Lessons from My First Three Months as a Real Adult

As of five days ago, I have have been a real, proper adult for three months. That is, I’ve been working at my first real, full-time job for three months. In the years that led up to my graduation, I wondered what the switch from the academic life to the professional life would be like, and many of those wonderings have made their way onto this blog. So it’s only fair that I update you on how things have turned out so far.

Here are a few things I’ve noticed about adulthood so far, in no particular order.

1. Food is Expensive

You sort of take food for granted when you’re living at home. Even while I lived in my own apartment, I would still pop home fairly frequently and take advantage of a free meal and the opportunity to raid the pantry for things I needed. Plus, when you’re working, you don’t have nearly as much time to cook, so if you’re not careful, you end up eating out a lot. My first month or two here, I spent more on food than I did on rent. For context, I live alone in a city where rent is fairly expensive. Granted, for the first month I was in corporate housing with no kitchen, which meant that I had to eat out for nearly every meal, but that’s still a lot of damn money on food.

By the way, don’t believe the statistics about “average expenditure” on food. I’m not sure where they get those numbers, but as far as I can tell, they’re a load of crap.

2. Bills Aren’t as Bad as Everyone Says

People spend a lot of time whining and complaining about how many bills they have to pay*. They bitch and moan and put it off to the last minute, and then freak out and complain some more when their payment is overdue. But it’s really not that big a deal. First of all, many bills these days can be paid online, which makes bill-paying a non-event. I don’t do auto-payments, because I like to track my expenses, and because I don’t trust companies to pay themselves directly from my account or credit card. But even so, the most I have to do to pay a bill is log in, punch in my credit card number**, click submit, and go about my day. It usually takes a grand total of two minutes, and then I can go back to playing Legend of Zelda, baking cookies, or whatever it is I do in my free time.

I suspect that people just don’t like to see all that money leaving their account, and that I can understand. It’s always a little disheartening to see all that money roll in on pay day just to watch it slowly trickle out of your account as you pay one bill after another. Nevertheless, life goes on.

3. There Are Less Hours in the Day

In college, I spent roughly four or five hours in class per day. I then spent far less than the recommended amount of time studying and doing homework outside of school. In my part-time job, I spent very little time working, most of which was during the summer. So my days were pretty much free. As much as I complained about not having any time to do things, I had butt-tons of time to do whatever the hell I wanted, I just squandered it all. How? Not a clue. When I try to add up a typical school day in my mind, I come up around 5 hours short. Where did all that time go? What was I doing? Was I regularly and frequently abducted by aliens? I don’t know, but that time vanished.

When you spend an average of 8 hours per day at work, you wind up with less time in your day. I need to get around 8 to 9 hours of sleep per night to function like a normal human being, which means that about 17 hours of my day (including work) are written off from the start. Factor in an hour of transportation time, and that leaves me with 7 hours of free time. A good bit of that time is spent slogging through my morning routine and, by the end of the day, I have about 5 hours to myself.

Now,  I’m certainly not the first person to mention the fact that working adults have less free time than students, and I’m not complaining about it. On the contrary, I kind of like it. Having less time in my day makes me appreciate the time that I do have, and on the weekends when I have all the free time in the world, I make a decent use of it. That doesn’t mean that I go out saving the world, wrestling bears, curing cancer, and climbing mount Everest, sucking every single drop out of the marrow-bone of life. But it does mean that I enjoy my free time more.

4. There’s So Much More Time

When I was in school, everything felt finite and ephemeral. Things needed to be done immediately, and my longest term goal was to get a job at the end of my degree. Now that I’m working, I have quite a few goals that stretch two and three years away. One of the hardest parts about working so far has been forcing myself to realize that not everything has to happen now: I don’t have to rush into as many things for fear that they won’t be around anymore. Granted, some things you have to rush into, but there are other goals that you can stretch out. It’s a process of calming down, stepping back, and controlling my life deliberately rather than impulsively. And although it’s hard, it feels pretty good.

