The more things change, the more some things seem to stay the same – so much so that sometimes I wonder if I really am actually “growing up.” I seem to fall so easily into patterns and modes of thinking that I had really hoped I’d outgrown, and it’s really becoming disheartening.
Please allow me to explain: This semester I signed up for a course in Technical Writing. I did this because I really want to work in academia, and even full-time tenured professorships don’t pay all that much more than what I was making as a high-school teacher (my research shows that the average is about $20,000 more, but that same research shows that the average K-12 teacher makes about $20,000 more than I actually made, so I just don’t trust the math anymore – I’ll believe it when I’m spending it). So the revised plan is to get a job I love, then work summers and weekends at a job that actually pays a decent salary, such as technical writing. It’s sad that I feel that I have to “earn” the privilege of doing the job I love by doing a job that will pay a reasonable salary, but that’s a topic for another day.
In this Technical Writing class, our first major assignment is to take a fictional resume and edit it in response to a fictional job ad. We spent almost an entire class period talking about resume “dos and don’ts” last week, and while I found most of the professor’s advice to be overly obvious, I found myself disagreeing with her on a couple of points. I tried to stay open-minded, but my inner monologue started griping a bit around the edges: “I really don’t agree with that – I mean, I see her point, but I think she’s wrong in my case. I really need that thing she’s telling me to leave off, because it applies to what I’m trying to do. My resume is fantastic and amazing – even my cynical brother-in-law with the MBA said so – and I don’t want to change a word of it. I don’t care what she says; I’m not changing anything. I’ve gotten jobs just fine with this resume, so why should I change anything? After all, every field is different, so what she is saying may not apply to my field.”
And so on and so forth, at full volume inside my head, for most of the rest of that class period.
I really thought I was over this. I have always been such an instinctive writer (an idiot savant, if you will), but at the same time, I’m terribly insecure, so it’s very difficult for me to take any writing-related advice. I’m terrified that if I really analyzed what I was doing, it wouldn’t work anymore. I love to write, and it’s something I seem to have a nice little talent for, so it’s hard for me to deal with it when the niche I’ve carved out doesn’t seem to be working for me. Coming from that understanding, it’s a little easier to understand why I tend to get my back up when the advice I’m getting doesn’t match what I want to hear (which is, of course, that I’m wonderful and amazing and I shouldn’t change even one syllable – although, perversely, if I do hear that, I get upset and gripe just as much that the person is being “too nice” – which is even more stupid and pointless of me).
At the same time, in the past year and a half, I have been passed over for every single on-campus job I’ve applied for, despite the fact that I have federal work-study funds attached to my financial-aid package. That’s a little too big of a coincidence for me to ignore. I know part of the problem is that I suck at marketing myself. Another part is that the personality traits I have are not particularly valued at this point in history (I’m not very fast, but I’m incredibly thorough – why that’s not valuable is beyond me, but the focus at this moment seems to be on speed, speed, and more speed, even at the expense of quality). A third part may be related to my introversion, which seems to be hated and feared in this era of instant gratification. So I’ve convinced myself that the reason I’m being passed over is mainly due to the fact that I am just personally not what anyone thinks they want – I don’t fit the subconscious model in the hiring manager’s mind, and so I only get chosen when I’m the only choice (Fact: In the case of the teaching job I had the longest, I was hired one month to the day before classes started – principals don’t have many choices as to whom they would like to hire in July). However, when I do get chosen, I rather quickly prove my worth to my supervisors (who was chosen as the Employee of the Month in her first month? Yup, this girl, and I have the plaque to prove it).
So it seems I’ve got a marketing problem. The best thing, then, would be to listen and absorb what this professor is saying, right?
THEN WHY CAN’T I SEEM TO DO THAT?!?!? What stubborn, self-destructive streak fuels my inner monologue? Do I really want to crash and burn that badly? Do I really want to be underpaid and underappreciated for my entire career (regardless of what that may be)? I think my record speaks for itself, but most people don’t seem to care enough to even look – why? And, for the love of all that’s sacred, why can’t I just sit down, shut up, park my ego, and LEARN SOMETHING??? If I really knew so much, why am I still just a photo technician at the local drug store?
Now that I’ve marinated in the broth of self-loathing for awhile, I’m going to sincerely try to actually listen without judgement in this class, and I hope desperately that I can learn some things that will help me get past the resume stage and to the interview stage a little more often. There’s got to be a disconnect somewhere between getting my resume put in the round file as often as it has and being Employee of the Month in my very first month with a company (and I don’t think I was picked through Hobson’s choice – I work with a lot of slackers, but I work with a lot of really great people too, and many of them are just as deserving – why me?).
The ultimate question, of course, is why do I keep doing this? This feels almost exactly like what happened when I first tried to write academic papers during my undergraduate work: I would write something I thought was genius, and my professors would not agree. Instead of trying to learn what they wanted (or why they wanted it that way), I whined and complained that my genius wasn’t being appreciated. To be fair, there is a lot of stuff I never learned about writing for academic audiences because no one exposed me to that information (I think I talked about that in another post – maybe “Adjusting My Mission Statement”?), but I fear that if someone had tried to teach me, I’d’ve argued with that person just as much as I want to argue with my Technical Writing professor (and in my younger days, I wasn’t smart enough to keep the griping inside my own head – at least I’ve learned that much in the last ten years).
The only thing I can think of is that so far the rules the professor is teaching us all seem very arbitrary and not subject to much in the way of explanation or extenuating circumstances. For example, the rule that started my inner rant last week was, “Never put anything from high school on your resume.” This set me off because I do have a very short section of my resume where I talk about my work on the school newspaper. I added it for a variety of reasons that made sense at the time (and still do), and it set me off that I wasn’t even offered a chance to explain myself, nor was I offered much of an explanation beyond, “That’s what Career Services would say too.” That just doesn’t seem like much of an explanation to me.
So it seems that I’ve managed to write my way into an explanation as to why I tend to get my back up sometimes (seemingly arbitrary rules), and I think I even know of ways I can begin to deal with it (ask for explanations). The question remains, however, as to why I rant internally instead of just asking. I think the reason for this is that when I first started to assert myself and ask questions, I had a problem with a test question that I’d gotten incorrect. I wrote what I thought was a very polite, respectful e-mail to the instructor, and I even included the relevant passage from the textbook (and it was a pain to copy out). The instructor’s response floored me – she accused me of being rude and demanding, and she warned me to never ever correct a professor ever again, because they’d either fail me or throw me out of their class. I ended up making an A in the class, but I’ve spent the rest of my academic career tiptoeing around professors, to a certain extent. Additionally, I’ve had other professors that I have challenged verbally, and the discussion usually ends with me being told something like, “Yeah, I know, but you’re still wrong.” Am I wrong to think that I deserve better explanations? How do I respond to that?
The main thing I’ve learned is to never ever ever be the kind of teacher who uses these kinds of lame explanations, but I’m not sure how I can take what I remember from being on their side of the desk for four years and use it to get me to a better place as a student. I certainly don’t want to be accused of violating Wheaton’s Law, but I don’t want to be a “yes person” either.
I wish I had more confidence that I would figure this out “once and for all” someday – unfortunately, I think I may always be walking a tightrope between blind acceptance and having enough information to feel comfortable that I’m doing the right thing. I guess it’s a trait that makes me a highly successful maverick, but a lousy leader or follower.