Upgrading my Character: Job Search as a Video Game

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Here at Phreelance Writers we love beating horses. Especially if they’re dead. With that, let me talk about jobs and such. I’ve already explained my desire to leave my current position and since then some interesting things have happened. My job search has taken on new dimensions and gone into areas that I previously thought off limits or out of bounds. While I’m curious to see where these paths take me, I’m also wary that I’m straying too far away from my original desires. But at the same time there is a level of excitement associated with where these new paths could lead.

I keep thinging of this video game that  Gage and I have played. The game, a role-playing game, involved a lot of character development through assigning earned points to various skills and attributes. The points were earned by completing missions. As you upgraded your character, new skills became available depending on how you had allocated the points on the various skills and attributes. Gage and I would discuss how we each develped and molded our character to represent the ways we enjoyed taking on the challanges of the game. Gage had developed his into a long-range fighter, complete with sniper weapons attributes that made his character hard to target. I had created a melee character, full of health bonuses and attack damage multipliers.

I  find myself thinking in terms of collecting skills and attributes. These new avenues in my job search represent a chance to gain new skillsets and strengthen various attributes that I considered too weak to be useful. I am my character now. I’m looking for missions (i.e. continued education) to complete so that I can add those earned points to my already bolstered skill and attribute set and become even more powerful (read: more employable).

When I view my job search as a game, I laugh because it’s much more serious than that, but at the same time the comparison makes sense to me. This view helps renew my interest and desire to push through those moments that I can’t beat, those times when I feel like giving up. As any gamer can tell you, you strive for 100% completion. Everything earned, everything unlocked. The perfect character. The ultimate ending.

What’s is 100% completion for me? Good question. I’m honestly not sure. But I feel like it’s something that will just happen. I doubt I’ll be aware of it until much later. I like the idea of that because it means it’s a persistant state. Unlike video games, where you reach the end, watch final cut scene and then are asked if you want to do it again (replay value), in the real world you just stay in that moment of perfection forever.


Job (dis)Satisfaction


I came to a realization while at work the other day. I hate my job. The epiphany hit me while I placed price tags on sale items. It made me want to scream, cry and laugh all at the same time. The amalgamation of emotions manifested itself as a manic smile that lasted for ten minutes. I may have frightened some customers.

Maybe you’ve felt something similar. It starts with a general distaste for being at a job. Nothing outrageous, just sort of like a sudden fatigue whenever you have to be there. It passes once you leave. Later, it upgrades to a definite dislike. Now, it’s hard to stay focused while at work, maybe you take one or two more bathroom breaks than you really need. Keep ignoring it and it turns into a full-blown case of hate complete with all the symptoms; showing up late, thinking of reasons to not show up at all, sobbing uncontrollably in your car before going into work.

Okay, maybe the last one is just me…

I’ve been through this before. It usually builds up over the span of several months until I take a vacation, which relieves the pressure. The cycle then restarts until the pressure boils over and I decide that I no longer want to work at that particular job. However, this time was different. I’ve never had the build up reach max pressure so quickly.

When this happens, a countdown begins. It’s the official countdown until I quit my job because I can’t take it anymore. Unfortunately, the countdown is an undetermined length of time. It could be a short as a three days or as long as three months. I never know. Kind of makes it a most dangerous game! But I’m being cavalier about the whole situation.

I have to use the countdown to find a new job. There is an inherent pressure because I don’t know how long I have to change my situation. Working the countdown requires quick, decisive action and speed. There are many steps and they all need to be taken care of all while I work at a job I detest.

Okay, let me stop bitching. I have work to do and the countdown never stops.

Tiger Fist: Redemption


Photo Credit: Giorgio Verrone

I’m a huge fan of the TV series 24.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s about Jack Bauer: a FBI type who saves the USA from terrorist attacks dozens of times, and rarely receives any gratitude.  I like him because he’s a hero in the truest sense: a man who undergoes torture, beatings, hostage situations (often involving his own family members, a la Spiderman) and ethical dilemmas of every kind, but he just sits there and takes the punishment.  Eventually, towards the 24th hour, he’ll get a pat on the back from the President, some acknowledgement that his efforts meant something.

I’ll admit it: sometimes I imagine myself as Jack Bauer.  I’m not ashamed.

Incidentally, now is one of those times.  I’m not saying I’m saving the world—I’m just saying it’s nice to have that 24th hour finally come around, to actually get a job that you applied for.

