Preparing for Failure

Looking out at the vast job market, wearing only my resume and cover letter for protection, I cannot help but wonder about what will happen if I fail. Fortunately, I am prepared to fail. I’m prepared to fail a lot. What do you do when you fail in the vast, merciless job market? According to my handy survival handbook, You Majored in What?: Mapping your Path from Chaos to Career by Katherine Brooks, you learn.

To quote Modest Mouse’s song “Float On” “A fake Jamaican took me for every last dime with that scam/ it was worth it just to learn some sleight of hand.” This is the correct attitude to take with setbacks in your career path, according to Dr. Brooks. She recalls the long forgotten Jim from chapter two in the final chapter of the book. She explains that he hasn’t found what he needed but he has still kept up with life and made opportunities to grow and expand his resume. Jim volunteers and works as a bartender to keep his days open to go out job hunting.

How incredible is that? Very, if the question may be answered by the person who postulated it. I have a friend who will herein be called Jeremy. Jeremy is currently working for a local coffee joint even though he has a four year degree in a major scientific field. This has made him very upset. Jeremy will go on at length about how he has been screwed over by the system to close friends, a position I am happy to fill. Immediately after college Jeremy applied to as many positions that he could, looking far and wide for work. Two years later, Jeremy is still working in a coffee shop, frustrated with what he considers a deep betrayal by his departmental mentors in college. These wounds are regularly salted by the Alumni association’s email requests for donations which starts a new slew of non-graphic curses towards her former professors. Jeremy does have a good reason to be upset, after all, he did all the right internships, made good grades, and graduated in what was a lucrative field when he started.

What went wrong is that the lucrative job market that Jeremy was going into was flooded with people just like Jeremy. Too many graduates without enough demand meant that people with Master’s degrees could be hired into the same positions at similar rates in an industry that makes better use from more highly skilled individuals. In this regard, Jim, and indeed I benefited from the old humanities axiom of “Practice the phrase ‘Do you want fries with that?'” From the get go all humanities majors are set up to fail. We are told by friends, family, complete strangers that our degree is worthless. Jeremy, on the other hand, went into his degree because of the absolute value of his degree. He was told it was a sure thing. Jeremy didn’t grow up around any gamblers or addicts. If he had, he would know there is no such thing as a sure thing. Everyone slips up sometimes. Everyone fails. Just fail in a positive way.

The thing about school in general and Dr. Szwydky’s Professionalism course in particular is that it is there to help you succeed, but when success isn’t possible, to fail with style. Sure, I probably won’t get the first job I apply for, but that process will tell me what I need to do differently to get there, and I’m starting out farther ahead in this matter because of this professionalism course and for once I felt like someone out there would value my degree in a monetary fashion. It was a strange feeling and while I’m still not sure if I liked it, the job market looks less like a wasteland to me now, and more like a winding road on a pilgrimage to happiness.



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