Whose Problem Is It Anyway?

by John Pellegrini

This is essentially a little more rambling on the subject of attitudes and how they can make or break you. This time I'm going to get a bit more personal than before because I feel the best way to illustrate what I have been talking about and why I have been talking about it is to cite my own experiences. Pretty much everything I've written about in Radio And Production, just like all the other writers, comes from my own experiences in "the biz." And after fifteen years in various forms of radio or advertising, not only do I have a lot of experiences to write about, but I'm now finding that hindsight is making much of it a lot clearer and easier to figure out what happened and why.

The one thing I've learned, possibly the hardest, is that your attitude is your only hope. Your attitude is everything. If you have an attitude problem, there's going to be lots of problems for you. I guess you could say I always had a bit of an attitude problem in this business. But in my younger days, I considered it an important criteria for the job, especially when I was working on air as a disk jockey. My sources for this opinion were industry pros and famous radio personalities who all flaunted their attitude problems as part of their schtick. I'm not saying that's the wrong approach. After all, you've got to have some kind of personality to get you recognized, and I just didn't identify with the other type of air personality in vogue at the time, which was the eternally happy, smiley guy. Young and rebellious was how I felt, and that attitude pretty much carried me through most of my career to this point.

That said, I will now admit that I have been fired from exactly two jobs in radio, both in the same town, both within two months of each other. Las Vegas was the location. Here's the story. I had been, up to that point, living in Chicago, trying to make it as an actor (read that: unemployed). I was in with a group that was trying to make a go of creating a syndicated radio theater company. Yep, radio theater in the 1980s! We almost had it, too. We had sponsors lined up. We had spent money to create the demos. We even had stations expressing interest in carrying our stuff.

Then, just as the final negotiations were about to begin, four of our lead people, including the person who was handling most of the negotiations, decided to take the summer off and go to England to study with the Royale Shakespeare Company. Two days notice to the rest of us, and they were gone. "Maybe we'll start again in the Fall," they said. Meanwhile, I'm left with rent and living expenses and no money.

Fortunately, a friend of mine had gone to work for a radio station in Kansas City. And it turned out, their sister station in Las Vegas needed a Production Director. I flew out to talk. They liked me. I thought it was a good group, so off I went.

Now, here's where attitude can really screw you up. I had been free-lancing for some advertising agencies in Chicago, both in voice work and copywriting. I thought I was The Big Deal. Having worked in market number three, I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that anything I did was far superior to the lame garbage that must surely be produced by agencies and stations in Vegas, which at that time was market number seventy-five. Think maybe my ego was a bit oversized?

Well, suffice it to say that my ego, combined with my condescending attitude toward all others, eventually got to be very irritating to my bosses at the station. So, just four mere months after I was hired, I was fired. Dismissed. I couldn't believe it! How could they fire a genius like me? Fortunately again, I knew some other people in radio in the market by then, and one of them offered me a job at his radio station--similar format. They could only afford to pay me half of what I was making at the first station, but I figured I could at least pay my rent, so I took the job.

So what did I do as an act of thanks for hiring me when I really needed the job? Mostly complain about what a bunch of lousy jerks the other station was for firing me, and then check to see if there was any way this other station could bring my salary up. Of course, I also mentioned that while I was grateful that they had hired me, I was definitely going to be going for other jobs with other stations until I could find one worthy of my talents.

Pretty good, huh? Two months later, I was fired again. I guess they got tired of my whining. I don't blame them. Looking back, I was a pretty self-absorbed jackass. The worst of it is, about six months ago I found an old tape of what I had considered my production "highlights" from those two stations. Complete garbage. Lame. Nothing spectacular or remotely interesting on it. And certainly not worthy of the attitude I had toward my abilities. I don't know if I ever want to listen to that tape again.

Being the responsible thinking person that I was at the time, I decided to blame the stations for firing me. Mature reasoning, eh? I ended up living in Vegas exactly six months. I got a job lead from another friend and wound up here in Grand Rapids. Then about a year and nine months later, ended up working at 'KLQ.

So what is the moral of the story? Simply this: If I hadn't been such an egotistical and ignorant putz, I probably would still have one of those jobs. Honestly, both stations were not bad places to work. The PDs for both were decent and fair with me until my attitude became way too overbearing. Hell, if it were me today, I would have fired me way before they did. But here's the real clincher: if I had accepted responsibility toward my actions and really worked on my attitude, I could have probably even weathered out being fired from both stations. I was also doing free-lance work for several agencies in Vegas, as well as a TV station. Had I been smart, instead of "Mr. Know-it-all," I could have easily networked my way into several decent paying voice work gigs. Of course, then I never would have moved to Michigan and never met my wife, so there's no use in speculating. Living in the world of "If only I'd done this..." is foolish. You make the most of what you get.

