“So, Al, what are you going to do with an English degree when you graduate?”
“Dad, it’s a liberal arts degree, everyone will want to hire me.”
My dad’s advice fell on deaf ears. I was too big for my britches, and my dad knew it. He encouraged me to contact alums to investigate career options, but I didn’t follow his advice. Instead, I stormed the real-world with my inflated ego and landed a job as a receptionist at a stock brokerage firm in Dallas.
I hadn’t thought much about that first job until recently. After a quick Google search, I discovered the firm was still in business, and my first boss now donned an impressive title. Actually, he was my second boss. After one week of answering phones with a smile, I received a promotion to sales assistant. I felt like Melanie Griffith in the movie Working Girl as I rode the bus downtown in my cheap business suit with my high heels tucked into my oversized purse.
My tasks included crafting correspondence (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to clients and a teachable moment on writing. It’s the type of lesson that transformed the trajectory of my life—and I’m sure my former manager would have zero recollection of ever offering it.
He instructed me to write a letter informing a client to “pay up or else.” I wrote, “Client, you must pay or else.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing, but my boss, rather than chiding me for the harsh tone, said the letter sounded as if I pointed a scolding finger toward the client, who only needed to pay an invoice, not hire a lawyer. Once again, I’m paraphrasing, but I took the lesson to heart: never alienate the reader.
Fast forward 31 years and I still consider this the best advice I’d ever received. Without invested readers, writing would be a fruitless endeavor. What I want “you” to think, to feel, to believe drives my writing content and determines how I connect with the audience. Writers can open doors as quickly as they can close them. Revealing the rising fog as it slowly lifts from the marshy bayou in late spring sets the mood. What I say matters as much as what you read.
Even though I might not have thought about my first “real-world” job in a while, the lesson that the audience matters is one I have retold many times. It matters when writing a blog article, posting social media, or telling a story. We are the creators of what others view, and it helps to have an ideal audience in mind whether it is a client who needs to “pay or else,” novice bloggers, or a roomful of college students. Audience always matters.
Today, my audience is my Dad, the man who made practical suggestions to a girl who believed she was “all that” and the gentle lesson that if the britches don’t fit, try on a smaller ego.