Recently, I had the pleasure of speaking with Richie Frieman, author of the new book, Reply All… And Other Ways to Tank Your Career. Richie also serves as The Modern Manners Guy for QuickAndDirtyTips.com – a humorous weekly column and podcast about manners and etiquette. In addition, Richie is an award-winning author and illustrator of children’s books, founder of the baby clothing company Charm City Babies, inventor, and perhaps most unique, former professional wrestler. Truly, as St. Martin’s Press noted, Richie is “a modern Renaissance Man.” We discussed his unique personal brand, the inspiration for his book, and what you can do if you realize you may be tanking your career!
What do you consider to be your personal brand?
You know it’s funny because one of the hardest questions for me to answer is, “what do you do?” I want to say a couple of different things, and I don’t want to leave anything out. And a lot of what I do tends to appear disjointed. I’m the “Modern Manners Guy,” I created a kids clothing line, wrote some children’s books, I used to be a wrestler. When you lay all of that out on the table, it does look disjointed. And I certainly consider myself a writer first and foremost, of course now, an author. I like to say, “Whatever you do is a part of yourself.” My personal brand is who I am. I do all of these things that are basically just an extension of my personality. So whenever I venture into something, it’s not because I just think that it would be fun, it’s because there is a deep passion behind it. I don’t want to be looking back a year later, ten years later, a lifetime later, and thinking to myself “I had a great idea for this, but I never did it.” It’s something that drives me insane. I hate thinking that I would do that to myself.
Defining my personal brand all starts with being a “people person” which sounds so cliché but it’s true. Some people in the entertainment industry, whether you are a writer, comedian, actor, singer, you are a “people person.” You may be more of a reclose or more private than others, but you are doing things so that you can share it with others and have them react to it. You are expressing yourself. It makes perfect sense to people like us, that you see what you want to do, and you just do it. Nowadays it’s just different. I don’t know, unless you are a doctor or something, people aren’t just doing one thing anymore. Teachers are being coaches or offering other forms of charity. Lawyers may be practicing law, but they also develop other forms of business. So they say, “Yeah I’m a lawyer, but there are many branches off of that tree.” You have the opportunity to pursue whatever the hell you want to do as long as you are willing to take the risk and put in the time to do it. You can always try something and stop, it’s no big deal. If you really want to do something, you can get into those environments.
And all of my pursuits have the same level of community. There is a community of business, there is a community of writers, there is a community of art, there is a community of believe it or not, yes, wrestlers. And each one of those has their own life to it. So whenever I would pursue something in that direction I would put myself totally within the community. One person may be in one particular field, and when they go to networking events they only are dealing in that field. For me, I would go to 10 of them, all different kinds, so I was able to reach out and have these fun experiences. Even though I wasn’t at the top tier of any of these industries, I was fully immersed in each one of them. And my background and social reach is a little bit broader than others just because I was willing to invite myself in.
I have a big issue with regret, and how people gauge failure. Failure to me comes on different levels; no one is a “failure.” I would hate to be sitting in my rocker in my 90’s and telling my grandkids all of the things I wish I had done, there is nothing inspiring about that.
You are really a “modern Renaissance Man.” You do so many unique endeavors, do you have one that you identify with most or enjoy more than the others?
It’s funny because people don’t understand what my goal is, when they look at my website they must be thinking, “What is this guy trying to do here?” As we discussed, everything I pursue seems so disjointed to others, but for me, these are things I always have wanted to do. I always wanted to be a writer, a wrestler, to have my own fashion line. I just couldn’t do them when I was 18 or 19 years old. But you figure it out and things change as you grow, you have a family, and I had those opportunities. Each one is like my little baby though, so it’s very difficult to pick which is my favorite.
I was a very poor student growing up, and I don’t mean that in terms of grades, I did pretty well in school. But I had a fairly bad learning disability, I suffered from ADHD, and back then you were just considered stupid. And I also had a form of dyslexia where I would read words and letters jumbled around, some would even disappear if I read over and over again. To become a writer, or an artist in any aspect, was an extreme longshot for me. But I always wanted to do it. I’m incredibly humbled by the term “Renaissance Man” because it’s a very powerful title to have someone use to refer to you. Knowing that people appreciate that you are willing to do a number of different things and excel to a certain level at each of them. And everything I do is a form of art, even wrestling is art, it just comes down to how I fit each activity into that bucket.
