The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two

It's super important to embrace to make mistakes, because it is only through mistakes we learn and become better at our craft, no matter what it is. 

What I enjoyed about the article below is that Ross differentiates between mistake and failure. I am sure you have been told as well to “Fail early and often.” But just like him I think the word "fail" or "failing" does us all a disservice.  To strive to fail is to aim for an ultimate negative result while if we allow ourselves to make mistakes, it does not mean the result will be failure. Besides helping us to grow and become better at what we do, mistakes can also lead us to achieve an all-together better result since we might consider an approach we might not have considered before. 

So go forth and make mistakes! I do daily...

The importance of sucking at a new job for a year or two

by Ross McCammon via

You suck.

Also: I suck.

I don’t know what it is that you suck at, but you suck at something very important. You suck at things you will someday not suck at. But for now, you are not good at these things. In fact, you suck at them.

This must be accepted.

It might take a while. So I’ll wait.

You know what? I’ll do it too.

While we’re both accepting that we suck, let’s talk about failure.

Failure is huge right now. It’s being studied. It’s being written about. It’s being blogged about. “Fail early and often,” we’re told. “Surrender to the pain of failure.” “Failure is fundamental.” The latest key to success is to fail but to fail in the right way.

But is there a right way to fail? Is there a right way to submit work you know is half-baked, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to stumble through a presentation to the sales staff, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to indiscreetly talk about another magazine at a party and then turn around and two editors from that magazine are right behind you, like I did during my first few months at Esquire? Is there a right way to have a story killed? Is there a right way to do shit work?

I don’t think actual failure is what’s being discussed. “Failure” is just the word that makes the books and articles seem more intriguing than they actually are. Actual failure is awful and expensive. It’s devastating. Failure teaches you nothing. You should not consider “failure” a positive outcome. Not early. Not often. Not ever, if you can help it. Really, what’s being discussed is: mistakes.

All of the studies that the books and blog posts cite basically boil down to two messages. 1. Humans hate to make mistakes. 2. A key determinant of success is both accepting that you will make mistakes and paying attention to the mistakes that you make.

One of the most cited experts on this topic is Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, who pioneered the idea of “mind-sets.” People with “fixed mind-sets,” she says, believe their abilities are unchangeable—a belief that causes them to shy away from situations in which they might fail. By contrast, people with “growth mind-sets” embrace challenges because they believe they can become smarter and more capable even if they don’t succeed. They’re willing to get things wrong, but more important, they’re ready to listen to the feedback. Screwing up is not a defining thing. This is such a useful attitude to have. I’ve been at my current job for 10 years and I’ve only just recently adopted this mentality. It’s made my work better. It’s made the process more efficient. And I have a lot more time to spend with my family.

What people with a growth mind-set know is that mistakes are useful when you’re willing to have a conversation about them, when you’re willing to be corrected.

But actual failure? Humiliating, devastating failure?

Aside from teaching us that certain decisions are bad decisions and that we should not make them twice, failure totally blows. But mistakes are amazing.

The main failure of my first couple of years in New York was the shame I felt at making mistakes. If I have a regret, this is it. I was too caught up in the fear of making mistakes. I sometimes acted timidly. In the short term, I probably did “better” work, but in the long term I did worse work because I didn’t allow myself to get my mistakes over with early. I would stay at work until midnight working on a headline. I would refine a single joke over two or three days. There is nothing wrong with focusing on the details. But focusing on the details at the expense of your personal life is not a good idea.

Now that I’m a manager, if I see someone hanging on to something for what I think is too long, I will tell them to give it to me. As is. Just turn it over. Doing work too fast is a bad idea. But doing work too slow is a terrible idea. The last thing a boss wants is to be left without any options if the work isn’t good enough. Being fastidious is possibly the worst thing a young worker can do. The work is probably not going to get to where it needs to be no matter how long you hang on to it. So turn it in early and then make corrections. You’re supposed to do bad work.

Everyone wants you to do bad work.


Your boss wants you to get it out of your system and learn what not to do. He’s certainly expecting it.

And your peers want you to make mistakes too. Either they understand the value of a fearless colleague or they just want to feel superior...if they even notice. Loads of studies have shown that we tend to think people pay attention to us twice as much as they actually do. This is the spotlight effect. (Turns out my mom was right about this, which she repeated to me on a weekly basis during my adolescence.)

