Search form

Career Coach: Question Authority

In this month's column, Pamela Kleibrink Thompson suggests that so-called authorities don't always have all the answers.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson.

My dad is turning 80 at the end of September. I'd like to share a few lessons I learned from him.

I remember my dad had two signs on his desk at home: "Think" was written in big black letters on a white background. The other was "Question Authority." In your career, there will be many authorities. Many will offer useful wisdom. A few will discourage you. Don't listen to those who disparage you and your talent.

Those who question authority are those whose names we remember today. Contrary to Church doctrine, Galileo supported Copernicus' theory that the sun was the center of the solar system and that the earth revolved around the sun. Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Church when he was found guilty of heresy, but his arguments changed the way man viewed his place in the universe.

Years ago, an aspiring actor was told by a well-known and respected casting director that he would never make it and that he should give up acting and do something else. He didn't listen to this "authority" discouraging him from pursuing his passion and Dustin Hoffman became a well-known Academy Award-winning actor.

Throughout my academic career, my teachers encouraged me and liked my work. I was an "A" student. When I was in high school, I had a teacher who was not a fan. Her lack of positive feedback made me question my abilities as a writer for the first time and I veered away from my passion for a while. I believed in her authority more than myself.

Authorities aren't always right. Here are just a few examples of some authorities that have been wrong:

Thomas John Watson, Sr., former president of IBM, is well known for his alleged 1943 statement: "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers." (My father worked for IBM for many years.)

IBM was not the only company with a president with little prescience. "There is no need for any individual to have a computer in their home." -- Ken Olson, President, Digital Equipment Corp., 1977

Even visionaries might not have all the answers. "There is not the slightest indication that [nuclear energy] will ever be obtainable. It would mean that the atom would have to be shattered at will." -- Albert Einstein, 1932

Many authorities have been mistaken about things that seem obvious to us now.

"If excessive smoking actually plays a role in the production of lung cancer, it seems to be a minor one." -- Dr. W. C. Heuper, National Cancer Institute, 1954

"The talking motion picture will not supplant the regular silent motion picture. There is such a tremendous investment to pantomime pictures that it would be absurd to disturb it." -- Thomas Edison, 1913

"Video won't be able to hold onto any market it captures after the first six months. People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." -- Darryl F. Zanuck, Head of 20th Century-Fox Studios, 1946

Never let any authority dissuade you from pursuing what you love to do. In 1889, the editor of the San Francisco Examiner rejected a manuscript by saying, "I'm sorry, Mr. Kipling, but you just don't know how to use the English language." Rudyard Kipling, the British author and poet, is best known for the book of children's tales The Jungle Book (1894), the Indian spy novel Kim (1901), the poems "Gunga Din" (1892) and "If—" (1895), as well as many short stories. In 1907, Kipling was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and still remains its youngest-ever recipient.

"You ain't goin' nowhere, son. You ought to go back to drivin' a truck." -- Jim Denny, Manager of the Grand Ole Opry, 1954

That former truck driver didn't listen to the musical authority Jim Denny. The truck driver went on to sell over one billion records around the world, more than any other recording artist, and received 14 Grammy nominations (3 wins) from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences. At age 36, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. Former truck driver Elvis Presley, the King of Rock and Roll, also starred in 33 films.

"To thine own self be true," extolled William Shakespeare in Hamlet. Don't allow anyone else to define who you are. Take a lesson from my dad this September, question authority and don't accept another's definition of what is doable. Start contributing your unique voice and vision to the world today.

Pamela Kleibrink Thompson is a recruiter and career coach and some consider her an authority on getting a job in the entertainment business. Her father, Paul Kleibrink, turns 80 on September 29. Happy Birthday Dad! He is an authority on thinking and questioning authority. Pamela will talk about resumes, portfolios and demo reels during her presentation at ADAPT08 in Montreal on September 25 ( For personal career coaching, recruiting and speaking engagements, contact Pamela at