During my co-op (which is still currently going on), a major lifestyle change I had to live with was to sleep right before 1AM. As a college student, it was almost a daily affair where I would go to bed late and wake up late (who here doesn’t love classes that don’t start at 8AM?). Unfortunately the fact that I had to be in the office by 9 meant that I had to sleep early and wake up early in time to make it to work.
I would wake up at 6AM, or at least attempt to, have my breakfast, prep and leave the house by 7AM, then I would have to catch the train in time, and then later make it to the bus stop downtown at 7.24AM. The sleek gold-on-black Southwest Transit bus would arrive by 7.42AM, heading to my office located in Eden Prairie by 9AM. I would also have to walk about 15 minutes or so from the bus station to my office. If I missed the train, I would have a 50/50 chance of making it to work on time thanks to the different schedules between the train and the bus.
In essence the hours in which I start my day are set in stone, where I sleep latest by that specific time, wake up at that specific time (I could wake up earlier but I do like my sleep, so, no.), and leave at an exact time to follow the exact train and bus schedule. The whole thing is a very delicate system. One misstep or delay from my transitions between public transport will affect the time I get to work, and it’s not the best thing to make it to work late. However this schedule of mine is, through the wonders of Google Maps, I have found to be the most optimal path and time where I maximize whatever sleep I can get and still get to work on time.
I would then get off at 5.30PM, catch the bus at 6PM, and make it home by 7.45PM (the same 1 hour and 45 minutes to get there), after which I either have dinner or eat out, then later program or work out, before having to shower and sleep before 1AM, day ending, and cycle repeating.
For the first 2 months or so, things were very fresh and a major change from college life, something I really did look forward to since I felt that it be good to get out of college life for a while and later head back with new experiences and knowledge gained from the full time working life. I definitely can’t deny that I’ve been late for work on a few occasions, usually in the first few months of adapting to this working lifestyle. Instead of leaving the house by 7, I would end up waking at 7, cursing myself, and use almost inhuman speed to get myself out of the house and make a sprint to the train station to make it just in time (like the modern JIT compilers. /CSciJoke). It was something that other friends of mine aren’t doing, even more so a co-op was 8-months long, as opposed to a 3-month internship. Initially it didn’t bother me much, but after that I felt that I got to spend time with friends less thanks to different schedules. I was by myself most of the time, and this new level of being by myself is something that took me a awhile to get used to.
Taking the public transport to work everyday has given me short pockets of free time that I can’t do too much with, they’re short enough and require me to move from one place to another before I can even get started working on something. So I end up listening to music, and reading a few pages of a book. On days where I’m a little tired, I take a light nap, which on one occasion overslept my stop, hence an even longer walk. Other times, I just entertain my thoughts and people watch. Aside from making a few friends that also commute to work with me, and the kind bus driver (that has been nice enough to wait 10 seconds more as I make an over elaborate sprint that is almost-but-not-really-like Flash trying to make it to work). This went on for awhile, before I realize that …
I was stuck in a routine. Just like everyone else in the working class.
Now one might argue college life and pretty much life in general is full of mundane routines, and I do not disagree with you. However, in my opinion it’s a little different for college life, where aside from classes you can do whatever you want with your time, and if you frequently skip classes (yes, I’m looking at you my friend), you basically have one of the most flexible schedules in your life. Saying “Eh, I don’t feel like going to work today” and then going back to sleep like how many people do with early 8AM college lectures is not something many people can afford, especially those that want to keep their career. Perhaps the repercussions of skipping lectures are docked points, bad grades and late assignment submissions, but all these are mitigated if you actually know the course material, even without the help of the lecture. Skipping work is not something that is looked upon lightly at all (well unless you’re the CEO and you own the company then sure, do what you want). Granted there is a fairly large amount of freedom at the company I work at, that does not allow one to me completely tardy about when to show up for work, but I digress.
Falling into this routine is different, the so called ‘adult working life’ that my father and many other people have told me about since I was a kid. Initially I was completely okay with it, in fact pretty psyched about the fact that I was going to be a part of the working class and not just a part time job at the University. Two months in, I reevaluated that, am I alright with falling into a 9-to-5.30 lifestyle for the rest of my life? Is this really what I want, after coming so far? I’ve always been looking forward to growing up and going to work, and finally being able to (somewhat) support myself. I wonder if my desire to enter the workforce is because of elders that I look up to have that image of going to work holding a briefcase, leaving early in the morning and back later at night. Now that I’m here, am I completely okay with how my life is going? I’m beginning to feel some monotony, as if I’m trapped in that rat race already. Something I know many people are not okay with at all, and see it as a slippery-slope they’ll spend the rest of their life working till they become old and die. (sad, isn’t it?)
But there is beauty even in a daily mundane routine as well.
