CV of professional failures

I know there's a thread to support people who are looking for a job. But I'd like to create one for people who've found a job (and heaven knows they're miserable now), but still feel like they've had a pretty rough career trajectory.

I once remarked to my mother that the defining element of my life thus far had been failure. She was quite shocked and upset by this, and it's true that when I said it I was in one of my longer-term deep depressions. But it's also just a fact of life for most, if not all of us. I know there's a perma-viral "CV of failures" from a Princeton professor. But, for that large category of us who are not tenured academics at an Ivy League Institution, I feel the CV needs to look a little bit different.

In my case, it's true that I failed to get into my first choice undergraduate program (to give a hint it's 50% of a popular British portmanteau that begins with a bovine and ends with "bridge").

Then I failed to achieve a "starred" first on my BA at another institution, although I did manage an ordinary first.
I did manage to do my two postgrad degrees from the other half of that portmanteau, although I came very, very near to failing to achieve any Ph.D. funding (and did indeed fail to achieve full funding).

After my Ph.D, I failed to achieve any postdoctoral position, including but not limited to multiple Junior Research Fellowships, a Wellcome Trust post-doc, a Leverhulme postdoc, and a position with a foreign academy in Rome. Also, lectureships in the UK, Australia, and the United States (possibly Canada too, come to think of it).

For my next burst of failures, I tried my hand at private school teaching, only to receive (and I'm not making this up) over ninety rejections.

I then went back to university, this time in an ex-Polytechnic, where I did an accelerated course in pedagogy. It was quite useful, but I should note that I failed to achieve anything other than the lowest level of pass.

After finally securing a position teaching at a school, I failed spectacularly at classroom management.I have now not only failed to raise their exam results but have actually managed to bring them down.

It's not the world's longest CV, but I am still a bit shy of my 30th birthday. One of my resolutions, as I advance inexorably into middle age, is to be a bit more forgiving of all these failures. That, like almost everything else, is still a work in progress (to put it mildly). But it's one of my favorite things about the Ship that people don't generally pretend to be perfect. Because, if they were perfect, I wouldn't fit in!
«13

Comments

  • SirPalomidesSirPalomides Shipmate
    I got two Bachelor's degrees in humanities with no practical application; I then got a Master's degree for teaching. For a few years I substitute taught while looking for a full-time job. Finally I got a long-term substitute position that, if it went well, would likely have led to a full-time job. It was a hellish experience and my boss utterly destroyed me in my evaluation- rather unfairly, I think, but I'd had enough. I'm in insurance now...
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    If having Ph.Ds and Master's degrees marks you as a failure, then there's no hope for me. I started to do a B.Ed but failed (I really wasn't cut out for teaching), then did a secretarial course and worked in various offices (fifteen years in the office of a university).

    Now I'm having great difficulty finding employment - I'm in my mid-50s and live in a province where for the most part they expect you to (a) have a degree, whether the job needs it or not*; and/or (b) be bilingual in English and French**.

    * I've applied for jobs that involve almost exactly what I did for 15 years, and I know you can do them without a degree.

    ** When the time came for me to choose a second language, my father (who ran the county education authority and knew all the teachers) suggested I choose German rather than French; I suppose he thought the class sizes might be smaller or something. If I'd known then that 40-something years later I'd need it, I might have made a case for doing French.
  • NenyaNenya Shipmate
    Piglet wrote: »
    * I've applied for jobs that involve almost exactly what I did for 15 years, and I know you can do them without a degree.

    I was talking to a friend about this only this morning. I've been in administration for pretty much all of my working life. You don't need a degree for the job I do - but everyone at my level in the organisation I work for has one.

    I was never really career minded and on bad days I regret that. But up until around 18 months ago I was really happy in my job. Now I'm starting to think about Life After Employment ( I'm far too young to "retire" - that's what my dad did! :wink: ).
  • There are places suggesting ways to change careers - Charity Job site here discussing how to shift careers without the relevant experience.
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited July 6
    But maybe back to the OP...

