Monday, May 2, 2011

And this above all, to thine own self be true...

HANK: I've had many an intern in my days as a reporter--the gorgeous college girls who want to be anchors, and the enthusiastic journalism students who want to be Woodward and Bernstein--some even know who W and B are. The guys who ALL want to do sports, and the very few who want to write. There are also ..well, more than a few, who have NO IDEA. They are facing college graduation in a week or two--and they're terrified.

Terrified! And I try to tell them (terrified myself that I am FORTY YEARS OLDER than they are) that if you can allow yourself to believe it, that could be a very exciting thing. The whole world is out there for you--you just have to participate.

So they usually nod, and try to understand that. Although you can't, really, at that age. The unknown is scary. I say--fly! fly! And I just hope someday they' ll remember what I told them.

But yesterday, my little exit interview speech was a flop. This young woman listened to me, nodding, but I had the feeling she was just waiting for me to stop talking. So I asked..anything you'd like to talk about or ask me?

And she says, yes, actually. Can you tell me how I can just skip the boring entry- level jobs and just get to the fun part?

I must say that one floored me. I burst out laughing, and then said--no. (And then went on--you can imagine.)

I'm sure she was disappointed. And probably thinks I'm just keeping some big secret from her.
Did anyone try to tell you anything at this point in your life? Would you have believed that? What would you have told my intern?"

ROSEMARY: The problem is..even if I could think of something I wish I'd been told, chances are I wouldn't have followed the person's advice anyway. I'm not especially proud of it, but I have frequently had to learn things the hard way.

HALLIE: Ah, yes, that breathtaking sense of entitlement. We go on about how you have to 'pay your dues' and get rewarded with eye rolling--the same eye rolling by the way, that I gave my father to his "had to walk 3 miles to school in the snow" lecture when I wanted to know why I had to walk to school.

Do people still "work their way up from the mailroom?" Does the mailroom--or its analogue--still even exist?

ROBERTA: I guess I wish I had known that each little setback isn't the end of the world. That we shouldn't forget to stay in the moment, enjoy the process, and once we do our best, let the rest happen. I wouldn't really want to be graduating from college again, but I wouldn't mind a little extra time and energy, if you know what I mean:).

DEB: Hank, that is too funny. Did you tell her that if she can't learn to enjoy the boring, entry level parts, she won't enjoy the "fun" stuff either?

As for advice, I'm still waiting . . . Seriously, I think at some level I've always know most of the basics, said so succinctly by Roberta. But there's a big difference between knowing and DOING, and therein lies the rub. I wish someone had told me when I was twenty (or younger) to keep a gratitude journal, and I wish that even now I was better at sticking to it. Writing down ten things that you are grateful for EVERY day makes you constantly aware, and that can be a huge life changer.

Now, um, where did I put that journal??

HANK: Oh, that's a great idea Deb. I just read an article about a therapist who begins by asking his patients what they're grateful for. One said he wasn't grateful for anything. The therapist said--how about our dog, are you grateful for your dog? And the patient said, yeah, I'm grateful for the dog. Su the thearpist said--how about the sun? Are you grateful for the sun? And the patient paused and said--Yeah. I guess. Sometimes.

I don't know why I love that so much.

The grateful journal is a brilliant idea. I'm going to try it.

JAN: We used to say in the newspaper business that every job has its "obits" which comes from obituaries because they used to be the first thing you'd be assigned to - particularly at a small newspaper. And I always tell that to my kids. It goes along with my advice that everyone should have to waitress or wait on other people in some way so that they know firsthand why its important to be polite.

I'm pretty shocked at the intern, who finds herself with a plum internship, and wants to just get to the fun part -- but hopefully, that was just her sense of humor.

HANK: Jannie, nooope. The part of her personality, I fear, is missing. SO far.

So again, Jungle Reds: Think back--Did anyone try to tell you anything at this point in your life? Would you have believed that? What would you have told my intern?"


TOUR ALERT: Hank and Hallie (with the amazing Cara Black!) will be at the Boston Public Library on Wednesday May 4, and Porter Square Books in Cambridge on Thursday May 5! Check our websites for info--hope to see you there!


  1. Ahh...thinking about a group of soldiers who did something very dangerous...trying to imagine how that must feel.

  2. Yes, I keep thinking about them. They are Navy Seals and I have former Navy Seals renting my house on the Vineyard right now and I want to call them and say, HEY GUYS you must be feeling pretty awesome right now.

    I also keep hearing in my head the "DING DONG THE WITCH is DEAD" song, except that the MOVIE isn't over and I'm worried about what else happens this week.

    Still, a tremendous operation.

