April 28, 2021

TAARIQ-SIDIBE | Working Nine to Five

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As a graduating senior actively on the job search, what the future conditions of my career will be have been at the forefront of my mind.

Besides the overachieving amount of academic and extracurricular work I have engaged in throughout high school and college, I have also worked paying jobs since I was 15. This has included positions in restaurants, retail stores, events, administrative offices, computer databases and NGO’s.

I worked not only as a means of professional and skill development, but also for my livelihood. Being financially independent means that the only way to receive the things I need is to work for it. I worked because in America, I didn’t have a choice not to.

We cannot ignore the ways in which the COVID-19 pandemic has and will drastically change the workforce, too. Jobs that require close physical proximity (i.e., medical care, personal care, travel and education) have been most disrupted. Remote work and virtual meetings will become part of the new normal. E-commerce has grown two to five times faster than before the pandemic. And, more businesses are adopting automation and artificial intelligence.

COVID-19 has also led to negative impacts on workers’ mental health. Report shows that 51 percent of people experienced worse mental health at work since the beginning of the pandemic. Black and Latino people who disproportionately work essential jobs also report an increase in mental or behavioral symptoms. Additionally, 30 percent of employees fear disclosing mental health issues can lead to being furloughed or fired. Increased mental health risks have also been related to expanded workload, risk of job loss, lack of resources, isolation and social distancing, childcare and fear of illness.

With this massive shift in the workforce, it feels like I cannot begin to imagine what the future of my job will be. However, I am beginning to consider this change and ambiguity as a privilege. I constantly struggle with the ways in which my Cornell education teaches me about the injustices within capitalism, whilst simultaneously priming me to uphold this structure in the workforce. It reminds me that although I have the skills to be an unconventional worker, I do not have the financial security to do so.

During existential bouts I ask myself, “Is the rest of my life going to be school and work until I retire?”, “Is following this path the only way to achieve success and financial mobility?” and “Will I ever be able to satisfy my dreams of adventure?” But it is in the uncertainty that I find solace in imagining the things I do want, instead of fear. I realize not only is it more productive to dwell on the positive, but that I am in full control of the decisions I make regardless of the outcomes.

There is no need to follow a certain path or be on the same timing as everyone else. If there is one thing that Cornell has taught me it is that persistence matters. The workforce can and should be changed. With an increase in remote work, free-agent entrepreneurship and an exodus out of major cities, there’s an opportunity for people to change the nature of the workforce. Workers are already beginning to demand more benefits, diversity inclusion, stimulating work environments and corporate social responsibility from jobs.

It is hard for me to believe that my ancestors and those who fought for my rights did so in order for me to continue to be a slave to another system. I don’t think spending decades working my way up the corporate ladder were their wildest dreams and I don’t want to do a disservice to those dreams. Those who struggled before me were able to imagine a world that did not yet exist and the same can be done by us.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not against working conventional corporate jobs. My biggest fear lies in having the time and the means to live my life and do the things I enjoy, and for others to have that same opportunity. It is a privilege that I can dream beyond my reality. What I seek requires immense structural change or upheaval beyond just the workforce. It requires an equitable, holistic and intersectional approach to labor.

Until that reality exists, I am speaking into existence a job that both brings me joy and stability. I am also thinking of ways I can help influence the workforce. To my fellow seniors, I hope you are dreaming big, too.

Aminah Taariq-Sidibe is a senior in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She can be reached at ataariq@cornellsun.com. I Spy runs every other Tuesday this semester.