7 Career Lessons from Tina Fey’s ‘Bossypants’
By Anthony Balderrama –July 28, 2011 Copyright 2011 CareerBuilder, LLC – Reprinted with permission. http://www.careerbuilder.com
Celebrities don’t always make the best role models. For every Bono and Oprah Winfrey there is a real housewife of [choose your city] screaming at her supposed friend in a busy restaurant. Celebrities don’t always make the best authors either. Just because someone can sing or act doesn’t mean they’re capable of writing a stellar autobiography either. It doesn’t even mean they have an interesting story to tell.
Fortunately that’s not the case with Tina Fey’s half-autobiography/half-musings “Bossypants.” In one chapter she explains how the fundamentals of improvisational comedy are great guidelines for everyday life. Later, when she recounts some of the hurdles she has faced as a woman in comedy and as the head writer on a historic TV show, her struggles sound remarkably like those of many non-famous workers. After I was done being upset that this fun, leisure reading had been interrupted by unintentional learning, I realized that Fey’s lessons reached beyond the confines of improv.
In case you don’t get the chance to read “Bossypants” or you’re currently too busy rereading the “Harry Potter” series in preparation of the final film, here are seven lessons every worker can learn from Tina Fey:
1. Agree and say yes
Fey explains that the first rule of improv is to always agree with your scene partner. Whatever scenario your acting partner has set up is the one you have to follow because otherwise you end up with two people onstage bickering, and then nobody laughs. Being agreeable is, of course, not the easiest thing to do and not the appropriate reaction in every scenario. However, it is a good jumping off point.
“[The] Rule of Agreement reminds you to ‘respect what your partner has created’ and to at least start from an open-minded place,” Fey explains. “Start with a yes and see where that takes you.”
You’re going to strongly dislike many people you work with or for. You’re probably also going to think your ideas are always better than everyone else’s. Even if you’re right, give other people a chance before automatically dismissing them or their ideas.
2. Yes, and…
In scene with your improv partner, you aren’t just agreeing with them, you’re also helping them move the story along. Therefore the best response to give is actually, “Yes, and…” The reason is that a simple “yes” is neither helpful nor entertaining. Journalists avoid simple yes or no questions if they want their interviews to be exciting and conversational.
“To me, ‘Yes, and’ means don’t be afraid to contribute,” she writes. “It’s your responsibility to contribute. Almost make sure you’re adding something to the discussion.”
Good bosses don’t just promote nice workers; they promote employees who are ready for the next level. Clocking in and clocking out every day and doing the bare minimum means you’re doing your job, but no one is going to take notice. If you offer your own ideas and contribute to the conversation in some way, you help move the organization along and leave your mark.
3. Think of solutions, not questions
In improv, you don’t want to riddle your scene partner with questions. If your partner presents you with a scenario, then say, “Yes, and…” followed by an assertion. In “Bossypants,” Fey explains that asking question after question makes your scene partner has to think of all these responses alone. No one likes that much pressure.
The adage “Don’t bring me problems; bring me solutions” holds true here. You’re in a situation at work and you know there’s an issue that needs attention, don’t run to the boss saying, “This project is going to fail and we’re going to lose millions of dollars.” Think about how you can fix the problem first and then bring up the problem. Telling your boss, “This project has some serious setbacks, but here’s what we can do to fix it,” is a much better way to do business (and keep your job).
4. Make statements
Fey notes that woman, in particular, should speak assertively and not with self-doubt. Women in the workplace still face men ready to disregard their contribution, unfortunately, but her advice is good for anyone who is hesitant to speak up.
“Speak in statements instead of apologetic questions,” she writes. “Make statements, with your actions and your voice.” As she explains, no one wants to hear their doctor say, “I’m going to be your surgeon? I’m here to talk to you about your procedure?”
5. There are no mistakes, only opportunities
This lesson sounds like one of those atrocious affirmations people tell themselves every morning while looking in the mirror, but it has merit. If you’re improvising and think you’re acting out one thing but everyone perceives it differently, you can’t stop and tell them they’re wrong. Their perception is now the scene you’re acting in and it’s your responsibility to go with it.
