Arbeit macht frei


Having experienced three different circles of employment in the last five years has certainly provided me with differing viewpoints. I had worked in the financial sector for most of my career, so I viewed subsequent circles accordingly. After switching from the ‘client side’ to the ‘provider side’ in market research, I also got to see the stress and tension that projects bring to the team when clients provide restrictive deadlines. Some people crack under pressure and the resilient ones forego their joy and enjoyment just to survive the daily grind.  The academic circle is also no different – it has its own type of stress and tension as well. When you put talented a group of chefs into one kitchen, along with some ambitious sous-chefs and kitchenhands, the situation can be quite interesting indeed. It’s a delicate balance not to spoil the broth while keeping the sanity of the team.

I’ve pondered all of this after nearly eight months researching and working in an academic setting – it made me evaluate my earlier perceptions of working in a university and the actual experience. I often told my friends prior to joing academia that I really enjoyed teaching and imparting knowledge. I’m glad to say that the actual experience has also matched my prior expectations. I just naïvely miscalculated all the complexities and the trimmings that working in academia circle brings. At the moment, I’d be more than happy to stop at Masters level and return to the industry and chalk my years at the university as part of my life experience. It’s hard to pinpoint the one reason that has made me think in such a way – it’s just a collection of experiences, observations and the general atmosphere. I am certainly not dissing working in academic circle – as it is mentally very stimulation and it is very rewarding too.

Evaluating all the recent experiences has made me think about work – perhaps getting closer to being two years shy of my forties has made me quite reflective. I’ve tried the career circles that I thought I would enjoy – finance, market research and now academia. Perhaps a fitting epitaph for me would be ‘He gives all his best shot’. I still don’t know where to go from here once I complete my research degree – somehow I am not all that fussed. The years have mellowed me down and I am not the same highly strung and highly ambitious yuppie that I was ten to fifteen years ago. 🙂

Thus, it is quite thought-provoking to see some of my younger compatriots here or in my previous organisations who sacrifice their life to advance their career – perhaps I also committed the same sin. Perhaps branding it a ‘sin’ is too harsh, when everybody needs to work hard to build a successful career … I heard comments that ambitious folks were not meant to have children as they would only be a hindrance to their career – in the industry or within academia. People who take sickies to take care of their children are seen negatively as if the sick child is some kind of an inconvenience for the project. Well, I have certainly thought that way before and even now – ashamedly. Some people even postpone their family life and marriage, just to fulfil their career ambitions first (I’m one of them). Companies much prefer young, ambitious and single workers who can be lured to clock in more hours with the promise of exciting career rather than seasoned more well-rounded employees with babyfood-stained blouse who may need to work at home to take care of their sick son or daughter. It’s quite sad really, isn’t it? We are being led to put work on the highest pedestal over everything else that should actually matter more – family, friends, … life.

In some of the worst Nazi concentration camps in Europe, you can find the following phrase being hung over the gate leading to the camp – Arbeit macht frei: Work brings you freedom or work makes you free. I saw one when I visited Dachau near Münich in 2008. A very sombre experience indeed. Whilst we generally and openly disagree with the phrase and condemn anything and everything related to the Nazi, unfortunately the very essence of the phrase has now infiltrated our life. People work longer hours and dedicate more of their life for their career. We think that by working more will only make us free and make us happier. In one of Eli Stone‘s episodes (a now-discontinued series about a lawyer who can prophesise), one of the character says, “For what shall it profit a man if he shall regain the corner office, and lose his own soul.” – a modern version of Mark 8:36.

Work is necessary, but it can also imprison.

“Cursed is the ground for your sake; In toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. Both thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you, and you shall eat the herb of the field. In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.”
– Genesis 3:17b-19 (NKJV)

Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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