14 June 2007

In praise of being brazen

I was very pleased to open up my copy of Business Lexington today and read Stephen Turnbull's review of Penelope Trunk's book Brazen Careerist: The New Rules For Success.

I'll admit this up front: I despise self-help books. To me they're almost always just somebody who's never worked a day in his life making up a new vocabulary to essentially re-state the obvious, and spelling out a 7-step "power plan for spectacular greatness" that is so vague you don't even know if you're doing it right. (Step 7 is invariably, "buy my next book.")

So I was a little skeptical about this book. But I've read Penelope's blog and her column for some time now (I'm an avid Boston Globe reader), and I've even had the chance to pitch her a few times on work-related stuff. I first learned about Linkedin by reading her blog, and literally within a day of signing up a few college friends that I had lost track of contacted me.

I really liked the book because it's not so much about "your life sucks and I can fix it with words you won't find in a dictionary," but a reflection of how the values of work and life from my generation are affecting the decisions we make. I relate to this book. I've already had careers in health care administration, politics, and now communications. Not all of my career choices were smart or particularly successful, but we all need to make mistakes to learn.

The confidence-building message I kept hearing in her book, chapter after chapter: you're in control. You can control how you're perceived in the workplace. You can improve your life by making non-traditional but enriching choices. You can manage a difficult boss. You can actually go into business for yourself more easily than advance in many big companies. You can stop yourself from asking stupid questions in job interviews by preparing properly. These are the values I see in the most successful people in my generation -- they are independent and they're not afraid to make the choices that people in the generations before us wouldn't even consider.

I was also particuarly struck by what she had to say about authenticity, "the buzzword of the new millenium." In my business of online communication and social media, people are rushing to assert their "guru" status before the field is even adequately defined. They're not listening very much. I've written about this before.

I think the people who do online communications best - at least the people in this field I respect the most - understand what they know and what they don't. The more "traditional" practitioners of communications have experience and perspectives we should appreciate and respect, not reject as yesterday's way of doing things.

The good news is social media and blogs like Penelope's expose this generation to perspectives and ideas many of our parents and grandparents never had a chance to see. The tools give us access to the information; the burden is on us to learn from it.

Penelope says it better than I can in her book, and as far as I'm concerned her idea applies to much more than work:
The real work of authenticity is not just knowing yourself, but taking the time to understand where other people are coming from and to respect them for that.

Well done, Ms. Trunk.

1 comment:

penelope said...

Hi, David. Thank you for the really nice writeup about my book. I love that you approach things squarely from Gen -X. I feel so strongly tied to my generation, and it's nice to be understood in that context.

I clicked on all your links -- enjoyed reading your take on how to get to influencers, and enjoyed the links to Stacy. Although I confess to not being able to follow all of his logic, as hard as I tried.

I learned so much from your blog. Thanks. I hesitate to call you an expert, since you spend a whole post dissing the idea of an expert. But you have a gift for tranlating ideas. And I feel lucky that you took the time to translate mine. Thanks.