I am Pete Campbell
I also hate Pete Campbell. He’s the character on Mad Men that everyone loves to hate. He’s an ass. My favorite part of Season 5 was when he got punched out by the train conductor. But beyond his self-centered, entitled and generally sleazy persona, I believe Pete is scared out of his mind. He’s afraid everyone will find out he’s a fake. I know this because I’ve felt the exact same way.
As my friends and I progressed through the first half-decade of professional life, a common confession echoed among us:
“Man, sometimes I feel like Pete Campbell.”
Pete is ambitious and successful. He is, by far, the youngest partner at SCDP. He is the boy-wonder of account executives and he knows it. Unfortunately for him, no matter how much success he achieves, his constant need for validation and reassurance from his (older) colleagues will prevent Pete from ever being viewed as a peer by them. At one point, he specifically tells Don, “It’s important to me that you’re impressed.” There’s a lot of truth in those words; especially for twenty-something professionals.
I’ve had the great opportunity to start and run several companies at a relatively young age. Often times, this required sitting across the table from people with three or four decades more experience than me. More often than not, my default goal was to impress that person - not because of my own pride but because I was scared.
This is where my inner-Pete kicked in.
I’d puff up my chest and rattle off statistics and facts that make me sound much more confident than I feel. Thinking, surely if I can overload the person across the table with my seemingly expansive knowledge, they’ll have to recognize how awesome I am and count me as an equal.
The problem with this strategy is that the charade of confidence is often too thin to fool anyone. One targeted question and the veil is gone. It’s easy to spot a fake.
Thankfully, after some stubborn lessons and wise counsel, I learned that it’s much better to be Bob Benson. If you don’t know Bob, he’s new to Season 6. At first, I thought he was Pete Campbell in training but now I like Bob. Sure, he’s naive and a little too eager but he’s earnest. He cares about other people. He’s willing to embrace his naivety and learn from it.
Over and over again, I’ve found that people are willing help you if you’re genuine. People value honesty about your position, lack of experience and desire to learn. The Bob Benson’s of the world win out every time.
You don’t have to fake it. Pete’s not fooling anyone.
End of Season Note:
So, my guess on Bob Benson is not really that accurate. While I do think Bob is a fascinating character and his relationship with Pete is really complex, he’s definitely not a character to look up to. I guess that’s the great part of Mad Men. Everyone sucks. Everyone’s broken. And yet, everyone is trying to heal. That’s life.