'Notes' calms real-life fears
By Mrigaya Subramanian, Arts Editor
There's clearly a very personal motivation at the heart of Kenneth Jedding's self-help book, "Real Life Notes: Reflections and Strategies for Life After Graduation." The author's purpose is to provide a guide for how to navigate the vast wilderness of possibilities open to a college graduate. Jedding's chatty style and unadorned language make the book a fast read, but his exaggeratedly conversational and simplistic writing often seems almost patronizing and obscures the insight provided.

"Real Life Notes" is divided into five chapters: On Career, On Perspective, On Relationships, On The Parents and On Faith in Yourself. The book, in the end, is more of a guide to self-realization than it is a provider of concrete strategies for floundering students. The purpose of On Career is not to provide advice on job hunting, job agencies, career steps or any such specifics; instead, it focuses on helping one find "the direction you want to take," to "balance action with reflection"-in short, Jedding implies that finding a career is a result and manifestation of self-realization. He uses the metaphor of being given, upon graduation, a rowboat without oars, positing that you will in fact "become" the "first oar" as "you somehow float to the first job in your career" by "using your best idea at the time."

It is metaphors such as these that detract from the experience of reading Jedding's book. Of course, one appreciated the use of examples to illustrate some of the author's more complex points. However, images such as the rowboat without oars are condescending towards the reader. Jedding writes not as someone addressing college graduates, but often as someone addressing children incapable of understanding concepts as simple as uncertainty over career. His overall point in On Career is that one should follow one's desires, and not the wishes of parents, lures of money or notions of success established by society, when choosing a career. The point is a valid one, but hardly novel, and Jedding's rigorous illustrations of the perils of failing to pursue one's passion seem redundant and superfluous.

The chapter On Perspective touches upon similar themes. Again, Jedding's point can be summed up quite briefly: "Perspective," he writes, "is more a question of how you view the world than how the world actually is." This rather simple statement is backed up by an entire chapter of examples and anecdotes, which, though not unpleasant to read, serve very little purpose in illuminating Jedding's point.

Of the five chapters in "Real Life Notes," On Relationships is the weakest link, for, while Jedding offers useful, if self-evident, advice, it is difficult to justify its presence in the book. The four other chapters focus on aspects relating to career, confidence and perceptions of success and this one seems oddly out of place. In the third chapter, Jedding suddenly becomes a relationship counselor, offering opinions as to the soundness of various types of relationships and imparting advice as to what people ought to be seeking. In the other four chapters of "Real Life Notes," Jedding's lack of specific qualifications is not an issue: the self-help advice he provides is simply the fruit of someone who has battled the same demons himself. However, this lack of qualifications does not justify his delving into the nuances of romantic relationships, and the credibility of the book suffers because of it.

There are several redeeming aspects of Jedding's book, however, that relieve the somewhat condescending tone. Jedding peppers his prose with related quotes from a remarkably wide range of sources, from renowned philosophers to film actors. For example, when making the point that one should make a career out of a personal interest, Jedding quotes Albert Einstein saying, "When you are courting a nice girl an hour seems like a second. When you sit on a red-hot cinder a second seems like an hour. That's relativity." Perhaps most amusing, in a section about finding a relationship, is the inclusion of a quote from actor Ethan Hawke: "I hate this whole idea that is perpetuated that love is this thing that happens to you. I think you create it. You're either ready to love somebody or not."

The other redeeming factor of "Real Life Notes" is the author's evident sincerity. The book is filled with personal anecdotes and stories about Jedding's own mistakes and uncertainties. More than once, he expresses a wish that he had been provided with such a book upon his own graduation from university-his motivation in writing is strikingly generous, in that it is quite clearly an intense desire to help those in the uncomfortable situation he once found himself in. "Real Life Notes" is perhaps not the ideal guide for someone needing solid or specific career guidance, but its various anecdotes and constant self-affirming message cannot help but inspire some confidence in a reader.

Issue 00, Submitted 2001-11-28 17:22:33