And you don’t realize it, but you want to do bad work too. Because in every bit of bad work, there is always a kernel of something good. Bad work is 2 to 13 percent good. Your job is to pick through the mess you create and find that good. Other people will help you find it. Let them.

Ross McCammon is the author of Works Well With Others.

Do yourself a favor and work in Hollywood when you start out!

....even if you don't stay in the film business, it will be invaluable in how it will shape you and how it will make you the best worker you can be. I couldn't agree more than with what Artestia speaks about in her article. It is hard, tough and extremely detail oriented and only for people who are willing to show up, put in the time and are not afraid of long hours. I have always appreciated coming up in Hollywood, I know it has made me a better worker and a better person, because no matter how cutthroat the business is, if you have no integrity you won't go far.

Why Everybody Should Work in Hollywood


It may have a reputation as a land of endless sunshine and beautiful people, but it’s a grueling, demanding, cut-throat business—and it will change your career.

I’m convinced that working in Hollywood is the most effective and efficient way to teach people how to work.

You have to work well under constant pressure. You have to be responsible for more things than anyone should have to be responsible for. And you have to be cunning. I’ve worked in the development and production of major motion pictures and television, then switched over to working in content at an advertising agency, and now work as a creative director at a media company, but in all my travels, the most incredible workers were those who got their start in the film & television biz. When I think about the things that make me good at my job, I can trace them back to what I learned being at the bottom of the food chain in Hollywood and fighting my way up. Here’s what I learned:

There is no other option. If you aren’t good with your time and you can’t stay organized, you’ll never make it in this town. It’s too fast, there’s too much happening, and it’s too demanding. You are in the office before your boss and stay long after. You are the manager and keeper of every aspect of their life — their schedule, their calls, their projects, their meetings, and yes, their personal stuff. I had a boss who expected me to make sure their car was always filled with gas. If they ever left the studio and didn’t have enough gas to get where they were going, it was my fault (I had to occasionally ask for their keys, go to their studio spot, turn on their car, check for the levels, and drive to the gas station if it was low and pray I didn’t crash the car). I knew another assistant who had to always drive their boss to a waxing appointment because they wanted to take a Xanax. Another had to take their boss’s online traffic school for them when they got a ticket. You are their keeper (of their lives and their secrets). And because you’re busy managing their lives, your life takes a backseat. I would forget things like friends’ birthdays or to pay bills. On top of that, I also read every incoming script, so I’d get in an additional two hours early to make sure I could knock two out before I even started my regular day.

I suffered in my first Hollywood assistant gig because everything took me longer than the other assistants at the studio. I pride myself at being an organized person, but I didn’t grasp the kind of organized my boss needed me to be — it was their office, not mine. Not only is there just so much to do and keep track of, you need to learn to do it their way. I tried all sorts of methods to help this boss stay organized until we finally came to the conclusion that maybe we just weren’t a match. Our personalities were too different and I was too far down the spiral to be able to pick myself up and come back; I felt defeated. It was heartbreaking. I had always been reliable, smart, efficient, and well, wanted. And here I was, a lowly assistant whose duties I thought I should be able to easily master, questioning my work ethic. But it did make me better. I was more prepared to deal with job #2. It was a fresh start and I went in eyes open on learning how to work with a specific kind of personality, how to deliver on unique expectations, and how to stop negative thinking from affecting my work. I was a machine at my next job and while that one had a new set of challenges, I am still astounded at how much I got done each day.

When I moved into other roles at adjacent industries, I was SHOCKED to see such poor follow through. Great ideas flowed, but the hustle and accountability lacked. When you’re dealing with the desperation and starvation when it comes to Hollywood dreams, people will do whatever it takes to get those dreams actualized. I learned that I was the only one responsible for making things happen and no one was going to do that but me. By climbing the ladder of success, producing a film, or getting a project off the ground, I realized the ability to just get things done was an invaluable skill.

You have to constantly make decisions and quickly and not fuck up. Should I interrupt Boss in their current meeting that they told me not to interrupt them for, but if I don’t, they’ll lose out on this script? High Profile Celebrity is scheduled for a dinner with Boss and when you confirmed the reservation the restaurant didn’t have it and now what? Should I tell Boss they have some personal messages on the answering machine when there’s a very graphic one a friend sent and if I tell them, we’ll both know I heard it, but if I don’t will they not get it? Every day. Constantly. Exhaustively. There are choices to be made, some important, some not so much, except in Hollywood, it’s all important. Because when you fuck up in Hollywood, it makes your life so much more miserable than any other industry because there’s no room for mistakes. They are unforgivable.

