Archive for the ‘work’ Category
I read this book in less than 24 hours. For someone who’s spent MONTHS reading just one particular book, that is indeed a little unusual.
But I had quite the impetus to get though this quickly: for me, it was an A Christmas Carol-ish story of my life past and what could possibly await me in the future. (But also it was written in a very conversational manner that made it super easy to read)
A few weeks ago, M forwarded me an article from the Melbourne Age’s ‘Sunday’ magazine. It was an excerpt from a forthcoming non-fiction title by Lisa Prior about how the best and brightest university students in Australia (who had mostly gotten into Law at uni by being freakishly over-achieving high school students) get sucked into corporate firms.
Sounded kinda familiar. I had to know more.
I picked the book up on Friday and devoured it the next day. But sometimes I had to stop and breathe. It’s a surprise when you find that the book you are reading actually seems like your biography.
At one stage I had to shut the book after I mentally ticked nearly all the boxes of the mini-quiz entitled “Could You be A Neurotic, Status-Conscious, Overachieving, Workaholic Control Freak?”
The book’s chapters outlines each aspect of Pryor’s argument about the way over-achieving wunderkinds get shipped into law school and then seduced by the Big Firms into dreary, horrible jobs they end up hating. Each chapter ends with amusing quizes or points of information that help you figure out if you’re at high risk of turning into a pinstripped inmate.
Pryor became my Ghost of High school Past when outlining the way private school darlings who do way more than anyone really needs to lock themselves away
amid swimming carnival ribbons and inter-house debating pennants, highlighting and cross-referencing, juggling sticky-notes and flash cards, recording the number of hours study this day and this week devoted to each subject in hand-drawn rosters, carefully calculating the minimum mark they will need to get in their Othello essay to maintain the number one rank in the top English class, before running off to senior school choir practice, hockey, flute lessons, dance eisteddfods or rugby training.
If that paragraph had had Medea instead of Othello, school production instead of choir, netball instead of hockey (and no dance or rugby or any mention of winning ribbons of any sort) I would worry that Lisa Pryor spied on me as a teenager.
But. Oh fuck. I really was that much of a tool, wasn’t I? Yeesh.
Anyway. Back to the book.
Pryor continues from that breathless list with the following observation: “In every activity they will be scored, marked and ranked, ranked, ranked against their peers.”
And, you see, it is this trait of constantly competing and ranking and fighting for top spot that makes kids like us (who get into Law — the course that only allows students with the top-top marks — and then graduate with prizes and honours and what have you) the perfect fodder for the law firm recruitment rigmarole my friends and I only know too well.
The chapter entitled “Recruitment Brochure Bingo”, which outlines how Every. Single. Firm describes themselves as “unique, dynamic and diverse”, would be gut-splittingly hilarious if it didn’t gut-wretchingly make me realise that I got so totally sucked in by it all:
“The recruitment brochure is a weapon in the propaganda assault that big firms unleash on graduating students. The genre is as manipulative as military recruitment material, only with a whole lot more stock photography of skyscrapers.”
The brochures are, of course, supplemented with the “information evenings” aka canapés and champers nights, coffee outings and all the fancy breakfasts, lunches, dinners you get while on vacation clerkships. There is a thought-provoking question related to all of this:
Big firms are terribly eager to make the jobs they offer seem fabulous and desirable. They go to expensive lengths to bribe students with free food, twilight drinks and sponsorship money. For all the questions overachieving braniacs ask during the recruitment process, they seem to miss the most important one: if these firms are really so brilliant and do offer a life beyond compare, why do they have to work so hard to convince people to join?
Dun dun dun! Sounds foreboding, doesn’t it?
Pryor also makes the connection between the way the firms use corporate sponsorship of law school competitions and events to get themselves known to the kiddies and the lack of money available to student guilds and associations in general. I won’t get into the voluntary student unionism thing here, but let me just say this one thing: the Law Student Society at uni always had more money, and did the best events and services, which benefited a small proportion of the uni’s students, while the Student Association that was supposed to cater for the whole campus had to scrimp and beg and forgo. She’s not making any of this up.
