Surviving Journalism in the 21st Century

Be honest: these days not a day goes by that at least one person you know doesn’t make a fool of themselves by forwarding completely BS news stories via Facebook, Twitter, or some other public forum. It’s not just that people are gullible (although that’s definitely part of it). No, the main problem is that journalism has gone to the dogs as information sharing has only gotten easier and faster. Fake news pops up more often than real news, so of course people are going to get caught in the tidal wave of stupidity. Cracked.com has had a series going strong for weeks now that is entirely about what idiotic stories fooled the world this week. It’s almost impossible not to be that fool ever now and then, because there are just so many opportunities!

Although, if you fell for this one I'm going to have to ask you to leave the Internet now...
Although, if you fell for this one I’m going to have to ask you to leave the Internet now…

So how can you take steps to make sure that you look like a fool less often than your friends and family? Here’s a couple of tips:

Before you get caught up in a story, check the source.

I could scarcely count the number of times that I’ve seen people get all worked up over a news story that was actually a self-admitted joke. A big example is anything published by “The Daily Currant“. The Currant, much like The Onion, is a joke website that presents itself as the “news”. It is completely satirical and tells you so all over its website, so there is no need to get worked up over anything they publish; it’s all fake and just for fun.

So tip number one is to be aware that sites like this one are commonplace, and you should check to make sure that what you’re looking at isn’t a joke before you get yourself all emotionally invested.

Even if the source looks good, consider that THEY may have been fooled.

One of the biggest problems with journalism these days is that it moves too fast. The Internet has made it possible for people on opposite sides of the planet to share information in the blink of an eye, so if reputable news sites want to keep up they have to cut out nasty little time-suckers…like fact-checking.

For big news companies it has become a much easier route to simply apologize later for getting something wrong than to be the only site not reporting the story because they’re busy trying to establish whether or not it’s for real. On an all-too-often basis huge, reputable companies such as The Huffington Post and the New York Times are publishing complete BS because from a business standpoint they can’t afford to allow their fact-checkers the time to confirm the story.

So keep this in mind: even the most reputable companies make mistakes, and these days they make them more and more often.

Remember that there are an AMAZING number of liars out there.

Let’s get one thing straight: the Internet is an amazing repository of information, but it is also an enormous, digital trash heep.

I could post an article on this blog tomorrow that claims that chewing gum gives you cancer. Most people would look at it and assume that I’d lost my mind, but if I made the post professional-looking enough, with “sources” and quotes from “doctors”, a few people would believe it, or at least consider that maybe it might actually be true. And because of the knee-jerk, zero-fact-checking reaction that we’ve already talked about, it just takes the right person to stumble across my false report and decide to gamble on it.

Any schmuck can make something up and post it on the internet, and there are many, many schmucks out there doing just that. So many so that it becomes outrageously difficult to discern the truth amongst the sea of crap, particularly for people who are focused on getting the newest, shiniest news out ASAP!


So, okay, let’s say that you’ve been smart. You made sure that the story is being reported by a real news company, that enough time has passed for fact-checkers to officially okay the story, and that the original source material for the story’s claims is reputable. The story therefore must be true, right? Think again.

Consider, just for a moment, that news companies LIE. Or perhaps not lie outright, but definitely twist the truth. No, I’m not a conspiracy theorist or anything. I just understand that the news is a business, just like any other, and they’re going to do whatever it takes to do what businesses care about most: make money.

Make no mistake, if Pepsi or Coke paid the news to say that cola cures cancer, they would find a way to twist the lie into a believable story. There might be about thirty degrees of separation between them, but if money is on the line they will find a way to link one cola ingredient to the stimulation of a certain set of cells in the body that are linked to some obscure theory that may possibly, someday, after LOADS more study and research, lead to some kind of new (untested and unproven) cancer treatment. And then they will take that tiny thread of a link and they will report it under the 72-pt font heading: “Suffering from Cancer? Drink More Cola!” Because that’s what businesses (and remember, the news companies are just business like any other) do: they find a way to make you have an emotional response that subsequently leads you to react exactly as they want you to.


What it all comes down to – what I’m encouraging you to do – is to be doubtful, and use your own brain. Don’t accept something as truth just because a friend shared it on Facebook, or it appeared on The Huffington Post’s website, or on the 5 o’clock news. Take a step back, think about what you’re reading or watching or being told, do the extra research if necessary, and make sure that you are confident about the reality of the story before you spread the flame further. It’s not easy to think critically all the time, especially with the vast quantity of information being thrown at us virtually non-stop, and we’re all bound to make mistakes from time to time. But if we’d all make just a little bit of an effort to do our own fact-checking, maybe we could slow down the tidal wave of misinformation and pure BS that is washing over the land and drowning us all.

You don’t want to drown in your own foolishness, right? Right.

5 Reasons Lying Sometimes Seems Like the Best Option: A Response

It seems like I’ve been responding to a lot of Cracked.com articles lately, but I couldn’t resist a response to 5 Reasons Lying Sometimes Seems Like the Best Option, written by one of my favorite Cracked writers, John Cheese. Though I love Cracked in general, Cheese is one of the only writers that I almost always agree with on pretty much everything. When reading this particular article of his, I found a million stories running through my head that agree with his every point, and so, here we go again. Make sure to check out the original article!

