Work: Everybody Does It, Why Can't You (Part Six)

Employment. What is it? Where does it come from? What ontological characteristics does it presuppose? According to the Brunch Club’s demographic penetration analytics, you’re just as clueless about it as we are. So, we’ve commissioned known professional Travis Cannon to share with us some insights on the pleasurable business of making work work for you. This is part six of six.

VI. What Are You Waiting For?

Well, congratulations. You’ve done it. You did everything right. You have rendered yourself up for judgement, brought your son to the top of the mountain and presented the sacrificial knife to the quiet eye above. Your devotion can be neither denied nor renounced. If there’s any justice in the universe, the job should be yours! I’ll bet you’re feeling incredible. Don't worry, you should! You've come a long way from where you were when you began, and surely that must count for something.

Look Upon Your Works and Rejoice

Give yourself permission to feel joy in the minor accomplishments. I know it can be difficult. It can feel like there is no sense celebrating when you've yet to actually be granted the job; that though you've reached a promontory the summit remains out of sight. But, as in the case of the man who in kneeling to pray becomes a believer, by seeing an application through to its completion haven't you already been transformed? Just because there is always another mountain to climb does not mean we should ignore the hills along the way. If we can't grant ourselves a moment of celebration for attempting then what hope for joy is there beyond ultimate achievement? Follow along with these tips for shaking yourself out of narrow, success-oriented mental frameworks and come to truly understand the feeling of joy:

  • Find a love seat or a shady bower where you can sit undisturbed. Sit and breath as deeply as you can. If your breath is shallow or your chest tight, know that it is because joy has drawn near.
  • Close your eyes and allow yourself a single, private smile. Squeeze a handkerchief in your palm or cry softly, if you are so moved.
  • Imagine your joy as a golden haired lover somehow returned from the grave. He gently wraps his arms around you and, softer even than the wind, he kisses you. Feel the cooling breath of joy on the nape of your neck as his body and yours lean together, and slowly, expertly you are undressed by his iridescent hands.
  • Understand that joy is a rogue wave breaking against your shore, washing away your crude wooden shelter and revealing the forgotten archipelago of you. Though you might feel you're losing something, you are actually revealing the truest part of yourself.
  • Recall what the traveller said about the two vast and trunkless legs of stone where the lone and level sands stretch far away. This is joy.
  • Feel the rising sensation of nausea, as though you are suddenly so full with something that you are going to burst. Close your eyes and wait for the sensation to pass. Know that even as it ebbs away it has made an indelible mark; that joy has penetrated the deepest part of you and left behind a slowly growing shadow.
  • Allow yourself to drift gently into sleep, knowing something is coming. Hear the steady beat of hooves, and something baying in the dark. At last, your life is about to change. 

You’re glowing. I’m so proud of you. However, now comes the final test of your devotion, that final leap of faith that weeds out the real candidates from the pretenders: the wait.

Waiting for Theseus

Contrary to what we see in motion pictures, it’s very rare for an employer to hire you “in the room” anymore. The moral landscape has changed, and employers need more time for reflection. It should be remembered that though employers seem so outwardly strong and monumental, their internal worlds are just as labyrinthine as our own. They, too, contain multitudes that clash and contradict, and are susceptible to that oldest mortal folly of doubt. Though you have surely dazzled them, given them every reason to believe you are the right candidate for the job, each of us comes to truth in our own time; though we all walk the same labyrinths and hear the same steps approaching in the distance, it is a private Ariadne whose thread must lead each of us out.

However, no matter how justified the employer is in their deliberation, there is no small pain in waiting. It is important to be honest about the internal volatility that this sort of waiting can engender; quickly do the seeds of anticipation germinate and produce their flowered crowns of delusion and fantasy. Are we Ariadne waiting for her hero's return, or the Minotaur at the labyrinth's heart craving release? As Roland Barthes writes in A Lover's Discourse, "I am waiting for an arrival, a return, a promised sign. [...] Everything is solemn: I have no sense of proportions." So, too, do we lack a sense of proportions and quickly the mind, left unchecked, takes flight. Here we trace its movement: 

  1. We resent, first, ourselves. We re-assess all that we’ve done, finding subtle faults and missteps. Was our passion too intense; our desire too strong? Did the employer see in our eagerness the foolish dissembling of a “people pleaser”? Did our devotion seem performative or compulsory? We loathe ourselves for our imperfect love, for our clumsy fumbling complaisance. We think, if only we were better, that our virtue would have been self-evident. We scream at the dogs in the street. We’ve caught their blight, and we revenge ourselves upon them.

