Before I tell this story, I have to remind the youngsters out there that public schools used to be different. For example, sex education actually covered science and research. ‘Family of origin’ questions were allowed because everybody just assumed that everybody else was a legal resident of this country with a mom and a dad. And if you had two dads, it was simply a metaphor because you really liked your Uncle Bruce and not because your dad was married to him.
This was the 1990s before Bill Clinton. A simpler time.
So I was asked to write an essay about my family and describe our immigration to America — but the teacher wanted something more.
“Don’t be afraid to reflect on your family’s history in this country once they arrived. Do you have any great accomplishments to share? Any major skills or proficiencies? Be inspired. Start by asking yourself — what is the one word that describes your family as a whole?
And my word was diarrhea.
I am a fourth-generation American with multiple ethnic heritages running through my blood. The only way to describe my background is sketchy and vague. My mom told me that my dad is Polish. My father always said that my mom is a liar and that he is Austrian. He told me that my Mom is Jewish. My mom said, “We are German and Pennsylvanian Dutch.”
Also, who the fuck cares?
There is one thing I can be sure about, though. The major events and accomplishments in my family all revolve around diarrhea, which is why it features so prominently in my blog. I don’t know much about work, money, power or politics but I do know that you need three toilet covers before you poop.
Even if you have explosive diarrhea, it is important to hold yourself together and
- put one layer down to absorb the germs,
- put another layer down to absorb any germs that seep through,
- and add a final layer to keep your bottom clean.
This advice has been handed down through multiple generations in my family and has served me well in sketchy bathrooms all over the world. I think it’s worth including in an essay.
And you want accomplishments? I’ll give you accomplishments. I once ate dinner at an Outback and had dessert at a Bakers Square and rode home in a car with three other family members. We had to stop several times — and it took us twice as long to get home — but nobody lost a single pair of underpants that day.
Damn, I love that French Silk Pie!
Whenever someone asks you to choose one word to describe anything — especially if they are asking you to pick one word to describe yourself during a job interview — you can pick the word diarrhea. Go ahead. Do it.
You don’t have to say the word out-loud, of course, but I think it is very important to acknowledge the truths in our lives.
So my word is diarrhea. Maybe yours is alcoholism. Maybe it’s passion. Quite possibly, your word might Prozac. Whatever it is, own it. Stop lying to yourself about your word.
Then say something stupid and obvious like tenacious or strategic.
That’s what your interviewer really wants to hear.