"No, I'm not angry with you. Whatever would make you think that I was angry with you?"
“No, I’m not angry with you. Whatever would make you think that I was angry with you?”

#5. It’s Met With Hostility

This first reason shouldn’t come as any kind of surprise to anyone. Cheese gives the example of a husband or wife bottling up lots of little frustrations (because who wants to rock that boat?) until eventually they can’t take it anymore and snap the truth out like a whip…and of course, the spouse flips the hell out because they never saw this coming and now see it as their loved one being a complete jackass for no good reason. Though it may not have been a spouse, specifically, everyone has experienced the second part of this situation. You tell someone the truth and they absolutely lose their mind. The next time you seriously consider keeping your mouth shut because who needs that nonsense?

Just try and tell me you’ve never experienced this reaction, whether you were the one doling out the truth, or doling out the hostility.

In the best example I can think of for this particular entry, I’m the jackass, though of course I didn’t think so at the time. Last Halloween I got it in my head that my daughter was going to be a My Little Pony for Trick-or-Treat. I found a pattern online for what was basically a jogging suit with ears on the hood, and a tail and “cutie-mark” on the pants. I got some material and set to work. It was an awful pain in the ass right from the get-go, since the material I got refused to move through my mother’s sewing machine without bunching and getting caught up, so I had to do all the sewing by hand. I also kinda sketched the pattern out by hand because I don’t have a printer so I couldn’t print out the pattern from the website. So bit by bit I slaved to sew this thing together, and the more together it came, the more obvious it was that it wasn’t going to look right at all. I’m not stupid. I could see that it wasn’t turning out. But when my husband decided to point out one day that it just looked awful and that maybe I should try something else instead, he came within an inch of death. I knew that the damn thing was coming out a total piece of junk, but to hear him put it in words enraged me like I can’t explain. I didn’t actually end up losing my mind, but believe me when I say that it took all my willpower not to punch him in the nose. Later I felt like a total dork for getting so upset about something that I had already figured out myself, but at least I had a bit of restraint…if I had a bit worse of a temper, there may have been a serious incident, and all over the truth.

So is it so surprising that people avoid telling it knowing that reactions like this could happen?

#4. We’re Taught to Pick and Choose Our Honest Statements

We’re told our entire lives that “honesty is the best policy”, but that’s not entirely true, is it? We tell our children that they should always be upfront and honest, but if they then tell a complete stranger that they’re fat we get all embarrassed and sweep our kid aside to tell them that it’s not nice to call people fat. “But it’s the truth!” the kid might say. “Yeah, but it’s not nice,” we repeat. “It’s rude,” we might even add.

It’s one of those annoying aspects of humanity. We know that it’s usually best to tell the truth, but somewhere along the line we came up with this idea of “socially accepted”, and that keeps us from telling the truth in a great number of situations, governed by an ever-increasing list of social “rules”. It’s okay for a doctor to tell their patient that they’re overweight and need to lose weight to be healthy, but if a random stranger tells the same person the same thing it’s considered extremely rude and “none-of-their-damn-business!” It’s the same truth no matter what way you look at it, but it’s only accepted in the right situation, and so we learn to avoid that truth at all costs.

I’m going to give another example that kinda makes me look like an asshole, because screw it, those are the best examples.

Have you ever had an employer ask you to give your honest opinion of someone that they’re looking to possibly hire? I have had this situation thrust upon me several times, and the first time it happened was when I was working on the paper mill. My supervisor asked me about a guy who had submitted a resume that showed he graduated from the same university as me only a year after me. When I saw the name on the resume I almost had a panic attack. This guy is an anomaly amongst anomalies. He was – no holds barred – the stupidest person I’d ever met in my life, and I genuinely believe that the professors in our program pushed him through to graduation just to make sure they wouldn’t be dealing with him for the rest of their careers. This guy literally set his shop project on fire because he didn’t know that copper conducts electricity (in an electrical engineering program!!!!), and the most significant sentence of his thesis presentation was, “It didn’t work and I’m not sure why”. I told my supervisor this and more, along with my honest believe that if this particular guy got into the mill he would probably blow it the hell up within a week. My supervisor thanked me and I probably saved the company a lot of money and grief, but then again, can you imagine if I’d said all that to the actual guy’s face? People would ask me what the hell was wrong with me, because even if it’s the complete and honest truth, you just don’t tell people that they’re completely incompetent fools. It’s one of the rules.

#3. We’re Afraid We’ll Look Like Assholes

Cheese gives the example of a spouse who slowly loses sexual interest in their partner who has been steadily gaining weight. Such a thing doesn’t make you a bad person – you can’t control what you find attractive – but you don’t ever tell your spouse about it because you know that the result is going to be that they think you’re a total ass for not being able to somehow rewire your brain to continue finding their changed state sexy. And if we’re really being honest here, you feel like an asshole too, even when you know you have no reason to.

