Prom is a career stepping stone

Our neighbor, Kathy, called to tell us to come over for prom pictures.

We had no idea what she was talking about. I told Melissa I was too happy reading Little Bee in the sun. “But,” I said, “Kathy is so nice to us. One of us has to go. We have to be good neighbors.”

Melissa said, “Then you go.”

“Let’s do rock scissors paper.”

“No. You want to be a good neighbor, you go. And the lambs are so happy sitting in my lap. I don’t want to move them.”

“Take the lambs with you. They’ll like that.”

“In the car?”

“Yeah. Like dogs.”

Melissa goes. It seems like maybe this would be okay because when my sons walk over to Kathy’s house, the goats follow my sons, and Kathy invites the boys in for chocolate milk and anything else they find in her fridge, and the goats wait outside, like watch dogs who have a big appetite for grass.

We thought the lambs would do that. Maybe. Or wait in the car. I don’t know what we thought. But Melissa was back in five minutes.

“You have to come. You’re not going to believe it. The whole school is there. At Kathy’s.”

“Did you see Zach and Mitch?”

“Yeah. But you have to come.”

We pull up to the house, with the lambs in the car, and there is the senior class, in prom outfits, lining up for photos. We get out of the car and start searching for Zach and Mitch. The lambs follow us.

Mitch and Zach look so cute in their tuxes that match their dates’ dresses. We want to talk with them but the lambs start making noises because they are not close enough to Melissa, and they won’t shut up, and we really just need to get the lambs back into the car.

Days later, when we ask Mitch how was prom, he says, “People thought you guys were nuts wearing those hats.”

“What about the lambs?”

“The hats were more crazy.”

We wear our sun hats everywhere. In the country, this is not done. I’m not sure why. I guess women are not protecting their faces from the sun. I don’t really know. But Jeanenne, my assistant who translates life in Darlington for me, says that people think Melissa and I wear the hats because we think that’s what you’re supposed to do in the country.

Here’s the career part of this post: The thing that is most difficult in work life is adjusting to different cultures as seamlessly as possible. People do not lose jobs because they don’t get the job done. People generally lose jobs because of poor cultural fit. If people think you fit on the team, they’ll cut you slack even when you don’t get the job done. In fact, the Harvard Business Review reports that people don’t even care if you don’t get the job done if they like you.

It’s the getting people to like you part that is so hard. And our hats are such a good example. We think we are really pushing the limits of what’s socially acceptable by driving around with baby lambs in our car. But really, where we cross the line is wearing sun hats everywhere.

The question is not “how to always know the rules for blending in” because you can’t—especially if you are constantly challenging yourself with new work environments. The question is, instead, “How can you recover from a cultural misstep?”

So if the ability to navigate a cultural misstep is what separates stars from regular performers, then how do you prepare to be a workplace star?

By ignoring the work that’s put in front of you. Over and over again.

I’m not kidding.

Here’s a great article in New York magazine by Wesley Yang, about success in the Asian community. In case you did not have any AP math classes, Asians are kicking everyone’s butt in academics. Even the rich white kids cannot keep up with the Asians. This is reported in depth in the article, but suffice it to say that Asians make up a very small percentage of the US population but they are not considered a minority in the Ivy League because they make up such a large percentage of the students there.

But the article is really about how Asians don’t do as well in the workplace. Because the skills that you need to do well in school are not the skills that you need to do well at work. Work is not a meritocracy—it’s a popularity contest. And the book The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua, explains that Asian kids miss sleepovers and basketball games to practice violin and cello, which is why the art of brown nosing eludes overachiever Asians.

So we have statistical proof that working hard to get good grades does not help at work. But here is something else: Lauren Rivera professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management, finds that extracurricular activities matter more than grades. Highly selective hiring managers – those with piles of Ivy League resumes – distinguish between candidates not by GPA or major, but by extracurricular activities; how you interact with peers matters a lot.

I don’t know what makes me so sure that Zach and Mitch are good for me to be in business with. But I think it has something to do with how they navigated the prom scene so well. I remember being nervous and unsure of myself. They seemed to be able to read the crowd of girls and go with the flow.