    I'm brilliantly happy in the job I'm in now, but the greater part of my life (volunteer and paid) has been one mishap after another.
    Let's start with high school, shall we? Where I rarely turned in my homework, and so graduated far, far behind the people I was supposed to be standing with (and wasn't THAT a source of frustration to the teachers who knew I was capable of much more).
    On to college, where I majored in Greek and Hebrew until my future sister-in-law pointed out that I was marrying a Vietnamese pastor and had better think about how to put food on the table, because he wouldn't be making any money. Sudden addition of English major in my junior year...
    Then grad school as a teaching fellow, where my budding teaching career underwent an epic meltdown with a &*%^* whose argument in favor of me letting him off fulfilling his course requirements was "My father is a major donor to the university" (sucky sucky suck) and he took it to the department head--who stood up for me, God bless him, but it was a damn traumatic experience.
    Simultaneously we had the unexpected birth of the Vietnamese church for whom the theme has always been "into the Kingdom of God, bass-ackwards." Enough ink has been spilt on our mishaps there, though it's only the career that went into permanent eclipse--the mission is thriving. (The missionaries--that is, us--were slandered, investigated, found innocent but still laid off--along with all the other missionaries at the same time--as a "cost-cutting measure") (Update: the mission--and the church--continue, and we do too in our role as missionaries, but we receive no salary or insurance. We're tentmakers.)
    And it's not quite career, but that's the time I actually found myself EXCOMMUNICATED, not for cause but for spite on the part of our adversaries--along with about 60 other people including infants.) District advised us to ignore it.
    Ahem. On to work at a certain place that shall not be named, where I discovered the truth about church politics (yeah, I know) and resigned before a former friend could throw me out. (She got her job by walking over my dead body, more or less)
    Got my doctorate after a brief detour (passed my comps, failed my orals--the first person to do so in 100 years, they said. In my defense, I'd just spent weeks at my father's expected-to-be-deathbed and couldn't remember my own name)
    Cue years of unemployment, while I worked freelance to keep body and soul together. Discovered old boss was lying to my references, claiming I quit because of inability to handle childcare and pregnancy (I was in fact childless and infertile at the time).
    After five years, an unexpected contact resulted in eight months of work--a blessing because it's work, but ... er... problematic, in that the boss was in the early stages of Alzheimer's. Laid off there due to lack of work. Don't power through the backlog too quickly, you talented boys and girls!
    Hired at [Nameless] as a proofreader with the promise of eventual "real" work, as a writer or editor. Bullshit. Seven years under an abusive boss with never a raise. Then fired for inability to do or even learn the job. Me, an English PhD. Uh huh. The real reasons I can't bring up due to a non-disclosure document, which I had to sign if I didn't want to lose my final $.
    More freelancing, plus two years of computer school at a respectable but frankly embarrassing B level grade average. Why yes, all my fellow students were computer whizzes in their late teens. How'd you guess?

    My current job found me, by the grace of God. I mean, my boss literally walked into the church basement and asked if I was looking for work. So it can happen. And nobody here's abusing me, and I have a great reputation for my work, and my salary is lovely, and I'm still pinching myself.

    But I was 50 when it came along. So it can happen. Don't give up.


  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited July 6
    Another one on the don’t give up side, though not as dramatic and disheartening a story as that one.

    I left school after my o’levels to be paid a pittance on a youth training scheme working shifts in a care home. I dreamed of being a teacher but people from my background never went to college. No A levels for me let alone university.

    Did old fashioned apprentice nurse training (I still don’t have a degree in nursing) and then decided to get a degree via distance learning whilst working full time as a specialist nurse. First few courses went really well but then my life starting falling apart. I signed up for courses I paid for but never started, I was beginning to get bouts of depression and confusion and I was in debt. By the time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I was in my dream job as a nurse lecturer but with unsympathetic manager. I couldn’t cope with the stress (my father was also dying by now) and poor relationship and left.

    I did some private nurse agency work before getting married and moving to a quieter town. Here I started again as a nurse, took the only job in my field, hated it, resigned after a week. I spent the next few years doing low paid bank nursing (I’d dropped from a H grade lecturer to an D grade staff nurse, the equivalent of a newly qualified nurse). But after starting my family I began to rebuild my career, doing an E grade specialist part time, then F grade clinical teaching. I finished the distance learning degree and after 2 years of applying got a lecturing post with the distance university for 7 hours a week. Then 13 hours. Working part time from home is great for my bipolar but getting modules to teach is difficult as it is competitive - it has taken me 10 years of applying to get to my current 26 hours. But in the meantime they have paid for another degree and a masters in Ed.

