Genius Career Advice

Will You Be My Mentor?

February 25th, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

glennclosestalkerIf you’ve ever had a great mentor in your life, you know how valuable and rewarding a mentor/mentee relationship can be. But how do you find and “land” a great mentor?

Do you straight-up ask someone that you admire to be your mentor? That’s a bit like walking up to a supermodel in a bar and asking her (him) to be your fiancee.  You can come off as presumptuous and a bit stalker-y (“I will not be ignored, Dan”). After all, mentorship implies a long-term nurturing relationship. What if your potential mentor just isn’t that into you? Awwwwwkward.

However, I have had lots of great experiences with mentors and know that it’s worth the effort  to find a good one.  So when Jessica at UpMo.com asked me to answer some questions about the care and feeding of mentors, I had lots to talk about. Check out our Q&A on mentorship.

I wrote about my test drive of UpMo.com, a new online career and network management tool, a few weeks ago. It’s still in free beta if you want to try it out yourself.

Do you have advice to share on the subject? How did you find your most influential mentor? How have mentees approached you?

Career Lessons From The Oscars

February 23rd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

Philippe PetitIf you stayed up late to watch Slumdog Millionaire win the Academy Award for Best Picture, you may be kicking yourself this morning  for wasting 3+ hours of your life on endless musical numbers and montages.

But I’m here to tell you that it was time well spent. You can learn some valuable career lessons from this year’s Oscar ceremony if you can look past Hugh’s pancake makeup, the ginormous rings sported by both Brad and Angie, Whoopi’s dress, SJP’s cleavage, Zac Effron’s hair, Bill Maher’s bitterness, and the cute little boy in the tuxedo.

Oscar Career Lesson #1: Anything is possible.
Don’t be afraid to dream big in a world in which Slumdog Millionaire, a low-budget (comparatively) film about the slums of Mumbai, can sweep the Academy Awards. Slumdog triumphed over all of the blockbuster Oscar-bait flicks with all-star casts. It just goes to show that talent, dedication, and the right collaborators can take you all the way from the slums to the Kodak Theatre.

Oscar Career Lesson #2: Follow your passion.
The Best Documentary winner, Man On Wire, is also a fantastic reminder that crazy and impossible dreams can come true when you follow your passion. In 1974, Philippe Petit walked across a high wire strung between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center. This miraculous achievement took months of planning, practice, and stubborn dedication to an unrealistic goal. Passion also drove the Slumdog filmmakers to persevere with telling their story in the face of Hollywood rejection. Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black gave one of the most touching speeches of the evening when he talked about his passion for sharing Harvey Milk’s legacy with today’s gay teens. Find a career that taps into your passion and you may have a similar moment of triumph. You’ll certainly enjoy a more meaningful and fulfilling work life.

Oscar Career Lesson #3: Everybody loves a comeback story.
Mickey Rourke didn’t end up taking home the Best Actor statue, but his comeback story has been an inspiration to film fans across the country. Like John Travolta before him, Mickey is a media darling, praised for his unlikely return from obscurity. What can you learn from Mickey? Even if you’ve suffered career reversals and setbacks, don’t give up on your dreams. Overcoming obstacles only makes you stronger in the long run. Keep working, keep looking for opportunities. If crazy Mickey Rourke can make an inspiring comeback, so can you.

Oscar Career Lesson #4: Reputation is everything.
Let’s face it: nobody saw The Reader. Not even Hugh Jackman. But Kate Winslet still won the Best Actress award for her portrayal of a German woman accused of Holocaust crimes. By all reports, her performance was great (I haven’t seen it yet either). However, we all know that the great Kate didn’t earn her Oscar with The Reader alone. After years of consistently strong performances and Oscar nominations, the Academy decided it was Kate’s time. Her reputation and past work gave her the edge over strong competitors including Meryl Streep (already recognized repeatedly and deservedly) and Anne Hathaway (her time will come). So remember to work hard and put in your best effort with every project. You are building your reputation and your personal brand with everything that you do. Eventually, all of that effort will be recognized.

Oscar Career Lesson #5: Life is short.
There wasn’t a dry eye in the Kodak Theatre (or in my living room) when Heath Ledger’s family accepted his Best Supporting Actor award. The world lost a gifted young actor at the height of his powers and Heath’s family lost a beloved son, brother, and father. It must be some comfort to know that Heath Ledger left a legacy through his work, his spirit, and his lovely young daughter. However, the tragedy of his death reminds us that life is indeed short sometimes. We can’t count on living to the ripe old age of 82 like Jerry Lewis, who was honored with a humanitarian award last night. So don’t put off the things that really matter. Don’t wait to pursue that dream or spend time with the people that you care about.

Did you learn any other important lessons from the 2009 Oscars?

Revolutionary Road — Corporate Desperation, 1950’s Style

January 22nd, 2009

Written by Pamela Skillings

leonardodicaprio1The 2009 Academy Award nominations were announced today and it looks like Revolutionary Road will not be taking home any Oscars despite lots of critical praise and Golden Globe love.

I haven’t seen the film yet. I love Leo and Kate, but my love for Richard Yates’ novel is even stronger and I’m not sure any movie can do it justice.

Revolutionary Road is about two people trapped in an American dream they never wanted. Frank Wheeler has a good corporate job that he hates. April is trying not to go mad with boredom as a suburban housewife and mother. Frank and April always dreamed of greatness, expected greatness. Instead they are stuck in mediocrity that is just too comfortable to escape from.