There is no better skill than being able to read a group and know how to fit in. Or maybe it’s just that I’m lacking that skill, so to me, there is no skill more impressive. And no skill I need more.

I used to look at my old prom pictures and think, prom is so stupid. Why did I go?

Wait. Look at this. It’s me going to prom. I was a junior. The boy was a senior. I’m pretty sure I was disappointingly prudish and overly concerned with what color barrettes I wore.

But now I feel like going to prom was important. It was me putting myself in an uncomfortable situation with rules I didn’t know and seeing how it felt. It felt scary, of course, but this is what the hard work of adult life is: navigating scary situations so they are not scary anymore, and then doing that again and again.

 

 

Posted in College & grad school
85 comments on “Prom is a career stepping stone
  1. sophie says:

    Wear a baseball cap. Women do that in Wisconsin and it keeps the sun off our faces. Badger or Packer cap. You’ll do fine.

  2. Rebecca says:

    I don’t know if you have been watching Oprah Behind the Scenes but this post reminds me of when Oprah had First Lady Michelle Obama on and before the show, they met in her office. Oprah offered her tea and Michelle was all like, “Why? Are you asking because that’s what you think First Ladies drink?” And indeed that was why Oprah had it out. Apparently, they didn’t touch the tea. Cute.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Rebecca, thanks for the comment. I love this story for a couple of reasons. First, it shows that everyone, even Oprah, makes cultural mistakes. Second, it shows Michelle’s ability to remake our idea of First Lady one small step at a time.

      Penelope

      • Jim C. says:

        Maybe Michelle was “remaking the idea of First Lady,” but she was also being incredibly rude and ungracious. Where were her manners?

      • Laura Brown says:

        Jim C, I saw the episode with Oprah and Michelle Obama. Nothing rude about the exchange. They were having fun, being silly. Oprah was joking with her staff about setting out tea before Michelle arrived. She knew it was contrived. Michelle’s comment picked right up on Oprah’s jokes.

      • Jim C. says:

        Okay, I stand corrected. Obviously I didn’t see the TV show. What I said was based on Rebecca’s and Penelope’s remarks.

  3. Danielle says:

    Here’s an interesting question: would people like you more if you were good at your job?

    I’m fairly new at my job, but from the time I got there was very polite, very helpful, and would observe the inner workings of the office. As someone in my mid twenties, I get grouped as a slacker, as rude, and glued to Facebook and texting.

    I try to break away from that stereotype because that’s not how I am at all. Maybe I’m wrong, but I find people like me because of my personality, but I’m also reliable, and I’m willing to help out even if it’s not in my “job description.” In the non-profit sector, there’s no such thing as “not in my job description.”

    On the other hand, I have a co-worker who is not only socially awkward, but isn’t very nice, and really doesn’t do her work either, and everyone knows it. I think if she were awkward but nice, people would like her more. She’s basically a dead weight, and is difficult to deal with to boot.

    So, what if someone is likable, and doesn’t drop the ball at the office? Or, someone’s not only not so likeable, but also doesn’t contribute to getting the job done?

    • Emily V says:

      Being highly reliable and very good at your means that people will like you a lot – for THAT role. But you might never get promoted.
      Here’s a sad anecdote. The entry level research associates at my company who are the BEST at following the rules and being great at doing their jobs stay in that entry level position for years until finally getting fed up with being passed up for promotions, and leave the company. They’re work horses. The ones who ignore their job and do what’s interesting to them get promoted, because people are able to envision them doing something bigger than the role they were assigned to. Rule followers operate at a task-level. Plus, it’s hard to prove yourself as a big thinker and game changer when you’re mired down in the day to day.

      • Gerty says:

        I wholeheartedly agree Emily V. I am half way through reading Seth Godin’s Linchpin and he describes this scenario exactly. The rule followers are not the ones who end up in the long term, following their dreams. Being nice and doing the right thing does not ensure you will be promoted in this new economy.

