You may not remember Mary Tyler Moore like I do. But for a lot of Boomer and Gen X women, she modeled a whole new kind of career wisdom.
And when news of her death came a few weeks ago, even Michelle Obama weighed in on Mary Tyler Moore’s influence: how she showed us we had more options than we might have thought were possible, and that “building your career [was] another really viable option that can lead to happiness and fulfillment.”
I certainly felt a pang of both sadness and deep gratitude for MTM when I heard she was gone.
Although I wasn’t really dialed into the show during its initial run, I made up for that a decade after it ended. Mesmerized by the reruns, I went so far as to videotape them so I could watch them after work.
And I adored all those things everyone talks about: her independence, her satisfaction with being single, her willingness to stand up for herself, her desire to put herself out there both personally and professionally, her resilience and adaptability, her commitment to the people she cared for, her generosity and kindness, and her desire for her work to be as fulfilling as other things in her life. Of course, she was just plain funny too.
But still, there was something more about the show, and Mary, that kept me hooked. Some career wisdom that I couldn’t quite unravel.
As strange as it may sound, the show provided me with a continuous career thread that pulled me along for many years.
I didn’t even realize it at the time.
And I don’t remember when I finally caught on to what kept me coming back to watch again and again.
But one day it was there. That continuous thread that was just below the surface, the unexpected career wisdom I didn’t even know I was searching for.
It was all about relationship: the extraordinary camaraderie and closeness Mary shared with her colleagues.
It played out week after week, and I couldn’t get enough of it. Those relationships tapped into a deep personal yearning for me. And I envied that tight knit work group.
Their seemingly unshakeable bond.
The closeness and shared commitment to doing worthwhile work.
And a workplace that often seemed as welcoming as a warm family home. Which is not to say they didn’t have their dysfunctions, but mostly they managed to get through them.
So this unexpected career wisdom—that relationship transcended almost everything else as far as my career was concerned—was a turning point for me.
It kept me going when I was floundering. It gave me a map of sorts, or a way to begin putting all the disparate puzzle pieces of my career together.
Maybe it even helped me to finally land in my own Mary Tyler Moore work experience. Just like in Mary’s work place, we had four main characters. But this time the tables were turned: three women and one man.
Looking back, I think we each played all the roles at one time or another. We were all Mary, Lou, Murray and even Ted sometimes. But what was the absolute best was the bond we shared. We cared deeply about each other, we had fun and we did meaningful work together that made a difference.
And I stayed for seven years, longer than any other job I’ve had (except my private counseling and coaching practice).
One thing I’ve learned from this is how important it is to look underneath the surface of your career role models.
I think career role models are tremendously important, for all of us. But I never wanted to work in a news room like Mary or be a TV producer. And although it turned out that it was all about relationships for me, that might not be true for you.
So if you’re uncertain about the next chapter of your own career, give yourself space to seek out your own role models. Then look below the surface and ask…
- What’s most compelling about this role model?
- What speaks to my deepest career yearning?
- What’s the thread that keeps pulling me along?
- What unexpected career wisdom is here for me?
Maybe it will be the work itself, but it could be so many other things: the environment, the schedule, the role, the power, the personalities, the money, the meaning. Or any number of other career puzzle pieces that are there, waiting for you to discover them.
You can’t be brave if you’ve only had wonderful things happen to you. –Mary Tyler Moore
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