Sipping Through Success

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I’m not a drinker, and I’m comfortable with that. My whole life, I’ve felt very strongly about not drinking alcohol, and I’m proud to say that I’ve never wavered in my convictions.

I’m not about to change my lifestyle now, but I could use some advice on how to better incorporate my career goals with my personal convictions. I’m going into business, and it seems to me that modern business culture is still full of the sort of stuff we saw on Mad Men: drinking in the office, meetings over drinks at the country club, drinks at the bar after work, and so on. How can I network as a non-drinker? How can I succeed in business without hitting the booze?

There’s no doubt that alcohol is deeply ingrained in American culture. More than two-thirds of Americans drink, and alcohol is everywhere in our social lives. And it doesn’t stop at the doors to the office: as you rightly point out, alcohol is part of American business culture, too. Studies have tied a rise in drinking among women to their increasing numbers in the workforce, suggesting that the beers we have after work with colleagues, the toasts we drink when we close a big deal, and the wine we drink over a business dinner are adding up to significant consumption.

But that doesn’t mean that you have to drink to succeed in business – far from it. The setting you describe are indeed places where booze can flow freely, but they are also places where a non-drinker should always feel comfortable, say the owners of Riverview Country Club. Private clubs, golf courses, and other high-end locations are favored for business meetings because of the enjoyable atmosphere, not (or at least not exclusively) because of the booze.

In other words, given your confidence in your ability to control yourself and stick to your principles, there’s no reason that you shouldn’t be networking at the country club and closing deals on the golf course. And you should by all means let your colleagues and your potential business partners enjoy the space the way they want to, even if that includes drinking. Some non-drinkers have turned into experts in enjoying a night among – but not as one of – a group of drinkers, so take their advice: order something non-alcoholic (who’s to say if that’s a mixed drink or just a Diet Coke?), don’t judge the drinkers in the crowd, and relax.

You’ll likely find that others care less about your drinking (or lack thereof) than you might have imagined. In fact, many non-drinkers have succeeded in business: tech moguls Larry Ellison and the late Steve Jobs built fortunes while abstaining, and the legendary investor is also a teetotaler.

Drinking may help complete the atmosphere at a private club, but it’s ultimately not a part of what makes people successful at business. Far from it: alcohol can become a serious problem for those who make it a habit, and alcoholism is no joke. Alcoholism is a deadly disease, and it will disrupt any career more than abstention from drinking ever could. And, as you may recall, that side of things was covered in Mad Men, too! For all those reading this who may feel they have an issue with drinking, we urge you to get help. Attend Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, speak with a doctor or therapist, or check into rehab. A life free of drinking can be successful in every way – including, but not limited to, your career.

“It’s a great advantage not to drink among hard drinking people.” – F. Scott Fitzgerald

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