||The Brazen Careerist
To be successful, act like a movie star
At the Oscars, I rooted for "Lost in Translation"
for best picture. Not that I had seen the competition, but I loved
that particular movie. I was so impressed, in fact, that I read up
on Sofia Coppola. In the process, I learned more about career management
by how she managed hers.
Of course, Sofia has had more advantages than most
fledgling directors. Her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, provided her
with a stunning apprenticeship, including screenwriter lessons,
a role in "The Godfather: Part III" and producing "Lost
But before I launch into a celebration of Sofia Coppola,
I need to say that the U.S. is not a meritocracy: Rich people are
better connected, so they get better jobs. And rich people who are
not well connected still tend to get better jobs because they have
an easier time envisioning themselves in a successful career than
poorer people. An example: My younger brother, now 21, did almost
no homework in high school, and he recently landed a job most college
graduates would covet -- investment banking in Europe.
He used connections and a lofty vision of himself
to get it. He started on his career path in high school by getting
a management job at a Blockbuster store. This was easy in the wealthy
community where we were raised because no adult residents there
wanted (or needed) this type of job. That left the entry-level management
jobs to high school students. At my local Blockbuster store in sort-of-rough-and-tumble
Brooklyn, the managers are in their 30s. So the first moment of
inequality is that rich kids can get great jobs in high school.
Since he had been an actual manager before, I was
able to give him a management job in my own company during the summer
after his freshman year of college. And I concede he did an outstanding
job. But only a sister would give an 18-year-old a management job
in a software company.
The next year, my cousin, a high-ranking guy at a
big ad agency, gave my brother a summer internship even though my
brother missed the deadline for applying and wasn't in business
school like all the other interns. But to be honest, my brother
did a great job of mending fences with a basically estranged cousin.
He also had a stellar resume written
by yours truly.
So by the time my brother graduated from college,
he had great experience on his resume that helped him land his new
job in Europe. I don't begrudge him that. And I admit that with
a lot of effort and even more luck, a poor kid could land the same
positions as my brother. But it's clear he had a million advantages
that poor kids don't have, so he didn't need as much luck.
Speaking of people who don't need luck, let's get
back to Sofia. Tracing the career of a person who had every advantage
in the book can make one a little peevish. So how do people act
when they have every advantage? That's the relevant question, because
probably we should all act the same way.
People like my brother, who have relatively few advantages
compared to someone like Sofia, ask for everything -- just to see
if they'll get it. He asked my parents to pay for him to attend
an expensive college even though he didn't do a lick of homework
in high school. Even though he knew he wasn't qualified, he asked
my cousin for an internship. He could do this because he could envision
himself getting it. Poor kids have to stretch to imagine having
food on the table every night.
In Sofia's world, though, you don't just ask for something
-- you operate as though you'll definitely get it. The difference
is that my brother and others like him still need to make contingency
plans, whereas really well-connected people don't. Thinking this
way is what helps them to succeed.
So Sofia Coppola wrote "Lost in Translation"
for Bill Murray before he said he'd make a movie with her. She finished
the script and then called Bill Murray hundreds of times before
he agreed to be in the movie.
We should all believe in ourselves so much. How many
of us would spend months on a project that might not happen? It's
her belief in herself that impresses me. It doesn't matter if your
last name is Coppola; if your screenplay is terrible, Bill Murray
won't do it. In that sense, Sofia did, in fact, take a gamble, even
though she wasn't in danger of starving like some screenwriters
are. And with the biggest risks come the biggest rewards.
Maybe rich people can afford to take more risks. But
my point is that by believing in yourself, as Sofia Coppola did,
you may be able to leap career hurdles you once thought were impossible.