Another excellent review from Matthew that is timely, if you have a graduate who is looking to make his way into the wide world. This work is decidedly aimed at a younger audience. Enjoy!
“You are in or near your twenties. You are intelligent. It’s not essential that you have a college degree, but you probably do … To put it another way, you are me long ago. For better or worse, I am giving you the same advice I would give to that vanished person.”
– Charles Murray (The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, p 12-13)
As many up-and-coming adults will attest the working world differs from expectations set in the college and university. They set out with the hope of finding and obtaining the perfect job after receiving their diploma only to being shocked by the existence of dress codes and “employee handbooks.” In short, many of my peers find themselves floundering in an environment for which they felt well prepared.
There are of course exceptions. A friend of mine works for his dad. Historically speaking this is a very natural progression and has not yet been entirely removed from the norm. Even so, in these times the higher expectation of responsibility is often an unexpected hurdle. In contrast, another of my friends have known they wanted to be a dentist since they were 8 and have pursued that path relentlessly.
For the rest of us who are barely initiated in the ways of “adulting” (read, “personal responsibility and discipline”) we find the challenge of managing bills, debt, income, insurance, taxes etcetera daunting and sometimes overwhelming. Add to the mix a serious relationship or thinking about one’s own faith critically for the first time and you find someone doing an impression of a confused and gasping toad flopping on the bank of the river wildly exclaiming: “You don’t understand, that fish was twice as big as I am and it tried to eat me!”
Enter Charles Murray, who is old enough to be your parent or grandparent but since he’s not them you might actually listen to him. Aside from proudly identifying as a curmudgeon, Murray is a political scientist and has authored and co-authored numerous articles and books. Some of his works have received national attention for sparking controversy. Whatever your view of his research, The Curmudgeon’s Guide offers to assist you in your pursuit of building your personal and professional life.
Allow me to recommend the book by taking a quick look at the table of contents: Under the chapter heading “On the Presentation of Self in the Workplace” Murray has broken the book into several short sections. Here are three: “On the proper use of strong language”, “Office emails are not texts to friends” and my favorite, “What to do if you have a bad boss”. I found these sections enlightening, engaging, and surprisingly wise.
As one who chooses to not engage in wholesale cussing I took some convincing that there could be anything good to say about the subject. However, when you consider the context of business conversations, the issue is not so much whether you use expletives but whether you are communicating clearly—The overuse of profanity can cloud your intended meaning and undermine your legitimacy just as much as blustering and sputtering like a spotless teakettle endeavoring to communicate frustration without a vocabulary. My take away was this: Getting the point across requires well thought out and crafted speech. Orator, consider your audience.
Earlier I stated that “What to do if you have a bad boss” was my favorite section. Summarizing it simply will not do it justice and consequently I will simply introduce it and encourage you to read it for yourself. “You’ve been working at your new job for six months, let’s say, and you’re so unhappy with your supervisor that you’re considering quitting. Here’s what you need to think through: Exactly what is bothering you?”(p 37) Murray springs from this introduction into many different situations and has very savvy advice for the young professional in each instance.
The remaining chapters contain advice and guidance on “Thinking and Writing Well”, “The Formation of Who You Are”, and “The Pursuit of Happiness.” In the writing section you will find the ever-poignant advice (even if you’re not a writer) “Don’t wait for the muse.” An excerpt:
The last of my tips about writing is simple and absolute: Don’t wait until you feel like it. Find out what time of day you write best and develop a routine that puts you in front of your keyboard and screen at whatever time that might be.
I will close this review by noting that the section on developing your unique identity contains, arguably, the most helpful advice for a young person—among these the section titled “Being judgmental is good, and you don’t have a choice anyway.”
“Try hard. Be true. Enjoy. Godspeed.”
– Charles Murray (The Curmudgeon’s Guide to Getting Ahead, p 142)