Act Like You Know

by Nic Olson

I planned a successful yet wildly overbudget kitchen renovation. Successful in the fact that the new space looks like a kitchen, and it looks like a nicer kitchen than it did before. It has yet to be used, so its functionality is still highly in question. My experience working in a commercial kitchen for one week washing dishes under the feet of thousands of Habs fans, scrubbing pots with my tears of jealousy, along with working six months in a kitchen the size of my closet, gave me obvious authority to run a commercial kitchen renovation.

I wrote a second book. The first one received wild acclaim from my aunt in small town Saskatchewan, so I figured I owed it to the world to write a second, to be released in a matter of days. In the process of repeatedly underlining one paragraph of the 300 copies of my book with a red ball-point pen stolen from a private Christian high school, I tried to come up with an explanation for one of my stories for when Peter Mansbridge inevitably asks me about it on The National. Well Peter, this story represents the inevitable Marxist revolution coming within our generation. Peter will share the book with an aging baby-booming generation of liberals and will send it to the swoopy-haired tiger-beat of Jian who will publicize it to the slightly more liberal but slightly less informed generation of thumb communicators.

I recently began as the Housing Coordinator at work. This position, usually held for academics with experience, was given to the best candidate, an anti-academic with zero experience. I am to guide people on the margins of society through an Orwellian world of bureaucracy and gently nudge them towards the racist, classist, stigma-soaked free enterprise rental market so that they survive another month. My experience living in suburbia and going to private school, as well as that three months of volunteering at the food bank in Montreal was all they needed. I was a shoe-in.

Before you begin to congratulate me on how wide my knowledge base is, how successful I have become, and how multi-talented I am, please know that my recent successes have been entirely based on this:

If you don’t know, act like you know.

Disclaimer: If you abide by this creed but you are a visible minority, we cannot guarantee positive outcomes like those listed above. We suggest you bank on your contacts, that is, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know” to bring you out of the muck.

In daily dealings of all three of the above projects I get asked about my background. Each time I instinctively want to respond “Swedish and Irish,” but then realize I’m not at a settlers reunion. Actually, people want to know why they should give me the time of day. My publishing history. My construction experience. My participation and perseverance in systems of institutionalized education. Justify yourself in two short phrases. And while I find the request foolish, I can’t blame them, since I am the first to admit that people have zero reason to take my word for anything. I am the hack of all hacks. I do, however, I appreciate the chance to make myself look foolish.

You didn’t get lucky, some might say, you worked hard. As true as this may be, my luck cannot be downplayed and my privilege cannot be ignored. Hard work pays off is a sentiment that attempts to justify the oppressive systems of capitalism and neocolonialism. In the cases that it is used to congratulate someone for a job well done, it often ignores the contextual advantages that actually contributed to the finished project, and fails to recognize the reasons that hard work doesn’t pay off for the majority of folks, besides the fact that they “just didn’t work hard enough, I guess.”

After three days of a new position, clients have actually said to colleagues, “I met Nic. I like him because he really knows what he’s doing.” The illusion stands. I’ve tricked my boss, I’ve tricked clients, and now the goal is to trick you. And by the time the illusion falls I hope to be in a tropical country indulging in coconut-flavoured depressants. That is something that I am undeniably versed in. No acting necessary.

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