Things I *Don’t* Know For Sure

“Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.” ~Sigmund Freud

I was recently in a business seminar when a student shyly revealed that she had a certain health issue. The instructor squinted like she was taking aim, then informed us that this was an example of excessive transparency. “Too much transparency,” she said, “reveals your vulnerability and makes others feel they can take you down. Beware.”

I wanted to take her down, just because she’d been such a stone cold bitch to this poor woman. I wanted to grip the lapels of her ill-fitting poly-blend blazer and turn her toward a widescreen viewing of Brene Brown’sThe Power of Vulnerability”. I wanted to prove that she had it backwards, that vulnerability actually helps us connect with others in a big, brave way. Instead, I just marveled at how I’d never seen a woman who looked so much like Ronald Reagan. (Seriously, she was a dead ringer.)

This is a blog about embracing uncertainty–in career and in life in general. People, there is going to be some transparency. Cozy up.

Let’s start here: Several years ago, the economy tanked. Obviously.

Where were you when it happened? I sometimes want to ask people–from cousins at my family reunion to strangers in the street–as if it was the Kennedy assassination or the Challenger explosion. It has not been so instantaneous an disaster, but a disaster nonetheless.

I think of my friends who took a work sabbatical to travel around the world from 2008 to 2009. I think of how jealous I was of the guy who bought both a small house and a fuel-efficient hybrid that year. Still others planned lavish weddings, but now surely wonder: Um, sweetie, should we have skipped those thousand-dollar monogrammed petit fours? Within six to twelve months, most of  these people would have their proverbial shuttle explode too, slammed by the economy in one way or another.

I was lucky, sort of.  I caught the brunt of it early, just as Obama took office. On the one hand, this was utterly isolating, since being broke was not even remotely socially acceptable. No one rallied as the 99% or whatever, and no one cared that I couldn’t afford my car registration. Yet soon everyone would care, while I’d have bounced back.

This was the thin but sparkly silver lining: By the time my peers were pink slipped or foreclosed or [fill in the blank with standard Recession horror story], I could offer empathy that I’d not widely received. It was as though I’d explored some kind of dark, forgotten socioeconomic territory and returned with shreds of a map. Are you lost? Maybe I can show you the way.

So: Where was I when it happened? In 2008, I was a freelance writer polishing up a series of career guides. (I also kept a personal career blog.) My research revealed steadily dropping earnings at major corporations. Thinking of the college grads to whom the guides were targeted, I thought: Good luck, kids. You’re gonna need it.

Incidentally, I myself had just been accepted to grad school for creative writing–but quickly realized there was no way I could pay for it.That career guide gig gave me an economic reality check that probably saved my butt. It was also the last major freelance contract that I had for a long timea blessing in disguise.

New to wine country, I rolled up my sleeves and went looking for tasting room work. It took an entire year to find a job at a popular artisan winery, where I began slinging booze. Within a few months, I was doing some copywriting and marketing consulting, too. I was hungry (in every way) for more. Previously a champion of self employment, I now craved the security of a full time job.

So I volunteered to do anything and everything that was needed. I made it up as I went along:  cavalier. Three and a half years later, I now manage the winery’s operations and communications. I have a blast.

(Maybe hearing how much I love my job is nauseating for those of you who are unemployed. If so, write me and I will personally send you my top 25 most shameful moments of 2008-2010 underemployment. This list exists, and actually includes a day when I was forced to steal toilet paper from a state park. Okay?)

Why has the wine industry been so right for me? It’s not the free-flowing booze or the high falutin’ lifestyle that draws me. And while I respect the hell out of my colleagues, I’m not one of those cellar groupies who thinks winemakers are enigmatic and godlike. Sure, I love that my job mixes time at the desk with time in the vineyard–but that’s not the true appeal. What, then?

I love the uncertainty. Revel in it.

See, wine is an agricultural product. Winegrapes are unusually susceptible to the elements–thin skinned enough to be affected by a single day of fog or heat, which you will likely taste. They are vulnerable. During harvest season, the winemaking community is incredibly charged, waiting to see how the weather will affect their crop. For a grower with his life’s work invested in a vineyard, harvest can be terrifying or exhilarating. Anything is possible.

Once the grapes are picked and crushed, the uncertainty continues. Wine itself is shaped by scientific prowess, aesthetic expression, and manual labor. Winemakers are at the mercy of science and alchemy. Will the fermentation stick? Will the Brettanomyces run rampant and leave a shitty barnyard flavor?  Will something marvelous accidentally happen? Anything is possible.

At this plot of Syrah, the grower maintains a full time job and grows 10 acres of fruit. In 2010, she lost 30% of her crop. This year, she had a record year.

In his book House of Leaves, Mark Danielewski writes, “Maturity, one discovers, has everything to do with the acceptance of ‘not knowing.”  At work and in life, every day, I must admit that there is something that I don’t know and cannot control. It makes me vulnerable, sure–but also leaves room for learning. The very quality that my instructor said would bring me down is my bread and butter.

Take that, Miz Reagan.

One thought on “Things I *Don’t* Know For Sure

  1. Jessica Smith says:

    Love this! Just found your blog, Amy. On a side note, have you read Goat Song? I think you’d like it.


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