When I was a young woman I thought I wanted to be something like the CEO of IBM.
‘What are your plans Cheryl?’
‘I’d like to be CEO of a multi-national company, or maybe an International lawyer’.
‘Are you taking steps to accomplish these goals?’
‘Yes. I’m a 2nd year undergrad student majoring in Graphic Design and I have a smokin’ disco wardrobe’.
Instead (amongst other advocations) I became CEO of the CEO of a multi-national company who has lawyers on retainer.
Sometimes, ya gotta go where your talents lead.
It’s been a good gig, but with a learning curve.
Over the course of 30+ years I have played all the parts in this penny opera we call ‘successful ladder climbing’, starting at the bottom of the rung (over-dressed with the wrong shoes on) all the way to a good view where I’ve chosen the band, drink too much, and don’t give a shit.
In case you are attempting to scale a ladder of your own, this is my advise:
Like most things in life, it’s smart to ‘show-up’. Do that, now and again- at THE office. People need to see the ‘significant other’, if only to remind them that even the idiot boss has married above pay grade. Very relatable. They’re thinking the same thing.
Remember the names of spouses, and children, and hobbies, but especially remember the names of the pets. Their pets haven’t bled them dry or called them an asshole recently. They will have a smartphone full of photos. Show yours too, and revel in the inane conversation between adults as they express their secret kitty voices. It’s leveling.
Consider a late change of routine (‘Honey, I have a business dinner tonight’) as a gift to turn-on the Best Of Donna Summer and break out those dance moves you’re still so good at as you consider that he never takes you dancing anymore and where the hell did your youth go with this bum begins to disappear to the electronic beats of formulaic synth muzak.
Have a ‘go-to’ outfit at the ready for last minute entertaining (because there WILL be “Holy Shit. Tonight? Here?” moments). This outfit should satisfy most occasions and be appropriate to any season. This will mean black, in layers, and look like yoga pants- with pearls.
Have a ‘go-to’ meal at the ready for last minute entertaining (because there WILL be “Holy Shit. Tonight? You’re dead” moments). This meal should satisfy most occasions and be appropriate to any season. This will mean grilled, marinated in Kraft Italian Salad Dressing, and look like
yoga pants Farm to Table- with pearl… onions.
Know your audience and their hobbies. If he enjoys fly fishing with thousands of dollars of ‘outback’ clothes and equipment, so that he can catch a $5 fish and throw it back, and she enjoys flying in thousand dollar first class seats, so that she has unlimited drinks served before take-off and throw those back- you can rest assured that they have their priorities straight and will welcome your seemingly disjointed priorities as inspired.
Be as well versed in the perceived concussion of raising the minimum wage as you are in traversing the legal loopholes of an off-shore tax shelter. Hypocrisy knows no bounds and will be seated at your table often.
Be able to drink with the men and nurse the crap out of a Chablis spritzer with the women- sometimes at the same event.
Don’t be afraid to excuse yourself with the promise of, “Let’s do this again soon,” when you have no intention of making good. It’s called Polite Society. Everyone is lying.
You can talk politics (Conservative). You can talk religion (Protestant), and you can talk money (Thriftiness)- as long as it’s about how you couldn’t find a dollar for the homeless guy on the corner as you speed through his intersection in a Suburban, how you enjoy a good sermon as long as it’s 20 minutes long, and you gamed the system at Bed Bath & Beyond on double coupon day. Everyone loves a winner.
Change your accent, your grammar, your point-of-reference depending on who/what/where you are. If you are at a penthouse fete in NYC, feel free to complement the catering: “The escargot is simply delicious. I can taste the wheatgrass that leans into the fjord and the crisp glacial melt that lends character to the texture. Something ‘domestic’ is soooo lacking in.” If you are at a BBQ picnic in Little Rock, feel free to do the same: “That pork haunch is as tender as a baby’s butt. I can taste your momma’s lovin’ like she was here right now, bless her heart. I like my Q from the backyard it was slaughtered in, not on toast lathered in bullshit.” Same meaning. Only the geography has changed.
Find something to compliment when you are dining at a restaurant of someone else’s choice (even if the meal is undercooked and overpriced) and two compliments when someone is cooking for you- “No. I haven’t tried eye of bat with a bechamel sauce, but I’ve been meaning to totally commit to Cave to Table”, usually confuses them while allowing you to stay true to your inner gag reflect.
And aside from the plastered smiles and the feigned interest in Little Johnny’s toilet training, the well placed sports statistic you just lifted from ESPN and no real interest in emerging markets, the trips to boring conferences and the Christmas cards you would rather gouge your eyes out with a dull spoon than sign, stamp and send, keep acting like you give a shit.
Until you don’t have to anymore.
It’s one of the perks to the Executive Lounge.