Proving oneself is a necessary evil

A friend of mine once told me that life was treating him unfairly because, despite his high intelligence and skills, he couldn’t get a job. He applied to several newspapers seeking a reporting position, only to find he was either unqualified from lack of experience or nonapplicable because of his status as a white male in an equal-opportunity work force.
If the world were fair, he said, someone would’ve realized his intelligence and natural talent as a writer and rewarded him with a job by that point. He was very frustrated in a foot-stomping kind of way. I told him his frustration was valid, but that he wasn’t going to get hired just because he thought he should. We all must jump through certain hoops to prove to others what we might already know to be true of ourselves.
In earlier times, young go-getters could prove themselves by expressing interest in something and then illustrating they could do it. A fresh-faced writer could walk into a newspaper office with a few good stories, impress an editor and land a job — at least that’s what happens in all the old movies. Back in those days, college wasn’t a necessary hoop to jump through on the road to success.
Today, a college degree isn’t even the final hoop. It’s not nearly enough to distinguish yourself from the throng of other eager competitors. One needs internships, graduate school, a Ph.D. and an infinite amount of patience.
I told all this to my malcontented friend shortly after I returned from a successful and satisfying newspaper internship where they offered me a job upon graduation. I’m sure my fresh face still glowed from the experience as I prattled on about the facts of today’s world to my impatient friend.
Now, he’s a full-time reporter at a midsized city newspaper, and I’m still grinding my way through this trial-sized life experience in an effort to return to the real-life arena I so love. I test my patience every day by sitting down to five-hours worth of French homework while my friend churns out important stories intended to inform thousands of readers.
My roommate probably thinks of me as a heavily sighing nerd who emerges from her term-paper cave only to rot her brain cells with substance abuse before ducking back in again. Sigh … such is the life I lead.
It’s a strange sort of irony that defines my existence right now: I came to college to increase my chances of getting a job as a writer. Once in college, I found a reporting internship at a San Diego newspaper. After being a full-time business reporter for three months, I had to return to college to get my degree so I can go back to San Diego and do the same thing: be a full-time business reporter.
I keep thinking that if I performed well enough to land a job upon graduation, why even go back to school? It’s just a formality at this point — a pretty expensive one at that — and shouldn’t school be more than just a formality? Shouldn’t school teach me what I need to know to perform that job in the first place? I suppose so, but it hasn’t. In fact, I’ve learned very little practical knowledge thus far in college.
The only reason I got the internship was because I wrote for the Daily. Interestingly enough, the Daily worked much like my turn-of-the-century scenario: passionate writer with a keen interest and high motivation finds her way under the wing of a very cool editor who teaches her what she needs to know in order to succeed.
School hasn’t made me a writer, my determination has. In fact, school will never make me a writer. I don’t even know what school is doing for me — except maybe testing my patience and increasing my alcohol tolerance.
It really irks me that I can’t just go back to that internship and say, “You know I’m smart. You know I can do the job. Why not just hire me now?” It’s just not fair that I have to stick this college thing out. I already got what I came for — a foot in the door and a little more credibility.
As I look out at the six months to a year of college I have yet to complete — depending on my raw drive to burn through my final classes — I feel more and more like my foot-stomping friend. I feel slighted by the state of affairs because I am not allowed to do what I am able to do.
I don’t want to sit through boring classes right now learning what I will need to know in the “real world.” I want to be in the real world. I want to do things, not learn how to do things.
When I was a little kid learning to ride my bike, my dad sat me on the bike seat and taught me everything I needed to know as we went along. He didn’t make me sit in class while he blathered on about the art of bike riding and what to expect once I got on. Nor did he administer essay tests to evaluate my retention. If he had, I might have lost interest before ever mounting the bike — and for good reason.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I still prefer the learn-as-you-go tactics I found so satisfying as a kid in a hands-on learning atmosphere. Nowadays, I have to undergo rigorous preparations before embarking on work-related pursuits. Bah! They do no good. No matter what I do after college, I’ll have to learn new things and adapt to different expectations — something I could have done without all this preparation.
Alas, I am no better than anybody else in this worldly competition, and I shouldn’t expect any special favors or exemptions — no matter how pointless or unfair I think this all is.
This is the advice I gave my friend not long ago, and I’m really trying to listen to it myself, but I seem to have a gag reflex every time I swallow a good piece of my own advice. You see, I never meant these sage words to apply to me. I’m telling you, it’s just not fair!
Emily Dalnodar’s column will appear on alternate Friday’s. She welcomes comments to [email protected]