We are almost there. Teetering on the edge, straddling the days of our sheltered suburban public education on one side and a world clouded with uncertainty, hope, and discovery on the other. Great, now is the time to finally put to use the hours we spent struggling to attain the ‘outstanding mark’ in penmanship in the third grade, the knowledge we learned while repackaging the analysis of ‘the great gatsby’ from sparknotes.Com for ap lang, and the understanding of complex social dynamics only derived from stomaching one too many middle school dances. Did we ever really know what we were getting ourselves into? What is the long term goal of late night papers and math problem sets?
To make money, my parents said. Allright then, making money. But I may have deceived myself into thinking I knew what this meant. Selling lemonade or something like that, some milton bradley baby shit. Any retard with basic arithmetic skills can do that.
And only a private university—excuse me, a technical/vocational school like NYU Stern finance—can fully prepare me for cubicle life. How exciting! The brochure would tell me, while I flip through glossy pictures of smiles, handshakes, opportunities, and success. The world of cubicle life is a world of glory, fighting on the front lines of the battle of finance, always in the line of fire, in the middle of action! And of course, opportunities for great success and money. Every word I read made me more excited to be a part of this giant machine that, as they claim, drives the innovation and progress of mankind. I was sold. So where do I sign up, when can I put on that crisp new suit, when do I get my first six figure paycheck?
Not so fast, they told me. NYU, the world of finance, wall street, like any organization, requires people to jump through a series of hoops. Sure, its not like i’ve never done that before. So I did. Take these classes, join these clubs, say these lines, go through these motions, network like this, don’t act too interested, don’t act too desperate. Before I knew it, it was more than just some plain old pony tricks. It soon became a method of thinking, a way of life. I went in play-doh(tm), molded myself into a small cog, and came out a small piece, uniform with thousands of other pieces, ready to be placed into a big machine. Soulless, unthinking, slave.
But I kept qualifying the molding process. Its ok, i’ll work for a few years and get out, no biggie.
Then I was called to duty. The job description detailed all the battle action I will be engaging in, all the excitement and thrill of being on the front line. The financial landscape is constantly changing, always dynamic. Be prepared to think quickly on your feet, solve challenging problems on the fly. No weak stomachs, it warned. This is what I believed I was born to do. And damn was I determined to do one hell of a good job.
Welcome to cubicle life, I triumphantly told myself. This is it, I made it, i’m doing it. Even if i’m failing miserably, i’m doing it. Chasing the so-called dream, or was it the dream that they told me I should be chasing? It doesn’t matter anymore.
Rows and rows and columns and columns of cubicles. People silently tapping away at their keyboards. Everyone connected to their computers, hands to the keyboards, eyes to the screens, minds to the computers. This is it, the white collar work place. Just like every stereotype of an office that I have seen on tv or in the movies. I’m ready to get started, to get plugged into this giant machine we affectionately refer to as ‘the economy’. I am one impatient baby.
A cold voice refers me to my desk. Row 42, column ab, like the grid of cubicles is an excel worksheet. On my desk I find two monitors. Its like they knew I had add, or if I didn’t have add, I soon will get add. I get settled in my black office chair, mess around with the seat height and swivel around in it, feeling the range I get on my chair, how far I can lean back while still being able to use my computer. I fill out some paper work and surf the internet. Before I knew it, the work day was ending and people were leaving for home. What a fantastic job, a great first day.
But soon days blurred into weeks blurred into months. The internet was replaced by excel worksheets and microsoft outlook. Any idle time for day dreaming was superseded by number crunching and formatting. My fingers became so intimately familiar with the hot keys of excel that when I am working full throttle, my keyboard sounds like one that belongs to a korean starcraft master. Sometimes I would work late nights, motivated to work only by fear of failure from a supervisor. I felt like I was cramming for an exam. And day after day, week after week, this became my life. Waking up in the morning to punch out numbers on a computer coming home and sleeping only to do the same thing the next morning. I have become a small cog in the big machine.
My life is a cubicle. Not only are my testicles shackled to my seat, my thoughts are tethered and monitored by the company. I can only think what is best for the company, for corporate america, for the economy. In the big chess game between dueling forces that determine the direction of our society, mankind, I am a pawn. Indispensable. Forgettable. I was created to fight in a battle that I know nothing about.
But I do get paid. And I spend money. And I get paid. And I spend money. Sometimes I would catch myself thinking, is there anything more to life than this? Probably not. I didn’t read it in any glossy brochures or anything.
They will probably find my dead body laying face down in a cubicle one day, with packaging peanuts scattered around, a few post it notes on my desk, excel silently humming away on my monitors. They will see the wounds on my fingers from banging out numbers a bit too intensely, working excel a bit too ferociously. They will find my eyes glazed and unfocused, figuring that my mind has rotted earlier, leaving only my physical body, with the hot keys ingrained from years of building models, left to continue to work. They will look for any signs of medical illness, any previous record of heart disease or high cholesterol or gout, and upon seeing a clean bill of health, write it off as another casualty. It happens, they will say. Another sacrifice, albeit necessary, to maintain and preserve the economy. And two hours into finding my body, they will reset the computers and clean the packaging peanuts, prepare the desk for a new pawn, young, eager, full of ambition, and unaware of his eventual demise.
And the company will continue to recruit. NYU stern will continue to tell aspiring young minds to forgo their engineering skills to begin a life full of excitement on the front lines of finance. That supporting the economy is a good thing. That it is the only thing worth living for.