Theories and constructs and analysis get you only so far in life. Other people’s mistakes are much better learning opportunities. Here’s how I did exactly what I just said not to do.
When I got out of college I said to myself, “I know! I like theater, and I like to be in charge of things. I will go into theater management.” Nice try. Except the part of theater I liked was being on stage in front of many people. And the part of being in charge I liked was having everyone listen to me. And in theater management, real, marbles on the floor, theater management, you don’t get to act and nobody really listens to you. They listen to the talent. Which is as it should be. I made the mistake of taking the two blue velvet bags of “Theater” and “Management” and trying to put them together. Which landed me answering telephones, word processing (that’s what we called it in those days), and helping people who were to become movie stars learn their lines for Hamlet. Not quite what I had in mind.
Before I went to graduate school, I told myself, “I know! I like to write, and I am interested in business. I will go get a joint degree in journalism and business!” I applied to Northwestern and to Columbia, both of which had joint degrees, and flew off to India where I wandered around for 3 months writing my first newspaper article ever. When I returned, I had been accepted to Northwestern for both programs and to Columbia for an MBA. Rejected from Columbia’s journalism school. Unsurprisingly. It was the best program in the country at the time and I had never done a lick of journalistic anything in my life. I didn’t want to leave New York. So I went to business school. I was 25. I figured it would be a fun adventure. Little did I know.
At 52 I now understand that business journalism would have been the last thing in the world I wanted to do. I like to write, sure, but the part of business that interests me is the strategy, the structure of industries, or else the juicy gossip about who is a real jerk. Not what many business journalists get to write about. Business journalists mostly get to write about numbers. Numbers scare me. When business journalists write about people they have to be nice or public relations agents come and kill them.
Again, I took two bags of marbles, cats-eye, steel, speckled, and tried to make one big bag. When really what I wanted was just the speckled ones. I failed to disaggregate. I should either have gone back to business school for a Ph.D. so I could give endless lectures on strategy and industry structure, or I should have become a gossip writer. As I said, little did I know.
And no, I’m not done yet.