Dolt rules: Learn these lessons from 'career idiots'

I rarely interview anyone for this column. Most of my sources are family and friends. But lately I’ve had to interview strangers. I usually don’t like to trash people I interview, but I’m at my breaking point.

Some people are so incredibly stupid about their career that I actually struggle to make them seem intelligent.

Here are two interviews with smart people who are career idiots.

Career idiot number one: The Apprentice

He really did not have a career, which was undoubtedly the cause of his ridiculous antics on the TV show that eventually got him fired. But he decided to make a career out of getting fired by becoming a public speaker.

Here are things you need to become a public speaker:

1. Something to say. This guy had nothing– except to tell me he was available for speaking.

2. An ability to answer questions from the press so that your name gets in the paper and people recognize you and hire you as a speaker. He didn’t answer my questions, which were all softballs. And he even asked to see my notes so he could edit them. I laughed.

The lesson from this career idiot is that if you must be a poser, pose carefully. When you first start being something new (for him, a public speaker), you need to pretend you’re that person so people hire you as that person. But do some research before you start pretending. At least learn the basics of how to conduct yourself.

Career idiot number two: The Painter

He was making a lot of money as VP of Something Big at his tech company, and he gave notice six months before his wife quit work to have a baby. He is starting a career as a painter. He has no idea how to sell his art or how many pieces he’ll have to sell to support his family. But he says he has to be true to himself, and painting is his dream.

He says he feels trapped at his current job. This is the picture he paints of trapped: he wanted to move across country, so his large and generous company let him set up a remote office in his new home. He hates the long hours of his lucrative job, and his company would let him go part time– but he doesn’t ask for that because he doesn’t want to like his job. He fears that if he likes his job he won’t quit to do his art.

Here’s the lesson from this career idiot: take a big-picture look at what you have. It might be a lot better than you realize. Remember the first time you woke up next to the love of your life, and up close in the morning his/her face looked splotched and scruffy and gross?

Well, jobs are like people: they never look great up close. So you need to pay attention to the big picture. This guy’s big picture is that he has a great job for supporting his new family and painting on the side, and if he’s really an artistic genius, he can make a bundle painting and quit his job.

I hate to be a buzz kill here. I’m not saying that I don’t like dreamers. I like people who reach for careers that are fulfilling but difficult. But when the odds of success are low, you don’t have to make them lower with poor planning.
Penelope Trunk
has worked for many businesses and even started a few, and now she's too busy to write her column, so this advice is reprinted from an earlier edition of the Hook.