“In improv there are no mistakes, only beautiful happy accidents,” Fey writes.
In the workplace there are accidents. Horrible, terrible, someone-make-it-stop accidents. We’ve all been there. However, there is no Ctrl+Z button to undo these mistakes. Once a mistake happens, it happens, and whining about wanting a do-over doesn’t change anything. It’s now your responsibility to make whatever mess you’re in work.
6. You’re going to fail sometimes
Fey says that Saturday Night Live creator Lorne Michaels often told her, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s 11:30.” His point was that the show is live and will be on the air at 11:30, whether or not you think everything is perfect. That’s why sometimes some terrible sketches make it on the air. The writers and actors didn’t have time to perfect each line.
“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, over thinking it. You have to go down the chute. (And I’m from a generation where a lot of people died on waterslides, so this was an important lesson for me to learn),” writes Fey. “[What you write] will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated. Perfect is boring on live TV.”
If you’re too afraid to make a mistake, you’ll never get anything done, which means you’ll never have any successes either. Sometimes the misfires happen and, although you’re upset, your life isn’t ruined. Make sure the successes outnumber the failures and you’ll be fine.
7. Be smarter than your critics
Fey points out the many critics who have declared that women aren’t funny. Surprisingly, her attitude is that she doesn’t care what they or any critics think. Unless the critic is your boss, their negativity isn’t worth your time. If they are your boss, obviously you need to deal with their criticisms of you, whether that means discussing it with them or with someone who can help. But if they’re not, think twice before focusing on their negativity.
“So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism … ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.”
Ultimately that’s good advice for all workers: Know the difference between someone who can hold you back and someone who is just distracting you from reaching your goals.
Copyright 2011 CareerBuilder.com. All rights reserved. The information contained in this article may not be published, broadcast or otherwise distributed without prior written authority.
CareerWise™products are based on the premise that opening kids’ eyes to all the fascinating jobs there are in the world is the first step to motivating them to stay in school so they can grow up and get a job someday. Visit www.GetCareerWise.com for our award-winning workbook –with Free Teaching Guide- and www.GetCareerWise.com/blog4 for more articles. (Reprints are ok, but please acknowledge us.) We will be launching a wonderful new product later this month, so stay tuned!
Ok, you can read a little tongue-in-cheek attitude into the timing of this question.
It sure seems like there are a lot of different ‘experts’ involved in what’s going on in the financial world, doesn’t it?
Everyone is weighing in with opinions and predictions about how to solve our fiscal problems. (Bonus points if you know what ‘fiscal’ means!)
I know kids don’t miss a thing, so let’s put all this up-and-down news to good use.
How many job titles can you list that are associated with the financial decisions, activities and communications that are surrounding us all right now?
I’ll get you started:
- Secretary of the Treasury
- Business News Analyst
- Financial Planners
- Roller Coaster Ride Operator (keep your sense of humor!)
I think you will end up with a long list -there are a lot of very interesting jobs involved in analyzing, facilitating, planning, fixing and reporting activities in this huge vital arena.
Next, think about what new jobs, products or services could be created to avoid these kinds of problems or make the handling of them more efficient in the future.
Now, you’re really getting careerwise!
CareerWise is the proud publisher of the award winning Grow Up. Get a Job™. Career Exploration workbook. (with Free Teaching Guide). Stay tuned for another creative career exploration & preparation resource coming soon! www.GetCareerWise.com
There was an interesting segment on National Public Radio this week. It was about what things, people, places, or events influenced various professionals to make the career choices they did.
The interview I heard was with a woman who combined her love of the sciences and her hobby – photography – to choose Tissue Engineering as a career. A big influence was the day she saw beautiful, very colorful photos of magnified cells from the human body in an art book. It prompted her to investigate merging her two interests. She sounded very glad she did.
