Archive for the ‘life lessons’ Category
Five – nearly six – years ago I wrote a post entitled, “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .(before you can break or bend them)”. It was a not-all-that-subtle attempt to explain how to approach the interview process; how to dress appropriately combined with an attempt to advise job-seekers on the (then touchy) subject of tattoos. The job market had tanked and I felt there was a need for information about finding work, and the various problems that arise during the job search. There are a lot of them, and not all of them have to do with “pounding the pavement”, submitting resumés, etc. . . There was nothing new in the post, nothing that shouldn’t have been “common knowledge” or “common sense”. Still, the article seemed a “good fit” so I posted it, and then promptly forgot about it and moved on to different topics. Then a funny thing happened.
Of all the posts I’ve written on this blog (and I’m the first to admit there haven’t been all that many), “You Have To Know the “Rules” . . .” is the one post most often referenced by people stopping by this blog. I began to wonder why. I’ve written on a variety of topics, not all of which have to do with job-hunting. Many have been (at least to me) humorous or autobiographical; some have been straight fiction. So why did this one post elicit so much popularity after so many years? Are there still people “out there” who need help job-hunting, or dealing with the interview process? Or was it something else?
Were people looking for some “magic bullet” that would allow them to find the perfect job, the most satisfying career, the most blissful life? Was the title of the post misleading? Were my readers referencing the post in hopes of finding some “inside track” that would magically supply them with the key to finding happiness? Is that why people were reading “You Have To Know The “Rules”. . . ? God, I hope not!
Because the simple truth of the matter is, there aren’t any. There are no one-size-fits-all “rules” for anything. In fact, the only “rules” are the ones you make for yourself. Everything else is a “guideline”, a “suggestion”. Sure corporations large and small have “rules” for how the work gets done, how the employees should behave, etc. . .(but they’re the corporation’s rules, not yours) and you can accept them or reject them, along with the job. That’s entirely up to you.
What it comes down to, in the final analysis is this: “Rules”, whether they’re set up by your parents, teachers, pastors, employers or friends are really their expectations of how you should behave, or what you should learn, or what you should believe, or what you should do to try to fit in and nothing more. It’s up to you to decide those things, not someone else.
You have your own ideas of what constitutes a good life, a happy life. You have your own dreams and plans and hopes for the future. It’s up to you – and you alone – to make those plans and dreams and hopes reality. You’ll never get there if you spend your time (and it’s a very limited amount of time) trying to live up to someone (or everyone) else’s expectations, or “rules”. (Image courtesy of gapingvoid,com)
“Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes.”
— Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Grey
If having a “checkered” past means you’ve gained a lot of experience (or as Oscar Wilde would have it, made a lot of mistakes), my life (my past life, anyway) would have to be described as “plaid”. I’ve made a lot of mistakes and I haven’t always made the necessary effort to correct them. I’d have to say I’ve been adept at burning bridges; not always a wise choice, but I’ve never been accused of having an overabundance of wisdom.
When my second marriage ended (yes, I’ve been married “more than once” ) I was devastated, but determined to remain a part of my daughter’s life. My ex-wife had other ideas. The divorce was “amicable” only for its lack of bloodshed, and the fact that I was granted “joint custody” did little to lessen the tension between our warring camps (my ex-wife and her family on one side; me and my family on the other). The petty bickering and backbiting went on for weeks. Then, suddenly, it stopped. At first, I was relieved; later, I became worried. For weeks there was no word from my ex. No angry phone calls about child support (my checks were always on time), no complaints about visitation. Nothing. I contacted Social Services but they were no help. “Unless you have a location for her,” the caseworker said, “there’s nothing we can do. We simply don’t have the resources to track them down. Your best bet would be to hire a private investigator to find your ex-wife and daughter.” The interview ended with an overworked caseworker closing my file and reaching for another.
I was completely disheartened. There was no way I could afford a private detective, and even if I could, I had no idea where to start looking. The only hope I had was that maybe she and Sara, my daughter, would return, maybe to visit her parents, and I would be able to confront her. I tried keeping tabs on her parents (from a safe distance; the last thing I needed was to be arrested for “stalking”, which I had every reason to believe they would do if they knew I was looking for my ex-wife and Sara). Eventually, after months of “hoping against hope”, I had to stop. The only consolation I had, and it was very slight consolation at that, was that Sara was with her mother, and I knew my ex, as much as she despised me, would do nothing to jeopardize Sara’s wellbeing.
Years passed and the anger, resentment, self-recrimination and pain faded. But it never completely went away. I would find myself, at odd hours, wondering where Sara was, what she was doing. Eventually, even those thoughts faded and I resigned myself to never knowing my daughter.
Sometimes, no matter how much, or how badly we want to correct, or at least try to correct, our mistakes too much time has passed, a bridge is too badly burned to repair, and the mistake remains. Other times, if we’re lucky, just enough time has passed and we get that chance to, if not completely erase a mistake, at least make it easier to bear.
In early 2010, my mother’s health took a turn for the worst. The family gathered for what would be our last visit with her. She passed peacefully, surrounded by her children and some of her grandchildren. I found myself wishing Sara had had an opportunity to meet her grandmother. I thought mom would’ve been proud. The family opted for a memorial service as opposed to a graveside service. Mom wasn’t one for mournful occasions. She had often said when her time came, she would prefer the “joyful noise” of New Orleans style service. After the memorial service, at which each person in attendance received a kazoo, the assembled paraded around the room and out into the parking lot, accompanied by the “joyful noise” of 100-plus kazoos and a trombone. If she had been there, I like to think mom would’ve been in the lead.
Once in the parking lot, we broke up into groups to share stories and to “critique” each of the siblings’ eulogies. I, inveterate and unrepentant smoker that I am, lit a cigarette and chatted amiably with friends and family until my brother, Mike, grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me away from the group. He had a somewhat stern look on his face, and I feared I was about to be on the receiving end of one of his not-infrequent rants about the evils of smoking. Mike guided me through the crowd and back into the funeral home to a side office. When he opened the door, I was confronted by several members of the family and a few close friends.
I remember thinking, “Oh, shit! An intervention!” Once in the small office, Mike left my side and disappeared into the crowd. A moment later he emerged with his arm around someone, a girl (a woman, really) I’d never seen. The crowd parted and Mike and his companion stepped forward.
“Steve, I have someone here you should meet,” Mike said with a smile. “This is Sara, your daughter.”
I was literally stunned. I stood there unable to speak, staring at this stranger with a sad-sort-of-smile on her face; a face that looked exactly like her mother’s.
“I know you’re not evil,” Sara said. In what seemed a heartbeat, we closed the gap between us — not just of space but of time, years of time — and collided in each others’ arms. Overcome with emotion, we just held each other tightly, fiercely, and wept. I don’t remember how long we held that embrace; not nearly long enough, I can tell you. Together, we found a place to sit and I tried to explain everything that happened in the intervening years, and made no sense at all. It took Sara several minutes to calm me, to explain there was no hurry. We had all the time in the world to catch each other up. And so we just sat there for a long time, saying nothing, just being together.
Sometimes, when mistakes, big mistakes, are made you don’t get to make them right. Then again, sometimes you do.
Curiosity is a key element of the creative process.
Knowledge and experience are also essential components.
Combining these elements will help to enhance the creative effort by aiding in the formulation of question.
Questions demand answers which, in turn, generate more questions.
But asking questions isn’t enough.
You have to ask the right questions.
Knowledge and experience will lead you in the right direction.
How will you know when you’ve asked the “right” question?
It’s the one nobody ever thought to ask.
