All yours: The Oscar for career inspirations goes to...
When the Oscars run (probably overtime) on Sunday, I don't know who to root for. Back in 2003, I was rooting for Lost in Translation for best picture. Not that I have seen the other competitors, but I loved this particular movie. In fact, I was so impressed that I read up on Sofia Coppola. In the process, I learned about career management by how she managed hers.
Of course, Sofia has had more advantages than most fledgling directors. Her dad, Francis Ford Coppola, provided her with a stunning apprenticeship, including a part in The Godfather: Part III, screenwriter lessons, and producing Lost in Translation for her.
But before I launch into a celebration of Sofia Coppola, I need to say that the U.S. is not a meritocracy: Rich people are better connected, so they get better jobs. And rich people who are not well connected tend to get better jobs because they have an easier time envisioning themselves in a successful career than poorer people.
An example: My younger brother, at 21, emerged from doing almost no homework in high school, and then he landed a job most college graduates would covet: investment banking in Europe.
He used connections and a lofty vision of himself to get it. He started on his career path in high school by getting a management job at a Blockbuster store. This was easy in the wealthy community where we were raised because no adults there wanted (or needed) this type of job. That left the entry-level management jobs to high school students.
At my local Blockbuster store in sort-of-rough-and-tumble Brooklyn, the managers are in their thirties. So the first moment of inequality is that rich kids can get great jobs in high school.
Since he had been an actual manager before, I was able to give him a management job in my own company during the summer after his freshman year of college. And I concede he did an outstanding job. But only a sister would give an18-year-old a management job in a software company.
The next year, my cousin, a high ranking guy at a big ad agency, gave my brother a summer internship even though my brother missed the deadline for applying and wasn't in business school like all the other interns. And to be honest, my brother did a great job of mending fences with a basically estranged cousin. He also had a stellar resumé written by yours truly.
So by the time my brother graduated from college, he had great experience on his resumé that helped him land his new job in Europe. I don't begrudge him that. And I admit that with a lot of effort and even more luck, a poor kid could land the same positions as my brother. But it's clear he had a million advantages that poor kids don't have, so he didn't need as much luck.
Speaking of people who don't need luck, let's get back to Sofia. In Sofia's world, though, you don't just ask for something– you operate as though you'll definitely get it. The difference is that my brother and others like him still need to make contingency plans, whereas really well connected people don't. Thinking this way is what helps them to succeed.
So Sofia Coppola wrote Lost in Translation for Bill Murray before he said he'd make a movie with her. Once she finished the script, it took her months to finally get it to him. Then she left messages on his 800-number for five months before he responded to the script.
Sofia did, in fact, take a gamble, even though she wasn't in danger of starving like some screenwriters are. And with the biggest risks come the biggest rewards.
Maybe rich people can afford to take more risks. But my point is that by believing in yourself, as Sofia Coppola did, you may be able to leap career hurdles you once thought were impossible. How could you not root for her?
Penelope Trunk has started several companies and worked for many more. She penned this column several years ago, but she's busy with new things–- too busy to write new things.