I had to look up Tissue Engineering when I got home; I was motivated by the woman’s obvious passion for her job. The National Institute of Health provides this general description of the field on their website.
Tissue engineering / regenerative medicine is an emerging multidisciplinary field involving biology, medicine, and engineering that is likely to revolutionize the ways we improve the health and quality of life for millions of people worldwide by restoring, maintaining, or enhancing tissue and organ function.
The field is much more interesting, expansive and highly relevant than this short description implies. And it sounds like one that could offer very rewarding and exciting opportunities in the future.
Kudos to the Tissue Engineer for successfully merging her two passions in life. And for sharing how she did it.
Go ask an adult you know what influenced his or her career choices. Search for career-related interviews with professionals from all walks of life to discover what got them on a successful career path.
These real-life stories are fascinating and will open your eyes to some amazing choices you have in front of you. It’s all part of getting careerwise!
Ok, so I remember when the song was originally released by the group A Taste of Honey back in 1978. Let’s pretend I was just a toddler…
Anyway, it’s popular again and was very appropriate for the second annual National Dance Day, celebrated this past Saturday. For good reason. It really is hard to sit still while listening to it!
National Dance Day was kind of a light and upbeat diversion from some of the less than light-hearted news that was everywhere else. Lively events were coordinated in different cities across the country for people of all ages.
It made me think about how smart it was of Nigel Lythgoe, the executive producer and judge of the TV show, “So You Think You Can Dance,’ to create this event and get the backing of Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton. She is a long-time proponent of healthy living and introduced a National Dance Day resolution to promote dance education and physical fitness across the U.S.
Their site says: National Dance Day is an annual event and grassroots initiative to encourage the nation, young and old, to move!
Ok, so it promotes the TV show in a big way. But the show is popular because people appreciate talent, dancing and entertainment, so what’s wrong with that? I say instead of worrying about overdone commercialism, we get mov’n and get careerwise!
What jobs are related to the National Dance Day events, promotions and TV show?
Here’s a start. How many jobs can you add?
- Entrepreneur (Nigel Lythgoe, definitely!)
- Dance Educator
- Costume Designer
- Event Planner
After you’ve completed your list and marked the ones that you’d like to look into further, go out and boogie, oogie, oogie. It’s good for you– every day!
For more creative kids-to-careers exploration ideas, visit www.GetCareerWise.com. For more articles, visit www.GetCareerWise.com/blog4 . Blog articles may be reprinted, with proper acknowledgement please.
Career Quiz for Kids: How many jobs can you name? We’ve listed 1001!
Why does knowing about a lot of different jobs make you careerwise?
It’s because the more jobs you become aware of, the greater your options in life. Exploring diverse jobs in a variety of career clusters (bonus points for knowing what a career cluster is) opens your eyes to what you might want to do or be when you grow up.
Along the way, you get to discover a lot about yourself such as your natural talents, interests and values.
I’ve heard quite a few adults moan, “I wish I’d known all my choices when I was young. I just followed in the footsteps of my (pick one: mother, father, sister, brother, best friend, teacher) and didn’t really think about what I wanted to do. I also never took the time to figure out what I was really good at or passionate about.”
Isn’t that a shame?
So if your parent is an engineer, but you love the world of animals, maybe he or she can’t easily help you explore jobs that involve animals. Or perhaps you are an ‘introvert’ (more bonus points if you know what that means!), and your parents are super outgoing and social. You might not find some careers as appealing as they do.
But if you open your eyes to the many wonderful jobs there are in the world while you are young, you will probably find quite a few that sound very interesting to you. After a little research, you can determine what school subjects, training, after-school activities, books and other resources will help you become an expert in that field and how it might just lead to the job of your dreams.
You will be in a great position to grow up to be an independent, productive and valued member of the working world.
Now, isn’t that careerwise!
Check out our fascinating poster with 1001 Job Titles from A to Z on www.GetCareerWise.com. It’s ideal for the classroom, home and corporate workforce initiatives.