Don’t give me that potential crap. Give me the actual crap.

Until the age of 50, I never had a job interview for a job I didn’t get. From high school and college-age gigs like construction worker, bartender, and fitness instructor through the career-related jobs you start to get in your mid to late 20s, I sailed through life never knowing what that was like—to get up, shower, shave, put on a tie, go through the icky interview (usually more than one icky interview), and not get the job. Partial exception: As a college sophomore, I auditioned for a play; I got a callback, but not the role. But that shouldn’t count, should it? It wasn’t a real, paying job. And there was a simple workaround: I simply gave up theater, changed dreams, and never looked back.

I can't recall the psychiatrist's name, but I managed to get this photo of him. He was good. Damn good. Obsessed with sex, though.

I can’t recall the psychiatrist’s name, but I managed to get this photo of him. He was good. Damn good. Obsessed with sex, though.

Time to look back. Because my bank account indicates I made some seriously bad decisions. And the last sentence of the previous paragraph holds a clue that I need to work out—and I’m determined to drag you along, dammit.

A comprehensive postmortem of my chosen career path and “life performance” (is that a thing?) would demand a self-psychoanalysis that surely would be as boring as it would be horrifying. Some things should remain unacknowledged and unspoken, or at the very least absolutely private between the deranged patient and his psychiatrist.

A psychiatrist, not coincidentally, plays a role in this real-life drama. I’ve had two or three occasions in life that afforded me the chance to sit with an actual shrink and discuss the actual me. As a medical writer, I worked in the psychiatric “area” (why do I feel the need to put quotes around that? does that mean something?), during which time I met and worked with leading psychiatrists around the country. You may have heard this elsewhere: many of these medical specialists are fairly wacky. But I had a good time, understood the drug category pretty well (those psychoactive molecules play brain receptors like Miss Wilson, the church lady, plays the pipe organ—play that funky music, church lady). And while I had come to view most psychiatrists as educated drug dealers, in business to prescribe the right molecular music for your particular brand of neural derangement, the guy I’m thinking of—and I really can’t recall his name, location, or how I came to be sitting in front of him—was, apparently, one of few remaining psychiatrists still clinging to “traditional” talk therapy (there go those quotation marks again? and why would this guy cling to talk therapy? what deep personal motives were driving him? and why have I mind-blocked him, his name, location, hourly rates?).

Anyhoo, he was good. He asked me a question, my response contained the word “potential” (OK, here the quotation marks are fine), and he was off and running. He asked me a second question about potential, I said something like, yes, my parents thought I had great potential and supported every “life decision” (is that a thing?) I ever made, and he just sat back with a long exhale and said something like “Whoa.” And he shook his head. Like I just told him my Dad taught me how to commit serial murders using only a Bowie knife and my Mom kept my appointment calendar.

And then he poked his finger right into the open wound that I then realized I had carried for a long time, kept well hidden from just about everyone, and only now am pleased to report has healed to a barely noticeable scar: “So they led you to believe that you could do anything you want, anything you set your mind to do? You understand how that sets you up, right? And how damaging that can be?”

Is this man happy? He's really rich.

Is this man happy? He’s really rich.  (Michael Vadon)

And yes, I saw it. Not that it changed the way I approached my son or any young person misguided enough to seek my advice. I remain a supportive person to anyone who has a dream or ambition to do anything (short of felonies). But for me, for me, there were times in my life I needed a kick in the ass. Not unconditional support. For me, it may have backfired. Because I’ve always felt I could do anything, always figured the money would just come, and never concentrated on making the kind of money that would come in handy right now. At a point where, experience has shown, I indeed am capable of going on job interviews and not ending up with the job.

I have no idea what the moral is here. Maybe, if you pursue your career with no regard for money, chances are you won’t end up with any? Or, pick a dream and stick with it; if you flit from dream to dream like a butterfly, you’ll get eaten by a bird?

Here’s a good moral; unfortunately, it’s for some other story: Money can’t buy happiness.

I give up. Hey, maybe that’s the moral! Never give up. Is it too late to try out for a play? I’d apply to medical school to be a psychiatrist, but they really don’t make very much.

KJC dingbat-thumbnail


About Keith Croes

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Posted on November 7, 2015, in career advice, careers, commitment, delusional thinking, goals, potential, psychiatry and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Keith: Enjoyed reading your blog, or more accurately, hearing about you. In my “case”, for many years (about 30 of them), my work involved something that I didn’t enjoy doing and that gave me very little gratification. In the end, it paid the bills, allowed me to walk away from it at the end of the day, and it provided some security upon retirement.

    I admire the few people I know that have done work that they really enjoyed and were good or very good at performing that work. Most stayed at a particular job, or at least in a related area of work a long time. Those that do work that they enjoy, hopefully, will be healthier in the long run. At least their work has, again hopefully, not affected their health adversely.

    When it comes to physical health, I jogged from 1980 to 1994; and when a doctor recommended that I stop running for exercise (in ’94), I headed for the gym where I continue to try to go every other day/3 days a week. I never liked running, and I don’t enjoy working out at the gym. But I probably feel much better physically for the efforts I put into staying fit. Too, and mostly from running, I often felt that if I could finish a particular run, I could get through most anything–phyically, mentally, or emotionally.

    Like you, I interviewed for very few jobs that I didn’t get. My advice over the years to people looking for work was to go in knowing your skills and abilities, and try to enjoy the interview. Too, I recommended that if the person was interested in a particular kind of work where they had little or no experience, to request an information interview. Ask for a supervisor or manager, and ask them whether you could just come in and talk to them about a particular kind of work–even if there is no job vacancy. You would learn about the job, and the supervisor or manager would meet and get to know you a little bit. And, possibly, that or another door would open somewhere down the pike as a result of the meeting.

    So, wishing you well, and hope that the job that you are looking for turns up.

    Jon Bernheimer


    • Thanks, Jon. Physical activity is basic; in one of the many ways that I’ve been lucky, and for which I feel almost uninterrupted gratitude, my body remains in pretty good shape. Lord knows I’ve done much to challenge it. I’m going to knock on wood here; I’m not superstitious, but I’ve come to believe that something exists beyond the current understanding of science, and most scientists would probably freely admit that. What’s beyond science, really, is more science. Stuff we don’t know is just science beyond where it currently is. So I’m not superstitious, but whenever I find myself saying something like “I’m in great shape” or “This never…” or “This always…,” I look for wood to knock on. My head usually suffices. I like your ideas on landing a new job, and congratulate you on living a life that let’s you do whatever it is you’re doing without chronic money worries. In fact, I still don’t worry about money; I just don’t have much right now. I do have paying work (knock on wood), but like many freelancers, the time horizon is limited to several months. After that, who knows? Here’s the equalizer: Anyone with a full-time job who thinks he’s secure for the next year or 2 years or 5 years is more hopeful than realistic. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Hope you’re doing stuff you enjoy; hope your body and my body continue to hold together adequately; hope both of us fulfill whatever “potential” we have.


Thanks! Your thoughts always appreciated.

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