4 questions on work

March. Along with the reappearance of beautiful, cloudless skies and warm sun comes the realization that time has been flying by. It seems like yesterday when I arrived in London, but it was the 24th of September, now more than five months ago. I have nine weeks left in London before I go back to Belgium and then move to Shanghai for the second chapter in what has already been a very exciting year. However, all of this also means graduation and the frightening entry into the workforce is coming closer and closer. I say frightening, because the impending deadline of graduation brings difficult questions that merit a blog post. Thus without further ado, I present to you the questions that go through my mind every time I apply for a job:

1. Do I want a regular job or not?

This might sound like a strange question, but I assure you it is not. With a regular job, I mean a job where at least a good percentage (say 40%) is “life” in the work-life balance pie. This could be a 9-to-5 job where you do not have to worry much about work preparation after five. The other option would be a job where I work my balls off every day (pardon my French), inevitably earning more money than with a regular job, but also having less time to spend that money. Perhaps I would travel more, but travel is not really travel when it means sitting in a conference room in what could be a beautiful city. I can already hear the wise advice coming my direction to answer this question: I will have to find the work-life balance that works well for me. Yet that advice does not really work for me. Even if I work a 9-to-5er (which is unlikely, given the jobs of today), that would only mean I have some five hours of life left to practise hobbies or to devote to some activity that I find meaningful. If you have more than one hobby, this already gives problems. In my case, I would most probably go to the gym, then study a language or something else, write and finish the day reading, which would effectively divide those five hours in four, giving slightly more than an hour per activity in the best-case-scenario of working from 9 to 5. Any job that requires more work would give even less time for those activities. This leads me to the next question:

2. What do I want to give up for this job?

Applying for a job where I am not willing to give up at least one, perhaps two, of above hobbies is a recipe for disaster and will inevitably leave me unhappy in the long run. However, for graduate students, it is very difficult to guess if you are willing to give up a few hobbies for a job before you have some actual experience doing the job. This is a personal dilemma that bothers me for every application, although September coming closer and the need for financial security do push me more towards applying rather than breaking my head over this question. Next.

3. What do I actually like?

This question needs to be answered because of the inherent nature of the studies I did. If I had done a Master’s in Applied Linguistics, I would most probably have become a translator, interpreter, editor or teacher. Those that study pharmaceutical sciences will most probably work in a pharmacy or hospital, those that study accountancy will most probably become accountants. Do not get me wrong by thinking these are the only jobs available to the people studying in that area, but it is a safety net that many graduates will use when they do not find any other job. I have a Master’s in Management and will have another in International Business soon, but that does not make me a manager or international businessman (how life would be easy). So graduates of this particular type of study need to figure out what they actually like. Personally, I have recently developed an interest in foreign exchange trading, and am now considering applying for jobs in that area. Of course, the broad but less in depth knowledge of business I have developed through my studies compared to students of a specific degree leaves me and my fellow students at a disadvantage if we want to apply for a specific job, which is why many turn to consultancy to find out what they truly like and to gain valuable job experience so their CV at least stands out in that way. But I find it hard to motivate myself for working long hours as a consultant, which, with all due respect, is basically working on other people’s problems. I am applying for graduate schemes in several companies, but it is tough differentiating yourself from others (especially in London) that have a more specific degree better suited to a certain role. Again though, the September deadline and financial security have shifted my thinking from “will I like this job?” to “I’ll figure out if I like this type of work once I’m actually doing it.”

4. Do I really want to work for someone else?

Ah, an easy question. Of course not. I have always believed true fulfilment in life comes from creation, where you build something yourself that can live longer than you do. Whether it be art, literature, music or starting a business, the main purpose of (my) life is creating something that lives as long as possible. So why would I work for someone else doing exactly what I want to do? Yet starting a business is not something you do overnight, but something that requires a good (preferably brilliant) idea. Yet all too often, we remain complacent under the excuse that a brilliant idea should suddenly pop into our head, which it does not. Active thought about what the world would need is required to come up with valuable ideas, but is often not undertaken because many underestimate the value of their ideas, or because they are reluctant to spend too much time on something initially very intangible, or because they lack this set of characteristics typical for an entrepreneur, such as guts, perseverance, commitment and passion. Mind you (for the headhunters reading this page), all the above does not mean I would not make a committed and valuable employee. But I do believe I could give up everything and give my entire heart and full passion to something I created myself. Creation is the most difficult, yet most rewarding path that does not answer above questions, but rather makes them obsolete, and the more I believe this, the more I exchange applying for creating.

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