04 September 2001

"You are what you do.  You can recreate yourself
every second of your life." 
   -Xena, Warrior Princess
'm in a quandary. I just discovered I am handicapped for a position I want, not because I am not qualified (I am), but because I have spent too many years doing something for which I have considerably less qualification, and being far too successful at doing it.

In other words, I'm underqualified for what I'm qualified to be, because I'm overqualified in my performance at something for which I have no qualifications.

Does this make sense to you? I didn't think so. I'm still trying to sort it out in my own head, and it's me we're discussing.

My options feel limited at this moment. According to the man who delivered this astonishing bit of logic to me, had I spent less time doing what I did, or even been less spectacularly successful while doing it, I'd have been hired in a heartbeat. My past success is limiting my future in a way I never expected.

After he delivered this news, the man told me it was "a real pleasure" to meet somebody who had done "as much" as I apparently had, and he "knew" he and I would be well-suited to working together. He also said he hoped I wouldn't consider this a definitive no -- if nobody better showed up soon, he would be in touch with me. He just thought I'd be a "hard sell" to the other employees in the organization.

His suggestion was that I should go all the way back to the bottom rung of the ladder I now want to be on, and spend some time as an unpaid intern, so I could point to my stint as "paying my dues" in my new, desired field of endeavor. It doesn't seem to matter that all the skills I possess are exactly the skills he purports to want, or that I have decades of experience.

What seems to matter is the paying of dues.

I don't know when we decided to charge admission and membership fees to competent, bright men and women looking for gainful employment. There was a time we took those people on willingly, and rewarded them for initiative, pluck, and gumption. If they failed, we ushered them out the door, thanking them for the effort they made. If they succeeded, well, after a lifetime of service and accomplishment, there was a banquet and a gold watch. We did not talk then about "paying dues." 

Instead, we talked about performance, and results. Do what you say you'll do, and keep your promises. Do your best, and rewards will follow. Pay attention, learn, and keep on learning, until you are ready to teach somebody else what you know.

Excuse me. I need to go reinvent myself for this new, strange age. Maybe then I'll have the right qualifications for the job.


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