Three types of people

  1. This type I find infuriating, but have learnt not to hate. They love nothing better than to be the centre of attention, at any cost. They get themselves noticed the same way sand in your swimsuit does when taking it off after a day at the beach. In apparent contradiction, most people find this type charming. It hasn’t caused them too much discomfort during the day, maybe none at all, and now they have a fleeting memento of their day in existence. This type will openly and without trying to be funny claim that everyone loves them. They can’t bake, but no one has the heart or courage to tell them it tastes like value products from the pound shop. They hate being ignored so much, that any offense on this front gets dealt with by throwing all high moral standards in the bin and acting like a school boy throwing bits of paper at the communal bullying target. They are friends with everyone. And proceed to talk crap behind their back as soon as they have left the room. They are clever and knowledgeable, but manage to point this out as a pimp points out which one of their workers they think would fit the client best. They don’t work very hard, because they are already overachieving. They manage to remember that they have a distant relative who’s just had a baby, exactly when their boss has just had a baby; they throw a party in someone else’s honour for a minor favour they had done. They are surprised to be called sycophants. They thank people for their help, but only when no one else is around to hear them. They carry out conversations with two other people by setting up meetings with each one separately. They make sure their acolytes know all the possible ways to stroke their ego. If not, they kindly offer a loan with 150% interest rate. They like to climb the ladder, because they haven’t passed the age at which being the tallest around assures you the attention a gherkin gets in the burger. They don’t like dogs, because they can’t stand having something people find adorable or loyal in their presence. They bully you for years, then they apologise, want to be friends, and force you to shake their hand.
  2. This type I used to hate, but have learnt to love. They have the personality of a raw aubergine and the presence of a Corgi dog out for a walk on the beach. They are busy, and you can’t deny that when you see them out on the street hanging out with someone else. They invite you to a great event, but they never turn up themselves. They spend too much time painting their house. They are your friends, you have a bad day, they take offense and take action against you, they then are your friends again because they have a short memory and a good heart. They tell everyone about their love life past, present, and future. They can’t decide if they are proud or ashamed. I suspect they need the public to cast a vote. They have a sense of humour, kindly criticise their own flaws for the public’s entertainment, but will take your head off if you dare make fun of them. They are the neighbour who tells you you slam the door too hard by painting a picture of the previous tenant as an aggressive character. They suggest you trim your nose hair by rubbing their own with a proud look on their face. They point out that with the cost of your education they could have built a swimming pool; and they did. They always complain you never come out and when you have the time and contact them, they in some sphere of logic argue they can’t find the time in a three month period because they thought you moved away.
  3. This type I love and have learnt to respect. They stand up to you proving you are no better at times than type 1 or 2; I am thankful for it. They point out you are horrible. They demand you get help, because you need it. They point out you stink. They speak out when it means more for others than for them. They buy you drinks and don’t expect them in return; them pointing out you are better drunk than sober is a wise move. They don’t hold a grudge even when you do; that way you learn to do the same. They make mistakes knowing you will correct them. They make you realise that aubergines are actually very tasty when cooked and that your house probably needs painting too. They make you think secret santa isn’t such a stupid tradition after all. They ignore you, because you ignored them. They once did something very bad; many times they did something very good. They make you question whether being more lonely than a hermit crab might be a problem.

And as for Corgis, if you have one, make sure you take it out for a nice walk on the beach.

A Bizarre Conundrum

A few years back, I applied for a consulting job involving some work with ‘chemical products.’ The job description required some general attributes which I believed I had and although it wasn’t clear to me what this work would entail, the chance to use my transferable skills made it seem like an obvious opportunity.

Let’s first briefly analyse my applicant profile for context. I was a scared PhD student wearing long hair not like a pop samurai, but like a decrepit Afghan hound. I had little to no confidence or self-esteem, no interest in my line of work or any other for that matter. I had little understanding of the ‘real’ world of work outside the chemistry laboratory. I desperately needed a change, so with consulting being a highly popular option with science graduates, I wrote my CV, and when an interview invitation arrived, I thought: ‘What do I have to lose?’

Having done some cursory interview preparation, I turned up and here is what happened. An experience so awful it haunts me to this day. I had it coming? Of course, and I guess in a way I deserved it. What brings me to write this article is the confusion from some happenings I have still not fully understood to this day.

