1/24/14

My Career . . .

Now THIS is some whack-assed clip art.
I celebrated a milestone on Tuesday. My career turned 18. Yes, yes. My professional life can now vote, buy tobacco products, be tried and found guilt as an adult, and have relations with another adult without fear of having to register with the local authorities. All these things are exciting . . . and you know what else I found exciting - I've been working for EIGHTEEN YEARS!

In the interest of full disclosure, the first five months of my career was my final internship. I was not paid (I did get some random checks here and there for various accomplishments so I shan't complain). I had no title. I had no glory. I had no power or authority but, because it was a very small company (there were four of us for most of my internship) I had direct access to the President/Owner of the company and that felt really cool to me. I enjoyed that direct (and sometimes tense) relationship for eight full years before I moved on to work for a little company called International Business Machines.

The rest of my career, since leaving Strauss Radio (now "Media") Strategies, has been fantastic and I have no complaints (including a six month unemployment spell that kept me hungry around this time last year) but it is that first year or two of my career that I will always think the most important.

I was working full time (and by that company's standards - at least 50 or 55 hours per week) and going to graduate school full time (four night/week). I shared an apartment with between one and three other guys (depending on the month and how much we all wanted to divide space and utility bills). I was not making very much money and I was becoming an adult by firey trial but I was happy and learning.

In those first years I had some amazing experiences that very, very few professionals might ever have.

The first business trip I ever went on was to Nike's corporate headquarters. The first client meeting I attended to just "observe" was at the Old Executive Office Building (adjacent to and where the real work of the White House is done). I had a client call me one day just to tell me what a cocky jerk I was and how she wished me nothing but harm and suffering. I blew off deadlines. I lost clients. I learned how to pitch new business. I learned how to use Microsoft Excel and Access. I learned how to create charts with intricate tabs in Microsoft Word. I also learned how to think strategically.

I was once left in the Maryland suburbs of DC with no wallet, no cell phone, and no clue where the nearest Metro station even was (it was an honest mistake on the part of the person who left me - I didn't know my bag with all my stuff was in their car until it was too late). I had to answer questions (from colleagues, clients, vendors, and others) far above my actual skill set and experience in real time because I earned the trust of my boss good and early. I had to understand subject matters that were far, far out of my 22-year-old life experience so I could be an effective public relations professional.

All that is well and good but here is the point of this post . . . I learned how to trust people in those first few years of my professional life.

I had anywhere from three to ten colleagues in that time. We were all young. All underpaid (some dramatically). We all came from various socio-economic backgrounds (my favorite night of the summer of 1999 was the night I learned what Asian Glow was while giving an 18 year old UCLA Freshman copious amounts of booze on his first night at a bar). We all had various dreams and ambitions. We all had varying work ethics (we hired one woman who worked for exactly two days, took some "sick time" and never, ever came back). We all had various degrees of sexual tension (I never actually hooked up with a colleague but I had plenty around me that did). We all had various reasons (not) to trust each other. We didn't all like each other. We didn't all even enjoy each other. But we TRUSTED each other.

That lesson seems lost on young professional today. I don't know if it is a mindset shift or if there are just too few jobs and too many of them but I don't always feel like there is a bond of trust between younger professionals and now - as a mid-career professional - I have lost some of my trust, too (life is too short and marketing careers are even shorter).

I have really enjoyed the first 18 years of my career. I'm certain I have at least 18 more in me. I think the better ones are still to come (which will be tough) and I appreciate the men and women that have helped shape, inform, improve, and enhance my career to this point. You all have my trust . . . and 92% of you have my like . . . and 18% have my love . . . and 7.2% have my lust/love.