Apropos of a beer-garden conversation I had last weekend—the umpteenth such conversation I've had over the years—about a young employee who has probably stayed too long her first job ...
How many verities we endure from our elders—and how many truths our elders, for their own reasons, hold back. One of the most reliable rules of thumb I know, I had to learn for myself—because nobody told me about it. Somebody should have. So now I'm telling you.
I worked at a small publishing company from the time I was 23 until I was 31. I started as an editorial assistant, became the editor of the flagship publication, took over as editorial director and then helped the company start a consulting practice.
I learned most of what I know professionally at that place, and much of what I know intellectually. I built my whole Chicago life from people I met at there. I have hundreds of rich stories to tell about the firm—so many that its CEO thinks there's a New Yorker piece in it if I'll only sit down and write it. Maybe he's right.
But by the time I left, I despised the place. Despised the CEO, disdained the CFO, loathed the marketing chief and mocked my colleagues and myself for having given over so much of our minds and souls to this small-time outfit. Every meeting was the same bad, ad-libbed play, day after day. At 31, I felt 60—bored, unmotivated, cynical and over the hill.
Leaving wasn't easy, because in my demoralized state, I couldn't have anticipated that I would regain enough youthful energy and courage to make a go in an unfamiliar place. A colleague implored me to stay. I remember my blood turning into poison as I told him through clenched teeth, "Haven't you ever just soured on a place?"
The day I left, I despised the place.
The day after, I despised it no more. It was suddenly just a publishing company, with its strengths and weaknesses, its odd culture and nutty personalities and market realities.
The company wasn't out to smother my dreams. It was out to survive. And if my dreams were being smothered by working there, it was up to me to survive.
All this came so crystal clear so quickly—and has only become more so in the 14 years since I left there, as I've gotten to know other companies and noted that they all have foibles: some are all sales and no product, some are all product and no sales, some hire dumb amiable people, others hire brilliant crazies, some cater to the phistine masses and others to the arrogant elite. Some are more agreeable to work for than others, but all are what they are: And what they are has nothing to do with me.
But one company's foibles, when they are all you have known in your whole career, are personal affronts, terribly unjust and outrageous stunters of your growth, crimpers of your style ... cheaply made and arbitrarily set governor switches on your limitless professional potential!
You cannot separate your disappointment in your own career from your dissatisfaction with the company that has both spawned and contained your career.
Until the day you leave the company, and go to work for another one—or a number of other ones, as a contractor. You will never loathe (nor probably love) another company like the first one you gave your heart to. You'll be a cooler and wiser head. This one extra point of reference will transform your view of work from two dimensions into three, will double your emotional intelligence quotient.
The trouble is, there is no other way to learn this. I'm not saying, "Stay at your company because the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side." I'm saying just the opposite: You'll never know anything about the color of grass until you've seen at least two different fields.
So, Twenty-Something Who Hates Your Company: Leave!
Thinking of moving to Chicago? You should!
I'm sure you've seen our police department's recent report that we've only had 203 murders so far this year. How awesome is that?!
And it's not just the cops. All the people here are on the ball—and together, we have everything under control.
I'll give you an example from my own neighborhood. A neighbor used the Ukrainian Village Neighborhood Watch Facebook page to ask for advice.
"This is not an emergency post," she acknowledged, "but we have so many rats around us."
My condo and balcony face the alley and I see them all over! They come in my yard, climb in my flower boxes, etc.
I heard a neighbor got two cats to help solve the problem but it's not doing anything. Last year we bought the rat box with the poison (it basically dehydrates them because they are always thirsty) but even that isn't working. I can hear and see them fighting when I try to enjoy a glass of wine on my balcony. Ugh it's more stress.
I know it's city living, but these things are huge! And there are lots of babies this summer too. … What are other people doing to keep them away?
Her neighbors scurried in to offer their suggestions:
I caught one a couple weeks ago in a trap by the tail. Unfortunately, it didn't die, so we called 311 to help us dispose of it. They sent 3 people out (2 days later) …
We bought a battery powered "rat zapper" to use in our yard a couple years ago. It works well, but you do have to dispose of the beasts after they are zapped...