5. You Can’t Tell Me What To Do

If I want to eat chicken wings for dinner four nights in a row (which I’ve done once… at least), no one can tell me not to. If I want to fill my room with playpen balls, no one can stop me (haven’t done this one yet). Most of the time, I use this freedom to do fairly mundane things. The other day, for example, I spent the entire day designing and 3D printing a Jammie Dodger cookie cutter, and then making Jammie Dodgers from scratch. They were delicious, and it was a glorious day. Every Sunday morning I make pancakes for breakfast, and this Sunday I made one that was almost as big as my plate because I CONTROL THE SPATULA NOW, SON!

People think that becoming an adult is boring; there’s the so called “daily grind”, and paying bills, and having to be responsible. When people raise these concerns to me, my response is usually “Fuck. That.” Being an adult means you make the decisions. It means no one has the right to tell you when to brush your teeth***, when to go to bed, or what you can and can’t wear. You make your own life, you set your own expectations, and you decide which paths you do and do not want to take. Some of the most inspiring people in the world are the ones who ignored what people told them adulthood was going to be like, and decided what their own adulthood was going to be like. You’re going to spend the majority of your life being an adult, so what’s the point if you don’t enjoy it?

Look at that boss.

Look at that boss.

6. It Can Be Lonely If You Let It

In college, you’re bombarded by people, fliers, posters, and announcements urging you to sign up for this, volunteer for that, and go out to some other thing. This isn’t really the case when you’re an adult. I don’t mean to say that these opportunities don’t present themselves, but they’re not as abundant, and they’re not always as easy to find. Slowly but surely, it’s easy to settle into an unhealthy routine, especially if you’re a bit introverted (like me). Fortunately though, you’re reading this, so you’ll know that all you have to do when you start feeling like a hermit is to go on a site like Meetup.com or look around your local burger joint or hobby shop for some fliers advertising meetings, find something that piques your interest, and go to it. It’s hard at first, but it will very quickly be easy again.

Here’s the Deal

So far I’m enjoying being an adult. On occasion I’ve been afraid that being an adult would be a slow, steady descent into retirement, but so far I’m pleasantly surprised. The thing is, like just about everything else in life, it’s what you make of it. It can be a great experience, or it can be a miserable experience. Since this is how I’m going to spend 80% of my life, I’m choose to enjoy it.

*I recognize that I’m very privileged to not have trouble making ends meet, and I don’t intend to demean those who do have trouble paying their bills. If you complain about all the bills you have to pay because you’re having trouble scraping together the money to do so, then I certainly sympathize.

**If your credit card is your primary mode of payment, I highly recommend memorizing your credit card number, the expiration date, and the CVV security number on the back. These three numbers will make you feel really cool, and will save a bit of time with every bill you pay.

***Please though, do brush your teeth even though no one is telling you that you have to. Everyone around you will appreciate it.


The 6 Party: on Compromise and Peaceful Protest

As much as I want to avoid this becoming a political action blog, I can’t help but write about the “6 Party” that’s going on at McGill right now. If you want background on the story, click here.

Let’s start with the reason they’re protesting. The demands made by the partiers are that 1) the QPIRG and CKUT funding referendum be accepted, and 2) that Deputy Provost of Student Life and Learning Morton Mendelson resign. However, this protest, as I’ve stated on Twitter, is a natural result of the complaints of a large group of people being disregarded and marginalized. The McGill Administration’s attitude toward students is one of distance and condescendence: they want to their rules to be accepted without question, and they don’t want to have to get involved with those pesky students, except when it looks good for the university. As an example of this, if you are a student at McGill University, have you ever seen Morton Mendelson? This man is supposed to represent our interests to the administration, and I don’t even know what the man looks like. I could be wrong, but I think I speak for most of the student body when I say that. Students are sick and tired of being treated as “clients,” and of having their role in the community that is our university become less and less important. People are frustrated.

