Today I’d like to think about Mildred Pierce, the HBO series based on 1941 hardboiled novel by James M. Cain. In the following lines you will be given the breakdown of her career. Think of it as career tips, all mapped out, nice and sweet… just for you.
Let’s just get down and dirty immediately, as I am in no mood to waste words, nor your time.
Mildred was a fine and wise lady. This is her in action at the beginning of her career:
Notice that smirk, that natural readiness to look, act and be professional? Take it from Mildred, ’cause she is a pro!
WARNING: spoilers galore. But not only ordinary spoilers. Career advancement spoilers.
THIS IS HOW IT STARTS:
Mildred’s starting position is not exactly to be envied. The big picture is the Great Depression, which is not the best time to be job hunting, nor starting a business. Trouble being trouble, it never comes alone: her husband has just left her with two small daughters. Mind you, she was a housewife prior to that.
The Cold, Harsh Reality: a newly single mother with two children and no job. Someone has to feed those hungry mouths, and it is not the husband!
What does Mildred do?
Against her first judgement, Mildred gets a waitressing job, which is the only job she could find after a long, exhausting search.
Lesson 1: Sometimes, one needs to swallow one’s pride. Mildred knew right from the start that she is not going to be a waitress forever. She had her eyes open all the while, absorbing information, waiting for the right moment. She did not waste a second on feeling sorry for herself for being just a waitress. She did her best doing her job, no matter what it was.
Moral: Sometimes, things do not go the way we want them to, and we may find ourselves in the midst of a messy scene. It can happen to everyone, things just go out of control even if we do everything right. Life is unfair. Is that really such a news item? It is our job and duty to get ourselves out of that. Watch Mildred, and learn. Swallow pride, and use your time and skills wisely to get yourself to a better place.
Mildred finds out that the small restaurant she works at has a pie problem. The pies they are ordering are simply not good enough. As she knows how to bake herself, she offers to provide the restaurant with her delicious pies, and they accept. Smooth!
Lesson 2: She does not just burst out with her offer. Her offer is carefully planned and communicated through the right channels. She befriends the woman the manager trusts, and then uses her to reach the manager. Careful planning got her foot in the door and soon she started baking the pies. She continued working as a waitress and significantly increased her income. Two points for inventiveness, and two for patience!
Moral: If Mildred just went straight to the manager with her offer, there is a big chance nothing would have come out if it. We are speaking about the 1920’s, and, business women were still a rarity. Think about your communication channels. Are you wasting opportunities because you either do not know how to form your offers, or you communicate them through the wrong channels? The little niceties are nothing to forget about, and the secretive etiquettes in regards to how an offer should be made are equally important.
Also, once you get an opportunity, do not quit your day job just yet. Before one spreads their wings to be a freelancer, they need to make sure that they can earn enough to afford the basic needs. If Mildred had the patience, so can you.
Mildred starts making good money and thinks about enlarging her business. Maybe she could open a restaurant? She could start with something small, easily obtainable and cheap? There is one problem though: how to find an affordable place and available investors.
Mildred gets “acquainted” with her husband’s business partner, who has both the contacts and information she needs. She presents the idea to him, and gets a sweet deal.
Lesson 3: Take a look at your circle of acquaintances. You might know someone who knows someone who might have what you need. Mind you, you are not looking for a favour, you are offering them an opportunity. That is what Mildred did, and that is what you should do.
Moral: This is a little bit of a tricky part. She does sleep with the acquaintance, in order to make him or her more open to suggestions. It is generally not considered wise to sleep with your business contacts . You must have some other persuasive strategies up your sleeve. However, if you happen to play with such dirty players, think of this one: “Why buy a cow when you can get milk for free?”. Dirty, but unfortunately true. The “sleep your way in” tactic is ineffective, harmful, unprofessional and outdated. You need to develop other strategies to make them more susceptible for your suggestions. How about good content? Along with a good offer, that should definitely open doors.
Mildred opens a restaurant and starts earning a very nice salary. Being the boss of her business, she is on top of her game. However, there is a tragic incident in her personal life. (I will not go into details right now).
Lesson 4: Do not let your personal life get in the way of your professional life. It is understandable that you are not a robot and that in case of a tragedy, you have emotions to take care of. Just shoving them under the carpet will not help. However, you can focus on work and solving problems to help you heal.
Make sure you keep going forward.
Moral: Do not think what other people think about you. Most probably, it is none of your business what they think about you. Just carry on with your plan, it will eventually help you to get over whatever the tragedy you are going through.
FIFTH STEP: Expanding business. Business flourishes. Stepping up and introducing a luxurious product alongside the cheaper one.
So far so good.
Also, a good step: stepping up on the appearances by moving into a fancy villa. Good move, need to look the part.
But Mildred makes a mistake.
Lesson 5: About this time Mildred starts to support her husband and her daughter’s career. She goes overboard with it and looses her focus.
Moral: Yes, everyone has someone who desperately needs help. Empathy, and a need to help, is one of the more admirable human virtues. However, her daughter is insatiable and the husband a useless bum. Mildred suddenly does not know how and when to say no. To win sympathy by putting yourself in danger is a very, very bad move. Helping others by ruining yourself does not help anyone, instead, it is a suicide mission, especially if you are jeopardizing your business. You need to make sure you are well in order to help others get better. And when necessary: just. say. no.
This is where Mildred’s lessons end, as she denounces herself from a position of tactical authority. She goes back to her first husband and settles in with a quiet and calm life. Nothing wrong with that, however, for my taste, it lacks flair.
Hope this was insightful and entertaining!
Remember, when in doubt, ask yourself: What would Mildred do (before the fifth step)?
Until next time,
link to the series, in case you have missed it:
If I register interest, I will write up an alternative tactic: The Career Advancement Strategy of Vida, Mildred’s daughter! Warning, only for those whose morals are extremely flexible!