passions 100% instead of as a side thing”. However, he also recognises that he has done as well as he could have. To Steven, “life, in general, feels pretty balanced and good right now.” Jessica similarly shared that a small part of her is sad. But ultimately, she believes that “everything happens for a reason…and [her] time to shine on stage will come. At only 23 years old, Jessica is grateful for the creative positions she’s held and is “not too fussed” about where her creative career is at.
Although I’m sure I’ll spend more hours ruminating on the realisticness of my dreams, at least I have this article to find comfort in. It’s not the case that all our goals are unattainable. Sure, our dreams might change—in many respects, it would be strange if they didn’t, but we’ll likely be just fine. Perhaps we’ll do something that we haven’t imagined yet, and that’s something to look forward to, not lose sleep over.
*Names have been changed to protect people’s privacy