only yardstick we have
I received a letter addressed "Dear Participant."
It's been awhile since anyone addressed me directly
as "Participant," but in this modern age we must become
accustomed to wearing many hats.
I feel good about being a participant. I like to say the word out
loud. I like repeating it over and over. Sometimes I mouth the word
slowly while cooking dinner or taking hot showers. Participating
in something is its own reward. If you aren't participating, then
what are you doing?
Sometimes I find envelopes for "Valued Customer" littering
my mailbox. Whenever I find those, it makes me wonder: If I am such
a valued customer, then why can't they put my real name on the letter?
Did I do something special to earn "valued" status? The
phrase "Valued Customer" implies that there are some customers
that have no value.
If I bought more things, would I find mail addressed to "Highly
Valued Customer," or perhaps even "Mr. Extremely Necessary
Customer, with Glory and Praise?"
More often, my mail is addressed to "Applicant."
Like many others, I have been pounding the pavement for months,
sending out résumés to anyone and everyone with a
mailbox and a Federal Tax ID.
Normally, my résumés seem to vanish into the ether
the instant they are mailed. After experimenting with heavier grades
of paper, I have found that no weight is sufficient to prevent the
Nine times out of 10 the carefully prepared letters are unacknowledged,
unanswered and might as well have never existed. But every once
in awhile, I'll receive a response from one of my solicitations
and the first line is always "Dear Applicant."
Unlike the congratulatory air that surrounds the Participant letters,
the tone of the Applicant letters is decidedly downbeat.
Normally the message ranges from congenial to reproachful. Many
Applicant letters make me feel small and purposeless, others breed
hope with their thin promises of keeping my résumé
on file in the probable event that they will seek to employ me at
some time in the near future.
I find it hard to believe that although I wasn't good enough to
fill the job today, perhaps next month the economy will turn around
and they'll be sorting through a pile of rejected résumés,
trying to fill new positions.
No, the economists can't seem to agree about the future. That shouldn't
be a surprise. Beneath all of its mathematics and intricate statistical
analysis, economics, like America, is merely a philosophy. The only
yardstick we have to measure the future is the volatility of the
For now, I have learned to anticipate rejection and to enjoy failure.
Until things get better I'll continue to eagerly check my mailbox
for the next "Applicant" letter.
For me, the rejection letter is a mark of validated accomplishment.