get a job


I don’t usually go in for sweeping generalizations, motivational speeches, or how-tos. In fact, impersonal writing advice, especially from the have-it-mades to the have-nots, always feels a little presumptive to me, but I found this list of 9 Rules for Success by British Novelist Amelia E. Barr, 1901  very reassuring, especially since it was written over a century ago and yet still feels fresh and true.

Plus, I’m in the mood for a little pep-talk.

  • Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are often more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts. They make determination and unity of purpose supply the place of ability.
  • Success is the reward of those who “spurn delights and live laborious days.” We learn to do things by doing them. One of the great secrets of success is “pegging away.” No disappointment must discourage, and a run back must often be allowed, in order to take a longer leap forward.
  • No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends. Besides, a head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?
  • A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere. Fortune sells her wares; she never gives them. In some form or other, we pay for her favors; or we go empty away.
  • We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell’s amendment — “make the iron hot by striking it.”
  • Everything good needs time. Don’t do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration. For genius is nothing more nor less than doing well what anyone can do badly.
  • Be orderly. Slatternly work is never good work. It is either affectation, or there is some radical defect in the intellect. I would distrust even the spiritual life of one whose methods and work were dirty, untidy, and without clearness and order.
  • Never be above your profession. I have had many letters from people who wanted all the emoluments and honors of literature, and who yet said, “Literature is the accident of my life; I am a lawyer, or a doctor, or a lady, or a gentleman.” Literature is no accident. She is a mistress who demands the whole heart, the whole intellect, and the whole time of a devotee.
  • Don’t fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery. Above all things else, be cheerful; there is no beatitude for the despairing.
Apparent success may be reached by sheer impudence, in defiance of offensive demerit. But men who get what they are manifestly unfit for, are made to feel what people think of them. Charlatanry may flourish; but when its bay tree is greenest, it is held far lower than genuine effort. The world is just; it may, it does, patronize quacks; but it never puts them on a level with true men.
It is better to have the opportunity of victory, than to be spared the struggle; for success comes but as the result of arduous experience. The foundations of my success were laid before I can well remember; it was after at least forty-five years of conscious labor that I reached the object of my hope. Many a time my head failed me, my hands failed me, my feet failed me, but, thank God, my heart never failed me.

Job-search update: With the spirit of Amelia Barr in mind, I have graduated from searching for ads for jobs I’d like to applying for jobs that don’t exist. By that I mean I’m handing cover letters and resumes out to all the places I’d like to work, regardless of the fact they aren’t hiring. I’ll “make the iron hot by striking it.” Perhaps someone will call this gumption and hire me.

I’d like to see a show of hands:  if you are not currently working for a paycheck, please say “aye.”


About Anna Fonté

Girl in the Hat, aka Anna Fonté, is an author who writes about invisibility, outsider status, everyday monsters, and her attempts to befriend the neighborhood crows. The things she writes want you to look at them.


  1. Aye.

    Oh dear, number 7 may be a problem.

    Gumption is good Anna.

  2. Todd

    Yep, I’m working for a commission check. But the boss said he is in a cash crunch and today’s check may be the last one. I just sold 4 deals totaling $100k last week so maybe he won’t can me yet. I think you’re doing the right thing. My wife is doing it too, just walking right in with a resume and asking for the manager. I got my job that way and so did our admin. I hired the last admin after receiving 200 resumes from a craig’s list ad! It was a lot of work narrowing that down to one person and I think your chances have to be better with the direct approach… plus, you feel more in control. Now go kick some ass!!!

    • You, too Todd? You’re the 2nd our of two readers who’s looking for a job. Include the one from my FB and that’s 3 for 3. What’s going on out there?

      I think you’ve become my job-finding-godfairy, Todd. You showed up with my first half-hearted resume and you keep helping me stay on track.

  3. Mike


    I think applying for jobs that don’t exist is a good strategy. Also networking.

    • Hey Mike–

      Maybe you and J should get together for a networking beer. The shit has officially hit the fan over here.
      Know anyone who’s looking to hire someone? Pass them my info, wouldja?
      You’re the 4th job-seeker out of 4. Hmph.

  4. Aye too! But, I’m working of it like a full time job. Mike

  5. Totally agree; make them want you because you’re so good, even though they didn’t know they needed you. To use a dreaded sports analogy, sometimes pro football teams draft the best college player available, even though they don’t need someone in that position; the player is just too good to pass up. Of course, then you run the risk of being traded to Green Bay for a backup quarterback and future draft choices. 😉

  6. I’m working for a paycheck. It only looks like I’m staring into space.

    But really I want to say I LOVE this list. Except for the part about being cheerful—we are writers, after all.

  7. A little gumption goes a long way. I’ve known more than one person to get a job that very way….so good strategy and good luck!

  8. gailytr

    great idea, anna. just keep going.

  9. Aye.
    But I’m going to start using words like, charlatanry, emoluments, and slatternly in my cover letters. Maybe then I will land a job.

