In just under 2 months I will have finished all the classes of my university degree and Oprah-willing, I shall graduate. My parents have always been
a bit severely disappointed with my choice of career path. In fact my dad, behind my back, tried to get my brother to persuade me to choose a Commerce Degree. Not only did I not do Commerce, I didn’t even go to the University of Melbourne. Well this was the last straw, he gave me my orders to pack up my things and vacate my room. And that is the story of how I came to sell Big Issue magazines.
Luckily my dad relented and I was graciously let back into the house and the Filipino orphan that was adopted to replace me was returned. However I found that his attitude toward my degree was not unique. In fact even graffiti on the walls of uni bathrooms were mocking me. The phrase, ‘Collect your Arts Degree’ was scrawled above an arrow pointing down to the toilet paper dispenser. To be fair, I’m doing a degree in Communications, but even still, someone thought it funny to compare the differences between a Communications degree and a park bench, quipping that ‘at least a park bench could support a family’.
Blair called me up one day and asked if it was okay that all she aspired to do was be an alcoholic. I told her that as a long term goal that was fine (if you do it too early it’s tragic – case in point Lindsay Lohan), but perhaps she needed to think about how she could support this habit with a short term career goal. I personally think she’s very talented at what she studied, but she said something that struck me. Blair didn’t really care if she had an amazing career or not, in fact she was happy with what she was doing at the moment, and as long as she wasn’t in any debt she could happily continue along this path without any real ambition to move along. I was a bit taken aback. I, the toilet paper dispenser, was shocked that my dear friend didn’t have any ambition to move their career forward, work in other cities, use their qualifications.
Conversely, my course mate John F and I were having a discussion about where we thought we could be in the future. John said that he just wanted to be able to wow people with his job title. It came down to the fact that when people asked us what our job was their response would be ‘Wow’. This all boiled down to the underpinning attitude that is directed toward our degree. We wanted to prove to everyone that the choice we made was a good one, and that it worked out, that our lives were not to be pitied.
The world teaches kids that everyone is special, and that everyone can achieve their dreams. We get taught that lying is unethical. Interesting.
Was John F and my problem that we were being successful not for ourselves but for other people? Really it shouldn’t matter that others find my job or salary impressive, I could be a successful chemical engineer, but the fact is the work would probably make me want to engineer some benzodiazapines and uppers into my mouth and circulatory system. The only issue is that the line of work I’ve chosen, could very potentially lead me into a life of pitiable squalor.
Money doesn’t buy happiness! I hear you say. Well money may not buy happiness, but poverty can’t buy anything. I kid you not that one of my university lecturers wrote a feature article about how she was over the age of 40 and still no better financially than she was as a teen – a symptom of her career choices. Her article was admirable in the way that she spoke about pursuing her passions, but there was inevitably a twinge of uncomfortableness about it all. I was staring at my future, and just like that Dorian Gray guy, I died (a little inside).
My parents look to my brother, a surprising success and definitely not the child that they expected to be better off out of the two. My mum always compliments me, ‘I never thought it would be your life that I’d be worrying about working out’. That’s a compliment right? Despite his ‘success’ he has to be one of the most seriously unsatisfied people I know. He flits from job to job and gets bored easily by his work. I would hate to have that life. Despite all the money and wealth I’d accumulate, I’d be driven insane by being forced to do work that I didn’t enjoy for the rest of my life.
And that’s the key. That’s what I keep telling myself, and anyone who is pursuing anything outside of corporate roles that have structured pathways should too; That you should always be doing what you love (and hey, if its law or commerce that you love, good for you… you lucky bastard), because if you love it, you’ll stick with it, and the success will follow. How do I know this? I don’t, but at least for me if it doesn’t work out I have a sweet alcoholic life in a nursing home to look forward to.