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Introduction: You’re Outta Here Kid!

Introduction: You’re Outta Here Kid!

Dateline: Christmas 2000, my office at a major TV networkowned stations division, New York, New York . . .

It was 2 P.M. on the first day back from a much needed holiday break. My head was already filled with the rolling familiar tapes of poisonous, negative-speak. I was falling fast back into depression and hate mode and with a consistent, demonic cadence, my mind repeated over and over and over again, “I hate this place, I hate these people, I hate my life.”

I am normally an optimistic and happy woman who believes wasting a day in negativity to be the greatest sin of all. Hell, I hate hate. The truth is that I’d been living in a sea of job-related sadness for most of 2000 and I could not spend one more day feeling this way. Misery was permeating my whole life and pushing me out of my career.

A visit with my family in Michigan over the Christmas holiday helped to put me in a very mellow state. I’d originally returned to my workplace on Wednesday, in the middle of the workweek, but I found that I could not bring myself to open e-mail. I couldn’t bear to see the 200-or-so messages waiting for me, many marked urgent with text raging in capital letters. I moved to hit the button a few times, but my finger refused to go there.

I called a close friend to meet me for lunch. Debbie and I had a dose of great friendship at The Post House and after a pleasant time I went back to my pen. I stared at the computer again and decided, instead, to go to a movie—a comedy or romance—and not return to work until the following Tuesday, the day after New Year’s.

I was a vice president at a standout company and by anyone’s standards, on top of my game. Resilience and a positive mental attitude helped to steer me through 24 years in television, culminating in management and executive roles at the TV stations divisions of the four major networks. My career traversed from first female sales manager at an ABC-owned TV station, to vice president of local sales at Rupert Murdoch’s FOX, to Six Sigma greenbelt and high-potential senior vice president at Jack Welch’s GE/NBC. I was instrumental in three startups, including the sales and marketing of a new network, a national rep firm, and a network-television-owned stations Internet group. I hired and managed hundreds of people, supervised nearly two billion dollars in revenue, helped to create winning environments, and managed change. I mostly had a great time for those 24 years until the rose-colored glasses broke.

I was on board with FOX at its beginning and helped to launch A Current Affair. We had the daring to go against Katie Couric and Bryant Gumbel with Good Day New York. We positioned the new FOX network to the New York marketplace with shows like Melrose Place, Beverly Hills 90210, and The Simpsons. I was at WCBS when David Letterman came on board and CBS tried to turn its prime-time boat around with Chicago Hope and Central Park West. I worked at NBC during the real “Must See TV” days and was proud to position The West Wing and The Golden Globes to our customers.

I was part of excellent, exclusive training classes and complex negotiations and creative strategy sessions. I traveled across the country and met interesting people while we entertained at the best places. I was one of three people to open and operate—from scratch—an in-house representation firm for a network-television-owned stations group with a body of 150 people in 13 offices nationwide. We built nirvana and kept it for three years, before agendas changed, and the business changed, and the world changed.

I had a smile on my face for most of two decades. I led successful charges, hired and helped to promote many people, started an associates program targeted toward diversity, and created healthy, thriving environments built to win with as little conflict as possible. I laughed out loud, danced at parties, celebrated mighty successes, and always bellowed a song, impromptu, as I walked the halls of whichever place I worked in at the time.

I was always wide-eyed and idealistic and oh so hopeful. Without realizing it, I became a free agent early on. I’d join a company full of vigor and energy and give all I had to make it a better place. I see now that there was always an arc: a new, exciting, challenging learning curve, followed by lots of hard work, team building, strategizing, and the win. Ultimately there would be some ownership change, or management change, or agenda change that transposed everything, soured the place, and propelled a move. I always loved the work. I always hated selfish, egomaniacal, unkind, blustery, political behavior and the toxic air that it spread. I fought through sexual harassment and unequal pay and boys clubs and exclusive, cliquey, cancerous groups. The higher I went, the higher the stakes and the harder and more expensive the game.

I just kept working and beating odds and doing it my way, in sync with my core personal and business values. I’d just go to the next place when the beauty ran out. I see now that I had worked at four different places because I believed it was possible to find joy and soul in my work, even in a corporate environment, even for a while. I believed we could make great TV, serve and inform the public, improve people’s lives, and still make money. I worked and worked and would eventually hit a wall and go to the next place when the environment, the learning curve, or the political climate changed to my displeasure. I was a searcher—always an optimistic believer that we could deliver great business with integrity, dignity, honesty, and teamwork, and the details such as money, promotion, and attribution would follow, because they were supposed to. And they did, enough to keep me going.

