Italo Calvino, from the story Dry River in his collection Numbers in the Dark
A chronological collection from Calvino’s very earliest work – more than almost any other writer he delights me with his flights of imagination from the simplest of observations. And this quote captures what I constantly forget about writing, that the best writing is about seeing our own experiences more clearly, rather than remembering the things we think we ought to write about.
Because it turned out that it’s actually just about making yourself more “employable”. It’s about fashioning yourself into a walking CV to compete for a stagnant pool of graduate jobs that are paid less in real terms every year, and taking on a rotten amount of debt in the process.
Again, it just feels wrong to advise people not to go to university – because I took so much from university myself. But that was 25 years ago, before university became a financial transaction.
But if the price of a degree is debt and a continuation of the work ethic of school, perhaps we are moving to a time when the brightest students will discover the work they really want to do by going out in the world instead.
I had a conversation with a university-age relative the other week, in which he told me that he had not been accepted on the top course at the top university of his choice – and as a consequence he was retaking his A levels in an attempt to get better grades, so that he can have another chance.
I felt sorry for him. With a work ethic of this kind, learnt and school and to be carried on into work, it is unlikely he will have time to embrace the freedom university gives you to think, to think about who you are the first time away from home, to have new experiences that might guide you to the valubale work you really want to do in your life.
If uiniversity has become a financial transaction, just how useful is university nowadays? Is all you take from it a very expensive degree certificate, which is no particular use for the self-made career? I’m loathe to suggest this, because I gained so much from a university educaton – but perhaps it will come to the point that I’ll advise my children not to go.
(Possibly for University is Not Essential)
'You’ve heard of people calling in sick. You may have called in sick a few times yourself. But have you ever thought about calling in well? It’d go like this: You’d get the boss on the line and say, “Listen, I’ve been sick ever since I started working here, but today I’m well and I won’t be in anymore.” Call in well.'
Accounts of career-life such as this are common all over the internet (see also), and in people’s face-to-face accounts of their work. We know that people ‘have a career’, and that is seen by many as a good in itself. But we know very little about what people actually do all day in their work, how they feel about their actual tasks – the work culture.
Full-time career life is just so opaque – and especially to graduates clamouring for a career-job when they have never had one before. This is what work-experience should be about: discovering the true nature of corporate life, and then avoiding it.
‘Sustainable creativity’: where the purpose of writing or making music or creating anything is not necessarily to produce a product, but simply to find a way to fund the continuation of making stuff
A phrase coined by Miranda Ward in her excellent book F**k the Radio We’ve Got Apple Juice, about the rise and supposed fall of the band Little Fish – who chose to leave their major record label and support slots on stadium rock tours in order to take back control of making their music, on the cheap in their own home.
|—||Alain de Botton|
Is University Really Worth It Any More?
I’ve written and rewritten the university chapter of The Tyranny of Careers more than any other, because, although there seem so many reasons to choose not to go to university nowadays (massive tuition fees, the prospect of years of non-deferable debt, the reduced value of a degree certificate now that so many people go on to higher education), I benefitted enormously from a university education. Not so much from the studying, but all the other lessons: how to live with other people, how to manage money, how to deal with the freedom to do whatever the hell you liked).
You can find these other lessons elsewhere (travelling, working abroad, anything so long as you meet new and interesting people). I would jump at the chance to spend three years studying now. I’m just not sure I would be old enough to deal with the prospect of the debt at 18 or 19.
Time to rewrite again…
(image via austinkleon)