For years I’ve worked as a tutor, helping kids through the college application process.
These poor kids come to me, completely stressed out and feeling a sense of panic as they face the daunting task of listing their high school accomplishments, grades, activities and, most difficult of all, trying to write their personal essays.
I remind them, naturally, that where they go to college will determine all of their future happiness.
Just kidding. What I really say is, "Don’t worry. I’ll help you get through this and it’s not that bad, really, it’s not." And guess what? It’s really not that bad.
What I mean, of course, is that it’s really not that bad for me. Offering up a little cup of sympathy for the adolescents is easy. I’m the grown-up. I’ve already applied to college, and that happened so long ago that I’ve consigned the experience to its proper place in my brain, where reality, senility and repression blend into a fresh new product called nostalgic misremembering. It’s a beautiful place, and one that bears no semblance to reality. If I could live there, I would.
But back to those kids applying to college. Sympathy, that’s what I was offering them, right? A little gentle consoling, full of knowing nods and encouraging pats. The Common Application is hard to get through, and nothing implies "I get what you’re going through" like a heavy sigh and a shared grumble about the unfairness of the process.
For 20 years, I’ve offered up genuine sympathy for the application process. A month ago, my story changed because I wanted a job that required me to complete an online application. Correction: I started to apply for a job with a 24-step online application, complete with five essays and a mandate for educational transcripts and three professional references.
Abruptly, I’ve gone from feeling sympathetic toward those college applicants to feeling empathetic. And this is a turn for the way, way worse.
I’m not suggesting that the required information isn’t vital, but tell me this: when was the last time anyone who’s been out of college long enough to have enjoyed her 25th reunion has been asked to recall her non-major GPA? Suffice it to say that when I left Hanover, New Hampshire, I thought my C+ knowledge of geology, astronomy and yes, human sexuality would recede into the past and die a tiny little distributive-requirements death. Alas, they’ve survived into this century.
In my defense, I never should have taken geology. The only rocks I’ve ever cared about were the ones that got lodged in my shoes. And astronomy? For goodness sakes, I look to the heavenly firmament and think it’s pretty. To me, a Super Nova is a really great Chevy. And human sexuality? Suffice it to say there was no lab. Totally unfair.
Never mind. I never claimed to be a scientist. But what about this issue of references? It turns out that the perfect reference for item 22a of my application included asking my boss from 20 years ago to write on my behalf. Here’s the good news: she’s alive. More good news: I found her. Final good news: she agreed to write me a reference. Here’s the alarming news: She asked me to provide the evaluation she wrote for me on February 28th, 1990.
What’s more shocking – the fact that she expected me to provide that evaluation, or the fact that I found it? Because I did find it. Is that worth putting on my rèsumè?
Which brings me to the concept of my rèsumè and what should go on it. To be honest, for the last few years I figured anything I did that was vaguely noteworthy would serve to embellish my obituary, not my job search. Time to re-tool my outlook, I guess.
Maybe I’m just experiencing what so many others know – the pain and indignity of the Third Act, that unofficial stage when your kids leave home and you face an empty calendar until death, or spring break. It’s not that it’s daunting so much as it’s unscripted.
The good news is there’s stuff to do out there. The bad news is you have to apply for it. Online. In 24 steps.
Anyone up for a cup of empathy?