There’s a reason why people say that your days as a student are the best days of your life; school might seem melodramatic and stressful at times, but it’s really a whole new world out there. I recently finished a month long internship at a public relations firm, and during my time there, I noticed major differences between school and the office. The experience gave me so much insight into the world of the workforce, and I saw that working (like everything else in life) is most certainly not like the movies.
At school, you are the only one who is really affected by the consequences of your actions. If you don’t study and fail a test, it’s reflected in your grades. If you mess up an assignment due to a mistake, then you are the one in trouble. However, work life has more consequences for the firm than it does for you. If you muddle up the numbers on an important financial document, the company can suffer a loss and that responsibility is on your shoulders. The fact that you are held accountable for something greater than yourself means that you have a lot more responsibility than you do at school.
So what does that extra responsibility mean? It means that “oh this should be fine” or “it doesn’t have to be perfect” is no longer good enough. At work, you really can’t (or shouldn’t) cut corners and expect it to be okay. You are in a professional environment and your work must reflect that. Format that report perfectly. Triple check if that address is correct. Strive to make everything perfect, especially if you’re an intern and you want to make a great impression on your employers.
At work, you don’t have to raise your hand to go to the bathroom. You are technically allowed to message your friends as well; it won’t make you look like a dedicated worker, but it’s not exactly prohibited (in most workplaces anyway). As long as you’re managing your responsibilities, you can take a few personal calls or go out to have a smoke. In most places you can even listen to your music while you work without someone confiscating your device! One of my teachers once said that with increased freedom comes increased responsibility, and this is certainly true. You are held to the standards of a grown-up, but you are respected as such as well.
You are stuck in school from morning to afternoon, and for most students, the commute time is pretty short. But in the workforce, this changes so drastically. I had a 10 to 11 hour workday and commuting took up one and a half hours. Most importantly, however, you don’t have month long vacations. It’s also hard to get a couple days off; your superiors don’t like it too much and smartphones make it easy for you to work while on “vacation.” Working like this everyday is exhausting, leaving little time for free time and personal projects.
The aftermath of school is homework, studying, revising, and then even more homework. School doesn’t end when the bell rings. Although passionate (non-self-employed) workers may continue working after they leave the office, most of the time, you are free from your work responsibilities until the next day. You might have a lot less free time, but that time is not so hogged up by endless essays and lab reports.
You will be given some really impossible tasks at work. Not the, “oh this problem set is too hard!” tasks but the “how on earth am I going to get a copy of not yet published Harry Potter book” problems. The scope of the impossibility rises majorly when you enter the real world. At school, you are theoretically capable of doing everything assigned to you; at your job, you may be given tasks that seem to defy the laws of physics. The words “I don’t know” take on a completely different meaning. Get a quote from that famous author? But what if he’s perpetually drunk while partying in Ibiza, where he lost his cell phone and won’t buy a new one? Well, that has now become your problem.
The Brain Process
Technically, you can do “work” for both school and for your job. However, the type of work that you do is usually completely different. When I study, I am trying to absorb all of the information possible and imprint formulas onto my brain. And when the test comes along, I dig all of that up and try to convey to the examiner that I possess the knowledge and that I am worthy of that perfect score.
Conversely, in the office, the knowledge itself is not the point; it’s how you apply it to real life. The skills you require are different as well. In school, memorization is so important, but once you graduate, you are finally allowed to acknowledge the happy fact that you just have to Google it! Although this really depends on the industry, I find that at work, social, technical, and language skills are the most important, not how well you remember every event from the Battle of Somme.
Growing up, we often think that adults “have it so good” and we can’t wait to go off on our own as well. But the experience may not turn out to be what our dreams are made of, because as mentioned earlier, the freedom comes at a price of responsibility. It all balances out in the end. If you haven’t already, I would highly encourage you to do an internship to learn these things yourself.