Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Some Bitter, Cynical Advice

I've actually tried to write this post about 7 times now, and each time I've given up, basically because it's made sound like a jaded, cynical asshole.

It all started during a slow day at work. Someone asked a hypothetical question:

If you could go back in time, meet yourself when you were 12 and pass on some advice, what would that advice be?

A small caveat: No direct knowledge of the future. No telling yourself to invest heavily in Apple, what the lottery numbers are or what team to bet on. Just general life advice.

Finally, after much thought, my response came down to this:

"The world does not give a shit about you or your feelings. It only cares what it can get from you. Enjoy this while you can, because as hard as you think things are now, they're going to get so much harder."

See? Cynical asshole.

Well, let me start by defining 'The Real World' because when I was a teenager, I hated that expression. What do you mean, the 'real world'? I live in the real world! Just because I'm a teenager and don't have mortgage payments yet doesn't mean I live in some weird parallel reality.

...except you absolutely, totally do.

Let me explain: High school is the weirdest, most artificial environment on the planet. It is the only time in your life when you're going to be constantly surrounded by people in your own age group, who are all at the same stage in their lives, doing the same things as you while being exposed to the same ideas. It's why your taste in music, movies and what clothes you wear is such a big deal, because it's the only thing that sets you apart from everyone else and defines who you are and what group you fit into.

...and here's the big thing. School is the only environment on the planet where everyone around you has a vested interest in your success and will do everything they can to make you succeed.

It may not seem like that. Your teacher may be a real hardass who's on your case all the time, but let me explain something:

At school, your teachers are stuck with you. No matter how much you fuck up, no matter how many tests you fail or how little you pay attention...they have to teach you. You don't get fired from English class because you can't spell....but here's the thing, you fail enough and your teacher absolutely can get fired. His job and standing as a successful teacher depends on whether you and your classmates pass. Also, your school gets funding based on the school's pass rate. If it's a private school, they can charge more if more people pass and the school gets prestigious. If it's a public school, more passes equal more tax dollars and government grants.

You're a long term investment. If your school was a factory, you are the product...and if a factory produces shitty products, it doesn't stay a factory for very long.

So, let's talk about the 'real world', shall we?

You graduate and you walk into your first job.Let me explain what that's like.

You're surrounded for the first time by a totally diverse group of people. Your desk is between a 50 year old, divorced father of three and a 23 year old girl who's only there until her acting career takes off.

First and foremost, you're not a classmate or a colleague to these people. Unlike school, it's not everybody's first day. There are people who have probably worked at that company for decades...and you are a massive pain in the ass to them.

Don't get me wrong, they're probably nice people, but they've seen hundreds of people just like you come and go and now you're the new kid who they have to train...and you're probably going to fuck up for a while and increase their workload.

Basically, they have to do their own workload, while training you, checking your work and cleaning up your mistakes. They get absolutely no benefit out of this.

Then comes the two biggest shocks. I see this over and over with the new kids at my job, and it makes me laugh every time.

Let's say you go into work and do a good job. You finish your assignment and it's a masterpiece. So you go to your boss, hand him a stack of paper, tell them you've done your job exactly to his specifications and stand back and wait to bask in the shower of praise that's about to come your way.

Instead, your Boss barely looks up from his monitor, looks slightly annoyed at the interruption and tells you to leave it on his desk...then there's a moment of awkward silence and he asks why you're still in his office.

The second big shock is when something fucks up. You're called into the office and your boss chews your ass out for the failure. You point out that you've spent months on this project, you haven't taken a break in weeks, you're in the office at sun up and there long after the sun has set. Every waking moment was devoted to this project and you physically couldn't have worked any harder. The suppliers let you down, the vendor never got back to you, a meteor took out a critical resource...

...and your Boss could not give less of a shit.

This brings me back to my very first point...that the world does not give a shit about you, your feelings and only what it can get from you.

This is the hardest adjustment that teenagers have to make when they step into the real world.

You see, if you do a good job, you're not going to get praised for it, because your praise is your paycheck. Your boss isn't there to give you a career and make sure you succeed. As far as he's concerned, there's a job that needs to be done and he's paying you to do it. That's the start and end of the story.

More importantly, it's the result that matters, not how much effort you put in or how hard you tried. You've gone from being the center of the universe to a very small, very replaceable cog in a very big machine. If you fuck up, they just pop you out and replace you with a cog that works. If you do your job well, then you're just doing what you're supposed to do.

Sadly, that's my advice.