From Classroom to Cubicle: Why You Don’t Need to Dread Office Life
Widespread cynicism of work has had terrible consequences.
It’s not only caused working people to become disillusioned, but it’s also caused entire generations of recent grads and soon-to-be-grads to accept a self-imposed defeatist attitude when entering the world after college.
As an intern at InterVarsity’s National Service Center, I’m currently typing this in a cubicle, where I spend my days from nine to five. I’ve only been out of school for a few months and know I have much more to learn about life after college, but already I’ve been fascinated by some of the stark differences between school and work.
However, the two worlds share many similarities, as well—qualities that make life rich and meaningful. Surprisingly (or not so surprisingly), there are a lot of things to love about having a job—besides having a job—whether you’re working at a library, hospital, art studio, non-profit, or business firm.
Hopefully, I can help dispel a few myths and misconceptions about work by sharing some observations of school compared to work life.
There will be some differences.
1. Say hello to an adult sleep schedule.
Goodbye, late night cheesy sticks. Farewell, staying up until three in the morning and sleeping in until noon. Most office jobs will require you to arrive by 9 a.m., if not earlier, and that’s just the way real life is. But don’t worry—the activities during your work day and the general case of “adulthood” you will likely catch will make even night owls, such as myself, actually want to sleep before midnight. (What?!) It’s a strange phenomenon indeed, but a real (and unexpectedly refreshing) one that will enable you to have more rest, and thus more energy to be more productive during the day! Sleep is kind of magical that way.
2. Every project is a team project.
Remember those hit-or-miss group projects back in school? Well, it turns out there was actually a method behind the madness: to train us for work life, where pretty much everything you do and produce will only be possible through collaborating with people from other teams and departments. But most likely, you and your coworkers will have a shared culture and set of values, so that you won’t have to worry about those headache-inducing teammate clashes and slacker-carrier relationships that too often haunt a student’s group project recollections.
3. The work actually does stop.
Unlike the studying (or “studying”) that never seems to end, more and more workplaces now are emphasizing the need for their employees to adhere to a healthy work-life balance, which actually increases productivity during work hours, as well as contributes to holistic employee health and well-being. Fortunately, more organizations are also recognizing the importance of having employees who operate as humans instead of machines—who, for example, keep their work email disconnected from their phones, and prepare to take their minds off all things work-related as soon as the clock strikes five. That means no more working until the point of exhaustion, and definitely no more all-nighters! (Unless you’re in investment banking, in which case we feel for you—please take care of yourselves.)
4. Your work will be serving others.
Now, don’t get me wrong: God uses us to influence the people around us, wherever we are. But the primary beneficiaries of school and work are different. In school, our education mainly benefits ourselves as individuals, as we’re able to increase our wealth of knowledge and prepare ourselves for a lifetime of applying what we learn.
The fields we are later sent into, however, are where we actually get to do what our education has been preparing us for: apply our expertise, while also honing what we know and continuing to learn, so that we can help produce goods and services that serve the people in our neighborhoods, communities, and greater society. Work gives us the chance to obey God’s command to actively love and humbly serve others, so that they, too, can encounter his love and care for every person on this earth.
And, there will be some familiarities.
1. Your daily coffee isn’t going anywhere.
As they (I) say, “A coffee a day keeps the drowsy away.” Though I myself am not a coffee drinker (#allergictocaffeine), I know plenty of people who need coffee to get their day started! Don’t fret—there will very likely be a coffee machine at the office or a café within a few blocks of your workplace. Worst case scenario: experience the satisfaction of brewing your own, homemade coffee in the morning!
2. You’re always learning!
Don’t be fooled by the absence of lecture halls and tiny desks that barely fit your laptop. In reality, the workplace is actually a vast classroom in disguise. Your supervisors, mentors, and coworkers will be your professors. Your experience delving into projects and tasks (mistakes included) will often help you gain more know-how than your textbooks did. You’ll be learning real-life skills, helpful tricks, and invaluable wisdom that will not only apply to your current work, but also transfer into future jobs and life stages, too. Essentially, you’re equipping yourself for a lifetime of discovery, self-improvement, and useful contribution-making in this field—and beyond!
Even more importantly, you’ll be growing spiritually, too. Don’t forget that God isn’t only working in your church, your college fellowship, or your campus—he is constantly teaching and stretching us, every day, in and out of the office. So be sure to keep your eyes open and soul awake to the lessons that matter most: lessons in which God is revealing something about himself, yourself, your coworkers, your relationships, your activities, your calling, and the world around you.
3. Community is very possible.
This is probably the trickiest terrain to navigate. Many of us have built some of our closest relationships in college. And yes, community is much more easily fostered in a place filled with so many people in the same life stage as us, many of whom live only a few minutes’ walk away.
Community will change after college, but that doesn’t mean it won’t exist. By his grace, God never fails to provide everything that he knows we need—and that includes people and communities through whom he will challenge us, speak truth to us, and pour love into us. All it takes is having faith in God’s faithfulness, discernment as we transition into new or restructured communities, and willingness to say yes to doors he opens and paths he directs us to, despite risk or uncertainty.
4. Work—whether school work or job work—is what we were made to do, and it is all for God's glory.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:1)
Whether we’re studying for an exam or preparing presentations, writing essays or drafting proposals, too often we get stuck with the narrow tunnel vision of achieving our own goals and working to elevate ourselves. However, in whatever we do, God calls us to do all things for his glory. And by doing this, we not only free ourselves from the burden of striving to determine our own fate, but we also live in purposeful alignment with what we were made to do: assume our unique roles in God’s much bigger story.
Reading Timothy Keller’s Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work with God’s Work helped me immensely to understand, on a much deeper level, God’s design for any kind of work in our lives, the multifaceted purposes of work, and the limitless ways we can truly and wholeheartedly serve God through anything we do, within any environment.
In Genesis, God calls us into his likeness—to cultivate the world with our labor, helping it to flourish, heal, and know the Creator who breathed life into it and every living thing on it. Keller explains the freedom that comes with partnering with our God:
We were built for work and the dignity it gives us as human beings, regardless of its status or pay. The practical implications of this principle are far-reaching. We have the freedom to seek work that suits our gifts and passions. We can be open to greater opportunities for work when the economy is weak and jobs are less plentiful. We no longer have any basis for condescension or superiority; nor is there any basis for envy or feelings of infidelity. And every Christian should be able to identify, with conviction and satisfaction, the ways in which his or her work participates with God in his creativity and cultivation.
It may take some time at first to perceive what this means or looks like within our specific contexts, but if we ask God to give us wisdom in the areas where we lack it, and we seek counsel from close friends and mentors, we will soon see that there are countless ways of honoring God and pursuing his will regardless of the place to which he’s led us.
No matter where you are, God has prepared the way.
Recently, I saw a video of a kid who was visibly upset because he thought his dad had forgotten about his birthday—only to end up in tears after his dad surprised him with a new baseball bat that he’d been wanting for a long time.
My hope is that my humble list above has shed some light on how there is much to look forward to post-graduation, because our God who provides is right by your side.
He’s already gone before and prepared the way for you, and he’s just waiting for the right time to surprise you with his incredible blessings.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)