Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Career Track and other Hazards

Men and women on their way up are probably out of control.  Somebody should have warned them about upward mobility.  Those who are most likely to succeed comprise a group of people who from another perspective are recognizable as the earliest deceived. Maybe you already have the sports car, and the fuel injection is still working. You're in the fast lane on the career track. Before you pass that Corvette, think about who laid out this course, and why they think it's such great sport. Where the hell are we going?

Motivation is an elusive quality. This is going to take us back--unfortunately--to Skinner's Harvard-educated rats. When corporate executives interview prospective employees, what do you think they're looking for? Is it your grade point average and degrees that will impress them? Your new shoes and pin-striped suit? Do they care if you are an engineering wizard? Just think about it from the company's perspective. Talent is no good to them if you aren't going to use it. That chemical engineering master's degree is no good to them if you don't want to use it to come up with a better car polish. Research types can get interested in all kinds of useless things.

They want to know what motivates you. If they can find a rat who is hungry enough for what they have to offer, they can train him to do anything and neglect his family to work weekends at it. Skinnerian psychology fails in predictive value when the rat starts taking philosophy courses at Harvard instead of the usual courses in prestige orientation and management. What these guys really want to know about you is whether the advertising has been working on you.

My overly-generous analysis of avertising may have lulled you into assuming I meant that the advertisers' main objective is to get you to buy something. Naivete! The truth is comparable to the logic of smoking advertising. The dozens of different brands are all made by the same two or three companies. As in the trucking industry, there is no competition. If you sell a man a package of cigarettes, you get his money for a day. Get him hooked on smoking, and you've got his money for a lifetime--albeit a short one. The monstrous proportions of advertising psychology should now start to dawn on you.

If the advertising is working, you walk into the employment interview so greedy for success on the track they've laid out for you, that your engine is cranking high RPM just talking about it. If you want the job, put your motive motor in overdrive. So, you're a chemical engineer. Show them you want the house in Hartford so bad you'll ride the subway home at eleven oclock at night. Tell them about your expensive foreign sports car. They're interested in these things. If you have a family, don't talk about the girl's soccer league or the boy's music lessons. Mention the tuition at the prep school that promises to turn them into superior being types by age twelve. Let them see you fondling the pigskin briefcase you paid two hundred dollars for. If the heaviest thing your wife reads is the Victoria's Secret catalogue, let them know she doesn't plan to do anything for the next ten or fifteen years except spend money. They will be paying you. They don't care how much, if it will keep you out of the bars. They aren't in business to make money (what they care about is another matter), but you should be working with that simple minded objective. All they want out of the deal is the sense of altruistic pride in knowing that the image that gets projected on several hundred million minds through the mass media they dominate will lead to decisive action on the owner/operators of those minds to comply with their every  whim. Here at Proctor and Grumble we just love young upwardly mobile race car drivers to pieces. For breakfast.

From all this are you beginning to suspect that the fast track to real success is one on which not too many people are driving? Are you still eager to pick up your mail everyday to feast on the glossy paper and look for a letter that tells you how your interview went? A lot of rubber seems to get burned onto the pavement in places that shape the contours of success. Drive cautiously, but go fast. Never forget that this is a race.

But wait a minute. A lot of things made by Proctor and Grumble are really necessary. Even if we could get along without the sports car, we would still need polish for something. What would all those guys do on Sunday afternoons when the sun shines? I mean, they can't just stand out there and listen to the radio while they even up their suntans. That's quality time, when they should be enjoying the sweet fruits of their success.

Where there's a will, there's a way to keep it in the safe deposit box. We might be able to find a method by which a job won't be able to run you into an early grave--or pit stop, if you still believe in reincarnation. You might get a job. It's hard not to be interested in having a house of some kind, somewhere. Everything costs money. No doubt everybody demonstrates the basic human need for things like dacron pillowcases and hardwood floors. Even counterculture decor is expensive nowadays.

Don't start getting discouraged. Even with my flakey resume and bad attitude I was able to get on at 7-11. I've even been promoted to the day shift. My hard bartering with the crooks wasn't necessarily costing the company too much money. They just wanted to keep an eye on me. If they think they see management potential, I've got news for them. It's the kiss of death as far as I'm concerned. They tried that on me at McDonald's. If they once get the little cap on you that says assistant manager, your opera subscription might as well go out the hand-out window with an order of Big Macs.

The assistant manager they were grooming me to replace was a Mormon. Those people have high ideals about family and getting together at church for pot lucks. How do you think he felt coming in late at the social hall with day-old hamburgers and cherry pies? The stuff was old when they scraped it out from under the bun-warmers. By the time he got off work and to the festivities, the food table was as barren as the Utah salt flats. I remember, because he took me along. 
He said the program that night included selections from two operas. Fine. I can't always afford the Met, even on television. There was a duet from Trovatore, that the baritone hadn't bothered to memorize. He looked at the book through his big moment with Leonora. The Dance of the Priestesses of Dagon from Samson and Delilah left something to be desired. Well, a lot to be desired. This ballet is supposed to start seducing you during the interlude before Delilah coaxes the secret of Samson's strength out of him. At the LDS church it was interpreted smilingly by women who might have been seven of Brigham Young's original wives. But, I enjoyed it. I didn't have to be to work at eight in the morning. The poor manager was sacrificing everything. And for what? Chocolatey chip cookies! Ice creamish cones. Simulated-meat-product burgers. I'd sooner eat the glossy paper the advertising is printed on than that "food."
I suppose I'm raving again. I can't help it if I have strong feelings about food. Mr. Skinner could have explained it, in his hayday. When life gets reduced to basics, as mine has been, the difference between real chocolate and a "chocolatey chip" cookie is important.

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