When the average 22 year-old college graduate is confronted for the first time with their future after keg stands and Frisbee on the quad, it is an abyss. Faced with the threat of having to move back home and sleeping in the old bedroom, there is nothing more appealing than a paycheck. It is a saving grace. And most will do almost anything for it. There's a reason large and successful organizations invest so much in their campus recruiting efforts: get 'em while they're young, naive, and desperate. Who can't win at that game? Dangle a sum of money that is mostly unfathomable to someone who just spent four years living on $20 a week and the pour soul's eyes glaze over like a smack addict. I made $28,500 my first year out of school in 1992 ($49K in today's dollars) and I thought I was set for life. But for what life?
I went on to make a lot more. I had earnings goals; I surpassed every one. But when I accepted that first paycheck, little did I know that I was handing over so much in return. And I'm not talking about hard work and commitment. That's table stakes.
I'm talking about my liberties: autonomy, voice, thought, time, family, serenity, prerogative, creativity, choice, license, and authenticity. I was in essence paid to be someone who I am not. Makes me want to go and take a shower.
Some of it was the profession I chose and the career path to which I aspired. Some of it was the organizations for which I worked. But most of it was my doing. I should have paid attention, I should have listened to so many people, I should have listened to myself. But the paycheck gets under your skin. It's always just dangling there...fourteen days out. So that's where we set our gaze: fourteen days out. Fourteen becomes twenty-eight becomes 56, 112, 224, 448, 896, 1792, 3584, 7168...8395. 23 years of bi-weekly paychecks.
I'm fortunate to have had the career I've had. And I can always get my liberties back...hell, I'm taking them back. But I wish someone would have thrown a bucket of cold water on my face when that first paycheck came around. I wish I would have lived at home for a while, traveled, apprenticed, watched, listened, and learned. I wish I had dabbled with work; poking around until something felt right...really right. I wish someone taught me how to get a life, not how to get a paycheck. It took me 23 years to break from its tyranny...and I'm not entirely free yet.