What seeds will I plant today that will lead to a more abundant tomorrow?
And how will I tend those seeds, whether they’re planted in my plot for work, or my gardens of family, of health, of joyful activities, so they grow into beautiful fruits?
Phyllis Diller didn’t start her entertainment career until she was 37, and the mother of five. She only jumped in, according to the New York Times, after much encouragement, and reading a motivational book called The Magic of Believing*.
Yet her ability to perform and amuse showed up as a teen, and sustained a career that spanned almost 50 years. Ms. Diller, the legendary comedian and actor, died this week, after paving the way for female humorists including Joan Rivers, Whoopi Goldberg and many more.
She joked about family life, and her imaginary husband, Fang, Her humor was often self-depreciating, poking fun at her looks or her cooking. One example often cited: “I once wore a peekaboo blouse. People would peek and then boo.”
CNN’s Anderson Cooper asker her if she could tell ahead of time whether an audience would be a good one. “Yes, yes, yes yes,” she replied. “You stand backstage. If it’s like a morgue and pretty quiet, you’d better take off your clothes. You’ll get a laugh.”
Yet her career was a lively one, and it contains important lessons for just about everyone. Here’s four that I picked out amid all her timeless jokes:
Play to your strengths. Ms. Diller’s humor debuted in junior high. “From 12 on, the only way to handle the terror of social situations was comedy – break the ice, make everybody laugh” she said, quoted by the Los Angeles Times. She took pride in delivering up to 12 punch lines in a minute, and used her wild hair and tall boots the way a clown uses a costume. As she grew more successful, she employed writers, but still wrote three-quarters of her own jokes and comedy routines.
Aim high. “Aim high, that way you won’t shoot your foot off,” Ms. Diller once said. Her career reflected that. She played for women’s groups and hospitals. Her first professional job started in 1955 at a small San Francisco club, the Purple Onion- and she played there for a record 89 weeks. By 1958, she appeared on The Tonight Show with Jack Paar and by 1962, she performed at Carnegie Hall, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Develop your persona. Call it your personal brand or your reputation or look, but make it your own. Be known for something. One of Ms. Diller’s trademarks: her crazy, finger-in-the-light-socket hairstyle, started by accident, the result of too much bleaching and a scalp clinic’s instructions to comb the top of her head for circulation. “My hair was standing straight up after that, but I was so busy I’d forgotten to put it back down when I’d go out on interviews for jobs. But it worked,” she told the LA Times.
Keep growing – and your creativity flowing. Ms. Diller’s career was as eclectic as her taste in clothing. She worked as a copywriter, a women’s editor and an entertainer.. She performed live and on many television variety shows, in movies, on Broadway and even did voice-over work for the show Family Guy. Trained as a musician, she played piano with 100 symphony orchestras. “Although her performances were spiked with humor, she took the music seriously,” the Times reported in her obituary. She wrote a number of books including “The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them.” All this fed her creativity and allowed her to stay engaged and fresh, even in her 80s.
Of course, we also could learn plenty from her zest for life and her hard-hitting concise humor. She knew how to pour it, neat and concise, like a good shot of whiskey. And like whiskey, her humor seemed to improve. As Ms. Diller said: ”A smile is a curve that sets everything straight.”
*The Magic of Believing was written by Claude M. Bristol, and garners 4.2 stars on Amazon’s reviews.
When I was searching for a lawyer with an interesting second or side job to interview, I heard about Craig A. Thompson. Thompson’s doing so much – and so much good – that I was certain he could teach me and my readers some lessons in time management or managing multiple priorities.
Turns out he’s learned some powerful lessons himself, from his mentors and others, and he shares them in talks and speeches that inspire and encourage us to excel and give.
Thompson has developed three distinct careers: He’s a lawyer and litigator with the law firm Venable in D.C. and Baltimore; he’s an author and a motivational speaker and he’s a preacher at a large church in Columbia Md. I profiled him recently in the Washington Post Capital Business.
“Everything he does is with passion. It’s with tremendous energy and the highest standards for excellence. He does it with a smile ….People want to be like Craig,”Brian Schwalb, vice chairman of Venable, told me. Thompson’s outside work and philanthropy, including board seats for SEED School of Maryland and others, actually help his law practice, Schwalb said.
So how does he manage so much? In my Post piece, his insights could be summarized as a deep sense of mission, of service, and of living up to his God-given talents – even if it means working 80 hours a week. He really does make time count.
So here are three lessons on managing your priorities and your time, courtesy of Craig Thompson:
Insomnia and I are well acquainted, though I would never call him a friend.
We spend so much time together that I don’t even offer him a beer when he shows up. I just grab my laptop and a glass of water or warm milk and get to work. Or sometimes I pick up a book and read while he’s hanging around.
A while ago, I wrote about some smart career moves when you cannot sleep, including an update to your success file to document your accomplishments. With another spell of sleeplessness, I decided to consider how else to use the hours between midnight and 6 a.m. to your professional advantage. (And please remember I’m writing for those who are not aspiring to become bakers, night watchmen or ahem, ladies of the evening.)
Here then are some ideas I came up with on one sleepless night for energizing your career:
The up and comer on Mad Men is a woman. She’s Peggy Olson and she’s reinvented herself from a shy, awkward secretary to a smart, sassy valuable copywriter who tells one of her colleagues: “Your problem is not my problem.”
Sure, she’s not yet as charismatic and successful as the show’s handsome star Don Draper. Nor is she as sexy and wise as Joan, the powerful administrator / executive secretary. But Peggy’s got plenty to teach young women today about life and careers.
