I’m not exactly sure after reading this article about a new book called “What Should I Do With My Life?”, but if Po Bonson’s story is any indication it’s pretty awful:
My job was to use a ten-key manual calculator and add up columns of numbers on the spreadsheets to make sure the computer hadn’t made a rounding error. If the computer was correct, we put a little red check mark on the bottom of the column. Then, with that same column, we’d do it again. Every column needed to be checked twice. That, and only that, was all I ever got to do. Ten or eleven hours a day, six days a week. I was being paid $12 an hour and being billed out at $75 an hour to our client (which was in turn passing the cost on to the lawsuit)…
I’d had grueling and mind-numbing jobs before (janitor, assembly line), but we always acknowledged we were mere shit shovelers. Here, everyone pretended what we were doing was somehow important, somehow relevant. The pretending was the worst part.
I wanted out by the second day–they’d misrepresented themselves–but I had $42,000 in student loans to pay off versus less than a month’s worth of savings. Besides, I couldn’t quit. Years of competitive sports and my natural stubbornness made me hold quitting in such low regard that it was simply unacceptable. I was sure nobody would hire a quitter. So I made the best of it. “It’s just a day job,” I tried to persuade myself, even though my days usually stretched well into the night.
After a couple weeks I began crying into my pillow at night. My girlfriend would hold me and offer solace. I fantasized about someday getting Saturdays off. I felt like my soul was withering away. Every dollar I spent was extending my prison time that much longer. So I ate rice and cabbage at night. Cornflakes with powdered milk for breakfast. I doctored my bus transfers to use them for the ride home. On my family’s birthdays, I’d save the dollar a greeting card cost and draw my own on a scrap of paper. One day I went swimming at the YMCA. The entrance to the pool was through the showers, and at the entrances to the showers there was a scale to weigh yourself. So I stepped on the base and set the weights at 157 pounds, because 157 pounds is what I’d weighed ever since high school. The lever arm fell hard. Hmm…I must have lost some weight. So I slid the one-pound weights to the left, tap, tap, tap, waiting for that lever arm to rise. Then I moved the fifty-pound weight one notch over, and resumed tapping, tapping…tapping. The lever arm finally lifted up to the balance.
One hundred thirty-two pounds.
I wasn’t metaphorically withering away, I was literally withering away. For several months I’d avoided spending five dollars on lunch by raiding the coffee room…
Read the whole thing.
One of the reasons that I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the career services industry as it’s done today is the prevailing assumption that its goal is to help people to better adjust to the economic status quo.
Like psychotherapists who rely on a culturally determined notion of neurosis who help to construct the very malady they claim to be curing, career coaches too often reinforce the belief that people are defined by success at their work. Since success seems to be emerging as a theme of the blog today it’s worth highlighting that our world is desperately in need of more integral models of success.
When human beings suffer, they don’t just suffer from 9 to 5. Their entire being — body, heart, and soul — is in pain.