I just found out today that my younger cousin (not the one who had a baby, for those of you die-hard fans) got a promotion at work. She’ll now be working at a job that pays about $95K per annum, as they say. The news made me feel, shall I say, conflicted.
Of course I’m happy for her. Who wouldn’t be? After all, that’s quite a success, and at such a tender young age! Imagine, she’s only just barely twenty-one years old. That’s pretty neat, you know? Pretty gosh-darned, hunky-dory, spit-in-your-soup, kill me now neat. But at the same time, while I’d never dream of comparing her life to mine, since we are such different people after all, I can’t help but notice that she’s currently earning more than I’ll probably make for at least 5, 6, 15 years. And, the happiest little fact of all is, she never went to college! Wow, isn’t that great news?
Now, I know what you’re thinking, if only because I agree: I’m just jealous. Not only did she not have to endure the unique brand of misery that we all know and love @mit.edu, but she didn’t go to college at all. I scoffed at her choice at first, but now it looks like she’s got the last laugh, in her brand new convertible. Boy, there’s nothing like crazy jealousy to make you re-examine your life goals and whatnot.
It’s a problem that, perhaps, many of you won’t even face, too. Odds are you’re just the type of person (ie, course VI) that will do a very similar thing: land an amazingly well-paid job right out of school. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found out a former classmate is earning more than my entire net worth (and that’s just their monthly salary). But, since there must be a few others like me, destined to work in the not-so-lucrative fields (or, like my fiancée, to toil in grad school for decades while all around you are losing their student loans) I offer this advice: get used to it.
Just look at Jawed Karim, the third founder of legendary procrastination tool YouTube. After helping other co-founders Chad Hurley and Steven Chen develop ideas about the site, he decided to go back to grad school for his PhD. Hurley and Chen, meanwhile, got bought out by Google and are now incredibly rich and famous. Sure, Karim got some money too, but not nearly as much, and he got none of the fame; that’s prime nouveau riche fame he’s missing out on, studying programming till he’s dizzy, instead of partying hard and getting busy. Clearly, sometimes it’s just not worth it to go to school. It sure wasn’t for my cousin.
But, in the midst of such jealousies, I also stumble upon the good things. Many of these people (though not all, heaven knows) actually hate their jobs, whether it’s coding mindlessly or having to share research with fifteen other post-docs. My cousin, for instance, dreads going to work everyday, and it’s only the paycheck (and now the cars and boats and whatever else she buys) that gets her through the day. I, on the other hand, will (hopefully) be doing something that I truly enjoy, and for which the years of school have made me a uniquely qualified candidate.
Plus, there’s all the other random things you learn about in college. Not just the academic stuff either, but the whole ‘being on your own, testing your limits, discovering yourself’ BS that isn’t all BS. My cousin’ll never know the unusually awesome feeling of taking a vacation and going home at the same time that I felt every Thanksgiving or Spring Break, or just how many all-nighters in a row she can pull. Maybe that’s worth some of the difference in paychecks. Probably not enough of it, of course.
Ultimately, though, I’m okay with that. In these days, when my fellow seniors (and even recent grads) are evaluating different futures, deciding between the okay job or the risky dream, the question of jealousy might well come up. I like my field and my profession and I’m excited to get into it; if I can’t be as rich as my cousin, or most of my friends, well so what? I think it’s worth it, and I bet at least some of my peers would agree. And, hey, on the bright side, at least I’ll be getting some nicer birthday presents from now on.