Dear Honest Uncle Abe

Tom Peters

A recent "Dear Abby" caught my attention. (Yes, your management columnist reads Dear Abby.) It started this way: "I am 15 and I want to join a convent. The problem is, I am not Catholic. ... I want to become a nun because I've never had a date and I'll probably never have one." It occurs to me that similar perceived deficiencies exist among many young men and women relative to their future careers; moreover, answering such questions would be a cinch for Honest Uncle Abe (my new handle). A quick dip into the mailbag provides material galore.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I'm only 11 and in the fifth grade. But it's clear to me that I am dull and boring, and always will be. Do I have any hope in business?"

Dear Bland: Any hope? If your condition persists, you're on the way to the executive suite. Check yourself in about five years: If you're wearing gray sweaters, gray socks, gray pants, and write vapid prose, you're home free—the CEO's chair will be a perfect fit.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I'm a junior in high school, fearful of my forthcoming SATs. Since third grade I haven't gotten better than a D- in English. Am I out of luck in the real world?"

Dear Mangled Syntax: You're as good as made. Forget SATs. Forget college for that matter. You should be writing instruction manuals for a computer company—now. Producing inarticulate gibberish is what they do best. If you're the klutz with words you say, you're just what they're looking for.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I am a sophomore in college. I know the Soviet Union is collapsing, but I still find Marxism attractive. However, I want to get rich and go into business. Will my ideological leanings be a problem?"

Dear Pinky: Heavens, no. You, too, could be headed for the top slot. Our business chiefs purport to love markets, but invariably they (1) run centrally planned, autocratic firms; (2) support any and all protectionist policies to fend off competition in their industries; and (3) attempt to merge or form "strategic alliances" with major competitors. If you dislike markets and competition, you're a natural for the pinnacle of the big-business heap.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I'm only eight, but am destined to be impatient. According to my Dad, I leave every chore 10 percent undone. Is there any place for me in corporate America?"

Dear Half-baked: If your troubling habit persists and you still can't get it quite right, send your resume in about 10 years to "Automaker. General Delivery. Detroit." If there still is an automaker in Detroit in 10 years, you'll doubtless be welcomed with open arms.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: Though I'm only nine, I have a ferocious temper; I don't tolerate fools lightly. I fear it's an insurmountable barrier to a business career."

Dear Young and Angry: Never! Millions of good jobs are yours for the asking. Retail sales is a natural. And take your pick of any warranty or complaint department. The mind boggles; you'll be clipping coupons before you're 40 if you can keep your ire at the boil.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I just don't trust people. I think everyone is out to get me; as a result I try to get them first. Surely that will quash my business prospects."

Dear Paranoid: No way. Don't worry about getting your hands dirty. Being mistrustful, suspicious, and paranoid are requirements for clawing your way to the top. I'd say you're a born business bigwig!

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I'm 12, but, sorry to say, I just don't like people; and I don't like disorder either. In short, I am a misanthrope (big word for a 12 year old, eh?); but I always get my homework done and it's the neatest in class. Will I fit in the world of business?"

Dear Emotional Cripple: I don't know how to judge your eventual prospects, but your first step is clear as day. Forget high school and college. Apply directly, right now, to Harvard or any other leading business school. Intellectuals who get the paperwork right and despise humanity have long been granted red-carpet treatment at these institutions.

"Dear Honest Uncle Abe: I know that you and Honest Uncle George (Washington) cannot tell a lie. But I cannot tell the truth. It's not that I tell outright lies, it's just that I seem born to waffle. Certainly that must dim my future in business."

Dear Equivocater: Dim? Try "bright" to describe your prospects. There's little that you're not qualified for. The issue: where to start? Corporate Communications would be a natural. (Begin as a speech writer for the chief executive, to hone your already well-developed skills at prevarication. Better yet: Shoot for a front-line job at an airline. The only problem—you're just a waffler, not an out-and-out liar. Keep trying.

Send any and all questions about your future in business to Honest Uncle Abe, care of some other newspaper. I've got more than I can handle as it is.

(C) 1990 TPG Communications.

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