Is SIMON NORMAN a man yet? Judging by his failure to find a proper job, he’s probably not.
How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? As you can probably tell, I bought a Bob Dylan Greatest Hits CD this week. I’m tempted to answer: 42, since we all know that the mice decided that was the question of Life, the Universe and Everything, but I’ve walked down more than 42 roads and I’m not a man.
I turned 21 recently, which is an odd age. Stranded between the last vestiges of teenage rebellion and the dread of a lifetime of work, I’m reliably informed by my parents that at this new age I’m required to be if not adult, then at least mature. On my birthday, my grandpa asked me when I was going to get a job. At the age of 21, he’d been working for five years.
There’s a mythology built around being 21, and I don’t think anyone really understands why.
When I turned 20, it took me by surprise. I never really identified myself as a teenager until the day I wasn’t one anymore. I never attended a house party that ended up in scenes from a Skins advert, and I never got round to calling my parents awful things and running away for a night. My teenage years were nice, but I clearly missed out on some crucial parts of my upbringing.
On the other end of the spectrum, a lot of my friends are going through the painful process of applying for jobs at the moment but some of them haven’t even reached the magical age where they need to be a responsible person. My life at the moment is a mess of their combined worries about applications, interviews and online tests. These are the same people who take fines for getting with someone who just drank their own piss, or for having sex in a multi-storey car park. None of us are in any way prepared for a life outside of the close confine of Cambridge. Why else do you think scientists do PhDs?
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had jobs before. For a year and a half I was a shelf stacker at a Marks & Spencer’s, and it wasn’t that bad. It paid well and it was shift work, which was ideal for my ‘social’ life. We got to eat nice food for free (once we’d marked it as waste and used staff discount). If we were bored and the shop was empty we would race each other aboard the green wheels we used to move crates around. One memorable day, a colleague ended up crashing into a stack of five litre bottles of water, and smashing a few. How any of the managers didn’t notice still astounds me.
But since then I’ve moved up in the world. I spent the holiday working inside the trust and funds office of a major American bank. It’s not quite the trading floor of a big office in the City, but the more sedate lifestyle suits me; the last thing I want from a holiday job is for it to be stressful.
But I can’t see myself doing these things for the rest of my life. Marks & Spencer’s was fun, but it wasn’t exactly intellectually fulfilling. The American bank was easy, but it wasn’t engaging. And I can’t ever really imagine myself feeling content enough with a job to warrant doing it for the rest of my life.
When I speak to real people with real jobs, I’m always struck by how little they engage with their work. They live for the weekend, when they don’t have to be in the office and pretend they’re twenty-something again.
Is it too much to ask for a job that I will actually enjoy? I know the job market isn’t great, but I can still wish for an engaging job, can’t I? If growing up and being an adult means I need to settle for some money and a whole lot of boredom, then perhaps I would be happier racking up more student debt and studying for a PhD.
And with an attitude like mine, however many roads I’ve walked down in my life, I reckon I need to double it before you could call me a man.