The (F)RotM to end all (F)RsotM

From Occupy Grand Rapids. Yes, such a thing existed. Image used utterly without concern for private property rights.

From Occupy Grand Rapids. Yes, such a thing existed. Image used utterly without concern for private property rights.

Not literally, of course. We’ll run another one next month. But this one’s so good, so emblematic of what being the (F)RotM means, that we couldn’t wait for the 31st before bestowing the laurels upon this month’s winner.

From The Huffington Post, which evidently has standards as lax as the Yakezie Carnival’s, comes a soliloquy/possible suicide note from Dirk Hughes, who currently enjoys an uninspiring career registering students at the Grand Rapids, Michigan campus of ITT Technical Institute. That’s not our assessment of Dirk’s job, it’s his.

I have a doctorate. I have been employed full-time for the 35 years I have been of employable age with only a week or so between jobs. I have worked my butt off my entire adult life.

Well, there’s your first problem. What Dirk’s doctorate is in is unclear: his LinkedIn page states only that he attended Cleveland State University 22 years ago, without mentioning what he studied nor what degree he earned. There’s also no mention of where he took his undergraduate degree. Hopefully his Ph.D. thesis (we’re assuming his doctorate isn’t an M.D., or he wouldn’t be working at ITT) is more diligently researched and annotated than is his LinkedIn bio.

He dropped out of college twice (for most of you, once is plenty), attempted to write a novel, then borrowed money to attend law school at a superannuated age. Then he failed the bar. Thrice. But somehow he is, in his own mind, evidence that “hard work just doesn’t pay off.”

Once my wife graduated with her masters (Ed. Note: In human resources, the most vile occupation this side of baby seal clubber. Apparently a mere bachelor’s degree isn’t sufficient to qualify someone to leave condescending notes in the break room and coordinate homophobia awareness seminars) we moved to another city for her new job.

This was also the time for me to go back to school and for us to start having a family.

(Dramatic line break ours.) Hey Dirk? Excuse us – hey, Dr. Dirk? No, that was the worst time for you to start having kids. Raising a family on one income is hard enough. But raising an family on one income minus whatever your newly incurred tuition was? It doesn’t take an ITT certificate to know that expenses were going to run up against revenues, pass them, then take several victory laps while blowing kisses to the crowd.

Alright, maybe that’s an unfair generalization. If you were returning to school to get, say, a civil engineering degree, that’d guarantee you work and a great wage. Is that what you did?

I got my bachelor of arts in English

Oooooh, so close.

The wife’s career blossomed – one advantage, if you want to call it that, of today’s regulatory and regimented workplace – while Dr. Dirk’s faltered. He tended bar. He worked in sales. Neither of those jobs require a degree, or even a high school diploma, but Dr. Dirk had worse than just a high school diploma. His book-learnin’ bona fides consisted of a high school diploma weighted with a huge liability in the form of a useless bachelor’s degree from a school so embarrassing to have attended that today he doesn’t mention it. Again, the useless degree isn’t merely useless like an appendix or a vestigial finger. It’s a negative. A bachelor’s in the soft arts costs money, which thus paradoxically requires its holder to find an even better-paying job, despite him now being ill-equipped to do anything beyond a) pouring beer or 2) prompting secretaries across the Tri-County area to say, “Sorry, the purchasing manager is in Turkmenistan for the week. Why don’t you leave your card and I’ll get him to call you when he gets back?”

I finally landed a teaching job with one of those for-profit colleges you see on TV. I wasn’t a big fan of the corporate philosophy

He doesn’t mention that the college is ITT, and who can blame him? For a gifted academic like the Doc, that’d be like a Ferrandi graduate keeping his job as a Papa John’s pizza assembler on the down low.

Not satisfied with being overeducated and broke, Dr. Dirk is perpetuating the cycle for a new generation of same in his registrar job. Again we turn to CYC favorite Mike Rowe: “We are lending money we don’t have to kids who can’t pay it back to train them for jobs that no longer exist.”

The wife left the Doc, doubtless looking for a man who could support himself instead of a quixotic dreamer. By this time they had 2 kids, and the Dr. started working at a factory. He got remarried, turned 45, bought a house (“a few minutes before the housing bubble burst in 2006”), suffered a bout of congestive heart failure, and the only thing that stops this part of the story from turning into a mid-period Bruce Springsteen song is that our hero now decided he’d like to give lawyering a try. Again, he’s 45. 48, actually, when he failed the bar exam for the first time. It wouldn’t be the last.

Not cognizant of the part of the Universe’s plan that states “Dirk Hughes, under no circumstances, should be practicing law”, he took the exam again. And failed again.

