Yesterday was my dad's birthday. He would have been 83 if he hadn't spent so many years smoking. (A subtle hint to those of you who light up.)
Like many news people of my generation, I am a product of blue collar parents who never went to college. Therefore, in my youth, equipped with my college degree, I assumed that I was smarter than my parents. Especially my dad. After all, the guy ran a delicatessen and made sandwiches all day. What could he possibly know about jobs in the media?
And I'm sure many of you feel the same way. Your parents might be smart, but they're old and therefore don't really know how the world works today, right?
I noted this when I went into management. I'd tell a young person to do something, and get a dozen questions. "Why do we have to do this?" "Why can't I do this other story?" The implied question was, "I'm younger and more in touch. Why should I do stuff you old people want me to do?"
Looking back at my dad, I now see his wisdom blew away my piece of parchment.
He encouraged me to go to college by working my tail off in the deli. I'd complain about schoolwork and he'd say, "You wanna make 200 sandwiches a day for the rest of your life?" Around sandwich number 50 I'd see education as the way out.
He took me to buy my first car. When the salesman gave me the price, I agreed in a heartbeat. "Too much," my dad said, and started to walk out of the dealership. But dad, someone else will buy this beautiful car... Ten seconds later, the salesman dropped his price a few hundred dollars.
When I was getting close to graduation, he encouraged me to go into advertising or publishing. After all, we were in the shadow of Manhattan. (Looking back and being brutally honest, it's advice I should have taken.) Nope, I wanted to be a reporter and break stories like the people on Eyewitness News.
I started sending resumes out to blind boxes. One day I got a call from a new cable operation that offered me an entry level job over the phone. Cable? I don't even know anybody with cable. I turned it down. My dad was furious, telling me it was a foot in the door. But hey, what did a guy who sliced pastrami all day know about the TV business? "Dad," I said, "Who wants to watch cable news 24 hours a day? They'll be out of business in no time." Yeah, the job offer had come from this little operation you might have heard of called CNN.
Point is, sometimes advice comes from places you least expect, and from people who might not know a thing about the business. Many times street smarts trumps book smarts. When you're young, you know everything. Your college professors and friends have filled your heads with Utopian ideas. But that's not how the real world works.
I have noted that most of the people who ask for advice on this blog seem more receptive than I was, and that's a good thing. But there's still a mindset among young people that if advice doesn't come from someone who is at the top of the business, or from someone with a degree, it's worthless. Sometimes you can learn more from people who have failed than those who have succeeded, because they can help you avoid making mistakes.
When you're given advice, take time to consider it no matter what the source. You don't always have to take it, but don't be so quick to dismiss what might seem like a crazy idea.