Note: I always try tone down my bitchiness with the softness of empathy (sometimes I fail wildly there, too), but if a young person really wants it harsh, I can do that, too. Also please know: There are no secret passive-aggressive subliminal messages to anyone I've ever worked with, might work with or have thought about working with in this letter. There is one example I use, but I checked with that person first. These are just some "slap in the face" to get a career jumpstart words given by me because that's what I got an email requesting from a young person who wrote me today.
Dear Slap In the Face Seeker,
I didn't read your letter closely (because I have thousands of unread messages in my in-box, as many people do nowadays, so always keep that in mind -- shorter is the most effective!), but I saw that you are looking for a job, and you asked for me to do the equivalent of pouring cold water on your head to get you moving in the right direction in your career.
I can do this, but please don't internalize any harshness in this letter -- or think that I'm trying to make you feel bad. (I hate doing that.) Instead, I'm going to tell you what many people will not bother because they don't want to get involved.
And it's not personal. It's because we are all so slammed. Every single one of us. We think back on the days of college fondly. A test instead of 900 deadlines and meetings and new emails every hour? Where do I sign up?
Which isn't to say that many people (including me) don't absolutely love their jobs. But it is not always easy. Sometimes you will want to just curl up in your bed at the end of the day and consider moving to a remote island and seeing if there are any open positions in a rapidly expanding drug cartel as a low-level courier mule. Anything but the 9 to 5.
So know that you are not crazy if you think it seems hard. It is hard. It is lonely. It is humiliating. It is discouraging. It is harsh. But -- it is also an absolute thrill ride. And it makes the successes all that much more sweet.
That's why it is all about framing. I had one friend who used to hang up her "bullets," or rejection letters on the wall as proud displays of where she had applied to and then gotten turned down from. Instead of holding that rejection shame inside and thinking she was a loser, she celebrated the hilarity of it and her audacity of trying.
She went for it! And 50 organizations turned her down until she found the right one. She went on to work for some of the top companies in the United States. Because she had a terrific attitude, and she saw her rejections as badges of honor.
The thing to keep in mind -- that many people are probably too demoralized or burnt out or discouraged to tell you -- is that the reality of the working world today is that there are a lot less people doing a lot more work. This goes across every industry and in every city. Sure, there are some jobs that are still cush and relaxing and absolutely 9 to 5 in their nature, but I certainly don't know anyone who has one of those.
Everyone I know is part of The Big Bad Hustle Machine.
What does it mean to be a part of that? It means you need to be a hustler yourself rather than be an Entitled Young Person Who Expects the World to Be Handed to Her and Doesn't Recognize How Shit Works and Doesn't Anticipate and Doesn't Think Ahead and Doesn't Show Initiative and is an Overly Delicate Needy Flower and Displays Zero Deference to People Who Have Worked Their Asses Off and Has a Lousy Attitude to Boot.
I'm not saying you are that person. But if it helps give you the equivalent of the slap in the face you are looking for, then sure, you are that person.
I think you said that you wanted to be a writer or a blogger and make some inroads there. That's awesome. But don't you see? You don't need me to do that.
You can do it. All you have to do -- is DO IT.
The biggest problem that people face today, in my opinion, is that they expect to be chosen. Instead of, as Seth Godin says, choosing themselves.
Look at Tavi of Rookie fame. That girl started an empire when she was in her teens. (Which isn't to say you are too old. Again, DO NOT INTERNALIZE. If you want something, get that something.)
You might think that I will write you back, and I will tell you, "Contact This Person, and they will give you a job, and it will be fun, and you will have a great time, and they will also be the mentor of your dreams, and everything will be wonderful."
That's not how it works.
Do you want something? Then get that something.
Outside of becoming a doctor or a lawyer or any of the professions that require classical training and schooling and a degree before you can practice, we live in a society today where you can just Get That Something.
Etsy, eBay, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn: We live in the age of social connectivity. And the way that anyone who is rocking these venues is doing so is because they understand two primary questions.
1) What is it that you actually want?
2) You have to demonstrate value yourself in order to be a valuable player in whatever arena you want to break into. What is the value you can bring and demonstrate in each situation you are encountering professionally?
The first question is a question that I always try to remind myself because it is a question that allows you to STFU when you are tempted to fall prey to your lesser qualities (of which I have many): bratty, bitchy, entitled, greedy, grubby, angry, bitter, resentful, self-pitying, arrogant, and so forth.
For me: I want to use writing and comedy to express truths about the human condition and to live a life filled with joy, passion, kindness, abundance, humor, honesty and love. That's my actual mission statement. That is what I want. So when someone pisses me off, when I am tempted to go down a K-hole of distraction, I can ask myself: Will this benefit what I actually want? Usually, no. That short-term reactivity often derails you from the bigger goal at hand.
The second question is the harder one. Are you demonstrating value in your interactions? Most of the time with young people, it is no.
I had a young man the other day who I had given countless introductions regarding potential jobs and then I asked him if he would read an article to let me know if it could be useful to other young people. His response? "I'm a little busy right now."
No. Just no. I will never introduce this young guy for any potential jobs again. That, my friend, is entitlement and a lack of value and a lack of gratitude.
Do you want to do a good exercise that will benefit you vastly later on in your life?
