What happens after college?

I just want to paint a rough picture for the kid who is going to leave college, about the afterlife which awaits and while doing so — I am going to make some vague generalisations based on my experience, despite knowing that generalisation is a bad thing to do. But I also strongly believe that even the wrong generalisations help the thought process of a young mind and teaches it an important lesson sooner or later…

You might not want to continue reading if you are like me — who believed that my experience should be pure, good or bad didn’t matter to me, all I wanted was to have a real experience, feel life first hand as it comes and not be influenced by the perspective of a stranger or a close senior; I also stayed away from nice people whose intention was just to help — they were trying to give good advice, but I was one of those fools who liked to make his own mistakes.

Looking back, I really hated when some solid advice (or comment) made the problem at hand very easy and I cursed them from taking away an opportunity to figure things out for myself. I was like that, but I am not sure how many other kids feel as over confident when they are about to leave college.

Why would you still read? Because you probably are more sane, more rational than the emotional version of me I was back then. The idea is to hear everything — many experiences, life stories and unwanted advices — take in as much as you can, and then choose what to retain and what to ignore.

It won’t spoil the “pure” experience because life always finds a way to surprise you, especially when you least expect it.

First year

You don’t hate the real life as your seniors or more experienced people had told you. You wonder what’s so bad about it? If you are joining a big company like I did, and you already have some friends — from your college, or freshers from other college — who are starting with you, then you will fit right in, you will feel just like the first semester of college, where you meet new people, who are also having similar feelings and doubts, and this setup would make the transition into new life smooth and easy. You won’t like most of the new people you meet, you would still talk and try to like them, but a part of you will always compare them with your great friends from college and that will make you sad; you will realise things are not the same and the thought that life will never be the same strikes for the first time!

Around the same time, you will meet the word RESOURCE. You will hear someone say — Now we have new resources; We don’t have enough resources to work on that; etc; This isn’t the talk of resources being pens or rooms, but they are talking about you and all the people you see around you. You hate it, but that’t the truth, you are just a resource, and you can be replaced like a computer keyboard. I still don’t like that way of addressing people, and the thought that I can be replaced with a blink of an eye saddens me, but I have learned to live with it.

You would be staying in fancy hotels for the first couple of weeks, gulping the heavy breakfast buffets and freedom would be at its peak. You will love the comfort and the adult treatment, but you will also hate dressing up daily (even more if formal clothes are mandatory), reaching office at the same time, leaving at the same time and seeing other people doing the exact same thing — it would make you feel like a robot. And this feeling of machine increases even more if you are a software programmer whose everyday job is to sit in front of a computer and write software in a way it (the robot) understands.

You will be sitting in meetings without saying a word, and without understanding most of the words spoken by other team members and people who have been there for a long time; first you will feel proud to be part of it, and hope you would soon understand their words and your place in the meeting but that never happens, except a line or two is spoken about you. You might be introduced and everyone will be very happy to have you around; all these welcomes and nice gestures will make you feel human again, but the work you are assigned would be the deciding factor whether you can tolerate the job and the reality of routine life, or will you eventually quit.

You are happy to learn a lot of new things — how real life software is written, how different it is from the lab programs, and how tiring it is to make the software reach production or create something which has value for the users; you feel happy about this experience and whatever you get to learn, but at the same time you start to realise this same process is going to continue for the coming years… and when you see the senior members of the teams, who are still writing the same software as you, they surely have more responsibility, more meetings and more projects to work on, but the code they write, the work they do, their everyday lifestyle is similar to yours and you decide you don’t want to be like them in the next five years, ten years, fifteen years. The corporate ladder might sadden you and you are generally one of the two types — one who likes the designations and want to climb step by step or you are the one who wants an out, who doesn’t give a damn about the ladder and designations and don’t want to turn into the department lead — who you like, who you respect, but twelve years of life and then becoming like him is something you can’t imagine for yourself; you think you are better than them and your life will be definitely better in the next ten years…

You will probably be in a new city, so house hunts would be the most common topic to talk about. You will spend enormous amounts on finding the house, talking about it, cursing the landlords who don’t want bachelors in their house, and once you find one, you will adjust to live with your roommates and their peculiar habits; you might like one of them, and probably will not like another and there will be one who will always be sad. You would wonder what life did to him and you will prefer to stay at a distance, because you don’t want negativity in your new life which is already turning out to be tough. You will get drunk of weekends, pay cheque will make you happy, but then in the next instant, a quarter of it will go in rent and you will curse the fucking expensive cities again. You do a lot of complaining in the first year, but soon you get used to the way life works…and nothing surprises you anymore.