  10. Aye-ish. Great list. Your idea of applying for what isn’t there reminds me of the whole what color is your parachute idea that you have to create the role you want–something about filling in the space between? I still get mental hives when I think about that book because it always seemed too forced in the cheer department when job searches were (and are) angst-ridden, nail-biting, forced efforts for me. I’ve often thought of creating a content shop. All I’d need is a catchy name, a good partner in crime (I do better when I have someone to bounce ideas off of), and some…what’s that called… gumption. Yeah. Right. Off the top of my head: the scribbling sisters; black thumb; the grammarian is in; dangling participles (or split infinitives); to boldly go (had to go there after that last one); attic dwellers; mad proofreaders; word; the ink pot; quills are us… I’ve got more. They’re cheesy, repetitive, uninspired and trying way too hard. Keeps me entertained while I’m elbow deep in the unpaid work I do or when I’m thinking about how to drum up a new client.

    • My god. Is that book still around? I remember it from decades ago. My parachute is puke-green, by the way, with blood red polka-dots.

      I’d love to work at The Attic or with the Scribbling Sisters. Just think of the cool calling cards you could have made up.

      (You’re #8 and still counting!)

  11. Karin

    I like this, but I’m not sure about the ever cheerful rule. Wheres the F off in that? The last paragraph/rule got a little jumbled with (I think) dont be jealous of the quack who has pushed ahead of you? It is true it does no good whatsoever to compare your success to others, its completely useless and only makes you miserable. I think you have it right to put yourself out for a job you invented. Brilliant.

    • Karin! I agree– the list devolves into a bunch of fortune-cookie chirps. And I hate, hate it when anyone tells me to smile.

      I’m chin-deep in the well of wishful thinking, waiting for someone to throw in a handful of coins.

  12. Aye. But for now I’m substituting the unrewarding job search with a small paying project doing something I’d thought I’d given up on – video. Amazing how the job search changes one’s perspective! (Love the list – especially the one about taking time).

  13. Ay… I’m working part time, so only part of the word. It’s a trade off, because we clearly need the income, but boy how I hate going to work when I could be writing. Although Barr’s language is a little dated, the message couldn’t be more apropos, even today. I love number 2. Anyone who writes knows that disappointment soon becomes your constant companion. For me, the key to handling that is to complain and swear and vow revenge and drink, and then examine the rejection, and then get up the next day and get back to writing, and maybe do a little better this time.

    Now I will go look up slatternly and emoluments.

    • I had to look it up, too: Emoluments. Plural of e·mol·u·ment. Noun. A salary, fee, or profit from employment or office. Getting paid is out of date, so old fashioned, you know? So no wonder the word became obsolete.
      I need to re-read #2 every day to prepare myself for those longer leaps.
      You are #10 on the list so far, Joe. Good luck!

  14. macdougalstreetbaby

    I think you should include this post with your next cover letter. Better yet, use it as your cover letter. I see fabulous things in your future.

    I’m living through #3 right now. I don’t necessarily have opposition at this precise moment but a woman who I once did have such a relationship with is back in my life, under very sad circumstances. I have to sail very gently here.

    • “A head-wind is better than no wind. Who ever got anywhere in a dead calm?” We should write this on a little post-it-notes and and put them in every room of the house.

      Hmmm. I want to hear more about this mysterious woman….

  15. Aye. I love this list, and I particularly love that you can’t rush, that rushing doesn’t lead to good work. So very true when it comes to writing. In fact, sometimes I think the hardest thing about being a writer is patience. Patience, which I feel I have to learn anew. Every. Single. Day.

    • I’m with you on that one. I keep jumping the gun with my writing– I submit too soon, I publish raw instead of waiting for it to age, I rush to a shallow finish instead of plumbing depth. Why can’t I remember this rule?!
      You’re #11, Teri. And I’m surprised because I imagined you as fully employed.

  16. Amelia did not put the first one at the top of her list for kicks! STiCK WITH IT KID!

  17. Aye.

    A few years back, I wrote a primer on how to survive being paycheck-less. Nothing useful like, how to save your money or how to network. More like, how to embrace your loser status, and what are the best shows to watch during the daytime when all you want to do is eat Cheetos and sit on the couch. You know, really useful stuff.

    Still, this is a far more useful list than what I could have ever dreamed up.

    • When my man starts tearing his hair out, I walk into the kitchen, open a cupboard, point to the bags of dried beans and jars full of rice and tell him, See? We don’t have anything to worry about. It’s going to be fine! How do you like that for a screwed-up coping mechanism?

  18. Aye…

    Really excellent blog by the way, design, content everything. Also you have a famous name.

  19. love this and your attitude. You go girl!
    It is another use of the power of positive thinking which I completely believe in.

  20. Hello Hat Girl,
    Love your spirit too .
    Go to an astrologer .
    Understand the cycles of the stars and how they affect you . Make your own fortune within their perimeters . Then expand them .
    You are a writer … then write . Have faith , your spirit is guiding you . It is beautiful .
    The rest will come . And just understand that some people are meant to be free .
    Embrace it .
    Count and see positively .
    I am also a free one .
    smile .

  21. Aye. Spent a year on unemployment, then failed to get it extended in December, when all that fiscal cliff nonsense was making people crazy. For a while there, I was sending out my resume to 3 contacts per week, sometimes to places I knew would not consider me, just to keep my status with CalJobs and the EDD current. Now I find maybe one ad on craigslist every few weeks that seems remotely a good fit. It is frustrating. I have experience in obsolete forms of technology, and no desire to compete with recent graduates and learn what they already know how to do. Every decade I end up in a new career, so this should be an interesting year ahead for me.

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