How Gen Z Can Navigate the College to Corporate Hours Shift

How Gen Z Can Navigate the College to Corporate Hours Shift

This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

I’m writing a series about how to succeed in the world of work. It’s especially for those who are early in their careers, but I hope it will help others, too. See an intro to the series and my background here.

Some members of Gen Z have gone viral recently for their frustrations with 9-to-5 hours and “soulless” corporate work. I get where they’re coming from!

When I started my first real corporate job, in an investment-banking training program in the early 1990s, I was initially so depressed by the environment and culture that I basically had to chain myself to my desk to avoid bolting out the door.

For reasons I’ll explain, I stuck it out, and it eventually worked out for me. But some of my college friends fled the corporate sector forever in their 20s, and it worked out for them, too.

So there’s no One Way.

I will say that 9-to-5 corporate jobs — some, at least — can become less soulless and more rewarding once you’ve done them for a while. So before you swear them off forever, I would suggest you consider that it may not be the job that’s ruining your life but the shock of the transition from school to work (which can be rough).

It may also be that you’re just not yet ready for office work — and that you should devote your post-college years to lifestyles and jobs that seem more adventurous.

In my early 20s, I certainly wasn’t ready for a lifetime in the office. In fact, if I had taken that investment-banking job earlier — at, say, age 22 instead of age 27 — I almost certainly would have quit.

What did I hate about it?

  • I hated having to work all day every day — including, sometimes, weekends — in a hermetically-sealed fluorescent Habitrail with no wind or weather.

In short, I hated pretty much everything.

But, fortunately, I didn’t quit.

Why not?

Because there were some things about the job that I did not hate. And, by that time, I had learned enough about how truly crappy some jobs are and about how challenging do-it-yourself adventures and careers can be — that the things I did not hate more than offset the things I did.

For one thing — and it was a big thing — the corporate job came with a salary and benefits. After three years of “gig work” as a tennis pro and freelance journalist, having a salary and benefits was great. By then, I had realized that I might someday want to have an apartment and family. A salary and benefits would help with that.

For two, I realized that there was different way to think about my “soulless corporate job” — namely, that someone was paying me to learn marketable skills and, occasionally, even introducing me to people and pursuits I found interesting. (One client company, for example, was building something called “the Internet.” Cool!)

For three, I learned that there were jobs within the industry that were better suited to the way I liked to work (more independently and entrepreneurially) and the kinds of work I liked to do (research, writing, and speaking) than the jobs in corporate finance. Once I figured that out, and switched to a role that was a better fit for me — research analyst — my career took off.

By that time, moreover, the suits and ties just felt like a uniform, one I had long since gotten used to wearing. Most of my friends now worked all day, or were busy with spouses and kids, so I wasn’t missing much “life.” I had also gotten used to offices, which, even at their most sterile, were more pleasant and safer than many workplaces (like meat-processing plants, for example, or mines).

Most importantly, now that I had some skills and expertise, I had begun to find the work fascinating. Suddenly I wanted to work on the weekends!

So, for me, despite a rough start, the soulless corporate 9-to-5 thing (more like 7-to-10 in that industry) eventually worked out.

It doesn’t for everyone, of course. And it might not for you.

But it might also be that — like me in my early 20s — you just aren’t ready for it yet.

My advice:

If corporate work seems abominable, don’t force it. Have adventures. Do things that seem exciting and cool to you.

You never have to work for a big corporation if you don’t want to. There are plenty of other cool jobs to do.

But don’t yet write off 9-to-5 forever. There are a lot of things about it that don’t suck, especially now that some companies let you work remotely, at least some of the time.

Eventually, your priorities may change, and corporate work and its schedules may seem less soul-sucking and more rewarding. And those jobs will still be here when you want them.

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