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LAist Interview: Author Megan Hustad on How Not to Hate Your Job

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Megan Hustad's new book How to be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work should really be subtitled "Ways to not suck at your first job."

She combs through hundreds of self-help, success and business books to glean the best advice she could find for newbies in the workforce. (And even those of us who've been there awhile can always afford to learn a thing or two as well.) So LAist posed a few questions to Hustad recently about surviving the working world:.

LAist: When you were working in the publishing industry did you ever get frustrated enough to read "success literature"? If so, which book?

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MH: No way! Are you kidding? Frustrated, absolutely, but picking up a book specifically designed to help cut through that frustration? That seemed lame-brained. Plus, I thought all career advice amounted to Tom Peters, rah-rah middle-management! type stuff, and I wasn't interested in that, so no...never.

LAist: What inspired you to write How to Be Useful? Why would you take one for the team and read all those advice books?

MH: Pretty much discovering that being so discriminating in my reading selections wasn't doing me any favors. I also think I became drawn to them as a genre precisely because they were taboo, in a sense, amongst the arty crowd I ran with. Anything avoided with a 10-foot pole deserves closer investigation.

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LAist: Which person's advice surprised you the most?

MH: Helen Gurley Brown, former editor of Cosmo (a magazine I don't read, and never have), who wrote a book called Sex and the Single Girl in 1962. I'd first heard of the book when I was a kid -- it was on a Trivial Pursuit question! God, that's nerdy. But anyhow, it's not as sexy as the title suggests, not in the literal sense anyway, and is fundamentally about squirming your way up in the world (clothes on). She's a very entertaining writer.

LAist: Do you think the grads coming into the workforce today are spoiled? Entitled? I recall reading in your introduction that our experiences in college don't prepare people for office life...at all.

MH: Um, yeah, I think that's probably a fair assessment. Or at least that's what many people who are currently bossing recent grads around tell me -- that new employees increasingly "don't get it." The more inane parts of the college experience are partly to blame, yes, but I also think the culture at large now just spews out these totally idiotic messages. "Just be yourself!" Etc., etc. But then there's also the massive proliferation of this ironic posturing -- the idea that if something doesn't satisfy, the best and most honorable thing to do is to cross your arms, stand on the sidelines, and make snide remarks. Used to be, only the avant-garde was snotty and cynical; now mainstream pop culture is totally cynical. It's weird. I'm still trying to figure out what the implications are, beyond making it harder to get through the work day.

LAist: When you advise people to not be themselves...are you advocating lying in the workplace to get ahead?

MH: Not at all. I'm basically saying, if you think you have some obligation to represent your true and soulful essence every waking moment of the day, and you're working in an underling or assistant capacity, you will get frustrated and angry with yourself really, really fast. Also -- certain kinds of personalities and behaviors get rewarded in corporate settings, and others...less so. Telling young people that anything goes as long as they're sincere and they work hard, when, in fact, that's totally not true, is just not...kind. Or helpful to them. But it's complicated. [Insert plug for Chapter 1, where I discuss all this at length, here!]