For anyone who wishes to nurture their “creative spirit”, or wishes they were “more creative”, I have a few suggestions. The first is, get a job. If you already have one, fine. Keep it. If you don’t, get one. Now. I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive to those of you who’ve grown up on the “all you need is passion and the will to succeed” myth, but the truth — the very ugly truth — is, unless you’re a “trust fund baby” or Mom and Dad are willing to foot the bills while you search for your bliss, without a job you’re likely to find yourself living in your car down by the river, real quick. So if you don’t have a job, find one. It doesn’t have to be the job, it just has to be a job; one that pays you enough to pay the bills and have enough left over for a modicum of entertainment now and then (all work and no play . . . ). It also helps if it doesn’t make you gag when you think about it, or show up at the office (or wherever) with a loaded AK-47. If it does, find another job. Quick! Oh, and it also helps if it affords you enough time for “outside interests”. There aren’t many of these types of jobs around, but there are some; find one that suits.
Once you’ve established how you make your living, make an effort to develop those outside interests; something different from your workaday job. It doesn’t have to be radically different, just different enough so you don’t associate it with how you earn your living, and different enough to provide a distraction. The “distractive (is that even a word?) element” in your choice of outside interest is important. Creative ideas have an infuriating habit of showing up at the least opportune moments, usually when you’re doing something else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been elbow-deep in my herb garden or engrossed in a project at my craft bench when the solution to a problem I’ve been struggling with (like writing this post) presents itself.
I can hear you saying, “But I don’t have time for “outside interests”!” That’s pretty much a standard response. Today’s work environment is so competitive, so mind-numbingly tedious, all you want to do at day’s end is plop in a chair and “veg out” or mindlessly surf the ‘net. I know, I’ve been there (binge-watching “Breaking Bad” or “GoT” or “Girls” or . . . whatever). But if you were to divert some of that time and devote it to doing something you enjoy; playing a musical instrument, painting, drawing, woodworking, working with crafts, yoga . . . whatever “floats your boat”, I’ll wager you’ll soon find yourself making time for it. Besides, you didn’t really want to watch another NCIS marathon, did you?
I know what you’re thinking, “All that may be true, but I’m not interested in any of that stuff. None of if sounds “interesting” enough.” No? Well, you’re sitting at your computer, right now. Why not “google” your local community college or artists’ co-operative? I bet they have dozens, if not hundreds, of interesting ideas. Ever thought about origami? Tulle painting? How about glass-blowing? Why not join an acting class?
The point I’m attempting to make here is, once you have the necessities in hand, its time to open yourself up to new experiences. Pique your curiosity. Experiment with life. Meet new people; exchange ideas, learn new skills. It’s the only way to prepare yourself for the opportunities that will present themselves.
Being creative is not a passive activity; you can’t sit back and wait for inspiration to come to you. You have to go out and inspire yourself. Creativity, like Life, is not a spectator sport. So turn off the “Doctor Who?” retrospective and find something interesting to do.
To start with, I’m not going to be posting anymore fiction here. It’s obvious (at least to me) I have no talent for it. so you won’t have to suffer with any of that drivel in the future. That being said, here is some “drivel” of a different sort. To wit:
We’ve been hearing this advice, doled out by business leaders, successful artists and entrepreneurs, for years. “Do what you love, the money will follow”, they tell us, or “Do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.” Jeffrey Katzenberg (yes, that, Pixar, Jeffrey Katzenberg) thinks we should stop (at least temporarily) following our dreams.
Addressing an audience of several hundred at the Milken Global Conference in Los Angeles recently, Katzenberg said, business leaders “talk to kids today about following your dreams, but I’m not actually sure that’s such a great idea. How about follow your skill?” he asked, then added, “I believe every human being does something great. Follow that thing you’re really good at and that may become your passion.” Here was a successful business leader, one of the “movers and shakers” of the film industry telling hundreds of people, “don’t follow your passion”. I was stunned.