What are some lessons that you learned from being a wrestler that would apply in the workplace?
Well there are a couple of things actually. There is a quote that my trainer told me in the first month that I was learning how to be a wrestler. He was sort of telling me the ways to make it in the industry and he said, “The ass you kick on the way up is the ass you kiss on the way down.” Because in wrestling you win because someone tells you they are going to win. It’s part of an act, its entertainment. When you step in the ring your job is to entertain, but understand that you are playing a part. And just because you stepped on this guy to get to the top, you have to remember that there is a chance you will see him on your way down or his way back up. People walk over each other to get to the top, and they assume they will always be number one, or that no one will dare try to surpass them. But that’s not the case, so it was a tremendous lesson, be nice to everyone, treat them with respect, because then you’ll be able to lean on others instead of going against them.
Wrestling is entertainment. It hurts like hell, but it’s entertainment. And I’ll always say it’s the greatest form of entertainment in the world. I was a shy person before wrestling, and the confidence I got from wrestling really allowed me to go into other circles, to meet people and be open and take risks. To be successful and to have a good career, you have to be outgoing and personable. After wrestling, I could go network or talk to a big shot and it was all right. Wrestling got rid of all of my nerves. When you have the door closed in your face so many times, you don’t care anymore. And it happens because you were willing to take a risk and someone else wasn’t willing to. If you think that things will always be the same regardless of what you do, there will never be any change. When you combine two things that don’t make sense, like comedy and business, or wrestling and business, amazing things can happen.
In the book, you talk about some of the annoying people you might encounter in your workplace. What about if you realize that you are the annoying one? What should you do?
There are two things. First, drop your ego at the door. Once you do that, you can be more open to understanding how other people feel around you. And join the community in your office, that’s part of it. Second, if you do make a mistake or find out that you are the annoying person in the office, or you are the one sitting in someone’s cube for too long, than start from scratch. Just don’t do it anymore, don’t dwell on it or keep apologizing. The problem is when someone keeps bringing it up or apologizing for the error they made, everyone will keep being reminded of it, and no one can grow from that. Just allow the opportunity for people to start over, with no grudges, everyone should get a second chance in the office. Everyone should have a chance to shine, and if you allow people to start from scratch after an error, if they are willing to make an effort, that’s the best approach. Painting someone with a broad brush as the annoying person, the loud talker, the guy who doesn’t wash his hands… actually I don’t forgive that guy… but in other situations if you label somebody it’s not helpful. I did it in my book to be funny and so that people would see it and realize that is how they may be seen by others. If you stop doing the act, and start from scratch, a new world will be open to you. Drop your ego and realize that you can make mistakes.
Tell us about the book. Who would benefit from reading it?
The book is geared toward young professionals or recent grads that are just making their way into the corporate world. But it’s also for people well
into their career, to read and enjoy and think about where they are. The way I did this was to put together a list of extremely successful CEOs and entrepreneurs and entertainers and to interview them on all of the things that they have seen on their climb to the top. It came down to thinking about myself at 21 or 22 years old and every single moment after that. Wondering what the other person was thinking, was my handshake firm enough, did they enjoy the presentation? The people in the book talk about what they see from the other side of the table, what bothers them, and then we go in and we have an in-depth discussion about it. And I don’t know of any other book like this one. We bring very successful people to the table to ask what are the most un-mannerly things they’ve seen in their career, so that we can help people who are coming up in the game today. That’s what we hope to accomplish with this book.
And after reading it myself, I believe that Richie has done a pretty good job of achieving his goal. If you are a young leader in today’s marketplace, I’d highly recommend picking up a copy of his book. Special thanks to Richie for taking the time to chat with me, and best of luck to him with this new project and whatever crazy idea he comes up with next! To learn more about him, visit his website, or follow him on Twitter @RichieFrieman