'Fixing' Your Letter of Recommendation, Firing Your Personal Chauffeur, and Other Questionable AdviceS

Welcome to Thatz Not Okay, a regular column in which I school inquiring readers on what is and is not okay. Please send your questions (max: 200 words) to caity@gawker.com with the subject "Thatz Not Okay."

I am applying for a fellowship that required a letter of recommendation. After asking my previous boss for the letter, he requested that I write it for him. Several weeks after sending it to him, I received the recommendation letter with a lot of the positive remarks deleted. I busted my ass at this job and am frustrated that he turned the letter of recommendation into a pretty shitty one. It
would be easy for me to make some edits to the letter before I send it in, just so that it more accurately reflects my achievements at the organization. I would only add a few minor sentences to improve the overall letter, and I am sure he wouldn't find out. He sent me the letter a day before it is due (after more than a week of me sending it to him) So I don't have time to ask him to make the changes I plan on making myself. I just feel that my boss was very lazy throughout the process, and I reserve the right to make minimal edits to improve the recommendation. Is that okay?

Thatz not okay.

First of all, reserving the right to change a letter of recommendation someone else wrote for you is like reserving the right to park in a handicapped parking spot if all other good spots are taken. It's not a "right" just because you intend to do it. You're not allowed to murder someone just because you announce you're going to.

Secondly, if you do plan to reserve this "right," you probably should do so in the presence of man whose signature is on the document you are now falsifying. (Though, if you had called dibs on final edits beforehand, he might have been a little more hesitant to help out.)

Speaking of tremendous errors in judgement, if you're pursuing an academic fellowship, it's probably not great to START by fabricating a source. As Yolanda Gutiérrez, 64, said while dumping broken glass into the mixing vats at the Nestlé factory where I interviewed her, "Wait until you're really desperate to start making up sources."

It might sound like a good idea now but, when you explain to Stanford that you have in fact already published your first work of short fiction—your letter of recommendation!—they probably won't admire the way you play with genre.

If applicants just wrote (or edited) all their own references, organizations wouldn't bother asking for them. Maybe when your boss said you have a lack motivation, he did not really mean that you have limitless potential.

There's also a practical dilemma: by rewriting your letter of recommendation, you're banking on the fact that the fellowship people won't call up to check on your references. Sure, there's a chance they won't—but what if they do?

"You said in your letter ‘Dude's nine feet tall and can fly. Should definitely hire him.' Could you please clarify—"

"I never said that.

Incidentally, even if you had had a chance to ask your boss to make the edits, how exactly would that conversation have gone?

"I notice you said I'm NOT a thoughtful innovator. You need to put the following positive attributes back in: …"

Don't discount the fact that this guy has probably written more letters of recommendation than you have, and might therefore have a better sense of how they're supposed to look. His asking you to write a draft of the letter first is not necessarily a sign of laziness; maybe he trusted that you would have a more complete recollection of your time at the organization than he would, and planned all along to use your letter as a jumping-off point.

If the essay he turned in is so weak you feel it will wreck your chances, that's an indication you should have sought out someone else for a letter of recommendation. (If it's not just bland, but openly critical, he should have declined to write one.)

You're still not allowed to "correct" his words.

Don't forget to send a thank-you!

My friend drives me to a weekly (occasionally more often) appointment I have "in the city." We live close to one another and sometimes I'm in no shape to drive after my appointments and she works nearby the building in which my appointments take place. We agreed that I would pay for gas every other tank. However, when she fills her tank (in her Hyundai) she uses the regular gasoline. When it's my turn to pay, she always jumps out of the car and pushes my hand out of the way and hits the expensive, high octane gasoline button. This means that I am paying for a lot more gas, because the money just doesn't buy as much. I've tried explaining that she doesn't need high octane fuel in a 4 cylinder car, but she gets this weird, blank smile and just keeps talking about herself. I think it might be time for me to just start taking the damn bus to my appointments. Is that okay?

Thatz okay.

You make a big show of demonstrating how convenient this arrangement is for your friend (you "live close to one another"; she works "nearby the building" where you have your appointments), but let's be clear: you are not the one doing your friend a favor by making it convenient for her to shuttle you around; she is the one doing you a favor.

You know what's easier than transporting a friend to and from appointments? Not doing that.

You're not just paying your friend for her car. You're also paying for her time (presumably she does not make plans before/after work if she's committed to driving you around?) and potential assistance should an emergency arise on the way back from your one of your appointments (assuming your business is medical and not, like, hooking).

The relationship you describe with her does sound exceedingly strange.

You jump to select the cheap gas as soon as she pulls up to the pump? She physically bats your hand away to go for premium, then begins a running commentary about her life? You interrupt to tell her she doesn't deserve premium? She pretends not to hear you?

This is next-level weirdness. Why are you even friends? What do you have in common besides a strong commitment to delivering you to and from your appointments "in the city"?

Your friend is not your hired chauffeur, so you can't command her to fill up her car with gas of your choosing. It's a little odd that she feels she must wring gratitude out of you in the form of octane, but it if bothers you so much, just make other arrangements. Hit up a cheaper friend. Start taking "the damn bus."

But consider: if she drives a 4 cylinder Hyundai, how much extra could it cost to fill your friend's tank with premium gas? $5? Isn't it worth shelling out an extra five bucks every once in a while to have what is essentially a private car service transport you to and from your home?

If you do the math and realize that it would cost just as much to hire a real car service (or if you decide you're willing to schlep it on the bus), you're under no obligation to keep hitching a ride with your friend. The next time you're filling up her tank with diamonds, tell her you're grateful for all her help, but you're firing her. You guys will chuckle uncomfortably and, as you are chuckling, slowly start to realize you hate one another.

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