The early lessons of a commuting co-op

Photo by Brenda Lin

My first day as a Co-op featured every possible spectrum of emotion. I was excited for a new beginning and getting real-world experience with my major, eager to see the applications outside of the classroom setting. I woke up that morning at six, got dressed for the day, made my cup of coffee and calmly waited. I was also extremely nervous.

I had nightmares days before my first day, filled with vivid interactions with my coworkers where no one understood the language I was speaking, and, because of that, they let me go. Then just about every in-between was featured my first day: anxiety, stress, worry, pleasure, interest.

After my hour-long commute home (a reality becoming all too familiar), my parents eagerly asked me how the first day went. “Fine,” I responded. There was really no reason to be anxious. I was at a place I had dreamed of working since early childhood, all of the people were so warm and welcoming, and the first day workload was extremely light.

And then it hit me all at once: I was watching Modern Family when I felt like a train had steered from its course to purposefully find me and run me over.

Looking back on my day, I understand all of the emotion is mentally exhausting, but I had never experienced such a paradox. I was so used to the Tech life of going to class, spending a few hours with friends and then staying at the library until some ridiculous hour doing homework. All of the work resulted in a deep sleep and then rinse and repeat. This, however, was different.

Unlike the typical Tech routine, I was in extreme fatigue for the sake of work itself. My extreme fatigue resulted in a nine o’clock bed time. I thought maybe it would change; maybe I would quickly jump out of this routine and stop experiencing life like a 70 year old man trapped in a college student’s body. But it didn’t, and to a certain degree, it still hasn’t.

I may have only just started co-oping, but I have already learned a valuable lesson: being in the workforce is much harder than expected.

Call me cliche or naive or like every other student, but I drastically underestimated the amount of fatigue one experiences from an 8AM-5PM job. I eagerly go visit friends after work most days and get dinner, but by the time the check comes, we part ways, and I reach home, I’m usually down for the count.

This brings about my second  lesson I’ve learned: I understand why many people ‘let themselves go.’ The modern workforce, attached to their desks for most of the day, with an additional hour to two of commute time each day, has very few hours to themselves. And speaking from firsthand experience, the last thing you want to do is get on a treadmill for an hour.

Then I saw the app on my phone which had tracked how far I had walked that day, and at a whopping 0.3 miles, I knew that I needed to change a few things.