by The Inmate
In which the author explains the difference between Vets and Rookies
Sometimes that man gets hold of the idea of what he’s supposed to do in this world and he gets an idea of what it is possible for him to do and that man lets that idea guide him as he grows and struggles and stumbles and sorrows until finally he comes into his own God-given shape and achieves his own individual and lonely place in this world.
—Daddy Hickman in Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth
Employees come in two categories: Veterans and Rookies. The temptation is to give you, the illustrious readership of this web site, a list of what constitutes a Vet(I’m assuming you all are or want to be Vets). But then those of you who are not Vets would check off all the things that pertain to you and erroneously conclude that you are a Vet. Vethood goes beyond lists, but since the human race has an insatiable desire to define, I will offer a definition, provided that it is understood from the beginning that any definition of Vethood is inadequate. A Vet is something you are not a list you mirror. A good mirror makes a perfect reflection, but it is not the thing itself. It is conceivable that employees could possess these qualities in some strange combination with their personalities that would still leave them with Rookie status. I am providing hints and signs that point the way–nothing more.
With that said, Rookies, on the contrary, are quite easy to spot and their characteristics are so obvious that my observations will only confirm what you, my renowned readers, already know. Defining a Rookie is so simple that doing it actually jeopardizes my own intellect, but as a service I will chance the damage.
Rookies of the first order are those who are constantly in a bad mood, who hate their jobs with such a vengeance that they make other people hate their jobs, who think they know everything, who think management is always out to get them, who think only of doing enough to get by, who only work if someone is prodding them on, who whine, who constantly talk about problems but are never willing to do anything about them, who think only of themselves, who have no sense of responsibility and who think the best way to get back at the company is to be a lousy employee. Unamuno once wrote that “Their work, moreover, is often perfunctory, performed merely as a pretext for receiving a wage, and instances even occur when they deliberately mishandle it in order to injure their employer.” These are people who think all these things would change if they won the lottery or had a good job or worked for people who understood them.
Rookies of the second order yell, scream and react without thinking, because they rarely think much as it is. They only speak their mind to management in a verbal rage. Dialogue, true dialogue, is a foreign concept. They take their jobs much too seriously; they get ulcers and headaches. Rookies choose rebellion; Vets choose revolution. Rookies have always come from and are going to a better job. Their pay is horrible, the working conditions stink and the boss, because he or she is a boss, is a jerk. They don’t care about helping their fellow employee and they’ll gladly let others take the blame for what they have done.
Rookies of the third order give their lives over to their jobs. They follow all orders without question. They think only of getting promoted. What they do now only has worth because it will help them reach that next plateau. They never disagree, out loud, with their bosses. They feel inferior to anyone who has a higher position or makes more money than they do and superior to anyone who has a lower position or makes less money than they do. “Brown-noser” and “Yes man(or woman)” are appropriate labels. They don’t like vets. They think vets are irresponsible, that they lack ambition, that they should get their priorities right. It bugs them that vets are happy.
Being a Veteran has nothing to do with how long one has been at his or her place of employment. Unlike some labels that employees get simply by putting in their time, Veterans can attain or reveal their status immediately. Some employees are Vets their first day on the job, others take a little longer and others, well, others will probably always carry their Rookie cards.
Employees who attain Veteran status will never be Rookies again. As employees stand upon the pinnacle of Vethood and survey their past, present and future, they find it almost incredible to remember that Rookiehood once satisfied them.
There’s a certain aura that surrounds a Vet that is immediately recognized by other Vets. There are some Rookies who think they’re Vets and some Rookies who think some Vets are Rookies. There are, however, no Vets who think they’re Rookies or Vets who think some Rookies are Vets. Vets know who they are even if others do not.
Vets find all Rookie behavior laughable. Vets are an easy-going, cynical, questioning bunch who do their jobs well, yet, who somehow undermine the accepted practices of business in general. They follow the rules and yet, the way they follow the absurd ones mocks the rules themselves. They get good reviews, that they don’t care about. Some of their bosses like them even if they don’t quite understand them. Other bosses hate them, but they’re not quite sure why. Vets speak their minds, they listen well, they watch even better, and they don’t take their jobs seriously; they take life seriously, which is why, it sometimes appears to others, that they take their jobs seriously. They don’t swallow anything until they’ve chewed it thoroughly and on many occasions they spit it out. They know that those first few bites can often be deceiving. When asked how they like a new boss their answer is often, “I don’t know yet.” Vets stick up for management if they think they’re right, but they’re quick to voice their opinions when they think they’re wrong. Sometimes they’re silent when people would expect them to be vocal and vocal when people would expect them to be silent. Vets are unpredictable. Vets occupy every level of the business community. A vet could be a CEO or a mail room clerk. Some are rich, some are poor, most fall somewhere in between. Vets are better employees than their bosses or underlings will ever know. Vets don’t seek or want recognition. They want meaning.
I must, however, reiterate that Vethood is ultimately undefinable. I would be remiss in my duties if I left the impression that this definition accurately defines something as mysterious and mystical as Vethood. It’s not something you learn, it’s something you are; it’s not about doing, it’s about being. There is a sense in which Vets do not have to think about their behavior. It comes so naturally that thinking about it would only ruin it . . . .
And here I must end as the temptation to define becomes almost overwhelming. Search for Vethood–you will find it.
- Ellison, Ralph, Juneteenth, read by Blair Underwood(abridged) Random House Audiobooks, Random House Audio Publishing, Inc., 1999, Tape 4, Side A.
- Unamuno, Miguel De, The Tragic Sense of Life, translated by J. E. Crawford Flitch Dover Publications, Inc., New York, N.Y., 1954, pp. 274-275.