Weasleys at work

This is the fifth and final post in our series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.

Note: This blog is a bit schizophrenic–usually “I” means Tess Stockslager, but sometimes it means Penelope Clearwater, and this post falls into the latter category.

5. “Remember who you are” (Mufasa) and “hold on to what you believe” (Mumford and Sons).

I (Penelope) have often thought that my ex-boyfriend Percy Weasley would have saved himself and his family a lot of hurt if he had frequently repeated to himself the following truths: “I am a Weasley, and I am not a pure-blood supremacist.” To generalize these truths into a universal dictum, no job is more valuable than your family and your principles–even if the job makes you feel really important. Cornelius Fudge (fill in your boss’s name here) may flatter your dignity, but he doesn’t love you. And when your job requires you to help advance policies you know are morally reprehensible, it’s time to quit and go home to the people who do love you. This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to forget.

I’m not talking about physical proximity, by the way. Bill and Charlie Weasley managed to accomplish from Egypt and Romania, respectively, what Percy was unable to do from London–maintain a good relationship with their family. And this is closely related to the fact that their jobs didn’t require them to repudiate their family’s deeply-held beliefs.

And while we’re on the topic of Weasley careers, Fred and George’s joke shop is a good example of competent, customer-driven entrepreneurship. Not all of us will be able to start our own business inventing and selling items we enjoyed playing with as children, but if you have a particular skill and see a particular need in the consumer populace (e.g., “Fred reckons people needs a laugh these days”–Ron), go for it; don’t feel like you need to follow in your older siblings’ footsteps by entering more traditional industries, such as banking, politics, and . . . er, animal behavior.

Well, there you have it, young professionals. This concludes the series, but I (Tess) would love to hear your good and bad examples from movies and books–and even real life–of professionalism, workplace ethics, and other career-related issues.

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How to lose friends and make a bad impression on people

This is part 4 in my series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.

4. True professionals respect people.

I need to begin this post as I did the last one, with a disclaimer: I realize that the legal documents that inspired The Social Network were subjected to some Aaron Sorkin alchemy, and therefore that the film is not to be taken as a nonfictional account.  Thus, this post is not about Mark Zuckerberg the person but about Mark Zuckerberg the persona, the character played by Jesse Eisenberg in the movie.

It’s disturbing to me that people are starting to use Mark Zuckerberg along with Steve Jobs and Bill Gates as an example of that “you can accomplish anything you put your mind to” brand of philosophy.  It’s disturbing, firstly, because I think that philosophy has some serious intrinsic problems; secondly, because it’s way too soon to tell whether Mark Zuckerberg will have the same kind of lasting impact that the other famous entrepreneurs have had.  Thirdly, it’s disturbing because until he publishes his memoirs, the narrative version of Mark Zuckerberg most accessible to role model-seekers is the one in The Social Network, even if that isn’t the “real” Mark Zuckerberg.  And the guy in that movie is incredibly unprofessional.  This has nothing to do with the fact that he wears sneakers, jeans, and hoodies to important meetings.  In many industries, particularly ones like Internet startups, dress code is becoming increasingly irrelevant, and I believe the impression caused by bad clothing choices can be overcome by a good work ethic.  (I’ve experienced that myself.)

No, the reason Mark Zuckerberg (the character) is unprofessional is that he treats people like crap.  He doesn’t deliver promised services; he ignores email correspondence unless it’s convenient for him; he’s insolent toward those in authority, and he drives away his best friend.  This last is not only a bad interpersonal move but also a potentially stupid business decision, since the friend has business and math savvy that even Mark lacks.  Also he’s Andrew Garfield–how can you look into his gorgeous face and break his heart?  But I digress.  My point is that a large part of professionalism is summed up in the Golden Rule: Treat people well, and they probably won’t care what you’re wearing.

In the final post of the series, Penelope Clearwater talks about some young professionals she knows personally.

When is it ok to take work home?

This is part 3 in my series on lessons for young professionals from recent movies.

3. Total objectivity is impossible and overrated.

I need to start this post with a disclaimer: Boundaries between teachers and students, therapists and clients, and other parties in professional relationships are important.  In the examples I give in this post, the professionals in question respect the legal and ethical boundaries while allowing themselves to become emotionally invested, to a healthy degree, in the people they are helping.  Philosophers and psychologists tell us that complete objectivity is impossible; we all bring biases and baggage to whatever we approach, including our careers.  That’s not a bad thing, and in the two examples below, I hope to prove that it can even be beneficial under the appropriate circumstances.

First, we return to Anna Kendrick.  In 50/50, she plays a mental health counselor to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character, who has cancer.  At first (and I think this has a lot to do with how young she is, and feels) she is overly vigilant about maintaining professionalism, which makes the counseling sessions tense and awkward (and, admittedly, very funny).  A breakthrough occurs when she gives her client a ride home and he gets a chance to see her as a real person with a very messy car.  At this point, she begins to open up about some of her own personal worries, which allows the therapeutic relationship to become natural and unforced.  Ultimately, the counselor learns just as much as the client does, and in the end (AFTER the counseling sessions have ended, I must stress) she gets a really great boyfriend out of the deal.

A similar principle is at work in The Woman in Black, in which Daniel Radcliffe plays a widowed lawyer with a young son.  (If you’re having trouble picturing that, remember that this is a late 19th/early 20th century period piece–people died earlier back then, so they had to get started earlier.)  I believe that his grief for his wife’s death and concern for his son’s safety, far from interfering with his work, endow him with the emotional intelligence and perceptiveness necessarily to solve the spooky case he gets caught up in, which involves the death of a woman and a young boy.

In the next post, we’ll begin to look at some negative examples.

Working for an audience of one

This is part two in my series on examples of young professionals in recent movies.

2. Please your boss and ignore the naysayers.
If you’ve been following my blog recently, you know that this summer I wrote a paper about Moneyball. During the research process, which consisted mostly of watching the movie over and over, I found another inspiring young professional in Jonah Hill’s character Peter Brand, a mid-twenties economist whose unorthodox ideas and lack of sports experience make him unpopular with the establishment–i.e., the Oakland A’s scouts and coaches, who call him (disparagingly) “the kid” and (irrelevantly) “Google boy.” Peter makes the smart choice to ignore those people and concentrate on continuing to impress the person who’s actually his boss, Billy Beane. He does his job and lets Billy take care of the jerks. This story demonstrates that often all you need is one person to see that you’re doing good work and thus to champion your cause. It is helpful, though not absolutely necessary, if that person is your boss.

Next post: more Anna Kendrick, plus lessons in professionalism from a horror movie.

Advice for young professionals

Do you ever feel like you’re too young for your job? I do. Actually, let me clarify: I know I’m quite capable of doing my job, but I worry that others think I’m too young, which in turn negatively affects my work. Fortunately, recent movies provide a number of good (and bad) examples of young professionals doing their thing. Today I’m starting a series of posts on lessons I’ve learned from them.
1. Anna Kendrick is a great role model.
I was born the same year as the Up in Air and 50/50 actress, which is one reason I feel an affinity with her. I also take inspiration from her age-appropriate, realistic portrayals of sincere and capable but sometimes fumbling young professionals. (She also played a high school student in Twilight, but I give her props for breaking out of that mold earlier than many actors her age.) In a great example of the circular process by which life imitates art which imitates life, both Anna Kendrick’s characters (one of which I’ll examine more closely later in this series) and Anna Kendrick herself, who was nominated for an Oscar for Up in the Air, have earned the respect of their older colleagues by doing their jobs well.
Next post: Please your boss and ignore the naysayers