Let's write that sentence again. You make the most of what you get. That's probably the single greatest piece of advice that I can give, because it's the lesson I learned from all this cross country job fun. Don't ever let yourself get really upset with your job. Sure, sometimes the job may suck; sometimes the radio station can be run poorly. But if you are truly honest with yourself, you must be able to recognize that you are just as responsible for the situation you have. And only you can change it.

How? By demonstrating responsibility for your work and your self. By acting responsibly and by being accountable for all your output. Do not ever expect someone else to take care of things for you or your job. Why? Because when someone else does it, you're showing the powers that be how well they can get along without you. That's the quickest way to get your salary eliminated. I'm not saying do everything yourself. After all, there has to be some delegation. But make it a responsible delegation and work with people to show them that you've got all your bases covered.

Although most of us Production Directors are actual "directors" in name only, and there is almost no real authority to go with the job, that doesn't mean we cannot delegate or teach. The third base coach or pitching coach on the ball team has no authority to hire or fire, but their coaching and teaching is what makes or breaks the team. That's our job. We aren't the manager, or the owner, but we are one of the coaches. If we're demonstrating our importance to the bosses by coaching the rest of the air staff to do better production, and coaching the sales staff to help clients get better commercials, then we are doing our jobs responsibly and professionally. Then there's no need to whine about anything.

And, believe me that I speak from experience. The world of radio is small enough that even if you may not get the recognition you think you deserve at your current situation, someone out there in radio land is aware of you and is definitely thinking about how they can get you to coach for their team. Don't worry about recognition. If you're good enough, you'll get it soon enough. Just keep your attitude focused on what's important, namely the job and your conduct. The older I get (now thirty-seven years) combined with getting married, has taught me that immaturity and carelessness, while it can be fun, is certainly no way to live, at least not full-time. You can really hurt yourself in more ways than one with your attitude. Irresponsibility tends to follow you home and get you into a load of trouble in your personal life as well as in your career. Living your life for now and making no plans for your future will definitely put you in a dead end at the very moment when you need all the options you can get. Why wait for the crisis?

Think in the long term. Yeah, you may only want to work in your current situation for as little time as possible on your way up to the big time. That's okay; that's thinking ahead and having goals. But what you do today will come back to haunt you in the future. What kind of image do you want to have? Know that what you do today will be the image that people will have of you and your abilities, forever. No amount of "making up for it" or "that was then, this is now" will change most people's opinions. As we all know, it's far easier to think negatively about someone for a long time than to think positively. The person you thought was a schmuck at your last station may turn out to be the one today who could have offered you a "dream job" with a giant salary if you hadn't been such an idiot back then. It happens a lot more often than you might think.

A simple rule of thought that seems to work best for me, when I remember to use it, is to ask myself before I react to any situation: "Is this how I want to be remembered by this person? If not, then what do I have to change in my approach to remedy this?" Taking a few minutes to think about this before I react or reply has really helped me stay focused on being better at my attitude. Nothing changes overnight, but gradually, you will see some positive results. And if you want to continue in what you are doing as your career, then simply subtract your current age from sixty-five and see how many years you've got to go on your attitude problem. Frightening, isn't it?

There's another book I'd like to recommend called One Door Closes, Another Door Opens by Arthur Pine. It's a fast reading book with personal stories from many famous people from today as well as the past. In these stories you'll see how many of the so-called "overnight" successes actually took years, if not decades, to occur with lots of careful and strategic planning--valuable insight on how attitudes can affect your job and your career. And in some instances you'll see how some extremely successful people didn't even start out their careers in the field that they became famous for. It wasn't until they lost the job or situation that they had and were forced to go into something else that they found their true vocation and their successes. One door closes, another door opens.

The conclusion to this is, if you want to feel sorry for yourself and if you're always saying, "how come nobody treats me with the respect I deserve?" and if you're constantly unhappy with your career, then be prepared to get that for the rest of your life. You get back what you give out. But if you decide to buckle down and really make an effort for yourself, somewhere out there, maybe not where you currently are, but eventually, you will achieve your goals.

Why does it take so long to get your success? First you have to prove to the powers that be that you deserve it, that you are willing to do the work to get it. Secondly, reward without effort is meaningless. You read all the time about people who inherited great sums of wealth or won the lottery and are unhappy. That's because they put no effort into getting their wealth. But ask anyone who had to work huge hours and put tremendous effort into their goals, and they'll tell you they'd do it over again without question. They might do it differently because they've learned how to work smarter, but they would do it again. You just have to believe that it will happen, and your goals must be clear and exact. But make sure your goals and your methods of achieving them are realistic. As W. C. Fields said, "If at first you don't succeed, try again, then quit. No use being a damn fool about it."