Learning To Work and The Great Divorce
17 years of school trains you for a world that doesn’t exist.
Throughout school and college, you are in a finite work environment. An arbitrary world with a constrained workload. If you have too much to do, the school has overworked you and is responsible for you bad results.
The total amount of “work" is fixed at a “reasonable” level and the things you work on are assigned, never chosen. Year after year, you learn how to get a finite amount of assigned work done, but you never learn how to work in an environment where you have to choose the work, and there are countless options.
Many intelligent people do well in school and learn to thrive in this environment with limited assigned tasks. With a hard deadline, a defined task, and clear grades for success they can work a handful of projects. But when they are thrown into a more dynamic environment where they need to exercise judgment and choose from countless options they are paralyzed by fear.
They don’t know how to define what is important, so they think they should do almost everything. As a result, they don’t finish what they want to get done. For anyone who has worked in almost any job, this is a common feeling. There is always more you could do, and you need to get comfortable with pushing yourself to do the best you can do without sacrificing in other areas.
But for the school-bred perfectionist, they are faced with a daily feeling of failure that they don’t know how to handle. Guilt seeps from the edges as an occasional signal, to be a dominant emotional experience. Guilt, fear, and anxiety dominate their day to day experience, their confidence drops, their results suffer, and eventually, they break and quit or are fired.
They retreat from complex work into more basic roles that limit the need to make decisions. Fleeing from complex work creates a lot of peace and ease, but in the long term, it creates dissatisfaction, pain, and envy.
17 years in school and college have prepared them for a type of work that doesn’t exist.
The Path to Fulfillment Is Not Comfortable
In C.S. Lewis’ The Great Divorce, the protagonist takes a trip from purgatory/hell to heaven, but doesn’t realize it.
Purgatory is grey and lacks joy, but it is comfortable. Heaven is bright, solid, and painful. His time in purgatory has shrunken him into a small ghost. The blades of grass don’t bend under the protagonist's weight and hurt his feet while the light hurts his skin. He is a ghost, not prepared to handle solid heaven.
Over time, if he stays, he would become more solid, more real, and heaven would not hurt so much, but it would take time and discomfort. As daylight and the threat of painful sunlight approach he prepares to suffer before he wakes up and realizes it was all a dream.
In the same way, students enter the professional world and realize “this hurts”. They are no longer in an artificial environment, and the process of adjusting to it is painful. Instead of bearing the discomfort and becoming real, they retreat back to the world they know. They go back to get an MBA or graduate degree and postpone the transformation they would need to undergo to become solid.
They flee from discomfort in the short term without realizing the sacrifice they are making. They complain about the economy and politics of the job market. They complain about how the market doesn’t value them properly. They ignore the path to everything they want that lies right before them because it hurts. Instead, they choose the comfortable path towards a life devoid of joy.
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