The irony: The only way to learn how not to fuck up IS to fuck up. But you also make other decisions a lot faster — about yourself. While your peers dawdle for months or years figuring out what they’re good at or what they love, the pressure cooker of Hollywood speeds up that process for you. Because you’re constantly fucking up, you figure out quickly how to not fuck up. Since you’re feeling the wrath of fucking up all the time, you learn about what kind of boss you want to be in the future (or in my case, what kind of boss I absolutely didn’t want to be). And because you figure out what you do and no not want to put up with, you make choices about the career you want, the work that interests you, and the things in your life that matter a lot faster. I once got my dream job… or rather what I thought was my dream job; except, I was in tears every night because my boss at the time was such an awful human and made my life miserable. But that misery taught me a lot, the biggest is that I now have a “no asshole” policy. It doesn’t matter the work or the job, I now only work with people I enjoy spending time with and for bosses I like and respect.

You have to learn every agent’s name and the names of their assistant of the week. You need to know who the current hot writers are, their entire body of work, and you better have read it all too. You need to remember who “the people” are of the celebrities you work with (managers, agents, PR reps, etc.), their kids’ names, their birthdays, and their blood type. You need to know everyone’s name on set and have their contact information at the ready. The point is, you need to remember volumes and volumes of information. And I don’t mean just have Google at the ready — YOU need to be ready. When your boss asks you, you have less than a second to respond. No time for you to go digging through your phone or notebook; you just have to know. And you know what? You get pretty good at it. I did. I became a sponge. I learned all those names and kept track of who was moving to other agencies or studios. When I worked on sets, I made a mini version of the crew list and callsheets, laminated them, and kept them on a key ring around my neck. I was always ready for whatever information I needed to conjure up in a moment. And I still have a reputation for being a steel trap. I trained my brain to be like that and it’s served me incredibly well.

Because of the pace of life (the pressure cooker, the harsh hours, the personalities), you learn to be detailed and get to the point. Boss can’t be expected to remember everything (that’s your job — see previous point) and has better things to do than talk to you, so you are always detailed in your communication. You don’t just say, “your 1 p.m. is here” (the standard time for a Hollywood lunch). You say, “your 1pm lunch with High Profile Celebrity is just pulling up to the lot, so they’re about five minutes out and I’ve laid out lunch in the conference room (and yes, no mayo).” You don’t just say you’re almost done with script coverage. You say you’re almost done with “X script that came in Tuesday by Big Writer and Y script by Lesser Known Writer that came in today and everyone is talking about it, so they’ll have coverage for both by 8 p.m.” There is no room for follow-up questions that will annoy Boss or for speeches. And if they’re asking about something?You’ve already failed. You fucked up. I had a boss that would tell me five times a day “constant updates” and I have their voice in my head to this day. They wanted to know exactly what was happening with everything throughout the day and if they had to ask, they were pissed. I needed to be on the ready and find the moments throughout the day to proactively update them.

Speaking of being proactive, it’s the game changer in all of this. On my first internship, I watched in awe as efficient assistants would organize something because they saw a need for it, on top of their mountains of work, without being asked. I know that sounds pretty basic, but it was a great lesson to learn so young. You weren’t going to get anywhere by doing just what’s asked of you — you need to step it up. Because this is Hollywood and we’re all starving. So be better than the person next to you, be indispensable, and be proactive when it comes to making your boss and everyone else at the company’s lives better. See what needs fixing and just FIX IT. I apply the same skills in a senior role when it comes to growing a team, growing a business, and making things better and more efficient. It’s also the only way you’re going to get promoted out of that assistant role — the only thing that matters.

You’ll put up with screamers, manipulators, phonies, people that get away with shit that makes you look around incredulously at everyone else that’s allowing them to act that way, people that only want to be friends with you because of where you work, celebrities you need to function around even if they’re your heroes, and people treating you and hitting on you in ways that would be deemed incredibly unprofessional and liable in any other industry. You let it all roll off you. You have to. Because you tell yourself if you’re miserable for just this one year, this one job, the payoff will be big.

So you endure. Because it’s all a game, the most difficult game on the planet. In Hollywood, he who lasts the longest, makes it. And you realize the fucking up, the crazies, the long hours, and the immense effort it all takes…that’s what makes you better; the best. Because the biggest thing it teaches you is to keep pushing, keep fighting, keep getting better, keep learning.