The Ghost of Law Career Future scared me a heck of a lot more. I am standing at the precipice of starting as a law grad at one of the very firms Pryor paints as hell (there is a rather funny fable about vacation clerkships at the start of Chapter 7).
Just to dilute my panic a little, I am making a fellow Over-Achieving Nutjob (whom I love dearly) who went to high school with me and will be starting there with me next year read this book so that we can pow-wow about it. Because there is a lot to take in, and many, many, many variables that I need to consider, and I will leave them all for another post.
It is sufficient here to say that Pryor has stories from several people who have been sucked into the corporate black hole. Some came out alive, some are still there. But we all know about the dramatically high rates of depression and anxiety (and often, self medication) among lawyers, and that is something all law students need to think really hard about.
But one thing needs to be noted at this point: Law is NOT for everyone. For the ones who don’t drop out of law school and end up in the Big Firms, there will be some who love it, want to be there, have always wanted to be there, and are meant to be there.
(M, my sweet darling boyfriend, is one of those people. That kinda absolutely freaks me out, but fact that thoughts of being A Partner’s Partner makes me want to throw up, is, also, another story.)
And then there will be others who do not feel the same way. They get in and realise much too late that they hate it, and come out with the stories of woe and misery. They will hate looking up archaic points of law or figuring out if that conjunction in that contract should be an “and” or an “or”, and will go home every night and cry themselves to sleep, before they jump off a building or write the next Hell Has Harbour Views.
I got a feeling from the book that one of the biggest problems here is the nature of the education system. The way tertiary entrance is merely a process aimed at ranking everyone to compete for a few select spots in a few select courses that, somehow, are deemed to be more worthy and respectable than others means that kids who aren’t supposed to be lawyers end up studying law, and then end up in jobs they hate.
Again, though, the despicablility of the way tertiary education is heading is another story for another post. But I hear the Uni of Melbs is making law post-grad only and I think that’s totally the right idea.
There is another thesis in the book which impacts everyone, not just the Over-Achieving Law Nutjobs. And this is essentially that the cream of the clever country’s clever cookies were being stashed away in private cookie jars to only be chewed up by partners and clients of law, banking or business consulting firms. The public didn’t get the benefit of what these kids have to offer, and Pryor asks:
What does it mean for us as a nation when so many of our cleverest people are being siphoned from careers in which they could be doing something useful?
As I consider myself quite the Tim Tam, and, at that, one who went into law school thinking it was the first step in my journey to save the world (because we all know, Tim Tams fix everything), this is quite the conundrum. But, again, enough about me.
Generally speaking, on one hand, I reckon the fact that we have to pay for our own bloody degrees now means that if we can work in A Firm and love it and rake in the cash, no-one should tell us otherwise. If, however, we didn’t have to pay back HECS or HELP or whatever acronym the next government comes up with for the privilege of a tertiary education, then there might be some more merit in an argument that the firms are sucking up the brains of the clever country. (I wonder how busy Jenny Macklin’s office is at the moment? I think I have some submissions on The Future Of Higher Education to write.)
There is also a chapter on the massive problems about getting women up the ranks in these firms. Disheartening stuff. I’ve spoken and written on this issue before and, again, I have suggestions for proposed solutions which I’ll put in another post. This is a book review, people, focus.
After outlining who gets sucked in and how, Pryor provides a few ideas for how to break out of jail, along with the stories of others who’ve done it before. (Did y’all know that cool “Flipside” burger bar in North Freo is run by a Firm Escapee?). It wasn’t too preachy or anything, but this is the closest thing to a self-help book I’ve actually read (cf bought. Which I do. A lot. Because I’m neurotic).
While there are times when the author seems rather bitter and spiteful about private school kids and law firm princess, I have to admit there is still truth in the stereotypes, and Pryor’s cautionary tale is of the sort that tells you to learn from other people’s mistakes before you make them yourself.
