Five Career Lessons Learned from Elmo & Big Bird

By  now you’ve probably heard via PR Newser that Sesame Workshop has announced Kevin Clash, the voice of Elmo, has resigned.

Scandal aside, it couldn’t prevent us from thinking about all of the puppeteers at Sesame Street. Seriously. There are several pointers we can learn from all of their brightly colored careers.

1. Do what you love and do it every day for as long as you can. Seriously. Carroll Edwin Spinney has played Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch since 1969. (We gasped, too — had no idea Big Bird and Oscar were played by the same puppeteer!)

2. The money will follow. See above.

3. You can’t force things; things that are meant to be will materialize even after you pass up opportunities. Spinney met Jim Henson in 1962 at a puppeteering festival (how cute is that?) and the mastermind asked him if he wanted to “talk about the Muppets.” According to Wikipedia, the future Big Bird didn’t quite grasp that was essentially an employment discussion so things were not meant to be at that moment.

Fast forward to 1969. Spinney performed at another puppeteers festival which combined live actors and puppets. Henson was in the audience and asked Spinney to “talk about the Muppets.” This time he agreed, they spoke, and he joined the team later that year.

4. Be ready to network, especially at an industry festival. Although things eventually worked out for Spinney, could you imagine if Henson didn’t meet up with him again in 1969 and a huge opportunity was squandered in ’62? Net net: Always be ready to discuss, always be ready to talk, when in doubt, simply say, “Yes.” Employment opportunities are often thinly guised as a simple conversation at a festival, convention or even a cup of coffee. And hey, shouldn’t life be this simple anyway?

5. We’re all replaceable. Since this blog is technically about Elmo as well, even though its voice and personality has resigned, the friendly puppet is staying intact on Sesame Street.

According to the Sesame Workshop’s statement, “Elmo is bigger than any one person and will continue to be an integral part of Sesame Street to engage, educate and inspire children around the world, as it has for 40 years.”