This is part of a series of posts selected by Jim Carroll, our APG Guest Editor during October 2017, surrounding the theme of
'How To Get On: Advice on how to manage a strategist’s career in a creative business'
Read more posts here
A couple of years ago, I attended a session at the Soho Create Festival in London, where a successful actor – surely on his way to "National Treasure" status - was asked for the keys to success. His off-the-cuff pearls of wisdom were: i) turn up on time; ii) work hard; and iii) don't be a ****! (hereinafter, “the third pearl”). I was struck by this utterance, not only because the venue was a church, but also because of the heartfelt sincerity with which that pearl had been cast.
This is helpful advice for keeping established talent grounded, but what about those of us who have yet to unearth our natural gems? How best to maximise our current position and realise our full potential?
On subsequent reflection, I realised that my own interpretation of the third pearl would be something like: being a positive presence around the workplace and in the inboxes of others. This doesn’t mean that you have to be smarter or funnier than anyone else - just start feeling comfortable in your own skin, try generally to add value and stay open to ideas and possibilities. All basic stuff, but it can go a long way – and so much further than might be imagined by driven, young professionals.
Being your best, original self is the only event in which the odds are stacked totally in your favour, and you've got to believe that there’s an ‘easy gold’ there for the taking. So, spend some time working out what makes you tick at your core, even if you haven't yet identified every one of your unique gifts. Self-awareness, self-confidence and self-determination have always been useful, but they’re at a huge premium for the selfie generation. Whilst I myself have never fully subscribed to the self-help industry mantras of “everything is possible" or “you can be whoever you want to be”, I do believe that dreams can be as important as a clear vision - and we should never forget that popular culture has always produced the most improbable stories - from the miracles of J.C. to the wizard output of J.K. (Rowling); and from the tweets of Trump to...well, you get the idea.
A quick shout-out to my legal brethren…and some of you civilians out there might want to listen in as well. It’s an odd profession in that so many of us begin our legal studies with only the vaguest idea of what it might really entail in practice. We embark on that perilous career journey, having been seduced on-screen by little more than the misleading prospect of wearing expensively cut suits and making dramatic interventions along the lines of “Objection, yer Honour!”. But allow me to share a few notes, which can hopefully be of wider application in the world of work:
Be sure to ask your questions sooner rather than later, while there might still be some sympathy for any ignorance on your part.
Bearing in mind that you're closer to your exams than your seniors, show them that you can actually apply your studies in a practical, value-adding manner.
Don’t be seen as a “business-prevention officer” (I refer m’learned friends to the third pearl above) – being recognised as a flexible facilitator will later afford you more credibility and respect for your professional integrity, when you really need to play the strict card.
Work to your strengths, but with appropriate grace: be it your exceptional memory, mathematical genius, debating skills, analytical mind, linguistic or drawing ability, theatrical talents or simply your natural charm.
If you get a chance to work abroad in any half-significant territory of your business, be sure to embrace it, because it is rare for such moves not to lead to greater opportunities.
As you grow into your chosen career, stay fresh and energised by maintaining some holistic balance and feeding your own extracurricular passion(s). Who knows, you may be incubating a commercial monster as a hobby.
Remember that you too can be an inspiration to your elders and seniors: you have the advantage of years in the bank of life and of youthful vigour in the face of jaded, often tired minds and bodies. You can be the elixir from which your elders draw renewed vitality and creativity.
Expressing appreciation can also be an underrated manifestation of your positive presence - especially for those who have spent time on you and your stuff. Don't think that you've dealt with it simply by sending a text saying 'Thanx!'. No, I’m not just stressing about the medium of communication; it’s more about the importance of a thoughtful message behind your snappy chat. It is a genuine and effective way of maintaining healthy connections. A good friend of mine recently discovered in the writing of a memoir that time is an expression of love, as exemplified by the untold hours his relatively undemonstrative father had spent building a treehouse for him as a child. Show some love, therefore, to those who have sacrificed their precious time and mental bandwidth for your benefit.
We have all been told that luck is where opportunity meets preparation – and this inevitably involves hard work. The career-blending, part-time dentist/coach of the Iceland football team revelled in this adage after the Euro 2016 fantasy victory over England by his nation of only 300,000 people. So, hard-working, odds-defying dreamers, you too: be a positive presence, be ready and be lucky in all that you do.
©MMXVII Dej Mahoney
Director of AOB Ltd – Entertainment Lawyer and Producer (formerly, VP of Business Affairs at Sony Music)
Dej is everything you’d imagine a leading Entertainment Lawyer/Producer ought to be, and more. He’s thoughtful, articulate and incisive, with an extensive cultural hinterland and a unique sense of style. But, critically, he lives up to his own professional creed: he is a ‘positive presence’ for all who know him.