Thursday, October 15, 2009

What were your advantages?

We’re in the midst of the next greatest generation in the media. This can’t be good.

We’ve seen the likes of Luke Russert – remember him? - and Jenna Bush invade the airwaves at NBC. Russert was supposed to be the voice of his generation for NBC News. I’m not sure whether or not that’s still happening. He seems to have disappeared. Jenna Bush apparently does some kind of reporting for The Today Show on NBC. I think she’s still there.

What these two bring to their positions other than their family name is beyond me but I didn’t hire them and as you can tell, I don’t watch them on NBC. Like everything to do with television, it’s about ratings, building your audience and doing whatever you need to do to beat the other guys so you can charge your advertisers more money for your commercial airtime.

None of this explains a new book on sale this week, titled The Trump Card: Playing to Win in Work and Life. The author is the 27-year-old daughter of Donald Trump, Ivanka.

I’ve watched the Nightline interview with Ivanka, and read two excerpts from the book. She is smart, no doubt about it. From the very start, she acknowledges her privilege, her advantages, her status, her family’s wealth, her connections and the fact that she entered the real estate business, the same business both her father and grandfather had built and excelled in for generations. This is how she addresses it:

“Yes, I've had the great good fortune to be born into a life of wealth and privilege, with a name to match. Yes, I've had every opportunity, every advantage. And yes, I've chosen to build my career on a foundation built by my father and grandfather, so I can certainly see why an outsider might dismiss my success in our family business as yet another example of nepotism.”

She acknowledges this all over again when she recalls her post-college plans: “I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do and how to accomplish it. I also had an edge: there’s no denying that my family name, first-class education, and top-tier contacts gave me a bit of leg-up, a Trump card if you will but I’m also a firm believer in making your own luck and the most of your opportunities.”

That’s clever, right? How can we object to her, now that she has acknowledged everything we’re all thinking? How honest and refreshing! How disarming and self-deprecating – if you can call what she wrote deprecating – of her!

On the other hand, I read sections that reveal just how a life of privilege colors your view of something as universal as a job interview. Words of advice from Ivanka about your interview skills: “It’s not about the school you went to, what you majored in, what your GPA was, or who your parents happen to be or know.”

You’re joking, right? I’ve been on lots of job interviews in my life and not once did I ever worry that the interview would turn into a monologue about who my parents happen to be and who they know. Not once. Never happened. But thanks for the tip!

Ivanka also describes the process she uses to overcome the preconceived notions others might have about her because of her background. It’s pretty simple, actually:

“Get over it. It's the same message I used to give to myself whenever I spent too much time worrying what people would think of me or how I'd risen to my position in the company or what attributes I brought to the table. I'd catch myself agonizing along these lines and think, Just get over it, Ivanka. Or, It's not your problem, it's theirs. After all, I eventually realized, we've all got our own baggage. Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we've all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way. Some break that might have gone to someone else. Some edge or inside track we couldn't have counted on.”

Examining this entire statement would just about wear me out and make me want to weep so I’d like to focus on just one thought here: “Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.”

Hmmm. Whatever we do, whatever our backgrounds, we’ve all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way. I need to break that down and since this is primarily supposed to be a business book, I’ll focus on that:

Whatever we do…: no matter what job you have, what career you’re pursuing, what specialized skill you possess, be it plumbing, farming, toll-taking or performing brain surgery, you all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.

Whatever our backgrounds…: whether you are the daughter of a blue collar family in western Pennsylvania or the daughter of an international real estate mogul in Manhattan; the son of an illiterate father and poorly educated mother in West Virginia or the son of an international real estate mogul in Manhattan, you all had some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.

Once again, the message for us is unmistakable: “…we’ve all some kind of advantage somewhere along the way.” I asked my husband to share the advantage he had along the way. He’s thinking about it and said he’ll let me know. I’m still thinking, too.

Let's face it. Ivanka is pretty, she's a household name thanks to her father and her appearances on his television show and she seems fairly grounded. At the very least, we didn't have to witness her devoting herself to some kind of lawless, rudderless "wild days" a la Paris Hilton. I suppose writing a book about success in work and life isn't the worst thing she could do. I only hope she's donating her advance and any subsequent earnings to charity. Maybe someone on the receiving end of that contribution will realize a couple of "advantages" as a result, somewhere along the way.

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