When we last saw our hero, he had just asked Grant Tinker, then-president of NBC, for advice on landing his dream job. For more, read Part 1 of Todd’s story, How I Risked Everything to Pursue My Dream Job.
“Excuse me, Mr. Tinker. I hate to bother you. I was an intern at NBC in New York last summer, and the reason I’m on this flight is because I’m moving out to L.A. to try to get a job in the TV industry, hopefully at NBC. It’s my dream job. Again, I’m sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you might have just a minute to give me some advice or suggestions, or anything that would point me in the right direction once I get out there.”
Yes, that’s how I introduced myself to Grant Tinker, the head of NBC. I walked into first class and asked, point blank, if he could give me a few pointers for getting started in the TV industry. When I finished, there was a pause that seemed to go on for eons (OK, it was probably only a second or two). Then the president of my favorite network smiled, slid over to the window seat, extended his hand, and said, “Sure, sit down for a minute. What’s your name?”
So, there I was: 24 years old, unemployed, with nothing in the world but a dream and two suitcases, sitting in first class on my way to L.A., chatting with the head of NBC.
I’ll spare you the details of the actual conversation, but the bottom line is this: the president of what was then the number one television network in the country was generous enough to take five minutes of his valuable time to share the wisdom of his experience with a young, aspiring job seeker.
I never ended up working at NBC, but I left that conversation on an emotional high, beaming with hope and optimism, and confident that I had made the right decision. And although I am 99.9 percent sure that Mr. Tinker doesn’t recall that brief interaction of so many years ago, his words and generosity still resonate with me today.
As for my career, it took a while — with a lot of ups and downs — to finally get on track. I took a number of “survival jobs” to pay the bills, including doing telephone sales for the L.A. Times during the day (pure, monotonous torture and hours of rejection), followed by my evening job as a bouncer at a Burbank nightclub (don’t ask).
But after months of perseverance, I finally caught a break.
There was a brief internship at Aaron Spelling Productions, followed by a stint in casting administration at Columbia Pictures Television, and then a job as assistant to a writer/producer at Disney Television. Then, at last, I landed my crowning position as assistant to the manager of drama program development at CBS. I was 25 years old, and I had finally made it into a TV network.
Unfortunately, working for an abusive psycho-boss at CBS forced me to leave the industry that I loved (or, more accurately, that I thought I was going to love), never to return. After a few exciting years as a project manager in the theme park business, I ultimately moved back to New York and got into the management training field, which is what I do today.
It might seem like working in television and my current career as a management, leadership, and presentation skills consultant, trainer, and coach have nothing in common. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
My experience in the entertainment industry taught me so much: storytelling (a crucial skill for successful leaders!); the power of visual thinking and visual communication; the effective use of metaphor and analogy; innovation and creativity; teamwork and collaboration; how to design a presentation and pitch an idea that motivates, inspires, and influences others; and so much more.
And, from my years in Hollywood, I learned numerous other life lessons that I regularly draw on as a leadership trainer, coach, and adjunct professor at NYU:
- The job, company, or industry that you THINK would be the perfect fit for you, may, in reality, not be.
- We can learn as much (and sometimes more) from bad bosses as from good bosses.
- Every experience is a valuable learning experience, even though we may not realize it at the time.
Drawing on our backgrounds in the television and film industries, my brother Steve and I differentiate our company, BigBlueGumball, from other similar training companies by living up to our motto, “We make training entertaining!”TM as well as our mantra, “Educate, Engage, & Excite!”TM
Do I miss the glamor and excitement of working in the entertainment industry? Well, I got to go to numerous TV show tapings and wrap parties. I got to sit on Seinfeld’s couch and on Norm’s bar stool on the Cheers set. I got to meet Lucille Ball, Tom Hanks, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. I had lunch with Vanna White, rode up in an elevator, alone, with Vanessa Williams, and, most memorable (and surreal) of all, I spent a half hour being interviewed, one-on-one, by Pee Wee Herman to be his personal assistant.
So, do I miss it? Maybe just a little.