All that charisma can be as much liability as asset if it's not correctly managed...
One of the Teachable Moments that emerged from last week’s Crashergate scandal might be this: when you sign on to make your employer shine, your own light will have to be dimmed a little. Especially if you were a star to begin with.
Desiree Rogers became White House Social Secretary and Special Assistant to the President precisely because she was a star—and a good friend. Her corporate and social résumés were impressive and she is universally acknowledged to be a charming, generous host for her own private parties, and the more public ones she has agreed to sponsor in the past.
That panache got Rogers listed in some of the nation’s most prestigious fashion and entertaining bibles, and no doubt brought her to mind when the White House began looking for exactly the right person to head the office that would showcase its style to the outside world.
But anyone with that much charisma has a problem, even when her employers are themselves significantly charismatic: this is the time to make sure your employers are front and center. Always.
Rogers’ appointment follows a well-established pattern of social secretaries being good friends to the First Ladies they serve. The most famous example is Leticia Baldridge, probably the last great social secretary who, with her employer, set the tone for the Kennedy White House, went to boarding school with Jacqueline Kennedy.
But they always made their bosses shine first. Even today, Baldridge says “we” and “Mrs. Kennedy,” not “I.”
So it wasn’t a big deal for these women to stand on the steps and greet guests as they entered the White House for state dinners.
Now the newest social secretary is being pasted for not greeting guests, but being one: she walked the press line, posed for photos and became fodder for the chattering classes by sticking out from the formal versions of Ann Taylor-wear normally seen at state occasions by coming to dinner in cutting-edge Japanese couture.
Some have even suggested that Rogers step down, since they feel she can’t contain her own ego needs to serve the First Lady. That probably won’t happen. For one thing, Rogers has a powerful protector and loyal friend in Obama mentor Valerie Jarrett. For another, Michelle Obama values Rogers’ style and savvy; the First Lady clearly feels her social secretary has her back when it counts, regardless of what she’s wearing.
Every new administration has its learning curve, and this may have been Rogers’. It’s a sure bet that she didn’t get as far as she’s gotten by not grasping what’s important right away. And if I were a betting person—which I’m not—I’d be betting that she’ll be the woman overseeing the next state dinner, that she’ll be personally greeting guests as they ascend the White House steps and that she will be still be gorgeous, but less obvious.
Karen Grigsby Bates’ newest book, A Century And Come Change: My Life Before the President Called My Name, by Ann Nixon Cooper with Karen Grigsby Bates. (Atria), will be published in January.
The recession's easing a little and purse strings are loosening just a bit. If you want to say "thanks" to caregivers, helpers and others who keep your life in good shape during the year, here's s little guidance...
It's that time of year again--Black Friday has come and gone, the economy has been declared on the mend (perhaps prematurely, but the hope is we've seen the worst of it) and purse strings are loosening a little bit. If you normally gift the people who are helpers, caregivers or who take care of your beauty and grooming needs, here's a reprise of the tipping guide many people found helpful last year. Remember, it's a guide, not a mandate. Any token of appreciation, however small, is usually received with gratitude because it meant you put thought in to pleasing the recipient.
Best wishes to all for a happy holiday filled with good memories of the season and beyond!
Do ask if you can help, and if you're told "no thanks," remove yourself from the kitchen.
It wouldn't be Thanksgiving without turkey and drama, right? Not everyone will eat turkey (vegans, vegetarians, some of my Root colleagues who just don't like the bird), but everyone will come to dinner, and whether we're guests or hosts, we have responsibilities:
If you're a guest: come on time, but don't come early and expect the host to entertain you.
If you've been asked to contribute a dish, make sure it can be shared. Bring what the host asked you to bring ("you said broccoli, but broccoli didn't sound like Thanksgiving to me, so I brought spinach...) and bring it in quantity.
Do bring a small gift for your host--chocolates, wine, fancy cookies. They may or may not be shared with everyone else. (It's a host gift, remember...)
Do ask if you can help, and if you're told "no thanks," remove yourself from the kitchen.
Do offer to help with clean up, and ask what would be most useful.
If you're a host:
Do let your guests know when you want to have everyone sit down and eat. And do start if most of them are there, so the meal isn't held up for one person.
Do thank guests who bring unsolicited dishes ("I just wanted you to have some of my Nana's sauerkraut relish..."), but don't feel obligated to put it out if it doesn't go with your meal.
Do let people help if you need help. Just be specific about what you need. ("I don't need anything now, but I would love to have some help clearing the table so we can get to all that pie as soon as possible!")
Do try to include a few "orphans"--people who are far from friends and family and home, and who would enjoy having dinner with a famiily. Even if it's not their own.
And do have a very Happy Thanksgiving.
Stars--they're just like us! They're happy to be "on" most of the time, if they can have a little privacy some of the time...
Dear Come Correct:
I'm going to be spending the holidays with my cousins who live in a city where there are lots of celebrities. I am taking my camera with me, and I hope, hope, hope to get a couple of snapshots with a few stars while I'm there. She has already warned me to be cool with that. Is there a way to ask, so I don't embarrass my cousin but get my photo?
