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ironiya • this career-oriented blog—published on biweekly Wednesdays—looks at the positive and sometimes ironic sides of a kaleidoscopic range of workplace and life issues, from education and employment to discipline and discord •

the persistence of ego: flash lite

Each of us is born with distinct gifts, to be developed and expanded through discipline and desire, or to be left to fade through apathy and anxiety. They encompass the kaleidoscopic range of human experiences, from construction worker to concert violinist, from doorman to doctor, from gardener to golfer, from proctor to president. Yet why must society make delineations, create class categories, foster exclusivity?


A concert violinist must go through decades of disciplined practice on top of requiring the inborn gifts, yet is the construction worker—who labors through years of apprenticeship and stultifying weather conditions while helping to create the concert hall—a less valuable person?


A doctor must go through endless years of highly specific training and staves off disease, yet is the doorman—who helps to guard the doctor's co-op against crime and murder, and keeps order—a less valuable person?


A professional golfer must devote immeasurable time to drives and putts while offering entertainment and ready aspiration, yet is the gardener—who maintains the course and cultivates beauty and oxygen with perpetual toil—a less valuable person?


A president, whether of company or country, must cultivate expansive education, political skills and charisma to guide and inspire groups of people with much at stake, yet is the proctor—who oversaw the president's bar exam and ensures integrity and discipline within life-changing circumstances—a less valuable person? Read More 

learning another language: cursed words

It’s a very safe bet that everyone reading this has either directly had the following experience or knows someone who has—spouse, child, friend, relative or colleague:

You’ve taken three or four years of high-school French or Spanish, then another three or four more years in college (where the offerings are significantly broader, extending from Mandarin to Russian to Hindi and all points between)… and six months later you remember a few dozen words and cannot speak or read the language, as far from fluency as Paris is from Beijing. You’re intelligent and motivated, and did all of the requested homework, yet the results speak for themselves. I simply have no gift for languages, you think, and move on to other areas of study and projects that yield tangible results.

Given that being bilingual makes employees that much more valuable across our ever-smaller planet, that being bilingual engenders empathy and communication that transcend borders, that being bilingual stimulates the brain in myriad ways and can actually help to stave off or delay diseases like Alzheimer’s, why in the world are languages taught in a way that discourages progress, interest and results? Read More 

the corporate ladder: climb and punishment

For so many teenagers, it's simply not an option. Their grades must be exemplary. Their SAT and ACT scores must be in one of those coveted eat-sleep-and-drink percentiles. Their college applications must be loaded with everything from athletics to community involvement. Their college grades must stand out, even when surrounded by standout students. Their graduate school years must reflect pinpoint focus. All of this more often than not leads to punishing 80-hour weeks at that longed-for corporate job, where creativity, freedom and empathy are shunted aside in favor of six-figure prestige and tireless climbing.

 

Companies like Google and Apple, with cash streaming in faster than it can be printed, can and do take advantage of that circumstance to encourage their employees to eat well, to exercise, to be creative, to give back—and set up their corporate campuses accordingly. Many more, though, under the constant pressure of relentlessly judged quarterly reports or simply meeting monthly expenses—magnified by COVID restrictions—demand more than the body can realistically sustain. Over time, sleep becomes a secondary concern and exercise a tertiary matter, with family activities fit in whenever possible. Read More 

career choices: post-office

Before, during and after our current COVID age, what happens if you get laid off from that desk job, the one that was doable and steady but never all that exciting? Or perhaps you just had your fill of getting the morning coffee, going in to the office each day, fulfilling your responsibilities with efficiency if not much enthusiasm, and eagerly awaiting that lifeline and timeline du jour: 5 o'clock.

 

To be able to turn a static life into one of stimulation and achievement is not an easy leap, and often requires courage to live with the resulting uncertainty. But provided that health is not an issue (a circumstance never to be taken for granted, especially among the younger generation to whom death is a mere mask), why not use the layoff notice or cubicle boredom as a springboard? Why not make the jump into something that enhances, that enables a real contribution rather than the contrition that often accompanies the status quo? Read More 

the result of inaction: heavy brainfall

The consequences of a lack of exercise are swift and severe, especially as the calendar continues its relentless passage. With an abundance of physical activity, though, the benefits are equally extreme and measurable. Low cholesterol. Strong heart. Vibrant bones and muscles. Little excess body fat. Increased creativity and stamina.

 

But society works against all that in the name of "ease of use." The country as a whole no longer directly reaps the fields or catches animals and fish, instead sitting in offices day in and day out and ordering in. While passing through any thoroughfare in any town in any county in any state, one need not even get out of the car to load up on carbs and saturated fat, a circumstance ushered in by the glorious drive-thru window. Read More 

tireless preparation: personal kneads

Twenty-three thousand overachieving students apply to gain admittance to Harvard's freshman class of less than 2100. Three hundred highly qualified people apply for one job at IBM. The success rate for ambitious musicians to play at either Carnegie Hall or Madison Square Garden is far smaller. The list will always continue…

 

So many exceptionally qualified people find themselves in places not quite what their talents would otherwise suggest. Those less ambitious can simply chalk up such statistics to our highly competitive world and leave it at that, while others will plug away year after year in what will turn out to be a vain attempt to reach the loftier levels of human attainment. Read More 

key perspectives: picture frame

Do you have a clear plan about where you're going?

 

Picture your ideal job; what does it look like? What is its focus, and with whom would you be working and interacting? Is your productivity and efficiency all it could be? If not, what must be done to ensure those twin aspects of valued employment?

 

These questions hold true whether you're an undergraduate or graduate student, new to the job market or otherwise ensconced in a less-than-ideal job. Plan ahead. Act systematically. Are you going into an interview or meeting? Then formulate an agenda even if one is not provided. Reticence has no place within the job market, so carefully consider all chosen paths, then act decisively. Read More 

the easy way out: artificial sweetener

The human drive to become physically sated expresses itself in many ways. In the realm of food, to take just one of a hundred examples, the richer the better. Yet is all that saturated fat in beef, chicken and fish preparations really necessary? What purpose does our society's overwhelming tendency toward sugar serve? Balance the passing moments of pleasure against diabetes, weight gain, inflammation, high cholesterol and blood pressure, and a whole host of etceteras. Yet these preparations overwhelmingly dominate the diets of those within the developed world (burger chains don't sell billions in Bangladesh). Read More 

humility and gratitude: aluminum foil

What is it about the prevalent tendency toward one-upmanship? Why is it that pride is not always limited to the more interior pursuits of quiet knowledge, of meaningful achievement, of security borne of discipline and hard work? Must everything be on display?

Credit-card companies, for example, began peddling Gold cards in the 1980s as a way to distinguish the truly elite from the merely creditworthy. The 1990s brought Platinum cards. The 2000s even saw Titanium cards. Will the 2010s offer a Palladium card? Can a Rhodium card be far behind? And will an Iridium card grant to access to Mars, having bought everything else our earthly life could imagine? Read More 

the beauty of cobblestone: uneven paths

When driving, who wouldn’t choose the paved roads, the smooth transitions, the shock absorbers’ gratitude? The initial response may well be likewise when confronted with personal and career decisions, yet is the flat ride always the best?

Instinct may have us attempt to avoid struggling, yet perseverance and character are built upon that self-same struggle and arguably impossible to achieve without it. The twin peaks of satisfaction and contentment are borne from a belief in—and willingness to confront— what lies ahead rather than an escape-at-all-costs mindset that has less substance than a microbe. Read More