Can You Be Nice, and On Top?

For a long time I have wrestled with whether or not to be nice. I know your mom told you it’s always good to be nice. But especially as a woman in the workforce, there’s this unspoken rule that you have to prove that you can hang with the guys in order to be the boss. Be tough, but don’t lose your cool or get angry, otherwise then the pendulum swings too far in the opposite direction.

In fact, I had someone on a hiring panel tell me – after I lost a job to a guy less qualified and (of course) less gregarious than me (gregarious was their word, not mine, although I do like it) – that there’s something that might help: being meaner. More colorful language was used to describe this, but I’ll spare you all of that.

I don’t fault the guy for telling me that because in general he is right.

Women in traditionally male occupations can either be viewed as competent (a significant hurdle…as evidenced by the MIT study) or liked (which, it turns out, is really important and for more reasons than just a desire to be popular)…but rarely both.

I mean, unfortunately, really right.

Studies have long challenged the idea that nice guys finish first. Being kind and considerate in the workplace has been perceived as a weakness, and an invitation to disrespect, and indeed studies have found that such behavior does not seem to come with many rewards.

… Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg writes, in Lean In, about the numerous instances in which being overly accommodating — not taking the best seat at a meeting, waving off praise, underestimating their billable hours to avoid overcharging — holds women, in particular, back at work.

So I retraced it. Was it the cardigan and pearls I wore? Did I giggle too much? Do I smile too much when I should be “meaner”?

As I came to realize that if I had to change or question who I was as a person in order to get a job that maybe the job wasn’t for me, I wrestled with how in the future I should present myself. Is me being jovial holding me back in my career? Do people take me less seriously because of it?

And then here comes Jimmy Fallon.

Jimmy Fallon proves it’s possible. Unlike the Philly magazine column about him, which ironically points out not a single new thought or complaint about Jimmy Fallon’s comedy while accusing him of the very same atrocity, Fallon is nice.

Saying that he shouldn’t do impressions mocks both the heritage of Fallon’s rise to stardom on Saturday Night Live as well as the fact that he does more than impressions, he gets the celebrities in on the joke. He gets Bruce Springsteen to mock himself, and gets Michael McDonald to sing “Row Your Boat,” and gets Barry Gibb to sing as he does a crazily outrageous version of his ‘70s persona. He even gets Jerry Seinfeld to mock his own voice to match his impression. Celebrities and public figures are best when humanized and imperfect as seen by the absolute love of Jennifer Lawrence being irreverent and speaking from her heart at every turn. Even Netflix banked on a Mitt Romney documentary that did that same thing – humanize him.

Sure, Jimmy might over-laugh at a guest’s jokes. Sure, he’s not the best interviewer. (But considering most late night talk show interviews are a rehash of pre-approved talking bits about a star’s latest vacation or a singer’s new dog, I think I’ll take Natasha Richardson playing charades or Drake playing flip cup over recycled, boring, and overly sanitized anecdotes anyway.)

He’s in the zeitgeist, and that’s why he gets to do the Tonight Show. That, and of course, he is nice. Unlike Mr. Philly mag, there are a lot of people who have noticed this in Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show.

I know when I first started watching Late Night I thought, “Ugh, the guy who could never keep it together on SNL? WHY?” and then weeks went by, and then months, and he found his groove as the head of a three ring circus variety show put into high gear and I had to eat crow. The show is watchable, shareable (which is ever important), and just plain ol’ nice and fun. And as he is proven in interview after interview, no one is more excited to be doing that job than he is.

There’s a reason that now Upworthy headlines are all the rage, and widely imitated with varying levels of effectiveness as a result. For so long as a society – especially in media and entertainment – that if it bleeds, it leads. But people grow weary of negativity, especially in an environment where our elected officials hit scandal after scandal, our neighbors and friends struggling to get by in a recovery just standing up on its Bambi legs, and our world becomes more interwoven yet disconnected every day. Now, media realizes that something heartwarming and fun – even if it isn’t perfect – isn’t just wanted, but is needed.

Jimmy Fallon is an inspiration, in that if he can get to the top of the heap, and do it while being imperfect, giggly, and constantly learning to be better, then isn’t there hope for all of us that nice guys and girls don’t always finish last? Sometimes, they come out way ahead – and all while being nice.


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