Dream Jobs That You’re Glad You Didn’t Pursue
Scott C. Reynolds is a collector of broken career dreams. This column examines the life that might have been had he, or you, followed through.
So You Wanted to be a Food Critic…
You were never able to commit to any specific career path. You went through phases where you wanted to be just about everything imaginable, from an archaeologist to a zookeeper, but you couldn’t stick with any calling long enough to succeed. Your friends, your parents and—deep down inside—even you, accused you of being all talk and no action. That was a pill hard to swallow, though, so you worked hard to convince yourself that you simply hadn’t found your passion yet.
Inspiration came thirty pounds later when you were face deep in a bowl of baked macaroni and artisanal cheese. You had been emotionally eating your way through Brooklyn’s finest—and douchiest—new eateries for a few months as you dealt with the repercussions of shallow self-reflection. Your primary gig as a bookseller at Barnes & Noble wasn’t enough to keep you in both an apartment and trendy food, and as you struggled to deal with that reality you had an epiphany. You would make eating your job.
That night at work, you used your employee discount to buy a dozen Moleskine notebooks, all of which you would fill with your insightful gastronomical musings within weeks. Between the distractions of customers asking you where to find the latest Twilight book (“Oh, I don’t know… steal any teenage girl’s purse”) you penned the first draft of your first review—an ode to baked macaroni and artisanal cheese:
The flavor leaps from the dish to your tongue before the meal even arrives at your table—hitching a ride on the succulent smells wafting from the kitchen. The presentation is simple and rustic with cheese magma seeping between rigatoni crags, boldly daring one to brave this dangerous delight. For the intrepid explorer the reward is pure creamy gold that would have convinced Pizarro that El Dorado had been found in the heart of Williamsburg. Pair it with one of the many local brews that they have on tap and you will be in for a truly rare palate pleaser.
You couldn’t believe how easily the review flowed from your fingers, your pen a natural extension of your taste buds. This was clearly what you should have been doing all along. You had found your calling.
After your shift was over you rushed home to lay the foundations of your empire. You would need a new blog. You chose the first passable WordPress template you could find and began writing. You posted the review you had created earlier at work, making sure to link the restaurant to the post. Then you tweeted it to your audience of 37 followers, making sure to “@” the restaurant’s Twitter as well. Your audience wasn’t big right now, but you knew that with time and consistency you could grow it exponentially. That was the power of the web. And for now, you figured maybe the restaurant would retweet your review to all its followers, and who knows? You could become an overnight sensation!
After a restless night you woke up and immediately jumped on the computer to check blog traffic and Twitter mentions. The results were underwhelming. You didn’t let it get you down, however, and you started to make a schedule of restaurants to review. Consistency was the key to getting noticed, and it surely wouldn’t be long before you were dining for free in the finest establishments, where the chefs all prepare their best off-menu delights in blatant attempts to curry your favor.
You continued to post reviews. You went to ever-more popular places in an attempt to ride some of the buzz surrounding them. Each review garnered just enough new comments that you retained your tenuous grip on your dream. The food didn’t hurt either. Each dish you ate was more succulent, and more expensive, than the last. Your word count and your credit card statement were neck and neck in the race for the title of “Supreme Devastator of Canadian Old-Growth Forest” when printed.
The pinnacle of your popularity was a piece you posted entitled, “Bring Me Your Finest Food Stuffed with Your Second-Finest—Mexican Stuffed Lobster at Poblano.” Your best attempts to decipher the Google Analytics report for the entry indicated that twelve people read it. The ad revenues weren’t coming in. The restaurants weren’t taking notice and comping your meals. Nobody was sharing your reviews on Facebook and helping them “go viral.” You were drowning, but still determined that you could make it—a shipwrecked sailor floating in the South Pacific convinced that you’d bump into an island if you could only tread water long enough. The sharks had other plans for you.
In desperation you decided to go “blue” with your reviews. If reruns of Jerry Springer had taught you anything it’s that idiots love sensationalism. Instead of trying to make your name reviewing only the most delectable foods with flowery and effervescent prose, you would scorch the earth. You tore through outer borough eateries like Sherman marching to Savannah. You attacked chef specials with a ferocity that would make Gordon Ramsay blush and ask you to take it down a notch.
Nobody took notice.
You were out of money and out of ideas to keep the dream alive. When you returned home from a night out sampling yet another Asian fusion place, you found an eviction notice on your door. You had no choice but to move back to the suburbs and live with your parents until you could get back on your feet. You were optimistic, though, because the pressure would be off. With no bills to speak of you could take your time to build your name as a food critic. In a smaller, tight-knit community, people would definitely notice your reviews. You would become a local celebrity overnight. It didn’t occur to you until much later that, in a town where Applebee’s is considered fancy date night fare, nobody really needs a food critic.
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