On first internships and jobs, an account by Aristotle in Politics

Are you spending most of your time photocopying at your paid internship? Well, if you find that your task is menial and you are capable of more, you are correct. However, an important point that Aristotle touches upon in his work ‘Politics‘, is that the time you spend doing something menial should not simply be judged by the output, but the end by which you will reach upon taking up the menial task.

In Chapter 14 of Book VII (from the Richard Kraut translation), “Nature, we have suggested, has provided us with the distinction we need. She has divided a body identical in species into two different age-groups, a younger and an older, one of them meant to be ruled and the other to rule. No one in his youth resents being ruled, or thinks himself better [than his rulers]; especially if he knows that he will redeem his contributions on reaching the proper age… Some of the duties imposed [on the free] differ [from those of slaves] not in the work they involve, but in the object for which they are for which they are to be done. This means that a good deal of the work which is generally accounted menial may none the less be the sort of work which young freemen can honourably do. [Thus,] It is not the inherent nature of actions, but the end or object for which they are done, which makes one action differ from another in the way of honour or dishonour.”

While I do not imply that there is (at face value) anything honourable about photocopying or doing menial tasks, when you reach the proper age to redeem your ‘contributions’, you should do so in a correct and respectful manner. If you are at your current job in the hopes of being accepted to an MBA/JD/MPA/MPP program at either Harvard or Wharton, and then moving into private equity to do as many ‘deals’ and ‘LBOs’ as possible in your pursuit of a never-ending one upmanship, then good for you.

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