I’m a liar.
I told you I’d post about the second half of my honeymoon and the ensuing hurricane a few days ago, and well, I didn’t. Sorry about that. I’m having an issue with motivation lately – The issue being that I have none.
I used to live to write, imagining that one day under the right circumstances, if seen by the right person, I’d be able to make a career of it. I’ve also imagined that one day under the right circumstances, I’d get promoted at work or find a way to get myself out of debt, or win an award, or succeed at… something.
Writers often share an uplifting Stephen King quote with one another. It goes something like this, “Optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.” Lovely, isn’t it? It’s one of those Chin-up, my friend! type quotes, designed to help us shrug off those pesky rejection letters we’re all too familiar with. Boy, do my fellow writers love to throw it around.
Unfortunately, that fantastic little quote is only the second half of a statement in which the first half provides context. When one hears the quote in full, it takes on an entirely different meaning.
“When you’re still too young to shave, optimism is a perfectly legitimate response to failure.”
See what I mean? I happen to have written this quote down on the back of an envelope a few weeks ago while reading On Writing for about the fifteenth time, in an effort to derive some inspiration. I’m not entirely sure why I chose to jot that particular quote down at that particular moment, but today my reasoning makes total sense.
The quote is not meant to inspire authors to respond to failure with hope. It’s a reminder of how much more difficult positivity becomes when you’re two months shy of your final birthday that starts with thirty and your kids have fewer childhood years remaining than they’ve already expended; when you’ve recently realized you haven’t saved the money you though you’d have saved by now, and you still haven’t finished that degree you figured you’d wrap up more than 15 years ago (and even then it would’ve been a little late).
Inspiration isn’t a resource I can tap into with gusto and excitement after being rejected for job after job. It’s not something I can conjure with ease when I feel as if I’m sponging off my spouse and having trouble making ends meet without outside help. Motivation is completely lost on a person who attains the same results regardless of effort expended.
I know I’m not alone in this.
I belong to a small group, a micro generation born between 1977 and 1983. You’ve probably heard us referred to as Xennials. Though I’m not sure I love the term, I can tell you that we’re a small subgroup, brought up with the traditional ideals and values assigned to our predecessors, the Gen-Xers, by our mostly still Baby Boomer-era parents. We were raised with the idea that elbow grease amounts to results, that hard work pays off. We weren’t typically subject to helicopter parenting, everybody didn’t get a ribbon, and our childhoods were not subject to the influence of excessive technology and media.
But we found ourselves reaching adulthood only moments ahead of the Millennials – The generation who did grow up with ribbons and technology and the notion that success isn’t necessarily defined by hard work. With Millennial influence in the workplace, advancement became a facet of self-promotion, something that tends to come easily to a person raised with an emphasis on one’s inherent value, versus the pesky notion of advancement through accomplishment.
Before I go on, I will ask that you unclench and stop being offended by whatever I just said about your generation. I’m adhering to broad stereotypes and larger influences in our workforce and economy. There are some fantastically hard working millennials out there, and there are some tech-savvy, self-promoting Xennials and Gen-Xers hanging around as well.
In today’s world, members of my micro generation find ourselves at a complete loss. We have a lot to offer, but we’re having one hell of a time getting ahead. We don’t play the game as well as is expected. We learned our job-seeking skills from instructors who taught resume-writing and wage-bargaining using techniques that became antiquated only a few short years later, the kind that would get you laughed out of an interview today.
We are a generation who learned to balance our checkbooks using the worksheet on the back of our monthly statements, who grew up with rotary phones and four-channel black-and-white televisions, yet we were expected to have a complete understanding of technology when hunting for our first full-time positions. We learned to pay our dues, grow our skills gradually, and to build our resumes, while our younger sisters and cousins were taught the art of creating a personal brand.
Job hunting is no longer about qualifications and robust resumes. It’s about those personal brands and application packets that get scanned by third party algorithms designed to hunt for candidates likely to work for lower wages, stay put the longest, and present the lowest liability to the company.
Wage expectations are now required before an employer will allow an application to be made, forcing job seekers to mentally negotiate and present their lowest salary expectations up front for fear of immediate exclusion. There’s no room for error, no way to state that your requirements are negotiable.
Personality tests, an item I personally hold in the lowest possible regard, supersede personal interviews. Because the pressure of creating the perfect media presence, optimized resume and cover letter, and submitting pre-negotiated salary requirements weren’t enough, right? Of course these tests are yet another algorithm designed to find low-liability employees, likely to stay put. And one that seems suspiciously similar to psychological tests used to screen for mental illnesses, I might add.
So yeah, I’m losing motivation to write and I’m losing it quickly, because writing is no longer about one’s ability to put together a piece of solid work that others might want to read. It’s about social media presence. It’s about search engine optimization. Employers aren’t interested in good work, they’re interested in visible work. They’re interested in algorithms.
Publications no longer request well-written submissions from talented writers. Instead, they demand search optimized content from authors with backgrounds in SEO and web design. Quality is secondary.
And here I was thinking that web design and optimization were one job, while writing was something completely different.
I haven’t written as promised because I’m frustrated and stunted by a market that seems to be far more interested in low-cost pieces, guaranteed to self-promote, than in work that means something. Clicks over content. I can’t compete with that, because it’s not what I do. I write. The market has turned me from someone who wrote with joy, a woman who worked enthusiastically at every job she’s ever had, to a person who now spends most of her days watching minutes tick by, then berating herself for not having used them more efficiently.
I once felt as if things would eventually “click” and I’d find my place in life, but with every passing moment, I’m growing more aware of the unlikeliness of any such clicking. I’m caught in a perpetual battle between my instinct to produce quality work and the practical knowledge that it has no place in Millennial work culture. How do I move forward as a writer when qualifications and capabilities are only a minor detail in the search for algorithm-friendly talent?
If you have an answer, I’d sure like to know.