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Tuesday September 17, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Tuesday September 17, 2013 MYT 9:08:25 AM
by tan dawn wei
Aiming too high: Former interns say working long hours is a rite of passage. But losing your life is surely too high a price to pay for ambition. - AFP
Whatever you call it — ambition, passion or plain foolhardiness — no one should die from working.
MORITZ Erhardt was just 21 when he collapsed in his dormitory last month after pulling three all-nighters in a row at the bank he was interning at.
A “superstar” well-regarded by his Bank of America Merrill Lynch colleagues and fellow interns in London, the German’s bright future was ironically snuffed out because he was doing what any earnest job-seeker would do – putting in the punishing long hours and the required slog to get himself into the fraternity.
For him, that was a mind-boggling 72 hours straight, apparently. If that was true, it sounds totally crazy – flogging your brain to work non-stop like that, without thinking about the damage it wrecks on your body; much like revving an engine and not believing the motor will overheat.
Call it ambition, passion or plain foolhardiness, no one should die from working. Former interns say working long hours is a rite of passage; you haven’t earned your stripes if you haven’t pulled an all-nighter.
Others say it’s a competition to impress, and interns sometimes pretend to be hard at work and hang around the office so they can be seen.
Either way, it can be said that if you want the job badly enough, you’ll do whatever it takes. Because quite frankly, as an intern with no life experience and even less work experience, what can you bring to the table except your youthful vitality and a willingness to take on anything thrown at you?
Desperate for the experience, some young people practically beg to intern for free. I was lucky that I got paid S$600 (RM1,549) when, fresh out of film school, I had an opportunity to be an intern on a movie set for a month.
In that one month, I slept an average of four hours a night. I blew all my hard-earned money on cabs to rush me to work in the morning if I had overslept, and to ferry a weary me home at the end of a typical 17-hour day.
I did the grunt work every day, seven days a week – carrying heavy equipment up and down long flights of stairs, buying meals for the cast and crew, directing traffic and getting abused by disgruntled drivers. I ate at odd hours of the day, sometimes not eating at all. I dropped 5kg over those four weeks.
But when you are 23, you don’t think about what you’re doing to your health; you think you’re indestructible.
You can pull an all-nighter and still go clubbing the next day. All-nighters are what you used to pull in school not that long ago whenever examination season rolled around. Then, all you needed were chocolate and caffeinated fizzy drinks to keep you going.
I probably battered my body pretty badly in that one month – although I haven’t noticed any signs of long-term damage ... yet – but I was at least thankful that I wasn’t stuck in an office doing completely irrelevant or boring things, like photocopying reams of documents, licking envelopes or making coffee.
Plus, I was actually getting paid.
But invincibility wears thin with age.
While I cannot fathom going for 72 hours at a stretch, I remember vividly the day I hit my record about 10 years ago.
That day, I clocked 24 hours in the newsroom as I raced to put out a 20-page special supplement.
By eight the next morning, I was convinced my speech was starting to slur, I felt like I was “floating” around the room, and I wondered if I was alert enough to drive myself home to take a much-needed shower.
I crashed into bed post-shower – relieved that what seemed like an endless work day was finally over and the product had gone to print – and woke up four hours later to go back to the office.
These days, I can barely keep my eyes open past 3am no matter how many cups of coffee I’ve downed. I take days to recover from writing late into the night. And as I type this at 2.43am, I’m acutely aware that there will be hell to pay in the morning and I’m not going to like what I see when I look into the mirror.
Erhardt paid the ultimate price for thinking he was unbreakable. But no job is worth abusing yourself for. – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network
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Lifestyle, Intern, Die Working, All-nighters
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