Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Starting a Re-Education

Almost three weeks ago, I quit my job. It was very hard for me. For, I had grown very used to do doing things that didn’t really feel right to me, because they were ‘good in the long run’, or I believed that ‘you have to work hard/do things you don’t want to do in order to get the things you actually want’. I think this lesson starts in elementary school. Children are born with the desire to learn who they are. But school does not foster this exploration. Instead, school creates an environment where children learn the set of expectations society is going to have for them because of the categories they happen to fall in—in other words, who they are suppose to be. Kids are often being told to ‘grow up’. But this does not mean, learn to focus on what you feel most passionate about. To grow up, in our society, means to start sacrificing the things you like to do in order to work hard on things the society values. Eventually, children lose track of what they care about and start to fully buy into the dreams that our culture makes for them. When we come across people who are happy and enjoying their lives, we judge them as immature and unsuccessful, because we believe that only through sacrifice and struggle will we succeed. We reward those who have sacrificed their existences for work with high salaries, and punish those who chose self-expression as their career with labels of lazy or self-promoting.

I’ve been in school for the past 17 years, and was always an extremely dutiful student. This sense of duty got me to Yale University, where the conviction that one needs to basically suffer in order to become successful was stronger than any other environment I’ve ever been in. Students there would take enormous pride in the sheer amount of work they did, bragging over how many hours spent in the library, how many days they’d gone without sleep, how many pages they had written out of sheer willpower, and how impossible, because of their enormous time constraints, it was for them to enjoy the little things in life. In my freshman year, I took up knitting. One Saturday afternoon, as I sat knitting on the couch, a roommate of mine walked in, clasped her hands and sighed, “Oh Kezia! It’s so nice that you have time to knit”. The sad thing is, she didn’t mean to sound like a condescending bitch. She really thought it was amazing that anyone in this school that she could respect could possibly have a spare moment on a Saturday afternoon to knit a scarf. At the time, I was mortified, and I never knit again. It seemed to me that if I was going to be at Yale I needed to be taken seriously, so I could waste time with pointless hobbies like that.

When people would ask me what I thought about Yale, I would always say “it’s intense”. I knew I was miserable there, but I did not have the courage to reject the environment because Yale is one of the most respected universities in our country. Thousands of children every year put their sights on coming to Ivy League colleges and I felt that it was ungrateful, weak and pathetic of me to want to leave there just because the place didn’t make me feel good. Of course this place doesn’t make you feel good, I thought. This is what it takes to be important and successful in life! If you can’t cut it, it’s your problem!

And so, when I started my job in September, it’s not surprising that I had a similar attitude. When I thought of quitting because I wasn’t connecting with my work, I again felt shameful and weak, as I had when I considered transferring from Yale. My peers confirmed this, as some reminded me that we all have to do things we don’t like in order to ‘become adults’ and be successful. Now, I no longer think that this is true.

I’m not saying that in life one will never have to do something that they do not want to. Learning to understand and accept others desires as you do your own is an essential aspect of growing up. I do think, though, that when you feel passionate about something, the work you must complete to achieve your goal that could at first appear monotonous or unpleasant becomes easy and enjoyable. I don’t think it should just be accepted that most of the time you will not want to do you work, or you won’t enjoy it. Instead, I think that if you are dreading your work then you should take that feeling as a signal that you aren’t doing the right thing. Becoming an adult, for me, is no longer going to be about learning to ‘suck it up’ or ‘bite the bullet’ or ‘be realistic’. Instead, I’m going to put all my efforts into learning, as well as I can, who I am and what I care about most. And I hope, through this education, I can more successfully choose a new job.


  1. This article has a take on work and identity that might be interesting to you right now:
    I found reading it very helpful, myself.
    His point is pretty similar to yours, but he gets there by an interesting route.

  2. Thank you, for the beautiful post and a wonderful article recommended above by Yotam (http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/working-for-life/now-i-become-myself)