A Laser Unfocused is a Flashlight

I’ve been unemployed for over a month now. And though I’d hoped that it’d feel liberating to be free of my last job, to have opportunities to venture off on my own and make my way in the world, I haven’t done that. I find myself scanning the “jobs” section of the local area Craigslist and seeing little other than disappointment and multi-level marketing schemes. In response, I filed an application and resume with a staffing firm and went in for the interview last week, an interview that I felt went fairly well, even though I showed up five minutes late because I got lost in the town and my cell phone signal cut out on me while the secretary was trying to give me directions. The woman told me I needed to take an online assessment to complete my profile, an assessment I likely wouldn’t have to worry about.

To be completely forthright, this post likely sounds a little more hopeless than usual because today I feel a little more hopeless than usual. To my knowledge though, I’ve never been in the10th percentile for anything before today. And when it came to standardized testing in high school, well, it wasn’t my biggest concern. But I took the Basic Math test for this company, the test that asked me questions like “7+5=?,” and I ended up in the 10th percentile. I scored worse than 90% of the other applicants. The questions I missed were about estimations; I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to round to the nearest 10 or the nearest 5, and I could have simply added any of those numbers in my head if I needed to get precise sums. To be honest, I still don’t know what answers they wanted. But they wanted estimations, and apparently I can’t estimate. Or file at the basic level. I can file at the “intermediate” and “advanced” levels just fine (whatever the hell “advanced filing” is), but basic filing is simply beyond my scope.

I can’t really convince myself to go back and finish the examinations. Percentiles of 60 and 70% have been common results for the other exams I’ve taken for this company, and each one of them feels like a slap in the face. “Wake the hell up, you’ve been wasting your time. Your talent is gone, you’ve turned your brain to mush.” Well, none of the tests have said that at the end, but I’ve sure felt like it. I feel like it.

I’ve had over a month where I could have applied focus to a project and gotten it done, made something positive happen. And I DID do a couple things right: I attended E3, the gaming convention I’ve wanted to go to for years. I counseled at Boys State, a summer camp run at EIU, again. But since then I’ve squandered my days (as well as my money) in many situations. Now, for the first time in long time, I’m not sure how I’m going to pay my bills this month. And I’m ultimately disappointed in myself.

I went to a friend’s graduation party this weekend, a party which I genuinely enjoyed. She had around 60 people at her house for this graduation, a majority family, but a few friends from out of town (myself included) came in for the night to share the experience. As a few of us recent graduates were sitting around a table, I realized something: asking a recent graduate where he/she is working is like walking into a minefield. Here we are, thousands of dollars in debt, looking around and trying to find what we were promised is on the other side of a college degree: gainful employment, maybe something enjoyable. Two of us at the table were completely unemployed, one by choice. One was working part-time, just returned from a trip teaching abroad and she still wasn’t sure what she wanted to do here in the states. Many of us still lived with our parents. And though living at home is not a sign that life is miserable, feelings of independence and success don’t exactly wash over you when you realize your pick-up line basically is:”Hey, my name’s Josh; I’m 24, graduated two years ago, am unemployed and live with my parents. Can I buy you a drink? Well, one of the drinks that’s on sale…I think I’ve got some quarters in my car…”

I used to feel like I had all this potential, all this power. That if I just had the opportunity to get out there and do something that I could do anything, that I could cut through all the nonsense like a laser. And maybe I still do. But I look around at what I’ve “accomplished,” the plethora of projects I’ve done nothing more than talk about doing, and I feel much more like a flashlight: able to see what needs to be done around me, but not changing anything.



One thought on “A Laser Unfocused is a Flashlight

  1. Warning: I am about to take your lovely metaphor to ridiculous and unwarranted extremes.

    Maybe all you really need is a flashlight. Instead of focusing on having a dramatic, laser-like life, why not take that flashlight and use it to light the immediate path before you? It won’t be exciting. It won’t make everyone go ooh and ah. You won’t get to brag about it for a while. But it’ll get you somewhere.

    I see so many creative writers who have big dreams of best sellers. That’s fine; we all do that. But if that’s the only thing you’re focused on, you’re in for a whole lot of disappointment. If you want to be a writer but don’t do any writing, you’re in the wrong business. What’s more, if you want to be a great writer but don’t enjoy writing, you’re missing the point entirely.

    I see the same thing as a distance runner. People who have never run so much as a 5k suddenly decide they want to run a marathon, just so they can say they did it. They don’t even seem to like running; they just want bragging rights. They usually do run a marathon, in about 6 hours, and they hate it and never run another. Again, missing the point.

    I look at my former students struggling to find meaningful work — struggling to find work at all, given the job market — and my heart aches. They seem so hurt and bewildered. How could someone who got such accolades throughout college go forth into the world only to end up feeling like a big loser? But think back to what you learned in, for example, writing classes. Nobody gets a paper right the first time. You have to revise. And revise again. And edit. And proofread. It’s a process, and it takes time.

    Use the flashlight, Josh. Yeah, it isn’t quite so cool-sounding as “Use the force, Luke,” but whatever. It works. Trust me.

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