Borrok: Work culture is suffocating students

Ben Borrok, Opinion Editor

In recent years, creating a LinkedIn page has become an inevitable feature of college life. The website, designed to improve the networking capabilities of employers and potential employees alike, has grown steadily since its official launch in 2003. The intentions of the website are smart, and to the need for young professionals to connect with professionals in their field. Users can post their work experiences, education, resumes and even broadcast to their network if they are looking for a new opportunity. Despite these helpful features, I detest the website.

My critique is not solely of the website, but of the mindset that it encompasses. I am not simply complaining about the inconvenience that goes along with networking to get your first job; that is inevitable. My gripe is with the professional work culture and the copious amounts of unsolicited advice-givers that fill the platform.

Granted, I hate bragging about myself. It made college applications difficult and it makes networking difficult as well. While previous networking strategies would require me to email potential employers and schedule meetings with people, LinkedIn makes it so that you cannot escape the achievements and updates of others. Your interactions and achievements are there for anyone to see, making personal, heartfelt interactions impossible. Rather, it becomes a zero-sum game. Everyone’s intentions are transactional. Every time you reach out to someone, it becomes clear that your intentions are for your own benefit only, and that doesn’t sit right with me.

I hate to think that everyone is only interacting with me and each other because of personal gain, that our time and relationships are only valuable if they give us an upperhand in the American workplace. This ideology, for the lack of a better term, has spread to people my own age. People I know from high school and college have, understandably, begun to posture for careers by eliminating any sign of their personality on their profile page. Gone are pictures and personal interests, replaced by leadership skills and work experiences. I don’t see this as useful for a job — no employer is hiring a list of achievements, they hire people who fit within the company culture. Yet, it becomes evident that the opportunities are selected not off what makes students happy, but what looks good for a resume. How are you comfortable living your life for an employer?

What time is left for our own experiences? Beyond studying and working, when are we meant to be living? I hate that I feel guilty when I take time for myself, that any time spent doing something besides work is unproductive and will result in me falling behind my peers. There is a notion, which is especially prevalent on LinkedIn, that we need to overextend ourselves in the workplace in order to be deemed successful. I am constantly being promoted motivational posters on my LinkedIn feed who talk about finding success before the age of 25. These posts are complemented by a smattering of similar profiles commenting about how they found success and giving unsolicited advice that is far too reliant on socioeconomic status to be taken seriously. To be frank, the expectation is unattainable and is crushing for the mental health of students. We graduate at age 21-22, how are we expected to figure it all out within such a short period of time?

This mindset has also driven many away from their passions, as pressure is put on to be financially successful above all else. Discourse on LinkedIn, as well as other social media, encourages people to drop their passions in exchange for economics or STEM fields under the guise of usefulness. I encourage you to imagine living in a world without entertainment, media, art or social sciences. How unbelievably depressing that sounds, not to mention economically devastating for society.

I play this game too, and as much as I may complain, I know that it is necessary to network in order to find later success. That does not mean, however, that the current state of worker culture is justifiable, and much can be done to address these draining attitudes.Too much pressure is put on students to be professionals, as if we don’t have the rest of our lives to figure things out. In a sense, it feels like a thievery of our youth, with fewer opportunities to make mistakes and fun college memories.

I don’t want to look back and regret the experiences I passed up in order to pursue a career. I believe that having the best of both worlds — work and personal life — should be attainable for everyone.

Ben Borrok is a School of Communication junior. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.