Tag Archives: business

How losing a job 25 years ago made me a better person today

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I got laid off from my first professional job 25 years ago (give or take a few days). It seemed crushing back then, but ultimately it was a needed wake-up and “grow-up” experience.

The recent trend of posting #sevenfirstjobs (or #7firstjobs?) has been a great reminder of the number of grunt and entry-level jobs many of us worked before finding our paths. But it also reminded me of how what seemed like a dream job got away at the time.

In spring 1991, I was hired to be the office manager of the Sterling Renaissance Festival. The fest was not just a business or attraction, but where I grew up — I spent summers there since I was 9 years old because my mother was a craftsperson there. (Maybe one day she’ll let us build a website for her woodworking business, The Wooden Unicorn.) I did a little bit of everything there over my summers, from fetching thrown objects and knocked-down bowling pins at games to running the Ladder of Truth for four years (helped pay for college!).

So when the owners, who I’d known since I was but a wee nipperkin, interviewed me and offered the job, I was ecstatic. I could use my communication skills in a variety of promotional and administrative ways to help a business I grew up loving.

But it’s not always simple when you’re new out of college and at a place that was long your playground. I was immature, I didn’t have the best attitude and my work wasn’t as good as it should have been. My boss, one of the owners, expressed disapproval but I didn’t take it as seriously as I should have and did not level up accordingly.

One morning toward the end of the season, my boss asked me to sit down for coffee and let me know I would not be renewed for the off-season and next season. At the time, I was rather heartbroken. I worked out the rest of the season and my last day was my birthday. (Happy? Not so much.)

It’s not you, it’s me

At first, I did what many an angry young man would and blamed them for what had to be a mistake. But as weeks of unemployment stretched into months, the truth set in: I should have done a better job. I should have had a better attitude. I should have taken it all more seriously.

Rest assured, that when another special-events job that I really wanted came along — publicity coordinator for Oswego’s Harborfest — I was ready. I went all-out in applying. I didn’t have a news release sample (since my background was more journalism that PR), so I took a risk: Instead of a cover letter, I wrote a news release (“Tim Nekritz applies for Harborfest job”) with the credentials I’d put in a cover letter. I figured it would either get me an interview or tossed aside as too weird.

I got an interview. It went pretty well.

They offered the job to somebody else. She quit after one day.

Then they offered the job to me. I said “yes!” (I had to stop myself from screaming “yes!”)

Work is serious, but fun

I read up on public relations as much as I could and learned a lot about PR on the job, as fortunately the organization had board members and volunteers who were willing mentors because they saw I (now) had a work ethic and a desire to learn. I did not want to let this job slip away, and promised myself I’d be more professional, responsible and responsive to criticism. The learning curve and workload were challenges, but I made it through the first season (as a part-timer) and they offered me a full-time job.

A key lesson is that work is, well, work and requires a serious attitude. That doesn’t mean you can’t have fun — it was a very fun job! — but that you have to produce, be part of a team and (if you’re lucky) do what you can to make the people around you better.

I learned and grew as much as I could and seven years later, now with expanded responsibilities as Harborfest’s public relations and marketing director, chose to return to my beloved field of journalism to become arts and entertainment editor of the Palladium-Times. I felt like a different person leaving the job than taking it, having matured and learned and realized every day was an opportunity to grow.

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I mustered the maturity to get retained at the Sterling Renaissance Festival. Maybe I wouldn’t have gone down the path to where I am today. I certainly wouldn’t have learned many of the things I have. Two roads diverged about 25 years ago, and what seemed awful at the time actually paved the way toward many awesome opportunities.

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‘in defense of food’ and lessons for the workplace.

Just finished reading Michael Pollan’s enlightening In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto, which will definitely influence what enters my kitchen and my body. But, as an information omnivore, I couldn’t help but notice some of its lessons also could feed our workplace management and communication habits.

