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What I’ve Learned, a letter to my younger self

Hey there 20-year old Adam. Oh man. You look good. No gray hair. Bet you stayed up late last night. You’ve got hope, optimism, unbridled enthusiasm. And yes, a bit of naiveté. As you stroll around Woodburn Hall, Sunnyside, the Lair, thinking about the career adventure you are about to set off upon, I want to share with you some things I’ve learned over the years. Some insight from experience and exposure and opportunity to work with some of the brightest minds out there. Hopefully you will put it to use as you start on your career and life journey.

If I only knew then what I know now — my, my, my, how things would be different. 

“What I’ve learned?” is a hard question to answer. Learning is ongoing … and once you stop, well, that’s it. You’re done. Never stop being curious. You can never know enough. 

But here it is, what I’ve learned. From me to you … 

First and foremost, show up and be present

However … if you’re not adding value, you’re subtracting. It’s not enough to simply show up. You need to find a way to contribute at all times. 

But at the same time, you need to shut up, listen and learn. Trust me — you don’t know what you’re talking about just yet. 

Observe as much as you can. You’ll be amazed by what happens when you listen carefully and stop trying to make a statement. 

Be a student of the world. A specialized generalist. Try to know as much as you can about the matter at hand or about your industry — but become indispensable in some way. Be the go-to person on something. Especially when you’re young. 

Find something you can be deeply passionate about. It’s true: if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. 

Manage the brand called YOU. Unfortunately you will quickly learn that no one owes you anything. While you should look for mentors and good bosses to help guide your career development, you also have to formulate a plan about where you want to go and how you are going to get there. Just like any other brand development plan. Never underestimate how much everything communicates about who you are, who you want to be and where you want to go. If you want to be CEO, stop dressing like a hipster and suit up. I f you want to be a creative, stop behaving like a “suit.” 

Learn to pitch. Having an idea is one thing. Knowing how to articulate it, clearly, concisely and compellingly is another story. 

Work, is work. Yes, it can be fu n. Learn to separate your work and your personal life. Know what is work and what is play. Rarely is there a good time for more than one drink at a work affair. Learn to understand the value of a San Pellegrino (versus a Grey Goose). 

Pay your dues. Everyone else did, whether or not you think they did. 

Relationships matter and pay serious dividends. Manage them accordingly, grow them and nurture them. 

Learn how to give effective feedback. So much of my work is trying to be critical without being judgmental. In a creative enterprise like mine, the more specific the feedback, the better. In a business that is all about shades of gray subjectivity, it’s often best to try to be black and white. Working with creative people, they find it refreshing, perhaps disarmingly so, to hear the truth. My job has little to do with TV per se, it’s really about taste and culture. 

Commit. You have to pretend you’re 100 percent sure. You have to take action. You can’t hesitate or hedge your bets. Anything less will condemn your efforts to failure. 

Face-to-face communication matters and works. Rarely is there a misinterpretation. Nothing compares; there is really no substitute. 

You have to understand your mistakes. Study the hell out o f them. 

Jobs come and go. Family and friends are forever. Avoid the temptation and trap of being solely defined by your work. While you may become more “successful,” you’ll become increasingly less interesting. 

Don’t be wrapped too tight. It’s just work. 

Collaboration almost always makes the work better. Learn to share. Share the workload. Share the limelight. 

No one has a monopoly on great ideas. Listen to what everyone has to say. From the administrative assistant to the head of the division, great ideas can and do c ome from everywhere and everyone involved. 

Take a walk. The best ideas and the clearest thoughts rarely come when you’re strapped to a desk and a laptop. Get some air, go for a run, see an art exhibit. You’ll be amazed by where inspiration will come from and how effective you’ll be as a result. 

Profits matter. Awards, accolades, buzz, press coverage. They’re all great, but at the end of the day, it’s all BS. Money talks. 

Assume any career moves you make won’t go smoothly. They won’t, at first. But never look back as new experiences push you to do new things, push you to grow and make you more interesting and more effective as an executive. 

Don’t look back. Very little good can come from looking back longingly. Love and appreciate where you came from, but live in the present and always keep moving forward. 

Adam Stotsky

As president of Esquire Network, Adam Stotsky is responsible for oversight of all facets of the entertainment and lifestyle network, including programming, development, production, marketing, press and publicity and digital operations. Stotsky reports to Bonnie Hammer, chairman, NBCUniversal Cable Entertainment Group. 

Stotsky is also general manager of G4, and has served in this role since January 2012. Prior to G4, Stotsky served as president of marketing for the NBC Entertainment division of NBCUniversal. Stotsky led strategy, branding, creative, paid media, digital/social media and partnership marketing initiatives for NBC’s daytime, primetime and late night day-parts. Stotsky also led NBC’s strategic brand repositioning, resulting in the launch of “NBC: More Colorful” in fall 2009. Advertising Age selected Stotsky as one of its “MARKETING 50” in recognition of his marketing innovation for Syfy’s Peabody Award-winning franchise, “Battlestar Galactica.” Stotsky was also honored by Multichannel News as one of its “40 UNDER 40.” Stotsky was elected to the PROMAX/BDA Board of Directors in 2004 and served as its co-chairman from 2010-2012. He graduated from WVU in 1991 with a degree in communicationstudies.