Here’s an example that actually involves me being the victim. When I somewhere between four and five months pregnant, I was on a course for my apprenticeship. We would break for lunch every day at noon, and usually I would just buy something at the school cafeteria, but on this particular day I was starving and wanted something fat. So I drove to the nearest McDonalds, which happened to be located inside the nearby Wal-Mart. I don’t remember exactly what I bought, but it involved a flurry of some kind, so I was leaving the restaurant with a bag of food, plus a large cup of ice cream. The way the store is laid out, if you’re leaving the restaurant you have to walk past all the Wal-Mart cash registers on your way out. So I’m walking past all these people checking out and I hear this older lady (about 60 or so) speaking at an entirely too high volume. She was glaring at me out of the corner of her eye and saying something to the tune of, “Stupid teenagers these days wonder why they’re so goddamn fat but then they eat fast food all day every day.”

The statement could have easily been the truth. Maybe this woman had a teenage grandkid who constantly stuffed their face with Mickey-D’s and then whined and cried about being fat.

But it wasn’t the truth, and for once in my life I wasn’t letting it go. I looked the woman right in the eye and told her, “First off, I’m not fat, I’m pregnant. Second of all, I’m not a teenager, I’m twenty-three-years-old. And last of all, what I eat is none of your goddamn business.” And I’ve never seen anyone turn so red in all my life.

It doesn’t matter that what the old bat said wasn’t actually the truth…she believed it to be the truth, and speaking it allowed turned her into a complete asshole. Her husband and the lady manning the cashier looked like they would never stop laughing, and more than one nearby observer was raising their eyebrows at the old broad. And I’ll bet that woman kept her mouth shut for quite a while afterwards, because once you make yourself look like that kind of asshole, you really really don’t want to do it again.

#2. The Truth Hurts…No, Seriously

Have you ever made someone cry by telling them the truth? If you haven’t, try to continue that record, because few things will make you feel more like a horrible, terrible piece of crap.

Cheese gives the example that you can’t be honest with a child when they’re being an annoying brat, because you can’t just tell a kid that they’re an annoying brat. Well, you can, but if you do you’re a pretty horrible person and you should feel bad about yourself. It’s the same with telling someone that they’re overweight, or that outfit looks monstrous on them, or that their house looks look a mud-covered bull ran through it. In the same way that being honest about some things can cause hostility, they can also hurt a person deep inside in a way that could gnaw on them for the rest of their life (depending, of course, on the truth you’ve told and how sensitive the person is). And when you cause that kind of damage to someone it can really affect you as well (presuming, of course, that you’re not a heartless monster).

I mentioned this in another post once, but I think it’s a good example for this one. All my life I’ve loved singing, and when I was a kid I would sometimes get a little more into it than was necessarily tolerable to other people. Once, when I was at a Tim Horton’s with my father, I started singing some song or another. I was only maybe six or seven, so it didn’t really occur to me at all that my singing might be a little annoying for the people around me. I started out moderately quiet, but eventually started getting louder and louder, until eventually my father broke off the conversation he’d been having with a friend and told me, “Tracey, be quiet. No one wants to hear you singing.”

It was the stone cold truth, and he definitely didn’t mean for the statement to be mean, but to me at that time it was like a punch right in the stomach. I was a kid who thought she had a great singing voice and that of course everyone would think I was so talented and adorable and love me to pieces. So to be told “No one wants to hear you singing” was like being told, “You’re annoying and no one likes you.” And – not a word a lie – after that day I avoided singing in front of anyone for years unless they’d specifically asked me to. That wasn’t at all the reaction my father was looking for, I’m sure, but unfortunately sometimes that’s what happens when you tell the truth.

#1. The “True You” Isn’t Good Enough

And now we’re down to the real nitty-gritty of the lying world, and that is that we’re all just worried that we aren’t “good enough”. As Cheese explains, this is partially a kind of defense mechanism. For example, you’re never going to be totally honest in a job interview, because you’re not likely to get the job if you admit that you hate authority and are only suffering through this nonsense because the bills are building up and you’ve got to do something. Little lies like that are reasonable because, dammit, you’ve gotta work. But it goes a lot further than that, with lots and lots of these little lies building up on top of each other. You act like your coworker is your best friend because you don’t want to make waves at work, but in reality you hate their guts. You think your family’s religion is complete nonsense but you keep going to church because you don’t want to be seen as the heathen. You wear what society tells you to wear so that you fit in. You have an aneurysm cleaning your house before company comes over because god forbid they find out that you let the laundry pile up and the floor get dusty. We all do it, and the result is that we have a hundred different faces that we put on depending on who we’re dealing with and what the situation is. There’s the face you put on for your employer, which is different from the face you show your coworkers, and neither of those are anything like the face you show your spouse, which is way different from what you show your parents, and so on and so on.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve learned to avoid this habit a little better by not caring so much about what other people think of me, but even still I have my faces just like everyone else. A good example is this blog. Though I try to be honest and upfront about who I am and what I’m all about, I’ll actively avoid bringing up topics that I feel strongly about because I don’t want any of my readers to dislike me as a result. I try not to bring up religion or politics, for instance, because I don’t want any of my readers to think less of me because of my choices, and thus stop reading. In that way I’m no different from the little girl I used to be, who would hide her sketches of anime characters so that the other kids wouldn’t think she was a loser. We all hide the parts of ourselves that we don’t think other people will like, because we all want to be accepted, and we’re constantly worried that we’re not good enough for the people we want to be good enough for.


