Epic Fail

Failure Resume

Epic FailI just finished my online portfolio. I recently listened to this NPR Commonwealth Club with Tina Seeling who suggestd writing a resume of failures to outline the experiences that you’ve had that have put you where you are today.  It was pretty interesting and I recommend doing it.  It makes you realize that it’s the risks you’ve taken that have put you in the great situations that you’re in now.  While it was interesting, I don’t recommend posting it as it’s a little personal.

Subbing: First Day

My first day of subbing was at a middle school on Austin’s east side. Later I found out from Annette’s mom, it was the worst part of the city in which to sub. It was far out of town in the middle of nowhere with only factories, strip-malls and pawnshops to dot the countryside. When I arrived I was told that there were 17 subs requested for the school that day. Partly it was because there was a teacher in-service that day but mostly it was because someone had shot at the police with an AK47 and now neighborhood was on lockdown and teachers were having trouble getting to work.

The teacher I was subbing for was doing the in-service onsite she told that she would be back at the end of the day. She also told me that they were great kids and that if they misbehaved to use the suspension forms. This should have given me a hint as to what was going to happen. Every teacher tells the sub that their class is good. She is the only one who ever told me to use suspension forms. All I had to do was hand out some tests and then an assignment. Easy.

First period was tired and they just tested me out a bit. They were loud and out of their chairs and screaming. The class talked, shouted, was rude, used foul language, etc. Second period was worse. They’d learned from the first period that I was unprepared. The kids thought the funniest thing was to ask for pencils and then break them, to ask for a test or handout and destroy it. I didn’t get a single test even handed back to me at the end.

In middle school teachers have little leverage because far and away the most important thing to most students is what their peers think of them. Every moment is an opportunity to be awesome or stupid in the eyes of their classmates. Cute girls who’re just becoming sexual and learning that they can command attention by getting boys to act out. In every class boys said and did all kinds of imbecilic things for the sexual bones that the girls threw their way: a smile here, a piece of eye contact there. While mysterious and seductive to their male peers, to someone twice their age their flirting was as subtle as a caveman dance. One 13 year old in first period left me a paper neatly folded on her desk: “My name is . My number is . Please call me.” It was shocking.

Paper was thrown; kids hit each other. When I got hit in the head with a rubber band I finally called school security. Without asking anything the man said “I’ll be right there’. Just before he arrived the kids shut up. They began working away quietly and when the security officer showed up at the door he asked what the problem was. I sheepishly told him that the kids had been out of control but they were fine now. He looked at the little angels and asked: “Are you guys being out of control?” That was all they needed and the room erupted in front of him in a blaze of insanity probably designed to show off how completely in control they were. “I wasn’t being disruptive. He was!!” said one. “It wasn’t me,” shouted his friend, hitting him. All hell broke loose. The security man made some brief threats about calling their parents and then he left and with him any semblance of authority. Looking back, it was all screwball comedy. This Asian kid who hardly spoke English came to me almost in tears. In a despairing voice: “Don’t call my parents! I’ve been working so hard!!!” As if there was any accountability at all.

The class’s reputation was so bad that by the last period, eight kids who wanted to do their work immediately abandoned ship and left for neighboring classrooms. “This sucks, is said one kid who stayed. Now it’s going to be all quiet in here.” And it was. Quiet and controllable. There was a conversation that went on and on… But that was ok. A cute girl flirting with her cute boys, an annoyance, not a threat.

While it felt like I was trying to stand in a cold rushing river for a few hours, for me the hardest part of the day was leaving. I tried to clean up the floor on which her class had used to store the contents of their backpacks. I wanted to let her know how the day had gone.

“It went ok.” I lied. “Nothing too bad.”
“Yeah, I heard they were out of control,” she said.
“Well, thanks.” I said.
“Thank you,” she said. And it was over.

