Surviving work: the list

11 Jun

It’s been exactly a year since I started teaching. Life has been nothing short of an avalanche of change, though ironically, one of the hardest things I’m learning to accept now is the routine lack of change that creeps in and settles quietly.

I am still trying to accustom myself to the fact that the capped and gowned figures on the UVA webpage do not come from my class. I have decided that a helpful thing I can do for the class of ’10 (and ’11s and ’12s; it’s not too soon to wonder) would be to compile a list of things I wish I’d known about post-college life. This is a work in progress, both in terms of the writing and carrying out.

If you’ve ever asked the ubiquitous question “How’s work?” without really expecting a proper answer (and I agree, you shouldn’t expect one), this is for you too.

****

1. Actively up the empathy. It’s going to come very naturally to see clients in a clinical light for two reasons: i) you are given a position of authority; ii) you are removed from the loop of the layman (if you are a job consultant, the jobless become your job; if you’re a teacher, the students become your job). Positions are, after all, artificial constructions. Knowledge should give you a base from which to understand, not cultivate self-superiority.

(You wouldn’t want to be like Elizabeth Gilbert, whose conversation partner at a party – on hearing that Gilbert had just separated from her husband – said: “I myself have been happily married for eight years already. And I’ll never get divorced.”)

2. Seek people in the same boat. You will no longer have convenient access to 14,000+ individuals who are essentially going through the same thing in the same place within the same time spectrum. Due to the wide age range, colleagues face diverse issues (which, after all, make life very rich – in my office over the past year, I’ve seen co-workers jet off for graduation ceremonies, push in baby strollers, gracefully handle the sudden deaths of loved ones, celebrate promotions, and discuss wedding invitation designs).

As strange as it might seem to have to go out and create communities where they formed very naturally before, knowing that you’re doing something alongside people who understand where you’re coming from is a powerful and important connection. I am thus ridiculously blessed in my “post-graduation fellowship” girls and teaching buddies.

3. Make appointments with your family. As stupid as that might sound (won’t you see them all the time as it is?*), work hours (particularly the dread thing called Overtime) can swallow you up, and before long, it’s easy to forget the regular effort (yes, effort) required to make conversation and maintain connections with your well-intentioned loved ones, as well as flourish under their care.

*This applies mainly to fresh grads in Singapore, who often continue living at home until they tie the knot, as well as fresh grads in the United States who get a job in the state where their family resides.

4. Don’t rely too much on your memory (even if it’s always been awesome). In spite of various altruistic proclamations, college students are responsible for one key thing – themselves and their future. The employed are responsible for many. Gladly accept gifts of Post-its, binders, table organizers, whiteboards. You’re going to need them.

To reiterate: You’re responsible for many; your job is other people. All these equal sacrifice because it’s no longer about you. You’re the adult now. Remember the times your mother carried you on her knee and let you cry unceasingly many nights, despite the fact that you were cutting into her sleep cycle that had already been upended beyond belief by your very birth? It’s time to give back.

I think of Jeremiah at the potter’s house, and how once we, quite literally, start serving for a living, we give up more of ourselves to be moulded for God’s work. I might fight tooth and nail against it for a time, but suddenly slacken, stop short, relax, when I remember this is just as it should have been all along.

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2 Responses to “Surviving work: the list”

  1. Krysteene June 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm #

    Thanks for this, da jie. ❤ I've a ways to go before I reach that post-grad work stage, but you wrote some things I needed to be reminded of during this "independent" tourist month. Thanks esp for the reminder that, in general, life isn't about me.

  2. ning June 20, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    You’re learning to stand on your own for God. And that’s exciting! 😀

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