The right place at the right time: a lesson from Mad Men

Apt Bld Elevator Up by  terrykimura

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Spoiler Alert!  If you missed Sunday’s episode of Mad Men, stop reading now.

If you’re a fan of the show, then you know that Mad Men masterfully conveys the complexity of office life.  And that amid all the cocktails and indiscretions, there are real business lessons to be had.  One recurring irony of the show that I particularly love is that, despite our best laid plans, our careers rarely play out the way we expect them to.

Take, for example, Don Draper’s former secretary Dawn.  She is unfairly dismissed by her new boss, but after a string of seemingly random events – a funeral, a lost purse, a bad phone connection, an unidentified bouquet of roses – she finds herself promoted to Head of Personnel.

Although a somewhat extreme example, I’ve found that this is the way change often happens in the real world.  Unexpected situations arise and they’re dealt with on the fly.

So should we take from this that our professional advancement is completely at the whim of politics or chance?  Hardly.  Dawn may have been in the right place at the right time, but she was promoted because she had proven herself smart, capable and tough.

The takeaway:

  • Always do more than is expected of you.
  • Step up to new challenges and responsibilities.
  • Demonstrate your character and integrity.
  • Share your personality in a genuine but professional way.

Do these things, and at some point, you’ll likely find yourself in the right place at the right time.


(Photo by terrykimura via Flickr, licensed under Creative Commons)



4 thoughts on “The right place at the right time: a lesson from Mad Men

  1. Shanna Koenigsdorf Ward

    This is a fabulous post. I love that you connected it to a popular TV show. The bullet points are so helpful to the reader – and professional. What are some ways you recommend sharing your personality in a professional, appropriate way in a work setting? Also, thank you for the mention on twitter. You are too kind, and I am touched by the gesture. Best wishes, Shanna

    1. Bernadine Post author

      Kind words, Shanna. Thank you!

      Re: showing your personality, I was thinking about being yourself and not trying to “fit in” in some way. If you’re an introvert, don’t think you have to be the life of the cubicle. Or if you’re naturally outgoing, remember that you can be warm and friendly without sharing every detail of your life with your coworkers.

      And you’re welcome for the tweet!

  2. Pingback: Fiction with a business bent. | The Management Maven

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