 

All in all, it’s a pretty silly system we have, where people get mad or depressed for being told things they probably already knew, where we teach kids to be honest…but only to a point, and where we avoid honesty at all costs because of our own personal insecurities. But all those things keep us from being honest because the fact is that a lot of the time it’s just easier on everyone to use the lie. Knowing everything you’ve just read, can you imagine how stressful the world would be if we all just started telling the truth all the time?

What do you think? Are we all a little gone in the head? Have you ever experienced any of the situations above from the liar’s side? From the “victim”‘s side? How often do you tell the truth in a possibly uncomfortable situation? Do you believe that sometimes it’s just easier on everyone to lie? Share!

6 Reasons the System is Rigged: A Response

One of my favorite websites to visit on an almost-daily basis is Cracked.com. If you don’t know, they’re a comedy website who often publish list-type articles based on real life, but with plenty of humor sprinkled in to make it more interesting and fun. Often the writers over there talk about big issues in a humorous way, while still getting across important points that they think everyone should be aware of.

Recently, Cracked writer David Wong (who is also a New York Times bestselling author, by the way) wrote an article entitled: 6 Reasons the System is Rigged (A Guide for Grads), and because so much of what he said in the article reminded me of my own life (and the lives of my friends and family), I felt a great desire to write a response post to said article. So here we go. Prepare to have your most cynical views on “the system” confirmed.

#6. There’s a Good Chance Your Degree Is Useless

Right out of the gates, David lets us know that the chances that the degree we chose to study toward in university is useless is actually extremely high. Evidently, according to the Washington Post, only about 27% of graduates end up in a job that actually requires their degree…and that statistic does not include the more super-specialized stuff like med school and law school students (who deserve the higher success rate since they go to school twice as long and spend about ten times as much money).
Now, the thing is, if you had shown me this statistic ten years ago, I probably would have balked. “Surely that can’t be accurate,” I’d have insisted. “Why would so many people even bother to attend university if it isn’t getting people a job?” And then present-me would have laughed her ass off at the naivety.
When I sit back and consider my closest friends and family members, and the people who I actually attended university with, the number of us who are actually using our degrees is painfully depressing. I know a couple of people who managed to become teachers with their degree, but most of them are only “sometimes I’m working, sometimes I’m not” substitutes, since the job market is so difficult in that field right now. I know two guys who did a BA and wound up becoming pipefitters because their degrees gave them precisely zero opportunities. I know more than a couple of people who actually have multiple degrees and other forms of training and haven’t used any of them. Even if I look at myself…yes, technically I wound up in a field that my degree applies to, but the fact that I have that degree in the first place is mostly unnecessary. The job field that I wound up in would have been perfectly fine with me having a 1-1/2 year technical program, instead of the 4-year degree that I shelled out crap-tons of money for. And the technical program would have had me starting work with a 2-year credit toward my apprenticeship, instead of the degree, which is not recognized by the apprenticeship board and thus accredited me jack squat.
The problem is two-fold, in my opinion. One major issue is that the job market is constantly changing and unpredictable, and it takes so long to get a degree that the job you’re looking for simply might not be there by the time you’re ready for it. When my classmates and I were first entering university we were told that there would be a huge number of teachers retiring over the next few years, thus if we went into teaching we would be guaranteed work. A bunch of my classmates, therefore, went into a degree for teaching. The problem? Well, for one thing, a bunch of those teachers who were supposed to retire simply didn’t. For a number of completely legitimate reasons, many of them chose to stay in the workforce. When you add in the fact that a metric ass-load of students went in to become teachers all at the same time…well, there simply weren’t enough jobs for all of the graduates.
The other problem, of course, is one that Mr Wong pointed out as well: we expect 18-year-olds to know what they want to do with the rest of their lives and choose the proper degree accordingly, and that’s just a little bit foolish. I know 50-year-olds who have no idea what they want to do with the rest of their lives, for Pete’s sake. Most 18-year-olds have a hard time deciding what they want to wear today, never mind deciding the specific action they want to be doing five days a week for the next 30 to 40-odd years.