Now, let’s talk about laws. Once upon a time, in a land not too far away, there were laws called the “Jim Crow Laws.” These laws essentially said that white people could do whatever they felt like doing – with impunity – to black people. The Jim Crow Laws continued until many black people and some white people got together and peacefully disobeyed these laws (look up the “Greensboro Lunch Counter Protests” on Wikipedia. Interestingly enough, those protesters were met with a similar style of resistance to the force used against the protesters at the James Building on November 10th, 2011.) Is it legal for students to “occupy” the James administration building? Probably not. But legality is not the point of non-violent protest. The point of non-violent protest is to say, “We have a grievance, and we will not go away until you listen to it.” This is how Ghandi fought British oppression in India, how African Americans fought the Jim Crow Laws and other kinds of oppression in the United States, and how students fought for their rights in Tienanmen square.

What McGill needs to do in this situation is to ignore the protesters. McGill needs to let the protest continue, with the attitude that these are a bunch of radicals who do not represent the views of the public – let the movement die down on its own, or take steps to address the concerns of the students. I am astounded by how badly the McGill administration has reacted to situations that have tested its public image manipulation skills. In this situation, for example, they cut off internet access to the protesting students. Since most students these days have access to data-enabled smart phones, this was an utterly futile attempt to prevent the students from contacting the outside world. In fact, the only thing it did accomplish, is making it look like McGill is trying to hide the fact that the students are unhappy. This image was made even stronger when McGill cut off media access to the campus as well. The goal of non-violent protest, by the way, is to peacefully goad your opponent into tipping their hand and using force to silence you. McGill has tried to forcibly silence the students by cutting off their internet access, cutting off media access to the campus (for a while,) and by physically cutting off their access to food (the building is closed, and a rope that was being used to raise food to the protesters was cut by a security guard; an action that can at best be described as immature.)

McGill has had numerous opportunities to repair its badly damaged image as an institution that does not care about its students or employees, and it has ignored all of them. Instead, it chooses to enforce the attitude that what McGill Administration Says Is Law. Their tactic is to say that the demands are “impossible,” pointe finale, and that the students should really just shut up and go home before the administration has to call their parents. It was this way with the Architecture Cafe, with the MUNACA strike, and with the current situation. In each case the administration has tried to marginalize the demands of the opposing group.

I can’t say I condone the way the 6 party went about their non-violent protest. Their public image isn’t looking great right now either; most major media outlets don’t seem to be taking their complaints seriously because of the “party” nature of the protest. But I certainly support and agree with their concerns.

We – students, faculty, staff, and administrators – are all part of a community. We all contribute to that community, and we all benefit from it. To make this community work, we need to be able to communicate and compromise. And compromise, for those who have forgotten the meaning of the term, means that sometimes you have to do things you don’t like so that in future, others will do something for you in return. We’ll support you, McGill Administration, if you’ll support us. The ball is in your court.

Blocking Twitter and Facebook: Several Months Later

A few months ago I mentioned that I had blocked Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube on the Linux partition of my computer (the one I use the most often.) I was skeptical at first, and I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d just end up getting frustrated and unblocking them. Well, it’s been a while, and I still have all three of them blocked. Every once in a while I use SSH to tunnel around my restrictions, but it’s enough work that the quick mental reward for useless browsing is lost, and I don’t do it that often. Actually, I only tunnel when I need to respond to messages sent to me on Facebook or I’ve been meaning to watch a particular video on YouTube.

Is this a good thing? I don’t know. It’s been a particularly rough couple of weeks, and I can’t tell if my time wastage has decreased, though if it hasn’t I suspect that it has something to do with the increased stress. At the very least, I suspect that I’m doing more with my time – instead of browsing Facebook, I do something productive like reading. Sure I still procrastinate, but at least I don’t do it by glazing over and watching people’s status updates. It’s not that I don’t like Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube, and in fact I find them to be useful tools both as a communications platform and as disruptive technology, but I also don’t like the feeling of being addicted to them. Computers make fantastic tools, and personally I love working with computers as tools, but we shouldn’t let them (or the creators of Facebook) use us. Does that sound too “conspiracy?” Do you think Facebook would rather have you browsing Facebook (and seeing their ads) or getting on with your life and using Facebook only as you need it? There’s money to be made in keeping people on the browse; lots of it.

