Put on Your Game Face

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Aug 31 2010

We have a joke among my friends that there’s Work Jessica and just plain old Jessica. Hopefully all of you really only ever see Work Jessica.

Work Jessica is my game face. It’s the image I want to present to the public. It means that I dress a certain way and act a certain way. And while, hopefully, Work Jessica isn’t too far off from regular Jessica, there are subtle differences. And no, I’m not going to tell you what they are and ruin the illusion.

Recently, at a conference, I was walking around, sort of confused actually. I had come out of one room in the giant hotel and was trying to get my bearings. I’ll admit, I was probably weaving and a little scattered. You know the person, you’re trying to walk around her, and just as you are about to go left she weaves left and when you try right she turns right. Well, I was that weaver and yes, it’s irritating, but, since we’re at a conference, we all have our game faces on so we grin (albeit tightly) and finally make our way around. Well, that’s what we should do.

Apparently the woman behind me didn’t feel the same way. Her solution to the situation was to storm by me, sighing deeply and huffing just a little. She was obviously irritated. The problem with this is that she didn’t know who I was. If she was an unagented author she had just acted incredibly rudely to a potential agent. If she was a bestselling author she had just acted very rudely to a potential reader, and if she was an agented but unpublished author she could have acted very rudely to a potential editor. See, here’s the thing: When at a business event like that we don’t know who’s listening in, watching, and just generally paying attention to our every move. And that’s why it’s important to keep our game faces on. When you get up to your room, the door is shut and it’s just you and your roommate and you’re allowed to huff and puff all you want, but when out in public I implore you to try as hard as you can to keep that public persona as charming as possible.


36 responses to “Put on Your Game Face”

  1. The label you used says it all. Professionalism. You need it in any career you choose to pursue.

  2. Avatar Sommer Leigh says:

    Good post! I think this can be applied to the general world outside publishing as well. You never know who you're showing your bad behavior to. Even if someone is making you crazy, I think the only very good thing to do is smile politely and let them finish up. Hurry them along if you must. But always be patient and nice.

  3. Avatar Kathye Quick says:

    Hi Jessica-

    Same problem here. When I write, I'm me, but I work for the government, so I have to be uber-professional at all time (even though I am among some of the most hated people in the country these days – sigh.)

    Great post -TX

  4. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    Which, frankly, is why I as an author find conferences so exhausting. Some authors seem to thrive on it, but I treat them as a work situation and bring the energy and charm-initiative way up and by the end of a day all I want to do is go back to the room and lie down.

    (Also, just food for thought, many people, myself included, often have difficulty hearing conversations around a table in a room filled with 400 people talking. So my somewhat fixed smile may actually be that I can't hear what anybody's saying).

  5. Good advice, Jessica. I did an interview not long ago with a writer who also served as a "first reader" for a publishing house. She was sitting down to a meal at a writer's conference when another woman shoved her aside, saying, "I have to sit at her table. I have to meet her."

    Of course, the editor the shover had to meet was the woman for whom the woman she shoved aside worked. Not a great way to make an impression.

  6. At a recent conference, I was trying to find the room containing the panel I wanted to sit in on. I was aggravated and annoyed. And there was an unassuming woman who looked even more lost than I felt.

    So I took the minute to stop and see if I could help her. After all, maybe she was headed where I was.

    Nope. As I escorted her to where she was going, she confessed: she was Janet Reid, Literary Agent.

    Sorry I wasn't there to rescue you, too, Jessica.

  7. Avatar wry wryter says:

    A few years back the company I worked for held a seminar relating to how WE are all each other's customers. Doesn't matter which business or which side of the counter you stand on.

    Daily I am astounded by how rude some people are; as if entitlement allows them elevation above the rest of us.

    When I am in a position whereby I am able to ask, why are you being so rude to me, (the opportunity is rare because I need to keep my job),each explained their frustration both personal or professional as the catalyst for their behavior and apologized.
    Though this does not excuse their behavior sometimes people simply lack the filter and ability to just act decent.

    Some are stupid and some believe the world must make way for them, like your huffer.

    I will admit if I had to pee and you were in my way I'd probably huff, lest I have liquid filling my shoes.

  8. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This same sort of thing happened to me at a conference. It was my first conference and I had to ask how to get to the Q & A editor panel. The woman (who was a conference organizer, it's not like I was asking a stranger) rudely gave me the info, and then, when I was still in earshot, commented to her friend how the attendees get "dumber" every year. Wow.

