Why Applying Sucks, Part 2 | Hour Blog

Stir-fried green peppers, stir-fried shoe-string potatoes, spicy tofu, and sweet and sour eggplant. My lunch.   Since living in China, I’ve basically become a vegetarian.   Not hard.  Eggplant, broccoli, peppers, and even potatoes were never as good to me in the states as they are over here.  Maybe Chinese cooks have had to excel preparing plant-based dishes because meat just isn’t as available over here.  Whatever the cause, my lunch was awesome….right up until I pulled a thick, coal-black hair from between two slices of eggplant.  Sometimes, I really miss America.

I don’t know where I was going with that.

When I was in school–public school, private school, homeschool, whatever–learning was often, if not always, facilitated in the same way.  The teacher chooses the subject matter; the teacher teaches the subject matter; the teacher assigns work based on the subject matter; and the student, me, absorbs it all and does the work.  For many people, the system works pretty well.   Hell, it worked just fine for me.  I love structure.  My tasks were clearly defined–and the methods too. The rewards?  In principle, they never changed.  Do what was asked of me, and I received a gold star, or a big number, or, if I was very lucky, a reassuring wink.  I slaved for my gold stars, numbers, and winks.

I became an excellent task performer.

The problem is, to really succeed at the job search, and much of life, task performing just isn’t enough.  I have to be an entrepreneur.  The CEO of a company of one. The problems I face job hunting are unlimited and undefined.  No one assigns me any specific tasks.  I choose.  And often, no matter how hard I try, no matter how good my application is or strong my resume looks, it will fail.  And I, accustomed to a world of winks and gold stars, will feel like a failure.

But here’s the thing: failure is commonplace–actually obligatory–in life.  Yet failure is grounds for depression in school.

Students are largely rewarded for the safe bet.  An overly-ambitious project or an assignment were the student violated the boundaries set by the instructor are often met with punishment in some form or fashion–no wink for you, so to speak.  And this training, while it certainly cultivates caution, also can instill a debilitating, play it safe, expect the immediate reward, perspective.

My career is ultimately my responsibility, but uneasy lays the crown inherited suddenly after graduation.  I am used to an authority guiding my hand, choosing my task, and I am also used to my efforts being met with timely rewards and punishments–and the lack thereof leaves me confused…sometimes depressed.

I believe that much of the education system is due for a change.  The world developing before us is freer then any before, and it’s high time our teaching caught up with what cannot be taught: self-motivation and determination.   Not just the job search, but much of life, requires it.

Applying sucks because it’s a problem of a kind wholly unlike what’s simulated in lecture hall and homework.  No one but I can really decide where I should apply the bulk of my efforts, which companies I should choose out of however many, or even which career path I should follow.  The specific answers to many of these problems are not only unknown, but cannot be known, and that’s unsettling to a man who had the most gold stars in his kindergarten class.  But while I could sit and bemoan my position, disturbed by the alien nature of what’s before me, I could always take another perspective and look at it as the most exciting equation I’ve ever tried to solve.

I think another attitude is more appropriate–not to mention more helpful–than the moping panic that I am tempted to fall into.  I should be excited.  For the first time in my life, I choose the goal, and I choose the means.  There are no fixed rules, and there are endless possibilities. And, if I look at it this way, applying isn’t as scary as it is thrilling.  It’s a challenge to be as creative as I possibly can be, to set my own goals and be unwavering.  And, most of all, it’s a challenge that grows my self-respect in ways I’ve never before experienced.

So now, while there are parts of the application process that will always suck, I do deeply appreciate it.  It’s the school I never had, and the teacher I always needed.