OMG WTF! Apple Made a Mistake!!

If you haven’t heard, there’s been a lot of buzz about the new iPhone. Apparently it loses signal when you hold it a certain way – something about shorting the two antennae. If you haven’t heard about it, then you either don’t care, or you live under a ROCK because it’s been ALL OVER THE NEWS. Sorry for yelling in print like that, but, quite frankly, if I see another YouTube parody of the iPhone promo video, I think I’m going stroke out and die right here in my office chair.

Congratulations, world: you’ve discovered a flaw in the new iPhone. If you hold it in a very specific way, covering a strip of the edge of the phone that is approximately 1 to 2 millimeters wide, it will lose virtually all signal. Of course, how many iPhone users reported this problem? I haven’t heard of any. In fact, the only people I know of who are still obsessed with the fact are the media outlets that are making money because of the problem – but I digress. The fact is that Apple has egg on it’s face; it made a mistake. BIG. WHOOP. Look around you people; companies make mistakes all the time. My Nokia N95, for example, takes half a minute to load a single text message. That’s a pretty big issue, but someone at Nokia evidently thought that the code didn’t need to be optimized any further. Yeah, it’s slow, but maybe people won’t notice. (Guess again, Nokia.) But this blunder, made by this one company, has been taken to an extreme; if I’m not mistaken, this iPhone scandal has been going on nearly as long, if not longer, than the Toyota brake issues, and PEOPLE DIED BECAUSE OF THOSE!

So why is the media so hung up on the new iPhone? I think we’re just surprised that Apple made a mistake. Over the past few years, Apple has built high end products that just work. They do what you want them to, how you want them to, and they look good while they’re doing it. And if they stop working the way they’re supposed to, then you take them back to the store, speak directly to a human being (rather than the “I can fix your problems without any human interaction” automated operators that are so popular these days,) and they fix or replace the product for you. People like apple because their products are intelligently engineered; because a MacBook Pro with better specifications than most other laptops of the same price gets 6 hours of battery life during normal use, not just sitting idle in an air conditioned lab somewhere, and has a slimmer form than all of them.

I think people just expected the iPhone 4 to be perfect. They’re surprised that Apple actually made a mistake. So which says more about Apple: that the iPhone 4 has a minor, but noticeable flaw, or that the world expected so much from Apple’s latest product that a single mistake has their heads spinning?

Copyright Infringement and Why People are Stupid

Yesterday (when I should have been studying for a physics midterm,) I encountered a link to this article. Two things struck me. First, this guy’s art is brilliant! To my recollection I’ve never seen a firebowl, and, to be honest, at first I thought the concept was a little stupid and a little dangerous. Then I realized that it’s a very awesome and no more dangerous than a barbecue, and that this guy has a brilliant thing going here. Too bad some jerk guy thinks he can brute force John T. Unger’s copyright away from him with a >$50000 lawsuit.

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School and Why it’s Bad

Today, while sitting in English class, feeling completely exhausted and worn out, I realized something terrifying. I was thinking about how I didn’t have time to read my English homework even though I really wanted to. I began to imagine what my day would be like if I was the one who filled my schedule – if I could learn anything I wanted. Whenever I think about this idea, I don’t see an image of myself sitting in classes, or going places, I just see colors, like a giant pallet full of paints that have been partially blended together. The obvious symbolism here is that I feel my life would be much more colorful if I got to design my schedule. If instead of having to learn for the 10th time how to memorize and regurgitate someone else’s thoughts about an idea or a work of literature, I had time to formulate my own ideas and learn material that I felt was interesting and pertinent. That’s when the idea struck me: I’m in school for all the worst reasons.

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eConcordia Summit (or How I got to meet Steve Wozniak)

This past Thursday a friend of mine (Sarah Leavitt) and I attended the eConcordia Summit. She is a journalist, and managed to get us both media passes – I was the photographer. We left our neighborhood at 7:30 to get there for 8am registration, and walked in a few minutes before the summit began. The topic of this particular summit was E-Learning, and the future of technology and education. And the keynote speaker was Steve Wozniak.

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