J u n e   2 0 0 3

Guest Writer

The only yardstick we have
Dear Applicant
by Ryan Douglas

oday 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 miraculous evaporation.

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 past.

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.

E-mail Ryan at ryonie@hotmail.com, and see more of his work in our archives.

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