House of Cards
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Five lessons from ‘House of Cards’

by Maija-Liisa Ehlinger

I’m not going to lie; I’ve been plotting my run for the White House since fifth grade.

Even with my flashy posters (yes, I did pose in my mother’s business suit) and my speech about selling popsicles during Friday recess, I lost the election that year to the school’s golden boy, Derek, and I had to settle for VP. Despite this defeat, I still envisioned that one day I would don the title of President so that I would be the one to solve world hunger, negotiate the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and fly in Air Force One in style.

Looking back, my childhood ambition of being Commander-in-Chief came from a genuine, although perhaps naïve, belief that I could help write a better future.

Yet like all 20-something year olds, I grew up in political scandal plagued (and continues to plague) American politics. By the time I entered college, I had pretty much lost all faith in politics and politicians. I could not think of one person on The Hill I admired, and wanted to stay as far away as I could from a place that did not embrace collaborative change. They weren’t the people who were creating a better world.

So I was shocked to realize that some of the greatest advice about writing my own story came from watching House of Cards, a show based on the very political landscape I had grown to detest.

House of Cards is so much more than a morality tale about corrupt governments. It reminds me exactly what great television should do. It should not just get us talking about Emmy nominations and camera angles; but it should elevate our conversation about today’s biggest issues and make us think about how our story in this digital age should be written.

1.) Your personal media presence matters. A lot.

Social media attention is at the center of today’s world. You must be doing something right if every thought, slightly artistic brunch Instagram and duck-face selfie you take is important enough to receive 100 likes and retweets. There is a tendency to over share and overexpose our daily lives, searching for validation that we are indeed the next ‘big’ thing.

Journalists and press agents in House of Cards know the power of social media – it can buy political power and a quick ticket to the middle of Washington’s elite inner circle. But as we learned from Zoe Barnes, one wrong iPhone click could ruin careers, reputations, and much more. Like she said, “these days, when you’re talking to one person, you’re talking to a thousand.”

Regardless of your profession, one can never be too careful about social media presentation (including the online media we think is private). Your Twitter feed and your personal text messages do not have to be your stream of consciousness as you walk through the day; let social media highlight the very best of you.

2.) Any (unique) publicity is good publicity.

But on that note, ‘out of the box’ thinking – particularly on social media sites – can get you the right sort of attention. In Season One, Zoe took a calculated risk by leaving The Washington Herald and not accepting a coveted position as a White House correspondent. She brought her newfound success and celebrity to the up-and-coming, tech savvy Slugline, a place where she could further her career in her own style. And despite Lucas’ downfall in Season Two, Ayla and Janine continue to dig deeper into the cover-ups that seem to follow Frank, hoping to break the biggest political scandal since Watergate.

History is changed — for better or for the worse — by risk takers who look for unique chances to achieve the things they want most. In today’s digital age, that means taking advantage of our ever-connected world to publicize and enhance your personal brand.

3.) Being in front doesn’t always mean you are leading.

At the end of Season Two, Frank and Claire maneuvered their way straight into the Oval Office, giving the illusion that this power couple is ‘leading.’ However, we know that Claire has given up happiness for a career that looks good on paper while Frank is walking on eggshells as he tries to uphold the games and lies that gave him the presidency. And we are all just waiting for Rachel Posner to bring the administration down.

There is a difference between taking a gamble on your career and compromising with yourself. You may not be ‘leading’ now, but don’t ever feel behind because you are searching for your own path and unique story. You don’t have to look beyond the House of Cards characters to know that being in front of the pack in the beginning does not mean you will be the leader at the end of the race.

4.) Dress the part.

This may seem arbitrary, but I’m convinced it will help you in any career field. Stiff business suites are not just adorned by Yuppie sellouts who lack a creativity or individuality. Believe me, I definitely went through the ‘I want to wear I ripped jeans to work everyday’ phase (I think every Millennial does). But looking sharp can only put you in the best of light. Viewers of the show know that Claire is evil, but you have to admit that she is smart, stunning, and immaculately dressed. All the time. She demands respect because she dresses like a woman who has her proverbial ‘shit together.’

5.) Things are only useless if you make them.

Even though Frank claims he has ‘no patience for useless things,’ he knows how to work even the smallest details to his advantage (or at least try to cover up the details that might work against him).

Remember that anything can be used as a stepping-stone, if you look at it from the right perspective. Opportunities are found in the details that most people miss.

Maija-Liisa Ehlinger

About Maija-Liisa Ehlinger

Maija-Liisa is a displaced Southern Californian now living and running around Atlanta. She is a senior at Emory University, an aspiring writer/filmmaker, and another Millennial addicted to Twitter. You can follow her @MaijaEhlinger.

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