Career advice from Car Talk’s Tom Magliozzi

I was saddened this week to learn that Tom Magliozzi of Car Talk had died, but have been reminded by all of the celebrations of his life that I have been hearing this week, that he really set a tremendous example with his work life, in creating a career that he thoroughly loved, he inspired us all!

I have been a fan of Car Talk for as long as I can remember, and I became interested in the show as a linguist when Tom and Ray’s way of speaking inspired an activity called Radio America that I helped to develop as part of my work as a research assistant for the Do You Speak American? website.

But what particularly endeared Tom to me was reading his story in Maggie Debelius and Susan Bassla’s wonderful book So What Are You Going to Do With That?  As I learned about his career path in reading that book, Magliozzi had been a chemical engineering professor for several years before experiencing this epiphany: “Teaching sucks.”

In learning more about his life this week, including through this beautiful staff blog post on Car Talk post, I realized that his career is a beautiful example of An Improvisational Approach to job seeking and some of our favorite themes here at Career Linguist.  I quote from the Car Talk blog post below as I present them here:

  • Being Lucky: The radio show began as a fluke. Someone from Boston’s local public radio station, WBUR, booked an on-air panel of six car mechanics from the area. Tom was the only one who showed up. “I was a panel of one,” he later said. He was impressive enough to be asked back the following week, when he brought along his fellow mechanic and kid brother, Ray, and Car Talk was born. (source: Tom Magliozzi Car Talk staff blog)
  • What do you do for free?: Over the 10 years the brothers did the show locally, on a volunteer basis, they slowly injected more and more humor and off-topic diversions into their discussions of carburetors and wheel bearings—following their natural curiosity and pushing the limits for what was then a typically decorous public radio station.  “Since we weren’t making any money, we figured we might as well have fun,” said Tom.  (source: Tom Magliozzi Car Talk staff blog)
  • Being Yourself (I have not yet written a post on this topic, but creating this post has inspired me to put in on my blog “to do.”  Tom was a wonderful example of being fearlessly yourself. “He and his brother changed public broadcasting forever,” said Doug Berman, the brothers’ longtime producer. “Before Car Talk, NPR was formal, polite, cautious….even stiff.  By being entirely themselves, without pretense, Tom and Ray single-handedly changed that, and showed that real people are far more interesting than canned radio announcers. And every interesting show that has come after them owes them a debt of gratitude.  (source: Tom Magliozzi Car Talk staff blog)

And because more than anything, Tom’s legacy is laughter, I have to end here with some of his advice about work that just makes me smile:

 “Don’t be afraid of work.  Make work afraid of you. I did such a fabulous job of making work afraid of me that it has avoided me my whole life so far.” (source: Tom Magliozzi Car Talk staff blog)

According to his brother Ray, Car Talk enabled Tom to spend his life doing what he was born to do: “Making friends, philosophizing, thinking out loud, solving people’s problems, and laughing his butt off.” Thank you Tom for inspiring us all to have the courage to find the things that we have been born to do !

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