To use the words of a popular fanzine: Stars--they're just like us! (Only more famous and way wealthier, duh.) I've heard them talk about this from time to time, and there are a few rules:
1) Usually if they're alone, they may consider a photo--especially if you're with your children, and the kids really want a photo: "Mr. Smith, my son Loren dressed up like Hancock for Halloween. Could he come shake your hand?" A lot of people (and Will is one) are extremely gracious with children, will have them over, have mom snap the photo, wish you a good day and move on. Don't get into a big conversation. Do say thanks before you leave.
2) There are very few actors who don't enjoy hearing "Hi, Mr. Foxx--you were great in Collateral!" Do tell them that if you want. Don't go much farther than that: "Who was that girl who co-starred with you, man? You tappin' that for real?" Nuh-uh.
3) Don't disturb when they're out with their children, trying to have a "normal" afternoon. Don't interrupt what looks like a romantic evening out to ask for an autograph. Don't approach them when they're at their table in restaurants. (Would you want to have to wash your hands several times before you got to eat? Think about it...) If you're in line waiting for your car afterward, if you're at the bar before you're seated, feel free.
Stars are just like you and me in that we like to be reminded that people like us. Some are known for being gracious: Halle Berry, Tyra Banks, George Clooney, Meryl Streep--all are known for being extremely kind and approachable to their fans.
But where you and I can go home and shut the door for some down time, they don't always get that. Multiply your experience by 15 or 20 people per day, and that's how it feels to be Halle or Denzel or Oprah. They get that they are, in a sense, public property because it is the public that made them celebrities. But they also get that they have some of the same needs as their less-famous admirers. (Sleep, a hot meal and the need to use the bathroom without being stared at are a few examples.) Some days they're up for it; some days they want to be left alone. Don't take it personally because it's usually not meant that way.
So enjoy your trip and keep your camera in your back pocket. But ask before you take a photo, and if you get one, say "thanks so much," wish them continued success, and return home with pleasant memories--and a visual reminder of what a great time you had.
I'd be interested in hearing what other people's experiences have been with approaching celebs. Holla.
Christmas comes but once a year—but it's been coming earlier and earlier. Spending a little can squish your inner Scrooge.
Dear Come Correct:
I'm starting to squirm: The Halloween clearance candy isn't even gone yet, and the stores in my town are already selling Christmas lights! I was in a store yesterday that was playing Christmas music. I used to really enjoy the season, but now all I can think of is how much I'm going to have to spend to "enjoy" it. My co-workers exchange gifts (they don't cost much, but still), my extended family will all send me presents. Members of my jogging club give each member a present. And have I gotten to my twentysomething kids, who all want fancy electronics, and my husband, who wants us to take a trip?
I can see why some people find the holidays depressing! I'm trying not to go there. I'd like to have a sane, relaxed holiday without a lot of money worries. Suggestions?
Boy, do I feel your pain--and millions of other people do, too! Every year, many of us vow to have a sane Christmas. And every year, most of us break that vow. Lack of time, pressure to conform, not wanting to break your nephew's heart when he really, really wants a (your choice of expensive, battery-operated toy that will be broken in three months here) all build up to not-so great expectations.
So, some suggestions:
At the Office
Instead of exchanging $5-$10 knickknacks with everyone in your office, organize a celebratory seasonal potluck: You get a great meal, time together, and you don't put one more piece of cute junk on each others' desk.
Clubs and Organizations
If you normally give each other gifts, consider pooling your money and sending, as a group, a contribution to a charity that's close to your collective heart. It could be as nearby as the local childrens' shelter or as far away as packages for military personnel overseas (or their families at home, many of whom are struggling). There are several organizations that support women's economic independence in developing countries, or that help to build schools or provide teachers where they are badly needed.
The Extended Family
If they're nearby, substitute time for money. Does your 92-year-old great aunt really need another bottle of cologne? Maybe she'd rather have you come take down her Christmas lights, or reorganize her shelves or pick up her Rx at the pharmacy a couple times. Make your own certificates for what you think they'd like, wrap them up real nice and send them off. Or give the gift of your expertise: If you are a whiz of a baker, a cake your cousin can serve when company drops by can save her a trip to the bakery. If you know your way around a can of WD-40, Grandpa might enjoy having his squeaky doors de-squeaked. Your 12-year-old niece who thinks you're cooler than her mother (yeah, your sister--but refrain from gloating, please) might enjoy being invited over for a private showing of a DVD for the afternoon, complete with popcorn and snacks. (She can bring something from her collection, or you can share ones that were favorites when you were her age. Sparkle, anyone?)
Your Own Family
Consider one gift the entire family can enjoy in favor of lots of other things. (Maybe a weekend at a nearby ski slope or a marked-down TV to replace the old one that keeps blinking on and off...) Or tell your children they can choose one thing, within a certain price range. They might make surprisingly modest choices. You and your S.O. can challenge each other to give each other gifts that are more symbol than substance--a photo album to hold pictures of the two of you that never ended up organized in one spot. A recreation of the meal you enjoyed on your secret getaway to Napa Valley. A glass vase full of shells and a promise to visit the beach this summer. The more you can decide upon and get done ahead of time, the more time you'll have to enjoy the holidays the way you'd really like to. And when you think about it, a relaxed holiday will be the greatest gift you can give to yourself.
Jingling all the way,