Those of you who tuned in for the beginning of operation Tiger Fist will have some idea what’s going on, but for those who missed the premier, here’s what’s up:

Tiger Fist is the art of pursuing a job with relentless determination, leaving nothing unsaid or undone.  It’s an attitude, really, but here are some snapshots that might give you a picture of it: dressing like a GQ cover regardless of the position desired.  Sending emails every other day.  Calling every other day.  Showing up randomly at the offices, demanding face time.  Refusing to be turned away.  Knowing more about the company than its own president does.  Simply put, it’s about channeling the spirit of a warrior tiger into your job application process.

It worked. Now, I’m starting a new job with a company I respect and that I could feasibly work at for my entire career.

This fact both excites and humbles me.

I’m excited and encouraged that my efforts have paid off.  This gives me hope, and it should give hope to all college graduates currently struggling to avoid poverty.

I’m humbled because this forces me to consider the possibility that the failure of my previous four hundred job applications weren’t caused by a secret society of sadistic HR staff, dressed up like the Emperor from Star Wars, systematically crushing the spirit of qualified college grads.  Maybe it was my own fault.  Maybe I just hadn’t put enough effort into them until now.


No.  I was trying hard.  I was.

I won’t even dignify that with a paragraph.  Nothing will ever justify the treatment (or complete lack thereof) we’ve received from HR over the past two years.  Nothing will ever invalidate our Phreelance beginnings, or our significant body of work.

Now, readers, let me put your worries to rest. Does this successful job application process disqualify me as a Phreelancer?  Hardly.  My Bauer-esque years of being tortured and left to die in the slums of the job-o-sphere have left their mark.  I’m still cynical.  I’m still bitter.  I will never forgive.  This moment just eases the pain a little bit.

When All Else Fails


Today, with a simple haircut, I started operation Tiger Fist.

art by Stuart Gormley

This is my codename for the all-out assault I have started on a poor, unsuspecting non-profit organization to which I have applied numerous times, been pseudo-rejected by once, and yet still continue to apply to.  The plan is simple: I relentlessly subject them to every single form of self-promotion I know of until them give me the job.  Tiger Fist leaves no room for failure.  This is war.

Phase one was the haircut.  I won’t post photos, but suffice to say it looks damn good.  I will combine this haircut with my suit, an expensive looking watch, and some new shoes (currently being airlifted in to the nearest heli-pad) to compliment my already impressive intellectual firepower.

Phase two starts tomorrow, when I will begin memorizing every minute detail of the company.  I will research and read every word ever written about them, and I might even write some of my own.  By Tuesday night, I will know more about the organization than most of their upper-level management does.  It will seem like I’ve worked there my whole life.  Like I was born in their break room.

Phase three completes the warm-up stage.  It involves the collection of all relevant clips and writing samples that I can muster of from the depths of my desk drawers and hard drives, and culminates in a gladiator-style battle between all clips until only the strongest survive and attain placement into the neatly marked envelope that I will submit, along with my revised resume, to the nonprofit staff.  I will bring five copies, to assure it will be read by at least three people.

Tiger Fist finishes on Friday, when I will burst into the offices unannounced, guns blazing, suited up in the nicest threads, spit freestyle fire from the volumes of my newly memorized company history, and basically force them to give me the job I want on the spot.  I’ll fill out my tax information that afternoon, and come back to start early Monday morning.

Tiger Fist.  It’s no joke.


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A few days ago, my dad asked me if I had any resolutions for the New Year.  I said something cheeky like, “Nah, I’m just gonna let it ride,” but after further reflection, I was wrong.  I do have one.

Before January first of next year, I will have a different job, or so help me; I will impale my face on the nearest pen.  I’ll explain.

Our supervisor Barbara always talks about how people need to respect their employees.  Barbara is a great boss—the best I’ve ever had and probably the best I’ll ever have—but the people who get to make the big picture decisions, like how many windows our classroom has (none) or how many benefits we get (none—oh, and the Northeastern ID cards we got don’t let us check out library books or get into the gym.  We still haven’t figured out what they actually do) or how we get paid (barely enough to survive in Boston), well, I don’t feel they respect us.

I’m tired of explaining my work situation to people I meet.  I tell them I work at Northeastern University teaching writing, and their eyes light up and they say a sentence that includes the word “faculty” and I have to disappoint them.  The more I explain my situation, the more dissatisfied I become.  My 2010 job situation was OK.  I worked for people who didn’t respect me, but I got to do some great work with some really great students.  I learned a ton from my boss.  I got to work with some great guys.  I’ve learned that I can be a pretty good teacher, but I still think I can be a better writer than teacher.