Briefly, Pollan argues that the rise of processed foods, our fast-food mentality and nutritionism — the science of breaking food down into its smallest components and drawing isolated conclusions — have had disastrous effects on our national diet. He champions a simple philosophy — Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — supporting real food, measured portions and healthy options. It’s a great place to start … and it parallels good advice for other parts of our lives:

Tradition is better than fad. There’s a reason, Pollan argues, that cultures can eat the same food for generations, centuries really, and suffer few adverse effects. Switch a nation to fast food and dubious quick-fix diets and health chaos ensues. Not a coincidence. As for traditional wisdom on interpersonal communication, I’ve been subjected to countless management treatises, tomes and texts, but the best advice continues to come from Dale Carnegie’s 1937 book How To Win Friends and Influence People. Advice like: Smile. Be courteous. Treat others the way you’d like to be treated. How much better would the business world be if we followed such simple rules?

Goals and guidelines are better than rules. Pollan offers general guideposts starting with his refrain: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. He adds other suggestions such as not eating anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize, avoiding food with unpronounceable ingredients and cooking instead of buying pre-packaged meals. Nothing earth-shattering or diet-dictatorial, but easy-to-remember algorithms. It’s common sense for a purpose, the kind of thing that should govern day-to-day business instead of 27-page memos with bulletpoints and sub-sub-subchapters.

Trust your gut. Is eating a fatty grease-laden meal healthy as long as you leave out the carbs, as Atkins Diet cultists claimed? Unlikely. As are any quick-fix claims telling you to merely avoid one thing or another. Similarly, pitches from vendors promising products or services that seem too good to be true usually are. For millenia, we humans survived on logic and gut instinct. With good reason.

Go local. Pollan suggests buying from farmers’ markets or farms as much as possible, or to consider granting a garden. Given the boom in location-based social media (geosocial), we see that our online behaviors increasingly favor the hyperlocal and instantaneous interaction with our local environment. In both cases, the benefits are fresh and immediate.

Enjoy what you do/enjoy what you eat. A central theme is the French Paradox, or how the French traditionally eat foods that would make nutritionists wince, aided by wine, yet remain healthy. But note they also enjoy actual meals — real food, consumed leisurely, with friends … knowing when they are full and not just cramming down super-sized fries in their car. Consider the psychological advantage of enjoying what you eat as an experience, as opposed to spending all your time fretting over every little thing or pursuing fad diets. Which sounds more mentally healthy? But this also should suffuse our lives: When we enjoy what we do, and what we eat, life is so much better.

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tabs on all media.

One of my favorite parts of working on campus is the opportunity to guest lecture. In sharing whatever knowledge I may have retained, I often learn from the class as well.

Friday my guest stint was in the Music Business class team-taught by my friends Rob and Dan. It’s a novel offering, where those interested in being musicians or sound engineers or promoters learn a 360-degree view of The Biz. Their big projects are to promote the upcoming Collage concert and — more interestingly — writing, arranging, recording, packaging and selling a single performed by talented twin sisters in the class.

Previous times when I spoke in the class, I gave a rundown on publicity, press releases, working with media and all that jazz. But since so much promotion is moving toward grassroots, street teams and social media, this concentration seemed excessive. In a new wrinkle, I addressed selling a story or idea via the SUCCES points of Made To Stick (the best ideas/campaigns are Simple, Unexpected, Concrete, Credible, Emotional and good Stories) plus a bit about writing news releases.

But I also wanted to show them around social media options. They knew much of that stuff — especially with Facebook — but I’m sufficiently immersed in the field that I shared a couple things that seemed new. Only two of them had Twitter accounts, so I showed them the instantaneous nature of feedback by saying Twittizens! I’m showing Twitter to a Music Business class. Say hi and tell us your favorite album. In no time, the Twitterverse responded — about a dozen tweeps chimed on the subject in all.

Fig. A: The Twitterverse responds quickly to an in-class query.

Fig. A: The Twitterverse responds quickly to an in-class query.

I also let them know how some musicians were using Twitter and how entities used the search tool as a marketing device. Like when I mentioned Whiskeytown in a tweet and ended up being followed by @cardinology, the Twitter account for Ryan Adams’ subsequent band, The Cardinals. @cardinology uses the Twitter stream to showcase new demos, give tour info and post recent live tracks. It’s a safe bet more than two class members are on Twitter now.

But here’s the unexpected: What do you think the class had questions about? Print media! Yes, almost every question concerned where and how to better promote their activities through traditional print media. This is a group that not only reads newspapers, but values them. Take that, those who argue that young people don’t care about print media any more!

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