Self-Improvement Can Keep You From Getting the Ax

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Bart Cleveland
Bart Cleveland



improve-buttonA few years back, Tom Hanks starred in a film where he played Larry Crowne, a middle-aged employee at a department store. The movie opens with Larry being asked to the employee lounge. He expects to be awarded his ninth employee-of-the-month award. When he arrives he is unceremoniously canned. His bosses tell him that he didn’t meet the growth criteria the company set for employees. In other words, he didn’t have a degree and couldn’t be promoted to management. It didn’t matter that Larry had worked for them for 20 years and had won a stack of employee-of-the-month awards. The company wanted more so he was out.


In advertising, lay offs are so common almost everyone in the industry experiences it at least once in his or her career. But there are those who do not and it is not because they are lucky or have photos of someone in a corner office. It’s because they do something Larry Crowne didn’t think to do. They don’t just go beyond what is expected. They build new categories of performance. Here are a few examples.


Elbow grease is the great equalizer.

When you examine highly successful people you inevitably find a disciplined work ethic. Albert Einstein, Michael Jordan and Abraham Lincoln were all obsessed with self-improvement. How dedicated were they to their craft? How do you know if you measure up? A recent Job Propulsion Lab client asked me that question. I asked if his girlfriend had yelled at him since he started our program. He said, “No.” I said, “You’re not working hard enough.” That isn’t to suggest that he always should neglect his personal life. But during concentrated training, it should be your number one priority.


Know what’s coming. Help it arrive.

Thomas Edison didn’t invent the light bulb. Steve Jobs didn’t invent the visual operating system for a computer. But they did see how a more perfect one would change the world. So they perfected what was already there. They imagined it being used over the horizon. Those in our industry breaking new ground do the same. There is no reason you shouldn’t be one of them.


Self-loathing isn’t a bad thing.

Winning awards feels good. But it’s a short moment in time so enjoy it and move on. If the limelight makes you believe you’re special, you may stop growing. Awards make you more marketable. That’s useful. But this business is about what you’ve done lately. Never stop raising the bar. If you’re not growing, you’re dying.


Make some luck.

It’s not complicated. Hard work makes you lucky. If you want your big break, go the extra mile. Study the people in our business that seem to have all the luck and you will find they all go the extra mile when it comes to their work. Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” Before you can take the shot you need to be in the position to score.


Keep your friends close. Don’t make enemies.

This industry has one degree of separation. Everyone you know that works in advertising knows someone you need to know. The more friends you have the more connections to the right people you have. So be nice to everyone, even those who mistreat you. Showing that kind of integrity makes you the kind of friend most people want. And it’s the kind of employee a boss wants to keep around.


Larry Crowne made it through the humiliation of being fired. He actually came out of his shell, got a decent haircut and ended up with a pretty girlfriend. That’s what happens in the movies. So remember to improve and increase your skills now and avoid the ax altogether. Who knows? You could end up winning employee of the month

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