She was stacking books and never looked at me during the exchange. The office told me I didn’t have to sign out. I left; feeling cheap, a call girl hired to keep the class busy while the girlfriend was away. Somehow I had misunderstood my role in the educational process and it stung. It was the toughest 75 bucks I’ve EVER earned.

barely legal: getting a work permit for argentina

When I was first hired as a project manager I asked about a work permit. My boss told me that we should wait a year and then see how useful I was to him. A year later I asked again and he said we should start the process. That was last September.

For a US citizen, the process begins with getting an original birth certificate and a background check from the USA. These then need to be certified, translated by an official translator into Spanish and then apostiled, a word with which I have become intimately familiar. This is probably easier if you are in the United States but I wasn’t and basically my mom did all this. It took her a few weeks and it only worked because we have a family friend who is a notary public.

These items were then sent to me and the long slog of bureaucratic bungling began. The forms were sent off to my company’s lawyer and a few months later we heard back from them. After weeks of wrangling over trying to get clarity of what I did or did not need, the office secretary assured me that everything was ok and that I should just relax. Every week I asked her if things were going well with my application and every week she reassured me that she had called the lawyers and that all was fine. After about two months of this it was discovered that about the only thing that our secretary was doing was embezzling lots of money. She was fired and it became clear that no progress had been made on my application.

After the new secretary was hired, things began to bumble along. There was an English guy at the office applying at the same time and it was good to go through the ordeal with someone else. It was hard to imagine the level of disorganization. One of the things we had to do was to get fingerprinted. We called the lawyer to get a date to do this. He said Monday. However, when we arrived at his office, he was not in and his secretary had not heard of us. His assistant glared at us drunkenly because we had displaced him from his seat. After waiting for 45 minutes the lawyer was located and the assistant was instructed to take us a few blocks to the fingerprinting place where we would meet the lawyer. He turned out to be a tall, thin fellow who looks like he is consolieri to the Argentine mafia. He explained to us that it was his understanding that we were to call him to confirm that we were coming and, as a result, he had not done what he had said he would do. This was an absurd lie but since the secretary had made the appointment, there was little we could say.

The next and final step was to go to the consulate in Uruguay. He told us that there was no need to book this because they were always available. Later he told our secretary that we would need to wait another month or so.

But the point is that this is something that CAN be done, despite the ridiculous bureaucracy, and yesterday my coworker and I went to Uruguay and received our Permisos de Ingreso to enter the country as legal workers.




Here is an excerpt from the class we’re developing on interpersonal communications:

When you first join an organization, you probably feel somewhat uncertain about what is expected of you and how the organization operates. During your first few months on the job, you undergo a socialization process where, by observing what the organization says and does, you learn how the organizational culture operates.

Understanding the culture helps people recognize what is important in the organization. It also helps them feel connected to the organization and develops an esprit de corps and a sense of belonging. The culture helps people predict and control what goes on in the organization.

Ideally, the culture also operates as a set of guiding principles for the organization. It sets a tone and guides the company’s actions both inside the organization and with the public.

Just reading this stuff reminds me of what a bad start I had at my job when I began a year or so ago and the uncomfortability that resulted from the poor choices I made. I had not anticipated the intense cultureshock mixed the language barrier and the moving to a new place. Wow! Looking back, I can’t believe I did it. A teacher at the Seattle YMCA told me before I left about Machu Pichu and after her trek up it she believed she could do anything. Perhaps I done everything in Buenos Aires with style and grace, but I am still here with good friends, a great job, and a feeling that now I can do anything.

accepting work

I was invited back for a second interview which contained a kind of short test to see how well I operated in Word. Mark offered me the job and I accepted. I had decided to accept the job before we talked about the particulars. I was happy and I wanted to work.



It felt wonderful to go in and be treated as part of a team, working on a common job with a common goal, to be rewarded with money and praise, with people who believed in their project. It felt good, a friendly relaxation from feeling the weight of the world on your shoulders. Perhaps Atlas was tricked or perhaps without the world resting on his shoulders he felt too light, too weightless and without inertia.

But in the same moment it was strange. Here after so long out of the fold of standard work it felt strange that their priorities were all product based. At the school I worked at, my main work experience thus far, we were process oriented. We did not measure our success by grades, tests, overall graduation rate, or anything else. We actually had no objective means of measuring our success at all.

