Popcorn and Job Hunting

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Who wants popcorn?

Dad never had to ask us kids twice. After all, what kid doesn’t want popcorn? For that matter, what adult doesn’t want popcorn? Certainly, no true snackoisseur could turn it down.

Some of my fondest childhood memories center around popcorn. After watching TV a few hours after dinner on the nights my Mom worked, Dad would always get hungry for a snack, and offer to make popcorn for my younger brother, baby sister and me. Upon hearing our squeals of delight, Dad dug out the big, cast-iron pot from the cabinet in that little kitchen of our humble home on Preller Avenue in our home town of Worth, Illinois.

He poured the corn oil to cover the bottom of the pot and fired up the stove before adding a layer of golden kernels to the oil, covering the pot with its heavy lid. Within the watched-pot-never-boils minutes of silent anticipation, the smell of sizzling oil heating the corn filled the kitchen, Then, sounded the long-awaited pop of that first kernel bursting into a fluffy, white puff ball. A few more kernels pinged against the pot lid as the aroma expanded into the air. My favorite part was the fireworks finale of exploding kernels, raising the lid off the pot, signaling the popcorn was ready.

After Dad salted the finished product, he gave each of us a bowl of the white puffy snack to enjoy with a glass of ice-cold cola. The sweet, bubbly chilled soda was the perfect complement to the warm, salty popcorn, which made us thirsty.

The thing about Dad’s popcorn was that it left a lot of “old maids,” or un-popped kernels, in the bottom of each bowl. I dug into the popped corn with relish until I came to the warm, salty old maids, and ate them, too. They were crunchy, golden brown and tasted almost as good as the fluffy popcorn flakes.

Memories of making popcorn prompt me to think of my current job search, which has recently consumed most of my time and energy. Who hasn’t gathered the ingredients of a resume, cover letter and job leads and heated them with the enthusiasm of submitting applications only to encounter a long, discouraging silence. While waiting, it is easy to wonder if your ingredients and efforts will ever produce a desired result. But then Pop! You land an interview. As soon as that interview is over, Pop comes another interview, and maybe another. Pop, Pop! Then there is a job offer you don’t want, followed by a job offer you might want. Then pop, pop, pop, there is a flurry of interviews and offers, and you are torn between a couple of choices. Thinking that nothing else will pop up, you make your choice. Invariably, the fireworks finale of opportunities always seems to burst after you accept a job offer, leaving you with a bit of job-searcher’s remorse.

To avoid the worry that the job you accepted is an “old maid” of unfulfilled aspirations, you drink the sweet, chilled cola of hope and positive thinking. During the honey-moon phase of any job, everything looks buttery smooth and delicious even with a dash of anxiety about starting something new. The real old-maid test comes after you become familiar with your routine duties.  Hopefully, you relish the new job as much as those old bowls of popcorn. Otherwise, it’s back to making another batch.

Perhaps, the process of making popcorn offers a more general recipe for life. Gather a few quality ingredients, heat them to the right temperature to avoid burning, practice some patience and positive thinking, reap the rewards of puffy popped kernels, make the best out of the old maids, and start a new batch if the current one doesn’t satisfy your appetite.