As I rushed home to catch Andre Agassi in the final stage of his transformation from tennis celebrity to endearing human being at the US Open last month, I was looking forward to the tennis, but dreading the commercials.
Yet much to my surprise, one of the ads spoke to me with the power and precision of a 130 mph ace about a phenomenon that universally limits human potential—labeling.
In the ad, we see an attractive young woman (Maria Sharapova) entering the Waldorf Astoria in New York, walking through the lobby, emerging from her room after a change of clothes, getting into a cab outside the hotel, and arriving at Arthur Ashe stadium.
She moves with a straightforward, I-know-where-I’m-going demeanor past doormen, desk clerks, elevator operators, business men, security guards, etc., and each person she passes sings, in his or her own cracking, out-of-pitch voice, Stephen Sondheim’s tribute to being female from West Side Story, “I Feel Pretty”.
If you’ve decided to launch a new business venture, you’ll find plenty of books telling you how to go about writing a business plan, securing financing, setting up payroll, etc.
Likewise, if you’ve been laid off or you’ve decided you want to make a change, there’s no lack of information on how to start a job search.
But where do you turn when your start-up activities are completed, and things aren’t going so well, when the initial excitement you felt at owning your own business has cooled, and no one is walking in the door, or you’ve perfected your career marketing package, and the phone isn’t ringing. There are far fewer resources for dealing with the low points in our professional lives.
Fortunately, however, there is The Art of Possibility by Roz and Ben Zander. Ben Zander is conductor of the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, professor of music at New England Conservatory, and a speaker on leadership and creativity. His wife Roz is an executive coach and family systems therapist.
The saying, “If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll get what you’ve always got,” finds pathetic voice in Barbara Ehrenreich’s new book, Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream.
As she did in her previous book, Nickel and Dimed, this cultural critic formulates a theory about jobs in America and sets out to “prove” it by going undercover.
This time, instead of cleaning toilets, busing tables, and waiting on Wal-Mart customers for less than subsistence wage, sheposes as a job-beggar in corporate America. She endures an assortment of career charlatans, tweaks her resume endlessly, and sits through a series of demeaning networking experiences, all for the opportunity to sell insurance or cosmetics on straight commission with no benefits.
A few weeks ago a client asked me if I'd ever watched “The Apprentice”.
I hadn't. (For those of you in the same boat, it’s a TV “reality” show where contestants compete to keep from getting fired; the winner is hired by Donald Trump at the end of the season.)
My client told me that, given the professional development work I do, I would probably find the show enlightening.
I did—so enlightening that I had to write this column in order to come to peace with my reaction to it.
All of us—young, old, middle-aged—whether we like it or not, practice ageism, at least to some degree. It’s far less obvious than most other prejudices, but it is nevertheless there in how we think about others and, most importantly, how we think about ourselves. The idea that we’re too old (or even too young) to do something is rooted in our own prejudices about the limits that age imposes—limits that are reinforced by the broader ageism that permeates our culture.
Unlike sexism, racism, and other “isms”, ageism is not static: whether we're dishing it out or taking it depends on where we are in life. Take ,for example, the situation where an older person is waiting to see a physician:as soon as this “very” young doctor enters the examination room, the older patient begins to question his competence because he's “only a kid”, and he feels perfectly justified in doing so. Yet on the way home, when an impatient young driver behind him yells out the window, “The light's green, you old goat!” (or something worse), he is outraged.