“Industry-wide, I think everybody feels like Peggy these days,” Kelly Schoffel, strategy director of 72andSunny in Los Angeles, told me for for a Fortune.com story on what ad women think of Mad Men ”You have to be really tenacious. You have to keep fighting. She’s fighting for recognition. She really cares about the work.”
Here then are five lessons almost anyone could pick up from Peggy on Mad Men:
1. Align yourself with a successful boss who believes in you. Don’snot the most enthusiastic mentor in the world, but he does give Peggy room to grow her career. He assigns her new work, over the protests of Pete, and occasionally offers her advice, including this bit late one evening in a heated conversation over why she didn’t share the ad award: “It’s your job. I give you money. You give me ideas. …. You are young. You will get your recognition.”
2. Show your work ethic – early and late. Peggy got promoted to copywriter after helping with two ad campaigns while working full-time as a Sterling Cooper secretary. She often seems to show up early and stay late, and try harder than her peers. She skips her birthday party dinner to work with Don; she takes work home on the weekends. She is determined to succeed and willing to put in the time and effort that it takes to get there.
3. Speak up. Voice your opinions and share your ideas, even if you’re the only woman in the room. Peggy isn’t the most outspoken person at Sterling Cooper Draper & Price, but she also isn’t shy about talking either. Just a few weeks ago, I loved watching her demand more money from Roger Sterling, when he needed her to work the weekend on a last-minute airline campaign.
4. Chart your own path. Forget the expectations and norms – make your own way and your own career choices. While most of the women are looking for marriage to a well-heeled ad man, Peggy chooses to focus on work and life experiences. She lets loose her creativity and intelligence, and pushes for more respect – and lands her own office and more important assignments. A 2010 piece in Newsweek lauds Peggy’s growing up and “bold independence” as she goes with the guys to an office outing to a strip club.
5. Evolve and grow. Don’t allow yourself to be defined by your background. Peggy starts out as an unsophisticated pony-tailed girl who lives with her family in Brooklyn. By season four, Peggy’s living in a small apartment in Manhattan and has, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “shed some of her squareness” in favor of a better clothes and a short hair syle, and a more enlightened perspective. She’s adapted and evolved her mindset and her attire – her smartness fits in on Madison Avenue.
It seems to be paying off: “ “It’s pretty clear she’s on her way to being Don Draper,” actress Elizabeth Moss told the New York Daily News. ”She’s not exactly like him, but she has the skills and she can rise the way he did.”
I appreciated Peggy’s confidence in an early April episode when she brushed off a co-worker who urged her not to bring in the new copywriter who had considerable talent because he could outshine her or end up as her boss. ”I like working with talented people. It inspires me,” she said, and soon thereafter the young man landed the job.
Peggy’s got pluck, and she’s got tenacity. Add in her incredible work ethic and talent and some fashionable new career clothes and it’s no wonder she can give us a few clues on our careers.
Check out The Grindstone’s slide show 10 career lessons from Mad Men on Meredith Lepore.
Read Elizabeth Moss’ interview with the Brisbane Times about Peggy’s growth – and new fashionable wardrobe
Now please share what career lessons you pick up from Peggy, or others on Mad Men by commenting here.
You can make your own career luck – if you work at it.
Professionals in Japan, South Korea and Australia think they are especially good at it, according to a new LinkedIn survey. Three-quarters of Japanese and more than half of the other two say they feel luckier than other professionals. That compares to 48 percent overall who see four-leaf clovers attached to their laptops. and 49 percent of U.S. professionals, who say they’re luckier than their peers.
The LinkedIn research debuts in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, though the luck of the Irish was only 42 percent, near the bottom of the scale.
Overall, 85 percent of Americans believe in luck in work, virtually the same as those in France, Sweden, Austia, Germany, Italy and Ireland. Professionals from The Netherlands and Australia were the least likely to count on luck, and believe it influences their careers.
“There’s no question in my mind, there’s luck in business,” said Francine Lafontaine, a University of Michigan professor of business economics. She was among a string of speakers in February 2011 at a Skill versus Luck conference at the University of Michigan and had not seen this LinkedIn research.
Anyone trying to create their own luck will need to work hard – especially in the United States. Worldwide professionals said strong communications skills and being flexible contribute to career luck. But in the U.S.A., 70 percent said a strong work ethic will lure Lady Luck, according to the LinkedIn survey of 7,000 professionals from around the globe.
Here are the top luck-inducing factors for Americans:
1. A strong work ethic (70 percent)
2. Strong communication skills (59 percent)
3. Acting on opportunities (46 percent)
4. Being flexible (44 percent)
5. Striving to be the best at what you do (42 )
U.S. women were far more likely to believe “acting on opportunities” and communications skills matter in making your luck; American men put more faith in their work ethic, LinkedIn’s research shows.
Globally, the luck lures were much the same, with a strong network showing up at No. 5. Some exceptions: 44 percent of millenials said “learning from my mistakes” was important, while India was the only country where professionals believe “having strong technical skills” contribute and Italians say they make their luck by “being observant.”
Career luck, like any form of fortune, doesn’t show up on the schedule we want. And it doesn’t always measure up to a mean.
Sometimes a run of luck or success starts and just keeps going and going, participants at the Michigan luck conference reported. ”As you get more successful, resources come to you,” said Michael Ryall of the University of Toronto. Then he added another twist: Since so many people are clueless at assessing probabilities and assessing the likelihood of success, “it’s back to a pure luck basis.”
+ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +++ + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +
Read the Harvard Business Review blog post by the Michigan professor who organized the Skill or Luck conference.
Or read my Washington Post Capital Business piece on the array of charms and tokens people keep on their desks.
Or read my post on how to create career karma with kindness.
Or better yet, write me a comment on what you think contributes to career luck in your experience.