The Struggling Student Rants—The Matrix Resolutions

Every year, on December 31st, most of the planet celebrates a full spin around the sun.  Nothing new about that.  We also commemorate this full circle by making bold statements, both to ourselves and others.  You can bet your bottom that this year we’ll all quit smoking, lose the thirty pounds, walk out on the lukewarm or abusive relationship, and finally go back to school, so we can be the astronauts and ballet performers we’ve wanted to be since we were 10.  We promise ourselves we’re going to make the new year better than the last one and vow to change our lives—starting January 1st though, not now.  It’s no surprise that no one actually sticks to their resolutions; we read about this all the time, secretly pleased to find out we’re not alone.  Most of us have already broken our 2021 vows by now, so don’t feel too bad.  “Some ice cream will cheer you up.  After all, you only live once—we can try again next year.” This is what my mini-me whispers to me, as she nonchalantly sits on my shoulders 24/7.  What excuse does your alter-ego give to you?

Yet we continue to ring in the new year—every year—with impossible promises to ourselves, knowing very well that we are unlikely to change anything.  I sometimes wonder whether we really want to change, or we just want to complain about what needs to change and use New Year’s Eve as the channel to do so.  Wanting to change your life, for the better, sounds perfectly reasonable.  Allowing yourself only one chance a year to try sounds ludicrous to me.

My common sense tells me that, as all creatures are naturally averse to pain, we should try to change something at the exact moment we realize we are suffering.  This makes more sense in my mind.  When we step on a deck screw, we try to remove it immediately and run to the hospital for a tetanus shot.  We don’t walk around from June to December 31st with a screw firmly inserted into our heel and on New Year’s Eve declare, “That’s it, I’ve had it! I’m now ready to go to the ER tomorrow!” Yet, as irrational as we are, we choose to exist in situations which make us absolutely miserable, for an entire year, before trying to fix it.  According to this bizarre logic, we must then wait until January 1st to refuse to be paraded through town, multiple times a year, on the cucking stool, or to have a hamburger. Meanwhile, here’s another round of unflavoured protein shakes—on the house!

If you think I’m trying to be funny, you’re wrong.

Entry of the Gladiators

Work is generally not fun—unless you’re Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg.  There can also be a lot of bad apples out there: the naysayers, the thunder-thieves, the playground bullies, and even the Mean Girls.  We also shouldn’t rush to call a place “toxic” if we’ve had a bad day, or week, or even month.  If you’ve worked at your organization for a while, you’ve probably figured out if it’s a toxic one or not.  However, if you’re new to the job or have never personally dealt with a toxic work environment, it isn’t always apparent from the start.  I once landed myself in the middle of a Three Ring Circus, watching the ringmaster crack the whip and I swore I could hear Entry of the Gladiators in the background, all the while thinking “you can’t make this shit up.”

It was certainly entertaining for a while! Some signs of toxic work environments include unethical behaviour; management focusing only on mistakes; employees being bullied or left out of conversations; and employees being overworked or overburdened (Gillespie, 2017).  If the naysayers and bullies outnumber the good people and permeate the entire organization then you need to put some sneakers on and run.  Don’t wait until New Year’s Eve to declare you’re going to look for different work; just pull that deck screw out of your heel for crying out loud before you end up amputating your foot.

You might also be trying to convince yourself that it’s a tough job market and, besides, it’s just work—you’ll do your job for eight hours and clock out.  But a toxic workplace can easily permeate into your personal life and cause severe trauma if not dealt with head on and right away.  We put up with behaviour we would not normally accept from anyone else, by giving ourselves a false sense of security and declaring we’ll move on next January 1st, we just need this year to get our ducks in a row.  We subject ourselves to multiple forms of humiliation and degradation for good massage benefits and the promise of a pension.  Besides, the cucking stool isn’t that bad, right?  Poor Jane—the temp—was just accused of being a witch.  They couldn’t afford to send her off to the asylum, due to budget cuts, so they just let her burn.

It Tastes Just like Mom’s—Soul Crushing

If you’ve ever tried unflavoured protein, then you know you’re not missing much.  A few weeks of it straight and you’ll soon be begging for Brussel sprouts, covered in chocolate, and sprinkled with sardine oil.  Anything with flavour.  The same holds true for our hearts and the boring, passionless, low-key miserable, non-existent relationships we have such a hard time breaking free from.  At first we think they’re not that bad; no relationship is perfect.  Even Aladdin and Jasmine must’ve got into a rut eventually, or a squabble or two, once the magic carpet rides were over and someone had to wash the dishes.  They have each other and that’s what matters, as do you and your Jasmin.  Plus, there’s also Abu to think of—it would ruin him to have to deal with his parents’ divorce and having to deal with Biff next door picking on him.  The child will end up snorting cocaine and dissecting live animals in the basement! Soon enough, the world will have a Norman Bates to deal with, all because you wanted to find flavour in your life.  Yeah, you’ll think about it next year.

Day in and day out we promise ourselves we’ll face the music in the new year, for now let’s not stir the pot.  The kids are still in school, the house hasn’t sold yet, the assets are too complicated to split.  Unflavoured protein is fine, let me just add some rum to that.  We stumble around through life, not getting anywhere, catering to everyone’s wants, needs, and tastes.  We don’t realize, however, that we eventually end up bitter and cruel, resentful of the sacrifices we made.  We tell ourselves the sacrifices were for them.  They weren’t; that’s the lie we tell ourselves when we’re just scared of what’s on the other side.  Happiness, perhaps.  I guess we’ll find out next year, right?

This year, lets not stick to New Year’s resolutions or wait until December 31st comes around again.  I challenge all AU students to, instead, remind themselves where they want to be in 5 years and… You thought I was going to say work on the dream a little bit every day right?  No.  I double-dare you to hit the fast-forward button.  Don’t think about it, just do it.  Double your normal course load.  Cut your grocery budget in half and save the rest.  Apply for CEO, even if you’re front-line.  Take the job in New Zealand!  Don’t think about it or overanalyze it.  Don’t think about the how, what, when, where, and so on.   Just do it, like Nike taught us!  The worst that could happen is you change your trajectory.

Gillespie, D.  (2017).  Taming Toxic People: The Science of Identifying and Dealing with Psychopaths at Work & at Home.  Pan Macmillan Australia.
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