Two interviewers with professional demeanour welcomed me and started talking about the job and the company. They were meant to be joined by a third in the second part of the interview, I was told. While this was unfolding, something clicked and I realised I wasn’t meant to be there. Their generous explanations made me feel welcome, but their length gave me time to ponder how much of a nuissance I might actually be, and therefore unwelcome. Like a deer stunned by the headlights, the best strategy I could think of was to maintain my interest, ask any apparently clever questions I could think of, and assure them of my desire to ‘learn on the job.’ I didn’t feel I could point out that their job description was inappropriate; this would have made me look immature. Unfortunately, I was not making any progress in understanding what this was about, and they were starting to notice. Questions about my background and potentially relevant experience I might have had moved on to specific technical questions I could not answer (pivot tables!). And here it gets strange; instead of ending the interview, they resumed their initial discourse while we were waiting for the next interviewer. Only much later, after I had several times felt like suffocating in the stifling heat of that room, which I am sure must have actually had exquisite climate control, did this person communicate that they would have to excuse themselves as they could no longer make it.

This all must have taken between one and two hours (how long was the whole thing supposed to take?) and I was close to breaking down. I am sure my strategy of ‘holding my ground’ actually worked against me and made me look like even more of a moron than I already had. I was exhausted and glad it was over. I can at this point only thank these kind interviewers for their time, once again. As one does.

One of the interviewers kindly explained to me on departure how to operate the elevator in order to secure my exit from the establishment. In the befuddled state I was, I think I found the instructions welcome.

This all added up to my ego suffering a blow that left me reeling and made me learn the hard way that just because you can write a CV that ticks all the boxes on a job description, you can still be the most useless candidate that ever applied.

The three questions I am going to leave you with are these:

  1. Why would a recruiter write such a job description that it gets them the wrong people applying?
  2. Did the recruiter or the interviewers look over my CV before the interview?
  3. Why would some busy people spend so much of their time interviewing a useless candidate?

I am sure the reader would by now have come up with their own hypothesis.

Am I going to keep writing? – Brown sauce, anyone?

The particulars concern myself. The argument might have some use to you.

In the past couple of months since leaving my chemist job, I have embarked on a series of overly ambitious, and probably destined to fail projects. Inspired by some big Youtuber chemists, I decided to start my own channel. I found so far that people do not want me to teach them chemistry, and only marginally better would they rather watch me try to improvise lab equipment. With the current growth rate, I will be eligible for monetisation only after my projected lifespan ends.

I have spent a lot of time making art, and also tried selling it. Initial disappointment aside, I can’t say I am surprised. I have seen much better art not selling. I want to keep developing my artistic side, but I think it is best to scrap the idea of making a living this way.

What I present as a backup plan, and ‘excuse’ for my ridiculous self-employment plans (I need one of course, people judge you more or less openly), is the idea that if it all fails, at least I have learnt new skills, improved my CV, and taken some much needed career reorientation time.

As of this week, I started a blog. I have previously dabbled with the idea of creative writing, and even started a Youtube channel around it. I would like to believe the idea might not have been fundamentally flawed. This is no longer online. Until now, I was a fan of the ‘scrubbing your mistakes and failures out’ approach. People call this ‘improvement’. Now, I take immature pride in leaving them there whenever I can.

The problem with all these attempts, beside having spread myself out too thinly, is that the amount of time required to succeed far exceeds the amount of time it takes me to get bored. And this brings me to question whether I will be able to stick with writing, even if only for a hobby?

Boredom does not make me give up. I have sure wasted a lot of my life working on things I had long given up caring about. In order to increase the rate of progress, as opposed to just making progress, I need to be motivated.

Chemistry offered me early on, from my school days, things I wanted and needed: occupation, the chance to be good at something, approval and appreciation, and positive (as judged by others) career prospects. Writing, literature, philosophy, and art offered me none of these things. They had a rigid school system, family, and society thwarting the efforts of even their able proponents. As for their incapable proponents..

All this made me early on decide to cover my eyes, shut my ears, and put a heavy pair of boots on to dig a channel to navigate my life. I occasionally remember moments when people tried to tell me that I don’t need a channel; the terrains are not so bad and there are other ways to sail than by boat. I also committed another error: covering my mouth. Mi-zaru, kika-zaru, iwa-zaru. I still like chemistry. I just don’t think working it as a job is sustainable for me.

Having studied science, the prospect of academic writing seemed sensible. Experience has turned this into a less than ideal option on my list. My skills were not good. But writing about something I didn’t find exciting and being criticised for my writing when I needed help with content are things that put me off so far. The problem with having something corrected without being given a chance to understand what it was you did wrong, is that it leaves you with the feeling that ‘this’ had to be written a certain way. The way they wanted it.

