December 15, 2009
Ah the art of Savoir-Faire. Does it really come down to a good haircut and good champagne? Maybe.
Merriam Webster’s definition of the French noun is this:
Capacity for appropriate action; especially: a polished sureness in social behavior.
I find it funny right now, in this economy, I’ve gotten a part-time job to fill in some holes with my freelance work while my husband and I both search for full-time work again post his layoff. Oh right, the funny (ironic) part–the 20 hours a week I am working at a gourmet retail store called Bella Cucina Artful Food is the best 20 hours a week I spend. What does that say? I adore it. I love my coworkers, love the product, love our customers and honestly cannot believe I get paid to chat about food all day. That’s interesting to me, considering I’ve spend the better part of my adult life getting the good degree, landing the coveted position at top companies–and for what? To find out I adore retail (or maybe it’s the chatting about luxurious foods all day part)?
At any rate, I don’t think Mireille Guiliano (the queen of Savoir Faire) would be all that surprised. See, she was CEO of Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne and took it to 25% share of the market while she was at the helm (she was there from 1984 until her retirement in 2007). And she’s recently written a fabulous business book called Women, Work & The Art of Savoir Faire: Business Sense & Sensibility.
This little gem is one part business book, one part style and etiquette. The perfect read in today’s corporate culture.
I enjoyed several things about this book, but what I found most compelling was this idea–just because you’re good at something or have interest in it, doesn’t mean it should be your career. Need an example? If you enjoy starring into space for hours on end, maybe that doesn’t mean you need to be a crewmember on the Endeavor. Perhaps what you’re really searching for are philosophical answers, not NASA ones. A more concrete example is this–I was editor-in-chief of my high school paper–does that mean I will be a correspondent on 60 Minutes? Likely no. Unless that’s something I really want to do. And interests and passions can change over time. That said, make sure what you do as your career is something you love to do the majority of the time or one that has skills that you enjoy putting to use.
She also believes life (work life too) is lived out in stages. And it’s all about each step at a time. Six-month goals are what you should shoot for. She also writes about women’s role in getting a “C” job title (CEO, COO, CFO) and how we can mentor each other while being neither the bitch or well, the office slut (or just one that uses sex appeal to get ahead). Both roles portrayed in life and in movies (Hello Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada or the Meredith Johnson character in Disclosure).
I like Guiliano’s idea of attainable goal-setting, as we all tend to bite off more than we can chew. Her philosophy is something like: if you want to learn another language, start with one entry-level chapter a week instead of booking the flight to Mexico expecting to shock your system. Be happy for the 50 words you do know, not the thousands you don’t. Overall her book takes something grandiose like a big-girl job and breaks it down into how to do it well, with grace under pressure, all the while being respected and seemingly stylish. It’s a good combo, I think.
I also think her take on a woman actually adoring what she does is quite refreshing. I don’t know about you, but I enjoy working and finding purpose and meaning in my career. And I don’t want that skill set to diminish completely post-children.
Which brings me to the one complaint I had with Guiliano’s writing (also with French Women Don’t Get Fat)–the no children factor. In principle,I think that’s fine, but in the end, without children, Guiliano doesn’t balance in a day what most women do. I don’t either, yet, but it’s one thing to be self-described as stylish, witty, and wise, and it’s another to try to be those things while calmly telling little Edward to not ride his step stool down the stairs like a sled during a conference call. Because that, really is the definition of Savoir-Faire.