Saturday, May 16, 2009

Turning Failure to Success by Lowering the Bar

When I was a kid, I had some big career ambitions. My first aspiration, at about age three, was to be a "taxi". When I learned that the best I could hope for would be to drive a taxi, I gave up on that dream. At five, I started shooting for president of the US, but the Kennedy assassination cooled me on that. I thought astronaut for several years, but a documentary suggesting that a Mars landing would happen in 1973 made me believe that I'd miss out on all the glory. Although the Mars mission did not occur, I was right that being an astronaut during my young adulthood would have been less than glorious. The Space Shuttle was kind of lame.

In high school, I flirted with foreign service, but I never pursued it. By the time I got to college, I had no idea what I wanted to do when I grew up. I majored in anthropology, so I was not prepared for any particular occupation when I graduated. I tried my hand at sales and sold calculators to government and business. A four function calculator with a display was $489, so they were a hard sell. I discovered that I had no talent for sales and that I hated selling. People know what they need, I reasoned, so isn't kind of presumptuos of me to tell them what they need in the way of a calculating machine? Besides, sales was no occupation for an aspiring gentleman.

That's when law school beckoned, the home of the feckless and unskilled. I confess that I didn't have any idea what being a law talking guy entailed. My only model was Perry Mason. I knew after the first semester that I wasn't going to like it, but I stuck it out anyway because I had nowhere else to go. So there I was, a lawyer. I tried several times to escape lawyering. I got my stockbroker's license, but my aversion to sales made that a no go.

I fantasized about becoming an academic. I figured that nothing could be sweeter than to be paid to expostulate anthropological bullshit. Graduate school showed me that academics are actually a miserable lot and that the career had a lot of downside and relatively low pay to boot.

So it was back to the law. I decided that the best I could hope for in a job was for it not to make me want to kill myself. I wish someone had told me that 30 years ago (as if I would have listened). Instead, my mind was filled with "follow your bliss", "find fulfillment in your work", "do what you love", and other such frakked up guidance. They might as well have said "arbeit macht frei". Thanks for nothing, dream inspirers.

I tell young people the truth. I tell them that work is work and that it isn't likely to be fulfilling. For fulfillment, have a life outside work, and good luck with that, too.

I never amounted to anything, and it would have been nice if I hadn't neen led to believe that I was supposed to amount to something. That just makes me feel like a failure. I am trying to get myself to understand that I did alright even if I never became famous or rich or admirable. I did the best I could in light of my abilities, character defects, and origins. In that sense, I am a success. I never really had a shot at amounting.

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