    It is now 20 years since I left my original lecturing post due to my life falling apart and it has taken all this time to get there again. I am happy in my work again and finally feel like an academic. This year I am 50 years old and will start my part time doctorate in October alongside my usual teaching. It’s never too late.

    Btw, loads of my students are studying for a distance learning degree because they want a career change, especially the older ones.
  • Aged 18, I was told that if I wanted to be a historian, then I should avoid doing a degree in History, as I wouldn't get a job afterwards and would end up working long hours for minimal pay and be left with no time to read books etc. Apparently the route to being a historian was to study law and become a lawyer, earning lots of money for minimal effort and lots of free time to study history. I can't believe I fell for it. But in fairness, I was the first in my family to go to university, and my family really didn't want me to "waste" the opportunity on a "Micky Mouse" degree, plus they had a very rosy view of life as a solicitor.

    One positive: when I met the North East Man, he asked me what I was studying. My reply "Law, but I'm going to do history one day" intrigued him enough to want to get to know me better.

    So, four years at university, followed by two years legal traineeship, and I was a solicitor and able to start saving for my history degree! Four years later and I was combining full time work as a lawyer with my first Open University module; just a half credit course but it was a dream come true. I gave up my legal career on 31st Dec 1993, and started my history degree with the OU properly on 7 Feb 1994, whilst 8 3/4 months pregnant. And it turned out that studying and first time motherhood were the perfect combination.

    It all went to pot in third year. Second baby had a severe gastro oesephigal reflux, wouldn't sleep, screamed for hours on end- I dropped out of that year. Restarted, with a half-credit course the next year, and kept going, slowly. Finally graduated with a 2:1, whilst pregnant again. A few weeks later we were told our baby had skeletal deformities, and life just spiralled down from there. The stillbirth, other family issues and the subsequent miscarriage knocked me for six.

    I worked in part time, poorly paid jobs, though history was my main hobby - I published a bit, started giving occasional conference papers and got my first journal paper.

    Finally went back and got my Masters, then my PhD -graduated at the age of fifty. Two years ago I got EMDR for the PTSD which had been blighting my life since the loss of our baby and the miscarriages. I'm feeling very positive about the future now; I do think a successful career might now be a possibility. I'm 55, but I think I could easily have 15 years or more of working life ahead of me.



  • Hey Columba -

    Your post sounds like something from the perspective of a high-achiever, sore about not being a really-high-achiever. I get that - I went to a selective school, got a degree and then a PhD and lectured (in dogshit polytechnic, but we'll gloss over that :smile: ) for 20 years - and now I don't earn enough to pay tax.

    So what? You didn't manage to be an Ubermensch, like 99.999% of all of us, and your 2nd-best choices didn't end up playing to your strengths. I reckon school-teaching-crowd-management and academic success are pretty orthogonal - hell, I was a good lecturer mostly because I am not overly bright - and you probably think that too, now.

    I think this is one of those 'man who never made a mistake never made anything' things. But if you want to be successful - in generic terms - I think you'll be unhappy. Relax into failure and try to imagine what you actually (when no-one is looking) like doing. If you have the luxury of choice, which is a real luxury (that of not needing to earn much) which I possess in my low-paid job, and for which I have to remember to be thankful.
  • (Oh, and the 'starred-first' thing makes me laugh. That's a gizmo invented by people who like to be able to wangle the highly-ambitious. In a University near me (not where I taught) they sussed that making people professors (in the UK sense) sometimes led to them easing off the gas a bit, so they introduced professors grade A, B and C. When there are too many 'A's and they need to screw a bit more internationally-leading thought out of them, they'll probably invent a few stars as well. It's like those staff badges they have in McDonalds).
  • HeavenlyannieHeavenlyannie Shipmate
    edited July 6
    @North East Quine Loved my OU history degree, my final dissertation was on how the two world wars set back women’s rights. The OU changed my life, as it still does for many working class people, and I love that I now get to teach and empower students working in health care with backgrounds, and sometimes mental health challenges, very like my own.
  • @mark_in_manchester, perhaps.