As much as you want to return back to the college life, you can’t; and this helpless feeling of not having the control over your own life makes you want to punch a wall. You return for the college fest, in the hope to live the life you loved one more time, for a few more days, but somehow the thought of going back keeps hanging over your head and spoils your mood. You tell your friends on campus, about your new life, how your job is, the house hunts, your new roommates, the treks you have done, the Friday night drunk stories, while their story is still the same — doing nothing, getting high and just sitting in the cafe, talking about life, universe and everything and that’s when you realise what you miss the most about college. You cherish each moment like it’s the last time — cigarette and tea just like old days, the late nights walk the special someone, the immutable beauty of the crushes, the expression on the watchman, billing person at the counter, and even the spider webs of your room make you nostalgic — and by the time you leave, you have tears in your eyes, and you don’t know why — or maybe you do, it’s the fear of letting go of your past memories…and more importantly, it’s the simple truth which you are not yet ready to accept, you ignore, and it keeps striking back: College is still the same, and will always be the same, but you know, that you are not.

You don’t quite know the reason, but you don’t hate the people at your office anymore. You empathise with them, you have also become one of them and as you know yourself well enough — that you are not stuck but just don’t what’s better than this — you understand them better, and you get the answer for the question, Why are they still doing the same jobs if they don’t like it? Because they do know that other jobs are going to be just the same. You will observe more than you normally used to — the friends at lower pay companies want to switch jobs already, get a better job; when you already know the better job is just going to be the same. You hate how things work — if you don’t get a promotion in one company, you go to another and somehow everything is driven by money, and you start hating the world you are part of. Their reasons haunt you even more — if all jobs are more or less the same, then it makes sense to do it for more money… why be loyal to a company when you are just a resource and isn’t it fair you also should have your best interest at the topmost priority?

This doesn’t fit in your head, which is still firm on principles — if you are learning at a job, it’s a good job and you don’t need to change. I was learning, my manager was good and so was my team and hence my job was good; there was no reason to quit except that I wanted to be a college student again. I realised I was being childish and so I stayed, went with the flow and continued my job. Soon, the new exciting learning times reduced and most days were being passed without actually learning anything new, instead I was just doing the same thing over and over again. It’s not as bad as I put it here, you do learn how to get better at writing software; you understand what matters and what doesn’t; you learn what are the interesting tasks in your industry — seeing architects or tech leads or people with experience designing systems, you think you would enjoy that job but you also realise that it’s only going to come after giving a lot of years, and you wonder if you should drop all this, and start a startup…

You don’t want to do a startup for the sake of doing it, or because you don’t like the job, you want to do it for the right idea and for the right reasons; the college dreams of starting a company with friends seems too good to be true, but you still believe it will happen some day…

Instead of a startup, you do some online courses, or start a side project — these things are started because you don’t feel content with what you are learning at job and you think you want more; but it’s tiring; you realise it’s too hard and you often give up, and party instead; because a part of you feels: it’s time to enjoy; college has finally ended, you have a well paying job, and now we should live life.

If your company gives you an extensive training like mine did, then you will live the last college semester again which was missed because of the internship; this would make you learn a lot, your knowledge breadth will increase and you will feel you are learning a lot, but you hardly get any chance to apply, which is what you are expected to do once you join your teams and write valuable software for the clients. So, as you are already learning in office time, during the training, you don’t have to spend nights after office looking for more, you can party instead or explore the city, or just spend the money you have earned on things you don’t need, but you would do it anyway, because you want to celebrate your good life…

You talk less and less about work, and more and more about the life outside work. You will find a way to keep yourself happy, that we always do — without actually knowing what makes you happy? You would plan trips, travel, and work, and even in work hours, plan the trips and in the lunch breaks, talk about it, and this setup feels awesome to some of your friends — work is work, and then you enjoy your life outside work, they don’t expect work to make them happy or content, but you wonder if you can live with that mindset? You try to, and that keeps you happy for some time but at nights you would always think if there is better job somewhere?

You park those thoughts and decide to give the current job a fair chance, because you sincerely believe switching now won’t be a wise decision, as in the next place you will have to start from scratch; so, you think it’s better to learn something here, invest a year or two, become a Senior and then revisit those thoughts…

You pity the ones who switch jobs and end up in another terrible job. The folks you knew who started a startup are struggling, pivoting or giving up. People continue to leave for Masters, MBA, and IAS… and you still don’t know if you want more education, more entrances or what do you want to do with your life?

It’s almost impossible to explain your state of confusion to anyone who hasn’t been there, and if you try, you would end up giving them an impression that you are confused big time, or there is something wrong with you or you will feel even your friends won’t understand what you are looking for…which is exactly the case, you don’t know!

