Awkward Prom: Business Lessons From Your 17-Year-Old Self

05/19/2015 04:10 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2016


Last weekend I found myself in a time machine of sorts: at an Olive Garden lobby, in a sea of high school students dressed to the nines. Between the whiffs of breadsticks and uninspired Italian dishes, the smell of youthful exuberance was alive and well. The girls wore fancy dresses while the boys sported the finest tuxedos money can rent paired with tennis shoes. Watching their excitement reminded me of life lessons I learned during that "glory days" era. Here are five-and-a-half professional tips we can learn from the 17-year-old versions of ourselves:

1. Have the courage to ask. I don't think my sweat glands have ever worked as hard as they did when I asked my date to senior prom. And this is the sort of courage we need to have in the business world as well. As the old fundraising adage goes: "The number one reason people don't give is because they weren't asked." The only way to get those sweat glands to settle down is by practicing, so go ahead and ask for what you want.

2. Be asked graciously. On the other side of the courageous asker is the pour soul being asked. Oh, what a stress that was! What if Smelly Billy asks you to the big dance and not Hot John? Laugh if you will, but in the real world, we have to use similar tact when one of our good friends comes to us with a horribly conceived real estate pyramid scheme. How we handle these situations can often be game changers in relationships.

3. Smart fiscal planning. This isn't a news flash to parents with high schoolers, but the expenses of prom really add up. And even though we were making minimum wage, this was a time in our lives that we weren't going to miss out on. We knew it would be expensive, so we worked extra shifts at Dairy Queen. Saving for the big day is a great lesson for any age.

4. Play nice with others. Oh, the politics of prom! Everybody wants to go to prom with Hot John, but there are only so many Hot John's to go around. So this was the first time in our lives where we had to keep the hormones in check and deal with such disappointment. Even if you really wanted Jessie's girl (and not just the song), navigating your feelings smoothly was important. After all, the prom king/queen votes might be tallied at the end of the night.

5. Negotiate. We all wanted complete freedom on our big night, including a limo and a stay at a fancy hotel -- like "Days Inn" fancy. But for many of us, negotiating an extra 15- or 30-minute curfew was a victory. Negotiating is a give-and-take game, so the weeks leading up to prom were crucial. Master negotiators demonstrated consistent responsibility in order to get a few perks on the big day. And for those of us with a less than stellar record in this arena, maybe a little extra last-minute yard work helps the cause.

And five-and-a-half: For better or worse, beware of spiked punch. This is just as handy to know at the company holiday party as it was at the big dance. So sip smartly, my friends.

Jack Stahlmann is a corporate speaker and Huffington Post blogger. He can be reached at