    One of my favorite films of all time is Whit Stillman's brilliant debut "Metropolitan." In one scene, our undergraduate protagonists, are in a posh bar in midtown Manhattan with a man who is perhaps 40. Prompted by a question on whether the "Urban Haute Bourgeoisie" are doomed, the older man responds that he failed without being doomed:
    I'm not destitute. I've got a good job that pays decently. It's just that it's all so mediocre, so unimpressive. The acid test is whether you take any pleasure in responding to the question "''What do you do?'' I can't bear it. You start out expecting something much more, and some of your contemporaries achieve it. You start reading about them in the papers or seeing them on TV. That's the danger of midtown Manhattan - running across far more successful contemporaries. I try to avoid them whenever I can.
    But when I can't, they're always very friendly but inevitably they ask, what am I doing, or think it.

    I used to find that scene devastating, although I've come to realize that there's probably a grain of gentle satire to it. Stillman's heroes are pretty much all affluent, well-educated, hyper-articulate losers. And he suggests that might be not only okay but worth celebrating.

    There's also a more recent "Brad's Status" with Ben Stiller. It's not nearly as good of a film as Metropolitan, but it's more overt in skewering privileged status obsession.
  • The acid test is whether you take any pleasure in responding to the question "''What do you do?'' I can't bear it

    I like that. I try not to have conversations with anyone where that line is likely to come up - I don't go to parties, dinner or otherwise, and I've dodged a few weddings too. The point about ones cohort going on to great things is pertinent - I'm older than you, and some of my contemporaries have amazing job titles which don't at all, in my mind, reflect their innate abilities as I remember them. (They appear to s**k corporate c**k a lot better than I ever could, but perhaps I am being bitter :))

    Having lectured, I get this twice, as I have ex-students who have remarkable job titles, some of whom I remember rather carrying over the line. But a friend of mine put it nicely when I was telling him about recently being offered some PT work from a former colleague, a guy much brighter than me, who also employs a bunch of my ex-students. Apparently they were all enthusiastic enough about my involvement, but I turned it down and my mate said 'yes, they were so much easier to impress in their early 20s'. He's right, and they're doing it, while I was thinking about doing it, and wondering what I could remember about doing it.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    As a friend of mine used to say, if you’re in the top 10% of the apex predator species, how much more successful do you need to be?
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    edited July 6
    Oh dear. Look, the way I deal with the "What do you do?" line or similar "show me I should be impressed with you" is either to subvert it totally ("I've been really working on my garlic chicken recipe, and I think it's almost perfect!") or look shifty and mumble something about the CIA--and then change the subject ABRUPTLY. While laughing up my sleeve.

    That's if I want to be bad. Really bad is when you follow it up by saying, "Oh dear, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have mentioned that."

    Nobody ever said you had to answer a question in the (nonstated) terms proposed.
  • edited July 6
    @Lamb Chopped

    Some years ago now, I was at a drinks party hosted by friends of my parents. There, I was trapped in a conversation with a friend of my mother's from the board of the local ballet company. This woman, upon discovering that I was doing postgraduate work in ancient history, asked: "and what are you going to do with that?" She then pointedly said that her own daughter was majoring in business and was at that point in time working for her paid internship. I interpreted her remarks, perhaps unfairly, as dripping with both condescension and anti-intellectualism. I persisted from there on as referring to her in conversations with my mother as "that rude friend of yours." I rehearsed in my head several replies I should have made. Most involved turning my back upon her and uttering the most schoolboyish of my schoolboyishly memorized verses: Round turned he, as not deigning/ Those craven ranks to see;/ Nought spake he to Lars Porsena,/ To Sextus nought spake he..."

