Stuff I Didn’t Expect to Miss About Working (after having quit to go back to school)

Yeah, yeah, I have actually ended up missing a few things. Student life has been great so far (although “still having to make ends meet” and “being way overcommitted outside of school” and “having a fiancée” puts me a little outside the scope of the average Singaporean law student’s frame of reference with regards to ‘student life’) but there are things you do tend to miss, having worked for a while. Here they are, as a quick throwaway:

  1. Colleagues
    My course-mates have been good, but studying is ultimately a solitary pursuit. Academic achievement is a solo game, for the most part, which is vastly different from most jobs. Like it or not, almost all office jobs require you to work in teams on one thing or another, which means that, over time, you get used to having other people on your side, working towards the same goal.

    Now, I may not have been a model colleague, or the best team-player, but I do miss having my friends with me. There’s a bond that’s built when you help others and are helped in return in the context of a shared goal that’s totally different when you’re working together with people who are, in a sense, directly competing with you for grades. Although NUS Law School’s decision to grade students on a curve mirrors that of many workplaces, especially in the civil service (where stack-ranking is still very much alive, and looking to thrive), stack-ranking and curve-grading is a practice that seems to be falling out of favour in the private sector, especially in the heavy-hitters of the innovation sector like Google. Just look at the backlash against Amazon’s reported work-practices in the recent New York Times Inside Amazon article: while Amazon has been trying to defend itself, it’s arguing against the facts of the case, but not the cut-throat principle that has prompted such public condemnation.

    Today, forcing staff to compete instead of collaborate (or worse, make them do both) is rapidly falling out of favour, which bodes well for workplaces and workers alike. I miss being part of that culture, and hope I’ll have the chance to re-enter it at some point.

    One of the things I’m finding that I love being a graduate law student (kind of) is that the other GLBs (Graduate LL.B folks) have internalised a more supportive, constructive, collaborative culture from their workplaces, and we’re pulling together quite well as accomplices and comrades. So far everyone’s been greatly helpful and very supportive, and I hope that continues.

  2. Staff Space
    There’s a lot of hate being directed at ‘cubicle-culture’ right now, but I have to confess that I miss having my own space. I’d probably miss it more if I’d had my own office! The shared spaces at the Bukit Timah campus generally range from nice to gorgeous, and seem to be quite responsibly-used (no real evidence of litter, untoward levels of noise, overcrowding), but you get used to having your own space, a spot where you can dump your stuff instead of living out of a backpack, instead of having to prowl around looking for unoccupied spots.


    Beautiful quad, but I still miss having my own desk

    Yes, I love sitting here in the late afternoon, listening to the orioles and ubiquitous urban mynahs, but I do miss having a spot to just veg-out, slouch down, and either nap or be altogether too noisy, vulgar, and animated with close friends.

  3. Permanence
    You know you’re a little needy when you look at the postgrad students’ carrels and start salivating. It’s more than just a spot of your own: it’s a recognition of some kind of permanence, some kind of belonging. Students are transients: they pass through the hallowed halls of learning on their way to something else. I kind of miss the small things: a place to put my mug, a staff-pass, an assumed invitation to functions and meetings.

    I’m a client now, part of the front-end, but I know enough to intuit the well-worn grooves along which the back-end trundles through its daily machinery. It’s a nice thought, that there are people there doing their routine, feeling at home with themselves and what they’re doing.

Oh well. I’m glad I’m doing what I’m doing, and honestly there are a ton of transformative opportunities here that I’m going a little berserk in taking advantage-of, but it’s nice to remember where you’ve come from.

I’m glad that there are things I can miss about working life. It means the time spent wasn’t wasted.

Oh, and of course, a paycheck didn’t hurt at all!


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