Fiction & Life Colliding, Making Ambition A Tiny Puff of Nothing

11 Minute Or Less Read Time
Fiction & Life Colliding, Making Tiny Puffs of Nothingness

From an early age, we learn ambition equals good and laziness equals bad. This black-and-white thinking guides us to long-hour careers trying to make ourselves valuable by achievement and career status. When most realize the worthlessness of this misplaced ambition, most of life is lost to the work void. Work forms slavery since we never had a choice, but when we imagine for a moment that young ambition to achieve, contingent on nothing but the sense of winning, we know our current misdirection of ambition exactly.

If everyone had the ambition to make life better for everyone, everyone would live their best life possible.


Sometimes winning is more than simply winning

I’m twelve years old and Brad Slater and I have played, I don’t know maybe ten million games of HORSE in our lives. We’re playing right now. If you don’t know, HORSE is a basketball game, usually played between two players, where player 1 makes a shot, and player 2 has to make that same shot. If you make the shot, whatever it is, a lay-in or a long shot, then it’s your turn to shoot first again and your opponent has to make the same shot as you again. If player 2 misses he gets a letter, first miss an H, second miss an O, and so on until you’ve spelled out HORSE, at which time the game is over and you’ve lost. If you don’t have much time you can play PIG; if you’re vulgar you can play the game by spelling out some obscene or profane swear word.

Unlike regular basketball, HORSE doesn’t require dry pavement to dribble on or sidelines to keep you in bounds, no rebounding or assists, steals or traveling violations, it doesn’t demand anything other than a ball, a hoop, and two or more players. I’ve never beaten Brad before, never, ever, E-V-E-R at HORSE, at PIG, or any other version of the game with any other word. Truthfully, come to think of it, I’ve never beaten Brad at anything athletic. But today I’m up over Brad’s H-O-R-S with my H-O. It’s like a good poem, no it’s a great poem a perfect poem, a rare and nearly impossible and utterly unimaginably, divine poem. I’m beating Brad Slater— I never, ever thought this could happen. Dry leaves skitter along the asphalt; the breeze blows in my face. My feet tingle in my athletic shoes H-O-R-S to H-O... “Your shot,” Brad says tossing me the ball. I catch it, smile, set up fifteen feet away, and launch my fade-away jumper... Swish. Brad grabs the rebound walks to my spot, takes a few deep breaths, judges distance, wind, and humidity, takes another deep breath, and finally lets fly— the ball almost goes through but circles the hoop and rims out. That’s E for Brad H-O-R-S-E.

The way we play, after the final letter in HORSE, the loser gets to choose whether to take the shot again or make the winner repeat the shot making it a second time; it’s like having to win by two points in ping-pong or volleyball or tennis— a confident player usually tries the shot a second time, and Brad is nothing if not confident, but today, now, a fifteen-foot fade-away jumper is not an easy shot— Brad eyes the distance again and then... “Prove it,” he says throwing me the ball. I stand fifteen feet from the hoop...

This length of jumper, much less a fade-away jumper, is a hard shot; he thinks I’ll miss.

But suddenly a Robin flies over our heads twittering, his eye staring straight into my eyes I think he’s smiling, and the grey clouds move so slowly that I’m sure the sky, silent, watches us— I grab the ball and don’t let myself think about...

You have to make it You have to win Nothing in the world can stop you now for once in this single moment you can’t lose, not this time...

No, all these thoughts may come later, if I make it, but for now, I grab the ball, hold it lightly in my skinny fingers, glance at the hoop and I leap, rising high into the air and raising my arms above my head as though offering this shot to God, and I fade away like a man falling from a high cliff, like a song’s last refrains, like the way one’s breath must finally seize at the hour of one’s death-- And from this fading falling, flying I shoot a tiny click as the ball nicks the metal hoop yet slams through!

All the universe is silent except for the ball bouncing once, twice, a third time, and a fourth each bounce smaller than the one before it.

Bounce---bounce--bounce-bounce-bounce-bounce until it lies, motionless, on the dark ground.

“You win,” Brad says, trying to sound relaxed and cool. Now, quickly “Wanna play again?”

I almost say, sure, but the word catches in my throat “Nah, I gotta get home.”

“Really?” Brad asks I’m almost certain I can hear the pain, pain, P-A-I-N in his voice.

“Yeah,” I say, staring right at him “We’ll play again tomorrow.”

“Okay,” Brad says feigning calm, faking indifference, “See you tomorrow then,” he says, his tone anguished.