    It had occurred to me, even then at the age of twenty-one, that this would probably just bolster her point about the uselessness of my education. It took me longer to realize how unfair I had probably been to her.
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    I'm not sure I see that as unfair. It was good of you to pick up on her own insecurity, but really the woman was downright rude. If you refrained from returning the rudeness, you did well, IMHO. Or am I missing something?
  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    I confess that when I'm in that sort of environment (where people are playing the "I did better than you" game), i generally either withdraw or start amusing myself, depending on how outrageous I feel and how likely my behavior is to come back to haunt me. If it's just a social affair, I can have fun with it; but for several long years the place it was most apt to crop up was in the very company where I worked, where certain individuals would flaunt the details of their latest promotion or family connection (!) or Big Important Project™ that they had just been put in charge of--all with an eye to shaming those of us standing near who had nothing similar to boast of. There was really no way of avoiding the situation and one could only endure until we were allowed to return to our desks.
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    I'm fortunate that I don't think I've ever been in one of those competitive situations.

    I think if I were, I'd be tempted to say, "What have I achieved? Well, I've been happily married to the same bloke for 31 years, and I make really rather good soup".

    Although I'm not quite sure that's what this thread is about ... :confused:
  • RossweisseRossweisse Shipmate, Hell Host
    With certain status-obsessed persons, depending on the field, I can usually score by mentioning Famous Persons with Whom I Have Sung, or Famous Persons Whom I Have Interviewed (or, in some cases, have both sung beside and interviewed). But honestly, it's all a bore. I don't enjoy playing those games.

  • Lamb ChoppedLamb Chopped Shipmate
    I do take a wicked pleasure in watching their faces when various overseas dignitaries rush past them to give me a hug. That's what happens when you tutor foreign graduate students at the sem--they go home to become their churches' presidents and bishops.
  • In those very competitive situations I have been known to get into discussions about big business ruining the planet, that I don't fly or own a car from a green conscience and out compete them in a different direction. I've spent the last 25 years in special education which is very infra dig compared with some of my peers, one of whom is now in the House of Lords.
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Rossweisse wrote: »
    But honestly, it's all a bore. I don't enjoy playing those games.
    Yep. I try never to ask someone what they do, unless it’s clear from how the conversation has already gone that the question would be well-received. It’s generally much more interesting to hear about someone’s hobbies, or things like that.

  • Drifting off track a little... My mother liked to talk about our notable family connections, one of whom was her aunt by marriage, who she said was a descendent of James Watt. I believed this for years until it dawned on me that not only was her maiden name Kettle, my great uncle was, for his very long lifetime, a notable wit and prankster. I suggested to my mother that Uncle Fred made up the story, but no, she died believing it. There were a few others, but that was my favourite.
  • There is a family of Watts from my village who believe that James Watt's grandfather was born here and that they are related to him. (James Watt's grandfather was a graduate of Aberdeen University, so it's not completely outwith the realms of possibility.)
  • PigletPiglet All Saints Host, Circus Host
    ... some of my peers, one of whom is now in the House of Lords.
    Well he would be if he was a peer, wouldn't he? :mrgreen:

    I'll see myself out.

    I usually get a hug from a peer of the realm when we're home in Orkney - he's a former MP and now sings in the Cathedral choir.

  • I don't know, a man can't come and join a thread to commiserate with people over his failings in life without running into more than one poster on his uber-niche message board of choice who has a personal connection to the house of lords. C-in-a-C, join the Methodists. We're woefully unconnected - with your background, you'll be a god. And consider lecturing in a shit university, ditto.
  • Me, I've lost contact with that particular elevated gentleman from my past. But one of the friends I am still in contact with sees him regularly, and I keep hearing about him.
  • The one upmanship stories bring to mind a story about Alexander III of Russia. He was holidaying in Finland. He went out fishing. At the same river there was an old man fishing. Alexander struck up a conversation with him, and asked him what he did. "I used to be a captain at sea. What do you do?" "I'm the Tsar of Russia." The old man paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, "That's pretty good, too."
  • I did once share a bedroom with the Deputy Prime Minister ...
  • ... Well, he was only 16 at the time and there was another lad too - it was a school choir trip to Berlin.
  • Baptist TrainfanBaptist Trainfan Shipmate
    edited July 7
    Piglet wrote: »
    ... a former MP and now sings in the Cathedral choir.
    Would you therefore say that he's gone up or down in the world?

