Category Archives: The Career Woes Club

The joy Luck club..

The Joy Luck Club is the first book which made me cry, or I should say, sob with ugly abandon. Mostly because I really connected with the stories in it, and one thread in particular, that of June.
I grew up with similar pressures, my mother wanted me to be a prodigy, like my cousins. I lived through that story-the crushing disappointment emanating from my mother upon the realisation that I was no prodigy, I wasn’t even above average, I was just average. Unlike the book, I did not have the moment of clarity when June realises she could make her own choices and be strong/good in her own way. I grew up knowing I was average and knowing that it was the worst disappointment I would ever inflict on my mother.
Or was it all in my head? Was I transposing my own disappointment onto my mother? Had I wanted to be a prodigy more than my mother had wanted me to be one? Do I still want to be a prodigy of some sort? 
For so many years, I was bitter and angry about failing. I developed a severe fear of failure which resulted in me never aiming for more than low hanging fruit. I had no idea about my own future, what I wanted; no dreams beyond just having a ‘nice life’. I had no ambition, zero passion for anything. I always took the easy way out…
Taking the easy way out meant that I would never have to try. Taking the road more often travelled meant that I would always be good enough to succeed. It meant never having to disappoint myself or anyone else. It meant never having to think about what my heart desired.
There is no shame in being average, as long as you know your own worth. That’s not me.. I am one of those average people who yearn to be outstanding and yet will do nothing but stamp their feet and complain about how nobody gives them a chance. Because as I’ve said, not giving something a go means I don’t ever have to go through that crushing misery that comes with failure.
Two years ago, I embarked on a career transition. Which has so far, failed to pay any dividends. I thought I would be one of those corporate people, marching along with the besuited crowds in our matching black/blue suits along the road to corporate success (whatever that means). The reality is I am still lost, still have no idea what kind of ‘corporate’ I want to be (again naive me thinking that there was only one kind of corporate) and having to subsist on handouts from my parents and the occasional cleaning work. 
If I knew my own worth, would my story have ended differently? If I accepted my worth, swallowed the fact that I would be nothing more than ordinary, would I be happier? 

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Sharp shock

Those jarring events which tear through the soft underbelly of vulnerabilities laid bare.
Perhaps that’s just a little too esoteric. I never claimed that crafting metaphors was my forte.
It’s disappointing that the first entry after such a long disappearance, a prolonged abandonment to writing, is one with such a disheartening theme. But let the previous record show that I’ve never been one for happiness.
Succinctly, a disappointment after what seemed to be a smooth journey. Or rather, the journey was never fully smooth but just enough to lull me into a sense of security. Falsely perhaps, but isn’t good enough sometimes just perfect?
It is the foolishness that gets to me. My own. That foolishness that comes from a belief, finally after all these years, a self belief that someone, something actually saw my qualifications for what they were. Even if I didn’t. 
There were meetings, where I was tested. Again and again. And as each hurdle was passed, I mistakenly believed that I was close. Closer to the thing my heart desired, my hearts desire. 
And then that sharp shock-that abrupt abomination. Ended it. With no recourse, no u-turn. 
After having placed all my hope, all of it into the one thing…. the snatching away of it, is particularly cruel. All the other shocks, though sharp in their own unique ways were nothing compared to the finality of that last sharp shock.
It is the stupidity I feel. How stupid was I to believe I was as good as what they said? How stupid was I to think that I was better than the others? How stupid was I to think that I was special? 
The soft side is scarred. It’s inevitable. But beyond the scarring, beneath the red, raw bloodied screaming wound, is the complete collapse of my belief in my self. Where there once was something there, there is nothing left. 

