I graduated high school back in 1996, when being a slacker was a legitimate life aspiration. Work was for sell-outs, cool people lounged around reading zines and being poor. Not today’s version of poor-on-purpose that’s practiced by hipsters with urban farms and the patience to knit sweaters from cat hair, but the lazy kind of poor. I have been successfully (?) practicing this second kind for over twenty years, and I’m here to tell you how great it is.
You see, my original idea for this month’s article was to present an argument why unpaid internships, contract work, and part-time positions for people with at least one master’s degree are neoliberal bullshit. I was going to exhort you all to never accept less than a full-time permanent position, to sneer at the very idea of working for below market, no matter how worthy the cause or convenient the commute. Better to starve on the street or default on your federal loans than to fail in worker’s solidarity.
I had typed up a couple of opening paragraphs and was reading through some supporting articles when I realized (or remembered) that I don’t really believe in holding out for full-time work. If it wasn’t for my desire for comprehensive health insurance and my unwillingness to learn how to live off the land, I wouldn’t work at all. I’m going to library school because I like putting things in order and I find libraries soothing, not because of any great ambition.
Now you’re probably thinking that my white, middle-class privilege is showing and that I should check myself. You’re right, of course—institutionalized poverty is no joke, and I’m fully aware that my lackluster commitment to the bourgeois lifestyle has been subsidized by my relatives. There are upsides to my attitude, though. One of them is that I’m not morally offended by people whose actions don’t align with societal norms. If someone who’s living out of the local shelter is passed out drunk on the library lawn, well, that’s not a great decision; but I can’t honestly say I wouldn’t do the same thing in his position. I don’t think a reasonable way out of poverty is getting a third job. You’re not required to be constantly bettering yourself or working at your maximum capacity.
I bring this up now because I start library school in a few weeks, and I just decided to go part time instead of full. There were a lot of factors I considered—the biggest was financial, but that’s a topic for a different article. The second biggest was that I just don’t want to work that hard. I should clarify, especially since I’ve just received an assistantship and I don’t want my new bosses to panic before they’ve met me in person. What I mean is that I don’t believe in being busy all the time. I don’t want to spend every waking moment doing homework. All-nighters are for amateurs. I’m forty years old and I’ll turn in a C paper before I disrupt my carefully maintained sleep schedule. If I don’t know something by exam week, then I’m going to die not knowing it.
There’s this culture in higher education where everyone is overwhelmed all the time, to the point that it turns into bragging. It’s important to remember that this is almost always a choice. No matter what anyone tells you (and they will), you do not have to have an internship, two jobs, and a full course load while you raise three kids and take care of your partner’s sick mother. What’s your partner doing that they can’t take care of their own mother? Drop the internship and half your classes. Don’t work so hard. Definitely don’t work so hard for free. It’s not worth it, and it doesn’t make you a better person.
If you’re ready to tone it down a notch, but don’t know where to begin, I recommend this Cracked article by David Wong: “A 60 Second Guide to Learning the Awful Truth About Yourself.” The title is a little misleading—it’s closer to five minutes than sixty seconds, and I didn’t learn any awful truths. In fact, I ended up feeling better about my life. Instead I learned what my priorities are, quickly and with surprising clarity. What’s your priority? Is it good grades, staying out of debt, spending time with your family? Once you’re able to separate what’s important to you from what you think should be important, life becomes much more straightforward.
I decided that my priority in grad school is to focus on experiential learning—on assistantships, practicums, volunteer positions, etc. This is my chance to stick my fingers in as many library pies as possible before settling down. Your priority will be different, or if it’s the same it will be for different reasons. Just pick one or two things to focus on, and decide to let go of the rest.
Featured image is by the author.
Emily is an any-day-now student at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. She looks forward to learning the finer points of corn cultivation.
Categories: work-life balance