Sunday, October 26, 2008

Everyone is a pretender

You know, when I was a wee lad (and then later a not-as-wee bloke) I thought the world and everything in it was a just a large swirl of chaos and confusion that was completely incomprehensible. And all the people I met seemed to know what they were talking about. When it came to judging people's competence, I naively gave everyone the benefit of the doubt. I genuinely believed that I was the one behind and pretty much everyone else somehow had a leg up on me. This false assumption that I was out of the loop and uneducated and therefore unintelligible about many of the worlds problems drove me to work very hard, maybe even too hard, in high school. I had nearly flawless grades, knew quite well what was going on in my classes, and this achievement gave me a little foundation of power and confidence. But still, I almost always felt like a novice in every intellectual conversation, and this often led me to silence.

Only now am I realizing that everyone is a novice, all fakers. To some extent, everyone is a pretender. We are all human and a human can only read and remember so much. The fact that we all share this intrinsic human handicap means that none of us are the all-confidant all-knowing all-powerful individuals we make ourselves out to be and, in this cruel competitive world, need to make ourselves out to be. It's amazing how someone can spit out all three things he/she knows about a topic and how the listener's perception of that person will then swell up to be much much bigger than that person's actual size. There are a few professor-like people who really are as smart and bright-witted as they make themselves out to be, but it's undoubtedly a rare thing. So, when you're out and about chatting, and you're feeling maybe slightly outclassed, remember that people are pretenders. We all have fears about our abilities and pride issues, so we do our best to gloss them over by talking about the few things we do know. When someone's getting high on a topic, think is this rhetoric substantive? or just a blaze of verbal confidance? More often than not, when you scrape off the ego facade, we're all vulnerable. We're all the same: pretenders.

Once you're out of college, there is this glorious welcoming party to the working world. Fact is, I don't know much about how it all works. Seems like it's networking that gets you a nice job, and it's not as much the result of hard honest work. This is troubling, but it's the truth.

What constitutes a nice job? The theory is that there are three integral things you can have at job, and you need at least two of them to be satisfied. They are: 1) liking the job itself, 2) liking the people at the job, 3) liking the pay from the job. Most people right out of college are not going to get thing number 3. That leaves you with liking the job and the people at it. It's mad crazy hard to find an authentic job with both of those. Which leads me to my next thought...

Working in America, are we truly free? Seems like the majority of americans work long hours. And only if you're lucky, you're getting paid what you deserve. The number of vacation days available is often slim, not enough. It's rare that you love your job itself. You've only convinced yourself that it's alright and you've adapted as was necessary. And you need this job to stay afloat, pay all the bills, send a child to college, etc. I don't know. To me, it sounds like most people aren't free, as in they have very limited power or control over their circumstances. Sounds more like wage slavery than freedom. I just may be an actual cynical bastard.

As I pick out a graduate school, people claim the location of the institution is a very important factor to consider while making my choice. I agree. But, only because of the close proximity with my family. Everything is so much easier when the drive home is a mere few hours, rather than a 3-day road trek or a cross-country flight. Calling the place important because of the deemed potential quality of the place is incorrect. I love the saying "there are no boring places, just boring people." No matter where you go there are always new things to do and new people to meet (unless you're in a sparsely populated zone like Wyoming). Your ability to enjoy a place is contingent on the quality of those people you meet. And at a top notch school in the academic arena, it is inevitable to be surrounded by interesting, enthusiastic, creative minds.

One more thought. I feel like I'm more clear-headed and intelligible when I eat less. This hypothesis has been corroborated many times over the last few weeks. The only explanation I think of is that if less food is in the stomach, then less blood is required by the stomach, leaving more oxygen rich blood for the brain. The other idea is the long established concept of fasting, reputably providing ascetics with amazing moments of clarity. Eat less, think more.

The clocks fall back in a week, condemning us to darkness in the cold months ahead. So let us enjoy this pretty autumn days while they last! Go outside! Jump in a leaf pile!



Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Rewarding Eloquence and Etiquette

I've realized that, at this point, three months after the fact, the excitement surrounding my June/July Guatemala service trip has all but dwindled. When I had just returned, I was keen to quickly make an online photo album. Those in-the-moment pictures and captions capture the eye-widening experience better than any words I could say here. So here they are, the links to my photo albums from my Guatemala service trip with the First Presbyterian Church of Cranbury:

As of late, I've been slothful to say the least. Fantasy football matches and fantastic presidential election gossip have been baneful to my productivity. I've learned that I am a polar person (not a soon-to-be-extinct bear). I either do a lot of stuff or I do nada. When I was enlisted in AmeriCorps I was busy all the time, but still found extra time to do more. Now, even the mundane tasks of the day don't get accomplished. I sleep in late, read the newspaper, cook a breakfast, brew a coffee, browse a internet, eat a dinner, watch a Daily Show, then go to bed. It's hard to sleep at night knowing you've wasted a blessed day of your glaringly finite life.

I believe the saying: the more you do, the more you can do. And the similar saying: If you want something done, give it to a busy person. It seems counterintuitive at first, but it's the truth. So, in order to combat my passive sloth approach, I am assigning myself routine activities. One is writing in this blog often. Another is walking with my mom in the neighborhood each morning. Another is cooking dinner for my family once a week. Another is exercising regularly. But let's get to the real task at hand here:

Applying to Environmental Studies Graduate Programs in the United States, matriculating in Fall 2009.

This process is a lot like applying for jobs (of which there are few to be had right now). You want to sell yourself. It's like you have to earn a self-marketing degree before you are eligible to apply for a position. It's not about what great work you've done or what great skills you have--it's how you present those things to the employer or the admission officer. What if marketing & sales is not your forte? Sorry. You're fucked, dude.

What do you need to sell yourself? Effective writing, speaking, and communications skills, that's what. When your high school english teacher said his/her course was the single most important course you'd ever take, they weren't lying. Why do you think Gettysburg College made me take English 101 my first semester? It wasn't just because I botched the verbal part of the SAT. It was because they knew it was the linchpin for our future, no matter what field of study or career we would decide to pursue.

Speaking is a whole other animal. Unless you took a speech class, how did you learn to speak? It was probably through the regular discourse of your life, whether it was telling ghost stories to your buds around a campfire or smooth-talkin' your honey on the other end of the line. Generally, they don't formally teach the subject of "talking". In fact, you get reprimanded if you're talking in class. The acceptable behavior in school is to go zip-lipped. And nobody ever taught me about body language and etiquette. I pick my nose. I stroke my wannabe-goatee. I don't stare people in the eyes for too long. I don't prefer button-down shirts or bowties. My hair is rarely nice, kempt, or even there at all.

In our society, the job search and graduate school application processes blatantly favor those with 1) good looks, 2) nice clothes, 3) a pleasant voice, 4) eloquence, 5) graceful manners, 6) effective writing skills. It seems that shining up my shoes and plucking my eyebrows and whitening my teeth are the best steps I can take to further my career. Some people are born ugly. And some just aren't wired to speak clearly and fluidly, but excel in other areas of intellect. There have been studies done showing that people with dyslexia often have an easier time analyzing multiple variables at once and tackling abstract spatial problems than people without dyslexia.

We are breeding our work force to mold to a certain set of character traits. We reward charm and people skills more than we reward hard work and substance. By excluding the eccentrics, the overall potential of our work force is considerably reduced. Change and innovation seems to come from the soft-spoken wacko, not from the prom king or mister best personality.

I understand why we reward eloquence and etiquette the way we do, but I do not like it. I think it's a shallow way to assess a person's level of qualification. Alas, but we have no choice if we want to get accepted or employed--we must play the game, and play it well. I'll always be a rebel, but I'm old enough and smart enough to know that "the game" is the only way you can make it in this sad world.

"Life is a game, boy. Life is a game that one plays according to the rules."
-The Catcher in the Rye

Yours truly,