Last week, I had a preliminary interview with a media conglomerate for a role that sounded great on paper. I was a little surprised to get tapped because I don’t have a journalism degree, haven’t interned in a newsroom or paid my dues at The Ortonville Independent or a place like that. I worked my way up through the student journalism ranks in college. I took a little time off from writing to work in international development and have balanced freelancing and corporate work (and now entrepreneurship) for the last five years.
The hiring manager (a senior editor) called back because the HR rep I had spoken to had forgotten to ask me about salary. He said I had a lot of experience and he didn’t want me to get deeper into the hiring process without hearing what the job paid. It wasn’t enough and we both knew it. I thanked him for his transparency and he thanked me for my frankness. I told him I was flattered to have made the shortlist out of the hundreds of applications he received.
Five years ago, I probably would have kept pursuing that job and tried to make the salary work. I would have considered it the break of a lifetime. Now, I’m okay with taking a pass. I’ve built kind of a thing for myself and have capitalized on opportunities that have come my way and I have a good sense of what my work is worth. In letting this one go, I realized that at some point I’ve stopped looking for someone to give me my big break. I’ve stopped believing that the only way I can have more is if someone gives it to me. I’ve stopped looking for a benefactor, a patron, a champion. I’ve accepted, without really realizing it, that if I want more, I can go get it. I have the tools and the knowledge and the experience to figure out how to get more money, more time, more experience, more life for myself and by myself. I don’t need to wait to be chosen and to hand over the power of that choice to others. Life is much more like a lemonade stand than the senior prom.
Recently, someone told me I was a successful adult woman and I deserved to think of myself that way and structure my career accordingly. I was making my life more difficult by denying myself this reality and the things that go with it. “You don’t need to buy a $1500 St. John suit, but you do need to get the USB ports on your Macbook fixed.” was the precise quote. I reminded myself of this after I hung up with the hiring manager. As a resourceful adult, I can afford to pass on opportunities that aren’t right, because I have the ability to create better ones for myself. There is a sense of peace in this thought.
Generation Meh turns five years old this month. I feel like the blog and its author are growing up.
Recently, I tweeted:
“Everyone wants to know how you got from A to B, but they hate it when the answer is “Worked hard and had talent.”
“I COULD give you “five easy steps to get from A to B,” but you’re gonna pitch a fit when step 1 is “Learn how to excel at being a human.”
A couple of months ago, I watched both seasons of The Pickup Artist. I joke about hunting down Mystery and teaming up to do a book on applying PUA wisdom to the corporate world*, but the show actually provided a huge amount of food for thought. You only need to watch a couple of episodes to understand how easily taught self-promotion truly is. Take a room of hapless, dateless schlubs and give them makeovers, a few canned lines and a little training in using and decoding body language. In short order, even the most gun-shy guy among them could stroll into a club and hold a woman’s attention for 3 – 5 minutes. The fly in the ointment was that most of these guys had issues that ran deeper than being nervous around the opposite sex, so while they learned how to promote themselves like pros, they never really worked on becoming the type of well-rounded men women would continue to be interested in or engaged by after their small talk material ran out. That’s the part that doesn’t fit neatly in a 22-minute episode.
Most of us aren’t looking for advice that includes hard work and introspection. We want a list of steps and a guarantee that if we follow them, we’ll get what we want. If you just do these three things, you can lose 20 lbs this month or get a job at Google or attract more women. No one wants to accept that there might not be a shortcut and we might not be able to achieve X, because we lack the requisite skill set or dedication. It’s uncomfortable to look inward and accept that all the tips in the world aren’t going to land us a dream job if we don’t have the qualifications, attitude and work ethic demanded by employers. It’s much easier to focus on how to massage the language of our cover letter than it is to face the fact we have to work harder and get better at our chosen craft in order to make the cut. That’s not fun or sexy or easy like scoring a cell number from a drunk sorority girl.
If you’re not getting the results you want in life, it might not be because you suck at self promotion or lack connections, it might be because you need to work on what it is you’re attempting to promote – yourself.
*Only semi-joking. Mystery should call me.
I spent most of March revising a book proposal after an editor and a literary agent cold-emailed me to ask if I had anything in the works on that front. I dusted off the proposal I wrote in 2010 and never submitted and spent a couple of days wallowing over all the water that’s flowed under my personal bridge since then. That sounds kinda tampon commercial-y doesn’t it? I’ve moved multiple times, ended up in the hospital with mono, got into a relationship, got out of it, met someone else, quit my job, started a business, spoke at NYU, etc. I could see where I was coming from at the time I wrote that proposal, but it isn’t a place I could get back to. The book I wanted to write back then wasn’t something I could see myself writing today, although I’d never trade some of the experiences I sought out as fodder for it (road-tripping across the country, anyone?). I went back to the drawing board. I looked at what I’m known for (analysis related to Millennial culture), what was missing from the current literary landscape on the subject and how my voice (pithy but informed) could fill that gap. The proposal was 17 pages long and extensively footnoted. Pedantry is my hedge against criticism and always has been.