What we did have was goodwill, love, resources and a means to distribute them to kids. Perhaps we did have some standard by which we judged ourselves but I was never aware of it at the time. Our philosophy was very Christian in it’s basis: “go out and do good” and “We come not to destroy the Learning Objectives and the Average Daily Attendance but to uphold it.”

Our standards were more like did our students smile more, did Sarah like math now, or did we have more or fewer things to stamp, sign or photocopy. But these were never objectively measured and we never would have wanted them to be. We shied away all form of measurement, perhaps because our job was more art than science. We were the caretakers of the cracks pushing back those near the edge who were losing their balance.

Perhaps, standing back and looking at the numbers (and by “the numbers” I mean people’s lives and the work and value that they place on those lives) there are patterns that form and perhaps by working harder in one area while focusing less on another we could, perhaps, have done a better job. Perhaps then we could have reduced our art to science, perhaps made it capable of being performed by a computer program while we hurried around doing something else, but there was something that always struck me as intense when I see the resistance that many teachers have towards measuring progress. Perhaps it is in the measuring of lives we place values on those lives.

I have a friend back in Utah working for a large multinational corporation named Honeywell. She needs the job for her baby, who is about 4 months old at the moment. She has a family to support. But Honeywell is a company that does bad things like make parts of bombs. Recently there was a bomb that was marked as food and exploded a lot of people in some far away country. That bomb was partly made by Honeywell. She feels like she does bad things in order to feed her family.

Like many large projects we see only one small piece of the puzzle and will never understand the impact that our work has on the world. Our job is to fill the textbooks, to make them more efficient, so that students can learn the data inside. The company’s goal of providing quality educational resources seems to be pure but I doubt there’s a single employee who thinks much about the students, except as he might feel a twinge at not finishing the last morsels of his plate because of the “starving children in India.”

The Online Job Hunt

Job postings on the internet were scarce and it is strange to see http://buenosaires.craigslist.com postings, usually an informal way for people to connect cheaply, adapted to fit the US tourist/expat market abroad.

For example, under the FOR SALE catagory:

Are you a female that wants to become an american citizen. If you are this is your chance. Is it worth 5000 to become an american citizen. If it is Email me

The housing market is little different, the standard advertisements for apartments are at a weekly rate and about five times what is paid by Argentineans.

The jobs were almost all for e-commuting webdesign jobs. Argentineans are well educated, have access to technology and will work for cheap. Freelance outsourcing is the rule here. One job stuck out a bit more than the others. It was for a project manager with web design experience. I responded and it turned out to be a freelance curriculum development company based in Buenos Aires. Why are they in Argentina? I quote their website: “And the significant cost savings made possible by our Buenos Aires production facilities makes our solutions affordable.”

I got an interview and I waver over how much to ask for. I have calculated my expenses at $800 a month. This gives me leeway. If I were living as a porteño I would only be spending about $400 but it would be difficult to find housing that cheaply without a guarantia and also I want to get out and do more things than the average person who grew up here would want to do.

The interview goes great. The owner, Mark, was very helpful and offered to assist in the apartment hunt whether or not I got the job. Getting an apartment in the city is a little difficult since Buenos Aires has a fairly archaic system of rental laws. For this, the landlords demand a “guarantia”, which is essentially a guarantee from a friend of the renters who owns land, guaranteeing that rent will be paid or their property will be forfeit. This is partly due to archaic rent laws which state that once in an apartment it is near impossible to remove a bad tenant who refuses to pay. It is also partly due to a feudal class system of excluding those who lack land (or a friend who does) from living in the city. There are apparently ways for foreigners to get around this, all of which involve paying a bit more.

He said he was not getting many applicants. He had advertised on craigslist and got replies from people in the USA asking to be flown out. He thought not.