Chili pepper maybe. I use the Black and Decker plug ins that give off a high frequency sound. Works well with bugs and mice, not sure about rats. But it's worth a try. Safe for pets too
Wrap the poison in raw hamburger & they are goners.
Just be conscious of any feral kitties, they will ingest poison if it's in something they can get into.
I was told if you see any holes, stuff steel wool down them. They eat it trying to get out and it rips up their digestive track and they die in the hole. Gross to think about, but I too worry about killing cats and dogs with poison.
Get rid of food sources, namely open garbage and a big one: dog poop (they love it).
I don't think dog poop is the problem considering there is dog poop ALL over the neighborhood. If rats loved it so much, there wouldn't be the concern about stepping in it on a parkway or other areas as the ravenous rats that love dog poop would devour it ALL. Then rats would serve a purpose. There is a reason that the plastic garbage bins in the alleys have chew marks & holes in the lids or base of the containers. Those containers hold the repas de choix. Why eat dog poop when there are better meals??
A few years ago I called 311 and asked for help after the City baited the alley and the rats started living in our yard. The City sent an inspector who gave us a citation for "harboring rats" and gave us a hearing date. No kidding.
We have had big problems with daytime rats because their nests are getting so crowded. Not anymore. First thing that I do is find the holes. I then fill the holes with "just one bite" Farnam Home & Garden. After a day or two, you will see rats wandering around dazed by the poison. After a few days, you will see far less rats.
Adopt an older cat that is used to the outdoors. Keep water and some shelter near your property, but let Mr Whiskers fight this battle. If you keep up your end (shelter, warmth, some food and a place to call "home"), I bet your new champ takes care of business.
We have cats in the neighborhood. All they do is poop on our property which brings rats and flies.
I read that male urine keeps them away, so have at it guys! :)
Q. How do you kill rats in Chicago?
A. You don't. You just piss them off.
And I'm discouraged to find everything I write contained in this four-minute video.
The Library of Congress released President Warren Harding's love letters this week, but I'm not too eager to read them, having long ago memorized and many times recited the words of H.L. Mencken, who once wrote that Harding:
writes the worst English that I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights. It is so bad that a sort of grandeur creeps into it. It drags itself out of the dark abysm of pish, and crawls insanely up the topmost pinnacle of posh. It is rumble and bumble. It is flap and doodle. It is balder and dash.
It's a joy, publishing speeches that I love in Vital Speeches of the Day. It's a nearly equal joy, publishing muscular speeches whose ideas I violently disagree with. It's not called Vital Speeches of the Dave, after all.
But occasionally I publish—in its entirety, and unadorned with comment from me—a speech that I disagree with and that I think is dreadfully written. Why? Because I think history ought to remember it as an example of our discourse.
Take a speech I just received this week, by Robert Dilenschneider.
I call him Bob. I can, because he has signed "Bob" to handwritten thank-you notes to me when I've written about him. Write about Bob, and you get a handwritten thank-you note; I'll probably get one for writing this.
Anyway, for five decades Bob has been a BIG DEAL. He worked at Hill & Knowlton in the 1970s and bossed it in the 80s and into the 90s. Since then he has operated The Dilenschneider Group, counseling and shilling for a list of clients he describes as "major corporations, professional groups, trade associations and educational institutions, and has assisted clients in dealings with regulatory agencies, labor unions, consumer groups and minorities, among others."
(I should probably confirm this, but I'm going to guess that those clients are listed pretty faithfully in descending order by amount billed.)
Bob has the likes of Henry Kissinger over to his house for cozy lectures, and he told the Stamford Advocate two years ago that his firm "represents one-third of the Fortune 500 companies and has participated in six of the largest mergers and acquisitions deals in the past 20 years. 'We've represented six of Fortune's 10 toughest bosses,' Dilenschneider, a Darien [Conn.] resident, said."
The photograph (or is it an oil painting?) that he uses on his bio page is at least 20 years old. Below is what Bob really looks like now (he is pictured at his home, looking like he thinks he looks like absolute badass, which as any image consultant will tell you is half the battle).
This speech Bob gave—perhaps he conceived it in that ancient Greek gazebo there—I'm publishing it because it addresses an important issue, and argues for a clear solution, which is much more than I can say for many of the speeches I receive and reject at Vital Speeches.
