A Transcript for Life

Once you reach a certain point in life, your scholarly and academic past is basically irrelevant. And don’t get me started on the varying sorts of intelligences people have which may, or may not, be reflected in one’s formal education. So, it came as an enormous surprise when a friend told me that one potential employer had requested a transcript. Given the fact that she works on Capitol Hill, I assumed they wanted some print out of her testimony before a congressional committee—not so. Instead, they wanted to see her law school grades from 30 years prior. What????? How in the world would marks from long ago academic studies reflect, in any way, her talents, experience, or knowledge today? This is not a question of whether she actually graduated, received a diploma, or passed the bar, this is reviewing actual letter grades for courses that reflect nothing about current day professional skills.


Scoffing at the inanity of what she was being asked to provide, I told my friend, Amateur Hour comes in many forms. So do Gate Keepers.


Over the course of my career and life, I have witnessed and interacted with a wide variety of people who consider themselves assessors of particular standards. Most of them are idiots who have no real sense of what’s important when making a key hire and simply look to promote those who either mirror their own credentials or those of their superiors. The analysis begins and ends at how closely the candidate resembles themselves. Instead of seeking out glimmers of creativity, lessons hard learned, or skills that cannot be taught, they ask for transcripts.


I’d laugh were it not for the fact that it is these same people who control whether or not one even makes it to first base. Sure, we can walk away and refuse to play with groups represented by such fatuous individuals—whose sense of great importance is but a cloak for bottomless insecurity–but the truth remains that they often stand between where we are and where we want to go. Since there are way more ignorant, easily threatened people in this world than there are creative, intelligent ones, you need to find a way to work within the system. I’ve seen examples of truly brilliant people who refused to do so and never got anywhere because an Army of One is, still, just one. So what does a re-booter do?


You need to be clever. You need to anticipate the Gate keepers’ concerns and strategize around them. If my experience in Academia, Government, and the corporate world is any barometer, I can say with total confidence that the Gate keepers always (and I mean always) have a personal priority that is part of their assessment equation. No, I’m not talking bribery; I’m suggesting that unspoken fears or desires can be addressed, massaged, or alleviated.


One of the hardest and biggest workplace lessons I learned was about office birthday parties. Although, like Elaine Benes, I detest the ritual of forced, workplace socializing, my unwillingness to participate in the weekly ritual resulted in my being branded all sorts of terrible names by my coworkers. This naïve choice on my part set the tone for all subsequent interactions with anyone else in the office and made my ability to get my job done exponentially harder. So I learned. Now, you will see me cheerfully participating in every candle party, cookie sale, holiday festival, you name it, I sign up for the pot luck.


This sort of knowledge can’t be found on any transcript. You get me?


What lessons have you learned that standard methods of evaluation won’t uncover? And, even more importantly, when you are evaluating unknown others, whether for work or social purposes, are you caught up in your own, little rigid checklist? A re-booter is smart enough to know that they haven’t thought of everything, that people come with all sorts of surprising qualities that we might miss if we insist on examining their transcript.


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