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The Audacity of Hopelessness

Posted by Amy Gutman  February 17, 2013 11:55 AM

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Head in Hands

Last sum­mer, I came across another of those darkly hilar­i­ous post-recession job search sto­ries. In this par­tic­u­lar install­ment, one Tay­lor Grey Meyer lost it on a sales man­ager from the San Diego Padres, an orga­ni­za­tion to which she’d applied for a job no less than 30 times. After the stan­dard radio silence response to her appli­ca­tions, she received an out-of-the-blue email alert to an “oppor­tu­nity” to attend a job fair hosted by the Padres for the bar­gain price of $495.

And that’s when Grey–whose pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence report­edly included an intern­ship with Major League Soccer–went a wee bit berserk, fir­ing off an email described by the sports web­site Dead­spin as “one of the great emails of our time.”

After care­ful review, I must decline. I real­ize I may be burn­ing bridges here, but in the spirit of reci­procity, I would like to extend you a counter-offer to suck my dick. Clearly, I don’t have one of these, so my offer makes about as much sense as yours. But for the price you’re charg­ing to attend the event, I’m sure I would have no trou­ble bor­row­ing one.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, her response pro­ceeded to go viral, and—as Dead­spin wrote—“per­haps, on bal­ance, it wasn’t the worst move in the world. Meyer has already received one note from a sales office, ask­ing her if she’d like to come in for an interview.”

All of which got me think­ing about the job search process in the wilds of the Brave New Nor­mal – and how the best strate­gies some­times emerge only after you’ve given up.

My own experience—though far less jaw-dropping—provides a case in point.  One of the stan­dard pieces of advice to any­one who’s gone through a lay­off is to down­play the lay­off part and up-play what you’ve accom­plished. That’s pretty much how I rolled in the begin­ning. I kept busy! Vol­un­teered! Updated my resume! Then, after a year or so, I ran out of steam. I started to feel a bit defeated. And also a bit defi­ant. Which explains my deci­sion to write pub­licly about being unemployed.

The first piece I wrote for Salon on the topic of unem­ploy­ment was pub­lished with the provoca­tive head­line “Even Har­vard Couldn’t Pro­tect Me”—capitalizing on the irony of my edu­ca­tional pedigree—though my real point was some­thing quite dif­fer­ent: That nav­i­gat­ing unem­ploy­ment requires tremen­dous inner resources, far more, in my expe­ri­ence, than what’s needed to nav­i­gate success.

Like Grey’s, my writ­ing elicited a range of responses—from with­er­ing accu­sa­tions of self-indulgence to heart­felt words of sup­port.  (I still cher­ish one defense: “Does Salon have no stan­dards at all?” my sup­porter rhetor­i­cally asks, quot­ing an espe­cially vir­u­lent attacker.  And then goes on to answer: “Obvi­ously not. If they did — most of the first few let­ters in response to a Gut­man piece would be mod­er­ated into obliv­ion. The fact that they allow their excel­lent authors to be harassed by the nation’s under-medicated tells us all we need to know (and more) .…”)

While my Salon essays on unem­ploy­ment didn’t lead to a job right away, in ret­ro­spect they were a first step on the path that got me there. The essays led to Plan B Nation, and this blog—along with being hugely gratifying—kept me vis­i­ble to peo­ple in a posi­tion to hire me. One of these was a for­mer Har­vard col­league who reached out last sum­mer when an open­ing came up in her depart­ment. (A side ben­e­fit: When I inter­viewed, there was no need to explain my time out of the work­force. They already knew my story. It’s how I had come to be there. ) I was hired and started work last Sep­tem­ber. Things are going well.

Let me be clear: When I talk about the ben­e­fits of hope­less­ness, I don’t mean despair, which is never ever help­ful. What I’m talk­ing about is being open, a topic I’ve explored many times before. The dan­ger of hope is that it can tie us to a very spe­cific iter­a­tion of a very spe­cific story at a time when we’re far bet­ter served by stay­ing alert to oppor­tu­ni­ties in what­ever form they take. The more wed­ded we are to a spe­cific outcome—the more we nar­row our sights—the harder it may be to craft a ful­fill­ing life with the mate­ri­als at hand.

I don’t know what’s hap­pened to Meyer since last summer—I shot off an email to her via LinkedIn this morn­ing but haven’t yet heard back. The best clue I found was a “Pub­lic Fig­ure” Face­book page where her photo (she’s a lovely blonde) tops the fol­low­ing tagline: “Tay­lor Grey Meyer had already been rejected by the Padres over 30 times before she got an email from the base­ball team that was the last straw.” No sign of regret. No apolo­gies. What began as an F U moment seems to have become a per­sonal brand.

© 2013, amy gut­man. All rights reserved.

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Originally published on the blog Plan B Nation.
This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Amy Gutman is a writer and lawyer with eclectic interests and a resume to match. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Salon, Psychology Today, and the Chicago Tribune, among other venues, and she is the author of two suspense novels, both published by Little, Brown. Currently a lecturer in the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst, she lives and works in Plan B Nation. More »

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