The Lessons I Learned from “Working Girl”

When I’m asked what movie impacted my career or inspired me to do what I do, my response is not, “O Captain, My Captain.” Although I did enjoy The Dead Poet’s Society, 1988’s Working Girl is one that I have watched more than two dozen times since I was a young girl. It was the working fairytale for a Staten Island secretary who at the time was weighed down by big hair, big earrings, too much makeup and the infamy of living on an island best known for being visible from space because of its garbage dump. (Full disclosure: I’m a former Staten Islander who now calls the island of Manhattan home.)

The movie provided an escape. Hop aboard the Staten Island Ferry, pound the pavement of the city, dare to dream big, tackle those who steal your ideas, mingle with the right people and you can change your destiny. The lessons shared are synonymous with all of life’s challenges. Just because you deserve it, doesn’t mean you will get it. Don’t be bullied. Don’t back down.

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Played by Melanie Griffith, one of Tess’s rituals that stayed with me throughout my career: Read, read, read. From magazines to New York Times bestsellers to subway ads. If you want to ABC — Always Be Closing, you must ABR — Always Be Reading. When Tess tears an item from a Page Six gossip column and matches it with another tear sheet from a business column, she is inspired to pitch a potential business acquisition, one that hasn’t occurred to anyone else.

I’ve gone from ripping my own tear sheets to taking screenshots to capture light bulb moments that occur while scanning the web. And I always think of Tess when I do it. When you can go into a meeting with five different sources that speak to trends and future strategies, your ideas seem researched and they are. “I read a lot of things. You never know where the big ideas could come from.” Tess McGill

Even the most unpleasant person you encounter in the work world, will have something to teach you. Such as this gem from Tess’s boss (Sigourney Weaver): “Never burn bridges. Today’s junior prick is tomorrow’s senior partner.”  This advice has never been more true than in today’s business world when the majority of startups are being founded by those under 30. I’ve reiterated this to colleagues when they dismiss the importance and influence of a young media planner. Media planners carry more weight than you think and are given the reins to manage million-dollar campaigns.  Be careful of who you deem not yet worthy.

At the conclusion of Working Girl, of course it all works out because it’s Hollywood, not Manhattan. Tess gets the deal, the job, the man (Harrison Ford, quite gorgeous back then) and the OFFICE…something that was so important twenty-five years ago. Today, offices are viewed less favorably and more and more as holding cells. But I do remember my first (and only) private office with a window a few years ago. I too, closed the door, screamed my head off and called all my friends, “Guess where I am?!”

So I join Forbes in toasting “Working Girl” on its 25th Anniversary and hope the movie’s innate lessons can continue to inspire working girls today. Watch the clip below of Carly Simon’s “Let the River Run” to play tribute:

Working Girl, Happy 25th Anniversary, you’ve made my DigiDay! Thank God I can find the clips on YouTube!

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