The long hard road

It isn’t a long shot to call the march towards gainful employment gruelling. In fact, I can think of several more choice terms: humiliating, degrading, daunting, pointless.
There comes a point when doing something repeatedly without any change in outcome becomes insanity. Well call me insane because I must hold the record for number of repeat applications to firms. Where’s my parade?
It isn’t as though I’ve stopped in time, crystallised and stagnant in my life. I’ve done concrete things to add to my CV. With every passing year and with every reiteration of my applications, I have things to add. I’ve taken risks, I’ve taken action, but it seemingly is never good enough.
Let’s see, since my last round of applications, I have: gone through an internship where every person my level was at least 8 years younger. Gone through the humiliation of returning to university where again, everyone is on average at least 5 years younger than I am. Tried to do more entrepreneurial things like joining case competitions and running a business. Nothing seems to make any difference…
The application process currently in place is a particularly cruel one. It’s a multi stage process and prior to interviews is conducted in a bizarrely arbitrary way. One is summarily judged and then rejected based on the words one has written on a cover letter, and through grades. It would be an acceptable process if one also managed to get an answer as to why one was rejected in the first place. What was the screening out process? Was it grades based? CV based? How much of a kiss-ass one can be through words? Or a braggart?
It’s not that I don’t understand-yes, it is time consuming to sift through thousands of applications and yea it will be hugely time consuming to explain to the 90% of people who don’t make it why they weren’t up to scratch. Although really, how hard is it to craft two separate emails; one giving CV reasons for rejection and the other grades reasons? 
I am frustrated. Of course I am. Also dejected and humiliated. Because once again, I had the audacity to hope and once again those hopes were summarily dashed with no explanation. How can I change, do what I need to do if I don’t even know what’s wrong in the first place? 
Of course I wonder, what if I had spent more time crafting a cover letter with more ass kissing, more pointed selling of my attributes? Would that have made any difference? And obviously I don’t have the answer to that question…
The underside of this equation is that the doubts that I have about the risk I’ve taken, attempting the risky procedure of a mid-career change is for nought. The dark doubts of whether or not I made the right decision is ever lingering and it flares up whenever I find yet another rejection in my email inbox.
I weigh up the options I have on a daily basis; almost everyday, I am reminded about my dwindling options, the lessening hope and increasing dread that I was wrong and that at the end of yet another degree, I will find that I am saddled with another useless piece of paper and no means of supporting myself financially. It gets harder to forget, this doubt. It gets harder to remember why I embarked on this journey in the first place.
Do I want to rail against the unfairness of it all? You bet I do. I am, on paper, equally as qualified as the lucky ones who get through. Can I blame luck or fate? I’d love to. But rationally, I can’t blame anyone else but myself. At the end of the day, I was judged as unworthy, whether because I failed to adequately sell myself, or because I wasn’t able to show the requisite amount of enthusiasm. Age does that to you, it saps the youthful enthusiasm and naïveté that one has in the flush of youth. So perhaps it was just my sober approach towards writing out my applications which was the cause of my downfall.
I wonder how to continue onwards… I do. I wonder if this is worth it… And above all things, I wonder what else I can do and how I can actually find the will to carry on.
End rant. 
I am so so aware that I am not the only person who is in this boat. I am so so cognisant that a large, huge percentage of my cohort are facing the same challenge. What is it that we can do about this? Perhaps if we all banded together and boycotted firms which used this cruel application procedure. Although in doing that, we would presumably not apply to 90% of firms.. And in my fantasy, I’d also like my own island with personal 5 star resort attached..
The sad reality is that applications isn’t even the end of the road.. Once that hurdle is surpassed, there’s interviews, there’s more people to impress, higher and higher up the chain. There’s the long road of actually doing the work and impressing bosses so that one does not have to hunt for another job in two years. Up or out, as the firms love to say. 
I am filled with fear; so much fear because the stakes are much much higher for me. Being older does not confer any kind of advantage, it in fact, reduces the amount of time I have left to futz around… As I flounder, drowning in the sea of rejection emails, I am left clutching at whatever straws I can find… Where is the light at the end of the tunnel?

Define yourself…

“So what do you do?” 
I get asked this question a lot, as an obvious 30 year old and as the partner of a successful, renowned architect. At dinner parties, at casual drinks, at official functions.. All I can do is stammer, “Ah.. Well.. I used to be a scientist…. And now I am not sure what I am… Unemployed? Poor struggling student?” Neither of which are particularly satisfying nor reflective answers.
My partner, bless his heart would then interject cheerfully, “he cured cancer!!!” 
Which is sweet, but not quite true…
Where do I start when it comes to the topic of my career? What terms can I use to couch it so that it doesn’t sound self pitying and as though I am wallowing in my own sorrows, like the jazz singers of old? 
The facts are; plainly and starkly presented, that I did have a career, once in a previous life. I was a scientist, full of idealistic naïveté, wanting to make a difference, save lives and all that jazz, but the travails of academia soured my youthful enthusiasm and turned me into a bitter crone who just wanted to sell out and go corporate.
I can hear my partner in my head going, “hmmm, perhaps that isn’t the best way to sell yourself… How about you talk about your career highlights!!!”.. In a tone that is all at once chipper and enthusiastic.. He’s so adorable.. 
So here goes, the positive spin: 

