Why On Paper Isn’t Everything

2010 March 31

Hate To Break It To You is a recurring feature wherein we dispense succinct home truths that everyone could benefit from facing up to, unpleasant as they may be.

Just because something or someone looks good on paper doesn’t mean it works off the page. CVs, self help books, OkCupid profiles, Facebook status updates; if it’s there in black and white, it must have merit, right? And when this doesn’t prove true, we’re downright stymied. While facts might not lie, they don’t tell the whole story. The job description for your dream position tells you little to nothing about organizational culture, which might be so toxic that you end up fleeing the place in horror six months after your date of hire. The fact that your mutual friends are both only children, both into yoga and die-hard anime fans doesn’t guarantee sparks when you set them up on a blind date. Maybe he’s a closet misogynist or she’s not truly ready to re-enter the dating pool after a bad break-up. And sometimes, it runs in the opposite direction. Match-ups, career moves and life decisions that look like veritable disasters in print turn out to be just what the doctor ordered. They meet needs or provide benefits that we can’t capture in prose or didn’t anticipate when we were making our neat little checklists. And that’s what keeps things interesting, isn’t it?

Photo by nic’s events

As we live more of our lives and conduct more of our personal business online, we become increasingly invested in our on-paper selves (and everyone else’s, too). Keeping up with the Joneses, putting our best foot forward, making that all important first impression, etc., etc. When all we have is the paper, it’s difficult to look beyond it. I get that. If all I know of you is what you post on Twitter or Facebook photo albums of your family vacations or what you write in your blog, well, those are the inputs that I’m going to rely on to make a judgment about who you are as a person. You’re certainly more than 140-characters tweets and pictures of your three little angels, but that’s all I have firsthand experience with.

Acknowledging our limited and imperfect information is the first step to putting on paper in context. Your CV tells potential employers what you’ve done in the past, but it doesn’t define your potential for the future. Your degree indicates that you’ve successfully accumulated a body of knowledge on subject X, but that doesn’t mean you’re tied down to eating, sleeping and breathing only X for the duration of your professional life if you genuinely don’t want to be and are willing to go back to the drawing board. Someone’s chronic inability to spell definitely correctly doesn’t indicate a character flaw requiring permanent shunning (Although, if they’re also prone to throwing around “anyways,” the shun potential does increase, I cannot lie).  You can see where I’m going with this.

Bottom line? Life on the page and in person doesn’t always sync up. We’re more than our bullet lists of accomplishments, turn offs or GPA. Sometimes, on paper is all we get, but even then we should realize that there are qualities and nuances that it can never capture and accept that any conclusions we draw exclusively from it (both positive and negative) are subject to being proven dead wrong in the flesh.

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