Unfortunately, I feel creative writing does not work for me either. I make connections, I play with words, but I don’t seem to have the ability or the desire to create worlds. I tried. I picture ideas, plots, the meaning behind a story. But I struggle to paint the picture in words. Maybe that’s what painting is for; ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’. Maybe I will try again.

What I seem to be enjoying is this kind of writing: a mix between analysis, reporting, and some literary ‘condiments’ (brown sauce, anyone?). That is probably what has long held me back: the lack of ‘structure’ that people crave.

Am I going to keep writing? Yes, as long as I keep getting ideas and feel like the words come out easily.

Why the Perfect Job is an Unicorn

The mythological creature we imagine as a horse with a narwhal horn is to me not the symbol of the inexistent, but rather the undefined. This clarification will probably not do much in terms of calming the discomfort caused by the title metaphor.

Deep down every person believes they know what the perfect job looks like, even if they temporarily have to call their lost naivety into action, and furthermore allow themselves to occasionally dream of it. Let’s all be naive for a moment. What is this perfect job? Surely it must involve minimal or no effort required to obtain a pay large enough to fund even the most ridiculous desires. Basically, being paid without actually doing anything. And the less you do, the more you get paid.

I believe this is not actually what anyone wants. The rest of this article deals with figuring out what it is then that one could reasonably expect from their dream job.

  1. Power. Commanding people without having to offer them reward or threatening punishment is what real power is about. Few things come to mind as granting such power: love, worship, loyalty. Employees working without pay (monetary or otherwise) or fear of redundancy still work in fear. It’s just that it’s not their leader who they fear. The perfect job will not bring you power.
  2. Prestige. Having people believe you have the power, even if you don’t, is what prestige is about. No job exists in a vacuum: you lead a company, you own it, you work for the best company, you are the best in your company, field, etc. Respect people have for you is never unity. You always have to share it with something or someone else. The perfect job will not bring you undivided respect.
  3. Achievement. Seeing your actions as the direct and sole cause for a successful outcome brings a sense of achievement. We have a contender. The perfect job could bring you such a feeling. It would make sense to desire it.
  4. Entertainment. Never underestimate the devastating effect saturation can have on the mind. Saturation causes exhaustion, boredom, and losing motivation. The saturated mind is like a speeding car without a running engine. Any number of factors could prevent this threshold being achieved: progress, variety, challenge, practical limits (the avid skydiver doesn’t get bored because there is only so many times they can jump out of the plane in one day; or their adrenal glands give up before they do). It would be sensible to ask for your perfect job to be entertaining.
  5. Companionship. I am probably stretching the use of this term. Not everyone wants human presence, even less so when working. What I mean is that ‘company’, even if only that of your own thoughts, is what brings out the sense of purpose in your work. I can imagine Sisyphus would have had to find this ‘company’ while rolling the boulder up eternally in the classical myth. It makes sense to ask for your dream job not to leave you feeling estranged.
  6. Purpose. Finding a sense of purpose is as much as you can expect from your job, or life for that matter. You can make your life and work meaningful, but don’t expect to find its purpose. Real purpose does not exist.
  7. Meaning. Following from entry 6, meaning certaintly should make the list of perfect job virtues. The perfect job has meaning and helps create meaning.
  8. Independence. Some people just don’t like being told what to do. Better said, they don’t consider the authority figure competent in their role. Whether this judgment is correct depends on the situation. It is anyway irrelevant for our analysis because complete independence does not exist. The perfect job would offer you such independence only if it was in no way needed and could cause no harm. This contradicts point 7, which makes independence a no go.

What should you hope for in the perfect job, if there is such a thing? According to me it is: achievement, entertainment, companionship, and meaning. Is the perfect job still a unicorn? Yes! Because there is no such thing as perfect.

If there is any situation of a perfect job existing, I think it is the one depicted in the title picture (illustrated by yours truly). The unicorn pushing the boulder back down after Sisyphus had rolled it up the hill fits the description. Each of them has guaranteed achievement (that’s how myths get set up). Every turn makes them feel like they are making progress on a never-ending job. We have entertainment. They have each other for companionship. And as mythological entities both of them find meaning in passing the ball to the other side.

