[This is a companion piece, of sorts, to my earlier ‘The Employer Owes You Nothing.]
There are times when I cannot believe the nonsense coming out of colleges and universities in the West. Just looking at the current hullabaloo in Missouri makes me wonder why a number of students, particularly the football team, haven’t been shown the door. Or arrested, purely for making it impossible for other students to actually study. But all of this pales before a reality that, I suspect, is going to bite those students hard when they actually graduate.
Who the hell is going to employ them?
Let’s be serious, shall we? What employer in his right mind wants an employee so wedded to a perverse and inaccurate racial narrative that the merest rebuke, in his mind, will become something far worse than a whipping from a slave-owner? Why would anyone employ a former student with so little dedication that his or her qualifications are barely acceptable? And why would anyone trust the degrees coming out of the universities if the threat of campus unrest, instead of being met with heavy repression, led to ‘As’ being handed out like candy?
Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a feeling that most of those students are going to leave university in a few years with nothing to show for it, apart from heavy debts. Debts they will not be able to repay, because they won’t be able to get proper jobs; debts that will hang around their heads like millstones until the day they die.
The blunt truth of the matter is that high-paying jobs go to people with qualifications, experience and the right attitude. Attitude is important; attitude is how you convince the interviewer to give you a chance to shine. There are very few jobs, no matter how glamorous they seem during careers day, where you jump right to the top on day one. You will start at the very lowest level and you have to prove yourself before you can get to the top.
Life isn’t fair. Unless you’re very lucky, you will see people promoted ahead of you that do not, in your opinion, deserve it. Those people will often have more going for them than degrees or even confidence. They’ll be the ones the managers feel they can work with, the ones who are able to act in a reasonable manner, the ones who understand the reality of the world. You have to learn from these people, not spend all of your time whining and embracing your bitterness. Lying to others is bad enough, but lying to yourself is far worse.
There’s a line from a book I read as a child where the heroine, a young girl (I think she was 12) argued that she was as old as she was. Trite as it seems, these days it sounds like utter wisdom – physical age is immaterial, mental age is all-important. If you go into work with the mentality of a five-year-old unable to tell the difference between accident and genuine malice, convinced that so-called micro-aggressions give you the right to make a fuss, you’re not going to last very long. No one is going to hire you, no one is going to promote you … in short, if you make yourself unbearable, expect to be shown the door in short order. Why would anyone hire a known troublemaker?
Living and working in the adult world requires maturity, not childishness.
So, put childishness aside and learn to act like an adult.
Pick a degree that gives you the greatest degree of flexibility possible. If you’re interested in soft studies, do them as a minor or study them in your own time. If you’re insistent on studying something ‘soft,’ work hard to make it clear that you are prepared to work hard. Do a part-time job and stick to it. Rest assured, anyone interested in hiring you will call around to check on your reputation. Do you want your first boss to say ‘good worker’ or ‘lazy sack of bones?’
Don’t walk around looking for an excuse to take offense. Put twenty or thirty people together and you can rest assured that some of them will rub others the wrong way. Learn to ignore micro-aggressions because the speaker probably doesn’t even know they’re micro-aggressions. You want a reputation to be easy to get alone with, not one for being a prickly hedgehog. Learn to cope because I assure you that you will run into people who will be far worse, depending on whatever you want to do for a living. (I never got assaulted while I was at the library, but I had my fair share of angry patrons.) You cause your boss problems with the customers and … well, you’ll be out of the door in seconds.
Learn to be reasonable about what your boss can and cannot do for you. Regardless of the legal requirements, there are some issues the boss will have problems handling. Can your boss actually afford to do what you want? And learn to ask nicely when you want something. People tend to resent being told that they have to do something, particularly when they’re the boss and you’re the worker. If your boss thinks of you as an awkward sod, you’ll be the first on the firing line when the business starts to run out of money.
And, while you’re at it, be polite to the boss. I’m not saying you should fawn on him, kiss his ass, grant sexual favours, etc, just be polite. Show enthusiasm, do extra work. Offer constructive remarks, if asked (smart bosses like people who bring solutions as well as problems), and be respectful when you do it. Yes, you’ll probably run into a few assholes who’ll steal your ideas, which is a good sign that you should be looking for another job.
Be polite and friendly to your co-workers. If you like them, be friends; go out on business trips with them, etc. If you don’t like them, be polite anyway. If you think they’re genuinely harassing you, build a case, but bear in mind that not everyone agrees on the definition of harassment. Talk to a co-worker and see if they agree before making a formal complaint. Your boss will certainly take how you work with your fellow employees into consideration when considering promotion.
In short, invest in your own value as an employee.
I know, everyone wants to be a special snowflake. And I don’t really blame them. Who doesn’t want to be special? But your employers aren’t looking for someone special, they’re looking for someone who can fit in. They’re the sort of people who get jobs.
Or you can just learn to say ‘do you want fries with that?’