        I have just recently followed my passion and was able to switch industries without taking a pay cut. I was able to do this because in my old workplace I learnt the rules at work and the politics associated with them. I also knew when and how to break the rules and when it was okay to upset certain people. I did this so I could achieve extraordinary results. I also kept a firm vision of the main game, which is always achieving results. I made sure I was nice enough, but I upset a few people a long the way. It was hard because we all want to be liked, by everyone, all of the time (its our lizard brain taking over). What I found out was, the people who were most upset by my rule breaking were the ones that still held these archaic beliefs that by showing up, doing the minimum required and being really pleasant, was enough to get ahead in their lives.

        An existing or prospective employer doesn’t care about how well you follow the rules or how nice you are (they are basic necessities), they take notice if you make a difference.

        All that being said, it is extremely important to fit in to the culture of a workplace. This requires years and years of practise of being in possibly very uncomfortable situations and navigating through them with intuition, gut feel and persistence. Kids that study day and night and don’t interact with others throughout school and college really suffer in the workplace when it comes time to communicate and connect. I’ve seen it many times. I’ve also seen people who are not very intellectual or smart get great jobs because they were able to use their emotional intelligence to navigate their way through. This is a skill that can only be cultivated through practise and no book can teach you how.

        I think the main difference is between being nice and having emotional intelligence. Being nice is an essential workplace requirement, possessing high emotional intelligence is what sets people apart.

  4. Lesa says:

    I think there are actually different rules for men and women in the workplace. For a man to be successful at work, it only matters that he can do his job. He can be a pain in the a** or difficult to deal with, but a long as he gets the job done, he’ll get his raise, be promoted, whatever it means to be successful.

    But for women, the rules are different. How well you get along with others is the most important criteria for success — and it actually overshadows competency. In fact, if women can actually be too competent and lose the respect of those around them.

    Personally, I prefer to work with those who take their jobs seriously. You don’t have to be perfect, you don’t have to be someone I want to hang out with, but if you take your position seriously, I’ll enjoy working with you.

    • sophie says:

      I agree Lesa. If you’re a woman and too competent when working with other women, you loose their respect. Because friendship in the workplace comes first for women and if you’re too competent, you’re seen as a threat and the friendship goes to boot.

      • Penelope Trunk says:

        Totally interesting to me. I have never read this or heard anyone say this, but based on my experience, and my own expectations, I really think it’s true. It is a great way to show how totally different the work experience is for men and women.

        It’s so odd to me that I expect women I work with to be my friend. I mean, it’s probably not good for either of us, in terms of gaining power and respect, but I guess I don’t care, because I keep cultivating that sort of relationship.

        Penelope

      • Tzipporah says:

        Which is why it is easier to be an INTJ man than an INTJ woman.

    • Sarahnova says:

      I agree. I am constantly hearing and, I admit, even saying, “Oh, he’s so difficult to deal with, but soooo brilliant”, and so the being-an-arse just gets put aside. Whereas a woman who can’t get along with people is no use, no matter how brilliant she is.

      • Sarahnova says:

        I just realised that this comment sounds like I agree with this perspective. I do not! I do think that getting along with people is a very important work skill (take Dr. House; no matter how brilliant he is, in practice he’s a crap doctor, because patients don’t trust him and don’t tell him the truth). At the same time, I think we could stand to be more tolerant of social awkwardness and the valuable skills it comes with, and we could certainly do with losing the gender double standard around it.

  5. Nancy says:

    I’m forever making hat-like mistakes. Part of me doesn’t care because I think those things are so stupid. Part of me knows it’s important. I’m trying to teach it to my kids, but they don’t get it either. Family of Aspies I guess.

    Fortunately I’ve learned that if you smile a lot, pay little compliments, and provide other “benefits”, they put up with you.

  6. Linda Myers says:

    which is why the art of brown nosing alludes overachiever Asians. ELUDES.

  7. Irving Podolsky says:

    I couldn’t agree with you more about people doing well in the work place because they are liked, even if they don’t perform well. I always thought that situation was totally unfair because I’ve never been a networking king, or even a Let’s-Hang-Out-at-Lunch dude, or a golfing buddy or a tennis pal, or a group sex participator. (Tried it once – wasn’t working for me.)

    I think there are people who feel really comfortable conforming to the group, and then there’s me, who sometimes pretends to feel comfortable with the group.