Just a final note: I have not yet made any decisions about the next few years of my life. I have to survive the next few months, first. Damn you to hell, Alan Bond. But first, may you die a pauper, you smarmy git.
Ahem. That is all.
The Pinstriped Prison
Lisa Pryor (Picador, Sydney: 2008), 272pp.
When I entered the title right up there I typo-ed “The 40Hour Work Week”. That’s a Freudian slip and a half if you ever saw one.
So I have decided to do away with all the whinging and whining I have included in this blog recently and have thereby resolved to get up off my butt and start doing something to fix it.
I have had this wishy-washy goal nestled in the back of my mind all year and the other day, when I took a mental health day, I plugged in my mobem and did a bit of research. I figured out exactly what it was that I wanted to do. I crystallised the goal and I am actually able to start making steps to get there. When it was just this vague idea I didn’t do anything about it because, frankly, I couldn’t. Now I have little steps that I can do like items on a to-do list. Nice.
And then today I got a call from a friend who said she knows these people looking for a particular sort of person and I totally fit the bill and she recommended me would it be ok for her to give them my number. And these people are people I have really, really been interested in working for.
I bother to flap my butterfly wings and look what happens.
I have a confession to make (and Skink’s probably gonna leave an abusive — yet witty and amusing — comment about it).
I have a thing for self-help books.
I have only ever ACTUALLY read one, a long time ago, but it was good and helpful and I learned lots and I’ve bought like a couple over the last year or so. I could say it was in the hope that one day I might read them and sort out my life, but more accurately, it was in the hope that they might impart wisdom on me via some sort of wireless-osmosis from my little Ikea bookshelf, because I thought I was better than them.
But yeah, I did think I needed them. (Actually I need and am using stuff that’s a lot stronger, but that’s another story for another post).
Anyway, I’d been hearing bits and bobs about that book around the blogosphere so I decided to give it a shot. Plus the Chicken Soup guy said this:
“It’s about time this book was written. It is a long-overdue manifesto for the mobile lifestyle, and Tim Ferriss is the ideal ambassador. This will be huge.”
–- Jack Canfield
I love the Chicken Soup books! And I am all for the whole mobile working thing.
At completely cursory glance: I really don’t think I need all the internet marketing shit that’s mentioned in the sneaky readers-only page, and I have serious moral-dilemma issues with the whole “outsourcing your life” thing, but I’ll read the book and watch these videos and get back to you on that.
Anyway, I better get back to what feels like an 80-hour work week — I can’t even be all TGIF cause I know I have to come in on the weekend.
But maybe not for long 😛
Today marks the 6 -month anniversary (demi-anniversary?) of my status as a worker-bee.
For the last six months, I have caught the bus or sat in traffic (listening to Nathan and Nat on Nova, of course) to sit in front of a computer screen in a large capsule of concrete, steel and glass (not that I ever see much glass from my cubicle) for several hours, eat rice crackers and cottage cheese at my desk, get massive headaches from the lack of Vitamin-D, then go back home to forrage for tinned soup or whatnot, then collapse into bed, just to wake up and do it all over again.
(That sentence was long and exhausting for a reason. Any of you wannabe sub-editors who are clenching their jaws should desist and sigh with relief at the knowledge that yes, I know the rules of grammar, so I have the right to break them, a’iight?)
But what about weekends, you ask? How can today be the demi-anniversary when today is Saturday?
Because I am working today, thankyouverymuch.
My co-worker-bee has skipped town to visit the Pope the week we have a massive deadline (but to be fair, this mofo project shoulda been done months ago, and when she booked her leave we all assumed it would be gonekthxbai) and The Boss has me doing work I shouldn’t even be doing. Let alone have the capacity to do. And I am freaking out about it.
I did get out to see The Dark Knight — which is freaking AWESOME and they showed The X-Files: I Want to Believe trailer which looks like it’s going to be EVEN MORE AWESOME — this morning but I didn’t get to sleep in because I knew I had to get to the first session or else the whole day would be wasted.