At first, it sounded as though he was saying, “forget passion, get a job”. But then I thought about it for a couple of minutes and I realized he was really explaining, in a very succinct way, how to find your passion. It starts by being good at something; and everybody is good at something. It’s in developing the skills that enable us to do what we’re good at that allows us to find that passion, that joie de vie that urges us from “good” to “great”. There are other advantages to developing skills.
Unless you’re independently wealthy, with no need to generate an income (and I don’t know of anyone in that situation, especially in today’s economy), the necessity of “gainful employment” is one that can’t be overlooked. Skills are marketable: passion, not so much. You may be passionate about climate change or painting or marine biology or baseball; or all of them for that matter. No one said you can’t be passionate about more than one thing. But it you don’t possess the skills necessary to pursue those passions, it’s unlikely you’ll find employment in any field other than fast food.
(Thanks to gapingvoid for the graphic)
An article in Sunday’s paper from Reuters caught my eye and I thought I’d like to write something about it. For those of you not familiar with my blog, let me just say I’m a big fan of history, any history — big, small or in-between, I’m a fan of history. So it was only natural this particular item caught y attention.
A statue which once graced a pedestal in front of the Queens Borough Hall has been “transplanted” to the grounds of the Green-Wood cemetery. According to the article, two years ago the statue was deemed “sexist” and “offensive” by some group or individual (the article never says who) with little taste in sculpture and a less-than- healthy amount of time on their hands. The statue, created in 1922 and titled, “Triumph of Civic Virtue”, features the figure of a nude male of imposing stature (and a strategically placed sash) standing in a defensive posture with a group of “supposedly virtuous” ladies huddled at his feet. I’m not exactly sure what is “offensive” about the statue, unless you add the “sexist” sobriquet: doubtless, some lady or group of ladies found the idea of a woman in need of having her virtue — civic or otherwise — defended (by a man, no less) to be both “sexist” and “offensive”.
I suppose, in today’s world, where women have the advantage of “equal protection under the law” (well, not exactly equal) and a host of laws enacted to ensure that protection over the years since this statue was created, offense could be taken, and there is, I guess, a valid argument to be made on those grounds. But such was not the case in 1922 when the statue was installed.
A similar brouhaha is presently attending another statue, this one New York’s Central Park. A memorial honoring James Marion Sims (who the article notes, is revered as the “father of modern gynecology”) has come under fire because it was recently revealed the “good doctor” experimented on female slaves (the memorial was erected in 1892). Yes, slavery was and is a terrible thing and unwilling experimentation, whether perpetrated on slaves or anyone else, is anathema. But we have even more illustrious historical figures, men with a host of “skeletons in their closets” which are not causing the outrage surrounding this one memorial. Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States, was known to have waged a genocidal war on Native American tribes. Jackson’s face adorns the $20 bill. I don’t hear anyone demanding we burn all our twenties. Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States and author of the Declaration of Independence, was an acknowledged slave owner (and according to an article in Smithsonian magazine, devised a slave-breeding program to increase profits. Jefferson’s visage graces the $2 bill. (Of course, there are a great many people who’ve never even seen a $2 bill unless they frequent their local racetrack.) Haven’t heard any demands to burn $2 bills, either.
Make no mistake, I’m not trying to lionize these men and ideas. I’m trying to point out (and doing a poor job of it, at that) we should not destroy these memorials or hide them away, lest others see them. These memorials and ideas should be held up as “teaching tools” so the next generation (and the generation after the next) can see and hear what it was like for different segments of our society before the walk-ins, sit-ins, marches and out-and-out riots forced the government to enact laws that led to improvements for those segments of society who suffered (and died) as a result of bigotry, hatred, intolerance and just plain stupidity.
In his book, 1984, George Orwell wrote the following: “The frightening thing — the frightening thing was that it might all be true. If the Party could thrust its hand into the past and say of this or that event, it never happened — that, surely was more terrifying than mere torture and death. . .And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all the records told the same tale — they the lie passed into history and became truth. “Who controls the past,” ran the Party slogan, “controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.” And yet the past, though of its nature alterable, never had been altered. Whatever was true now was true from everlasting to everlasting.”
