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Reel to Real: Work and Life Lessons from a Film

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“I love my job. I love my job …”

” If I do something right, it’s unacknowledged. She doesn’t say ‘thank you’. But if I do something wrong, she’s vicious!”

“I’m just saying that, I would just like a little credit for the fact that I’m killing myself trying.”

How many of us have said such or similar things? How many of us have been putting 101 percent each day and still think we’re not doing enough? How often do we feel underappreciated and unsure of how we fit in all of these? Or if we’re not thinking such thoughts, maybe we’ve seen a colleague struggle with the same frustrations.

I remember watching “The Devil Wears Prada” for an assignment back in college. Watching Andrea chase her dream of being a journalist made me wonder about what I wanted and how I can pave my own career path. I imagined how my first job would be like. But what if I flunk my job interview? What If I don’t perform as well as I’d hope? What if like Andy I have a hard time getting along with my coworkers? I recall my anxiety getting worse as my graduation drew near. Thankfully, the universe seemed to have heeded my prayers and led me to a job where I get to work in my own home and with the nicest coworkers and director.

Now several months in my first job, I find myself thinking sometimes of that workplace in the movie, how Andy evolved to become a part of that world, what she learned along the way and how she moved forward with her life. I’ve come to realize that beyond the clever dialogues and stylish scenes that were initially what drew me to the movie, there are some valuable insights I can glean and use as I settle into my new work life and progress in my adulting journey.

The work circumstances may greatly differ: Andrea is in fashion journalism while I’m in PR, so the industries and culture immediately vary. But there are universal truths that I realize cut across our worlds no matter the vast differences. Like in whatever industry or workplace, there will always be that lost newbie feeling jittery on their first day and who will do anything to be accepted and recognized, sometimes even losing themselves in the process. There will always be that competitive colleague and a Nigel who will help a coworker find their voice and shine. There will always be that partner who will feel taken for granted or will perceive our work differently, if not negatively. And yes, there will always be a tough, manipulative or cold boss or what many today would say a manager from hell.

Any workplace can be as unaccepting and challenging as what Andy initially found herself joining. Any job can be as overwhelming. From the constant influx of emails, the need to connect with different people daily to the jump from one project to another, the tasks just seem endless sometimes. But these are the realities we must face and adapt to, and, like Andy, learn from.

Hitting the ground running

In an environment like the PR industry where trends, technologies and client demands constantly shift, I’m realizing that our ability to learn and grow is of prime importance. Being open and ready to learn — and learn as fast as humanly possible — is key to surviving one’s first day at work, indeed staying at the job. It is what ensures our relevance and success in the long run. The faster we wrap our heads around this reality, the easier time we’ll have at work.

One fact about work is that there’s almost always not enough time settling in and one swings into action right away. Sure, there is an orientation and some training but it’s not like school where we wait weeks before exams begin. At work, we master the tasks by getting our hands dirty as early as possible. That’s why it’s important to cultivate the proper mindset even as we allow ourselves time to understand our roles and responsibilities. So it’s better not to expect handholding all the time. This is the adult world. We have to learn things on our own.

Even when we’re no longer a newbie in the job, mastering new tasks, doing new assignments and hitting the ground running will remain part of work life. So am learning to gear up.

Accepting and adapting to change

Another work — and life — fact: Change is constant. The tasks and assignments shift all the time. In PR even more so. The needs and preferences of clients change depending on so many factors, and in order for us to serve them well, we need to be open to and ready for change.

Once we’re comfortable and have a grasp of our role, we can start gaining new insights from our colleagues about our job and the industry.[1] This may equip us with the knowledge to help us adapt faster, survive and perform well in the workplace just like how Andy started adjusting from her early days in office with Nigel’s advice. Even Emily’s often disparaging remarks Andy used as learning material for how to understand her new life better.

Recalling now how Andy transformed from a naive and inexperienced newcomer into the confident and capable professional provides me with a good example of an effective start at work. She embraced and studied her role and responsibilities. She observed what the others were doing. She observed her superior and learned how to react and respond to her and meet her expectations. She adapted to each situation and was more than ready to level up as needed.

Dealing with client work

Working in a field where we get to interact with a variety of people daily, chances are we’ll stumble upon difficult clients. As frustrating as this may be, it remains our duty to stay the course and consistently deliver innovative and crystal-clear strategies to our clients to help them reach their objectives.

In some cases, they might be too particular and cause delays and stress or hinder our creative freedom altogether. It is therefore crucial to remain composed and learn how to level with clients, understand where their concern is coming from and derive creative solutions accordingly. If we can provide sound answers, that’s great! Otherwise, a well-meaning compromise would be a smart alternative. We also need to form the habit of keeping them in the loop for any developments or problems that may arise in the course of a project or campaign. In doing so, we reinforce the collaboration and communicate to the client that they’re a top priority.

Managing clients will always pose challenges, but it’s a hurdle that can be cleared. And similar to that scene where the designer was showing his spring collection to Miranda, we will receive several pursed lips before scoring the coveted nod of approval. So, let’s trust that with enough time, experience and perseverance, who knows? We just might wow clients of the same caliber as Miranda!

Building good rapport with colleagues 

Excelling at the workplace isn’t solely defined by our performance or how good we appease our clients. It also takes into account our relationship with the people we touch base with regularly and how well we work within a team.

Making strong connections is a big deal in PR. Every successful PR campaign involves a team. Being a team player does not diminish our strengths as an individual or does not mean we won’t be able to work well alone. Besides, collaborating with our colleagues helps everyone reach mutual goals. It’s also a fantastic way to grow our professional network and, on a personal level, boost our own development.

We can build good rapport with colleagues in multiple ways, starting with active listening. Asking questions and listening allow us to gain insights about our peers’ motivations and personal lives. This makes interactions with them smoother, like how Andy understood Emily and her actions better when she learned that Emily’s career goal is to attend the Paris fashion week.

Another thing we can do is to offer our assistance to our colleagues when it is needed. Besides showing team spirit or generosity, this can create a dynamic where they may be more inclined to lend a helping hand when the tables are turned, helping us with our problem while also strengthening our camaraderie with each other.

Considering how much time we spend at work, the more at ease we are with our colleagues, the better. A good working relationship can transform the workplace into a more encouraging and conducive environment that allows for a smoother exchange of ideas and execution of work goals.

Achieving work-life balance

Giving our best at work is both commendable and necessary. It is equally important, however, to prioritize self-care and establish clear boundaries. This could mean unplugging from work when outside work hours, spending quality time with our loved ones and doing things we find enjoyable, among other things.

Our downtime can also be a good moment to gather our thoughts and reassess whether our current path aligns with our professional and personal aspirations. It’s a time to reflect on our physical, mental, emotional and social well-being. How are we faring in each of these aspects? Which aspects are being compromised by work? How can we improve our time management across the board? When we take a moment to reflect, we gain a clearer perspective on how to channel our time and energy more effectively, which in the long run benefits our work.[2]

Our drive to succeed professionally can often overshadow everything else. We can’t ignore our work either to focus on our personal life. Our work puts food on our table while we can’t do our work well if we are not okay ourselves. Let’s take a cue from Andy’s journey. We watched how her quest for career success clashed with her personal life and values but despite it all, she found a way to strike a balance even if that meant altering the course. I’d like to think even Miranda found her decision in the end to be the smart one. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have “recommended” Andy when called as reference for the latter’s application with a major publication company.

Our career in PR — or any other industry for that matter — may be an arduous journey, one filled with frustrations, challenges and uncertainties. But as we’ve witnessed with Andrea’s transformation, our career journey can also be remarkable and filled with valuable lessons and rewarding experiences.



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