More thoughts by Mike Monteiro
Remembering Bernard Harmon
Everyone, if they are lucky, gets that one teacher in their life that stands out above the rest. I was luckier than most. My high school art teacher, Bernard Harmon, was ten times the teacher I deserved and absolutely the teacher I needed.
My junior year of high school he called me into his office. He notified me that I had been chosen as a semi-finalist for a merit scholarship and would be flying to Miami for the finals competition. Our school had sent someone to the finals for the last ten years or so, which was a testament to his skills as a teacher. A large chunk of our year was spent preparing for the competition, working on our portfolio, answering essay questions. For most of us, this was our way to college. And everyone from our school who’d been selected to finals had come back a winner.
He sits me down and says, “I don’t want you to be disappointed. Of all the kids I’ve sent down there you’re the one I’ve been more unsure about. I don’t think you’re going to win, so just try to have fun.”
Mr. Harmon was like a father to me at a time when my relationship with my own father was not the greatest. He made me feel like I was capable of doing things I was afraid to, and had no problem taking me down a notch when I deserved it. I did not like disappointing him. And now he was giving up on me. I was angry. I was so angry I cried the whole way home that day.
I was still angry when I arrived in Miami. I was angry as I went through all the exercises of the competition. I was still angry when they told me I’d won. And I was still angry when I went back to school and walked into his office. His back was to me.
He didn’t even turn around.
“Of course you did. I never doubted it.”
Throughout your life you will deal with a multitude of different people, and while “Don’t be a dick.” is a pretty good baseline, ultimately those people will be driven by different things. Some of them will be driven by a need to be liked. Some of them will be driven by a need to prove others wrong.
Thanks to Bernard Harmon I know which one I am.
The most courageous thing I’ve ever seen
When my son Henry told me he was performing in his high school talent show my knuckles turned white as I recalled my own horrible high school experiences. There’s nothing that brings out a teenager’s cruelty like another teenager expressing an interest in something. Anything. The idea of a my kid exposing himself to the vicious cruelty of his peers, and the years of therapy he would need to rediscover this exact moment where everything changed triggered every overprotective instinct I had.
And yet, I knew the right thing was to support him. The kid was taking a risk. And parenting is more about patching up skinned knees than keeping them from climbing too high.
A few weeks later I sat in the audience of his high school auditorium as he took the stage and belted out an a capella version of the Mountain Goats “No Children”. And totally won the audience over. And as he walks off stage he does this little kick that says he knows he nailed it.
There’s no way I would have had the courage to do what he did at fifteen. Heck, I don’t have the courage to do it now.
This kid teaches me so much.
I get into a lot of fights on Twitter. Usually with right-wing freaks, the morally uptight, some form of Christian fundamentalist, etc. I’ve picked fights with the Susan Komen Foundation, the Romney campaign, and assorted Tea Partiers. I probably enjoy it more than I should.
But let me tell you about one fight I regret. I was on a cross-country flight. Bored out of my mind. Checking twitter. Saw a tweet from some random guy linking to a post he’d written about unfollowing me. Now, I could give a rat’s ass about someone unfollowing me, but the fact that he felt inclined to write a post about it, coupled with the fact that I was stuck in coach for six hours unleashed the asshole within.
I started a fight with the guy, he engaged, and before I knew it I’d worked up a scheme where I was trying to get him to 1000 followers by the end of my flight, (He had maybe 100 to start with.) with the sole purpose of getting all those new followers to unfollow him the next day at the same time.
The next day I looked over this guy’s reply stream and it was full of hate and vitriol and name calling. I felt sick. I was responsible for that. I worked people into a frenzy and urged them to pick on this guy.
I did something stupid and behaved like a bully. I punched down.
Why am I bringing this up now? Because it was probably the shittiest thing I’ve ever done online. And people let me know it. I was called names. I was told I did a terrible thing. And I deserved it. And it was fair.
It was a measured response.
I want to be a better person. For the sake of the people around me. For the sake of my son. For my own well-being and happiness. I want to treat others the way I hope they would treat me. Sadly, I know myself too well. I’m going to fall short of that goal on a lot of days. And to varying degrees, we all will. And when I do I’ll deserve to be called out. I’ll deserve to be called names. I’ll deserve to be insulted.
But we all deserve a measured response.
Because when your response is worse than the action that elicits it, then who’s the asshole?
I don’t really know shit about Quakers. I mean, I grew up in Philadelphia, where Pennsylvania Founder and Quaker William Penn’s statue sits atop City Hall. And I know that from the right angle it looks like he’s got his dick in his hand. And I know that William Penn gave Philadelphia its nickname, The City of Brotherly Love, which is a Quaker thing. I know a ton of people who went to Quaker schools in Philadelphia, and by and large they all turned out pretty good people. I also know a few Quaker adults. And out of respect for them, I want to make sure I’m not trying to pass myself off as an expert on all things Quaker. I am not.
I am also not a big fan of religion. I don’t do God. But I’ve got a thing for Quakers. They do God, but it’s more about how you treat those around you. And they don’t do the church thing, they have Quaker Meetings. And the incredibly great thing about Quaker meetings is that everyone just sits there. Silently. And they talk only if the spirit moves them to talk. They only open their mouths if it improves on the silence.
I’m gonna repeat that phrase because I love it so fucking much: “if it improves on the silence.”