I worked in cancer research, starting out in haematological cancers before branching into prostate cancer. I worked on the cancer that Delta Goodrem had* and my work was actually licensed by a pharmaceutical company (!!!!), [sight pause for acclaim from assembled multitudes]. As a prostate cancer researcher, I once pipetted 60 plates in two weeks, [pause again as assembled multitudes’ eyes slightly glaze over], which is close to what a robot can do, which means, I am part robot (!!! And said with a tone of maniacal glee). [longer pause as some of the assembled multitude begin to back away slowly wondering if I am some kind of nutjob]
See what I mean when I say I have issues with my elevator pitch… 
The truth is obviously more mundane: 

I got my PhD, worked for a bit as a post-doctoral researcher, impulsively decided I didn’t like it, took a pay cut and became just a lowly research assistant, and performed robotic tasks for three years before deciding I wanted to be able to wear suits to work and that there was no point wearing a suit to a lab since mice aren’t actually cognisant or appreciative of a good dress sense… So I decided to go back to university; but in my infinite wisdom, decided I could do both full time work and a full course load, which I hasten to add, did work out for a semester, before the strain of trying to do both things concurrently sent me spiralling into a vortex of exhaustion and self pity, whence I would spend my three hour seminars thinking of sad weary songs in my head as the lecturer droned on about bonds and ‘portforio’s’ (she was Asian.. Trouble pronouncing ‘l’s’…)
But wait, there’s more! I then decided that I would give up full time work and the salary that went with it so I could focus on my studies. Which would have been an OK to great decision, except one is not likely to perform well in ones exams if one spends the entirety of the lecture picturing oneself as a down in the doldrums, lip syncing jazz singer.. And of course, with the terrible grades, come the uncertainty of whether or not this particular course is the right one, which leads to more wallowing and soul searching, which leads to a terrible case of the ‘woe is me’s’ [an actual disorder.. Look it up… On Wikipedia.. ]
Here I imagine my partner giving me awesome side eye and muttering “pessimist” under his breath.. 
My partner believes I am amazing. He looks at me and sees this wonderfully gifted gay man who is so smart and so intelligent and so good in bed. His words, not mine.. 
What do I see? I see someone who is average… Who isn’t the worst, but isn’t the best either, (coincidentally what an interviewer said about me). Someone who could be something great, if he could just stop wallowing in the past and look towards the future by doing something concrete, like writing about the Serious Issues of today and getting his name out there. I see potential, in other words. 
But I also see someone who isn’t quite sure what he wants. Who balks and balks like a stubborn horse because he doesn’t quite know what road to choose and in doing so, chooses to let the opportunities that he has wither away, much like Esther in The Bell Jar…
What is special about me? What have I achieved that others haven’t? One time, I modelled for a teen magazine.. It was a contest.. I won a set of the ugliest clothes ever… (Plaid shirt and terrifyingly ugly grey pants which didn’t fit because I lied about my waist size). I have a PhD… What else? I have a very good memory for pop culture and song lyrics.. I learnt the words to the Les Mis song The Docks (Lovely Ladies) in a day… So I could market myself as a PhD, who once modelled ugly clothes and who recalls lots of song lyrics and pop culture trivia… Except, where’s the niche for these skills?
Here’s the thing, I do know, in my heart of hearts, that I am more than capable of succeeding in whatever career I end up getting into. I know that I have the skills, I know I can do the work. The issue is more about whether or not I will enjoy the work. Also, not screwing up job interviews by breezily writing off my past scientific experience as ‘irrelevant’ (I am so good at interviews…). Although, as my mother would say, ‘happiness at work? That’s bullshit. Nobody enjoys working. You just go to work and you do your work well and you get paid and then you come back and put food on the table for your terribly bratty and ungrateful kids who then whine about not having a good childhood because they don’t have toys.’ (Yes, my mother actually said that. Why she never won Parent of The Year, I will never comprehend…) 
Where to from here, one might ask. And if I knew the answer, I wouldn’t be writing this..
Here are the options:

Option 1:

By some miracle, one of my job applications actually works out, I get an interview which I don’t screw up and I get a job as a patent lawyer or a high powered pharmaceutical medical science liaison and I live happily ever after with my knight in shining armour, in our palace with white and brown speckled horses. Oh, and a household staff of 20 and a walk in closet, whilst I am fantasising.. 
Option 2:

I go back to uni, finish the course to the best of my ability, get into a graduate program, (which isn’t looking all that likely, given my poor grades and the fact that all I remember about portforio’s and bonds are the lyrics to sad jazz songs.. ) and then I live happily ever after with my Prince Charming in a penthouse, with a cleaning lady and a closet full of Tom Ford suits.. 
Option 3:

Hmm.. There are less options than I thought..
Yes, yes, I know that both option 1 and 2 can be done concurrently; not exactly a Sophie’s Choice in that I can apply for jobs whilst studying and one of the applications might actually work out.. So essentially, I have inadvertently devised my future plans whilst writing this..
*Not exactly true, but as my dearest partner would say, “who needs to know that?”

The paths that could have been…

There are no excuses I can give-sure, reasons and justifications exist but not excuses. I will not make any excuses.. And by extension, that makes all reasons and justifications moot.
Without excuses, without reasons; there is no blame. Or rather, it is that the blame cannot be apportioned to anyone else. The blame rests solely with me; the blame resides in me. But to acknowledge that blame that rests on my shoulder, waiting to ensnare me in its waiting jaws in order to drag me down into that spiral of hell, that long descent towards self recriminations, is to give it power.. And I won’t do that, not this time.
All I can acknowledge is a weariness-a tiredness. The kind which comes with the constant push and struggle which apparently leads nowhere. Even on the most optimistic of days, those days when I can grudgingly admit to myself that I didn’t do all that badly, it is tough for me to find any point to the struggle. Where has it lead me? Did I learn anything? 
It behooves me to try again and again, repeatedly. For to give in and give up is to accept the bitter realisation that the path I chose, on my own, is not true… And I have not that strength to double back and find the true way. For even false roads lead somewhere; even they eventually end up in some kind of clearing-a denouement, an end. Even those byways and overgrown paths lead somewhere eventually; but of course, the constant fear of a dead end remains… 
The fact is, back then, decisions were made-small little inconsequential things, which at that time, didn’t seem to mean anything but which may have turned out to be my undoing. And realising those mistakes later, I still went ahead and did the same thing over… I have no explanation for those turn of events-no way to justify… And it is precisely the cause of why I am where I am. 
There is nothing to do now but to accept that events have transpired as they have, the chips have fallen where they may. As much as I can rue the decisions made, the paths that could have been, now fading away, there is no point in that. Why cry over a path that can never be traversed? It will not bring that path back-that journey can never be made… The only thing left to do is to walk the path I am on, to the bitter end… Wherever it leads..

With bated breath…

The waiting and the not knowing is the hardest part.. You are on the edge of a precipice, on tenterhooks, just waiting; seconds pass, minute after minute.. Waiting for confirmation, for validation. 
The tragic part is that the outcome is already known. The powers that be have already determined who shall not pass; call these powers fate or HR-call them whatever one pleases, but they already know the power they yield…
It is hard to remain indifferent when this is one of the rare opportunities remaining. It is hard to maintain the perspective that it doesn’t, at the end of the day really matter-that this is but the first part of a long journey, and that a failure at this stage doesn’t preclude one from success.. It is hard to hold on to that precarious grip on the edge of sanity, precisely because of the deeply warping desire to claim some form of validation from a vote of confidence. 
Ah, but to stake confidence on this outcome is a fallacy… Mostly because the expectation and the reality of what will be, what is to come are so divergent. What will happen may not necessarily be good for me nor what I want. What I want today, right now, this moment, more than anything: to get an internship may not necessarily be the best course, the wisest path…
But still I wait with bated breath; too weak to leave it all to God, to own the fact that I have done all I could, that what I put forth was the best of my abilities and to accept the judgement which comes… I wait for that email, that call, that sign of it being my time, my turn. I wait and I dream and I dread.. Soon, what is to be will reveal itself… And whatever that outcome is, I can only hope that I will have the force of will, the grace and the strength to accept it and to soldier onwards…