  • Fawkes CatFawkes Cat Shipmate
    The thing is, it's possible to see the same thing different ways. Various of my university contemporaries are MPs or university professors or ambassador w. Others have holiday cottages. Meanwhile, I work in a non-graduate job, and live in one of the poorer parts of one of our poorer cities.

    So it is potentially embarrassing at university reunions. But I don't wake up every morning unhappy. I wake up comfortable, and go to bed without worrying about under-achieving.

    And I am wondering if anyone is going to '4 Yorkshiremen' this thread:

    Failure? I'll give you failure. When I were young, I did so badly at university, that they took all my A Levels back and replaced them with CSEs....
  • ZacchaeusZacchaeus Shipmate
    I do wonder where I went wrong, when I see my school contemporaries who are now retired, while I am still stuck working for a humble crust.
  • AristonAriston Shipmate
    A while back, having gotten thrown out of my doctoral program for having philosophical differences with the philosophy department (funny how that happens...), worked a dead-end spell as a publisher's minion so the Bossman could do everything but his job during the day, then found myself selling bikes, The Aristonmom decided I needed to go to law school.

    I should note that I had never expressed any interest at all in becoming a lawyer. None whatsoever. Ever.

    But one doesn't argue with the Arimom. Or, well, one doesn't win arguments with her. However, one can drag feet and figure out how to at least buy a year of time.

    See, I liked my life as a bikeshopminion. Sure, it hardly paid the bills, it wasn't anything for the parents to brag about back home, they didn't see any prospects for me dating anyone thanks to said job, folks looked down their noses at me because I was the mere retail clerk, and I was a little too keenly aware that I was one good bike wreck away from a hospital visit that would bankrupt me thanks to my insane deductible cut-rate insurance, but, ya know, it was my life. I don't think I'd ever had one of those before, and I was rather enjoying it.

    Thing is, though, I got to work with great folks (from whom we could have staffed about half a liberal arts college), do actual work, spend time yelling at elected officials about infrastructure and equitable development, and pursue a few different Projects—wood-fired pottery, restoring '80's Schwinns from the dumpster, reading Hegel just because—and otherwise make a decent go out of Life. I had a community, I had passions, I had work that wasn't just a job to get rich and earn prestige.

    Yeah, I got all kinds of smug looks from folks when I told them I had an advanced degree in philosophy—because of course useless folks who have liberal arts degrees all work at bike shops, or as baristas, or other Minion Jobs. Thing is, more than a few of those baristas and bike mechanics were there as refugees from the abuse, harassment, and general shit they had to put up with in their supposed dream jobs, happy to make a go of it doing something else.

    So there I was, spending the next year applying for everything that I could use as a "see, I've got a Real Job™, can I avoid lahskool now" excuse so I didn't have to leave the Life I had made and the people I had made it with.

    ...I take the bar exam at the end of the month.
  • FirenzeFirenze Shipmate, Host Emeritus
    Get filthy rich as a lawyer and buy your own bike shop?
  • I'd end up crashing and burning out of being a lawyer and back into a bike shop, just because I don't do well following someone else's future plan for me.
  • Ariston wrote: »
    ...I take the bar exam at the end of the month.

    Hmmm. No-one said you had to pass it :naughty:

    Maybe read this in case you change your mind?

  • Lily PadLily Pad Shipmate
    @Ariston, check out the path that these guys took. Surely the bike shop idea falls squarely within the realm of possibility. :) Happy lawyering. https://www.theguardian.pe.ca/business/cooking-buddies-starting-south-central-kitchen-in-summerside-153454/

    I'm really enjoying this thread, in general. It makes me feel like there are others who would understand how things have sometimes gone.
  • BroJamesBroJames Purgatory Host
    The one upmanship stories bring to mind a story about Alexander III of Russia. He was holidaying in Finland. He went out fishing. At the same river there was an old man fishing. Alexander struck up a conversation with him, and asked him what he did. "I used to be a captain at sea. What do you do?" "I'm the Tsar of Russia." The old man paused for a moment, thinking, and then said, "That's pretty good, too."
    That made me think of this Thomas Beecham story
    Beecham once met a lady he knew, but could not remember who she was. He asked her whether she was well.