I mostly had a great time. I worked hard, made some great friends, had very successful results, displayed mental toughness, took care of my reputation, and protected my character. All I ever wanted was a healthy environment and the opportunity for great work, and I had it in many situations over the years. However, the constantly dramatic shifts in culture, politics, leadership, and attitude, and blind eyes to bad behavior, began to force a double personality upon me, with worker on one side and internal political strategist on the other. The split was making me sick; it was sort of like being a Democrat and having to live and act and work like a Republican.

The split was making me sick; it was sort of like being a Democrat and having to live and act and work like a Republican.

I did it mostly my way for 24 years and, mostly, it worked. I was 47 years old and on top of my game and, in the end, I was absolutely miserable.

I was alarmed on my return from that satisfying holiday break that it had taken only a few hours for my head to return to the hate reel. I realized that not one time in the 10 beautiful days spent in my personal world had I thought those ugly words. Not once—and that was probably the greatest relief and most insightful quiet of all.

I went home from work that night and said to myself, “This is it kid, you’re outta there.” I looked at a calendar. It was January 2, 2001; May 18 became my initial target date. I would give notice in early April. In the meantime, I would continue to work hard, keep my eyes on the freedom prize, and save every possible dime. I’d left jobs and companies before, but this was different. This time I was leaving my career to start a new life that was not clearly defined in my mind’s eye.

Of course, I didn’t just wake up one day and say, “I’m going to quit my job and leave my career.” Not after investing nearly half of my life in it. I was employed by one of the best companies in the world, and I had achieved a high level, earning very high pay, with great perks and a repertoire of experiences that spanned Super Bowls, Olympic Games, Final Fours, and U.S. Open tennis and golf. I went to the Emmys and the Grammys and the Tony Awards. I also knew that I really didn’t hate these people; it was just my own dramatic hyperbole and I couldn’t turn it off. The hate recordings in my mind were starting to affect my soul.

I’d always taken care of my money to have the freedom to make a career change or retire early, but could I really do it? Leaving my company and my corporate career was a most serious matter that took the better part of a year to resolve. I took the planning and strategic lessons I’d learned in the workplace and began applying them to my own life in preparation of my leave. I came to understand the game had changed, or maybe I had. I looked around my company and the industry and decided that there wasn’t a different job that I wanted; I wanted out. The rate of return on my investment was now in the deficit column and this was the scariest unfolding, as it required the biggest self-directed change of my life. As challenging and difficult as the work life could be, it also supplied great learning, stimulation, security, excitement, routine, status, and social contacts.

I anticipated every possible crisis after the break and prepared personal toolkits to have on hand in case I came to regret my decision on any level. I waited until the time was right by continuing to work hard while I prepared mentally and emotionally. I knew the time was right when my finger would not hit the e-mail button. I was done. I could no longer be the worker bee making yet another king, deserving or not. In the end, I left my television career on March 31, 2001. Since then, I have looked back only to learn from my past.

The first order of business after leaving was a total career review. I wrote a memoir that forced an honest look back at each of the four broadcast companies I’d worked for to identify growth and challenges and to study the significant events and the people that affected my life. I was looking for the reasons I stayed so long and for the truths that gave me license to leave this place, this industry that I loved and was part of. I reviewed my career and rediscovered the areas of true passion, fulfillment, and joy that kept me thriving. The memoir also highlighted the recurring political themes that always propelled a move. Writing the memoir was the first step in my healing process and the first ingredient of a successful transition to my new life.

The career review was as illuminating as a bolt of lightning on a dark night. Many memories brought great happiness in the retelling and found me reliving the excitement and fulfillment, recalling the pride and joys, and remembering all of the reasons I loved my work. Some of the writing proved so painful I had to leave the project for days at a time. I was left feeling spent all over again with the added ingredients of sadness and an impulse to heal this person of the past. I was amazed that so much had happened in one career lifetime and that I was able to move and thrive through it. It had all passed so quickly and I am richer in every way for the experience.

The memoir proved educational as well. Maturity, rest, self-truth, and calm have given me a new set of eyes. Time and distance have given me a wealth of insight that came from the very center of the person that I am and always was. I saw the things I did right, the things I wish someone had mentored me more about, and the things I wish I’d listened to or understood better.

