When Did We Start Working Too Hard?

James Manso is a senior at Scripps Ranch High School. He will write occasional columns for the SRCA Newsletter this year, giving us a look inside SRHS. He’s a busy young man. James is the high school’s yearbook editor in chief, Fashion Club president, Improv Team publicist, and an intern at San Diego Magazine. No wonder he calls his column, “Where the Coffee Never Stops.” Actually, the title is inspired by a nonfiction piece by his favorite nonfiction writer, Joan Didion.

As I’m sure many parents would agree, there is never an appropriate time to find a gray hair. Unfortunately, my discovery couldn’t even take place after my first cup of coffee one morning. It was a Wednesday, and it happened when I was applying my favorite mousse. Havoc ensued.

This begged the question: what provoked premature aging? I realized it had to have been stress. I didn’t want to take any of my classes or extracurriculars off my résumé, so I figured I should quit my job. The fact that my job was the most disposable activity would suggest that it was my least favorite, but I loved the money, I loved my coworkers, and we all know that the aisles of Vons on Scripps Poway Parkway are far more social than anywhere else in Scripps Ranch.

I did not want to quit, so I thought it apt to take as much time as necessary to decide. Sure, I had missed my days at home on weekends, watching Sex and the City on my DVR and reading the copies of The New Yorker that had accumulated on my night stand. But what about Vons? What would Yale think of me if I quit? Was college the only factor keeping me bound to my job? College had taught me to work too hard before I even finished applications, but that made me wonder: when exactly did we start working too hard?

I asked a few of my contemporaries if they felt they were working too hard, and the answer was unanimously and unexplainably yes. I think we all felt a bit cheated—senior year is supposed to be the easiest, the most recreational. A few felt that the college application process was a major source of stress, and not because of the applications themselves, but because there is nothing relaxing about deciding where to make a future for oneself.

When I asked them what it was about high school that was hard, I secretly expected some response about the failure of our education system with overtones of teenage angst. I was very wrong.

Stress didn’t come from school: most Scripps students had the self-awareness to either pursue their interests or to know their academic limits. The stress came from planning club meetings. The stress came from coming home late from football practice and then planning a club meeting for the next day. The stress of high school wasn’t from high school at all. The stress from high school came from trying to participate outside of high school.

The hardest part to opening one’s schedule is quitting a job, leaving a club, or ditching a practice, which can be as anxiety-inducing as sticking with them. Colleges are becoming more and more competitive and are looking for a certain “edge.” The hardest part is that nobody knows what that “edge” is. Would that edge be a club presidency or a job at Vons, or would one get rejected with either on his or her résumé? That is why evaluating my employment at Vons was so difficult: what would Yale think of me if I quit?

Personally, it took me a while to decide, and I couldn’t let myself listen to the advice of anyone around me because nobody really understood what was important to me. Writing was way too therapeutic to give up, and as an aspiring journalist, I could not let myself give up the less profitable but more nutritious SRCA Newsletter column or yearbook editorship. I loved my classes and teachers and could not let myself drop AP European History or AP Literature. It was then that I realized where the line was between working hard enough and working too hard.

Vons had become the first activity to eliminate because the supermarket business was never a primary interest of mine. I had learned a great deal about working under management, customer service, and how to efficiently gather shopping carts in the parking lot and bring them to the front of the store. Realistically, working any longer would not serve me any more than it already had, despite the paychecks.

As selfish as it sounds, I discovered that the only work important to me was the work that would serve me in a greater context. Sure, customer service and working under a phenomenal management staff were beneficial, but how will remembering to put the eggs on top of all the other groceries help me when I become a starving journalist?

In my senior year I feel really outdated but very fresh and ready to go out into the world because following one’s dreams is indisputably romantic. Obviously, one day I will look back on growing older, and I will not want to think that I frittered my youth away on activities that would not help me in the future. I understand that working is a valuable skill, and that, sure, I will be working all my life, and I’m not complaining about that in the least.

But at 17, why would I choose a weekly paycheck if it meant a full head of gray hair by the time I turn 30? I decided to quit my job, and I was sad on my last day. But I had never felt as relaxed as I did that night when I got home, turned on the TV, and read The New Yorker into the early morning. I suppose the grogginess that morning before school was well worth it, and nothing a cup of coffee couldn’t fix.

James Manso, SRHS Senior