I say “Okay.” I hold my smile until I’m out of his sight. then the breeze blows in my hair; my feet dance as I walk six inches above the earth. My heart beats with the strangest rhythm, one I’ve never felt before pride, joy, victory — I am twelve years old, and I don’t realize that nothing, nothing, n-o-t-h-i-n-g—nothing will ever again taste this sweet.

I Looked Into Being a “Mission Specialist” At NASA

“Looked into” might be a slight exaggeration

I Looked Into Being a “Mission Specialist” At NASA

But surely my interest couldn’t have been any more confusing than this young woman’s willingness to show off her acrobatic skills from a cage or jail cell. And what’s with her hair and gymnast’s outfit?

Can you spot the shiny eyes of the lion or tiger or bear or cannibalistic serial killer, hidden in the darkness of the upper landing inside the enclosure, contemplating how to turn this little blond Olympian into lunch?

Me neither.

But life is filled with moments of legitimate wonder and elements of absurd disequilibration, sometimes both at once. These are not mutually restrictive categories.

Tragically, I never made it to space.

Fortunately, I never got blown up.

“Life” you know? They oughta sell tickets!


Big Surprise! Career Experts Say, “Quiet Quitting is worrying.”

Career Experts & Companies Should Quiet Complain & Be Grateful

I envy Millennials and Zs for having the unity and gumption to act on perceived injustices. I consider myself an OQQ, an original quiet quitter, more accurately known as a “slacker” in the eighties and nineties. Though I wear OQQ with pride, earning that moniker took far longer than younger generations who have the benefit of the internet to share information. Not going above and beyond duty culminated in many years of disappointments that Millennials and Zs now bypass for already knowing the correct path.

Slackerhood first piqued my interest in high school while working as a restaurant dishwasher or barback. At seventeen, I worked a couple of weeknights as a dishwasher, then Friday as the closing and Saturday as the opening barback. Night shifts stretched from four pm until the job finished, always after midnight on weeknights since the bar didn’t close until twelve. On Friday, the bar closed at two, ending the night for me at around four am if lucky, only to return three hours later to open.

One Friday night, the dishwasher quit, and around two-thirty, after cleaning the bar, the manager demanded, “You need to get in the back and clean those damn dishes.” Dish-filled bus trays stretched from the stainless steel, industrial dishwasher around the corner into the cooking area, awaiting washing. I said, “I can’t do that; I’ll be here with no sleep opening the place at seven.” He started yelling at me as though I was neglecting my duty, so I told him, “Take the dishes and shove them up your ass.” My indignation resulted in him firing me, which I related to my parents when I didn’t go to work the next day. Instead of sympathizing with my injustice, they agreed with the manager.

“You should have stayed and finished job. Work is sacrifice! You need to be loyal and put your time in.”

Nothing about this situation sat right with me. Had he been nice, I would have stayed, but why did expectation fall on me because someone quit? Other waitstaff could have helped, but he let them walk out the door at the shift’s end. Moreso, no one fucking worried about me needing to go to school, much less getting enough sleep, as they handed me a check for $3.50 an hour.

Still, OQQ was a slow evolution mired in the indoctrination that says hard work pays, leading to fourteen years of labor management that ended with making less money than when I started. Working sixty to seventy hours a week as a loyal employee and taking one vacation during that time produced a worthless career, just like millions of other people who lost jobs throughout history due to innumerable factors outside their control. Despite uncontrolled factors faced by employees, career experts and companies complain quiet quitting is a bad idea. MSNBC reported career coach Kelsey Wat saying, “Quiet quitting removes any emotional investment you might have from your work, which is sad given the fact that most of us spend so much of our time at work.”

Unsurprisingly, a career coach believes we should invest emotionally in the work that invests nothing in us beyond our paycheck to perform the task. Ask anyone laid off from their job during the Great Recession or was the victim of downsizing in the nineties.

Unsurprisingly, a senior specialist at Insperity, a human resource company, Michael Timmes, agreed with Wat, complaining,

An employee that shows up every day, goes through the motions, turns down certain projects due to lack of interest, and has no desire to advance in their current career or develop skills is very different to a case of work-life balance.

He added that quiet quitting could be a positive trend if workers focused on maximizing their hours at the office.

Unsurprisingly, a human resource specialist believes we should be proactive by maximizing hours in the office, which sounds great, except the vast majority of companies expect people to go above and beyond and don’t give a shit about work-life balance.

If they did, people wouldn’t quiet quit.

Saying companies don’t care sounds like a gross generalization but consider the evolving employee experience. An up-and-coming employee often starts loyal and hardworking only to have these attributes gutted yearly by unfair practices, poor decision-making, and the reality of business.