The tough part which probably not many people convey is to live with these don’t knows and not worry too much. And don’t express your feelings to someone who you think wouldn’t understand or is too concerned about you, because it would just give them a reason to worry, when there isn’t one. This is what is expected…normal…and healthy…

Either you will be lucky to find partners to be in relationship with or you will be lucky enough to learn second hand from your friend’s experience. They would get into one, enjoy the initial phase and then in less than a year they would break up for reasons they don’t exactly know. You will feel lonely when you see them in love, but you also feel free, that you don’t have to deal with someone else, that you don’t have to make someone else happy when you yourself are finding it hard to keep yourself happy and sane. Some rare ones will be able to find the right partners, and get married knowing it’s the right thing to do, you will envy them but also wonder if they will ever experience what you are feeling right now, this state of confusion and being all alone, where no one understands you?

Second year

You notice a year went by, your entire life has changed; on the surface of things you know that, but the change hasn’t completely settled within you — still in a hangover phase of college, you are sleep walking in some sort of a dream where you would wake up and life will be back to normal; the morning alarms, the occasional juice, the repetitive food, the formal clothes, the dusty shoes, the same familiar faces, the same greetings, and the same unknown strangers with whom you are never going to talk have become part of your everyday life and you have got used to it; you don’t see those rare breed, who you thought were as good as you, and were happy that they were stuck with you, but now they are not there — they have managed to escape, while you were busy partying and going with the flow. Some of your friends would be going for Masters, other people who were your friends have started to prepare for entrances, you want to talk to them, as you thought they were good friends, but you don’t have enough motivation to start the conversation, as you know it might soon turn into obligations of meetings and you don’t want to put in that kind of effort to maintain the friendship, and just in a few moments, someone who was supposedly a good friend in college, has been turned into a virtual name; you feel sad about that, but there is not much you can do about it, you try to spend time with the few friends you did decide to be in contact with, but even that becomes difficult. Sometimes, you are busy with work obligations, sometimes they are and when you finally catchup, there is not much to talk about — Did you see this movie? Did you see this match? What are you reading? How is work? How are your roommates? And the general conversation about being stuck with the job has started to affect rest of the conversation, some of the people would be so frustrated with the work life, that they don’t even wanna talk about it, and you feel they have given up on finding good work, but if they don’t want to talk about it, there is nothing you can do, and so you talk about things which are not important…

Not all is bad, you might get that impression from my tone, but you need to understand — that tone mimics, how life generally is, most of the times. There are good times, there will be some good things going on, but rest of the time, you will have to face the harsh reality. It is hard, only if you see it that way — always comparing it with the easy college life or carefree childhood days — but if you already know about it, then you won’t find it that hard to deal with it, as you are already expecting it to be so…

The time you spend with family becomes special once again. You hated your time at home while you were in college, but now, you would love each moment you spend at home. The special treatment, the home cooked food and the pleasure of watching tv will make you feel so good that you wouldn’t want to go back to work life. You will be able to smile genuinely when you speak with your parents, as now you know how hard life is and how they have been hiding that from you. Smiling, enjoying, not ever letting work life affect the time they spend with you, and you feel a sense of respect for them which you never did before. You did, but now, having tasted the real waters, you feel respect in its actual sense, not just because you had to as they are your parents. And when they ask you, if are happy? You are enjoying your job? You smile, and pause, and in that pause you know for the first time, that you can’t say you are happy, but you nod and then life goes on…

The times have changed, their happy is not the same as yours, but you can’t tell them you are not happy, because they would ask why is that? And you wouldn’t be able to tell them, that you can’t live your life like this, going to work everyday just like they have been doing for most of their lives…

Work gets better, if you do it sincerely, do it not to get it done, but to learn and satisfy yourself. You manage your hours, and learn the work life is occupying a major forty-fifty percent of your total awake hours and you take your work more seriously — you want more, you want interesting work, work that has high impact, and you want to be rewarded, appreciated, and you want to be trusted; you want responsibility, because you feel when you will have all these things, you will be able to feel good about your job. You really want to, but you don’t want to earn the trust, you don’t want to work hard and show you deserve it, because that’s hard thing to do, instead, you want them to give you important work, so you can feel good about yourself, and about your work life. Things don’t work like that in the real life, you have to prove your worth at every point and you are only as good as your work is. You can be nice, communicate well, but if your work won’t speak for itself, you won’t be respected; you will be treated well, but you know what I mean, you won’t be loved. This love isn’t the love of care, but the love of working with good people. This thing is most often mutual, when you love working with someone, they would feel the same, and if you get signals that they are not happy, then they don’t like you for some reason. I digress…