    But ya know, even though I’ve always marched to a different drummer, in the wrong parade, I’ve finally managed to sorta kinda fit in within the workplace, cuz when I DO interact with those regular normal-type people, which I am NOT, I turn into an Empathy King. I really LISTEN. I try to find something about that dude that’s sorta like me, and I care about his issues, or her dilemma, or his/her depression if he/she is a transgender. And I feel for my client’s worries, even if they’re personal, which they ALWAYS are.

    So I guess I’m more of a one-on-one kinda guy. Is that okay?

    Irv

  8. karen says:

    The thing is bosses don’t ever really need to be liked. They need to be respected. What about bosses, leaders, supervisors? Everyone complains about bosses, until they get to new job and then they say, “He/she knew what they were doing. My new boss is terrible.”

    • Laura Brown says:

      I have had several bosses who needed very much to feel liked. As someone who responds more to competence than likability, I had to learn to make these bosses feel I liked them.

  9. Miriam Salpeter, Keppie Careers says:

    I love that study from Harvard…and glad to see there’s additional research on the subject of success at work via emotional intelligence. I actually quoted the Harvard study in my US News post that will go live on Wednesday about how to get promoted. So many people ignore the “cultural fit” aspect of job search and career success.

    One reason I think social networking is so important is, when done well, social networking helps candidates demonstrate they have the personality/emotional intelligence employers tend to seek. It may be difficult to assess in an interview, but it’s easy to determine if someone’s likely to fit in a group based on watching his or her Twitter stream and/or Facebook posts.

  10. Harriet May says:

    When I hang out with my boyfriend’s very Southern family, I feel lost. For example, we were there for Thanksgiving, and my boyfriend’s grandmother (Maw Maw) decided not to make her usual dessert but was bringing fruit salad instead. I was excited until someone mentioned mayonnaise. “In the fruit salad?” I asked. “Well, it’s not really mayonnaise. It’s Miracle Whip,” is what his sister told me, and so of course I replied, thinking Cool Whip, “Oh ok, because mayonnaise would be gross!”

    I still haven’t worked out the difference between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip, but I was so embarrassed.

    (But not embarrassed enough to try the fruit salad.)

    In non-familial circles, however, I can usually flirt my way out of embarrassment. It got me out of a lot of homework assignments in high school.

  11. www.sitohogan.com says:

    I love that study from Harvard too!

    • vicky says:

      Well, you can. As a person with AS, I do this:
      Ask them how they are doing. When they finish talking, ask about their pain. They always have a pain, and they want to talk about it.
      Then comment (in agreement) about what they said. They will love you.
      Stressful, but, follow the formula and you can ‘pass’.

  12. Peter says:

    You resonate.

    Of COURSE it’s all about getting along with people.

    Where people mis-step: There are no formulas. Getting along with people is not something that can be orchestrated. No coaching.

    You either do. Or you don’t.

  13. Marlene Kennedy says:

    Anyone else notice the black (Converse?) sneakers under the blue gown? As useful and practical as hats, no?

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      They are actually purple sparkle Converse sneakers under the dress — to match, natch :)

      Penelope

  14. lisa richmon says:

    I had a job that I was so bad at(in legal services for a hospital)that I used my energy to make people like me. Believe me, they wanted to hate me, and outwardly they did, but even the biggest haters couldn’t pull that off for long. Not only did I not get fired (as I should have). My boss cried when I gave her my notice. I created my own job description as someone they could trust with their secrets, who fed them home-cooked food daily,made them laugh and pissed them off but because I made them look really good, I had value to them.

  15. Danielle says:

    It’s not the first time I’ve heard of the double standard, whereas men can be dicks if they do their jobs, but women have to be team players/friendly. As a young woman I really hate hearing that, but I know it’s true. It also doesn’t help that I work mostly with women, and everything overall is touchy-feely, like everyone gives their opinion on a mailing design kind of stuff. Sometimes I wish I was out of that and worked where things were done on the basis of the good of the company, not so that no one’s feelings are hurt. We’re not in kindergarten, says the youngin, lol!

  16. Danielle says:

    I love the Cons with the prom dress. I would have done that too, if I went to prom. Perhaps at my wedding, that or barefoot.

