Winter is coming, and with it: finals season. If you’re dreading that notoriously stressful period, things may seem bleak. There’s an old saying: “Life sucks, and then you die.” Along the same lines, you might be thinking: “School sucks, and then you graduate… and have to get a full-time job, which is even worse.”
Well, not necessarily.
In some ways, work can be more fulfilling and less stressful than school. So take heart: there is light at the end of the tunnel.
First of all, a full-time job is a great leap toward financial independence from your parents. Independence is stressful, but it can also be fulfilling. Self-reliance can make you feel more empowered, secure, and proud.
You learn discipline, initiative, follow-through, reliability, accountability, and other key habits for workplace success.
Letting your parents take care of things for you may sound less stressful on paper. But in practice, dependence can be even more anxiety-inducing than independence. As evolutionary psychologist Peter Gray discusses in his book Free to Learn, human beings, like all animals, are hardwired to strive for independence. The longer that childlike dependence extends into biological adulthood, the more that instinct becomes frustrated. And it’s no fun to feel like a burden.
Secondly, work is in many ways a better learning experience than school. In a market-economy job, you’re learning for the sake of contributing to something someone actually values.
For this kind of learning, there are clear criteria for success, because it’s either satisfactory to the boss, client, or customer, or it isn’t.
And the knowledge or skills that you gain are by definition marketable (someone was already willing to pay for it), which means it is likely to continue to be marketable in the future.
Even if the technical knowledge and skills are not directly relevant to the field you hope to pursue in the long-term, such experience is invaluable for developing essential soft skills. You learn discipline, initiative, follow-through, reliability, accountability, and other key habits for workplace success.
In school, on the other hand, the value of what you’re learning is much harder to discern. Some of your studies may have intrinsic value to you. But, as economist Bryan Caplan has discussed, the main objective people have for going into massive debt for college is to increase their career potential. And, as Caplan elaborates, the career return-on-investment of what people learn in college is often dubious.
No matter how stressful it gets, this too shall pass.
It’s stressful to feel like you’re spinning your wheels in life. Effective learning is key to feel like you’re gaining traction and making progress. And “teaching to the task” can be much more effective than “teaching to the test.”
Finally, it can be fulfilling to feel like you’re adding something to the world: to contribute to a product that people enjoy, to please a client, to make a customer smile. This is especially the case when you understand economics and how every participant in a market economy helps to improve the lives of others.
So don’t despair. Stepping out of the ivory tower does not necessarily mean jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire. With the right understanding and philosophy, it can mean launching an adult life full of growth, learning, and meaning.
Keep that in mind as you study for finals. No matter how stressful it gets, this too shall pass. And what comes next can be awesome if you make it so.