Every day, at least once a day, tell someone how much you appreciate something about them or what they have done or what they are doing. Show willingness. Show positivity. Show gratitude. Know your place in the power structure of things. Don't play stupid mind games. Be authentic (but appropriate according to the scenario). Brighten people's day. Give them a genuine compliment. Because it is these genuine demonstrations of goodness that will show people that you are not a fairweather friend user opportunist nightmare.
Of course, we can all be this way at times, because yeah, we are human beings, and human beings are prone to gimme-gimme-gimme behavior, and such is the course of life.
BUT! I always notice when people are only interested in me or only nice to me or only buttering me up when I have something that they want (to get press or to get an introduction or to get a shoutout).
You may think that right now you have no value because you are a recent college graduate who is looking for a job, but you do.
Humans tend to be such miserable, beaten-down creatures by virtue of the increasing amount of work that every person is expected to take on in the professional world today (and even if you love your job, it's still a helluva lot more than it ever was decades ago), that giving someone a genuine pat on the back or telling them a kind word can make a world of difference.
And when that person then IS in a position to help (sidenote: you'll be surprised at the people you know now who will later blow up; I have several friends who were buds with Ed Helms when he started in the industry, and very few thought he would be the A-lister later on, which is not a slag, but seriously, you really never know), you will have been the person who was there all along.
Be the person who is there all along.
Gratitude also puts you in a better general state of being. It makes you less whiny. It gives you more perspective. Instead of thumping your fists against the desk upset that you don't immediately have your dream job, you get to stop and take a breath.
Look at your day. If you spend the majority of it shitting on other people -- in a nonconstructive way -- and complaining and bemoaning and focusing on what is going wrong and G-chatting things like "Sigh" to your friends in a pity-party-loop and generally focusing on all that is wrong and how hard life is, then guess what: You are addicted to your misery.
It's very easy to do. It's very seductive. It is reliable.
It is way more uncomfortable to take a risk. That could lead to disappointment -- or happiness. You don't know. You can't control it. Misery you can control. You control writing the woeful and sorry-for-yourself: "Sigh." You know what happens next. Taking a risk and creating things, everything is up for grabs. You could be a success or you could flop on your fucking face. It is scary.
See if you can embrace the nausea and the failures and the ups and the downs as you might the exhilaration of roller coaster. Cliche, but whatever, it works.
I love that you emailed me (and inspired this -- thank you!), but I want you to recognize all of the things that you can do on your own. Here's where I'm going to be really annoying and show by example and give a "when I was your age I used to walk 12 miles in the snow" speech.
Here's how I got a few of my first jobs.
- I called the San Diego Union-Tribune when I was 13 to apply to be a paper girl when I saw the ad in the paper because I immediately started looking at the classifieds when I was that young, and I never thought "I have to get my parents' permission," instead I thought: If I get the job, they'll give it to me or they won't. When the man from the paper called my parents, they were surprised, tickled and then decided to let me have the paper route. YOU DO NOT NEED TO BE CHOSEN.
- When I was 14 and my parents said I could babysit if anyone was willing to hire me, I offered my services to different families around my neighborhood. I got a job in no time.
- Before the Internet, I would go to the library and ask the librarian where I could find out about different scholarships or professional societies I could join. That's how I interned for the Scripps Clinic when I was 15. No one chose me. I did research. I applied.
- In college, I went into the alumni services office and looked up every Northwestern alumni I might be able to connect with to talk about professional opportunities. I emailed them, attached my resume and said I would work harder than anyone they had ever seen. People remember things like this. It leads to jobs when it comes across as sincere.
- When I decided to leave newspapers, I started looking at every single different job web site I could find until I found a listing that seemed like something I could do. I applied. I got the job.
- When I decided I wanted more than working in PR, I looked online for more jobs. I couldn't afford Internet at home at the time in 2000 so I stayed up all night at my current job to reformat my resume so that it would make me look more dot-com savvy for the Internet job I was applying for. I applied. I got the job.
And so on. Yeah, I know I am annoying and aggressive and boasting and maybe you'd rather do any profession as long as it didn't lead you to seeming like the narcissistic self-congratulatory workaholic I am presenting myself as here. But you don't need to be AS aggro as me. Think about how it might relate to YOU.
The next time you are tempted to write someone like me to ask them for advice, sure, do it if you like, but also think about this. You live in the age of Google and social media. Literally anything is available at your fingertips.
It's funny because a lot of people think I have some secret to reporting skills because I would uncover things at The Post that others would not find. Most of the time I did not possess some great secret. I was just like a dog with a bone in knowing that it had to be out there. I kept looking and looking and looking. All I did was Google. I would think the way that something might exist and then I would find it.
Do you want to connect with other members of your alma mater? Here's how I would do that. I would Google (if you were me, since this is where I went to school) things like "during my time at Northwestern," "loved Northwestern," "undergrad at Northwestern," or if I wanted to be a blogger and find other ones, "successful blogger" and "Northwestern."
Then you can reach out to people who are doing what you want to do -- after you've created your own work. Don't just wait for them to choose you. Show them the great online brand presence you have already created that makes anyone who sees it want to hire you.
Show just how much initiative and how much of a self-starter you are.
Show that you are fearless.
Show that you can receive a slap in the face -- and take it.
Find Mandy long-form at http://tinyurl.com/stadtmiller.