It’s only with hindsight that we know that he bought his house at the top of the market, but Dr. Dirk can’t help but turn that fact into melodrama. (“Our home dropped in value every second.”) So did almost everyone else’s, but there’s nothing like a little personal projecting to make societal problems seem as though they’re exclusively Dirk Hughes’s. But at least, at least, he was smart enough not to take on any other stupid expenses, right?

The parent loans I had taken out for my now college-aged children were coming due.

The child is the father of the man, or something. Not content with mortgaging his own future, and seeing how well that turned out, Dr. Dirk decided to burden his kids with the same handicap. It’s much like how alcoholics teach their kids to be alcoholics and abusers instruct their kids in the fine points of abuse (whether directly or indirectly.) Yeah, he’s a bad father on top of everything else.

He also confused “levy” with “levee”, but if the Huffington Post’s elite team of proofreaders doesn’t think homonym confusion is important, who are we to bring it up?

Also, Dr. Dirk lives 30 miles from work. ITT gave him a $150 gift card and he spent it on gas.
The strangest thing about his lament, other than a would-be novelist having so unsophisticated a command of English, is that he still doesn’t get it. By that, we’re not talking about his insistence that a college degree is economically critical. Lots of people can’t figure that one out. What we mean is that he should seriously be grateful that his law school aspirations never made it to the completed stage. Dr. Dirk later finds out that a friend is working as a bankruptcy lawyer for considerably less than Dr. Dirk’s registrar salary. Shouldn’t the takeaway from that be “Thank God I failed the bar exam repeatedly”? It isn’t, or if it is, we couldn’t find his articulation of it.

Dr. Dirk likes to talk about how hard he works, which is meaningless; millions of other people make similar boasts. But he offers no solutions to his predicament, no hope, and, even at 50 or so and with plenty of academic credentials, no evidence that he understands how the world works. Fortunately, we do, and in the unlikely event that he’s reading this we’re willing to help him out.

RULE 1 OF ADULT LIFE

No one gives a damn about your effort. They want only results.

Your humble blogger’s last (and hopefully final) 9-to-5 gig was at an advertising agency. Such workplaces often pride themselves on their looseness (no dress code, wacky knickknacks adorning the hallways), and God knows we took advantage of the looseness. Need to meet with the client? Well, let’s do it on the client’s turf, not at our office. Maybe the client will spring for lunch. And if the meeting should take 2 hours, schedule it for 2 p.m. At that point, are you really going to come back to the office from the other side of town just to leave again? After a while we started getting cocksure and setting those meetings for even earlier in the afternoon (or later in the morning, as you do.)

All told, we probably spent 25 hours a week in the office. And were out of there at 5 p.m. every day, like it was a religious imperative. Meanwhile our contemporaries got there early, stayed late, came in on weekends, and bragged about it. But we got more work done than anyone in the department, typically completing thrice the assignments of an ordinary worker bee.

Not because of a heroic work ethic (see above.) Not necessarily because of personal efficiency. But rather, because we knew what to do, did it, and understood the unrepealability of Parkinson’s Law. The self-congratulatory cubicle soldiers screwed around all day, but they did their screwing around at the office and could be persuaded to look busy at the appropriate times. We were more interested in whittling the pile of assignments down as fast as possible (but not at the price of shoddiness, of course.)

Hardest worker in the office? Hell no. Worker who produced the most results? Yes, especially per unit of time spent.

The moral? How hard we worked was of no interest to anyone. Right now, you could grab a shovel and spend the next 8 hours digging holes. Then, spend the following 8 filling the holes back up. Do that 7 days a week and we guarantee your back will ache, your mind will atrophy, and you’ll be the hardest-working person on the block if not the county.

But if you’re expecting a reward for that, you’re even dumber than Dr. Dirk.

You didn’t do anything, or at least nothing that anyone wants and is willing to pay for. Effort for its own sake is a waste of time. And by that measure, Dr. Dirk’s life has been squandered.

At last count 378 fellow idiots had chimed in in the comments section, sympathizing with Dr. Dirk and laying blame on everyone from the Koch Brothers to the Walton clan of Walmart fame. We’re a little surprised that Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld avoided the commenters’ wrath, but at least they reminded us why we don’t and never will run comments on this site.

The rules for building wealth are simple, unambiguous, and posted here almost every day. Buy assets. Sell liabilities. Look at each transaction from the other party’s perspective. Leave emotions out of it. Dr. Dirk sold assets, bought liabilities (God, did he ever), looked at transactions from his own perspective only, and continues to emote all over the place, everywhere. He deserves to be poor and struggling, especially because of his refusal to adapt to circumstances instead of fighting them. You want to be like him, or do you want success, independence and the capacity for affluence? The choice is easy, the work it takes to accomplish said choice not much harder.

Dr. Dirk’s story is part of a series on the Huffington Post about losers who failed and are blaming society rather than themselves. If we’re feeling inspired (don’t expect miracles, you already know we’re lazy) we’ll write about some more of them.

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