If we, as a people, continue to hide our history, if we continue to refuse to acknowledge both the good and the bad of our past, no matter how painful, sexist cruel or offensive, we will effectively erase that history. It well be as though the evils our predecessors fought never existed, as though the rights and privileges they secured for us were always with us, The old adage, “Those who refuse to learn from history are doomed to repeat it” carries with it another, simpler truth: If you have no history, you can’t learn from it.
It’s absolutely astonishing how often you hear this complaint; from friends, co-workers, even complete strangers. You’ve more than likely even voiced it yourself, at one time of another during your working life. If you were to believe everything you read in magazines, newspapers and online, or hear on television and radio, you would undoubtedly come to the conclusion, there is no one, anywhere in the world, who actually enjoys what they do for a living. No one. Anywhere. And therein lies the rub. . .
It seems counter-intuitive to spend four, six, eight, or however many, years of schooling, preparing to go into a particular line of work, one you love (or think you do, anyway), enter the workplace armed with all (or nearly all) the skills needed to succeed in your chosen field, work for a few years, (perhaps even moving up the “ladder of success” in the process), only to discover you really can’t stand what it is you do. It just doesn’t make any sense, really.
But if you were to examine all the reasons you supposedly hate your job, you’re bound to come to the conclusion you don’t really hate your work. You love the work; you love doing what you do, you just hate all the “other stuff”. Boring meetings. Unrealistic schedules. Micro-managers, Superfluous paperwork. In short, what you hate is all the crap you have to wade through just to do the work. It’s enough to make you throw up your hands and run screaming (as soon as possible after quitting time) to the nearest bar in a vain attempt to slough off the despair that’s gripped you. So you sit there, in the cool semi-darkness, sipping your second (or third?) beer, vodka/tonic, martini, or what-have-you, thinking about how much you hate your job and how you would love to extricate yourself from the soul-crushing prison it has become. You know, quit the “9-to-5” job and start a “consulting” business, or maybe try “freelancing”. Those are enticing ideas, sitting in a bar, but in the “cold light of day”, they’re very scary and potentially very, very expensive.
There are alternatives, and they don’t involve taking any undue risks, like the ones associated with changing employers or freelancing, etc. The alternatives are called “Hobbies“. Wait a minute. Don’t start laughing just yet. Think about it. Hobbies require little, or no, upfront investment. Likewise, there is no risk involved (unless, and until, you decide to take them). Hobbies allow you to explore other employment opportunities (almost as if they were designed that way) without sacrificing any financial security you’ve accrued through gainful employment. Hobbies also have the added benefit of being a proven stress reducer. Let’s face it, by the time you get home (be it a mortgage-laden house or an overpriced apartment), you’re so stressed out, so emotionally and physically drained, you have no desire to do much of anything but “veg out” in front of the TV or mindlessly surf the ‘Net, then drag yourself to bed, sleep (fitfully) for a few all-too-brief hours, only to wake up and repeat the entire process. Not so with hobbies. They have the benefit of being relaxing and invigorating. There are some hobbies that promote a Zen-like atmosphere most conducive to meditation which, in turn, allows access to that under-nourished creative sense we all possess and which your job has nearly starved out of existence. Even people who pursue hobbies closely associated with their workaday life experience renewed interest and creative focus in what they’re doing.
Best of all, there’s no “mickey mouse” nonsense involved in a hobby. No meetings. No superfluous paperwork. No nitpicking micro-manager staring over your shoulder. There’s just you and the work. And you can make it as difficult or as easy as you like. You can even make mistakes! There’s no “dark cloud of failure” hanging over your head. You can do it over or throw it away, It’s your choice. And isn’t that what it’s all about, really?