You schmooze, you never lose

Take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror if you can stomach it. It’s time for a reality check.  Your livelihood is at stake.

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Now answer these questions. Do you sense change in the air at work? Is it more than just the sales team using free samples of cheap hand lotion on a junket? Have you been called into a meeting with HR, only to find your manager grinding up and snorting prescription pain killers off their iPad? Have you been escorted briskly out of your office by two security guards, when you assured them three times that you were going and that you had only stopped that one time to pick up the rubber stress doll that kept falling out of your bankers box, so you don’t have to push so hard? Have you started to calculate how many hours you’ll need to busk on Queen Street to afford a pack of cigarettes. And do you actually know  the words to Hey, Jude? Or the chords, for that matter? Should you save yourself the trouble by simply pawning the guitar?

In this day and age, you can’t afford to not ask yourself these questions.

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The world is changing, my so-called friends. Media jobs are going the way of the dinosaur. If we’re lucky, we’ll all get trapped in a tar-pit and die. That’ll show those future paleontologists what it was like to have the lives drained out of us, staining the carpet around our cubicles. Which in many workplaces is a fire-able infraction. And when you do get fired, don’t think of yourself as unemployed. Think of yourself as a fossil sans portfolio. Take comfort in the thought that seven million years from now, a fourth grader on a field trip to the museum will get bored, pick his nose, and wipe the snot on one of your femurs.

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For the rest of us condemned to obscurity, there’s always schmoozing.

Whatever else changes, schmoozing is still the best way to move from a job to a career. If you didn’t just want to be a street level drug dealer, for example, but set your sights higher to money laundering services, you can’t just search SEEK, and presto. No. You have to have a sit down with the franchisers, and negotiate the terms. And there’s a whole lot of paper work to fill out.

Similarly, if you’re in media, and you want to move from a job to a work life that you love, you must schmooze. The word is so New York. It comes from the Yiddish shmuesn, which means “to chat”, and traces its origins to the late 19th century. This coincides with the huge migration of European Jews who stopped off in the Lower East Side for a pastrami on rye before heading off to Long Island. From New York, schmooze seeped into popular media, according to something I just thought of, and from there to the rest of the world.

Schmooze has come to mean chatting with a purpose, and for people in career transition, the purpose is making your brand known.

I wish I’d known this last night when I attended a networking function run by the Social Media Club of Auckland.

It featured a panel of music industry people discussing about how social media is changing the way they do businesss. This was my first SMCakl (pronounced “smackle”, apparently) event, so I was bit surprised at how quickly the discussion turned into a moderated chatroom with sound. Smackle encouraged the audience to tweet, with screens set up around the atrium at the Vodafone building projecting the Twitter feed. The seats may have faced the stage, but all eyes–including the panelists–were on the screens.

The challenge for me last night was I hate networking. It’s beyond my capabilities. Everyone I talked to was taller than me. It was like the troll scene from The Hobbit when the hosts ran out of pizza. The Vodafone atrium lights were harsh, fluorescently transforming me into a giant, grease-clogged pore. I’d been out schmoozing all day with potential business partners. I hadn’t shaved since Sunday, needed a haircut, forgot to shower for several weeks, wore my Birkenstocks and my second-hand suede jacket containing forty years of other people’s smells. And still I found it really difficult to talk to people. And far too easy to interrupt them mid-sentence and say, “Ok, we’re done here,” and walk away.

Conventional wisdom about networking would qualify that as a problem. Not me. If branding is about persona, I did exactly what I needed to do in pursuit of my new career as a middle-brow comedy writer, like the ill-begotten bastard child of George Carlin and Truman Capote. When people see me, I want them to say, “who let that in?” Personally, I never remember the people I’ve invited to parties over the years, but I sure remember the assholes I specifically wanted not to come but showed up anyway.

You may find it important in your particular field to actually talk to other people and not offend them in appearance and odor. I don’t judge. But whatever your dumb reason for doing whatever you do is, your best foot forward should be the one that people remember.

best foot forward

[[Third draft, tightening up the graph about my persona; getting it tight the first time. All photos by the author, except the graphic picture of his foot taken by Vera Supergenericgirl Alves]]

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