Tuesday, June 9, 2009

On Being Average

It has been a humbling day. 25-million Americans are currently unemployed, underemployed, or have just given up looking for work. I am one of those Americans. This morning I decided to set myself up a clever little writing business and headed to Elance.com to start getting the news out that one of the world's most amazing word genies was available for hire. I began by perusing a few of the portfolios of my competition at the online freelancer's hub. That sort of slowed me down. At Elance, you don't just blow your horn about what you know and how well you know it. You prove it - by taking tests that, upon completion, bestow a grade upon your expertise. In addition to a grade, you receive what amounts to an Elance class ranking. This way, of course, people looking to hire freelance writers/programmers/web designers/etc. can tell at a glance whether they're considering someone from the top or the bottom of the class. I started with the creative writing/fiction test, and spent about 10 minutes with 40 questions that I had 40 minutes to answer. You either know it or you don't, I snickered, and finished with a score in the top 5% of the class. Whew. Then I went to the test for ad writing. Again, I zipped through the questions and scored well. Oh, the portfolio was headed for excellence. Then I went to the test for grant writing, then academic writing, and then a test of my knowledge about Microsoft WORD. Aaack! I passed each 40-question test, but that bright orange class ranking bar only went to the middle of the line. Average! Gulp. Average? I hit "do not post" three times. I will not admit to being average. In a funk of desperation, I went looking for the easiest test I could find, and settled on "Computer Aptitude" which I suppose I should have failed simply because I thought that meant it would be a test with questions like:
The right click button on your mouse:
  • orders coffee
  • opens a window of selectable operations
  • blows up your computer
  • turns on your TV
Imagine my surprise when the first question was more like:
Spider : web as...
  • car : tire
  • bird : nest
  • house : yard
  • love : hate
While I was still struggling to shift my brain from "whaaaaa?" to "I don't think that's a question about the world wide web" the clock was ticking: 45-minutes for 35 questions. Each one was more annoying than the one before:
Fill in the blanks in the following series: m_ntt_fzo_l_mpq_m
And:
If A is B's mother and D is the father of C and E is D's cousin, what is the relationship between A and C?
So why didn't I just close the Elance window, pour another cup of coffee, and call my mother for a good dose of: "You are a fabulously accomplished human being?" Because you cannot stop these tests once you begin. You can only move through them or fail. And for some reason, I could not bear an outright failure. Of course, when the result of not giving up to failure came back too close to average for my liking, I hit "do not post." Sigh. I have spent the evening pondering what I learned about myself and our North American, success driven, over-stressed, out of work world today. That, and those magnificent portfolios. Are you familiar with this motivational phrase?
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
How many of us face a more insidious lion at the gate than failure?
What would you do if you were willing to be average?
25-million Americans are flying in circles like buzzards around jobs they do not want, they are not qualified to do, and they will not like if they get. The competition is fierce. The stakes are high. And being average will not do.

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