I went to the movies the other night. I’m always going to the movies the other night. Rare is there a day when I can’t say that I went to the movies the other night. On this particular other night I saw the movie The Spectacular Now. Overall, it was pretty great. I would recommend this movie to anyone who doesn’t mind teens who are wistfully coming of age, discovering themselves, and falling in love. Don’t go see this movie if you didn’t like My Girl or Sixteen Candles. If you don’t like those movies, and would rather see something like, oh I don’t know, maybe Pi or The Tree of Life, we can’t be friends. You obviously prefer movies that are depressing and boring. If you ever decided that maybe you’d like to give less pretentious a shot, a good first step is spending less time with Terrance Malick and more time with a guy named Greg Kinnear*.
*Note: If I had one wish, it would for Greg Kinnear and Hugh Grant to fall in love, and have the world’s most generically handsome child ever. That child would grow up to have a moderately successful career as an actor, and everyone would agree that they liked his movies, but they would never be able to remember the titles.
But back to The Spectacular Now: in the first (and last) scene, lovable goofball Sutter Keeley is typing a college admissions essay to what appears to be a generic everyman-sort of liberal arts college (its like the Greg Kinnear of colleges). His essay prompt is asking him to “Describe a time that he had had to overcome a significant challenge or hardship.”
Man, I fucking hate that question. I would rather spend my day watching all of Terrence Malick’s movies in reverse (Fun Fact: watching his movies backwards has no impact on the plot. His movies are narrative palindromes). That question has followed me around practically my entire adult life. It is THE GO-TO question for an interviewer who is actually a moron. What do you think this question actually accomplishes? Does it separate those that can overcome challenges from those that can’t? Does anyone answer this question with “Ah sorry, I’ve faced many challenges in my life, but alas, I have been completely unable to overcome a single one.”
The best/worst time I was asked to describe to describe my challenge/hardship overcoming-ability was when I was a senior in college and applied to Teach for America. It was 2008, the global economy had just collapsed, and having a job for two years sounded pretty appealing. I completed the online application, which included an essay portion. One of the questions was (Can you guess? I bet you can, you seem pretty smart.) “Please describe three different occasions when you faced a challenge or hardship and how you overcame each.” Ugh. Ok. I pulled out my three best challege-overcoming anecdotes. I don’t remember what they were. I think one of them might have had to do with that time I took AP US History in high school.
Anyway, I wrote the damn essay. Shortly after my submission, I was informed via email that I made it to the next round – a phone interview. The phone interviewer was nice. I really felt like we were vibing. Then she said “Ok, so in online application we asked you to describe three challenges you’ve faced. Could you please describe three other challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame each?”
Again? Really? Ok. I must have pulled an answer out of my ass, because shortly thereafter I received and email informing that I made it to the third and final round (a daylong group simulation, followed by an in-person interview). To be perfectly honest, I barely remember the group simulation. I know it involved pretending to be a teacher, but not actually teaching anything. I definitely don’t remember anything about the in-person interview other than how it ended.
The interviewer asked me “In the previous two rounds we asked to describe challenges you’ve faced. Could you please describe three more challenges you’ve faced and how you overcame them without reusing any of your previous answers?”
For those of you counting, this would be life challenge seven, eight, and nine. So I said, “What do you people want from me! I’m an upper-middle class white male who attends a prestigious and expensive university that my parents are paying for. Other than having to make up invent challenges for this interview, I haven’t faced any real challenges. I’m able to apply to a program ostensibly about helping the under privileged because I’m over privileged.”
My ancestors spent the last several hundred years exploiting, subjugating, oppressing, and conquering so that I could enjoy a fairly hardship-free life. It would be ungrateful of me to complain after all the hard work they put in. “It’s like I handed out small pox blankets for NOTHING!” Lord Jeffrey Amherst would say to me.
and for some reason, I wasn’t selected to help mold young minds. Go figure.