Last week, we began living in Trump’s America. For some, this is a welcome change after eight years living under a president who didn’t share their values. For others, this is a terrifying prospect threatening to roll back progress and forge ahead toward a dystopian future. I have my thoughts on where this will take us, though it will be an adjustment for everyone.
Except maybe for me. I spent five years at a marketing agency under a very Trump-like figure. In that time, I went from copywriter to vice president. Now, I’m sure it helps that I’m a straight, white male. However, it’s very likely working in such an environment uniquely prepared me for living in Trump’s America.
While the parallels won’t be perfect, here’s some of my advice on how to make the most of the next few years and come out on top.
Know the Rules (And Be Prepared When They Change)
Say what you will about the future, we’re still a nation guided by the rule of law, as well as other unspoken rules that frame a lot more of our daily life. Pay attention to those rules and adhere to them to the best of your ability, despite what others might do. By playing the game this way, you avoid scrutiny and can stick to your ultimate goals of effecting change.
At the same time, when you’re working with an impulsive, arguably narcissistic leader, those rules are liable to change suddenly without warning. It won’t always make sense. In fact, it’s almost certainly going to slow you down and confuse you. You’re best off rolling with those punches, taking careful note of the results.
This happened a lot at my old firm. When the boss man decided he had a better idea for an established way of doing business, we’d shift operations and resources into that new shiny thing. Nine times out of ten, the whole firestorm would blow over in a month and things went back to normal.
(I specifically remember one instance where we had to dump all our presentation decks in favor of something flashier, which was less intuitive and more time consuming; when it ended up having no impact on new business, we abandoned it.)
Understand the new rules you need to live in Trump’s America. Memorize them until you act instinctively. Then, move reflexively when those rules change, paying attention to the outcomes as evidence for either keeping things the same or making more changes. If they fall short of expectations, you might ultimately end up going back to the way things were. Can’t risk a bruised ego, now, can we?
Rage Within the Machine
It’s so easy and natural to protest against what you don’t like. Yet that’s not always the most effective way to get what you want. To really see change, you have to become part of what you hate, then change it slowly over time to match your image. In other words, if you don’t like what they’re saying, change the conversation.
This explains a lot of the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street movements. The former got angry and got involved. The latter got angry and went home. That’s why the Tea Party has become so powerful, with no real counter movement left.
Maintaining a low profile and fitting into the machine was key to my success. Not because I’m a coward. More because I’m solutions oriented in my approach to everything, always wanting to get the most out of any opportunity. I was willing to see the benefit in any idea, asking myself how it could work, rather than explaining why it wouldn’t. That attitude led to a lot of respect.
I still had to take some pretty awful assignments from some shady clients in order to rise through the ranks. Call it paying my dues. Though I never called it quits and said it wouldn’t work. Then slowly, over time, I built enough trust to get to the top. (Turnover also helped, but that’s another story.) With that position of power, I could better influence the kind of business we would be, talking strategy with the big boss instead of taking orders from him.
So, if you really want to get the most out of Trump’s America, roll up your sleeves and get to work behind the scenes. It’s not nearly as satisfying as a massive rally, but it’s way more effective in the long run.
Never Lose Touch with Reality
When living in Trump’s America, it’s going to be easy to live in your bubble, whatever that bubble may be. Whether you believe everyone hates the president or loves him, the reality is somewhere in between. Ignoring that fact is part of the reason why we’re in Trump’s America to begin with.
The same can be said for my local marketing agency. You get in your bubble where the things that matter to your world are completely irrelevant to the rest of it. What insensitive email waits in your inbox on Monday? What impossible deadline will I have to meet this week? How are we going to overpromise and underdeliver next? Sounds familiar, no?
Well, just know that those small distractions cause people to react differently, many with indifference. In fact, we all have different issues that are the most pressing for us. Work issues. Life issues. Personal issues. Those shape our own reality. But by taking yourself out of that reality and exploring differences, you get a better picture for the real reality.
Engage with the other side if only to understand why they think the way they think and figure out what’s really happening here. Remember, the smartest among us start by asking what they don’t know. Strive to see from outside your own perspective, if only to broaden your horizons and round out your positions and philosophies. It can get stuffy living your life in that bubble.
We Will Make It Through Trump’s America
For better or worse, Trump’s America is here. I had to live through it before it was cool. Again, it’s not a perfect parallel because the circumstances and scale were way different. Yet use my time running around under a Trumpian boss as a guide for ways you can stay engaged and come out on top.
Know the rules. Embrace the change. Lean in to the environment. Stay true to your convictions and in touch with the real world. There’s tons of opportunity out there if you know how to make the most of Trump’s America.