LESSONS FOR MY CHILDREN ON GOING TO WORK
April 1, 2014
My dear children: 21, 23 and 25. You’re in the early spring of your careers and I guess I’m in the autumn of mine. You know, I’ve learned some things in my thirty-two odd years of working. I’ve never preached at you guys or lectured you and I’m not about to start now. But I’d like to share some observations with you. Stuff I’ve learned over the years, sometimes the hard way, much of which you’ll think is common sense. And it is. But it’s important stuff that nobody ever told me.
YOUR WORD IS YOUR HONOR
When you tell someone you’ll do something, you have to do it. When you agree to do something for someone else, you have to get it done. In your professional life, this is black and white, with no ambiguity. And never lie. Be honest to a fault, even if it makes you look bad. You need to own your fuckups as well as your victories. Take the fall once in a while, even if it wasn’t all your fault. If you work at a place or for a boss that doesn’t tolerate taking chances and occasionally falling down, get out. That’s a bad place. Gossip? Don’t lower yourself. Gossip is cancerous, bosses hate it and they will root you out and fire you. Also, that woman you’re trashing may wind up at the next place you want to work and will remember you. Karmic shit like that happens continually. Finally, never act or speak on raw impulse. Don’t storm into your bosses’ office if you are upset. Always think through what you want to say to people who pay you. You want to build a reputation for being cool in the saddle, good under pressure. A stand-up guy/gal.
LEARN TO STAND AND DELIVER
This is about the importance of thinking on your feet, being prepared and knowing how to execute. We are all presenters. We are all selling, whether it’s an idea, an approach or a solution to a problem. We are selling one of those things and, simultaneously, selling ourselves. The art of improvisation is a big part of this, I think. Fortunately, all three of you are pretty funny, and that goes a long way toward winning people over. That said, never fail to prepare. Do your homework or you’ll get called out as a bull shitter. Take 20 minutes to re-read your notes or jot down your talking points before you’re due in the conference room. None of this means anything if you don’t deliver. At some point in my career—fairly early, fortunately—I learned to turn on my writing chops like a faucet. To put my head down and just crank. You guys are writers and I bet you have experienced that state of “flow,” when you’re just way inside the material and you look up and hours have passed. I love that feeling. It tells me I was born to do what I do.
FOLLOW THE WORK, NOT THE MONEY
Whatever your field, you want to work at the best place you can. The one with the best reputation; the most innovative, interesting company you can get into. The place others in your field wish they could work. In the first 3-7 years of your career you might do some jumping around. This is one way to make more money. But be very, very careful with that. Because money follows great work, eventually. Not the other way around. It’s very tempting to leave a good place for an $8,500 bump and a better title. But is it as good a place as you left? Because if its not, there’s no going back to the good place, usually. The work you get to do won’t be as saleable elsewhere. In 1999, I uprooted my little family, left my hometown and went to Boston where I knew no one. I followed the work. You guys got college educations and I continued to win awards on major brands. So money followed. Last point here: Beware getting trapped in a job you don’t love because you need the higher wage to support your lifestyle or financial commitments. That’s the so-called golden handcuffs thing. Don’t do it to yourself. One more thing: Expect to get fired. Everybody gets fired, and usually not because they sucked at their job. Stay in touch with good people who leave your company, keep your resume/portfolio updated and keep your walking shoes close at hand.
GET OVER YOURSELF, OVER AND OVER
We are reactive people in our family. French and Italian blood? I don’t know. We are moody; we tend to brood and stew over things sometimes. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. We’re humans; smart and sensitive ones. Moody and broody is one of the side effects of the human condition, at least for anyone paying attention. People who appear happy all the time are usually full of shit. You won’t always be happy at your job, and when you aren’t, people will see it and know it. Everybody has tough days, but if you drag around too long, they’re going to want to get rid of you. If you give your job the power to make you unhappy, you’re giving away far too much. You’re never stuck in a job, you’re just stuck. And have a job. Don’t worry about the past, because it’s over. Don’t worry about the future, because nobody can know what’s going to happen. Just be in the present. And crank. Jobs change all the time. You will too. So you will have to level-set yourself many times. You probably can’t change the job, but you can change the way you feel about it. You can only control what you can control. It can be very freeing and feel like the lifting of a burden when you decide you need to move on and commit to finding something else.
LOOK LIKE YOU CARE HOW YOU LOOK
Buy the best clothes for work that you can reasonably afford. Make your employer proud to put you in front of clients. If you are in a Creative field, buy cool things and be creative in how you put them together. A little rumpled is okay. Dirty is a non-starter. Shower every day! There’s never an excuse for bad breath. Always carry gum. Never wear beat-up shoes. Never go more than three years without updating eyewear (and getting a vision test). It’s okay to have a beer when out to lunch, but only if the others are having one. And never more than one. Drink with work friends but never get drunk at an office party. Ever. Show up, be seen by the managers, have two drinks and leave with your friends. Don’t mix your money with your honey, as the saying goes. But if you’re going to hook up with somebody at the office, never do it impulsively one drunken night. People will find out and people will talk. Take it really slow and be totally discreet. Married people may come onto you. No, no, no.
All right, I’ve gone on long enough here. Take what you want out of all this and use it. These are truths as I have lived them, given to you with absolute, total and unconditional love.
The three of you will be successful in whatever you choose to do. And I will be proud of you. Though I have covered material about working life here, don’t think for a minute that your work and career is the final measure of your success. It’s not true.
Unfortunately, as a male of my generation, this notion was inculcated in me and very hard to break from. I know it has held me back, not at work but at home, where I could have been more present, more pleasant and involved. I’m sorry.
You guys don’t have to buy into that. You are better and smarter than that. Work to live, not the other way around. And be the kind of person your amazing, beautiful and beloved mom raised you to be. Now, go to work! God, I love you.