Many people face this one, where you don’t get important work and you have to fight for it, and as a grad or a new one in the industry, you don’t understand it. You were hired to do good work, then give me good work and I will do it, why do I have to find the good work? It’s because they don’t trust you enough. You start slow, and soon you will be given what you want, and even more, but you need patience, which generally is not existent in people just out of college. How do you prove you are good enough? Well, that’s a life long task for oneself, but for a workplace, or to prove your skill, just find flaws in the current way of things, current system or current development process, and give feedback, get involved, and be curious to know why things are the way they are! This is so crucial, I can’t emphasise enough here, but you will see it sooner or later. Everything is there for a reason, everything works in a particular way because of some rational or need, you have to learn that, if you want to improve, and forget about improve, but just to understand the principles which were used to design the system in the first place. In doing so, focus on learning, take your time and ask more if you need it and then come up with the right questions…that’s pretty much everything you want to know about life…sorry work life… are they different things?

Gym mornings, bowling nights, dinner at new restaurants on weekends and events. You will hunt for events. Life will become so monotonous that you will have to take all measures to escape it in some way, and events is the easiest way to achieve that. Be it standup comedy night, or a live rock show by a famous band, you would be there and the entire city will be there with you, you will feel good about your life. These pleasures will be extremely fun in the beginning, and you will enjoy them sipping your beer or wine, away from the screen, your cubicle and your home, where you are every other night. “Life should be like this, Friday nights after work, someone is making you laugh, what else do you want from life?”

Somewhere in the middle of the second year, you will suddenly realise this is it? This is how life is going to be? What’s next? Nothing! No more milestones, no more goals? You will keep working, and doing other things on the side. You will commute, curse and contemplate. Your routine has become better, but you still hate the life in which routine rules and you follow the clock. You exactly know what time where you will be; which days what you will eat and the worse part is… your motivation to rule the world, change the world, take the life head on, has vanished, and you don’t feel like doing anything about it. You don’t want to learn anything new, you don’t want to get up and you don’t want to work because it makes you realise that nothing is going to change…you are the pawn of the fucking company and it’s just going to work as it is with or without you.

Work is good, your manager and your team are happy with you, with your progress — how you are learning, growing and becoming a valuable part of your team. They are proud, and happy to have you. You want them to appreciate and when they do that, you feel it’s all flattery because you didn’t do anything special, you just did your job; surely, you did it professionally like a responsible member of the team, but this thing, this turning into a professional transition makes you sick. The professional people around you rarely show emotion, hardly feel stuck, or maybe they all do, but as they are professional, they act like they are inhuman, programmed robots devoid of feelings. Strange thing is they look happy, genuinely happy, they will joke around, they know how things work, and they appreciate what they have — good stress free job, work life balance and a good circle of colleagues to have lunch with. You are still in that college over charged mode, where you are ready to complete the project in a week and code all night if need be; you want others to be like that, push things and get things done quickly, but you learn there is other better way of doing things, slowly, doing the right way and planning for it, because there is no need to create stress when you can plan and deliver good software when it’s ready. You wonder if job at a startup would be any different? But you realise or learn that even the employees there are not happy. Because in the end, the work is similar, you learn to write software and that skill takes time to develop and you understand there is no way to jump directly to the top and get the unicorn work?

“We will grow old if we keep working like this” one of your friend will comment, he might also be the one with whom you had dreamed of forming a company and now you both smile at the way life is playing with you. These long virtual hangouts make you happy for an unknown reason, you all get together and curse about your lives, it reminds you of the old college days, where you used to curse professors and talk about everything that happened at college, but now the college playground has become what we call Life; we talk about Life and how difficult it is to be the same as we were. You laugh and imitate the formal etiquettes you use at the work place, the Thank you, Sorry, Excuse me and all the famous jargons of I’ll get back you and the heavily used words like proactive, visibility and ownership. We miss the insults and the cutting truth we used to speak in college, for no one is there to tell you — Yes, it sucks…it really does, but what are you going to do about it?

You want more, you don’t feel you are using your true potential, your friends agree to that, but they also convince you changing jobs won’t help because everywhere it’s going to be like that, and you just have to go through the initial years like this, till you really have the experience. Once you have that, you will get the good work, they say, but you don’t think that is going to happen. And you wonder if that’s the case, then why not go zigzag instead of taking the single ladder till we ready for the real thing?