  17. Blandy Costello says:

    I think you mean eludes, not alludes.

  18. Lisa says:

    And this is either the great American myth, or the great American hope. Breaking rules, shaking hands, riding horses through the dust. Great photo though.

  19. Traci says:

    Hello Penelope, just curious if you knew that this was a junior prom not senior prom. Aren’t the two boys you are working with juniors? Also, I was wondering if you contacted the parents and asked permission to post pictures of the girls since they are under 18.

    • Penelope Trunk says:

      Are you aware that this is a personal blog? I am allowed to publish any photo I want. Do you get permission to publish birthday party photos on your Facebook page?

      That said, I asked permission, even though I don’t have to.

      Penelope

    • Sara says:

      Actually, legally, you don’t need to ask permission to publish any photo if you took it. If you’re on private property, you may need permission to take the photo from the property owners, but once it’s taken, all rights belong to the photographer, not any of the subjects.

      There is actually no time when you need to ask permission because of underage subjects. If you were going to use the photo to promote something (such as in an ad), you would need signed model releases, regardless of the age of the people in it.

      • Maus says:

        That may not be the case in California (don’t know about WI) because the person depicted in a photo posted without his or her permission has a right to privacy under the state consititution that can be asserted through a civil suit alleging violation of that privacy. The better practice is to seek a written waiver from any person depicted in a photo you intend to post.

  20. merino says:

    surprise. There are indeed professions where competence is valued. And jobs where you are expected to do your work. Let’s not forget that the croporate boardroom employs maybe 0.001% of all employees.

  21. moo says:

    Little Bee :)

    • melanie gao says:

      :) :)

      I’m in love with Little Bee and Chris Cleave.

      • Penelope Trunk says:

        Me too! I also love the paperback book cover design. As I was linking to the book on Amazon I thought to myself: I love that I am sharing this book with everyone.

        It’s actually a very serious book. And he is such a serious writer. It’s so unlike me to be able to get through a novel like that. Which speaks so much for his writing, I think.

        Penelope

  22. Liane says:

    This is very interesting to me for a lot of reasons. First I love the analogy with the prom – brilliant!

    My daughter is 12 and I have been having many conversations with her about school and life as she prepares to enter the middle school next year. I just recently told her that some of the most important skills she has and needs to cultivate further is her ability to connect with people, know how to communicate with and respect them, know how to navigate varying situations…and know how to write well! It is so true that relationships matter most.

    I also think authenticity matters too.

    I think the lines can be fuzzy. When we work with people who may be nice and genuine but can’t do their job while getting paid the same or more than me, it can create resentment and frustration. I’ll go have a drink on a Friday night with them but get the hell out of our office! :-)

  23. Steve C says:

    This is something that probably had it’s roots in tribal villages back when the men went out hunting and the women stayed in the village and kept things running. It’s hard to keep things running smoothly if nobody gets along. Now with jobs, it starts with the hiring process. People hire people they like. Yes, they have to at least suspect that you have the qualifications to do the job, but they will hire the person they like. It sucks because we spend so much time in our respective workplaces, if they are populated by assholes and bitches, a good part of life is basically gonna suck. Another good bit of reading is “The No-Asshole Rule”, by Robert Sutton, which also started out as an essay in The Harvard Business Review. It deals with some of the issues in this post, weeding out toxic people in the workplace. I don’t think this issue will ever be solved, but the post and comments are enlightening. It’s nice to keep the topic in the light of day though. The sad part is in an employer’s economy, many have to settle for what they can get ,to get by. For my part, I guess I would choose a prick over a bitch, if I had to put put up with one or the other. Not sure why, but it probably has to do with a male control complex. Maybe I think pricks are more predictable, and they don’t do cold, hard meanness as well as bitches. Surviving an environment like this is definitely a valuable skill, nonetheless.

  24. Leah says:

    Fascinating post, Penelope. It makes me think about my own academic career – I pushed myself to be a great student and was always uncomfortable socially in middle school and high school. For me, college was less about academics and all about learning how to find a place in the social world. Thank goodness I went to college! Otherwise I might have taken all that academic intensity straight into the world and very much mirrored the stories of the Asian students that you’re talking about. Really interesting.

