Part of the November Break Series – I’ll be back blogging as usual on December 5th. This post originally appeared on Podblack Blog in 2008, for the Scientiae carnival on the theme of ‘Added Weight’.
Ever felt as if you were completely invisible, no matter how hard you worked or how eager you were to contribute to a shared cause? When is it malice – and when is it just plain being too small and solitary to come to anyone’s attention?
The email featured a job description – which I couldn’t have.
The Institution was going to start Something New. It was going to be a competitive course, a program for the young elite. One of those cool things with the latest research and activities involved; lots of chances to test some theories, the kind of thing that ends up being on its very own page in the pamphlet and all the parents say ‘They have Something New there, you know!’
Those who get selected are given opportunities, sure – but those who get to teach it get to stretch their wings too.
There’s either two ways you get to be a part of Something New. You’ve done it before somewhere else, for example, back when Something New was Our Tradition or One Of Our Offerings Since We Got The Funding. Perhaps you were someone who worked in a related field to Something New and got a little experience on the side.
Otherwise, you have accreditation in the subject area: you completed a series of workshops, maybe hold a certificate reflecting your attendance and application. Maybe you have your own significant project on the side that directly relates to Something New – perhaps you even hold a degree in it?
I didn’t have any of those. I had ‘keen interest’. Keen interest doesn’t mean squat when you’ve got an application in front of you with unfilled blanks. You should have either done some serious time with the subject, with medium to long-term commitment or hold some serious qualifications. Anything else is usually nepotism or perhaps someone’s foolish hope that you’ll not screw it up after being selected. I wasn’t going to waste everyone’s time by pretending I had it in the bag and run the risk of ruining things for the sake of stroking my own ego. But I desperately wanted to be a part – and it just plain wasn’t going to happen.
Personally, I blame Q. They were the one who answered my off-the-cuff question: “So, how does one become a member of the [upper echelons]?”
It made sense, one they explained it. Q’s theory was that you did a little bit of work in this field. Then took on this project here, that project there. You signed on to administrate a bit of this, then after time you became the head of that. Try getting your feet wet in a variety of lower echelon positions and wait it out.
Eventually people at the Institution take leave, retire, or want to try a change and while all that was taking place… you’ve already moved your pawn-ish way over to the other side of the board – ready to become queen.
It was probably the only lengthy conversation Q would ever have with me, until four years later. Because, after all, I was very much a pawn. I barely registered on the visible section of the electromagnetic spectrum, quite frankly. I was probably more akin to octarine at the Institution.
Anyway. The position to be one of the teachers for Something New came up and a colleague got one of the jobs – they had done a similar project before, done a bit of time in an administrative position and were essentially, perfect for it. In they went with a think-tank, in order to get Something New going! In the meantime, I investigated how I might one day have a similar chance.
Clearly, I wasn’t going to be allowed within sniffing distance of Something New. It was so new that there was only space for the selected instructors and apprentices just weren’t necessary. I don’t think even trainee teachers were told about it. Practical experience on site was completely out of the question.
Instead, I signed away one week of my holidays to do an audit unit at a university. Within three days, I changed my enrolment over from Audit to Credit – and realised that I enjoyed the class so much that I wanted to do more units. I got a high distinction for the class, by completing and posting in the required assignments on the way home from work after doing my editing after hours in the library.
This went on for about three to four years. When everyone else in the department periodically showed pictures of their holidays on the island, I had a growing pile of course readers to show for my break time instead. X demonstrated that her white tattoo glowed after she got a suntan in Bali; I demonstrated that ‘white’ was no longer a colour my eyes featured after several weeks of 5am starts in order to get my homework done in the morning, so I could set aside time during the evening for marking the students’ homework.
When I was finished, it was probably the most surprising thing to actually register as visible, to have Q exclaim that they didn’t realise I had gone so far over the years to actually get a degree in the subject. Suddenly I was Someone with Something. It wasn’t quite so New after four years… but I still got some shocked reactions when co-workers realised that I was slogging along to complete the degree for that length of time, while holding down a full-time job.
Small problem though: Something New at the Institution had gone. It didn’t even last a year.
Too much competition, too many students expecting to get in, too many arguments about what it would involve. Strangely, it still appeared in a publication as being something on offer, years after it quietly got swept under the rug and forgotten. Something New became Something Lost On The Way and was long gone by the time I could have possibly taken part in it.
By then, I no longer cared. I realised that the board was bigger than what this pawn could originally see and that I could even leave the board altogether if I wanted. That was something I subsequently did.
In gaining what I wanted, I lost the original little desire that led to it in the first place. Which kind of added to the enjoyment of achieving the end product – because I gained something that I could keep forever in the process.