The differences between experiencing student life and working life
Being a 40-year-old university student has its ups and downs. The downside is that it can be difficult to build relationships with your classmates due to the age gap—in the last three years of school, I have been older than at least three of my professors. The advantage, however, is that I am here because I want to be, and that helps with applying myself to the work. Before university, I was a warehouse manager in Winnipeg for five years, and before that, a long-haul truck driver for 10 years. I am here because I was tired of using my back rather than my brain.
Now that I am in my fourth year of studies, I sometimes—but only sometimes—look forward to one day rejoining the workforce. I say this because I really like school, and I enjoy the cocoon I have constructed for myself. My friends and acquaintances are people with whom I generally agree, both politically or otherwise, and my peers are usually like-minded in that we all attend the same university and, more often than not, the same program and even the same classes.
This is a far cry from the work life I opted out of in order to “retrain” for a new direction in life. Now, when I am brooding over a looming due date for yet another dull paper topic or one more obligation-infused group project, I try to keep in mind how much more appeasing and flexible student life is.
In the workforce, for me at least, the contents of my surroundings were a lottery—I was exposed to people from all walks of life. Don’t get me wrong, I met a lot of great people, some of whom I still keep in touch with. But I was also exposed to a mix of ideas I did not always find appealing, some of which I found downright distasteful.
If we all have a right to a particular workplace environment, then there will need to be some compromises. Yes, it is highly unlikely in certain workplaces that one would be exposed to extremist thought (be it left- or right-wing) in any workplace, but it’s not unlikely that one will be obliged to work with someone who is outspoken about their hatred of cyclists or denies climate change or, heaven forbid, is a Trump supporter. We all have the right to a certain kind of workplace, but this means the people we do not agree with do as well.
At school, when we are confronted with uncomfortable ideas or issues, we often have the choice to seek higher ground. We are encouraged to treat each other with respect, and that is often the case. However, in the workplace, we are exposed to a much more colourful array of ideas, perspectives, backgrounds and opinions that we have no control over. Add to that the fact that workplaces are seldom democratic spaces; concerns and comments may not necessarily be met with open arms (or minds).
My reason for bringing all this up is the recollection I have of a classmate who, at 24, was accustomed to academic life and wondered aloud if the working world would be a shock. They questioned whether or not they were simply living in a bubble. I did not take the opportunity to answer at the time, but I will respond to them now: Yes. You do live in a bubble, but that’s okay. We all do to some degree, and for good reason.
We live in bubbles that help us make sense of our surroundings and are constructed so that we don’t need to constantly fend off discomforting ideologies. When outside of these bubbles, we are exposed to a broad range of new and sometimes exciting, sometimes frightening, ideas.
In the world today, we are all exposed to a lot; a lot of news, a lot of information, and a lot of opinions. So build that bubble. Show me a person who exposes themselves needlessly to cognitive dissonance, and I’ll show you a masochist.
Graphic by @spooky_soda