Across Ireland today, secondary school students are beginning their final exams, the Leaving Certificate. First up is English.
When I sat my Leaving Cert, the burning issue was to second-guess which questions would come up. For the English paper, it was taken as fact that the Irish poetry question alternated between W.B. Yeats in year X and one of our textbook’s three other Irish poets in year X+1. If you did your Leaving Cert in year X then you felt certain that you’d be asked about Yeats.
(The three non-Yeatses were Patrick Kavanagh, Austin Clarke and Thomas Kinsella; the textbook was the magnificent Soundings, of which I own two editions. My Leaving Cert was a non-Yeats year starring Austin Clarke. Now read on.)
Let the years flutter by like calendar pages in the wind. With school and college behind me, I began to seek gainful employment. This involves job interviews, a process similar to final school exams in the preparation required and dread inspired.
And just like our Yeats banker question in the English exam, I could usually depend on one topic coming up in a job interview; an interviewer would remark that in my CV I mention marathon running, either the activity itself or my online activities around it. For me, marathon running was the W.B. Yeats question of job interviews.
Marathon running does indeed allow you to demonstrate many qualities of value in the workplace. You set an objective, plan carefully, work diligently, monitor your progress, and at the end you have tangible results: the finisher’s medal; the personal best; the free banana. (Of course, like in many jobs, running a marathon involves a phase of “Why am I doing this?” and “Never again!”)
The running question is fraught with risks too. What if your personal best is a good country mile quicker than that of your interviewers, now seething in envy or inadequacy? Or maybe your prospective boss has just dashed off a particularly mountainous ultramarathon and laughs at your 26 miles of underachievement.
Mostly, though, marathon running shows you to be an active and energetic person. What’s more, you clearly have a boundless tolerance for tedium and suffering, and what employer could resist that?
I mention this because I had a job interview recently. It passed off peacefully. But afterwards I realised that I hadn’t been asked about marathon running, for perhaps the first time ever in an interview since I started running. The non-Yeats questions had come up instead.
This intrigued me. For many people I know, I am defined by running; I am the person they know who runs marathons. If you read this blog regularly, then it’s probably because that’s how I present myself too. (By contrast, if you’re reading this post because you’re a panicky Leaving Cert student searching online for Yeats notes, all you need to know is that he was in favour of swans, lake isles and Maud Gonne, and against shopkeepers.) But there you are; apparently there’s more to me than running.
Anyway, it has all worked out well in the end. I’ve got the job!