  25. Mark W. says:

    Yesterday, House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) spoke before the Economic Club of Chicago ( http://c-span.org/Events/Paul-Ryan-Remarks-at-Economic-Club-of-Chicago/10737421583-1/ ). He was navigating a scary and uncomfortable environment – Obama’s home turf. I thought he did a good job as he broke the ice with highlighting differences between his Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. His speech was very good as he discussed the economic problems we all face as a nation together. After answering questions, he received a resounding standing ovation. So I think he stood out in a good way just as you and Melissa stand out with your sun hats. It’s not only practical but also a part of your brand. Think royalty.
    I like your prom photo. You’re taller than your date. :)

    • alexgloc says:

      Uh, no, Mark W. , the Economic Club of Chicago is not “Obama’s home turf” – and certainly not “scary and uncomfortable”. It’s a group of business leaders that pride themselves on listening to “both [sic] sides of the important issues of the day”.
      http://www.econclubchi.org/
      Look at the website’s list of speakers. Heck, the preceding president spoke there twice, in 2003 and 2006. He wasn’t speaking at many “enemy” conventions in 2006, you will remember.

  26. Marguerite says:

    Rule for getting along in small-town society whenever you think you might be doing something wrong — find the local knows-everyone gossip queen or whomever is entrenched in the local society and likes you — tell her “I’m afraid these hats look stupid, but I just don’t know what to do about all this sun. What do you do?” Even if there’s not a good answer to that question, she’ll tell everyone exactly why you’re wearing the hats, and then you’ll be okay.

    • Holly says:

      Margeurite, that’s a great strategy but why put in all that effort? I say just wear the d*** hat and let them talk. I have too much going on in my life to seek out the town gossip and wait for her to explain my abnormal behavior.

    • MJ says:

      This is exactly why people hate people some times (often times).

  27. Lori says:

    i grew up in a rural town of 2100 people and my mom brought home the story of the woman who wore a hat to work (at one of the little offices on the square – insurance office or dentist office, that sort of thing) during a time when hats were big out in the real world and the other ladies basically pecked her to death like hens. they wouldn’t let it go. rural life is much like high school that never ends. “wearing a hat” became part of our lexicon, referring to going outside the accepted group norm.

    • Lori says:

      the fascinating part of this is how stepping away from the group norm is interpreted as attacking the group norm/group members. e.g., “you think women who live in the country wear sun hats all the time”, “you think first ladies sit around drinking tea”. and in my story the reaction is “you think you know more about what’s in style than we do. you think you’re cooler than us. here, let us explain to you that you are not.”

      • Laura Brown says:

        I think your observation is very astute, Lori, and helps explain why not fitting in is very dangerous in most corporate cultures.

  28. Katy says:

    As someone that is constantly worrying about sun damage ( I spent a decade on the water), I totally get the sun hats and wearing them all the time. You’re probably just as paranoid as I am about sun exposure after your beach volleyball career. No one wants to look like a handbag or get turkey neck.

    I need to go buy a sun hat. Something I can wear in the city. And no, baseball caps don’t work. You need neck coverage and full face coverage.

  29. Rob says:

    I really ought to read that article about Asians. As a merely achieving Asian, it might make me feel better about the fact I really didn’t care to put in the extra work to get straight A’s in school. :-)

    Socially, I’m pretty sure I’m still not up to par with most of my peers… but my parents were first generation here, so I’ll cut them some slack for keeping me pretty isolated.

  30. Raven says:

    I ended up going to 3 proms when I was in high school (and then escorting my cousin to his own prom the next year).

    Anyway, I don’t agree that if a man is a jerk, but highly capable – he gets a social pass or if a woman is “difficult” then she loses respect in the workplace. I’ve worked with assholes of both genders and the only difference is that if the person wasn’t a high contributor, then that person got the boot. From my experience, folks will put up with high contributors if it means they do a job no one else wants or handles work that no one could do if they were gone. The horrible personality just makes things much more difficult.

