A Rant About Common Advice

I have a few bits of advice I keep coming across that have begun to increasingly irk me, and I find myself compelled to rant about. First, we have some job-search related items.

1. “Find your passion,” “do what you love and the money will follow,” etc.
Quite frankly, this is bullshit. An activity will make you money only if it creates sufficient economic value for someone else. What if everything you love doing is something that nobody wants to pay for? By definition, your labor is worth what the market is willing to pay you for it. The world is full of starving artists.

2. “Everyone has marketable/transferable skills,” “no one is unemployable”
And what job here in Anchorage uses my familiarity with Schrödingers equation? Or my experience performing the Stern-Gerlach experience? So far, my B.S. in Physics has been more of a hinderance than a help, thanks to that dread word: “overqualified.” And since the tutoring market dried up, my math and science skills have meant diddly squat. The petroleum engineering firms around here weren’t interested in anyone whose degree wasn’t specifically in engineering, and that was before the economic downturn and BP’s problems.

3. “Use your network!” “Everyone has a network!”
Sure, but not much of one. I’m an extreme introvert; I’ve known all my friends since elementary school or junior high. My “network” found me a total of one job opening in the past six years; and as for how that interview went, see my comment about engineering in point #2.

Next, I’ve recently begun another (masochistic) attempt at creative writing. The problem: characters. As at least one of my high school english teachers noted, my only non-flat, believable characters are robots or aliens; beings utterly distant from the usual human condition. The advice:
1. Character sheets
Again and again, the advice is to develop a character by filling in a page full of physical traits, family background, likes and dislikes, etc. (see here for example). What I don’t see is how to go from all these little factoids to determining how this hypothetical individual will act in a given situation; to what they might say in responce to a given question. How does any of this help determine the crucial part: behavior?

2. “Write what you know”
When it comes to what I know, people are not it. I’m an extreme introvert. My tiny circle of friends consists of people I’ve known for at least a decade and a half, and I still don’t understand much of their behavior.
As a child, my most favorite movies included Short Circuit, about a prototype military robot that accidentally gains sentience, and D.A.R.Y.L., about a strange-but-gifted young boy who turns out to be a computer brain in a human body. In both cases, I empathised with the machine characters. I also enjoyed the TV show 3rd Rock from the Sun for much the same reason; I could identify with the aliens, attempting to study the bizarre, illogical, incomprehensible behaviors of the naked apes around them.
So, how does one add romance to a story when one has never felt any attraction toward another human being? How do you determine every reaction of a fictional character when you can’t even predict the behavior of your own friends or family very well?

Okay. Rant done.


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4 Responses to “A Rant About Common Advice”

  1. Dr.D Says:

    The killer phrase that leapt out at me as I read what you had written was “here in Anchorage.” I can well imagine that there is no job for you “here in Anchorage.” Several times during my own career (I am now retired), I faced the situation where I could find nothing at all where I was, and a move was the only possibility. I think if you want to eat, you have to accept that fact as well, or go to work for the City of Anchorage as a meter reader or a trash pick-up man. If you want to choose the kind of work you will do, you have to go where it is to be found.

    That means beating the bushes to find it. Reading the various professional and trade journals, talking to people all over the country, keeping a resume hot and ready to fly at a moments notice.

    Perhaps nobody told you as an undergraduate, but a BS in Physics does not lead to a whole lot in many places. It may equip you to compete with some engineers, although for an engineering job the engineer is usually ahead. It does not lead to a research position in most cases; those require advanced study. Have you considered going back to school to get a MS? Or perhaps an engineering degree?

    You may not have any interest in my suggestions. You blog list shows several atheist entries, and I am an Anglican priest today (I spent 40 years as a mechanical engineer). I simply wanted to share some ideas because I have been in somewhat the same situation and I can tell you what I have had to do, what worked for me. Good luck with your situation.

    • twistedone151 Says:

      Unfortunately, health reasons prevent relocation at this time, which also precludes going back to school. Right now, I’m living on SSI/Disability

  2. Dr.D Says:

    From the things you post on your blog, it is evident that you are able to do mental work, even if physical work is out of reach for you. There are opportunities for further education, including financial support, by means of on-line education. There are evident limitations to this sort of education (not much laboratory work, etc), but in some fields it can be a way to advance and make yourself employable.

    You say that you are on disability, so that raises the question, how much of your problem with finding work is education related, and how much is related to inability to perform the work to be done? Having the perfect education will still not overcome some disability situations.

    Ultimately you have to decide what you want to do. Living on SSI/Disability does not sound like a real career choice.

    • twistedone151 Says:

      I’ve already looked for online and distance learning options in graduate-level physics; no dice. And my disability does rule out some jobs; the problem is that lack of the requisite skills, training, or education rules out the rest. What you’ve said isn’t anything I don’t already know; I’ve had this conversation with people before.

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