Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Pandemic: Hating one's job, although it might be the only mode of survival

“Shouldn’t it be a pandemic? “ A asks to B. As a recent graduate A has taken a dip into the pool of reality, where she slowly realizes that the world is not as it seems and problems do not end with peace.
“The amount of people who hate their jobs is staggering!” A screams, hoping that B would show a pulse. Others in the plaza stare at this tiny figure, praying that A would stop her rants and take a breath, praying for some peace before the workday begins. Minutes pass by. The work hour nears, causing those who once stared to evacuate the area for the comfort of their tight cubicles.
“What if I don’t want to work at all?” A sinks down to a squat next to B.
“Would that be selfish? Would that be indulgent?”

B stands up and grabs a bag full of paper. A veteran, B once had the same speeding thoughts A currently has. Yet, with every minute spent in the office, hanging out in the janitor’s closet, visiting the factories, and keeping quiet in the boardroom, B’s mind is reprogrammed. Now, nearing retirement, B wonders if the past thirty years has been worth the wait. Fortunately, B’s partner stayed, unlike others who fled as the papers piled in. As long as a job was available, B would work until B is forced to retire or dies. The latter, of course, would fit the conventional view of dignity. It would spare B from thinking “What if?” from managing all his newfound free time. It would provide him with the dramatic exit from this world. It would make him a selfless human being that contributed to the family, the corporation and the country. In retrospect, isn’t that indulgent in itself?
            Looking down at A who continues to sulk under the shadow of their office tower, B asks, “What is selfishness? What is it to be selfless?” before pausing, “Define that and maybe, just maybe, you’d cure yourself of this pandemic.”


Frustrated and Stuck

A ruminates, slowly trailing behind B. They walk to their respective spaces and begin their respective routines. The day drags on as A tries to hack the computer system to conduct research for non-work related projects. At the end of the day, A walks past B’s office. No one’s there, except for the chair that B has sat on for the past thirty years. B talked about that chair a lot, spoke about how it was the only consistent variable since joining the company. A imagines the years that were to come and the constants that would hold on to time. A despises the idea of holding on, of persistently persevering, of constantly thinking up excuses not to leave this job and cure the self.

Why did I acquire a tertiary education, especially in a world where its worth is constantly questioned and criticized? Perhaps it comes with the territory of being Asian or being part of an education-driven family. Perhaps it just comes with the convention of being a high school graduate in her late teens. Many would say that a tertiary education is imperative to find work. In the past, a tertiary education only involved a respectable job. Nowadays, due to the ever increasing number of graduates and the lack of demand, a plain old job can be hard to come by.

For the past three years, I have had the privilege to attend a liberal arts education for seemingly simple reasons, reasons that may not be lucrative at first glance. I acquired a rather peculiar tertiary education to learn reading, writing, listening, and speaking. All of these objectives became the foundation of other educational pursuits, including those in global health, theatre, and neuroscience.

Unlike the nature of a distinct bull’s eye, these four targets overlapped and interacted with one another. Unlike most educational endeavours in high school, these goals permeated beyond the classroom and library. They morphed into the very philosophies of life. Whenever I rode the subway I would shift my focus from the loud music coming from someone’s ear buds to how that very sound influenced or did not influence everyone else in the car. Slowly, I fell in love with the synergy between all of the senses. How we listen impacts how we speak, write and read. How we speak will influence other people around us, as well. Same goes for writing and reading.

I entered Sarah Lawrence with some level of writing, reading, speaking, and listening in both Bahasa Indonesia and English. With each classroom discussion, conference paper, conference meeting with professors, and out of class experiences, these abilities were heightened or reduced accordingly. In addition to enhancing and tweaking each skill, I learned how to apply them into my education, profession and daily life. Additionally, I began to manage them based on the situation. By the end of the first semester I strove to integrate the capabilities into my native language. The changes that had to be made were noted and dealt with.

So why did I have to learn or even relearn all these things, despite a certain level of abilities acquired prior to university? To acquire a job was not a convincing argument. I needed the results to be versatile, in case of future personal and worldly changes. This might be a personal trait or a part of my paranoia, but I have always required additional motivation to conduct any work or choose certain routes. For instance, in high school I began studying child psychology in my free time to 1) see if the topic would be a suitable college major, 2) gain more knowledge in the field, and 3) satisfy my interest. Although I did not end up majoring in child psychology, I gained knowledge that may be of use later in life, say when I have a child or start having nephews and nieces.

The pursuit to deepened my ability to write, read, listen, and speak were seen as pathways to more specific endeavours, such as research, presentation, and analysis. The abilities were also useful in the arts and writing, be it in theatre, film, photography, journalism, or scientific writing. More importantly, they allowed me to realize and slowly understand humanity on a personal level and beyond.

Maybe I should just retire to the kitchen!


A few weeks ago, I began interning at a bank, hoping to learn management, business, and finance, which have become foreign subjects to me ever since I entered college. Despite all the mentoring that the HR department provided and the time invested by my supervisors to guide me through the process, I still find it hard to wrap my head around the practice of banking and trading, leaving me exhausted and frustrated. This might be a byproduct of a liberal arts education, where faculty members and students shared problems with absolute capitalism.

To stand by your ideals whilst staying afloat in a volatile economy is easier said than done. More often than not, privilege is required. Unfortunately, selling out is frequently required to reach such a position of privilege, whether it is to invest in a capitalistic corporation or to sacrifice one’s mental and physical health for certain opportunities. Acquiring certain traits may be needed to fit into a particular social group or class.

In darker moments I wish I had not learned such modes of thinking. I start to wonder if I would be better off learning technical skills specific to certain professions. I question the very goals that I had set up a mere four years ago when I applied to university. Would I be far more comfortable to work in a bank, consulting firm, or a trading company if I had gone to a big name school and learned business?

However, it seems that the golden window of opportunity has passed. I have stepped into my twenties and my mind has become decreasingly malleable. Instead, it has hardened and sharpened to continue striving towards the four, seemingly basic goals I had selected. And I am left to wonder if I will end up living in the shanties with a pile of canvasses and filled out notebooks. Or if I should overcome the giant gap between capitalism and I in order to afford living in a nice urban pad with the latest advancements and an ever beeping device that prevents me from living a life that my seventeen year old self had envisioned.

P.S. Typing this entire article out took time and meditation. Half the month of June has passed and I have yet to publish a single article on KisahJika.com, which I had generated to share ideas and interact with the person behind yet another screen. A newly acquired friend said that some artists need pain, but I don’t. Although, I may not be an artist and I may not need pain, pain has lead me here to a rather empty blog and a rather long article in a month or so. It has lead me to frustration and although I have not returned to my “normal state”, I am much calmer. I apologize for the delay. Hopefully, KisahJika.com will reach baseline soon.

*All the images were provided by the author

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