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Jan 3, 2022

Happy New Year—Now Get Back To Work!

Young professionals shouldn’t skip the chance to be around older ones

By Ed Goldman
Happy New Year. Okay. That’s done. Back to reality.

If you’re a young professional whose firm has given you the option of returning to the office or continuing to work from home this year, permit me to offer some advice by way of Shakespeare: Get thee to the office.

Edgy Cartoon

Branch Office

I’m sure you realize what Shakespeare actually wrote was “Get thee to a nunnery” and had Hamlet say that to Ophelia. Unless you’re a bard conspiracy buff and believe Shakespeare’s plays were written by Christopher  Marlowe, Francis Bacon, Edward de Vere (an Earl of Oxford, doncha know) or President Joe Biden (which is just silly. Biden was only about six years old in the 1500s).

We resume.

My suggesting you return to your office if that’s an option may sound like dubious advice, coming from a guy who’s worked at home for 37 years (despite a three-week aberration in 2021, which taught both my employer and me that there’s no place like home). So permit me to share what I’ve learned in my years of watching others go to workplaces beyond their dining room tables.

If you’re an architect, attorney, accountant, engineer or other professional you technically can work alone, whereas doctors, dentists, bus drivers and waiters really can’t.  But if you have the option of immersing yourself in a positive, learning environment, you really ought to. For while a good deal of time is wasted in an office setting on camaraderie and lame jokes (many of which end in the phrase “for a Tuesday!”), you simply can’t beat being able to walk to the cubicle or office next door to ask someone with far more experience than you if what you’re doing is wrong—or even right. Surveys continue to show that the more important things for employees aren’t always money, benefits or the corner office: they’re recognition by and communication with their supervisors.

I was very fortunate in my late teens to win an intern/scholarship (which kick-started my 51+ years as a writer) with the Long Beach Independent, Press-Telegram. That hybrid name was the result of three newspapers’ having merged into a single entity that came out every morning (the Independent) and late afternoon (the Press-Telegram). The older guys in the newsroom used to joke that the name itself should be followed by the words “continued on next page.”

This is the sort of genuine wit that flew past and into my 19-year-old ears all week, serving to sharpen my own so I could feel worthy enough to participate. And here was I, surrounded by writers of varying skills and specialties but all absolute professionals when it came to the sanctity of words. I worked at the news desk, which actually consisted of many desks pushed together to create an imperfect circle, in the center of which was—well, nothing really. I suppose we could have converted it into a luau pit but suspect we’d have violated several provisions of the fire code.

The copy desk, where rewriting, corrected punctuation and wisecracks flew, was literally within shouting distance of our improvised fortress. This was staffed mainly by older guys (all of them were guys back in those days). 

Many had been reporters—but their days of running after politicians for statements as they sped away in staff-driven cars had evanesced about the same time their arches permanently descended. These were the guys who taught me most of my news- and feature-writing skills. They did it by example, innuendo, sarcasm and sometimes, the kind of ego-winging bluntness that today would have them hauled before an HR director.

But I didn’t mind. Their comments sharpened my abilities even as they toughened my skin. And Lord, when I got a compliment from one of  these ancient mariners, how my spirits would sail.

Finally there are just two words for what you’re missing if you don’t take advantage of being amid old pros: growing up. Okay, reality’s over.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).