2011 is job application year on steroids.  I will literally make every single publication imaginable aware of my existence.  I will swallow my pride, digest it, and eject it into the latrine so I can make use of the handfuls of contacts I’ve made in 2010.  At this point, I don’t even care if someone else gets me the job.  I’ll send them flowers every month.

Readers, I encourage you to hold me accountable for this promise.  If 2012 rolls around and I’m still stagnating in this job, please mail me a box of Bic ballpoints so I can salvage my honor.

The Grocery Store Diaries


Recently, I read an unfortunate post from Gage about just plain not feeling the inspiration to write. I have say Gage,  I feel for you. As my numerous (and overwhelmingly popular) posts to your blog can prove, I haven’t had the inspiration to write much lately either.

So in an effort to give my favorite Phreelance Writers a few well-deserved days off (and keep myself from getting rusty) I present to you:

The Grocery Diaries:

Part I: “Signage”

It had been three months without a journalism job and I had given up. The bills were looming and the thought of moving in with my mom made me queasy. It was officially time to settle. So my master’s degree and I decided to accept the job at the local grocery store.

Thirty minutes into day one and I realized I was too smart for this job. My first big lesson? How to “condition.”  Now follow me here, this is where it gets confusing. Move two products from the back of the shelf to the very front edge. Still with me? Make sure the labels are facing towards the front. Repeat for every single product on the shelf. In case you didn’t understand, let me make it perfectly clear:

Bad "Conditioning"

Good "Conditioning"












Six hours later, as I “conditioned” the cereal aisle,  I was nearly tearing up at the epic failure I’d become. Ten years of journalism experience boiled down to whether or not the Frosted Flakes lined up right.

By the time my ten hour shift was over, I wanted to shoot myself.

I wondered how the hell I was going to make it through tomorrow’s ten hour shift when it came to me: smoke  weed.

The next morning, after smoking a bowl on the way to work, my manager posed a question: “Do you have good handwriting? I need you to make a sign.” Ecstatic at the prospect of not having to touch canned vegetables for a precious few minutes, I was immediately on board.

Now, when you ask most people to make a sign, it’s probably no big deal. You write a few words (i.e. “Springdale Milk”), maybe in block letters if you’re feeling real fancy. But for a stoned journalist with a former studio art minor, it’s just not that easy.

When I asked if my manager wanted the information left-justified or centered and I received a blank look in return, I realized I was on my own. My first grocery store sign was no masterpiece, just simple, centered information. I even got fancy and put a solid line around the edge just to give it a little “pop.” But when I started walking it back to the seafood department, I had to stop in my tracks. There hung a sign advertising free items with a specific purpose and in the corners, someone had written “WOW!” in big bold lettering.

I've just been raised a "Wow"

Oh hell no. It’s on.

I immediately headed back to the office, picking up a pack of multi-colored sharpies from the shelf along the way. Outdo me, will you? I have a G-D master’s. Before I knew it, I was surfing YouTube for “how to draw farm animals” and well, let’s just say my signs are now legendary.

check out those flawlessly executed 'grocery store nines'

It’s the small victories, right?

I should let you know…

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I’ve recently applied to a job that I desire very much. It’s the first job in a while that I feel like I want to do and am also perfectly qualified for.  But I think at this point it’s safe to say that I can’t get the gig.  Here’s how the story has played out so far.

1.)   I applied to the job about two months ago with a very excellent application and cover letter.

2.)   Silence on the other end for two months.

3.)   I applied again by updating my cover letter and application.

4.)   Silence for a week.

5.)   I called the company and got lost in their switchboard maze.

6.)   I emailed them.

7.)   I snuck an email in through the website tech support request form.

8.)   They wrote back with a short email that included the following gem:

“We are reviewing applications for this position and will be in touch with candidates we are interested in having a phone interview with.  I should let you know that there is a strong candidate who has done work for us previously.  We appreciate your time spent on the application process and good luck with your search!”


But seriously.  If you’ve got some great writer you want to hire more than anyone else, why have you had this posting up for three months and not hired this person yet?  And did you not read the part in my cover letter that told you that I’m better for this job than anyone you can possibly think of?  Could someone, just for once, take a risk and actually hire someone who applied for the job?

I’m glad they appreciated my time, but I sure wish they could appreciate it by letting me spend time working for them.

I feel like I’m stuck in a poker game with a bunch of cheaters.  I ante up every round, and I play through to the end only to find out there are more aces in the deck than there should be.  These guys are pulling from their own private decks, and I’m running out of chips.

I’m getting sick of it.

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