This nuerotic, bitching post probably shouldn’t be here; I suppose I could’ve put it in my anonymous nuerotic-bitching blog, but I swear, I have a point.
My point is this:
I NEED A MOTHER-FUNKING HOLIDAY GOSHDARNIT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Oh, my other point: people are way too overworked and we live in a society that is too fast-paced where we have too-high expectations on us and it is totally shit and we need to figure out a better way. Right now. Because this effing sucks, people. Yeah, I said “effing”. You know it’s bad.
I am just EXHAUSTED. My brain hurts. My body aches. I can’t be arsed going to the shops to get anything decent for dinner and Lean Cuisines are NOT about “Looking After Yourself” unless you are some strange bot who survives on expensive cardboard beans. My two weeks’ of regularly going to the gym is staring at me and in sad, lonely, mouth-gaping shock and I have even stopped caring about the fact my hair looks like I should be one of the principles in Wicked. The only upside is that The Boyfriend is on a graduates’ junket with his work this weekend so at LEAST it doesn’t matter that I haven’t waxed my legs.
I feel the odd mix of catatonia and rage that signals an imminent breakdown, and I am freaking out.
There was a post on fabulous new (shiny new! Like 4-days-old new! NEW new!!) Perth blog Beyond Beeton that totally made me feel like I was in Oprah’s audience (on one of the serious episodes not the ones with the free stuff, unfortunately — wouldn’t that just be freaking GREAT?) and I just wanted to nod all seriously and shout out “AMEN, SISTER” in a manner befitting a large, Southern, African-American lady. And I suppose I could have since there was no one in the office because EVERYONE IS ON HOLIDAYS.
But of course, I am a small South-Asian Australian girl, and even I would have thought it kind of out of place.
Anyway, I will replicate the fervor-inducing passages from the post “Feminism really needs to go away and leave me alone for a while” here:
There’s nothing more empowering than having your apron strings untied from the sink.
Unless you get untied from the sink so that you can trot off in a wool suit to your box on the terrace for every daylight hour and more besides, after which you will glamorously engage in up-to-the-minute witty banter with 40 of your nearest and dearest colleagues who you are dining with again. You then of course go home, ring your mother and actually listen to what she says, clean the toilet, put the bin out (you’re a liberated woman after all), read the paper and a few novels (see the witty banter point above), bake something nice to take to work tomorrow and save at least 15 children from starvation or tractor accidents or something, all while looking hopelessly alluring.
If you’re managing all that and vodka isn’t a part of your daily routine then I hate you and there is nothing for you here.
AMEN, SISTER. A-fricking-MEN.
I wonder if the other Buddhists will notice that I’m breaking a precept during our version of Lent if I crack open the sav-blanc in the fridge that I am looking after for a friend who left it at a work do and have totally forgotten to give back (because I do not function til I get off the bus and to Ristretto, and always forget to take it to work)?
Because I have a forbording sense of desperation and fear that everything is not going to be alright.
Ah well. At least I have blogging with which to vent.
PS — Beeton, if you are reading this: I can’t comment on your posts because it says I need to log in? But you’re not on wordpress.com? Can you please check that? I would be sad if I can’t comment, and I’m sure everyone here would *realise* how truly nutso I was if I resorted to posting here so that I could ping back to you.
So I’m a Gen Y, right, and frankly, I’m quite proud of us. While I freely admit that there are some of us who may be narcissistic, materialistic attention-seekers (as an absolutely un-researched, baseless, person opinion, I think this mostly applies to kiddly-winks born after 1986, but I know lots of peeps my age who are like that), I reckon it’s bloody awesome that I went to high school with about five girls who wanted to be PM and change the world, just like I did, and honestly could do it if they really wanted to.
Sure, maybe I just went to a feminazi all-girls school, maybe I hung out with totally geeks, whatevs, but the fact is that there are plenty of good apples to make up for the bad ones, and this applies to “Gen Y” just as much as the Baby Boomers and whatever other generations there are (just KIDDING!!).