  31. MarieP says:

    In my profession, you have to be a team player. That is the bottom line. Between a mediocre team player and a brilliant prickly individualist, the team player will keep his/her job every single time and the prickly individualist will be let go. I am not saying that this is right. But this is the way it is. I have no doubt that there are other professions in which the prickly individualist would come out on top. Prickly individualists should seek out those professions. I love the term “cultural fit”; it explains so much. Know the rules of the setting in which you find yourself. Either play by those rules or be prepared to be marginalized. Again, this may not be right. This may not be fair. But it is true.

    As a sidenote, I would love to have had my prom photo taken with a lamb!

  32. Nat says:

    ‘The question is, instead, “How can you recover from a cultural misstep?”‘

    As someone who is constantly working in new environments, I’ve had to develop my own strategies for the inevitable socially moronic moments – humour is typically my go-to.

    Would be interested to hear other’s thoughts on how one actually can recover from a cultural misstep.

    Cool post Penelope.

  33. CS says:

    I’ve worked in Minnesota and gotten almost fired from nearly every job I’ve had here because I don’t fit in with their low brow, frat-pack, white-guy chest thumping culture here. But really, how could I?

  34. T says:

    this article is excellent.

    behavioral transgressions tend to be more egregious than physical ones. because they ‘feel’ off, people who perceive them, are way more reluctant to point them out. because they don’t ‘feel’ weird to you, you’re not as likely to spot them without help from someone you trust who is already on the inside, and who is willing to break taboo and enlighten you. but, how do you establish that relationship with an insider? like you did, by adding tremendous value in some single aspect of their lives.

    again, great article!

  35. terri says:

    So Penelope, how does this whole, extra-curriculars are king, grades are not, philosophy fit into your conviction that more and more students will be home schooled? I would think you would argue that social interaction skills are among the most important skills to learn K-12. Certainly it appears some hiring managers feel that way.

    • celia says:

      Homeschooling and extracurriculars are not mutually exclusive. I was homeschooled for six years, and during that time I was a member of 3 sports teams, went to the local school for choir practice, and volunteered with various organizations in my community.

      In college, no one knew I was homeschooled until I mentioned it.

  36. Tamra says:

    We just recently lost a coworker because he was unable to meet his commitments. Or was it because he was socially awkward? Or was it because he made trouble for the boss and didn’t make her look good?
    He was friendly to everyone but not friends with many. Nice guy, smart as a whip, couldn’t handle doing his job though and didn’t get along with the boss.
    Honestly, I think it was because he didn’t make the boss look good to her boss.

  37. Lothie says:

    It’s very true. I lost my last job, not for anything I did, but just because I didn’t fit in enough. What was hilarious is that I fit in with MOST of the company…just not the department I was in. What’s tragic is that the job I lost was one I love doing, despite the fact I don’t fit in (and have nothing but distaste for doing so).

  38. Peter says:

    You wrote: “…the art of brown nosing alludes overachiever Asians.” Should be “eludes.”

  39. Devon Shane says:

    “Work is not a meritocracy – it’s a popularity contest.” I do agree that this is mostly true, though I do think that some level of work completion and honesty is required to stay in high esteem or eventually it will become clear that your likable bravado is smoke and mirrors hiding emptiness. Then what was seen as charming and likable can become as grating as fingernails on chalkboard. Though you make a good point, people do underestimate the importance of people knowing and liking them in the workplace. Internal networking is becoming more and more important for landing internal promotions. At UpMo, Inc. we are developing HR SaaS solutions for employee-centric career development and internal networking to get you to your dream job at your current company- check us out at http://www.upmo.com

  40. Lynette Jensen says:

    I’m impressed that you can get hold of tuxedos in Darlington!

    Also, re the hats: you don’t want to fit in TOO much with the local culture, or they won’t listen to you when you give their kids career advice or let you start businesses with Zach & Mitch. Aren’t the hats part of your personal brand in Darlington (“You’re not from around here, are you?” is what they say in country towns in Australia), and don’t the hats help give you the cred of being “other”? It’s a tricky balance, but I wouldn’t worry too much about the hats.

    The Farmer, meanwhile, gets to bask in the glory of having such an exotic wife! Seriously.It gives him local credibility and sets him apart. It’s all about branding, isn’t it, in life and work? Some differentiation is not a bad thing.

    PS. You looked cute in your prom dress.