#5. Trying to Change Careers Later Is a Nightmare

So, say you chose poorly. You’ve been out of school for a couple of years and your $50,000-$100,000 degree is tucked shamefully in a drawer somewhere, underneath your McDonald’s uniform. You think to yourself, “Well, I totally pooched that one…guess I’ll try again.”
See Mr Wong’s original article for a bunch of reasons why that’s not exactly the easiest path.
Because of the aforementioned “18-year-olds don’t know jack squat about what they want for their future” issue, I know several people who have found themselves returning to school half a dozen or more times, and it’s not just as easy as walking into the front door and demanding a new degree. For one thing, if you’ve already wracked up tons of student loans as a result of the first degree (almost a guarantee, unless you have extremely rich parents), you’re going to have a hell of a time getting a new one. Protip: banks and other lending institutions don’t like lending you more money when you’ve been totally unsuccessful at paying back any of the other huge amounts you already borrowed.
For another thing (and this is something Mr Wong didn’t mention), there’s a bit of a stigma against older people starting a new career. Young people just coming out of university have a hard enough time finding that first job because every employer wants the fabled “experience”, but it’s also somewhat understood that of course a 20-year-old isn’t going to have much experience, because they’re just starting out. But when a 30-year-old with no experience applies to a job? The first thing the employer things is, “What the hell has this idiot been doing for the past ten years?” And that person looks poorly for that one simple reason Unfair? Sure. But it’s just one of those first impression things that is really difficult to get past.
On a personal note, I can tell you that trying to change careers is also painful mentally, and more than a little bit stressful. Though I’m not exactly the poster child for determination, I’ve been working toward becoming a published (i.e. PAID) writer for a few years now. The catch is that while I’m working toward this, I’ve also got to, you know…do a job that feeds my family. So for all intents and purposes, I’ve got two jobs, and pretty much anyone with multiple jobs will tell you that it sucks.

#4. Your Success Depends on How Much Work You’ll Do for Free

For this entry Mr Wong explains the idea of “giving 110%”, or in other terms, doing extra work for free. It’s an extremely common thing in lower-end jobs, such as how the restaurant you work for might expect you to do a certain amount of clean-up after closing, but if it takes you longer than a certain amount of time you are no longer getting paid for it. Plenty of employers have been known to bully their employees into working “volunteer overtime” that they’re only getting paid regular-time wages for, if they’re even getting paid at all. The whole idea, as Wong explains, is that even though it’s totally unfair (and sometimes even illegal), if you don’t put up with it you get blacklisted as a bad employee and you don’t advance.
I’ve worked a bunch of low-end jobs that I genuinely didn’t give a damn about advancing in, because at the time they were just a ends to a means, but I did experience this in my first “real” job at the paper mill. See, a big part of a maintenance job is that there will be call-ins. If something breaks down in the middle of the night, for example, they will call down through the list to see if anyone wants to come in for overtime. Anyone who says no for any reason is deemed an asshole. It doesn’t matter if you live an hour away, and you’re sick as a dog, and your significant other is on a trip across the country so you have no one to babysit your two-year-old while you’re gone; if you say no to overtime, you’re considered to be a jerk who doesn’t appreciate their job. You should be licking your employer’s shoes for a chance at overtime.
Now, in that example you’re getting paid for the extra work, so at least there’s that. But every now and then a weasel would sneak in and try to derail the train just to see what happens. The way call-ins worked at my mill was a little convoluted, but for ease of explanation I’ll just say that if you were called in after midnight and worked for four hours or more, you were given rest pay for the following day if it was a normal work day. So if I got called in at midnight on a Tuesday morning and worked until 4 am, I would go home and catch up on the sleep I’d missed and get paid my normal wages for Wednesday. It was a system put in the contract to keep people from working while fatigued. Keep that in mind…it was a contractual right.  One morning, in the middle of December, I got a call at 2 am. I didn’t really want to go in, but I dragged my ass out of bed and out into the snow and drove into work to look at a valve that was causing a lot of issues. When I diagnosed the problem I was asked if there was anyway that I could bypass the valve for a moment just so that they could start up the system while I worked on the issue. I should have said no, but I was young and naive. I created a bypass and they got the system running. Then, as I was searching for parts to actually, you know…fix the problem, the supervisor came in and told me that I had to go home. His exact words were, “If I let you stay and get rest pay for tomorrow, they’ll kill me.”
So, in conclusion, I dragged my ass out of bed at 2 am, out into the freezing cold Nova Scotia winter weather, and drove into work to save the asses of the people who were in there trying to make paper, and I got completely screwed out of my rest pay and had to come into work exhausted the next day as a result. I was angry. Extremely angry. And because of that anger, I never took another call in again.
Which, of course, made me the asshole.

#3. Someone Less Deserving WILL Get Hired/Promoted Ahead of You

The big sentence that Wong uses for this particular entry is “More than 40 percent of workers got their job because they knew the right person
I’m not even going to sugar-coat it: I’ve been one of those 40 percent several times.
It’s truly depressing, but the fact of the matter is that it doesn’t really matter how much training you have, how much experience you’ve built up, or how qualified you are…employers hire/promote people they want to hire/promote. That’s why networking sites like LinkedIn have become such a big deal in recent years. You can be the most qualified person in the world, but if you happen to be applying for the same job as the boss’s college buddy, chances are you’re going to get passed over. It is ridiculously unfair, absolutely, but there’s really nothing you can do about it.
And the thing is, as angry as you might be that someone got “name-hired” for the position that you so desperately wanted, you could have a totally different attitude if you were on the other side of the equation. I’ve been one of those people who kept getting passed over in favor of guys who were buddies with the guy in charge of hiring. I hated it. I wanted the system to burn because guys who (I assumed) didn’t deserve the job kept swooping in and stealing all the opportunities while I was unemployed for months on end. Then I was hired onto a job specifically because my resume landed on the desk of a guy I’d worked with before who knew me and liked me, and the only thought that passed through my mind was, “Sweet merciful God, THANK YOU.”
The moral on this one is that, while the system may suck and seem totally unfair, the only real way to deal with it is to use it. Network like a pro. Meet people, make them like you, and use them to get a job if the opportunity arises. This is absolutely a case where “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” rings true.

