As checkered as my career has been, along the way I've been lucky enough to have been taught by some pretty good bosses.
My first "professional" boss was a guy called Pat Patrichuk. He was a grizzled old guy--and I was just 22 at the time--so he looked to me as ancient as the Pleistocene.
I was writing catalog pages back then, hundreds and hundreds of them. If you screwed up the SKU codes of a pair of boots or something, if you forgot to include the right color choices, it would foul up the whole system, and you were in a fair amount of trouble. If you made three mistakes in a year, you were out on your not inconsiderable.
One time I tiptoed into Mr. Patrichuk's office and started hemming and hawing about a mistake that made it almost into print--I think they had to stop the presses to correct it. I was going on and on, not lying, but prevaricating as I went.
I'll remember forever what Patrichuk said to me: "Hit me, but don't shit me." In other words, tell me what happened flat out, don't try to hide it.
Another boss I had was in my next job when I was writing print ads in-house for Bloomingdale's. Chris Rockmore was his name and he was a very brainy guy who knew how to solve any problem and would almost always be on your side.
I remember having issues with a piece of copy. Maybe it was the buyer's fault, maybe it was mine. Doesn't really matter. The simple fact was, it had gone through so many rounds of revisions that it was no longer intelligible. Dogged, as I am, however, I kept trying to fix it.
Chris came into my tiny office and looked at what I was going through. He tore up the offending copy and all my previous drafts. (We had typewriters in those days, so nothing was "saved.")
"Start fresh," he said to me. "Stop correcting corrections."
Today, we go through so many revisions to even the simplest, shortest pieces of copy. And we sit through meeting after meeting where people do a soft-shoe to soft-peddle the destruction.
That's when I think about Mr. Patrichuk. Hit me but don't shit me.
And when I get to my desk to rewrite, I think about Chris. And I start fresh.
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