    And I agree with Mark Terry — those coferences are loud!! I was sitting at Kristen Nelson's lunch table at that same conference, and didn't hear a word she said.

  9. Avatar Marcus P. says:

    Enough of this god-awfully stifling etiquette. Who needs Big Brother making us miserable when there are hordes of hyper-sensitive little nitpicking micro-tyrants threatening to ostracize anyone who doesn't strive for Miss Manners sainthood.

    Professionalism is not about emulating the Stepford Wives. True professionalism is about making wise and ethical business choices, which is clearly not what people are doing if not walking around with a smile sewn on is going to endanger someone's career.

    If this is how publishing "pros" really make decisions, then the industry deserves to die.

  10. Avatar wry wryter says:

    Marcus, I'll bet you're the guy who parks next to the yellow curb to tun in for your meds. Guess what, you are a rude person.

    Sew a smile on sweetie because the world which watches you is the world which might just save your arrogant ass someday. From the UPS driver to the guy administering your chemo, from the grocery bagger to the EMT pumping on your chest, smile baby, heaven is not a sad place.
    I'm off to work, customers beware, so if you want to rant at me, go for it, though it may make you feel better I can't hear you.

  11. Avatar jill says:

    You don't want to "ruin the illusion." LOL … made my morning!!

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    I think the best practice is to treat everyone warmly, regardless of their status. And to also be forgiving of those who may be having a tough day.

  13. Avatar magolla says:

    I'm a firm believer in the Southern attitude–honey gathers more bees than vinegar.

    How hard is it to say, "please" and "thank you" or "can I help you"? How hard is it to hold the door open for someone? Or actually THANK someone for their door holding effort rather than breezing through like it was your right?

    I'm an older parent (this {} close to getting my AARP card), but I'm teaching my daughter by example.

    There's a reason Southern women call 'Hon' or "sugar" because they are too polite to call you the nasty words.

  14. Avatar Janet Reid says:

    I purposely leave my name tag off at conferences just to see what people are really like. It's actually kind of fun. Some are terrific like Susan (thank you for rescuing me! I was SO frustrated and angry that night!)

    Some are, as Jessica pointed out, not quite ready for prime time.

    People are always nice when they know "who you are." The ones I remember are the ones who are nice when they don't.

  15. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This is so true in every walk of life.

    The town I live in is steadily going from small to mid-sized, thanks to an awesome school district, but the core residents are still here. It's funny how the newcomers do not realize it. You say something bad or mistreat someone, you are liable to tick a whole herd of people off.

  16. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of the ABC show "Undercover Boss" where the CEO of Waste Management worked for different lowly departments. The gal who invited him home for supper had no clue who he was, but she sure was rewarded later for her kindness and generosity.

    Agents, we may be unknown writers now but perhaps if you take a longer look, you'll find gold in the slush pile or at conferences.

  17. Avatar ryan field says:

    I get what you're saying and agree.

    But I think it's also important to behave nicely no matter where you are or what you're doing. This is a concept of basic good manners that's becoming so ignored these days by so many people with this sense of entitlement.

    Nice post!!

  18. Avatar Erika Marks says:

    Good point to keep in mind when we all blog, too. It's often tempting to let a bad morning or a perceived anonymity loosen our censors but you never know who you are crossing virtual paths with out there, and a simple quip can do serious damage.

    You won't ever risk burning a bridge for being too kind.

  19. I work for a well known humanitarian organization and when you're on a disaster relief assignment, you've to keep the compassion flowing. Can't show irritation or impatience (or exhaustion). Luckily, most of the people we meet/help make this very easy. Others…not so much.

  20. Avatar Anonymous says:

    This reminds me of an experience at Comic-Con this year. Everyone–including the panelists–had to wait in a huge long line for a Pixar presentation. Someone tried to cut, and the guy behind me called out, "Dude–you can't do that! Wait your turn." The guy cutting in line walked over to him and gave him a nasty chew-out.

    I don't think he knew that the guy he yelled at was Michael Giacchino, composer of soundtracks "Up" and "Star Trek,"–the panelist everyone was lining up to see. (The dude didn't get in.)

  21. Avatar Mira says:

    I recently read a quote – I can't remember who wrote it – that basically said that true character is shown not by how we treat the people who can give us something, but by how we treat those who can not.