Unfair Practices

During one of my sixty-hour weeks, the company owner said in a meeting that he needed to put one of the other managers (his brother-in-law) in my department to help me. This incident served as one of my final metamorphoses into the OQQ when I asked why and heard, “Well, while Luke went on vacation, I performed his job and discovered we could compress his entire day into about twenty minutes of work.” The owner gleefully related this information expecting me to share in his overhead reduction triumph that ultimately ended with Luke remaining in his easy nine-to-five position, no doubt because of some family bullshit that had nothing to do with the actual job.

Whether a small company or a mega-corporation, unfairness permeates every company as nepotism, cronyism, favoritism, glass ceiling, racial bias, or some other inequity. These issues are not just isolated problems since they are standard practices for corporations, such as in the example of hiring practices. Companies put hirelings through the wringer to choose the best workers while routinely hiring overpriced CEOs and executives based on nothing more than reputation. In another discussion, I explain this problem with research backing the claim,

The problem with executive pay appears to be that the same rules applied to workers and lower-level managers do not apply to CEOs. This lack of equal application of compensation management and hiring strategies creates a situation in which executives are overpaid in many instances due to the inability to create a positive ROI with regard to their compensation.

Unfair practices reflect a hypocritical company that often financially burdens employees. The high paid CEO rarely cuts his stock bonus when there are plenty of employees to cut. Yet because these practices are SOP, everyone must accept these occurrences, which they don’t, leading to dissatisfaction and ultimately to quiet quitting. This hypocrisy is not an employee issue because it is a top-down problem, most often snowballing onto the ranks from bad decision-making.

Bad Decision Making

While working for a company, a boss hired two inexperienced people, titled them “quality control,” and granted them complete authority over everyone except himself. Numerous workers warned the owner the pair could not be trusted. In fact, after working with them for months, I went to the owner on a Sunday and expressed concern they might be stealing from the company. He did not listen, I quit, and sometime after, the company suffered an event so catastrophic no one would talk about it: most likely some high-profile theft that would have tarnished the company irreparably.

Though employees must meet expectations and continuously improve to increase their value for the company, companies provide no such increasing value for the worker and often reward efforts with bad decisions. Bad decision-making is so prevalent no business book could ever truly detail the pervasiveness.

Ego-driven, obstinate, and downright stupid decisions occur with such frequency in workplaces that employees turn callous with uncaring, which drives many to quiet quit, not because of the horrible decision but because the boss committed to the decision despite knowing the consequence. Worse than a sense of futility, employees often pay for bad decisions, and today, most know they will pay the price.

Bear and Stearns, WorldCom, ENRON: the list goes on and on with companies folded under decisions avoidable with a modicum of common sense, ethics, or just prudence. The people who suffered most, besides investors, were employees who typically had no clue what management schemed.

Employees confident in their company’s decision-making just lack work experience because, ultimately, companies will make unwise or necessary decisions, such as trying to save the company with layoffs, merging, consolidating departments, and expanding job roles. Worse than suffering the futility of bad decision-making, employees live under the threat of these necessary decisions by the nature of business.

The Nature of Business

For all their talk about business ethics and social bottom lines, a firm’s chief aim must remain laser-focused on profit. This focus is not optional since there is a fiduciary responsibility to investors but also the need to make companies viable. As much as firms today love to show off their commitment to social causes and refer to employees as family, this lip service often backfires into quiet quitting.

No worse feeling of betrayal arises after emotionally investing yourself into a company, the work, and the culture to be told you need to be let go due to financial cutbacks. Worse than being terminated, disdain arises, realizing you are nothing but a resource when that company slashes hours, forces pay reductions, and doles out other sacrifices expecting your commitment. Even in stable work environments, employees face the nature of business that dictates a difficult, if not impossible, rise through the ranks no matter the effort. The smaller the company, the worse that futility, but it still exists in large corporations because there are limitations in all workplaces.

If a hundred people work in a department managed by three bosses, where are you going to go?
What are your chances of actually becoming a CEO or executive?

Career experts and companies mythologize an equal playing field where you put in the time, loyalty, and extra effort to be rewarded, obfuscating workplace limitations that increase as one rises through the positions. Diminishing opportunities confound many workers contending with unfair practices or the expectations to perform in the face of bad decision-making and business risk. As an OQQ, I can attest that expectation becomes more of a demand as you rise in companies and is not worth the effort or time in most cases. It is very telling how career experts and companies think quiet quitting is a bad idea, hinting just how deep the expectation runs for employees to go above and beyond.

Perhaps experts and companies should quietly complain and be grateful people perform rather than tell them where to put their expectations.

Just Weighing Separator

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Copyright Vincent Triola & Terry Trueman

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