Young People Ask . . .
Getting Ahead—Is That All There Is to Life?
“WE’VE got to look out for ourselves,” says a 16-year-old youth who works part time as a short-order cook in Boston, Massachusetts. “Nobody else will—the politicians or whatever. The main thing is taking care of your business, having a job and knowing what to do with the check at the end of the week.”
Across the country, in California, Johanna, who recently graduated from high school, puts it this way: “It seems like everybody I know has a part-time job to support a car. Of course, a car makes it much easier to get around in California, but all those hours of work! And for what? Not for any long-term goal like tuition for school. Just to support a car.”
Starting the “Rat Race” Early
More and more young people in affluent countries seem to be working today. There’s nothing wrong with work, but, as Johanna asked, What are the long-term goals? As a young person, are you willing to work to help support your family? That’s fine and unselfish. Are you working to gain valuable experience in your chosen vocation? That may be wise. On the other hand, if you are working just to support your own car or record collection or expensive social commitments, how wise or unselfish is that?
A high-school teacher recently surveyed 148 middle-class American students regarding their work habits. Seventy-seven percent of the students had part-time jobs, with the jobs taking an average of 20 hours of the students’ time each week. Most of the students admitted that because of their part-time jobs their school work suffered. But why all the jobs?
“Only 24% of the students I surveyed indicated they were working to save money for a college education or for future needs; furthermore, only one student indicated that money from a part-time job was contributed to the family budget,” observes the teacher. Where is the money spent? “Most of it goes to gratify the sophisticated materialistic tastes of high school students.”
The result is that teenagers are getting an early start in what their elders have long referred to as “the rat race.” “They’re like middle-aged men,” says a Michigan school guidance counselor, “trying to pay off their cars and keep up with the Joneses. They never seem to catch up.” Is that happening to you?
A noted authority on human nature once looked into the question of work. He did not get his information on the subject secondhand, but, as he puts it, “I built houses for myself; I planted vineyards for myself. I made gardens and parks for myself, and I planted in them fruit trees of all sorts. I made pools of water for myself, to irrigate with them the forest, springing up with trees.”—Ecclesiastes 2:4-6.
After learning about work firsthand, this wise man then made a number of balanced observations:
No. 1—People were made to work, we need to work. “Look! The best thing that I myself have seen . . . is that one should eat and drink and see good for all his hard work . . . for that is his portion.”—Ecclesiastes 5:18.
No. 2—Work motivated by materialistic desires will not bring happiness. “A mere lover of silver will not be satisfied with silver, neither any lover of wealth with income.” (Ecclesiastes 5:10) If you cultivate a craving for material things at a young age, you may well prepare yourself for a lifetime of unhappiness and dissatisfaction with what you have.
Nancy can testify to the truth of this Bible principle. “I grew up in a broken home,” she says. “We didn’t have much, and I always felt that if I could only get a lot of money when I grew up, then I would be happy. My goal in life was to make big money.
“I attained that goal. Before long I found work that, although unethical, enabled me to make $50,000 a year with added vacations and business trips. Materially, I had everything I could possibly wish for—a fancy car, clothes, but with all that I was not happy.
“I was unhappy with my personal life, and all my possessions were no comfort to me. I felt trapped. The more money I made, the more I would spend, until finally I was $80,000 in debt!
“I had family members who were Jehovah’s Witnesses, and I saw that they were happier than I was, although they owned much less. I wanted that happiness, but it seemed hopeless. I knew that I would have to find another line of work if I became a Witness, and then how would I pay my debts? Even if I paid off the debts, could I really be happy without money?
“After years of Bible study I finally broke free of the smoking habit, and that convinced me that I really could change my life with Jehovah’s help. So I quit my line of work, sold my car and other valuables, and was baptized as one of Jehovah’s Witnesses. I live on a lot less now, but I’m a lot happier! The things I owned never brought me happiness. Having true friends and knowing Jehovah God as a real person who cares for me had made all the difference.”
No. 3—Finally, work should not be motivated by a competitive desire to outshine others. “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.” (Ecclesiastes 4:4) Perhaps you know young people who feel worthless because they failed to get into a prestigious college or failed to qualify for an athletic team at school. Competition in these areas can be intense. For the few who win, there are many losers. Is it a good idea to fix your hopes on such goals?
The Bible—A Practical Book
As you may have guessed, the authority who made these down-to-earth and balanced comments on work was Solomon. The book of Ecclesiastes, which he wrote under divine inspiration, is found in the Bible. Did you know that the Bible is such a practical book?
If you are in school and are tempted to take on part-time work that you don’t really need, remember this bit of advice from Solomon: “For everything there is an appointed time, even a time for every affair under the heavens.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1) Ask yourself: At this time in my life, what should I be doing? Is youth the time to start accumulating cars, stereos, clothing and concert tickets, or is it the time to accumulate knowledge? Which is going to do you more good in the long run—a record collection or the ability to read well and write clearly? Even more important, why not take some time to broaden your education in the Bible? The advice on life’s problems found there, if applied, will prove to be more valuable to you than all the possessions you could ever own.—Proverbs 8:12-21.
[Pictures on page 16]
“Most students interviewed admitted that their schoolwork suffered because of their part-time jobs. Is it worth it?”
[Picture on page 17]
“They’re like middle-aged men, trying to pay off their cars and keep up with the Joneses. They never seem to catch up”
[Picture on page 18]
“I was unhappy with my personal life, and all my possessions were no comfort to me”