foot-in-mouth.jpgWe’re always telling young adults to be careful what they do and say, especially in this digital age. But, for good reason, they may not believe us.

Mikala Jamison, a former intern of mine and a great writer, offers her take on why watching what you say may not be a good career move after all.

What are we teaching the next generation? Not great stuff, it turns out.

jamison.jpgBy Mikala Jamison

Believe it or not, saying or doing dumb things can sometimes be a good career move.

Take Karen Owen, the Duke alumna who recently made news because of her “sex thesis”—the 48-page PowerPoint presentation she emailed as a joke to three friends. It detailed (penis size, dirty talk, sexual technique, everything) her sexual exploits with 13 Duke males.

The presentation, of course, spread like wildfire, and she has expressed remorse for her actions. Any potential employer that she might meet from this point on might have some reservations about her, um, interpersonal skills on the job, and there’s no way her choices won’t negatively affect her ability to make money, right?

Her story doesn’t end there, though. Lemondrop.com reports:

“Owen’s story is receiving interest from major entertainment agencies and book publishers. William Morris Endeavor (WME) begged Jezebel for any contact information for Owen. Deadspin called Owen ‘a hero.’ And an editor at Harper Collins said, ‘I admire her sense of self-empowerment.’”

Zeldalily.com says that Harper Collins has even tried to contact Owen to offer her a book deal, in hopes that her story could make her “the next Tucker Max.” If you don’t know his work, I can’t really say whether you’ll be entertained or disgusted if you Google him. Simply know that tales of sexual exploits abound.

Or, consider Juan Williams — most readers are aware by now that Williams was fired from NPR after he commented on The O’Reilly Factor that Muslims on planes make him nervous—a stupid thing to say while working a public appearance, to be sure.

He got fired from NPR as a result, but he may be the one laughing. Williams has since accepted a cool $2 million contract from Fox, and will now appear even more frequently on the network and have a regular column on FoxNews.com, according to the LA Times.

It would seem that in the cases of both Owen and Williams, saying or doing things that could be considered wildly extreme, even stupid, might actually work in their favor.

“We live in a society where people are drawn to the outrageous antics, but I assume it is a small percent of those people who do things like that who end up famous,” says Thom Singer, a business development consultant, speaker, and author.

Of course, in reality, most everyday people can’t make a living by doing whatever they want. The question is, can we discount the legitimacy of those who do?

“While there are always going to be cases of people doing outrageous or stupid things who get huge attention that lead to a pay-day, there are countless numbers of people who make mistakes who pay a price,” Singer says.

There are hundreds of web pages devoted to the most sure-fire ways to get canned. Upon a Google search, I found cautionary tales warning, primarily, against saying stupid things on social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

In this age of diminishing privacy thanks to social media outlets, it seems that in order to keep— or even get— a job, it’s not just what you do or don’t do anymore, but what you say.

But if Williams and Owen are any indication, all the typical “career advice” employees have been subjected to for years about watching what we say might be morphing into something different. Perhaps something like, “watch what you say, unless it’s extreme enough to land you a book deal or a million-dollar contract.”

“Old fashioned hard work and creativity are still the best ways to build a sustainable career.” Singer says. “Life is not a reality show. Being a flash in the pan is not something to be proud of or to strive for.”

What do you think? Should Owen and Williams be getting publicity for saying things most of us would be fired for?

In the end, stupid is indeed as stupid does.


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