Every morning as I stand by the bus stop, it’s interesting to watch Downtown Minneapolis come alive in the morning with the hustle and bustle of the American workforce. As the city awakes from a cold slumber (or as humans move about during the bitter winter), every one moves to their morning jive. People going places, most of us know where to go, and where to be at what time, or the occasional GPS user that bumbles through the crowd to find the right bus to get on. Some rushing with a cup of coffee in one hand, a newspaper in another. Many others seen slinging a laptop bag or a hefty briefcase. Lunchboxes of all shapes, sizes and colors accompany the commuting-working class. Perhaps a meal self prepared or by their significant others, with love and care, while saving money (a stark contrast from the high class coffee culture or lunch college students afford. It’s amusing how we have the working class earning so much and being thrifty, to ensure their daughters and sons can afford that 8 dollar Frappuccino after class). While I don’t use a lunchbox, my lunch is occasionally in the laptop bag, which despite it’s look, actually contains just a book and a bottle of water most of the time.
I start to realize small things during my exact daily commute, things that some may consider as insignificant or irrelevant. Aside from the occasional rush out the door to make it to my train in time, my schedule has become in sync with certain people. On regular days, every time I step into the last railcar (railroad car), there’s always an elderly man with large shades in the exact position. Or when I walk to the bus stop, another train in one other direction will always arrive as I was leaving. Oh every time I get on the bus, with the same people every day, some of which I have made friends, others, we know of each others existence, and that’s as close as it gets.
Then there’s this one lady that stands out.
She’s tall, looks to be in her forties, and gets down from the bus everyday. She’ll always be holding a handbag, or some times with another fashionable sling bag in her other hand. What stood out however, is how she needs a smoke after getting down the bus. Immediately, every day, upon stepping down the bus, without fail she expertly digs in her bag for the pack of cigarettes and lighter in hand, and lights up one cigarette, puffing a few breaths to get the nicotine into her system. No matter rain, shine, or snow. No matter business formal, sun dress or layers of jackets, she will always have a cigarette while walking past (I usually hold my breath here) everyone else, eventually dispersing into the crowd, going where she needed to go.
It almost feels like you’ve come to know certain people, without actually knowing them. Just by observing and people watching while waiting for my commute to arrive, sometimes with headphones plugged in, I’ve come to ‘know’ these people. And the opinion I have of them would be completely superficial, and perhaps even downright wrong. An impression based purely on stereotypes and what I’ve seen. Perhaps, we both ‘know’ each other, but not on a personal level, no, only on a level on what we can see. Isn’t that how many interactions in life come to be? That guy or girl that you had a class with but never spoke, yet maybe you’re both Facebook friends. Or that friend of a friend of a friend, which you only know because one of your friends told you about him/her.
As to the question of whether I’m okay with a nine-to-five-thirty kind of lifestyle, my initial knee-jerk reaction was that I wanted more (don’t we always want more), and I was probably influenced by the new working trend amongst my generation that is only working for 4 hours a week or working only when you feel like it kind of schedule. Though I’m actually surprised to tell myself I wouldn’t mind going back to college, considering how much I wanted to get over the semester and start working instead. After reflecting on this for a long time, a 9-5.30 definitely has it’s good sides too.
There’s structure. This can be considered both as a pro if you’re the kind of person that needs schedules to accomplish things and get things done. There’s time for work and play, and for good companies that value employees, work won’t eat into after hours all the time. Outside that 9-5 block, you can do whatever you want, just make sure you show up for work again the next day. The con to structure is aside from feeling monotonous, some people achieve more when they have their own set of plans and schedule. Or during those spurs of concentration that would allow you to get work done in a shorter time compared to going in at 9AM every morning, which would be even earlier when you have to commute. Aside from the long commute which is because of my own decision of not buying a car, I can actually live with a 9-5 lifestyle. It’s good to be able to separate work and off hours, sure it’s traditional, old and still 40 hours a week, but there’s a reason why 9-5 hours have been around for a long time, wake up early and work, and spend the rest of the day however you like it, well, then again there’s the graveyard shifts, and 80 hour work weeks, which definitely makes the 9-5, 40-hour work week not too bad.
Having all these fragments that are loosely related, I suppose what I’m trying to say is that sometimes it’s not a bad thing to slow down, and take a look at everything else move by around you. That inherently we are all going places and doing things, be it because we like it or because we have to do it, but at least we’re doing something. These little moments that are pocketed between all the bustle remind us that we strive, and perhaps none of this matters, yet at the same time it very well does matter. When we take a step back and watch the world around us, we come to ‘know’ a few others, and see how everyone is getting on with their lives. A morning commute is beautiful despite all the traffic or lack-of-sleep grumpiness we might have, it’s almost like a movie, or an intricate clockwork that has many things happening at once, yet all falling into place. We should appreciate everything around us, because today will never happen again in life, no matter how many similar days we might have. Time, after all, has a way of making it seem like nothing has changed in a day, but then after a week, a month, a year … suddenly we are all different.