The Powder Room Refrain

As an aspiring somebody, I am constantly seeking advice from people who have “made it.” And as a senior in college, one such person I sought advice from was Secretary Madeleine Albright. A fellow in a her global leadership program, I had the privilege of soaking in her political wisdom for three short weeks.

However, most of my contact with her was limited to the classroom experience. She was the teacher, and I was one of 40 students fortunate enough to learn from her lifetime of foreign policy experiences.

At the end of a three week intensive,  I attended a gala where my brief but wondrous encounter with Secretary Albright transpired. Between courses I rushed to the powder room (as it is so labeled in Alumnae Hall), and while searching for the paper towels that did not exist, bumped into the woman who I had spent the last three weeks kvelling over.

Being the inquisitive lady that she was, Secretary Albright stopped to ask me about my future career plans. I told her I was uncertain– I had an offer for Teach For America in Texas and an opportunity to study journalism abroad, but that at this point I was all but undecided. Her advice: “Read five media sources every morning– and make sure you disagree with at least two.” In that moment, her advice hardly seemed relevant in choosing a career path, but I smiled politely and thanked her for her wisdom.

Fast forward three years, and I am departing my job at a major entertainment network in New York. With one foot nearly out the door, I ask the executive producer a question I had been pondering since the day she hired me, “Why me? Of all the kids in all the tv industry, why choose me? I wasn’t exactly entertainment material.”

She paused and said, “You were exactly what we were looking for. I knew it the minute I asked you what news sources you read, and you said five names– indicating that at least two of them you disagreed with.” At which point I choked on my Diet Coke. Had Madeleine Albright really been the reason I was working for a music channel, integrating Billboard Top 40 references into my daily scripts?

Perhaps not entirely, but she certainly had taught me a lesson. Sometimes the advice you want isn’t the advice you get. However, if you invoke a little patience and let life take its course, it might just turn out to be useful. And even if it’s not, you’ll have material to write about for years to come.

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