  3. I'm not sure how qualified I am to answer the questions you posed about what to tell the intern. I'm about to turn 31 this week, but I went through a lot of similar struggles as the intern when I was in my early 20s. Not to bring the wrath of everyone down on me, but I'll admit I had much of the same attitude at that age. :p Why do I have to do this boring stuff when I've been told how brilliant I am for my whole life? I went to a great high school, I had great grades, blah blah blah... and I had absolutely no clue what I wanted to do with myself. I felt like the transition to adulthood was rather abrupt and without a clear road map. My public high school was, back then, ranked in the top 50 across America, and the message they gave us was, "when you get into one of the top colleges, you'll have made it." And my experience was that college only raised more questions than it answered.

    So what would I tell the intern after I struggled through a lot of my 20s? I think I'd tell her to revise her expectations of what being an adult is really about. If it's only about the glamor of your job, you'll probably never be satisfied. What is it that she really wants for herself? What does she have to do in order to attain those things? Experience can often teach you that the things you thought you wanted really aren't worth the effort in the end (like what one has to do in order to make a ton of money... the answer is work your butt off, or be one of the lucky few with incredible family connections that put you way ahead of the pack. Plus, hard work isn't always enough, in certain fields).

    Besides, I've learned the truth of the old adage, "What doesn't kill you only makes you stronger." We progress because we go through the "hard stuff" which, in turn, allows us to more fully enjoy the "fun stuff." Sometimes I feel like the current generation has not been done any favors by having so much consumerism thrown at them from such a young age, and so much social media everywhere. They're so overwhelmed with information and images of what an idealized life is supposed to be, they probably have no sense of what's realistic any more. How can you, when you've got Snooki getting paid more money to speak at a university than the combined salaries of 5 very senior professors?

  4. Such a smart answer, Rebecca -- we've all been there, too... but your trip was more recent. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Thanks so much, Hallie, I'm glad that my somewhat rambling response helped address some of the questions! I surprised myself a bit with what I wrote regarding what to tell the intern, so I guess that in itself is a good thing. For me, there's always been a fine line between raising the bar and making it so high I can't reach it. :p Lowering expectations to something reasonable has been a practice of the last five years, and I still have a lot of work to do there.

  6. I like what Rebecca said, but I would also add this: Enjoy the journey!

    I listen to people complain about how bad thier teens years were, I didn't know marriage was work, it 's hard to raise thier kids, I hate my job, etc.

    I can honestly say, "I have enjoyed my journey!" I have had a great time at every phase of my life and I'm still enjoying the struggle of cracking Woman's World magazine. Do I get stressed with rejections? Yes, but that is part of the journey. Once I crack that market, I will forget all about them...until the next rejection or sale.

    I firmly believe life is what we make it. I feel bad for this young person and wonder if they will ever be happy. Unfortunately, there's a lot of people out in the world, who will never be happy, even when they get what they think they want.

  7. Rebecca! How wonderfully loving and thoughtful.

    Can you please come to Boston and give an intern seminar for me?? :-) Maybe they'd believe YOU..

  8. Oh, my gosh, Pat--of course you're right. And if you don't enjoy the journey, you've missed your whole life.

    DO you know the poem ITHACA? I have it posted on my bulletin board..front and center.

  9. Hank - If it were me in your place, I dont know if I could have stopped laughing at your intern's question.

    Rebecca - well said.

    If I knew then what I know now, I would not have gotten so worked up over the hard/challenging parts. Not to mention, all the sayings that used to cause my eye-rolling I accept now as true. I still don't like it, but often it IS the journey that matters, not the destination.

  10. I wish I could come out to Boston to talk to the interns, Hank! It's funny how I had an advantage in reaching my students back in my grad school days, simply because I was only 8-10 years older than they were. I guess I seemed less "old" or "venerable" than the professors. But I'd like to think that my teaching style resonated in a way that will transcend my age as I move further into my newest decade. Who knows? :p But it's amazing how college students react when you talk to them as though they're adults--they often don't know what to make of it! They seemed surprised and then pleased that I'd address them about HOW and WHY we wanted them to learn the material--it's not the style in high schools these days, I guess.

    And Pat, you're absolutely right, enjoying the process of living is the most important part! I often forget that part even now, so I really appreciate your gentle reminder.

  11. Oh, Pat, I so agree...

    There's a quote I love--the message is basically enjoy the journey--I've been unable to figure out who actually said it but I love it. Of course it's not the kind of thing a twenty-something is going to get.

    Still, here it is: "Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, red wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride!"

  12. Hallie, whoever said that, I second (or third) it!!!!!!!!!