- Wise Words -
"Time of my life".
by harry patz
I have never seen the movie Dirty Dancing. To be candid, I’m not really sure I am missing anything. However, I was in the car the other day and heard “(I’ve Had) the Time of My Life,” one of the pivotal songs from that 1987 film. And it instantly took me back to my college-era summers in the late 1980s, when I was bartending at a catering place along the Hudson River. The boats on the water, the pink floral dresses of bridesmaids, and the pitchers and shots of Woo Woos I made for the increasingly inebriated clientele – all came back to me vividly after just a few notes of that insipid song.
But that was also a time when I was trying to figure it all out, knowing the college years were dwindling and I would need to find my way in the “real” professional world. (Not) soon enough, I found my first entry-level job at Microsoft Corporation. I didn’t really figure it out, and maybe I never will but here is what I would have told that up-and-coming Harry Patz, or anyone who might be in his shoes today:
1) Hard work may not be everything, but it is a lot of things.
When you are early in career, your job is to do whatever it takes (legally and ethically that is), whether it is getting coffee, packing up boxes for an event, or working on a weekend. You are not above doing anything that is needed, and no one really cares where you went to university, who your parents are, your SAT scores, or what your GPA was. You are likely intelligent, though that is not enough (Said long-ago US President Calvin Coolidge: “The world is full of educated derelicts.”)
You are a sponge; you need to learn as much as you can from all of those around you, internally and externally. Ask polite questions, learn from your colleagues and experiences, and simply do NOT allow anyone to outwork you. Perhaps you may remember the lazy guy from one of your group projects in college, you know that freeloader / screw-up, who didn’t contribute anything, who was always late (or missing), and then took credit while you and few others were up late writing the paper or preparing the presentation? Be the opposite of that guy!
And check your ego, along with your Ivy League / Stanford / Oxford / Sorbonne (you get the point) degree at the door. Really, nobody cares.
2) READ, READ, READ and READ some more.
While you learn on the job, and through experience, you should supplement that with both A) Industry information sources B) General Business news, and C) Fiction that has (initially) NOTHING to do with business, along with biographies.
If you are in AdTech, as an example, you’ll read AdExchanger and Mediapost, among other sources to stay abreast of the latest developments. And not just the headlines, please.
With respect to B, you should be reading the Wall Street Journal, New York Times business section, or other regional / national equivalents. If you are in the elevator, or happen to see the CMO of XYZ company at the same restaurant with you, you want be able to converse with her about important topics germane to her business, the macro economy or other industries in general as opposed to the great cocktail you are pounding. And (gasp!) you might actually learn a ton more if you set aside 30 minutes and read the print edition, where the experience and perspective of the broadsheet allows the discovery in your mind to process even more information than a few token online articles or a summarized newsletter.
You will likely change customers, industries and jobs many times in your career. So you do not want to be tied to reading and learning about just what you are doing now.
For C, and I have seen various takes on this in the Wall Street Journal and others in the past, but this is recent from FastCompany, reading fiction will make you a better leader, which presumably as an intelligent mover and shaker, you may someday wish to be. Reading fiction is also a good way to cleanse the palate from all the information you are taking in daily, and experience and think about things in a very different way. Biographies are powerful too, and there are great new ones from diverse subjects such as Richard Nixon and actor Charlton Heston to zelig baseball manager Leo Durocher. You’ll absorb many great lessons and learn when to apply them (and when not to).
3) Network outside your company AND industry.
For much of my twenty years at Microsoft, I put my head down, served my team, my company and my customers well. But while doing so, I did myself a disservice – I did not make time for networking and building many contacts inside and outside the industry. My father worked for Otis Elevator for 28 years until he retired (he still bartended part-time afterward, he survived through the Depression after all!), and I was at Microsoft for 20 years. I cannot imagine my young daughters will work for one company more than 5 to potentially 10 years in today’s world. Thus building a network of colleagues who are all “coming up together,” mentors who can help you, and even others you can help, will be invaluable throughout your career. Linkedin is a great tool, but it’s not about tools per se – it is spending time getting to know people on a human level and offering your assistance, perspective and expertise, while hopefully receiving theirs.
Clearly you should not be a “freeloader” in this regard as well. It should be self-evident, but people are more willing to help you when you are willing to help them. Call it karma, fate, magic or what you will, but what goes around does come around - both ways. If you remember the 1950s sitcom The Honeymooners, Ralph Kramden couldn’t have said it better.
4) Don’t be so serious and have (some) fun.
This may fly in the face in what I have said in #1, but also supports #3 to an extent. And for both life and for business, you need to get comfortable with contradictions.
I have travelled to 40 of the 50 US States, and over 20 countries. I was in Berlin the past year twice and despite being a hard core World War II history buff, I didn’t make time to see any museums, or even explore the city. My mistake.
Thus, despite your serious approach to your career, you do need to make time to “smell the roses along the way.” What will you remember when you are in your middle age, or even in the old age home? That night you went back to your hotel and did email for 3 hours, or exploring some hidden part of a wondrous foreign city with your equally hard working and underpaid colleagues, who may just turn out to be lifelong best friends, eons after you left the dreadful XYZ Corp? Will you want to tell stories 25 years later about how much code you developed when at company HQ, or the epic after-after-after Holiday Party?
Clearly you need to focus on your responsibilities and excel at them, but you will live a happier and more fruitful life if you make time to enjoy these halcyon days when you are actually living them, not being wistful nor regretful for ones that never existed.
5) Integrity, Honesty and Professionalism.
When you start your professional career, you may have intelligence, and even passion and drive for hard work, but you really only have your name. And what would you want said of that name, ten, twenty, even fifty years down the road? Would you want to be remembered as a great employee, but also a man or woman of integrity and honesty and professionalism? Or would you take unnecessary and needless chances and risk be labeled a weasel, or far worse, a liar, cheat, or even a criminal? No short cut or gain in prestige or money would ever have been worth sullying my name to me. And I would guess that would be true for most of you.
Business is competitive, and companies and projects rise and fall must faster in 2017 than they ever did. You will have ample opportunity to cut corners, to skirt company and / or governmental policy, and to engage in behavior that is unethical even if it is not illegal, or consider doing something illegal “just this once.” IT. IS. NOT. WORTH. IT, EVER! You can read up on Enron in case you were in diapers when it happened, or you can read about former star “IT-company” of the moment (I don’t mean Information Technology) Theranos and where they are today. If something smells bad, and you wouldn’t want your name as part of it on the front page of the Wall Street Journal (print or digital!), then you probably shouldn’t do it. You can always find another job or a better situation. Your integrity is never worth losing, whether it is of your own volition, or as some higher-up’s dupe.
I’m a big Winston Churchill fan, and among his many scintillating quotes, this is my favorite: “Some men change their party for the sake of their principles; other their principles for the sake of their party.” You can and should substitute “companies” in that quote for “party” where appropriate.
Thank you for reading, and I wish you all the best in your careers!