Everything I Know About Life I Learned From Sesame Street
Okay, so maybe the title is a little misleading. Not EVERYTHING, but definitely a lot. I'll start out with what I learned from Ernie and Bert. You know how we are always being inundated with messages to not judge people? Or, we verbally articulate "I'm not judgemental" (which is a sure sign you're judgemental, btw) while communicating with others... well guess what? I judge people ALL THE TIME! Yep, true story. Upon meeting people, I size them up as either an Ernie or Bert. It's how I build rapport with people really quickly.
Yes, it's true, no two people are alike. But overall, we have more similarities than differences. And Ernie and Bert are my compasses to negotiating working with many different people, having to build rapport with them quickly so we can get on with the work at hand. I'm going to give you an example of how I deployed this using my former career as a commercial stylist as an example. I am specifically using my 14 years as a commercial stylist instead of my time as a fashion or celebrity stylist because, in the land of commercial production, I came into contact with the most 'regular' people. Meaning, there was the most broad spectrum of the type of people that most people, regardless of their career will run into on a daily basis. Mums, dads, boyfriends, girlfriends, sisters, cousins, which we all are - but without the added layer of being a genetic anomaly like models are or coming with a tsunami of fame and celebrity. It was the most even playing field so to speak.
Ernie and Bert have distinct overarching qualities and characteristics that are evident in every single person I meet. As a creative person who worked with clothing for decades, I am always filtering for patterns. What goes with what, what doesn't go with what, what goes with what but isn't obvious that it goes together. It's something I do with people as well. For me, knowing if someone is predominantly an Ernie or Bert allows me to get to know them, with healthy boundaries. It also allows for my mantra of "find the fun" to show up when working with a group of people who are very different from me. For the record, I'm an Ernie. When people meet me, I'm enthusiastic, warm, out-going. Berts are always wary of this. I have an amazing, but not impeccable track record of winning Berts over.
When I worked as a commercial stylist, after receiving a phone call confirming I've been booked on a job, the next interaction was going to a production office which was often set up in a hotel suite. Upon the elevator doors opening, it's evident where the production office is. The doors are always open and there is a buzz of activity. Walking in as the stylist is almost often met with either excitement or a wariness. Most often for me, it was met with excitement. I did have a few cautious Production Managers or Coordinators less than enthusiastic about my arrival if the team was one I usually didn't work with on a local level, but was requested directly by the Director or Producer. It's understandable, people like working with their friends and a lot hinges on the wardrobe in a commercial. I just saw this as an opportunity to win people over. I also was known for working on music videos and celebrity shoots, which meant sometimes the suspicion was an assumption that I am high maintenance and would blow the budget.
My favourite production office teams had a healthy dose of Ernies. Mostly because they are glass half full types and more flexible in finding solutions or fulfilling requests. Having said that, every single team needs a generous peppering of Berts. Why? Because they assess risk. Whereas Ernies play, Berts play devil's advocate. They are integral to the operational success of any team. Most Production Managers I worked with are Berts. Their jobs are super stressful in the way that all roads lead to them. The two I worked with most often over the course of 14 years are both Ernies. Sure they had their fair share of stress and the proverbial shit hitting the fan, but they also had a way of shaking it off, not taking failures personally and they always found the fun. If the Director is a Bert, rest assured his Producer is an Ernie. And vice versa. Clients are usually Berts on set because they have a lot of stress to ensure the shoot for their product is successful, but once you get to know them as people not just 'the client' there is usually more than one Ernie in the mix.
My ways are mostly Ernie. I do, however, have a healthy dose of Bert in me. For those of you familiar with Sesame Street, you'll know that Bert has a prized collection of paper clips. The idea of anything happening to these paperclips is devastating for Bert. That's me organising a fitting and the wardrobe trailer. I was strict with who comes in and out of the wardrobe trailer, as it's always the place everyone wants to be. A hub of activity that is most often than not shared with the hair & makeup team and of course, the talent. I used to ban lunches and food being brought into the trailer and production teams had to knock before they entered. See how it works, my management of fittings and the wardrobe trailer were Bert but my execution within a fitting and whilst in the trailer and on set - fully Ernie. Fittings and prep in the trailer were fun, conversation flowed and people felt at ease. When hiring people who I directly work with, I always hire people who predominantly have a Bert nature. Because I'm a blue sky thinker and a very creative person, having someone who is much more structured and analytical than I am has been a key to my success. Quite often, people from the outside will think a bunch of Ernies are having all the fun - and whereas that may be true, it's only because we have Berts on our teams making sure things are running smoothly behind the scenes.
My kindergarten photo of a 5-year-old me is the perfect visual to demonstrate how my Ernie or Bert? system works. In prep mode - I'm always Bert. A lot of attention to detail. Very high standards of organisation. If cashiers at shops haphazardly threw clothes into a shopping bag, I would stop them and redirect them to fold items so they were placed in the bags with care. Yet if a garment was ruined on set while filming, I would simply shrug my shoulders, get a backup and not dwell on what had happened. It's clothing after all, not brain surgery. Shit happens, people spill, tear and sweat profusely in stuff. My lack of freaking out often bothered Berts I worked with. I always say to this day, if freaking out will fix my problem, I'll do it. If not, keep calm and carry on.
Back to my school photo! The fantastic polyester leisure suit (yes, I'm wearing matching pants which did have a flared leg), my brown leather Mary Jane shoes which had a bouquet on the topside to match the flowers of my outfit and my hairstyle was chosen with a lot of thought. Whereas I wasn't making an outfit, I knew how I wanted to look. As a child, I loved The Flintstones and specifically Pebbles. Even more specifically - her hairstyle. If you ask Mummyji - she will confirm the painstaking and fastidious care of having my "palm palm" hairstyle approved. The ribbon had to be white - to mimic Pebbles' bones and it couldn't be too low or too high. It couldn't have too much hair in it and it couldn't too little hair in it. In a nutshell, I drove her nuts because there were a lot of failed attempts before I gave my final approval of a successful palm palm that was camera ready. And yes, being an Island Girl, my do was a "palm palm" not a "pom-pom". Once the entire look was sima says approved, I was back in Ernie mode. Relaxed, fun and easygoing.
Not much has changed since then. If you're predominantly an Ernie - the Bert type will be your greatest teacher. The same is true for anyone who is predominantly a Bert. Ernie types will drive you bonkers - but also teach you a whole lot. The trick is to build self-awareness to recognise those who are not like us as our master teachers. What's happened is the world we live in today, where we swipe left, double tap, follow, unfollow, friend, unfriend, block and stalk people we know and don't know - we are creating adversaries and not recognising the possibility of creating allies. It's not about judging being good or bad, right or wrong, it's about knowing how to hack our judgments and turn them into strategies to have more meaningful relationships, achieve our goals, get along with people who are not like us and yes - find the fun!