  2. Next, the withering gaze of the Gorgon falls upon our conditions; the histories that have brought us to this petrified thicket. We lash out at the memory of how we’ve come to be what we are. If we’d only lived a better life the employer would not have so much reason to doubt us. If we had been better born, more pleasing to the eye. Oh, if only things had been other than they were! Maintained properly, like a well-loved garden, our buds would flourish through the weeds and one wouldn’t need to strain so hard to imagine their bloom. No matter how far we try to fly from our beginnings, the mark of their contagion persists; all that comes to us through our roots is poison. 

  3. Which way we fly is hell; ourselves are hell, but in the lowest deep a lower deep still threatening to devour us opens wide. Finally, perverse with waiting, we resent the employer, the falcon of our pride showing at last its outermost gyre. We think that even the great authorities must be imperfect.  Deranged with the thrill of petulance like Icarus before us; we soar to the height of hubris, commending our own performance and loathing those who would not recognize it. We spit in the face of the ones generous enough to consider us and take our great and lonely flight out of the labyrinth and into the sea. Here is the height of hopelessness, the depths of despair. 

This is, at last, the true face of our test. How do we keep from feeling the pricks of bitterness and doubt? How do we stop each moment from compounding upon itself, each breath a stone piled upon a stone until we are entombed in a cellar of our own despair?

The Only Shadow That The Desert Knows

The answer lies in an attitude of the heart. The folly of the job seeker is to place an overemphasis upon actually finding a job. As the old cliche goes, it isn't about the destination, it's about the journey. Perhaps the true job has been the friends we made along the way? How do we know that what happens to us is bad? We have, at last, three images (lightless, dim in the mind's gallery) upon which to reflect:

  • Imagine a window in a building foreclosed. There is an eruption of glass and noise as a sledgehammer falls against the pane. The discoloured curtains suddenly billow wildly into the long still room, struck with sudden air. The foreclosed building is struck again and again until the noise and violence have gone and the building is, at last, all window and breath.
  • Imagine a flash of heat lightning illuminating the sky and igniting a tree slumped with untended rot. Insects and rodents of all sorts begin to flee but are engulfed. Nobody mourns their small, unseen lives; the rodents carried plague and the insects blight. The tree struck down grants new life to all those around it.
  • Imagine, as you have so many times now, a lover who promises you a future; a rope tossed down the growing ravine that is you. He tells you of a life, that he is how you will obtain it. One night he doesn't return and an idea of you in your mind gasps an ugly, choking breath and dies. This is not a murder; the disappearance is bloodless, and leaves no trace. Time passes and neither the lover nor the person you were meant to be return, and yet there you are. In losing an idea of a life, you find, as if by accident, your own.

If you get the job then everything has gone according to plan. If you do not get the job then, still, hasn't everything gone according to plan? You've gotten to know yourself and your place in the world better. You have, now, a more realistic understanding of your breadth and capacity. You know yourself now to be changeable, capable of mutation and refashioning. You can appear however you would like to appear. You've been given the gift of knowing that there is, at heart, no you to be damned or saved. "Adapt or die!" is the cry of the time, and knowing yourself to be a mask atop a shadow you are nothing but adaptation. Truly the experience has shown that you are life in excess, that no sculptor could ever carve your convex form from even the finest marble. And who, I ask you, would want to be carved? Mighty statues crumble. Vast empires fall.

You are part of something older now. You are a seeker sent out to find, as the first seekers were, somewhere that life is a little easier and you have something to keep your hands busy. It either is or is not out there. You either will or will not find it. This paradise once found either will be enough or it will not and you will begin your search anew. If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life, but nothing is guaranteed. All that is certain is that there is nobility in choosing to look. The world is all before us, and hand in hand, with wandering steps and slow, through it we take our solitary way.

I hope that's helped.