The internship blues

‘I want an internship so baaaad

 Why-o-whhhyyy can’t I get one

 Mayhaps it’s just meeeeee

 Or those foolish companies.’
That’s what I would be singing if I could sing. And if I could actually write songs. With my terrible subpar songwriting and flat voice, together with my surprising ability to reach high notes, I suspect id be a shoo in to win The Voice. Yeah, I’ll sing those words in a bluesy Billie Holiday style and move the judges to tears…
Internships are surprisingly hard to get… This is not something I envisioned. Not for me; no sir. Particularly since I have a doctorate, a few years of work experience in an irrelevant field and just got a great average for my first semester despite working full time. On paper, I’d be a shoo in.. Right?
Wrong. Because of all the places I’ve applied to, I have made it to exactly one interview. One. And then a Gandalf like figure stood on a collapsing bridge and yelled ‘you shall not pass!’ whilst I breathed fire out of my nostrils… 
I know precisely why I didn’t make it through to the next round for that internship. Because I am a shit salesman.. Also I kind of flubbed the technical part of the interview, but really, that shouldn’t count for much, right? 
I know I suck at selling myself; I’ve been told that exactly twice-once by my old PhD supervisor who helpfully suggested I take some classes for that and once by some media training guru I went out on a date with who earnestly told me how terrible I was at selling myself. (MM, where you at?) This was however a man who faked having a tropical illness to get out of seeing me again so maybe he’s not that much of a media guru.. 
But I digress, I am terrible at selling myself and that is a major hindrance at the moment, not just in attempting to get an internship but also in the dating arena, which PS, this isn’t a segue into how my dating life is barren at the moment. 
Look, when one is answering those questions on an application about ‘why one has an interest in finance’; one doesn’t cheerfully write that one has zero interest in finance but is so capable of research and learning and gritting ones teeth in trying to persevere through something which one has no passion in whatsoever. That’s a sure fire way to get through, right? Being honest? 
Also, one does not proceed to belittle ones achievements and denigrate ones previous profession in an interview, whilst also managing to cheerfully make out that the profession one is trying to get into is meaningless and superficial and is only great because of the monetary rewards. Again, honesty being the best policy, right? Sure fire way to stand out and get hired, no?
And perhaps my problem isn’t so much that I suck at selling myself, but that I have no filter and that I am rash and impulsive and thoroughly too honest for my own good. It’s not that I don’t know how to be dishonest.. Please, the amount of times I have had to pretend enjoyment at being penetrated by an old man’s shrivelled penis or by men with rather small cocks… The number of times I have had to fake shiver with enjoyment. The number of times I have had to resort to fake moaning whilst I wonder what I am missing on the TV at the moment a man is pounding away at me… I can be dishonest… But I can’t seem to be dishonest at the most crucial moments in an interview. It’s like, I just say the first things which come to mind… 
So really, I shouldn’t be that surprised at my lack of success.. Not only am I not good enough, technically, I am also terrible at telling people what they want to hear, versus what I actually think. And whilst it is true that the financial world is really superficial, it’s really all about image and manipulation of numbers, that’s not what the people interviewing me want to hear.
Really if the numbers I’ve estimated are accurate, then I need to be in the top 5% of candidates right from the start. I am not and there’s nothing I can do about that. 
I’ve botched most of the opportunities for an internship already this year, which makes the reality of me not getting one all the more likely. Given that I just expected that I would get an internship, I don’t really have a plan B… Given that I didn’t get an internship, what chances do I have at getting into a graduate program which is even more competitive than an internship? It would appear that my grand plan of getting my career started is now falling apart at the seams. It would appear that not only will I not get a job I finance at this rate, but I will also be unemployed next year. Perhaps I really should look into becoming some kind of escort.. I mean why not put into use the skills I have, which are faking orgasms and being absolutely pliable in the bedroom.. Why not? 
There is nothing wrong with aiming high; or wanting something so badly but the reality is that there are limits; if I am just not good enough, as judged by some arbitrary standards then no matter how high I aim, how much I want it-it’s not going to happen. All the desire and enthusiasm in the world doesn’t mean shit if I am just not good enough. And that folks, is the story of my life… 
PS: don’t give me that shit about self fulfilling prophecies. It’s bull shit and there’s no way some kind of self affirmation ‘The Secret’ crap will change anything.