Thursday, June 19, 2008

Tim Russert, The Single Lesson That Can't Be Overlooked

Yes this blog has become very Tim Russert oriented this week. I did this out of respect for a man that I greatly admired, watched religiously, and always wanted to meet. Everything that I have heard and learned of him in the past week has only enhanced my admiration for him and have to admit that I have truly been saddened and emotional about his death.

Yet this article is not going to be about Russert's journalistic integrity or brilliance. There have been more than enough words about that since news hit of his death last Friday. Instead there is a lesson that has been discussed but not focused on enough since Friday.

That would be part of the cause for his death, too much work.

Last evening I got a phone call from one of my old campaign friends who said the campaign manager we both worked for was in town and having a Bday get together at the World Famous Billy Goat Tavern (for non SNL fans, Cheezborger, Cheezborger, Cheezborger).

I went and met up with them and had an absolutely great time reminiscing about the glory days and the incredible campaign victory we won nearly 6 years ago.

The stories, while some very funny all had a theme to them and that was exhaustion, stress, and immense pressure you can't understand until you live it. The campaign we worked on, was the number one primary in the country and as my old boss said last evening, 'if we lost, all of our political careers would have been over.'

I have written before about the hours and sacrifices that people who work on campaigns put in in an article I was proud of titled "Why I No Longer Work On Campaigns".

The death of Tim Russert brought many of these feelings rushing back to the surface. 7 day work weeks that often started before dawn and ended well after midnight. You eat like shit when you eat, you rarely exercise, and you are at the beckon call of anyone that has interest in the campaign from DC to the place you are working.

It is all consuming and you usually have 3 people doing the work of 50 because every dollar you spend on a staffer is dwarfed by the $100 you have to spend on advertising, mail, or phone calls.

Some people think I exaggerate the all consuming nature of this business, but I think I actually short sell the work that goes into campaigns by it's staffers. If a labor leader gets up at 3am and reads a bad quote about NAFTA from your candidate, that is when your phone is going to ring and you are about to get your ass handed to you.

When I saw my old boss last evening he did a double take when he saw me. During that campaign I think I gained 20lbs in 6 months. Today I am 10 lbs lighter than when I started that race and am able to do that because after 7 years of politics and advertising have finally found a job with some balance.

I'm able to exercise regularly, not eat Steak 'n' Shake at 12:30am and not dream about what I did or may have fucked up at my job. Even when you did sleep on a campaign, it was by no means a restful sleep and ask anyone involved in a major race and they will tell you that they often needed 2-6 weeks to be able to really sleep through the night like a human being again.

Last evening each of the three of us said that we got chills or sick feelings in our stomachs just retelling the stories.

So that brings me to Tim Russert and the way that we as Americans have begun to work like never before and taken care of ourselves worse than ever before.

Tim Russert was a tireless, fanatical worker. He would be the last guy to sign off from MSNBC after midnight and then be on the Today Show the next day with Matt and Meredith. He would then be prepping for Meet the Press for NBC and the Tim Russert Show on CNBC all the while guest appearing on Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Hardball with Chris Matthews, and any other show that needed him. Not to mention he was the Washington Bureau Chief for NBC, a job that has responsibilities that I am sure are a full time gig. Additionally he travelled all over the country on the campaign trail or moderating debates.

Russert was a dedicated worker and was very well compensated for his efforts, but my experiences show that this kind of work ethic and schedule is becoming the norm as opposed to the exception to how we have to work to reach success.

Russert was NBC's 'sure thing' for ratings and entertainment and they took advantage of that and instead of having him dial it back. While there were stories of him saying 'more, more' when it came to Clinton Obama, that is when a company needs to protect its employees. I would bet the house that this year he worked and travelled more than ever.

When I worked in advertising I saw a very similar attitude toward employees not at the level of Tim Russert. New Account Executives making $25-$40K would be expected to work 70-80 hour weeks and told, 'work hard and it will pay off'.

Problem is most of them hated it so much and burned out so fast, that they would often leave the agency world. Those that were left over occasionally shot up the ladder if they kissed enough ass. Many, mostly were just given more work at the same pay and were stuck in your same position.

While I worked with many ultra qualified executives, the amount of lackey sycophants at the highest levels approached the levels in politics. In both businesses and I am sure this is not only confined there were loaded with backstabbers and people willing to make work the number one priority in their lives. The result you lose potentially qualified people and reward and promote many people based on hours worked rather than qualifications or people who strive for balance in their lives. These are people that are called 'difficult' or 'rebellious'. My experience is mavericks, rebels, and difficult can often be the most creative and best leaders.

Then there are the wonderful words of 'efficiency' and 'downsizing'. Company stock prices shoot up when they cut 200, 2000, or 20,000 employees and they justify the firing's by saying they will work more 'efficiently'.

There is no more bullshit explanation to lay off people than saying 'we are more efficient now'. The reality is that they just shift the work of the people they fired onto the people that they didn't fire. If the people who didn't get fired protest,,,, they are usually the next ones that get canned. Hence their lives become even more miserable, the quality of their work suffers, and the personally become less healthy.

We have become a nation of workaholics. There are articles I have read where people hardly use their paid vacation anymore because they are trying to climb the corporate ladder faster. The three day weekend is the new 'vacation' and the result is more people who never throttle down their minds and lives to rest.

I am not advocating that we all take siestas in the middle of the day, but there has to be a balance in our lives. I don't think NBC is at fault for Russert for his death. Yet I think they could have led him to be healthier.

If he is so valuable he has to be on the air 7 days a week, wouldn't his health and state of mind be a top priority for your success and profits?

I have mentioned many times on this blog that there are so many issues in our country that we need to address that we can't just focus on the same old issues we always lose focus on..

Getting healthier and more balanced as a nation is something we have to do and while we will miss Tim Russert for his colossal standing in the news, we need to take a lesson from his death that we need to take care of ourselves and our health. We need to educate people and encourage companies to stress true health care for their employees. Teach them that running on a treadmill every day isn't the only way to get healthier, especially if lunch three days a week includes french fries.

If we don't then all the drugs that we take will do just as Bill Maher often say, 'Keep us alive longer, but much more miserably.'

I don't know about you, but I want to enjoy and live life. I want to contribute to my work, and it will always be a high priority, but I want my health to be on that list in more than name only.

This article is not a Jerry Maguire mission statement, but this has become a personal issue to me in the past few months and the news of Mr Russerts passing has just made this a major issue for me. One I see few political solutions to, but one we need to address and do it now.

No comments: