Last weekend at the Omega Institute’s Women & Power Weekend, I had an opportunity to sit down with Pat Mitchell, whose work I’ve admired for years. Pat is CEO of the Paley Center, an institution with a huge TV and radio archive and programs and resources for creatives that examine the intersections between media and society.
- spearheaded conversion of 150,000 television & radio programs to a digital format
- first woman to nationally syndicate her own show, the Emmy-winning Woman to Woman, which she also hosted
- first female president of PBS
- her documentaries and specials received 37 Emmy Awards, 5 Peabody Awards, and 2 Academy Award nominations
- Vice Chair of the Sundance Institute
- named to Newsweek‘s 2011 list of 150 Women Who Shake the World
- named by the Huffington Post as one of the Most Powerful Women Over 50
Pat & I talked about inspiration and how to make a meaningful creative life happen in a 9-5 job world. This excerpt from our discussion is the first part in an on-going Virtual Mentor series. I hope you enjoy!
PopCulturePirate: In your commencement speech at the University of Georgia, you caution that “doing something outside our own job responsibilities” can lead to being “labeled as an agitator” or “not a team player.” What advice do you have for those creative women who’ve experienced just this?
Pat Mitchell: It’s different at every age. When youʼre young, youʼre pushing around the edges to get what you need from your job. When I was in my late 20ʼs there were only a few of us women working in media and it was easy to get isolated. We werenʼt very supportive of each other. In fact, we were competitive. It was a “protect your turf” kind of thing. So yes, I had to do the silly stuff; I had to keep my job; I had a child to support so I had to make a living. But I was able to push around the edges of the company to do what I needed and wanted to do [for my career] and not get pushed out of a job.
But itʼs not the same answer at every age. I felt differently at every stage. In my 30’s I came back into the industry with more experience. I was a more empowered agitator because I had left to start my own production company. So when I cam back into the industry to work in TV again, I was more credible. Then, at 45-55 [as executive for original productions for Ted Turner’s cable networks] I felt I personally pushed the hardest and did the most and felt most rewarded in my work. But that was wasn’t until I was older. I always like to say thereʼs nothing more dangerous than an older woman. Weʼve got nothing to loose. By then, I had more to stand on. I had more experience. I could do more with my vision.
But I donʼt think you, in your 20’s can do what I do now. You donʼt have the wherewithal. You don’t have the time or the resources. You’re trying to keep a job. But know this: you wonʼt get to where you want to be without being a troublemaker. And that’s true at any age.
Here’s the thing: I always had an outside activity or passion that made it possible for me to do my work. I have to do it. You canʼt say I canʼt. I am fueled by a lot of the work I do outside of the Paley Center. I feel that this work makes me a better CEO. And long as Iʼm doing my job, itʼs ok. Iʼm sure there are people who prefer I be 100% on the job. But I canʼt do that. Itʼs not who I am.
PCP: It’s 1968, you are 25 years old. What are the two things you wish someone took you by the hand and told you?
PM: Look, youʼre never going to feel like everything youʼre doing is in balance. I always felt I was never where I needed to be. If I was home with my son, I thought I should be at work. If I was at work, I thought I needed to be home. I wish someone relieved me of that inner conflict.
Your life is not going to look the same at 25, 35, and the answers won’t be the same. It sounds repetitive to say but life is a continuum. It’s not a race. I wish someone told me that, at 25, it wonʼt happen in the next 10 years. And you wouldn’t want it to. A good, successful career is a delicate cocktail of age, experience, credibility, money and resources. And the answers aren’t always what you thought they’d be and the answers change at every life stage.
What are the two things you wish someone took you by the hand and told you?