The Value of Art

What determines the market value of a piece of artwork? I believe there is no escaping the principle of matching supply to demand that economy uses to set price. When it comes to art, supply can vary greatly. On one end of the spectrum we find unique, handmade masterpieces. On the other end come mass-produced reproductions, which have never been graced by the hands of the artist, or more recently, digital art, which although in principle available in infinite supply, is the object of the ongoing NFT bubble.

Demand and the underlying desirability of a piece are more difficult to quantify. Let’s start with quality. Quality refers to the skill and attention that the artist invested in making the artwork, and if applicable, the physical materials. I think it is instructive at this point to consider the scenario of the artist selling the newly-made piece first hand. They might be relying on the profits for their livelihood and therefore consider the returns per time spent (alas, bills must be paid) and any other expenses (materials, hardware, software). It is a rather common image, up to the point of becoming a stereotype, we see when thinking of the ‘starving artist’. And some artists promote this themselves. Not to say they do not perhaps have it hard, but being furious with the buyer who is trying to minimise expenditure (I am thinking of commission work for areas of art beyond ‘fine’: illustration, advertising) is not all that productive. Bob ‘the builder’ who needs a logo for his business will not care how much time and effort it takes to make the vector art, no matter how much the artist tries to drive the point home. And the public probably doesn’t know. They might however be willing to listen. My point is, artists explaining their efforts in an understandable way cannot hurt them. And it will at least win them the sympathy of the public.

And this brings me to the next point: how the public judges quality. The buyer looking for something ‘that will look nice on the living room wall’ will not appreciate the accuracy in the still life, the subtle and fine rendering of light and shadow or the quality in the composition. There is one caveat I find curious. In the 21st century, when almost everyone has a rather advanced camera in their pocket, people are still largely attracted to photorealistic and therefore highly accurate work. I think this is for two reasons: by having something to compare to in real life, they can judge the artwork without artistic training and by imagining the tedious work the artist puts in, they develop appreciation for the work. I am not a trained artist. But personally I feel the most exquisite rendering of a real life scene can be terribly boring. And a rough work made by an amateur can be very exciting if the subject is picked well.

On this point, I understand the frustration of the artist community: it is not only financial, but fundamental. Art is about more than the paint on the canvas or the bronze in the statue. Selling something that does not mean much to you, or conversely, not selling what means the world to you can leave you feeling desperate and betrayed. And then the anger gets vented on the public.. Everyone deserves to have their work appreciated, subject and proportional to their ability and putting in the effort. It is therefore essential for artists to find an audience that appreciates their work and is willing to spend the right amount for it.

But what about the public then? Do they only need wall decoration and business promotion? Art can be traded, but it can also be cherished. For the present article, I think it doesn’t matter. But in order not to give the public a bad image, I will discuss briefly. I was brought up in an artless environment, a culture which denigrated artists and their work. Conditioned, but also naturally resulting from the hardship of life. As far as necessities go, art is lower on the list, below food, housing, and money. Not surprising that the situation of people, regardless of where they live, not having enough money, looking at the ‘starving artist’, who has even less than they do, and not understanding what art is about leads to art being demonised.

The world works by people trading and forming interdependence relationships. Someone needs art, someone makes art. To go full circle, let’s go back to the issue of supply. Another way of looking at supply is through the question of originality. I feel this is important because, as mentioned, people deserve their efforts appreciated, and by tagging each work with the right name we are making this possible. Can overestimating the value of art (or anything else for that matter) be detrimental? I surely believe so, and that is why I think the NFT bubble is ridiculous, as is overpriced art in general. To summarise, an NFT (‘non-fungible token’) is a digital construct meant to identify the ‘original’ of a digital piece of art that is otherwise infinitely reproducible. My metaphor for explaining this is as follows: the NFT owner has a photo of the moment the artist ‘signed’ the work, and who the owner of the photo is, is recorded on a public database. The photo is the one with provenance, not the artwork. Here’s two examples of what I mean by overpriced (but not to say lacking value): digital art on Foundation App and physical works by Mark Rothko. I am sure some of the digital work being sold took great skill and effort to make. I am not a fan. I have seen the Seagram Murals in person. I am not a fan. The problem with such works, which have their immense price derived from status or pure financial drive, is that they drag art away from the general public and into the sphere of a minute fraction of the population. People can appreciate art without owning it, but a ridiculous price tag puts people off and creates a mental barrier: ‘Art is for the rich’. A practical one may exist as well: if the physical work of art is not in the public domain yet, the owner can choose to make it essentially inaccessible.

I think people need to make their own judgment when it comes to the value of art in general, and of particular works. I just hope this article will make them broaden their list of considerations.