#2. There’s a Good Chance You’ll Get Fired and Never Know Why

I’m interested to hear some stories about this one, so if you’ve got a good one please share in the comments.

Wong points out an unfortunate universal truth: the “at-will” employment termination. Long story short, for the most part employers can terminate you at any time, for any reason, and you might not ever even know what that reason was. There are exceptions, of course…unions will fight like hell for someone who they feel was wrongfully terminated, and there are loads of discrimination laws that protect people from being fired because of their religion/sexual preference/etc. Unfortunately, in a lot of those situations it comes down to your word against theirs. You may strongly suspect that you were fired for a discriminatory reason, but can you prove it? Your employer will probably just come up with an alternative reason that is perfectly legal, and all will go on as if you were never wrongfully expelled from your only means of income.

I’ve never been fired from a job myself, but my husband had a wonderful experience with a power-mad restaurant manager. He was a part-time employee working some of the crappiest hours (because, sure, okay, that’s how these things work), but he was returning to school in September. He explained this to his boss, noting that if she wanted to keep him on the staff she would have to work his hours around his school schedule. He wasn’t requesting particular hours or anything like that – he wasn’t high enough on the food chain for that. He was simply explaining that he was going to be in university during these particular hours of these particular days, so he wouldn’t be available for work at those times.

The boss pitched a fit, saying such thing as how he was “ungrateful” and that his “job should come before school”. Keep in mind that this was not a 9-5 career job…it was a minimum wage job at a fast food restaurant where the shifts were made up weekly at the boss’s whim. She seriously – seriously – believed that he should ditch university classes in order to come in to his minimum wage job whenever she deemed that he should. And then she suggested that if he was going to choose school over this job, then she would just fire him.

He wound up quitting (because, seriously?), but in this case he could have just as easily been fired simply because he was trying to better himself, and no one would have given a damn because his boss could have just said that she fired him for being uncooperative and ditching shifts.

#1. At Some Point, You Will Find Yourself on the Dark Side

“The Dark Side”, as Mr Wong puts it, is basically just finding yourself on the other side of the equation. If you’ve gotten a good job with your awesome degree, making good money at a place where you’ve been fairly promoted for your hard work and are always fairly compensated for said work, then none of the previous entries of this article mean a thing to you. You’re on “the Dark Side”.
It makes sense that if you’ve never experienced any of the previously mentioned issues, you’d be a little biased. You’ve never had any issues in the workforce, so what the hell is everyone else complaining about, right? It’s annoying, but it’s kind of understandable. People don’t understand what they’ve never experienced. The problem is when you’ve gone through it all yourself, experienced all the pain and stress and frustration, but then as soon as some success finally comes your way…BAM! Dark Side attitudes.
I won’t try to say that I’m exempt. I’ve totally been there myself. Up above when I mentioned all that stuff about name-hiring? Within a few months of working at that job I found myself scoffing at people who talk about how hard it is to find a job. I thought to myself, “Hell, there are a million jobs in Alberta, you whiner. Come get one!” I’d completely forgotten that it took months of unemployment and my resume landing on the exact right person’s desk in order for me to land this particular job. It’s not that I’m a total bitch…it’s just that it’s human nature to feel like everyone else’s complaints are unjustified. It’s the bad driver effect: when you’re speeding it’s because you have somewhere important to be, but when someone else is speeding it’s because they’re a lunatic and shouldn’t be on the road. You can be on one side of the fence for years, but as soon as you manage to climb over to the other side you look back at all the people you left behind and think, “What the hell are you doing over there, you idiots? Jesus, just jump over and stop whining!”

It’s a horrible system in a great number of ways, and unfortunately there doesn’t seem to be a hell of a lot that we can do to change it. Degrees will keep being useless, and changing careers will keep being painfully difficult until we find a better system of choosing and training for our desired fields. Employers will keep exploiting our good nature and trying to get free work out of us as long as we allow it – which will be forever because that’s what happens when you have to compete with all your fellow employees for brownie points to avoid losing your income. People will always get hired or promoted ahead of us unfairly because there is simply no way to keep employers from hiring the people they like best. And employees will always get fired for completely unfair reasons because how are you going to prove it, hmm? Really all that we can do is settle in at #1 as soon as we get a chance. The “Dark Side” might not be an attractive way of putting it, but it’s really the best place we can hope to wind up, because at least then we’re working and (hopefully) a little happy about it.

