Thursday, February 7, 2008
Plight of the Career Student in the School of Hard Knocks
An old buddy named Chris skipped across my mind recently and I decided to give him a call. The conversation went like this:
“How you been?” I ask cheerfully.
Chris quickly gains momentum and spews an hour-long diatribe laced with an unexpected move, lost job, and lack of anyone around that gives a damn. In other words, he isn’t doing well at all.
My side of the conversation is speckled with “uh huh” and “wow” and “aw man, that’s crazy.” I give the same advice I gave before, offer the same promise to keep him in my prayers, and tell him it’ll work out.
I hang up, drained, but not surprised. This is how it is for Chris. This is how it's been for Chris.
See, many if not most of us experience rough “patches.” These patches last a couple weeks, maybe even a couple months. Some folks have a bad year or two. But most of the time, by the grace of God, we’re okay. More sunshine than rain.
Then there are folks like Chris whose rough patches have evolved and spread into everyday existence. Rough patch becomes rough life, the kind of life where good comes in patches.
These are the career students in the School of Hard Knocks.
I'm not talking about the downtrodden poor people that either starve or resort to panhandling, folks that ain’t been right since ‘Nam, or families who’ve faced bankruptcy or disaster. The students at SOHK aren’t homeless. Shoot, they probably have cable and iPods. Nor will regular “brokeness” grant you admission either. No, I'm talking about that person that everyone knows who can never get their act together; they’re always going through it, teetering on the edge of the ravine that ends at Rock Bottom.
All students at SOHK possess three core attributes. The first is the job hoppin.’ Chris runs through jobs like Eddie Murphy runs through marriages. Yet, the most ironic thing about SOHK students is that they’re not lazy! They don’t mind long hours or physical labor; they’ll even juggle two or three jobs at a time, and a side hustle. But they wind up quitting or being fired before they can dig themselves out of the rut.
Secondly, like Papa and Mick Jagger, these folks are rolling stones. They tend to move around. Whether chasing cheaper rent, greener grass, or childhood dreams, you can’t send a Christmas card without checking to make sure the address is still valid.
The number one requirement for admission to the School of Hard Knocks is longevity. Think about it: the people you know who attend SOHK have been enrolled for as long as you can remember. The same goes for Chris. When we met over ten years ago he was down and out and unfortunately, little has changed.
I'm not saying all of this to mock those who are down on their luck, but isn't the phrase itself one that suggests a temporary condition? Can you really be down on your luck for 5, 10, 20 years? At the risk of sounding Cosbyan, at some point, people have to be honest about their contribution to a chronically unstable condition.
See, the individualized curriculum at SOHK doesn’t change. Students are given the same tests year after year, paycheck after paycheck, until they pass. “Since lessons are repeated until learned, and sense you cannot learn lessons until you are aware of them, it makes sense that you will need to cultivate awareness if you are to ever progress from where you are right now on your path,” says Dr. Cherie Carter-Scott, author of If Life is a Game These are the Rules.
Carter-Scott's assessment is true for all lessons in life, whether it be in love, finances, jobs, etc. But for the career student at SOHK, it's difficult for any aspect of life to fall into place while still enrolled. So until Chris reaches that point, he’ll continue working on his PhD at the School of Hard Knocks.
at Thursday, February 07, 2008