Wild Things: Professional Skills Lessons from Children's Literature

Posted by Bridget Beirne
May 10, 2012

Favorite children's books that teach valuable professional skills.

professional skills 4This week we bid a fond farewell to Maurice Sendak, author of the children’s classic, Where the Wild Things Are . So great was his reach, and so special was his writing and visual art, that catching a glimpse of one of those furry, over-sized Wild Things online or in a bookstore window can immediately transport adults and children alike to the world of Sendak’s imagination.  Wrapped in the day to day drudgery of emails, meetings, and deadlines, we forget that the books we read as children have messages that are still useful. Many of the lessons we learned flipping through those pages are invaluable in our professional lives. In honor of Mr. Sendak, let’s feel like kids again and look at few great lessons from some childhood favorites.

Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss: Part of the brilliance of Dr. Seuss (or Theodor Geisel ) is that Sneetches, Whos and the like are metaphors for some of the deepest human issues- prejudice, destruction of nature, peace and war. The message of Green Eggs and Ham is a bit simpler- don’t be afraid to try something new. Whether it’s a different approach to presenting, building a new relationship or diving in to the most current aspect of social media, the more you resist out of fear or discomfort, the longer you put off getting to enjoy something you might really like. Take a tip from Sam I Am- that new thing you don’t want to try may be just what you need.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Judith Viorst: Poor Alexander has to deal with unexpected mishaps (gum in his hair!) relationship let-downs and lack of recognition, all in one day. He doesn't know when he wakes up in the morning that bad stuff will happen at every turn. Sound familiar? Some days, we slide our feet into slippers when our alarm goes off, trundle out for coffee and try to lead with the assumption that it is going to be a good day. Next thing we know, we disagree with a coworker, lose a big account or blow our important presentation. It’s ok to have one of those days. Bad stuff happens. Keep going.

The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper: The mountain is high, the task seems insurmountable, and those around you don’t seem to be offering too much help. It’s frightening, challenging and all in your hands. How do you deal with it? With confidence, and one heck of a mantra.  We mean this in all seriousness- when in the throes of stage fright or anxiety, give the old “I think I can I think I can” repetition a try. (A more recent addition to the “mantras intended for children coveted by adults” category? "Just keep swimming", the confidence builder repeated in Disney’s FINDING NEMO.) Calm your mind and find your confidence.

Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson: You’re in control! This is a great story to remember when presenting. Harold takes himself on an adventure with a purple crayon that brings anything he draws to life. Unfortunately, he draws himself into some tight scrapes and things start to go terribly awry. But Harold knows he’s in control and draws himself right back out of them. When your PowerPoint develops a mind of its own, you momentarily forget everything you ever knew about your own job, or the lights go out at the highpoint of your presentation- you’re in control. You have everything you need to deal with the problem- you. Draw your way out.

Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak:  As Jayme Johnson discusses in this article on philosophical interpretation for children, it’s all about attitude, and Max has a bad one. So bad is his attitude that he withdraws from the world and creates a place where he can let that attitude run wild. Think about the colleague you have that allows their bad behavior to isolate them. (Think hard an ask a difficult question- is it you?) Business is about building relationships, and as Max learns at the end of the book, the real relationships with positive foundations mean more than the often superficial ones we share with those who operate from a place of cynicism and negativity. As popular as the story is, no one wants to work where the wild things are- let civility be the monarch on your island.


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