Beer turns to wine, gym turns into running, winter returns after completing a full cycle, more people get married, more jobs get changed, more people leave the job world and return to their father’s business, more people go for MBA, IAS, etc, but you are still at the same spot, thinking the same thing, as last year, and learning to live with this confused state, where you don’t know, what follows? And how you can make your life better? Answers to most questions you have is still don’t know, except one thing you know for sure, that you are not near feeling content, and you know you have to do something about your life, else it’s going to be too late…

Third year

You look forward to the annual day, wait for your promotion, as if it’s gonna change your life or something. Despite knowing that it won’t change a thing, you are still excited to know if you are promoted or not, and the outcome will make you sad or happy, even though, you know you have bigger things to worry about!

You run for the cab, get in, and the cab merges into the traffic. You can tolerate the traffic and the slow moving cab, but you can’t listen to the nonsense of other people in the cab, they always have something to talk about, most of them are used to this life and somehow they are even enthusiastic about things they are talking about; and you wonder how is that possible? Why is their head not exploding with thoughts like mine? And you are sad to see yourself turning into one of them, who would speak about a new online course, the new restaurant which has opened and discuss the best place to eat biryani? You plug in your earphone and suddenly the world seems to be a better place. You feel calm, and composed, looking at the slow moving traffic, somehow when the cab moves slowly, you don’t get those contemplating thoughts about the bigger questions in life…

People in relationship discover what the single people have already discovered, that love won’t be enough to keep them happy, unless they know what to do with their lives? Many couples break up because they think their partner is the reason for their unhappiness, when they themselves are the real problems of the relationship; those of which don’t break up are either too lazy to do anything with their life — they had given up long back or they never wanted more from life than a good loving partner, a well paying job and two vacations a year — or they are mature enough to talk about this like adults and help each other find work which they would love to do; if you are in the latter category, you have a good chance of figuring out what you really want, but you also face the challenge of being true to yourself, as you would be tempted to just take the first viable choice, and just be happy with the person you already love. The single ones desperately want to get on the other side, but sadly, they don’t have an option but to follow the long route — there are no shortcuts and you need three things if you want to move forward: patience, persistence and self belief.

The sword of time will hang by your throat. You want to find someone, which can’t happen unless you find yourself first, and how are you supposed to find yourself when every direction you look into, you feel that you are too late for it, that the train has already left and you feel defeated even before starting the quest for life worth living.

You realize most people don’t know what they want from their lives, but they still go along, let life control it’s direction, and sit conveniently in the backseat; you know you can’t be like them, you can’t just do things you are not sure about doing, say get another degree when you don’t think it’s the right course; you are one of those control freaks who want to grab the handle, but somehow you can’t seem to find the handle, and even if you find the handle, the windscreen is all blurred up, and you don’t know what to do with the handle?

You laugh inside when you hear words like passion and calling, they all tell you to find it, but no one tells you how to find it, and what happens if you can’t find it? What if you don’t have passion? Your life is futile then? You won’t do anything worthwhile? Simple things like playing a musical instrument, enjoying a movie, or an event, or a conversation with old friends doesn’t seem to give you happiness anymore. Because you know, none of them can help you, only you can help yourself, only you can find what you want, and there is no easy way to find that answer. There are no guidelines, no cheat sheet, and no definite path which can end your confusion. You feel alone, and you want isolation, so you can think clearly what really matters?

Life is a mess, why does it have to be so hard? Is something wrong with me? Why can’t I be happy with a simple job and a normal life?

You will be on your own, isolated, with or without people around you; in the mountains or in the shower; in the same city or miles away in a foreign land; at the same job or at next; after the promotion or before; with a partner holding your hand or walking alone; a year from now, or two, or maybe more, but you will figure it out that it was never about doing all things right, never about achieving everything, never about anyone else, never about the place or the work I do, and time was never an issue; it was just about doing one thing right, finding one answer, and living with the confusion, and allowing it to take the time it needs to find what I want to do with my life and once I do, the rest of the life will be spent in doing that; I just have to try things out — different things — and do it till I want and then move on to other things if I don’t see it going anywhere!

If the negative line of thoughts or the people make you wonder if this is what depression is like? Then I will answer that for you. You are just unaware and haven’t read the books which tell you that this state of unknown is normal and every one goes through it at some point in their lives. This confusion, this battle with dilemmas, this quest for finding answers to the most fundamental questions about life is what life is all about? This state of conflict is a healthy state for a human to be in; if you ask me what is the one thing you love about life? I will tell you, it is this uncertainty which makes life worth living, where you don’t know what the future comprises of? Most people don’t have anything uncertain about their futures, they are all good and settled, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but surely it isn’t an interesting state to be in, I think so.

After all, I am still a kid like you!