Share with me, fellow workforce members. Do you have a degree (or two), and has it helped you at all? Have you ever made the leap to switch careers, and how did that go? Have you ever been exploited by an employer in the form of “free” work? Have you ever been passed over for a job in favor of someone less qualified, or have you ever found yourself hired even though you might not have necessarily deserved the job? Have you ever been fired for a ridiculous reason, or no reason that you could discern? Are you currently on the “Dark Side”? Share! Complain! Commiserate! And don’t forget to check out the original article that this post is a response to!

Sometimes a Little Deprivation is a Good Thing

Week 4 of The Artist’s Way is about “recovering a sense of integrity”. It mostly speaks about listening to your gut feelings about what is and isn’t good for you. Cameron urges you to look to your morning pages for clues – things you’ve been complaining about or getting angry about every time you empty your mind – of things that you can change. This chapter urges you to consider making the big scary changes that you know you need to make but that you can’t bring yourself to make for whatever reason. (For example, leaving an abusive lover, or ditching a friend who is an emotional vampire.)

This week I’m not going to share an exercise, because instead I want to talk about something else that pops up in chapter 4: something that is surprisingly difficult but totally worth it.

At the end of chapter 4 Cameron suggests a week of “reading deprivation”, and that’s exactly what it sounds like. She suggests that artists, by nature, tend to spend great quantities of time reading (whether it be books, magazines, newspapers, websites, etc) and other like-activities (watching TV and movies, playing video games, etc). She suggests a week of cutting yourself off from these activities. The reasoning is that they are distractions, that artists have a way of doing everything but what they really should be doing. Cameron goes on to talk about how whenever she brings up this idea of “reading deprivation” to her classes, she is inevitably met with anger and disbelief. People insist that this is impossible, that they can’t just cut all forms of reading out of their life for a week, and besides that, “what will I do with the time?”

Even before Cameron went on to explain just exactly what you can do with that time, I found this a little funny. “What will I do with the time?” REALLY?

Not many people know this about me, but I have a very addictive personality – not when it comes to drugs or alcohol or anything like that, no. I have an addictive personality when it comes to casual gaming and internet use. Several years back now I discovered a site called Gaia Online. For all intents and purposes it’s a multifaceted online community where you play games, follow storylines, and interact with other players in order to…well to be honest, the point is pretty much to keep earning money so that you can keep buying pretty outfits for your character. There’s not much more to it than that. I hooked on to this site when I was first working at the paper mill. I had moved away from home, and my husband (then boyfriend) hadn’t yet followed me because he was finishing school. So I was up in this new town, all alone, with only my new job to fill the day…and my new obsession. I can’t really convey to you how much time I spent on this game. It was day in and day out. Sometimes I’d be up until 1 in the morning playing it. It was the greatest time vampire of my existence, and it took a surprising amount of effort to quit it.

For me, this crap is worse than crack.
For me, this crap is worse than crack.

These days I’m more wary of this kind of thing, but my little addictions pop up in other ways – binging on other peoples’ blog posts, reading countless Cracked.com posts on my iPhone, playing Angry Birds with the baby on my tablet – and I have to be wary of them because time just vanishes when I allow them into my life. But here’s the thing…when I am able to abstain, to keep myself from wasting time on one of these little habits of mine, the absolute last thought in my head is “what will I do with the time”?

I will fully admit that I am failing the reading deprivation suggestion, mostly out of good old fashioned stubbornness, but in the past couple of days since I read about it I’ve been very mindful. I’ve been working my “reading” into little pockets of the day when I’m able to multitask (reading a Cracked.com article while stirring a pot for supper). As a result I’ve been squeezing more time out of the day, and do you know what I’ve been doing with it? I’ve been writing. I’ve been cleaning. I’ve been organizing. I’ve been doing all the things that I constantly avoid doing by way of these little time vampires that weasel their way into my head and make me feel like I should be focusing on them instead.

And that’s the key, I think. If you are able to inject more time into the day, and your reaction to that is to ask, “what do I do with it?”, you’re in denial. If you take half a moment to look inside and think about all the things you need to get done – or even all the things you want to get done – I’m sure you’ll come up with a million things that you can do with that extra time.

So get to work, people. Check Facebook a few dozen times less today. Put down that mobile game that just goes on and on and doesn’t really have a purpose. Turn off that TV show that you don’t even really like. A little leisure time is good (important, even), but our time is also too precious and too short to waste so much of it on everything but what we really need (or want) to get done.

Have you ever tried something like “reading deprivation”? How did it go? Do you have any little addictions (reading, mobile games, TV) that take up way too much of your time and keep you from getting anything done? Why do you continue to give in to those addictions? Please share!

Actually, this explains a LOT…

As you know, last week it was my birthday. I got a couple of nice presents, but one of them isn’t in my possession yet because it has not yet been purchased. You see, my husband suggested that he would buy me a new bathing suit for the (hopefully) coming summer. I’m not usually the kind to spend much money on such a thing, so he thought I could pick out a really nice one for a change. I loved the idea, but here’s the thing…if I’m going to get a really nice bathing suit, I want to look good in it. So on Saturday night I gritted my teeth and decided that this is it: I’m restarting Jillian Michaels’ Body Revolution and this time I’m sticking to it.

