Job-hunting completely alters one’s sense of the relationship between effort and results; long shots and shoo-ins get pretty hard to tell apart. I’ve applied for scores of jobs that looked absolutely perfect for my background and experience, and never heard back; one might as well fold resumes into paper boats and sail them up the Hudson. (Hey, it would be a lot more fun!) After a few months of this, buying lottery tickets can actually start to look tempting—how different can the odds be?

I’ve never been one for entering contests—but, in fact, that’s exactly what applying for a job is. Think about it: you do your best to supply the winning answer, the cleverest and most convincing solution to the puzzle or problem, and hope that the judges vibrate on your wavelength and recognize your brilliance above all others. How can you not drive yourself crazy trying to second-guess them?

I actually knew the answer to this question when I was six. In first grade, I was handed a sheet of paper and a big, soft pencil. Our teacher explained that one student’s artwork would be featured on the program cover for the school-wide holiday pageant; we would now work on drawing pictures for consideration. My passion then was drawing horses on carousels, every chance I got—and this was not a chance to be passed up. In a nod to the holiday theme, I added a holly leaf in each corner of the page and striped the poles like candy canes. When the teacher collected our sheets, I never thought about it again.

About a week later, I was summoned to the principal’s office … and made to understand that I was not in trouble, but my carousel had been selected from drawings submitted by hundreds of students in every class, from the first grade through the sixth. I was too young to explain to my mother what had happened, though I tried. She only figured it out in the school auditorium, with the program in her lap.

I thought about this—and the spelling bee I won in sixth grade, spending my prize money on a small oil painting at the Niantic Art Show, which I still have—when Symphony Space ran a contest two weeks ago that prompted me to recapture that “do it for fun” spirit. The theme of the upcoming Selected Shorts event was “Apartments and Neighbors,” and a pair of tickets would be awarded to “the person who writes in with the most humorous or horrific story about their experiences with their apartments, landlords or neighbors.”

Now, other New Yorkers might have moved more often, but I have a talent for moving. And my last move was a doozy, requiring me to be homeless for a month in between apartments. I figured that if I didn’t win the contest, I’d still get a good blog post out of it. A move is, after all, the ultimate embrace of the new. How dizzying it was to lie on the bare wooden floor of my new apartment as it was being painted, staring up at the ceiling and realizing that these strange walls would eventually come to signify “home” for me as surely as those of my last apartment, their every bump and angle intimately known after 20 years.

I sat down and wrote. As a frame of reference, I traced the ascending curve of my moves, beginning with the first (in a Checker cab) and ending with the five-man, two-van, warehouse-in-Brooklyn saga. The challenge was getting it all into 500 words … but I managed to hit “send” about ten minutes before midnight on the day of the contest deadline. I went to bed tired but satisfied; I had done my best and had a great time in the process.

Guess what? I won. (Click here, and you can read my winning entry on the Symphony Space blog.)

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15 Comments on “Winning”

  1. Deborah Perez Says:

    Hi Jane,

    I couldn’t go to bed without reading your blog; this one took me back in time, elementary school. I never entered any contest because I was always afraid of competing. I couldn’t accept any defeat, but I have learned a lot from my mistakes and it has made a better person. Today, I played mega and power ball and invested ONLY two dollars, “you never all you need is a dollar and a dream.” Best! Debbie

    • Hi Debbie:

      Didja win? 😉

      Sometimes I think we learned everything we needed to know in elementary school; it’s just that the lessons were so far back that we’ve forgotten a lot of them. I remember a second- or third-grade teacher calling on me for an answer, then saying it was wrong and moving on to the next kid with his hand up. I was puzzled, because I KNEW I had the right answer, but I didn’t say anything. After several kids had all supplied answers that were wrong, the teacher pointed out that my answer had, in fact, been right … and that we should stand up and speak out when we knew we were right, even if it meant challenging an adult in authority. Haven’t forgotten THAT lesson!

  2. jomiddleton Says:

    Congratulations! I loved this post and your competition entry. You have such an easy to read style, that creates such vivid pictures in my mind – I can see you there lying on the air bed gazing at the apartment around you!

    Always a pleasure to read your posts x

    • Thanks, Jo … as it is to read yours! You’ve been very busy and inspired lately; I feel like a complete slacker next to you. Your girls are so funny and wise … and just when they seem all sweetness and light, they turn around and deliver the “sucker punch”! “Grey hair,” indeed!

  3. Jane,

    I love your style. Plus I can relate to making boats out of your resumes. I however, have the Kankakee River to sail them down.

    So what did you win?


    • Thanks, Karen! I won a pair of tickets to the Selected Shorts reading on the topic of “Apartments and Neighbors” — the first time I’ve attended a live presentation rather than just listening on the radio. Come to think of it, I believe I was also supposed to get a Selected Shorts CD — gotta get in touch with them! 😉

  4. Hiromi Says:

    Hi, I found you through the seven colleges group on linked in. I love your blog. We have moved 6 times in the last 8 years so I can totally relate. I like to think that every move is to a better place and am currently loving my new home. Who knows what the future holds?

    • Thanks, Hiromi! They say moving is as traumatic as divorce or job loss … but when we can see the better place we’re going to, it’s a lot easier to bear. You must be an expert at positive thinking by now! 😉

  5. Katie Gates Says:

    I really enjoyed that winning essay. And, as a former New Yorker, it’s heartening to know that Symphony Space still exists!

    • Thanks! Oh, yes … and if you haven’t seen Symphony Space since its “slightly shabby former movie theater” days (in which the homeless used to sleep in front of the doors), you’d be in for quite a surprise. It’s now the cultural epicenter of the Upper Upper West Side, a sort of Lincoln Center North!

  6. Hi, Jane. Glad to find your blog! Looking for a job can be so incredibly demoralizing. Just keep reminding yourself of your wins and keep entering those contests.

    • Thanks, Emma! I was so glad to have found yours as well, and have forwarded it to several people. You definitely have the makings of a book!

      Yep … a win every now and then, no matter what kind, does a lot to keep the morale up.

  7. Andy Eddins Says:

    Hi Jane,

    I told Ivan about your blog and fund-raising bicycle effort – we’re making a contribution.

    I also wanted to commiserate about the lottery-like quality of finding a job in this here and this now. It’s certainly a lesson in fortitude and remembering the winner in each of us. Congrats on your win!

    • Thanks so much, Andy!

      I actually found a lottery ticket on the street today and thought, “Wouldn’t this make a great blog post if… if …?” But alas, it wasn’t a winner … so I’ll have to keep sending out those job applications!


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