A couple of weeks ago I posted a column on my FastCompany.com blog titled, Gen-Y, the Brazen Opportunist, and Curious Case of Penelope Trunk. It wasn’t until Nicole Crimaldi wrote about it on Ms. Career Girl that dialogue on the topic got interesting.
I just posted a comment on Nicole’s blog. Normally I wouldn’t reprint something here that I posted elsewhere, but I’d like to press this dialogue here, with this community. Ask The Headhunter is about advice, but you also know that I use this forum to critique the “career world,” which I believe is so out of hand and largely devoid of common sense that it does a massive disservice in the economy we’re living in.
I’d love to know your thoughts. Here’s my comment on Nicole’s blog:
I wrote the column in FastCompany that you’re commenting on, Nicole. You’ve stimulated a far better dialogue than my post did on FC.
As the title of the column suggests, its main topic is Gen Y — which is easily defined as people in their 20′s starting out on their careers. I closed the column with my point: I see a lot of pandering to an image of Gen Y’ers. Lots of businesses capitalize on that image. (But hell, people in their 20′s have always been a target of the media – the demographic spends a lot of money and pandering to it is a business unto itself.) I think people in their 20′s (no matter when in time we’re talking about them) deserve more credit than the advertising world — and Brazen Careerist — gives them.
Second in the title is Brazen Careerist, which behaves more like a social club than anything having to do with careers. (Nothing wrong with social clubs, but someone branded this one a career site.) Every generation of people in their 20′s needs and wants to reflect on itself. Brazen Careerist is a fun, if not rocky, place to do that. My point is that Brazen Careerist is a social clubhouse masquerading as a career-advice website.
The reference to Penelope Trunk points out that today no company can stand apart from the image and reputation of its boss. Brazen Careerist misrepresents itself: No matter how “authentic” people want to be, or how authentic they insist an employer must permit them to be, the reality is that most emlpoyers will eject a job candidate whose online persona is brazen and risky to the employer. I don’t care if someone doesn’t want to face reality; but don’t tell me employers don’t care, or that you’re likely to find an employer who’ll let you bring your dog to work and embrace your embellishments of brazilian waxes and board-room miscarriages. Good for you if that’s your objective. But good luck. You will need it.
Though some argue that the contradictions between the website and the boss make it all very interesting and instructive in a cool sort of way, there is no escaping the fundamental contradictions. They are fatal to most people’s careers because few will cultivate the successful brand and following that Trunk has cultivated. (You could also strive to be Britney Spears, Paris Hilton or Tiger Woods. You’d better have a backup plan, including someone who will clean up after you online.) Being brassy is fun and cool and it sometimes enables a person to develop a complex, compelling character that serves them well. But teaching, across the board, that being brazen while trying to establish a career is irresponsible.
“Living the authentic life” is an idea cultivated most simply and clearly by Aleister Crowley. His dictum was, “Do as thou wilt” and it’s very interesting. But Crowley did not hide the risks that walking on the edge of life posed. Hedonism, authenticity, personal branding — there isn’t even a debate today, because for the most part it’s all been reduced to b.s., with the apology that it’s up to you to figure out which is which. Crowley would puke. It’s a lot of fun to tell all in public forums, when you don’t have to worry about being ejected from a job interview (or from a venture capitalist’s office).
What anyone makes of Brazen Careerist or how they choose to use the site is up to them. My compliments to those who point out that they know how to separate shit from shine-ola. It’s been said again and again in this dialogue, on this forum, on the FC website and elsewhere: Beware of people who tell you to do as they say, not as they do. Asperger’s, hedonism, naivete – none of these are excuses OR explanations for giving self-contradictory advice to an audience that’s looking for legitimate guidance. Perhaps the worst of all the pandering and the gutless claims of “authenticity” is the use of Asperger’s Syndrome to foil criticism. Authenticity does not make anything and everything okay.
In a song titled, “An Indistinct Notion of Cool,” John Cale obliquely takes on what David (citing Rebecca Thorman) tackles in his comment [on Crimaldi's blog]: self-indulgence. Cool is still a challenge to pull off, if it really is authentic. The character of the Brazen Careerist is mostly indistinct.
All of which tells me that Brazen Careerist is not a career advice site — at least not a credible or useful one. It’s a successful social club that takes its audience to a brink without warning them where they’re stepping. The message of my FC column: Gen Y’ers who want a chance to do work they aspire to should reflect on that.
Like I said in my FastCompany.com posting — I think Gen Y deserves more credit. What do you think of all this?