    Lynette

  41. cashmere says:

    The question of publishing photographs, which show another person on private property is not an easy one to answer. While you are legally within you rights to publish photos you take in a public space, if you publish photos taken on private property the question of copyright can get a trifle thorny [this is an interesting link I found http://www.wipo.int/sme/en/documents/ip_photography.htm. It crosses the boundary between what is legal and what is good practice in dealing with the object of your photos.
    However, the question whether your blog is indeed a “private blog” is probably even more difficult to answer. You advertise your business, you make money from the blog (if I understand correctly), and you have a substantial readership. Not sure whether this is still a private blog in the sense of the word.

  42. downfromtheledge says:

    Is it just me, or do people throw around the term “emotional intelligence” when, really, they’re talking about people who are (usually) born with a more outgoing personality? It seems to be two different things. Sure, it’s an asset to be a smooth talker. However, a lot of the “talkers” are gossipy, negative, or fail to pull their weight in the workplace … which in turn creates resentment for those picking up the slack.

    It does often boil down to who’s likeable, and who fits in best with the culture. As a more reserved person who puts work first and socializing second, I’ve observed the pleasing personalities getting the raises, the promotions, and the favoring of the higher-ups since I entered the workforce at 16.

    I’ve bent over backwards to try to overcome my quieter nature and be whatever it is that will render me acceptable to colleagues, and that hasn’t worked either. Frankly, this entire topic exhausts me…

  43. Andrew says:

    tl;dr

  44. Security Guard says:

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  45. Me My says:

    Please remove the picture of the high school students. I feel it is highly inappropiate to have them as a part of your website showing them to the world without their permission and especially without the permission of their parents.
    I know the children in this picture and their parents are very angry they are in this. Remove picture immediately.

    • Casual Surfer says:

      I can’t help but comment on the trollish nature of this comment. If the parents of these children really were “very angry” then wouldn’t they just call or email P to make their request? Would they need to appoint an anonymous commenter to carry this incredibly important message to P via her comment page on her post (a comment page already 65+ comments long)?

      And while the people who are in these pictures are under 18, it’s a little disrespectful to refer to them as “children”. I know that when I was 16 or 17, if someone referred to me as a child I’d be angry at that characterization. I’d bet at least half of the “children” pictured here have worked jobs more dangerous than most adults in our society (farming is not the safest occupation). Legally it may be the right term, but socially it is anything but correct to refer to someone who’s been through puberty as a child.

      So, dear Troll, are you only here because you have a thing for goats & P’s blog mentions them now and then?

      • MJ says:

        Why is this commenter a troll? Those kids might not have been asked if they wanted to be in the photo or in a controversial, overtly sexual blogger’s site – why is requesting privacy trollish?

      • EngineerChic says:

        Agree that commented seems to want to create trouble without adding much value. Seems trollish.

        A smart discussion on privacy would be interesting but that comment is not a smart discussion or even a decent intro to one.

  46. Eirini H says:

    Seeing that prom picture of yours all I can say is this:You sure looked cute back then,but you were no match for your current self;you are beautiful and elegant and classy now!Here’s to you and to women that get better the older they get!

  47. Brian Cormack Carr says:

    Great analogy between the task of navigating the uncertainty of a prom, and the many uncertainties that real life brings. I think that kind of “navigational skill” is very under-appreciated in our society, yet it’s essential to an intelligent job-hunt or career change. I support clients in avoiding awkward situations where possible, but I always remind them that deliberately going into an uncomfortable situation can be beneficial. It’s instructive, and good for the soul…

  48. Jackie Valentine says:

    Excellent post as always and great advice about getting through a scary situation over and over again. Getting out of our comfort zone is the only way we grow personally or professionally.

  49. Mary Monson says:

    Please remove the prom picture immediately.
    My daughter was asked to meet at Mr. McArthur's, Darlington High School Principal's home for prom pictures and not for you to post this picture on such a sexually explicit site as yours. You did not ask permission from my daughter; my husband or me, so please remove this picture of my daughter immediately.
    Thank you,
    Mary Monson

  50. Mike Wazowski says:

    Life will be much easier without prom, for an ugly teenager like me

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