Most of what I learned in school has turned out to be utterly useless in the “real world.” In fact, rather than equip me for professional success, much of my academic life actually handicapped me, puffing up my ego and helping me build the analytical skills I could then use to obsess over the gap between undergraduate expectations and corporate reality.
There was one piece of advice, though, that could have helped me adjust, had I ever taken it to heart: “Don’t fall in love with your first draft.” In my memory, these words appear on a classroom poster of a hamburger — I’m not sure why… I think maybe the buns were the introduction and conclusion surrounding the “meat” of the story… (?) Well anyway, I never really took this advice because I believed everything that flowed from my mechanical pencil was pure genius.
Lately I’ve come to realize, however, that it’s an occupational hazard to fall in love with my first draft. Because at the bottom of the totem pole, where my cubicle is located, your job is to write first drafts — which you then hand up to more important people to review, modify, tweak and toss around until it’s a Frankenstein everyone can take credit for, or on the flipside, deny having had much say in, if it’s a flop.
So I’ve decided “Don’t fall in love with your first draft” is my new mantra. (At my last job it was “Happiness is a fragile flower that must be cultivated to grow,” adopted from a trade magazine columnist I used to edit.) I’ll regard my drafts as I would my children, if I had any.
As a parent you try to lay a good foundation, teaching your kids right and wrong and all that, but one day they go out into the world and are influenced by all kinds of random people you have no control over — teachers, classmates, the tipsy trophy wife next door. Maybe you’re overprotective of your first born, but by the second or third, you don’t even bother to lock the liquor cabinet.
I think maybe the most valuable — and versatile — lesson in life is the one about letting go (helpful for parents, writers, crazy ex-girlfriends, Brett Favre, the list goes on...).