This is a phrase that I’ve been holding near and dear to my heart recently. As the world seems to be falling apart, and social media introduces a new level of cacophony of misinformation, speculation, and downright venomous bile — we should ask ourselves, is what I am about to say better than silence? Am I adding anything to what’s already being said? And possibly most importantly, is my desire to say it keeping me from listening to what is already being said. Because waiting for your turn to talk is not the same as listening.
Have I actually improved the silence?
And the best part is that everyone gets to make this decision for themselves. Do you think your dick joke improves the silence? Awesome, post it. Do you think picking a fight with some racist cracker on Twitter improves the silence? Do you really? Think twice about it. Maybe it does, maybe it doesn’t. It’s your call. But I can tell you that in the last week I’ve probably deleted more tweets, after asking myself that question, than I’ve spiked in the entire preceding year.
So, yes, there will be dick jokes. But only when I decide they’re better than the absence of a dick joke.
Welcome, Recent Graduates
It is with great pride that I welcome you to the workforce. I realize many of you are still preparing for finals. Getting your portfolios together. Preparing oral defenses. That sort of thing. But I’m guessing that right below the surface of those immediate and real concerns, the anxiety of what comes next may have started to take hold.
It’s cool. I am here to help you. I am a job creator. And contrary to what you may have been told in school, you are about to enter a market awash in opportunity. Especially if you’re entering the technology and interactive design market. Which doesn’t mean that you’re not gonna have to go out there and nail an interview—because you will. So if you’ll give me a few minutes of your precious time I have a few tips that may help you land the job of your dreams.
- Get your house in order
Don’t even think about looking for a job without an online presence. If you’re a designer you better have an online portfolio. If you’re a developer, show me some code samples. And don’t just show me your work is pretty, describe what problems you were solving.
And as much as I hate to say this, get a LinkedIn profile. Otherwise, prospective employers are gonna look at your Facebook page, which should be cleaned up but not to the point where it’s obvious you’ve cleaned it up. Leave a beer bong shot or two.
Buy a decent outfit to interview in. Tights aren’t pants and flip flops aren’t shoes.
- Where are these jobs at, fool?
Good question. There are a few excellent job boards you should get familiar with. Start with Authentic Jobs and 37 Signals Job Board. Stay away from Craigslist and stuff like that, they’re shit shows.
- Get names
When you finally find a job you want to apply for do some research. Find out the name of the person who’ll be receiving your email. Hint: They’re not called Hiring Manager. (Also, if you assume the hiring manager is a man, you suck.) If it’s a small shop, just address it to the principal by name. Don’t address your letter to the dog, even if the company is stupid enough to list a dog on their website with the rest of the staff.
- Even better, network
“Networking” is kind of a gross word. It’s true. But, nepotism is real and making those connections will serve you throughout the duration of your career. Hiring can feel like an exhausting crapshoot. People hire their friends and their friends’ friends before they start picking random strangers from the email@example.com inbox. Tell everyone you know what sort of job you are looking for and ask for introductions to anyone they know who works in your desired field. Then, when one of these people is asked “Hey, do you know anyone looking for a job?” your name will come up.
You can go to a “networking mixer” if you like drinking with sad people in uncomfortable clothes, but it won’t be nearly as effective as working your existing friends and relatives. Even your professors. They had dreams once.
- No one wants to read your cover letter.
Write a good email. The goal of the email is to get an in-person interview. Explain why you’re qualified. Explain what you’d bring to the job. Sound genuinely excited about this new field you’re entering! Do not apologize for your lack of experience. It’ll be obvious when you tell me you’ve just graduated from college. Don’t be overly familiar, no matter how “wacky” you’ve heard the workplace is. You’re not applying to be anyone’s friend. The fact that you can write a solid, straight-forward email that gets right to the point and maybe shows just a glimmer of personality goes a long way.
Put the email in the body of the email. Plain text formatting. Do not attach your letter to the email. I’m not going to open any of those attachments anyway, and I’m certainly not going to open them when I’ve asked you not to attach anything. I may click the link to your website. If your email was well-written.
Also, I’ve never read a resumé in my life. But if you insist on giving me one, don’t lead with “Photoshop” as a skill. Tell me you know how to combine typefaces and have a solid understanding of color theory. That’s a skill.
- Prepare for the interview
You got an interview? Fantastic. Time to prepare. Find out as much about the company you’re applying at as possible. Google them. Read their site. Get familiar with the type of work they do and who they do it for.
Prepare questions for them. At some point during the interview you’ll be asked “Do you have any questions for us?” You should have some.
“What’s it like to work here?” is a dumb question. “I notice a lot of your work is in editorial, do you worry about the economics of that market?” gets you a second interview.
- Dress the part, be the part
There is a school of thought that says your brilliance will shine through even if you’re wearing a ratty hoodie and a stained t-shirt. It’s stupid. You’re gonna get some graduation money. Spend it on some decent clothes to wear to your interview. Your Flickr-stalking/research should tell you whether a suit will impress or terrify your prospective employers.
Don’t hug any of your interviewers. Before or after.
- Not to be a self-serving douchebag, but…
Read my book. I wrote it just for you. It’s got a ton of good lessons that will guide you through your career. Trust me on this. It’s $18.00.
- Don’t apply at Facebook
Seriously, do you think so little of the sacrifice your parents made sending you to college that you’re willing to just throw your life away?
Here are the dates of Mike Monteiro's future thoughts
- Wednesday, 19 June
- Friday, 19 July
- Monday, 19 August
- Thursday, 19 September
- Saturday, 19 October
- Tuesday, 19 November
- Thursday, 19 December