Half the interview questions were about why I was in Argentina. This I found difficult to answer. To be assured I wasn’t going to say I just wanted a job cause it suited me. So I said that I had traveled here specifically for that, which was more or less true. Why Buenos Aires? I like it here. Bad answer. I should have said: “cause I’ve always wanted to let my dog shit on the sidewalk.”
The best I could come up with was “when I return to the states and live in San Francisco I don’t know what I’ll say at the interview there.” Then I countered by asking why it was an important question and he told me he didn’t want travelers. And I assured him by telling him that I was not a traveler and I was here to work. It was a lie but it was nice to get all that out in the open. I doubt he was totally convinced but I didn’t care. I fit the job profile better than anyone else he’s looking for: I’m young, eager, cheap, smart, and have experience in everything the job asks for. If I didn’t get it, he’d have made a hiring mistake.

The next day I checked my email even though they told me they’d be calling back only next week. I somehow hoped the next interviewee would not show and they’d just give me the job by default. That seems to be how I get most of my jobs. But I’m good on an interview and I enjoy talking to people.

Over the next few days I became worried about staying too long in Buenos Aires and things not working out. People would ask me what I was doing and what my plans were. Every time that I answered that I was going to live here I would build up my failure if things did not work out. I almost decided to leave the city so I wouldn’t have to worry about hearing back from the job.

In the meantime the freelance jobs I had applied for were not responding. The only one I heard from was a person wanting a web design project done in Flash. I have no experience in Flash but I want to learn. I realized that I didn’t even have my laptop. There was no way at all that I could learn how to use this complicated software using internet kiosks.

The Buenos Aires Job Hunt

Anna, who is also toying with the idea of living here, got great job listings from the French Embassy and everyone I talked to suggested the American Embassy would be an excellent resource. Armed with an up to date resume I marched off to find out for myself. When I went I was surprised American Embassy in Buenos Aires is attended almost entirely by people who do not speak English and not US citizens. After being told various things ranging from the Embassy was not open that day to being misdirected in various lines I finally found myself in a room containing people lounging around in chairs and waiting for something to happen. I took a number and waited with them. After half an hour of no one being called I asked them if there was anyone attending the window. “Oh yes,” they said, “You just go up and ring the bell.” I went up and rang the bell which was marked in Spanish “Ring for Immediate Attention” and I was served at once. It turns out that the only service they offer is providing the address of the American Chamber of Commerce website. This being done the lady promptly bid me a good day and disappeared, presumably until someone else rang the bill.

The American Chamber of Commerce is in on the 10th floor of a large building next to the courthouse. There were a large number of people and press gathered outside. I asked the doorman what was up and it turned out to be a protest against the sentencing of a boy accused of a serious crime. The crowd was friends and family who insisted on his innocence. My Spanish is poor and as a result I perceive the world through the eyes of a child. Because I get confused between words like “judge”, “court case”, “courthouse” and “sentencing proceedings” I must be content with overly simplified explanations: “There is a bad boy but we are not sure if he is bad. So now we are seeing and these people like him.”

My Spanish has improved by leaps and bounds. It is not consistently good or bad but rather fluctuates depending on my energy level, my level of comfort, the context of the conversation and who I am talking to. The most important factor seems to be comfortability with the conversation. If I am not comfortable then I simply cannot speak in Spanish.

The nice girl at the American Chamber of Commerce referred me to the website but agreed to take my resume and hand it on to interested parties. “The website is good though,” she confidently assured me, “companies log in and do a search of your qualifications and if you have skills that match what they’re looking for then they call you. You will be probably be looking for a job in…” She scanned my resume for a minute or two and then said, less confidently, “Oh I’m sure you’ll find something…”

2nd day

Came in early by mistake. Maybe my clock is wrong at home.
Got my rhapsody subscription but boss doesn-t like headphones. No headphones

Tired at end

Actual yom kippur

Designed the 6 degrees thing.

I suspect that this is an unhealthy environment. Took a break to read. I talked to aviva on chat. She liked the conversation and saved it. I was saying I thought I was being unhealthy, sought out unhealthy relationships especially with women who need help. She wants to help me. Says I help her.