The reception was mixed. One party was enthusiastic and one was ambivalent. The ambivalent one loved my voice, but wanted something bigger and grander and more marketable. What else did I have up my sleeve? she wanted to know. I talked over the feedback with a confidante who urged me to set logic aside and really think about the story or stories I was passionate about telling. If I could write any type of book, what would it be? I thought on this and fired back with my pie-in-the-sky dream projects*. Market trends and pre-existing platforms be damned. It still wasn’t the right fit for this particular contact, but I felt good about putting all my cards on the table.
The thing is, I thought I’d already learned this lesson last summer and learned it the hard way. I thought I’d gotten my head around the fact that you don’t get what you don’t ask for, at least as it related to my personal life. I thought I had well and truly accepted that pragmatism shouldn’t always supplant desire and that not every course of action lends itself to be evaluated with a list of pros and cons. And yet, here I was being schooled all over again.
There is almost five years’ worth of advice on this blog. And despite the fact that a helluva lot has changed since I started writing here and since I drafted that first book proposal, what hasn’t changed is my need to heed my own counsel and the reality that unlike learning to drive or tie your shoes, some lessons don’t stick the first time around.
*If you ask nicely, I might just tell you what they are. Maybe even in fewer than 17 pages.
Recently, I saw one of my favorite new artists live. Before the show, I busied myself with reading reviews of her latest cd – a pretty radical departure from her debut – to see if my opinion that she’s taken a turn for the Stevie Nicks (a very good thing in my books) was shared by music critics. In the course of clicking around, I stumbled on this snippet (bolding mine) from The Boston Globe:
“The sweet sass of ‘Bible Belt’ has given way to more scorching moments. Birch is not the one to be messed with on “All the Love You Got,” which presumably dresses down a former lover. Birch could have included songs like that on her debut, but she realized that for the sake of consistency, she needed to commit to a cohesive sound and collection of songs. There would be time to make other records. There would be life after ‘Bible Belt’.”
I’ve been struggling with a big new project and there was exactly the perspective I needed in a few lines of a cd review. I had been thinking about this particular opportunity as my one and only shot. If I didn’t cram anything and everything I ever wanted to say into it, I might never get to another chance to share my thinking with the world. Consider it in food terms. Instead of focusing on making the best possible apple pie I was capable of and whetting diners’ appetites for future dishes, I was fretting over trying to pull off a six-course meal because I was worried no one would ever agree to try my food again. I was stressing myself out over self-imposed scarcity.
A friend is working on his PhD dissertation and battling with the same urge to accurately and critically represent all corners of a vast subject area for fear of missing something or not doing the field justice. Instead of a tightly-focused argument, he’s been driving himself crazy thinking about his dissertation as a state of the subject treatise. No wonder trying to wrap up his doctorate is giving him gray hairs.
The truth is no one project – a paper, an album, a resume, a work of art, a dessert – can capture everything you want to say or that you’re capable of thinking, creating or sharing with the world. You can, however, make that entry point to your expertise compelling enough that people will be primed to come back for more. You don’t have to show your audience everything you have inside all at once for fear you’ll never get another kick at the can. Instead, you simply have to deliver something valuable, interesting, enlightening and strong enough that that same audience is excited to experience your next offering in whatever form it may take.
Come for the apple pie. Come back next time for the gnocchi. And the Stevie Nicks homage.
I don’t know how to calculate dog years, but I do know that 16 and a half human years is pretty damn old for a dog. That’s how old the family dog was when my mother texted me yesterday morning to say that Ginger had suffered a stroke in the night and my parents had to haver her put down.
I really did think Ginger – a beagle mix adopted from a flea market – would outlive us all. She was more cat than dog, really. She eschewed toys, wouldn’t fetch if her life depended on it, couldn’t swim, hated being petted. She was born old and cantankerous, so it seems odd that we never really got along. She peed on my bed twice during a week-long visit home after college. No one ever knew how she got upstairs.
She mellowed slightly in her last years. She let my parents give her a bath. She tolerated my little sister putting stupid hats on her and taking pictures of it – a biteable offense in bygone days. She would bark at the other (much younger) family dog until that dog would chase her around the house.
Of course, I’ve been thinking of mortality. If a seemingly immortal dog can die, so can and will everyone else I care about. Which, duh, of course they will. TImes like these makes me want to heal every old wound, patch over ancient hurts and grudges, create a figurative (and maybe literal) blanket fort of love and kindness and care and find someone to crawl inside with. Because time is moving. The time you have to start things, finish things, mull things over, create and destroy, embrace and let go is so chest-crushingly finite. Righteousness and pride and someday plans and waitlisted dreams aren’t keeping any of us warm at night. What we make as individuals and with others is all we get and the time we don’t spend making and being and living are days and weeks and months and years we can never call back. And we only receive so many reminders of this truth, most of them painful. Why waste another?
16 and a half years seems like a long time. It isn’t, though. It really, really isn’t.