Sunday morning started a bit askew, since little missy was up in the middle of the night, which resulted in all of us sleeping in until almost 10 am. But I gritted my teeth, and after a healthy breakfast of whole wheat toast and boiled egg whites, I headed downstairs and did workout number 1. I then attempted to go about my day without resorting to any of the mindless snacking I’m famous for, while waiting for my meatloaf to finish cooking and anticipating the fact that I was going to have to measure my portions to keep from eating twice as much of it as is smart.

So you see, my day was full of willpower. Painful, frustrating willpower. And that got me thinking about something I once read in a Cracked.com article. At the time of reading the article I raised my eyebrows a bit and doubted the reality of the claim, but on Sunday I did a bit of Google research and lo and behold, it looks like it’s true.

Willpower is a finite resource.

I know, I know, it sounds like an excuse, right? But apparently there have been a lot of studies done on this idea, and so far it’s holding water. It looks like the more willpower you use in one area of your life, the less you have left for other areas. In other words, you might struggle all day to keep yourself from snacking, and actually manage it, but then when it comes time to do your exercises you just can’t seem to work up the willpower. It’s not entirely your fault…you haven’t got any left. This explains why you can feel so good about yourself early in the day and happily resist temptations, but later in the day you crash and start (for example) devouring everything in sight.

So does this mean we’re all doomed to failure because we can’t keep up the willpower thing forever? Of course not, although it’s definitely going to make things more difficult. Willpower (apparently) is like a muscle. It needs to be exercised. So the more willpower you are able to exert today, the easier it will be tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that. It’s likely to be a slow process, but in the meantime you have to figure out how to dole out your willpower as necessary. If resisting snacks and treats all day depletes your stores so that you can’t bring yourself to exercise later, figure out how to let yourself have a little something, thereby saving that bit of willpower for when you need it. It’s a delicate balance, which in itself probably uses up willpower.

In fact, you know what? It’s not a delicate balance; it’s a vicious, circular cycle that makes me want to punch walls.

*cough cough*

Anyway, I guess the point of this post is that I need to work on my willpower muscle. I’ve worked up great levels of determination before and used up all my willpower after a week or so, and I don’t want that to happen this time. I want to succeed this time because dammit, I want to look good in a really nice bathing suit! Is that so wrong? 😛

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Today you get to enjoy a bit of a brain dump because I have a few things to mention, none of which really justify their own separate post.

First of all, I’ve made a couple of small changes to the site. You’ve probably noticed the little character off to the left of the screen. I’ve made up a number of little avatars which are meant to show my current writing progress. Presently, my little character is enjoying the life of editing a manuscript…see the little displeased eyes and the pile of red-marked papers behind her? Yep, that just about covers it. I’ll change the character every now and then to match what I’m currently doing: for example, come November I’ll be taking a break from editing to participate in NaNoWriMo 2012…so you’ll get to see a new little avatar (or two) at that time. In addition to my little characters, I’ve created a new page for information on my projects. You can see it up there between “About” and “Follow Me On”. Currently I only have a small blurb for my zombie manuscript, but I’ll be adding more in the future when I get a chance to decide how I want the page laid out.

Second, I feel the need to share something that happened near home recently that really accentuates the theme of corporate greed that I’ve been mentioning so often lately. Last night, during the night shift at a local Tim Horton’s restaurant, one of the staff passed away. I’m not privy to the details of her death, but for the purposes of what I’m about to share, she died in the restaurant, during her shift…my heart goes out not only to her family, but to the coworkers who had to witness the event. But witnessing the event is nothing compared to what happened then…the manager/owner/whoever-was-in-charge of the restaurant refused to shut the Tim Horton’s down even for a little while…the remaining workers were forced to finish their shift…after their coworker had just died in front of them. I cannot express my disgust over this. As with the other examples I’ve given of late, Tim Hortons is a multi-billion-dollar corporation, and the idea that one would refuse to shut down for a couple of hours (during a middle-of-the-night shift at that) due to the sudden death of an employee is absolutely sickening. This misplacement of priorities in this situation make me want to retch. I sincerely hope that the other employees involved in this get together and sue the company for emotional distress and neglect. No one should have to deal with something like that, much less for goddamn minimum wage.

Third, I came across an article on Cracked.com today that I wanted to share for all the readers/writers out there. 4 Ways High School Makes You Hate Reading is about exactly what it’s title suggests, and I agreed with each point made. There are fewer readers in the world today because of the exact reasons Christina H suggests, and that’s truly a shame. A common theme throughout her article is that as adults it seems like we are expected to read “fine literature” and that anything less is shallow, useless junk. This is a point that I both agree with wholeheartedly and notice often when talking about my own projects. Whenever anyone finds out that I’m writing a book they will inevitably ask me what the book is about, and I will watch their eyes go from impressed to politely bemused when I tell them it’s about zombies. It’s like adults aren’t allowed to have fun while reading, or something foolish like that.

Fourth: holy hell, it’s already October! I’ve got to get to work on the baby’s Halloween costume! *runs away*