We’ve all had them: those milestones in our lives when we are making a transition from one stage to another.  Some of them are subtle, others are huge and ceremonial.  And it’s during those times when someone passes along some advice or encouragement.  It can either be introspective and life altering (“This above all:  to thine own self, be true.”) or completely insipid (“I just want to say one word to you. . .plastics.”).

This is especially true when a fresh-faced batch of (mostly) young folks finish their degree programs and trudge through the line during a college graduation ceremony, because it signifies a transition into a more adult world.  And as such, when young people stride across the platform after their names get called and they shake the college president’s hand, they should be given a copy of The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, which is full of enough hard-nosed nuggets of advice that, while it might not be a complete road map to a fulfilling life, at least provides some directions to the main road that will get you there.

Written by 71-year-old Charles Murray, co-author of the controversial The Bell Curve and fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, The Curmudgeon’s Guide grew from a series of tips that he and his colleagues would write for the interns and entry-level staff at the institute.  Altogether, Murray presents 34 pieces of advice that are spread among four separate sections of this small book:  On Presentation of the Self in the Workplace, On Thinking and Writing Well, On the Formation of Who You Are, and On the Pursuit of Happiness.  As he lists them, they go from the specific (1. Don’t suck up) to the ethereal (34. Watch Groundhog Day repeatedly) His rationale for each piece of advice is clear and thorough, based on his own observations and experiences, and occasionally small tales of stellar success and decisive failure or obscurity.

For instance, he illustrates his piece of advice number 21. Recalibrate your perspective on time with the contrasting stories of Steve Jobs and Ted Sorenson, who was John F. Kennedy’s 32-year-old chief speechwriter and part of the new breed of young politicos in the age of Camelot.  Jobs had incredible success with Apple as a start-up in his twenties, but he made lots of amateurish mistakes that forced him out of the company when he was 30.  However, a decade later, he returned and made it one of the most profitable companies in the history of civilization.  Ted Sorenson, meanwhile, after Kennedy’s assassination, had a successful career as an attorney, but found that his best years were behind him. Only historians (might) know his name.

Along the way, we get his take on tattoos in the workplace (“. . .don’t try to tell [us] that tattoos have become an art form. . .we think that’s like trying to say paintings of Elvis on dinner plates are an art form.); the sense of entitlement that some young folks have (“. . .[we] are also likely to think that you have a higher opinion of your abilities than your performance warrants.”); getting real jobs instead of getting internships (which he calls affirmative action for the advantaged); and coming to grips with the difference between being nice and being good (“Being nice involves immediate actions and immediate consequences. . . .Being good involves living in the world so that you contribute to the welfare of your fellow human beings.”).

So why is this advice dispensed by a curmudgeon?  By someone who already has a grouchy outlook on life and whose tolerance for bullcrap is either low or nonexistent?  Mainly because the places where young folks will undoubtedly get their first jobs are run by them.  Even the most laid-back web application development shop full of young people is run by someone who, if not exactly a curmudgeon now, will develop those tendencies over time simply because of the grueling realities of doing business and dealing with people every day.  So when Noah McSkinnyjeans slumps into the office and smells like he’s been wearing the same unwashed shirt for the last month, and clients are on site to negotiate a deal that could finally take the company into the black, the boss will have something to say to him.

So curmudgeons have a perspective that combines the philosophy of a life fully lived with a short, sharp slap to the back of your head.

Advice from them comes from people who truly know.

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