An excerpt from UNSINKABLE: Find a Job, Create a Career, Build a Business
By Molly Mahoney Matthews
“I produce videos for the hospital.” I answered when my new hair stylist asked what I do. Amazingly, he continued to snip away and said, “TV producer, that’s nice.” I watched his face. He did not drop the scissors or stare incredulously, shake his head and say, “That is absolutely impossible, you know nothing about how to produce television.” I thought to myself, “This guy believes me? Wow, maybe I could be a producer.”
For the first two years at Children’s Hospital, I had the greatest job in the world. Dealing with press gave me a window on advances in pediatric medicine and a bittersweet look at the lives of children and their families. But, after awhile it dawned on me that, like my predecessor, I was doing my boss’s job. I knew he was presenting my ideas to senior management, but I wasn’t invited nor, I suspect, credited. When I first started working, I was grateful somebody picked me for a job and gave me money. Now I wanted more than the pink gulag of public relations, providing staff support but never getting the creative and leadership roles. Figuratively at least, I was still getting the coffee.
The movie Flashdance came out in 1983 and I identified with the underdog heroine. The hospital building was constructed of concrete and black-mirrored glass. I was living in a world made of steel, made of stone. There were days when working for an unreasonable boss and trying to please too many people and respond to too many demands, coupled with my guilt over leaving my children to the care of others, overwhelmed me. I felt trapped in the steel and stone of this institution and a job that I had outgrown.
One Monday morning after a long emotionally charged weekend, I got to work feeling like a bucket of cold water had been dumped on me. I saw myself in the mirror and superimposed the image of the heroine dancer in Flashdance. I could hear the music and the rhythm of resolve wrap around me. I would find a way to express my love for the hospital by getting creative. I would produce television.
My colleagues in the office probably still saw the affable me; it had been a persona that helped me succeed, but underneath a tougher and more determined version of myself was emerging. I girded myself each morning with on the last stretch of my route to work, with the Flashdance theme song (“What a feeling (I am music now), bein’s believin’ (I am rhythm now). Pictures come alive, you can dance right through your life.”). I was going to be a producer even though I had no idea how to produce videos, at least not yet.
Later that week, the president of the hospital came into the office, and I brought up the idea of a multimedia presentation – we needed a new one for orientation and fund raising. The president thought it was a great idea (I did mention it would feature him.) I took it upon myself to line up a new producer; the guy we usually hired to do the work, thought of me as the person to hold the clipboard.
The new producer saw me as the boss; the person who got him hired, and he allowed me to collaborate. He was a busy man and happy to let me do most of the work. He taught me what to do and then left me alone in his studio where I spent days editing the show. The result was a 13-projector slide and film show that received a standing ovation at its first presentation. Following that debut, the hospital president said, “I didn’t realize how much you could do—congrats.”
I responded, “I have more ideas too. Could I bring you a proposal for a department of public education that would produce videos about everything from trauma to parenting?”
He said yes, and a few weeks later I was named head of the Department of Public Education, granted three staff positions and joined the management committee that reported directly to the president.
Have you been hurt and exploited? Join the club and let the unfairness of it all deepen your resolve to change things. If your boss or colleague takes advantage of you, your personal power is floating loose, if you’ve given away too much, STOP and gather yourself. Dr. Phil says we train people how to treat us, and as long as it benefits them to keep you working on their goals, they will keep piling it on. People will get it when you decide you won’t take it anymore—even if you don’t say a word.
Expect to Work Hard
Meaningful work takes practice and skill. Malcolm Gladwell in Outliers says the bar for real expertise is 10,000 hours of practice. Getting to a point where you can bring that kind of value is hard and so is learning the ropes. Eleanor Roosevelt’s guidance is to, “Do one thing each day that scares you.” Creating balance between security and testing your limits is a constant challenge, but there is no substitute for doing your absolute best. Usually, that means contributing more than most of the people around you, it can get lonely at the top because everyone else has gone home.
Molly Mahoney Matthews began her career as a single parent swimming for her life and the security of her children. From meager beginnings she built a company of 150 employees and $10M in revenue. According to Molly, “Work acts as ballast, undergirds you with purpose, distracts you from pain, and brings you back to your most creative self.”
The above post gives you a taste of her forthcoming book, UNSINKABLE. In each chapter of the book, Molly describes her business foibles and accomplishments with humor and savvy. She has made the mistakes so you don’t have to! See more blog posts by Molly and get more information about her book at www.imunsinkable.com.
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