The immediate question became what to do with this new knowledge from my most personal place that will surely be revisited by many, especially now with corporate conduct and career security in such turmoil. There is surely a way to remain yourself, hold on to your dreams, and stay true to your long-term life goals while you navigate the rigorous career path in front of you.

There is surely a way to remain yourself, hold on to your dreams, and stay true to your long-term life goals while you navigate the rigorous career path in front of you.

I hope you will hear what I have to say and make your own decisions from questions that will be raised. Perhaps my insights and mistakes will lead you to think twice before making your own. I realize that everyone must find his or her own way, but I also know it helps to be conscious and aware. This book could serve as a flashlight in case you need a little light on your own road. Most of the views and observances are from my professional life that spanned 24 years of work, growth, and change over many highs and a few significant lows. I have also incorporated the views of many respected colleagues into the subjects of several chapters.

This book is a day-to-day career-thrive guide enveloped in an understanding of big-picture business with an eye toward a holistic life. The company’s basic mission is indeed that “it’s all about results.” You can come to understand this reality and serve it while enhancing your whole life. You can be exuberant in your work and learning while you hold on to yourself and your dreams. You can still make a difference. You can contribute to the company and to your own growth and find wondrous fulfillment in the honor of great work. Your mission, if you accept it, is to understand the game of corporate life and become valuable to an organization and an industry within the house rules, while fortifying your own personal value kingdom.

A personal value kingdom is yours to shape and fill. It might begin with a balanced life that includes the emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical aspects of a full life. The financial dimension should also be considered because money grants freedom from stress and worry and gives you the ability to make unencumbered choices. Your working life steps on the balance of each of these core aspects every day. The environment in which you spend the biggest part of your waking life can help to fulfill or strip the equilibrium in your life. If your work is all consuming, you might not have the mental capacity left to think about things other than work, to feel emotions other than those related to work, and most important, to be a centered, balanced, and happy person. Overwhelming deadlines or political situations might cause extreme pressure, but you can find ways to maneuver them that will leave you feeling fulfilled and substantive, with energy to spare for the other parts of your life.

Fortifying your personal value kingdom means understanding the real deal in business and choosing who gets your talent and energy.

Fortifying your personal value kingdom means deciding what is necessary for your sense of a full and fulfilling life and making time and room for it. It means understanding the real deal in business and choosing who gets your talent and energy. It means choosing which battles are worth fighting and which conversations are worth obsessing over. Fortification will come from working smarter so that you have the time and energy for a balanced life. Knowing yourself and your long-term, wholelife goals, while working in an honorable way, will lead you to great accomplishments in and outside of your career. It can be done. You only have to be conscious and ever diligent.

Gauging your reactions to change and growth through selfawareness along the way is the key to a balanced and centered approach to your career. Understand what motivates you while you consider what motivates those above and around you. Be aware of what you are getting into, where and why you want to move up, and what your opportunity risks are. Know your personal core values and how you can impress your environment with those ideals. Knowing what you want and how you fit, or need to adapt, will inform your decisions as you move on in your career.

In the course of the book we discuss the purpose of business and consider ways to navigate office politics. What is true and responsible leadership? How can you affect the company profit margin from any position? How important is your immediate boss and what do you need to know about him or her? Where do you fit in the larger scheme? What can you do to make yourself valuable? How can you be the most effective manager? When is it best to stay under the radar screen? What is a kingmaker?

We consider the importance of energy, leadership, and teamwork in achieving a goal and the advantages of adopting a champion. We’ll also take a look at the places that ego, competition, and fear take in business and the difference between idealists and realists.

You must have your own confidence and financial security so that you can decide for yourself which projects you want to go for, if you mind working 24/7 or not, or suffer a bully boss or not.

Chapter 24, “The Freedom Plan,” is about money and your relationship with it. Financial planning is paramount if you want choices in your life. It is vital to have your own security so that you don’t ever have to be afraid of a threatened headcount reduction, or ageism, sexism, or cronyism. You must have your own confidence and financial security so that you can decide for yourself which projects you want to go for, if you mind working 24/7 or not, or suffer a bully boss or not. With a freedom plan you can decide to change careers if the day comes when your core values and passions are at odds with your current work environment. In short, plan to not be stuck anywhere because of money. You will have the ultimate freedom of choice and the opportunity to execute great work for the pure passion and joy of it.

Whatever you do and wherever you go, invest yourself into it and remember, always, to enjoy yourself. Having fun on the job is rewarding and contagious.

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