But we’re still getting a bad rap for being whiny little twerps. A few months ago there was this article on Jezebel (heart) that, ironically, I was reading at work because I was so over my shitty job (which I totally did not go to six years of university to get paid at public service salary for):
I spoke with an acquaintance who just graduated from college last May, and is about eight months into her first-ever job. I asked her, now that the stress of the first six months and figuring out the lay of the land, how she likes her work. “I answer the phone and file things,” she said. “You don’t need a college degree to do what I do. It’s stupid that I am in this job.”
Jezebel cited and NYT article that quoted Dan Pink (who is totally Oprah’s new guru, by the way) on what’s wrong with Gen Y and why we’re whinging about having to do shit jobs when, frankly, we’re way too awesome to have to do that:
“This generation has been spoon-fed self-esteem cereal for the past 22 years,” he said. “They’ve been told it’s all about them — what they want, what they are passionate about, what they find fulfilling. That’s not a bad message, but it’s also not a complete message.”
This point of view is shared among many, apparently:
“Generation Y is much less likely to respond to the traditional command-and-control type of management still popular in much of today’s workforce,” says Jordan Kaplan, an associate managerial science professor at Long Island University-Brooklyn in New York. “They’ve grown up questioning their parents, and now they’re questioning their employers. They don’t know how to shut up, which is great, but that’s aggravating to the 50-year-old manager who says, ‘Do it and do it now.’ “
But Dan Pink has some life-lessons for us, so that we get the complete message:
“The Adventures of Johnny Bunko” (Riverhead Trade) is a career guide cum manga comic designed to appeal to the newest entrants to the workplace. During the illustrated tale, the title character learns six lessons that Gen Y workers might not have fully absorbed at home.
I scanned over the 23-page preview that’s available online, and urgh, don’t you just hate it when you realise someone’s got you pegged?
So I’m sitting here on a Saturday night, and I am actually supposed to be doing work (but surprise, surprise, I’m blogging, but fricking-eh, it’s Saturday night) because my co-worker is going on holidays and my boss is making me finish HER work as well, and I know I’m not going to get that done otherwise.
For the last few weeks, I’ve been completely miserable about my work lot, because this was totally not what I had reasonably expected to be this job to be like — if I’d really wanted to be doing work at home on a Saturday night, I’d have gone straight to The Firm and been happy with the nice-little private-sector salary I’d be getting in lieu of free time. I was totally expecting to not only be working 9-5 flat, but also have really interesting work to be doing (which my collegues get to do — grumble grumble)
But do you know what freaks the heck out of me?
The blurb to Dan Pink’s book A Whole New Mind — Oprah’s new bible about “professional success and personal fulfillment” in the post-Information Age — highlights that lawyers (and accountants and software engineers etc) are totally going to be part of the dead professions. So where will that leave me?
Freaking out in the cobwebs?
Sitting at work during the 10-minute internet break I’m giving myself for working super hard for an hour and a half (despite the horror start to the day), and find this gem from Put Things Off in my Google Reader.
Despite all the obvious warnings, like the cubicle stress that ends in Godzilla-style office rampages, all of this is somehow considered normal. Commuting is a fact of life, isn’t it? Or perhaps, like me, you find a dark humour in wasting our lives by physically travelling to work in the Internet age. If it wasn’t so sad it might be funny.
It was pouring with rain this morning. After the thunderstorms last night, the clouds apparently had a few more dams-full to squeeze out. The traffic was horrendous. A 10-minute drive (which I would normally catch the bus for, since petrol is nearing $1.65/L this week) took over 3 times as long. On the walk from the car park to my office, my beautiful bespoke-tailored-for-super-cheap-in-Vietnam pants got so soaked that I probably don’t need to worry about finding time to get them to the dry-cleaners this week — they are ruined.
On days like this, if I was able to work from home, Monday-itis would be a LOT easier to deal with.
Great article, Nick.