Who would have expected a 57-year-old comedian to have one of the best business books of the year? Indeed, that is what comedy writer and performer Carol Leifer has in her just-published How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying.
Leifer has had some tough bosses — Seinfeld cocreator Larry David and Saturday Night Live superstar Lorne Michaels, to name just two. Her honesty is refreshing: She admits to frustration that she was never part of Michaels's SNL in crowd, but there's always a lesson in such disappointments. Leifer is not the kind of woman to cry "poor me" — or cry at all, as the title suggests.
Of course the book entertains because Leifer's professional climb included plenty of time with buddies such as Paul Reiser (they once dated), and bosses Jay Leno, Jerry Seinfeld and the aforementioned David. (Leifer was one of the central writers on Seinfeld and has been referred to as "the real Elaine.") In addition to Saturday Night Live, she wrote for Garry Shandling's Larry Sanders Show and devised laughs for many an Oscar or other special telecast. Now she's writing for Lifetime's clever serial Devious Maids, which began its second season in April.
Leifer's advice comes off as that given by a smart best friend: She's been there, done that, sees the humor in it and can guide us through the fog of finding or renewing our professional lives with crisp common-sense ideas.
We talked to her about the advantages of maturity, on the job and off.
Q: Do you think there are certain job-related mistakes that people tend to make after a certain age?
A: I think that the biggest problem is really about self image: People don't have as much confidence as they should. They tend to psych themselves out before going after a job, thinking: "Why would somebody hire me now if I'm over 50?" We think that, more than other people are thinking that.
In my current job, I write for Devious Maids with Marc Cherry from Desperate Housewives. One day Marc said, "You know, a lot of people are all about the new hot young writers. I like experienced people." It was great to hear this, at age 57, from a really respected show runner.
Q: How do we avoid the poor self-image trap?
A: You need to embrace and celebrate everything you are instead of downplaying it. There's no substitute for natural energy and enthusiasm. Whenever somebody brings that into a room, nobody is really thinking about how old you are. So take everything that's great about being older and use that to your advantage. There are so many positive things about being an experienced person, including resilience. We're all resilient because we've had to snap back from a lot of negative experiences — because that's life.
I certainly would never trade what I know now for being in my 20s.
Q: Particularly in show business, people are scared to have their ages known. What do you think of that?
A: If I'm not open about my age, someone can Google it within three seconds, so why fight it? I feel really good about the age I am and where I am in my life.
Q: And you look great. You write about how important you think it is to appear put-together and fit. Do you find it difficult to stay in shape?
A: Yeah, yeah. After 50, you know — after 40 — it's not easy. And the working out is never fun. Watching what you eat all the time is never fun. But keeping in shape makes me feel younger: It might say 57 on my driver's license, but I still feel like a kid. And the times when I have let myself go, I start to feel depressed and I feel older.
Q: You referenced AARP a couple of times in this book and your previous one. It sounds as though you weren't troubled to receive that first membership invitation letter in the mail.
A: Oh, yeah. I was ready for it. I was like, "Bring the discounts my way. Right here."
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