First Letter From a Mentor

One of my characters started a journal a while back. Turns out, he’s also reached out to his mentor. While I don’t have the original letter Ryan sent to Dr. Philopek, I do have the response.

Dear Ryan,  

I’m sorry you’re having such a tough time adjusting to your new environment.  The only comfort I can offer you is that this is a very common feeling for someone your age in your first assignment.  You’ve known nothing of the world except academia for the last 15 years, you will figure out how life works.  You’ll find, I think, that this is nothing more than a variation of the troubles you had throughout your school years. There will be those who are envious of your success, you will have bullies, you will have naysayers, and you will have unsavory characters – probably more of them than you’re used to having. 

I know you have faith in the system.  The placement computer picked this assignment for you based on your credentials. As you know, the system is infallible, therefore this must be the best situation given the circumstances.  I’m not sure if that’s a comfort to you or not. It’s regrettable that you were never exposed to the more physical aspects of your curriculum, that would have prepared you more than your purely theoretical education has.  But make no mistake, you can learn it.  You are one of the brightest students I’ve ever known, I do believe there’s nothing you can’t do.  But it will take time to master, just like other fundamental skills always have.  You’re going to have to trust the team you’ve been sent to.  They are masters of the skills you need to learn.  Getting along in the real world is always a bit different than the theoretical world, and don’t expect them to be impressed by your record.  In my experience, a strong academic record only builds scorn from those without.   

This can be explained in two ways.  One, simple jealousy explains some of the harshnesses.  But I wouldn’t be too quick to claim them as jealous. That may create a worse situation for you than you currently feel you are in.  No, the real problem is the chasm between the intellectual and the uneducated.  They feel that you have wasted your years in school, while they have been struggling with life, working to make their “ends meet” as they say, while you and I have been in the relative protection of the state because we demonstrated a certain propensity towards scholarly endeavors.  They will feel that anything that can’t be built with your hands is a fruitless effort and a waste of time.  It is difficult to educate the unwilling and uneducated.  They know not what they miss, and remember, ignorance is bliss. 

To some extent, you can’t blame them. They live in as sheltered a world as you did during your school years.  Theirs is just more difficult physically than mentally. I’m sure by now you realize that physical exhaustion is just as real as mental exhaustion.  But this is where you have an advantage.  They do not understand purely intellectual pursuits.  They don’t understand the puzzles you’ve had to think your way through or the inventions you’ve come up with and designed from theory.  They don’t realize yet your specific genius.  I’d be willing to bet when you tried to explain that to them, they laughed.  That’s probably my fault.  I have always treated you as a special person because you are.  I should have treated you in a way that would have built a modicum of modesty in your soul.  It would serve you well now. 

Because, Ryan, that’s what they fear.  You have no modesty because you know what you are capable of.  They do not.  And since you cannot do the simplest menial task, they don’t trust or believe that you have any skills.  You must master the menial.  It’s your only way forward.   

But, unlike education, which gives way to “Eureka” moments, physical skill does not.  Physical skill requires conditioning and muscle memory and time.  You must work on getting better every single day.  You must embrace the pain that accompanies physical work because you will have to live in that world until your next assignment, and who knows how long that could be.  The good news is, you’re young.  You have a lot of time in front of you, unlike me.  You just need to be patient.  I should have done a better job teaching you that as well.  Patience, they say, is a virtue.  You may do well to read some of the more forbidden works from early Eastern tradition authors.  We were not allowed to discuss them while you were in school, but I can recommend them to you now.  The life of Confucius is a good start, so is Siddhartha by a gentleman named Hesse.  Let me know if you can’t find these works in your library.  They should be there but might need to be unlocked first.  You should also try to find anything you can about Gautama Buddha.  An entire religion of peace and calmness was founded by him. His teachings and style will help you cope with your current situation. 

This is a rite of passage, Ryan.  You are being challenged by life to see if you have what it takes to be a great man.  Life, you see, will throw at you exactly what you don’t want at exactly the time you least expect it. That’s just the way the world seems to be.  These types of situations define who we are.  You now have to decide who you are.  You have to figure out a way to be successful in spite of the challenges you currently face.  How will you do that? 

You will not, however, be successful by trying to go around your coworkers.  Reporting them will only bring a backlash upon you, as I’m sure you’ve already seen.  You must fit in, then turn them into your friends.  This is the skill you lack – you were never good at getting along with others you didn’t respect.  I suspect the placement computer figured this out, which is why you’re there now. I’m sure you don’t want to hear this, but it’s your flaw.  But you can succeed, just not if you try the same methods you learned in school.  No one is there to protect you now.  You have to figure that out all on your own. 

In summary, I don’t think you’re being treated unfairly.  I think you’ve been raised with an odd sense of “fair.”  Like many of your generation, you want fair to be slanted towards you. That’s not quite what fair means.  Would Tillman treat anyone else the same as he treats you?  Most likely he would.  I strongly suggest you sit down and be honest with him and ask him for his help.  Work extra hours like you used to do for me.  Surround yourself and immerse yourself in that which you struggle, it’s the only way to move forward rapidly.  But remember, physical pursuits progress differently than intellectual ones.  You will be tired.  You will have sore muscles and blisters, bruises and cuts.  Our bodies seem to be better suited to intellectual efforts than the physical, but you will toughen, Ryan, I assure you! 

You may always reach out to me, and I’m glad you did.  But my days of telling you what you want to hear are over.  Now, I will tell you what you need to hear that I was not allowed to tell you when you were a ward of the state.  Go forth, Ryan, and learn your destiny. 

Be strong and be good. 

Sincerely,  

Dr. Philopek 

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Photo by Andrew Seaman on Unsplash

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