Studying or working: a choice always to be renewed

by on Tuesday, 17 January 2012 Comments

Is it better to further one’s study or to immerse oneself in a job? This question often haunts the new graduate. On the one hand, they are thrilled by the opportunities that their freshly acquired diploma brings with it: entering adulthood, earning an income, testing their skills at something concrete, exercising responsibilities, even if such responsibilities are modest in scope… On the other hand, they realize that they do not know much yet, that they may earn a bigger salary within a few years if they master extra knowledge and become more competent, that holding a job might soon appear to her more boring or stressful than remaining a student…  Deciding between Present and Future, between different kinds of gains and losses, and between different lifestyles is never easy, and can generate a lot of anxiety.

The new graduate may be comforted by a few thoughts:

-  First, this choice is much less final and binding than was the case in the past. Today, there are a variety of bridges that allow one to go from study to work and from work to throughout one’s professional path. Therefore, it is practical and beneficial to keep one’s intellectual curiosity always intact, and to remain ready to sacrifice one’s immediate interest at some point in order to re-enter the path of study and research.

- Work can reactivate one’s thirst for knowledge and investigation. Often, students lose interest in knowledge and research because of the way they were taught in high school or in university. Their drive towards practical and intellectual knowledge is reactivated through the problems and challenges they meet in real life: the very fact of being surrounded by technical wonders, complex social mechanisms, injustices and moral dilemmas makes one formulate anew questions that have been agitating the human mind since it undertook to both understand and master the world (while doing so through very diverse knowledge systems…).

-  New graduates may also be somehow comforted by the fact of knowing that finding the balance between study and work is a problem that plagues everyone until very late in life – till the end maybe: “Is it better for me to invest my energies into doing what I know I can do, and thus to be of immediate help to the people I care for and my family – or should I challenge myself to once again embark on the road of professional and intellectual improvement? And should I not chose to study and research just out of gratuitousness, whatever the advantages that come out of it?” Fortunately, the choice is not always so drastic, and professional life may offer time and resources for learning the trade and embarking on a progressive program of study.

So, finally, how is one to decide when confronted with such a choice? Basically, ask yourself how you feel about it. Is there in your heart a strong longing to go ahead on the road towards knowledge and research? Or does the idea of becoming someone active in society and receiving recognition for what you do reveal itself to be the most appealing choice for you right now?  If you can answer this question peacefully and without too much hesitation, just follow the desire of your heart. If not… let the answer formulate itself within your inner self. It will do so naturally, if you can avoid to be too overtly anguished by it. But always remember: when working, protect and nurture the flame of intellectual curiosity. When studying, do not close yourself in an ivory tower, and remain burnt by the desire to share with others what you are researching. And do remain aware that life will often renew the challenge, and will ask you again and again to come up with your own answer…

Illustration by Bendu

Benoit Vermander (魏明德)

Benoit Vermander lives in Shanghai. He teaches philosophy and religious anthropology at the University of Fudan.

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