Anyone who has felt stifled in Corporate America will identify with Yates’ descriptions of Frank’s office purgatory:

“At first glance, all the upper floors of the Knox Building looked alike. Each was a big open room, ablaze with fluorescent ceiling lights, that had been divided into a maze of aisles and cubicles by shoulder-high partitions. The upper panels of these dividers, waist to shoulder, were made of thick unframed plate glass that was slightly corrugated to achieve a blue-white semi-transparency; and the overall effect of this, to a man getting off the elevator and looking out across the room, was that of a wide indoor lake in which swimmers far and near were moving, some making steady headway, some treading water, others seen in the act of breaking to the surface or going under, and many submerged, their faces loosened into wavering pink blurs as they drowned at their desks.” read more…

Be Unrealistic — Obama’s Lesson for Career Changers

November 6th, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Whether you’re an exultant Obama supporter or a disappointed McCainiac, the results of Tuesday’s election should be encouraging in at least one way. The election of Barack Obama as President of the United States clearly demonstrates that no brazen career goal is unrealistic if you are willing to work your butt off and never give up.

I can only imagine how many times Barack Obama was told to give up on his “unrealistic” presidential goals. After all, it was clearly a tremendous long shot.  U.S. voters weren’t ready to elect an African-American candidate as President (remember the Bradley effect). Besides, Obama was inexperienced. And what about that middle name “Hussein”?

I will leave the in-depth analysis of Obama’s win to the eight zillion pundits and political bloggers who have been living and breathing the election for months. Obviously, Obama is a symbol of hope in many ways for many people.

However, as a passionate advocate for those seeking meaningful and fulfilling work, I want to point out that he is also a perfect example of someone who followed his passion and triumphed in spite of significant obstacles.

Barack Obama never escaped from Corporate America. But he has made many courageous and non-traditional career choices — all of which helped guide him to the White House.  He graduated from Columbia University and Harvard Law School and took a job as a community organizer. “Community organizer” was certainly not the most lucrative or prestigious choice to make (just ask Sarah Palin). Obama could have easily opted for a more traditional path and accepted a position at a law firm or as a corporate attorney. I’m sure many wise people advised him that he would never make any money as a community organizer.

But Obama followed his principles and his passions. They led him to the Illinois Senate, and then to the U.S. Senate (after an unsuccessful run for the U.S. House of Representatives). And now, he’s preparing to move his family and new puppy into the White House. Oh yeah, and  along the way, he also became a bestselling author (so much for those predictions that he’d never make any money).

So what is Obama’s lesson for career changers? Don’t let anybody tell you that your dream is impossible or unrealistic. Your goal may very well be a long shot, but that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve it. It may take a lot of hard work and some temporary sacrifices and discomfort, but so what? Nothing worth achieving is easy.

A tough economy doesn’t mean you should give up on your dreams and settle. It just means that you’ll have to be smarter and more resourceful to get what you want. You’ll have to be patient if it takes a little bit longer before you can quit that day job and pursue your dream full-time. But don’t wait to start your planning and take your first steps.

Barack Obama didn’t wait around for racism to go away or for someone to ask him to step up. He went after what he wanted with every bit of energy and passion that he could summon. And now he’s the President-Elect of the United States of America.

So what are the obstacles on the path to your career dream? What can you do to overcome them? What would Barack Hussein Obama do? You really can achieve any goal if you’re willing to devote the same energy and passion to them that Obama devoted to his campaign. You can do it. Yes, you can.

The Corporate-to-Entrepreneur Hall of Fame

July 31st, 2008

Written by Pamela Skillings

Woz and Jobs at workSome say that a true entrepreneur could never work in Corporate America. Many claim that you have to be born with that entrepreneurial DNA and will know from an early age if you’ve got what it takes to run your own business. I strongly disagree. I believe that entrepreneurial skills and attitude can be acquired.

In fact, doing some time in Corporate America can be a great way to pick up very valuable business expertise that will come in handy when running your business. As Aliza Freud, founder and CEO of SheSpeaks, puts it, “I think that the skills that I gained when I was working at a big company really helped to make me a better entrepreneur.”

The trick is to get out before the bureaucracy crushes your entrepreneurial spirit.

Sure, the stories about entrepreneurs who started their first profitable businesses during junior high are inspiring. But it’s also true that many of the most legendary entrepreneurs of all time started out as corporate employees.

  • Henry Ford was the son of farmers and toiled in an engineering job before striking out on his own to form Ford Motor Company.
  • Walt Disney was an illustrator for an advertising agency before he and his brother Roy started a business in their uncle’s garage that eventually became the Walt Disney Company.
  • Ray Kroc was a salesman for the Multi-Mixer Corporation when he bought a California hamburger restaurant from the MacDonald Brothers and turned it into a multibillion-dollar international chain.
  • Mary Kay Ash was a sales director for Stanley Home Products for twenty years before she retired and used her life savings of $5,000 to get Mary Kay Cosmetics going in 1963.
  • Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak spent time as engineers at Atari before they created Apple Computer.
  • Jeff Bezos quit his job as a senior vice president on Wall Street when he came up with the revolutionary idea for Amazon.com.
  • Michael Bloomberg was a senior manager at Salomon Brothers until he was squeezed out after the company was acquired in 1981. The unemployed Bloomberg went on to make his fortune by starting Bloomberg LP, the financial information company, and later used
    his billions to finance a successful run for mayor of New York City.
  • Martha Stewart had a successful career as a stockbroker before she turned a catering business into a media empire.

Do you have other nominations for the Corporate-to-Entrepreneur Hall of Fame? Don’t be shy. Show your entrepreneur-sized ego and nominate yourself if you like!