“What are you going to do now with that $200,000 education?”
My dad asked me this question painfully quickly after my Yankee’s Stadium graduation ceremony. Needless to say, he was delighted with my first professional decision: to become a yoga teacher.
When I told him about my next career move, which was to become an apprentice, his reply: “Erin, these aren’t real jobs. You’re learning magic, now?”
It was precisely that connotation of the title juxtaposed to the dismal reality of the job market that drew me to apply for the position as apprentice to Shane Snow, a self-proclaimed technology geek and an advocate for the power of stories.
The Chief Creative Officer of Contently by day, and a features writer/urban explorer by night, Shane was looking for someone to work closely with him in support of the release of his first book, Smartcuts: How Hackers, Innovators, and Icons Accelerate Success (and I’d be a crappy apprentice if I did not mention that it was rated one of top new business books of the fall and that he has been called the next Malcom Gladwell). After googling him and reading his features in Wired, Mashable, and the New Yorker, I decided that I wanted to work with him. Plus, I assumed I would get to learn the secret behind his awesome hair.
And so here I am. My Contently business card reads, Apprentice to the CCO, and it never fails to extract an eyebrow raise and a smile. My co-workers have also shared their envy of the amorphous title.
I’ve gotten to follow Shane on interviews, to tapings of video segments, and official Contently meetings with well respected companies. I’ve been a part of his book launch process and witnessed what goes into the publicity and preparation. I’ve helped him execute his online webinars and have gotten to do some writing of my own.
The highlight for me of all of my experiences thus far has been the way Shane has incorporated me into every conversation. He introduces me as his apprentice, and explains that I am there to soak it all in. I become an equal in the room because he establishes it immediately. I am not a simply a scribe or Beverage Procurement Manager. I’m at the table and I’m meant to be there.
The response has each time been the same: people find it fun and a reflection of Shane’s unique mix of wisdom and congeniality. Having an “apprentice” present rather than an assistant relaxes the room. In the slew of business meetings people attend each day, the master/apprentice paradigm doesn’t emerge as often as you might think.
Of course, there are the less exciting administrative tasks — coordinating calendars, sending follow-ups, scheduling appointments, making sure he is eating correctly, and so on. But that is part of the deal: be there for the small things and the big things will come.
A lot of what I do can be tagged as #PersonalAssistant. However, what differs is the commitment to teaching that threads through each unpredictable pearl of a day. It is obvious to me that Shane views our dynamic as a mutually beneficial relationship, where there is learning, growth, and support on both ends. This principle of teaching freely, of innovators and leaders offering value to others as key to their success is one he discusses in his book Smartcuts.
The importance of mentorship is one of the most common pieces of advice I have heard as a “recent” college graduate (under three years is still recent, I swear). Female movers and shakers such as Huffington and Sandberg talk about mentorship as one of their key principles to success. One of the appointments I got to tag along with Shane was to interview the co-founder of the GLG group, one of the most successful start-ups in New York City, for a Fast Company
Alexander Saint-Amand said something during the interview that really stuck with me: The best way to learn is through one-on-one instruction. Accelerate the process of teaching yourself a skill or gaining knowledge by finding a person who is an expert and ask them questions. Learn from them. I’m lucky enough to do this every day.
As part of the millennial generation that is challenging traditional career paths and responding to the ever-shifting job market, I think being an apprentice is the way to go. Not only do I get to meet other movers and shakers, but I have someone looking out for my best professional interest. Also, sometimes I get to dress up like a robot.
Anything goes when you’re an apprentice. Yes, dad, I’m pretty sure my job is magic.
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