I had an assistant once who got an attitude with me because I made her stay in the office and work instead of accompanying me to a fun appearance with the morning radio show that I was co-hosting. Another time, she was frustrated because she had to make me tea every morning. She felt that she was beyond that.
It still shocks me to this day to think about it. At the time, this 24-year-old wanted to be a radio personality, and it just so happens, at that time … in addition to taping a reality show, I was co-hosting a radio show in New York and working as a correspondent for a nationally syndicated radio show.
In addition to making tea, she had many other responsibilities that I felt would prepare her for when she was ready to be on the air. She was smart and funny and had a promising demo tape but wasn't ready to be on air in New York. She didn't agree at all. Needless to say, she didn't last long on the job.
Nothing disappoints me more than a young person starting out who still has a lot to learn but thinks she knows it all. Many of my friends and colleagues in media and entertainment share my feelings. We've each had our own frustrating encounters with young people and their overwhelming sense of entitlement. One of my friends calls it the American Idol syndrome: the desire to become famous without any of the hard work.
Don't get me wrong; there is nothing wrong with having a dream. It's what drives each of the American Idol contestants to stand — and even sleep — in those insanely long lines for the small chance to make it to the finals and the even smaller opportunity to win it all.
But I'm always amazed by the folks who become angry when they don't make the cut. Disappointment I get, but these folks are actually disgruntled. Even when the judges provide constructive criticism, these contestants don't want to accept it and usually walk out yelling or shouting obscenities at the camera.
Case in point: This year Jessica Cunningham was the last to get cut in Vegas as the judges selected the final 24. Television fans last saw her giving, not one, but two fingers to the judges, saying they know they deserved it for cutting her.
Jessica is talented, and those judges don't always get it right. But how about being grateful for the opportunity to perform on national television several times, make connections with top music producers, and get access and counsel from Jennifer Lopez, Steven Tyler and Randy Jackson, three judges who know a little something about the industry?
Anyone watching who might have thought about giving her a shot would have had second thoughts after seeing her attitude. I know I would.
Kelly Clarkson, Fantasia, Ruben Studdard, Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Hudson and others who have found fame through Idol are lucky. I'm not saying they are not talented, but so are John Legend, India.Arie, Jill Scott, Beyoncé and Ne-Yo. Ask the latter group about their grind to becoming successful recording artists — not just the long hours, hard work and rejection, but the valuable lessons that come with all of that.
Every year on Idol, we see contestants with talent make it to Hollywood Week, when the group is put to a series of challenges. And every year, many of those who shone during their auditions quickly reveal that they have a lot to learn before tasting stardom. They don't have the confidence, they're not sure who they are as artists, their singing is not consistently strong and they don't know how to recover from mistakes. All of that comes with experience.
I try to say the same to young people with hopes of becoming broadcast journalists or personalities in TV or radio. Pay your dues. Go to that smaller market where you'll make no money; work those holidays, weekends, overnights and double shifts; fill in for just about every position in the building; and make the mistakes you would be fired for in New York. All the while, you'll be preparing yourself for the next job in a somewhat bigger city.
That next job won't be as grueling, and you will still have a lot to learn, but you would have never landed that next job without learning what you did in the first job. It's about taking the time to sharpen your skills, broaden your base of knowledge and mature. Soon you will likely find yourself being courted by the bigger markets. This is advice that I give to aspiring broadcasters, but it holds true no matter your industry.
Embracing the decision to pay your dues takes being smart enough to realize that you still have a lot to learn. It's about resisting that sense of entitlement. Then you won't mind running to get tea or working long hours in an environment where there are people from whom you can learn. You can impress those same people with your hard work and talent. And even when you eventually see your talent blossom and your confidence strengthen … have the maturity and the wisdom to stay humble.