    "Oh, very well, but my brother has been rather ill lately", she said.
    "Ah, yes, your brother. I'm sorry to hear that. And, er, what is your brother doing at the moment?"
    "Well... he's still King*", replied Princess Mary.
    (* George VI)
  • Some years ago now, I was at a drinks party hosted by friends of my parents. There, I was trapped in a conversation with a friend of my mother's from the board of the local ballet company. This woman, upon discovering that I was doing postgraduate work in ancient history, asked: "and what are you going to do with that?"

    This eventually came to mind, from the excellent existentialcomics.
  • SandemaniacSandemaniac Shipmate
    Drifting off track a little... My mother liked to talk about our notable family connections, one of whom was her aunt by marriage, who she said was a descendent of James Watt. I believed this for years until it dawned on me that not only was her maiden name Kettle, my great uncle was, for his very long lifetime, a notable wit and prankster. I suggested to my mother that Uncle Fred made up the story, but no, she died believing it. There were a few others, but that was my favourite.

    Should you ever by some strange and unlikely circumstance find yourself reading "Lathe and Plaster" by Angela Jeans, you will find my great-grandmother therein under the pseudonym of Mrs Kettle.

    AG
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Drifting off track a little... My mother liked to talk about our notable family connections, one of whom was her aunt by marriage, who she said was a descendent of James Watt. I believed this for years until it dawned on me that not only was her maiden name Kettle . . . .
    Why would her maiden name matter, unless the claim was that she was descended through the male line of James Watt?

  • HuiaHuia Shipmate
    This eventually came to mind, from the excellent existentialcomics.

    My favourite answer to that question has always been the Peanuts cartoon that is also in that link.

  • edited July 10
    This woman, upon discovering that I was doing postgraduate work in ancient history, asked: "and what are you going to do with that?"


    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    (Oh for the kind of wit which did not have a gestation measured in months. Oh for wit, in other words. If you were wondering if the chip on my shoulder was large enough to accommodate a vicarious indignation on behalf of others' historic humiliations, wonder no more.)
  • Nick TamenNick Tamen Shipmate
    Nick Tamen wrote: »
    Drifting off track a little... My mother liked to talk about our notable family connections, one of whom was her aunt by marriage, who she said was a descendent of James Watt. I believed this for years until it dawned on me that not only was her maiden name Kettle . . . .
    Why would her maiden name matter, unless the claim was that she was descended through the male line of James Watt?
    Nevermind. A shipmate has very kindly clued me in to the joke. :lol:
  • This woman, upon discovering that I was doing postgraduate work in ancient history, asked: "and what are you going to do with that?"


    "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it"

    To be honest, hate that bit of Santayana, mostly because it's so obviously no true (even those who remember the past often must repeat it). I much prefer Cicero -- "Not to know what happened before you were born is to remain a child forever."* Reckoning with our pasts, collective as well as individual, is an inescapable task on our roads to maturity.

    Auden says something valuable, if imperfect, on the subject as well, raising the question of whether our psychology is merely history in his memoriam for Freud
    he merely told
    the unhappy Present to recite the Past
    like a poetry lesson till sooner
    or later it faltered at the line where

    long ago the accusations had begun,
    and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
    how rich life had been and how silly,
    and was life-forgiven and more humble

    Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum., Orator ad M. Brutum, 120 -- for those who share my dislike of uncited quotations.
  • ZappaZappa Ecclesiantics Host
    It probably all began when at secondary school the headmaster called me in, as I later learned, to appoint me as a school prefect. A prestigious position at a prestigious school.

    Unfortunately he asked me first what I thought of the school. I told him. Fluently.

    I probably won't bore you all with developments since, or not here, but my CV, though I can tart it up when necessary, could easily be interpreted as a life of failure. That trend ended in a spectacular and rather public sacking. Yet somehow that birthed new impetus, I found my feet (after I found a good lawyer), and at the moment am in a rather flash position.

