Boris Drubetskoy and the Art of Career Advancement
Boris Drubetskoy knows how to get ahead. He started out with very little and he’s made something for himself. That is something to be admired. So I’m thinking that perhaps we’ve been a little too hard on him at times during A Year of War and Peace. Maybe his role in the novel truly offers us something to think about. That’s why today I’d like to separate ourselves, for the most part, from our investigation into the three main families of the novel — Bezukhov, Bolkonsky, and Rostov — and focus instead on Boris and how he offers a model of career advancement.
The first lesson he offers us is about the power of simply showing up. Boris is always everywhere he needs to be. This is important. He doesn’t only show up to where he must be, he shows up where he should be. Take, for example, the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit. Boris doesn’t need to be there. But he makes sure he is there.
“As the Emperor’s suite was a very small one it was a matter of great importance,” Tolstoy writes, “for a man who valued his success in the service, to be at Tilsit on the occasion of this interview between the two Emperors, and having succeeded in this, Boris felt that henceforth his position was fully assured. He had not only become known, but people had grown accustomed to him and accepted him. Twice he had executed commissions to the Emperor himself, so that the latter knew his face, and all those at Court, far from cold-shouldering him as at first when they considered him a newcomer, would now have been surprised had he been absent.”
Secondly, he makes the most of his presence at these important events. Throughout the meeting at the signing of the Treaty of Tilsit he makes notes. He notes who is there, who they are, what they’re doing. He also listens attentively. He’s always on, this guy.
Boris is also a go-along-to-get-along guy. For example, now that peace has been made between the Russians and the French, the attitude of Russian officers towards the French has altered from one of suspicion and contempt to one of reconciliation. In honor of this new change Boris and his officer friends host a party for one of Napoleon’s aides-de-camp.
Nikolai Rostov, who shows up to this party, doesn’t feel quite the same way about the French. He still views them as the dreaded enemy and doesn’t really have any interest in playing the game. This attitude doesn’t make him popular.
Even Boris, Rostov’s old friend, doesn’t appear too happy to see him. Not initially anyway. Rostov notices this and becomes upset, though, to his credit, he doesn’t blow up in anger as much as he has in the past. He’s getting better at controlling himself.
Boris, probably realizing that everyone is a contact and potential future help, corrects his initial annoyance at Rostov’s appearance and offers his old friend his hospitality, yet another weapon in his arsenal of career advancement.
And so we see that Boris has built his successful career by showing up, paying attention, playing the game, and treating everyone as a networking opportunity. These are just some of the points in the Boris Drubetskoy school of career advancement.
The only thing that stands in our power to achieve, is to make the most advantageous use possible of the personal qualities we possess, and accordingly to follow such pursuits only as will call them into play, to strive after the kind of perfection of which they admit and to avoid every other; consequently, to choose the position, occupation and manner of life which are most suitable for their development.
Arthur Schopenhauer, The Wisdom of Life