Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Devil Wears Prada and has an Awesome Career

During one scene in the movie, The Devil Wears Prada, the Ohioan father of the purported heroine, Andie Sachs, plaintively says to her over dinner at a downtown restaurant, “I just can’t believe that someone who was admitted to Stanford Law is doing this kind of job.”

This comment led to much merriment, at least in my own head. Oh, the illusions we have. “Are you kidding?” I thought, having spent a good number of years at Stanford Law myself. “Her job is way better than going to Stanford Law School.”

Therein lies my core thought about this up-to-the-minute movie, which is a kind of Working Girl for people who grew up watching Party of Five (actually, I suspect that itself is a dated cultural reference… Help me out, people. What’s the right phrase -- “for people who grew up with The O.C.?” Okay, moving on.)

The thing about this movie is that although you are supposed to be horrified by Meryl Streep’s meanie character, Miranda Priestly, she’s actually the highlight of the drama. Although the author of the (very poorly written) book and presumably the screenwriter intended this to be a morality lesson of what happens when you are a bitchy powerful woman (answer: you end up loveless and surrounded by sycophants), it doesn’t come out that way. Instead, the lesson I draw is that if you work really hard, get over your ego issues, and focus on what you are doing rather than what you think you are supposed to be doing, you can have great career fulfillment. Furthermore, a career that engages you, however odd it seems to the outside world, is ultimately more reliable than boyfriends or husbands.

Whenever the character played by Anne Hathaway (who’s basically a new Sandra Bullock making better career choices) complained about her job, grimaced in frustration or talked about her beloved college articles about a janitors’ strike, I found myself checking out. “Whatever,” I thought, much like her anorexic colleagues. I wanted more makeovers, more coats-flung-on-desks, and more scheming backstage corporate machinations!

Perhaps I have so little patience with the complaints of a 20something fictional character because they remind me of how much time I spent in my 20s and early 30s obsessing about how things should be in my career. I would have been better off trying to understand the world of employment for what it was, engaging in it, and making the best of it. In a lot of ways, thinking is overrated and doing is what actually brings contentment.

In the end, Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly doesn’t look defeated, even though she’s apparently been ditched by her third husband, will soon be written about on Page Six, and is raising twin girls that will surely end up as shallow and annoying as the Bush daughters. She looks triumphant. She knows who she is and what she does, and those are goals worth striving for.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

A quick trip to China ... and those lingering myths of business travel

In Shanghai again (sigh)

Well, I find myself in Shanghai again. Cathay Pacific, The Four Seasons Hotel… I know what you’re thinking. “Alors, how does Michael stand it, the utter ennui of trans-Pacific travel.” Just a good attitude, I guess. With a positive h a-tee-tude I can find my highest AL-tee-tude. Etc.

I’ve come to help facilitate a big corporate event for Leaders Quest, the organization I went to China with in March. Only this time I get paid. And once again I find myself confronting one of those indestructible myths of travel, the ones that you swear you’ll never forget and then do exactly that.

Let's briefly review some of the leading ones:

Myth #1: “Since I’ll have a lot of time on airplanes, I should bring along one of those books that I’ve never been able to read, but feel I should, like Jude the Obscure or Beloved.”

Myth #2: “I’ll work out every day and come back in better shape than I left!”

Myth #3: “A business trip is a great opportunity to really enjoy myself, relax AND get paid for it.”

This last one is the relevant one today. It turns out that working overseas actually involves a lot of WORK. And precious little time for shopping, exploring charming new neighborhoods or working on my exciting new novel. Oy!

Still the life coach to the stars

Back-patting is in order, however, for what I did yesterday. I modeled good life-balance behavior. What did do to merit this?

I went to yoga! In Shanghai! On my business trip! And I even took a 90-minute class, which is a major time commitment for me given my rather short attention span. Go, Michael!

I found a place on the internet called Y+, which turned out to be a gorgeous, internationale, sumptuously appointed yet spiritually open studio. A single-class pass cost what I assume is someone’s monthly salary, but it was awesome.

Quien es mas obnoxious?

When competing for the title of Ugly American overseas, businessmen are the perennial favorites. Shuffling from country to country, cramming their wheelies into your overhead rack space, talking stock prices on their cell phones while dribbling sandwich crumbs onto their laptop PCs … you get the picture. However, there’s a new contender for the crown--those self-absorbedly cool, post-college, Asian-wannabe hipsters whose every atom goes into the process of broadcasting their unique (not) identities. (Of course, I was never that way.)

Here’s a picture of the guy who stood behind me in Starbucks: mid-20s; soul patch and goatee; wearing black kung fu pajamas and sandals; punching out text messages as he ordered his drink; and dragging a high-end longboard (a four-foot skateboard) behind him. In Starbucks Shanghai, I should repeat. He repeated multiple times that he wanted skim milk several times. Or at least I THINK that’s what he said because his Chinese, that he was so insistent on speaking, had no tones! I wanted to slap him! Or at least expose his uncoolness. Which I'm now doing, because no one hides from the blog.

To review:

Speaking Chinese well or just being culturally open: cool
Speaking Chinese without tones and pushily insisting on skim milk, while dragging a longboard around Starbucks and wearing kung fu pajamas and having a gross goetee: NOT cool!