To Work Or Not To Work?

To work or not to work? That is the question. Perhaps it was my first day here at HBS that I started to feel pressure to find a summer internship. My first suspicion that things were not looking good came at a career fair in September. Several of the companies canceled and left us staring at empty tables. Many of the more recruiting-conscientious companies sent pamphlets and presented a nice letter on their table that explained how great they were – even if they didn’t send any people.

Call me an eternal optimist, but not getting a job through the HBS on campus recruiting system may be the best thing that happens to many, many RC students. In line with the common students’ never-ending quest to minimize effort, relatively few go beyond the convenience of the on-campus recruiting process – should it deliver a reasonable job offer.

But this invariably leads to that thing that Dr. Tim Butler keeps warning us about: the herd effect. I would wager that if 700 consulting and banking summer jobs appeared on CareerLink, they would all be filled, leaving so many interesting and meaningful potential work experiences undiscovered and unutilized.

At first you may feel shame; you may even feel dejected. Not getting a corporate job may seem wholly unacceptable. However, upon further reflection, there are some compelling reasons not to work this summer.

Think about this question carefully: when else in your life will you have 12 weeks of completely free time to do whatever you want to do? Think about all the adventures you always wanted to have, but have never dared to go on. Think of the moments you’ve never seized. The image I can’t get out of my mind is of me spending a few months on a sailboat in a warm climate, passing the time reading, scuba diving, and lying on a hammock. Indeed, the opportunity cost to working may actually be higher than not working.

Perhaps the best choice would be to combine the options and go for the two-pronged approach. Imagine a summer of work, but not for money. Imagine going on a crusade. Imagine finishing the summer having improved yourself and this world. Working with AIDS victims in Africa? An orphanage in India? But there’s no need to take a trip around the world. You could spend the summer working with people in a homeless shelter. You could teach coping skills to foster kids or work in a soup kitchen. Actually, with your skills you could start a soup kitchen. Or how about spending the summer with your young children and writing a children’s book? The possibilities

Reprinted from 1/22/02.