Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Who Wants a Job?

A job by any other name is still a job—maybe. David has never had a job. He has had a million assignments but he’s never gone to work at the same place every day for a certain number of hours. I have had a few jobs, but mostly they were really wonderful so I didn’t think of them as jobs, in the traditional sense. When I think back, I can’t remember a time when I was miserable at work—except at Snelling and Snelling the employment agency, but I was young and they hated me because I thought you should place people in positions where they would be happy. Happy schmappy, an employment agency declares – they just want to make placements. As a matter of fact, when they fired me and forced me to leave within the hour, they said that I should think about being a social worker. I don't remember why I had to go so quickly but I think they were afraid I would take my files. Now what would I do with 60 undesireable unfilled positions?

I was thinking about this today because my new job is yet again, not too traditional – but very important because the company has a non-invasive tool that will help with the early detection of breast cancer. Having had only one job that was not on a political campaign, working as a consultant to other people, or being a Presidential appointee, I am not sure what it’s like to report to a place where you don’t want to be because you need to survive.

The one job I had was at USA Networks and I started at the top rather than working my way up the corporate ladder.
It was a bit disconcerting to pick up and leave my job and my home on Friday and start work on Monday. David and Jordan didn’t come right away so I lived alone at our apartment in New York while I was getting adjusted to my new world. The adjustment was not easy. For the first two days I sat at a desk on the 20th floor near some senior people but not the people who worked for me. I was miserable. I had to decide if I wanted to office with the humma humma’s, and be perceived as incredibly important or or with my staff and actually get something accomplished. I opted for the latter.

Having come from a place where I successfully managed a staff of 100, but made decisions that affected thousands, I was pretty comfortable with the staff of about 20. They were amazing energetic young people—the eldest of whom was 32, I was 50. But what I learned too quickly, was that the politics at a TV network are far more complicated than the politics in a campaign or government. For example, as the senior VP for communications my boss expected me to position her and the network in a certain way. But in order to do this I had to think about the kind of programming we were doing – so the head of programming hated me because I told my boss the truth about some of the things we were doing. In politics the stakes are very big in terms of power. In TV the stakes are all about the money – I am better at power than money. However I also had to choose between managing up or managing my staff. The people who manage up in TV—that means they don’t care about how they treat their staff, they care only about kissing up to their supervisors. Again, I choose to manage and defend my staff and their decisions --that put me into a difficult place with some colleagues. I am not sure I ever really got those politics but I think I did a great job and fulfilled the expectations of my boss and myself. It was a terrific experience but I never want to do that again.

Since I have had a somewhat eclectic career, people often ask me about my favorite job. Hard to decide. If the job was one in which I could learn something and laugh a lot, it rated very high. I loved being the Director of the International Visitor Program at the State Department. Cultural Exchange is one of the most underestimated but important things the US Government does. And I traveled all over the world and was pretty much unsupervised so that was great. Being Chief of Staff at USIA was also amazing because I worked with Joe Duffey-- a great visionary-- got to make some real changes for women in Government, my travel was at a senior Diplomatic (four star general rank) and I spent a considerable amount of time at the White House dealing with all kinds international issues. I loved being on the road with Congressman Udall during his Presidential campaign and having my own business did have it’s benefits—like doing the world premiere of the film Gandhi and spending weeks and weeks in India with Richard Attenborough. And there were many more because I did change ‘jobs’ about every four years. In other words, I can’t decide what was my favorite way to spend my day. Well, that’s not totally true. My favorite way to spend my day was with my kids. Unfortunately, when I was young and paying my dues I had to spend too much time away from Seth. It was easier with Jordan because I was established and no longer had to prove myself professionally – and I had David, no small thing. But being with them was easily the greatest work I ever did. How fortunate I have been to have hardly ever spent any time doing something that didn’t make a difference. We’re just sayin...Iris


Walter Briggs said...

I sometimes reflect on how all of us, in some way, affect someone..and what differences would've been made without that presense. I believe we all do at certain junctures..and this is true..

Anonymous said...

My wife once corrected a statement I made at a cocktail party when I foolishly said that I had affected many people in my life. She said, No Clay, you didn't affect anyone, but you did infect a lot.

Iris&David said...