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The downside of corporate life

| Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The final weeks of the 175th fall semester are upon the student body here at the University of Our Lady, a semester that has featured late nights of studying coupled with long days of classes and extracurriculars.  But for upperclassmen, the fall semester brought with it a new animal: the corporate recruiting process.  The corporate animal is not like anything experienced before — it is the ultimate transition into the adult world, the first step in a career that college has been preparing us for.  And, for some, perhaps even most of the talented individuals at Notre Dame, these careers will prove quite lucrative.  So it is understandable the fervor which surrounds such a process. But as our resumes are typed out, our shoes shone, our suits pressed and our shirts laundered, all the while drooling over how much money we will make at whatever prestigious firm we go to, we neglect what is lost. Or rather what this entire process has costs us, for everything has a cost.  So I have set about giving a complete account of the costs as I have observed them.

Time is our most scarce commodity. There is very little we can do to acquire any significantly greater amount of it, and our time at Notre Dame is all the scarcer.  The Notre Dame undergraduate gets four years, just four years (or perhaps less) of living in a closely knit dorm community, only four years of football games on Saturdays.  With such little time here, why should we be in such a rush to get a job and leave?  Is it not comical that alumni wish they could come back, while the current student body can’t wait to grow up and leave?  Don’t wait until it is gone to appreciate what we have right now, for it will be over shortly. And when it ends, it is over for good.  Studying business especially requires a constant preoccupation with the future, stressing over how summers are to be spent, or what firm to sign with for after graduation — but what waits for us beyond graduation isn’t going anywhere.  The corporate world will still be waiting when it is time for us to leave. But for most undergraduates, this is just the tip of the iceberg.  Interviews and internships will quickly turn into 60-plus-hour work weeks, with what little time remains allocated to eating and sleeping.  What use will the money we make be if we have no time during which to spend it, or worse yet, if the medium by which we acquire it makes us miserable?  With all this time being dedicated to what we have to do, what time remains for what we want to do?

The time we seem to be so willing to throw away is just the beginning of the problem. What is the value of this time compared to the quality of our lives?  Our lives are worth living because we are individuals, independent individuals within a co-operative society. Because we hold beliefs, ideals and values that are unique to ourselves. This is what makes man so powerful.  But the jobs we pursue, or that pursue us — however it goes — demand uniformity in everything that is to be done. There is no deviation from the collectivized mean.  There exists a certain set of arbitrary rules, set long ago for reasons long forgotten, that govern nearly every aspect of corporate life.  The rules of corporate society demand that we dress according to how it deems acceptable, carry ourselves in ways it deems acceptable and, most detrimentally, think in ways it deems acceptable.  But before we subscribe to such precedents, have we first considered who established such rules for the way we go about our lives, or whether we find such rules to be agreeable?  The idea of freedom is being able to live according to how one sees fit, and we Americans are quick to brag about of all the liberal freedoms that we enjoy. But are we truly free if we are told how to dress, how to think and how to act? Or have we traded one form of tyranny for another?  We each have our own values, ideals and thoughts, and the way we dress, act and think should reflect these.  But when we assent to the demand for uniformity we become cogs in a machine, indistinguishable from every other moving part and soon forgotten.

Yet still we offer ourselves up to the corporate world, attempting to fit the mold that has been impressed upon us of the “ideal” job candidate.  Such an expectation is impossible to live up to. Yet we still try, joining new clubs, working new jobs and pursuing majors and minors because they will “look good on a resume.”  But might I ask what it even means for something to “look good on a resume?”  For whom is it so pleasing to see these things on our resumes?  Ourselves?  Certainly not.  More than likely what “looks so good” is done to impress whoever looks upon them, or more directly, in the servile attempt to gain the rubber stamp of approval from individuals we don’t really know and who don’t know us — but who we let tell us how to live our lives anyway.  But if such things make us unhappy, or even detracts from the things that we are interested in being involved in, then what good is a perfect resume?  In doing such, we become perfectly hollow. Obsequiousness soon becomes pure superficiality.  At that point, our resumes are become Scantrons. We write our life’s accomplishments on a single sheet of paper, hoping that we have filled in all the right bubbles that will match a standard answer key corresponding to a certain employer.  Should our lives be judged objectively according to standard that we have not set?

We have been taught that the golden solution to all life’s problems is to work harder, and in certain cases this may be true. But before doing so, wouldn’t it also be worthwhile to assess whether the work to be done is worth doing?  Or rather is this work just a mechanism by which we bury our heads in the proverbial sand and hide from our real problems?  In other words, should we not ask what is to be gotten out of such work?  Is it money?  Prestige?  Social Status?  Will all the money we make allow us to buy our way into heaven?  Will making partner make us a better person?  This is exactly what Jesus was talking about in Matthew 16:26 when he said: “What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” We are far too willing to sell our souls and chain ourselves to a desk for 30 years, in the hope that we may one day retire as wealthy individuals, all the while squandering away perhaps the best years of our lives.  This is done for what is called status, the idea that money places one above others in the social hierarchy, that it confers a sort of privilege in our society.  And this may be so — who I am to reject such a statement. But would we rather be judges according to the depth of our pockets or the character of our person?

Michael Scully


Nov. 9

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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