The issue is, the effect that the global financial crisis had and is having on the millennial generation. Around the world, millennials with college educations can't find jobs. As a result, "Mental depression is becoming a serious reality among millennials, who feel the recession may have knocked them out of the game and they may never get firmly on the job track. More than one in three young adults still live with their parents."
I genuinely appreciate Bob taking the issue on directly. Global unemployment among twenty-something college graduates does qualify as a vital problem, so any speech on the subject is by definition a Vital Speech. It's only when Bob begins to lay out his solutions that the speech begins to lose its vitality:
What can be done to put people in the United States and overseas back to work? For starters, we must keep at bay the Fed’s appetite for greater and greater control of every aspect of society, roll back the excessive government regulation; put risk, reward and personal responsibility back into the capitalist system and facilitate the creation of new businesses that, in turn create new and better jobs. Right now, taking risks in business too often invites litigation. We must ensure that questionable plaintiffs and their lawyers pay a price for frivolous lawsuits that frequently amount to blackmail.
Where are the new jobs going to be? I would argue that they may be found in healthcare and social assistance (now 18 percent of our economy), construction such as the Keystone Pipeline, educational services, professional and business services, mining, leisure and hospitality, financial activities, the wholesale and retail trade, transportation and warehousing, and state and local government.
But all the shrinking of government, tort reform and environmental deregulation in the world are not going to get these young people into productive careers by themselves! No, you need to help. You need to help by giving advice to the millennials. Sober advice. Here's Bob's advice for the advice you should offer to millennials, wherever you encounter them. (It's best read in the stentorian, radically caucasion voice of a 1950s film strip narrator.)
First, encourage them to shape and create a personal image. Everyone has an image, and that image should change with the times. The right image can bring profound benefits. Image is a basically series of habits you develop and integrate into your personality. Image and an image change require trial and error.
Counsel them to dress like those in the level above their position and not to dress well only when they have an official meeting with superiors. Explain that people judge them every day. It isn’t simply the boss who decides whether you get promoted.
Advise them to always be helpful. Those who get promoted are seen to be genuinely interested in others’ well-being. Few companies want to promote a narcissist. Young workers should also establish friendly relationships in other departments than their own. Those connections may help get a promotion and will certainly be useful after one is promoted.
I would additionally tell them to be energetic: People who get ahead always have an extra tank of energy to switch over to, but they don’t want to seem too animated. And be relaxed. Given the stress and downsizing in the current job market, nobody wants a Chicken Little running around screaming “The sky is falling, the sky is falling!” A relaxed persona will give superiors confidence.
Also, tell them to go the extra mile whatever that mile may be. Maybe the boss, or the boss’s boss, needs a report right away. Volunteering always helps as does developing a reputation for being dependable and productive during crises.
A sense of humor also never hurts. It shows that one can detach oneself emotionally from a situation and look at things objectively.
One must finally be eager to learn. An advanced degree is always an attribute that an organization generally encourages. Often, simply being in an MBA program gives one status and makes people see that individual as a go-getter. On the other hand, if the organization is frenetic and always on the brink of chaos, it might not look kindly on spending time getting a degree. But that doesn’t mean one can’t keep learning more about a company’s inner workings.
Enthusiasm is, incidentally, another positive. Companies say they want to hear employees’ reservations about a project, but they often really don’t. They might label one as negative. The workplace is not a democracy, and freedom of speech should be used cautiously. Getting, holding and progressing in a job takes continual diligence and effort.
People working at all levels are what make this country what it is.
Yes, including people at Bob's level—the top shelf, where corporate America's "toughest bosses" go to get their public relations advice. And for whom audiences at New York's University Club apparently still sit still, presumably breaking into applause and elbowing one another, Couldn't you just thank God for leadership like that?!
You can read Bob's speech in its entirety in the September issue of Vital Speeches, and decide for yourself:
Would you have published it?
I'd just explained to my wife that I'd repaired the garden fence in a fairly elegant way if I didn't say so myself.
"Dad, you're so proud of everything you do," Scout said with a laugh.
"Yeah!" I said. "That's how everybody should be!"
"Yeah," she said. "That's what I was thinking."