    I'm pretty good with this, except when I'm behind the wheel of a car. Then, I turn into a raving lunatic.

    I need to work on that.

    Anon. 9:19, I liked what you said.

  22. I honestly think you will find the same me at work, at church, at the country club, at my son's school etc. I so hate fakes and I hate when people, once they know you you are, buddy up to you. (I get this a lot in my profession)I am who I am wherever I am. I don't put on a "game face" or pretend etc. I honestly feel that if we meet on the golf course at the country club I am the same person you will meet sweating rivers in the indoor cycling class or on the principal's advisory committee. And I couldn't imagine it any other way.

  23. Avatar Jemi Fraser says:

    Love this post 🙂

    I think it applies to all sitautions in life. When I'm teaching, one of my lines to my students is "Everything you do is practice for the adult you're going to be. Is that the person who you want to be?" Same kind of thing applies here. 🙂

  24. Avatar Bethany says:

    Loved this post. Been a teacher, govt employee – no matter where you go, this is absolutely true.

  25. I'm "that weaver" almost every day. And on the streets of Chicago, that can be dangerous.

  26. Avatar Anonymous says:

    "Game Face"

    Thank you! I finally have a name for it. Someone just lost me over a lack of Game Face, as a matter of fact.

  27. Avatar wry wryter says:

    I loved todays post.

    Went to work after posting at 8:47 and 9:17 and I'm back, jeez I need to get a life.

    Anyway, I smiled all day and guess what, I got smiles back and had a great day, I even got two pissy customers laughing. They should give me a raise.

    You get back what you give.

  28. Avatar Jessica Lee says:

    I think that's a case of burning bridges. You never want to make a bad first impression on anyone–even if you don't know them! They could end up being your professor, your dentist, your mother-in-law…and you may not even know that you pissed them off when you let your facade slip. It's a small world, after all.

    On the other side of things, I find myself in awe when someone is able to be themselves 100% in all situations–in business, in play, in casual. These are the ones people tend to gravitate toward.

  29. Avatar L.C. Gant says:

    Loved this post today. When I read it, I thought of this folksy saying from my coworker's grandfather: "No matter how high a bird flies in the sky, it always has to come down low to get a drink of water."

    Basically, even the most successful people in the world need help sometimes. So you should ALWAYS wear your "game face," no matter where you are.

  30. I once saw an uncensored version of an agent's game face at a conference–he took a cell phone call in the secluded corner I found to unwind in.

    Apparently, this agent's game face involved threats and profanity to whoever was on the other end–and it sounded like this was his version of negotiating. I could picture some people thinking this was a good thing, but it really put me off.

  31. Avatar Robena Grant says:

    The game face. I have an actor friend (quite famous) who says it's so tiring to always "be on". But he has to do it because the fans, the media, his audience, they all expect that.

    When I go to conferences I get tired, my feet hurt, I'm hungry for something that isn't served with fries, I feel lost, I don't want to smile anymore, I want to be "known" yet I'm a nobody, and so it goes on. But I don't huff. I NEVER huff. ; )

    I guess I'll always be one of those weavers because my head is so full of my own thoughts that I never know where I'm going.

  32. Avatar Anonymous says:

    Sorry, all, but the reason you should be nice to others is not because you could be jeopardising your career by hacking off an undercover agent/editor/whatever/some person you'll need later. The reason you should be nice is because it is appropriate and civilised behaviour. Should it turn out that the little old lady you helped cross the street is Someone's Mother, that's a bonus.

    Do the right thing.

  33. Avatar Anna Zagar says:

    In this situation, she should have at least flashed you to get over.

  34. I so agree with Anon 12:31. Always Do The Right Thing. Period.

  35. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Such a good post, and you are so right. Years ago a best selling author was incredibly rude to me at a conference. I will NEVER buy her books, and I don't care how much people rave about them. She wasn't a very nice person, and that did it for me. (And I probably wouldn't have made a big deal of it, except I saw her pulling the Diva act on a few others at the same event.)

    What goes around, comes around, and being kind and polite takes a lot less effort than turning on the bad attitude.

  36. This is a great post and great advice.

    I work in law enforcement, where I abide by and teach a similar principle I call “being jury conscious". When officers are going about their professional and personal lives, they must always show respect to the people they meet, because they never know when some of those people might be selected as jurors on one of their cases. That juror may very well judge the officer’s credibility and actions based upon his or her own dealings with the officer.