My Kids Work in Media. Did I Screw Up As a Parent?

Oh God, what have I done?  I’ve spent most of my adult life in the shallow pursuit of making the world safe for television and advertising, and now my kids are in it. Is this the example I’ve set?  What happened to curing cancer or feeding the homeless? 

I hope readers appreciate the humor.  If not let me be clear, I could not be prouder of my two oldest children and their decisions to at least start their careers in media.  I love our business, even with all its craziness, and nothing I’m about to say is meant as criticism of my kids’ choices, or those of any young person entering the industry. 

Sharing a profession with your kids makes for more engaging dinner conversation.  It gives us something in common, an often uncommon occurrence for parents.  Every once a while they may even ask for my advice, although that can be challenging.  Not because I don’t have opinions.  Anyone who knows me knows I’m rarely at a loss for opinions or a willingness to share them.  But as any parent knows, as kids get older their interest in our advice wanes.  In their minds what we offer are artifacts from a pre-historic age, as if any life experience before cell phones is completely irrelevant.  But really what they want is a chance to figure things out for themselves.  That is as it should be.  We were no different.  The challenge for parents is learning to adjust.

Having said that, life is a journey, not a destination.  In truth I still have adjusting to do because today I’m going to use my blog to offer some unsolicited advice. (Even though I’m pretty certain my kids ignore my posts).

First, focus on relationships.  Growing your network in the early days of your career is much more valuable long term than whatever money you make.  It’s a cliché but it’s true – this is a people business.  Invest time and energy to meet and connect with as many people as possible.

To that end, practice generous networking.  Seek first to understand the needs and interests of others.  Networking is at its worst when people see it as a transactional exercise – what can this person do for me.  The strongest and most enduring networks are based on giving more than getting.  Help until it hurts, and then keep helping.  Avoid the self-centered trap of first calculating how helping someone affects you.  Trust that what you reap in return will far outweigh the costs.

Never turn your entire professional identity over to your employer.  This happened to me at ESPN.  “From ESPN” became my surname for a while:  I’m Fred Bucher from ESPN.  When that happens, your world shrinks.  You delude yourself into thinking that your current employer is the only fish in the sea.  Even if you love your job, this is dangerous territory psychologically. 

First, because it’s not true, there are lots of great places to work in the business.  But more importantly the landscape in media shifts constantly, quickly changing the fortunes of companies and professionals.  One day you could be out, regardless of the quality of your work.  Forget that ultimately you work for you at your own risk.

This is a very “Dad” thing of me to say, but I’m going to say it anyway:  save your money.  It is harder when you’re starting out, but develop the habit of saving regularly.  To my previous point, the ground shifts suddenly and anything can happen.  Money in the bank, enough to survive 12-18 months with no income, is freedom.  It puts your destiny in your hands, ensuring you have enough time to sort out your next move. 

Lastly, and I think this is most important, have fun.  If you don’t find enjoyment in the work it will make for some long days.  It’s better to get out and do something else.  It’s fine with me if you change careers, we just want you to be happy.  But if you choose to stay with it I hope you find, as I have, that media is an ever-changing, creative business stocked with fascinating, engaging people.  Media touches all of us. You can make a real impact.  We spend much of our free time with it – sports, news, movies, music, documentaries, weather (sorry, couldn’t resist), the list goes on. The passion each of us has for our favorite content and the opportunity these jobs give us to touch it, even if only in a small way, is what makes the business so much fun.

It can be a noble pursuit as well, my earlier jokes aside.  The business of media is in large part how we fund the arts and journalism in this country.  Yes, too much of what we see in media is garbage, but there’s also a lot of terrific artistry and ground-breaking journalism.  Even if you’re like me and not the one creating the content, it is satisfying to play an essential role in the process that allows great content to find its audience and thrive.

There is nobility in the advertising part of the business as well.  We complain about it, but in truth advertising is one of the great inventions.  Great advertising built countless businesses over the past century, and along with them hundreds of millions of jobs. Those jobs built communities, families, lives.  There’s no shame in working in a field that generates those kinds of outcomes for our society.

There’s more I could say, but typical of my parental advice, I’ve gone on too long already.  My best wishes to Sammie, Brendan and all the young people entering the business. To quote Herb Brooks, “this is your time, now go out there and take it.”

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