    Combinations of Impostor Syndrome and well-rehearsed Fear of Failure, monkeys on my back assuring me that this is precisely what I am, ensure that I am not entirely chillaxed in this most recent stage of life and career. 😬
  • sionisaissionisais Shipmate
    Of the four civil service departments I have worked in two no longer exist and another has been largely privatised. The remaining one, which I work in now, is an executive agency which has to pay its way and for the most part does so, but the one year we failed to turn a profit led to job losses as we weren't allowed to draw from our accumulated surplus, as that goes to HM Treasury every year and we never see it again, unless we go cap in hand to fund capital projects (like a multi-storey car park. How environmentally sensitive is that?)

    Of the two banks I worked for one was rescued out of existence and I also worked briefly for the Co-op, which hasn't done so well either.

    I'm the kiss of death for employers.
  • edited July 13
    Zappa wrote: »
    It probably all began when at secondary school the headmaster called me in, as I later learned, to appoint me as a school prefect. A prestigious position at a prestigious school.

    Unfortunately he asked me first what I thought of the school. I told him. Fluently.

    Part of me is jealous of people who had this kind of interaction with authority figures. I was always too much of a pleaser, although I still often failed to please.

    But, if I go back far enough, I can remember my teacher when I was in sixth grade (so, 11). In retrospect, she clearly hated small boys very much and was actually at least borderline emotionally abusive. My mother, to her immense credit, recognized this at the time. I did not and always wondered why my mother was so angry with my teacher, when I simply wanted the teacher to like me. It came to a glorious head when my mother was called into a conference with the headmistress, where she was informed that "your son says unkind things about Mrs. X." Without batting an eyelid, my mother responded "well, Mrs. X says unkind things about my son. Ideally, neither one would be unkind, but seeing as Mrs. X is a woman in her 50s and my son is 11, I think maybe the best place to start would be by asking the adults to behave like adults."

    One of Mrs. X's favorite sayings was "actions speak lounder than words." This was to be used, for example, when a small child tearfully apologized to her for scuffing the floor a second time in the year or for some other childish offense. Its purpose was to make it clear that no apology could justify being a child.

    It is probably telling about my individual psychology that I have spent hours of the last 20 years of my life imagining a reply to "actions speak louder than words," which might look something like this:

    "Actions speak louder than words."
    "But they don't really, do they? And no educated person believes that they do. Perhaps they should, but they don't. Auden, I think you'll find, captures this nicely when he writes, in the first draft of his verses in memory of Yeats, that


    Time that is intolerant
    Of the brave and innocent,
    And indifferent in a week
    To a beautiful physique,
    Worships language and forgives
    Everyone by whom it lives,
    Pardons cowardice, conceit,
    Lays its honors at their feet.
    Time that with this strange excuse
    Pardoned Kipling and his views,
    And will pardon Paul Claudel,
    Pardons him for writing well.

    Of course, Auden's consternation is not original. One can look to the more ancient paradox expressed by Pindar when he writes, in Nemean 4, "words live longer down the years than deeds." And, indeed, Pindar proves his point. For who would remember that Timasarchus of Aegina once won the boys' wrestling contest at Nemea in the mid 5th century BCE if it were not for Pindar's verse? Indeed, how many remember that now without looking it up? Timasarchus of Aegina, once a celebrity, is now a footnote to the history of literature, whereas the name Pindar is familiar to every literate person.

    Even if we remove the element of chronological division, it is clear that actions do not speak louder than words. For we are most often made aware of actions, not because we have witnessed them ourselves, but because we have heard of them mediated through the words of another person. And, even where we are ourselves eyewitnesses, we must question whether our experience is not mediated through our words, as Wittgenstein so ably suggests.

    And so, you see, I question the validity of your claim that 'actions speak louder than words,' because it seems to me to be an unthinking saying, and I struggle to understand how anyone given to such anti-intellectual platitudes would dare to assume the title of teacher."

    As I said, I spent a lot of time thinking about it.

    It was only in the course of therapy during my late 20s that I realized my imagined responses was predicated on the idea that the best response was to browbeat my opponent by means of a showy and hyper-articulate erudition. I realized that I regretted not being able to muster such a show when I was a child and vulnerable like a child, and that this was perhaps not wholly indicative of a wholly healthy sense of self. My mother's response that "my son is eleven" was almost certainly much healthier.
  • Yes--but who thinks of themselves as "eleven" when they actually are so?

    I know I didn't.
Sign In or Register to comment.