I cannot be this age. Truly.
No milestone birthday looms this year. Instead, my youngest niece is about to graduate from college. And my friends’ children are studying to be journalists, doctors, scientists.
I will not age myself and say that time flies—but I feel like I blinked at the Indy 500.
My friend asked if I had any sage words for her daughter. I’m assuming she meant about journalism. As this talented young woman prepares to enter the rat race officially, I pondered what I could offer her.
Not surprisingly to any of you, the words that came to me were more about life than journalism. Any hack can tell you not to split your infinitives and to start with a lede that draws people into your story.
But not everyone looks back and shares actual wisdom.
I may not have it in spades but I have a few nuggets to spare in the form of a letter I’ve written:
A good journalist gets to the point. So here goes, with little ado.
You are about to enter a world in which you will assume everyone is an adult. They are not. All are full grown, but not all have grown up. You will encounter mean girls, nerds and bullies, just as you have from middle school on up. The rules of corporate America are a bit harsher than the schoolyard because no one fills the teacher role—you know, the one who intervenes to save the little guy from harm. As you begin your career, make no mistake. You are the little guy. Keep your mouth closed and your eyes open.
In complete contradiction to the advice I just gave you, speak up and make mistakes. Lots of them. Because the people who are outstanding in their field are the ones with the cojones to fail fast and often. Doing so accelerates your learning curve and puts you on an upward trajectory.
When you have a choice, always and unequivocally choose to work for someone whose passion is creating something larger than the group that makes it. Run as fast as you can from the radical opposite of this person, the one who has her eyes on the corner office. The former will give credit where it is due and keep everyone’s eye on the prize. You will be inspired and go home feeling you’ve contributed something good to the world. The latter will snipe, backstab and work you like a dog so she can reap the benefits of breaking your back. You will doubt yourself and go home feeling like you are a very small cog in a wheel that never stops churning.
Never mistake decency for a lack of strength. You will see executives and editors go head to head with each other. The decent ones don’t always win. Sometimes they do. But I guarantee you this: The executives with decency, who treat their fellow man with respect regardless of rank, do end up ahead. They generally have a life outside of work, people who love them, a broader perspective. The bullies—well, the bullies I’ve seen generally end up having a heart attack or cancer. They become so toxic, their own body can’t even stand it. The few who retire are generally a miserable shadow of their former selves within a few years. Money can’t buy you love is more than just a catchy song title from the ‘60s.
It may sometimes be difficult to be you. Not because there is anything wrong with you, lovely girl. But because being unique in any way, shape or form takes chutzpah when–despite the diversity talk—it is made clear that the thoroughbreds are generally those who conform. Be yourself anyway. Find an environment that values the traits you bring and success will come. I promise you.
And last, despite all of these rather dire warnings, remember that the world is filled with good people. I have worked with people who tell stories that change the world. I have seen teams pitch in to help a member in need without breathing a word—as that team member took care of a sick parent, lost a child, braved a divorce. I have witnessed inspirational leaders create amazing products and programs, changing not just industries, but lives.
Put your armor on to deflect the arrows but remember to take it off at night for those you love. Don’t let them beat the humanity out of you.
Because you, dear girl, and many more like you—you are our hope for a brighter future. Be smarter than any before you have been. Show us how intelligence, ingenuity, drive and the best of humanity can coexist in one beautiful soup.
Be you. Be brave.
Get out there and change the world.