One week after getting married in my thirties — while I was working as the main anchor at the CBS affiliate in Cleveland, Ohio — I got fired. The station was the first to experiment with a double female anchor team doing prime time news. It was revolutionary and risky; when it didn’t work, I was the obvious one to go. The other female anchor was born and bred in Cleveland. I was the outsider….but it still hurt.
I’ll never forget getting called up to the general manager’s office a week after my honeymoon, and he told me I was done.
“The two female anchor concept isn’t working, “ he told me bluntly. “Unfortunately, we don’t have another position for you at the station, based on your current salary level.”
“Oh.” My stomach clenched as I realized my worst fears were being realized. “What’s going to happen to the broadcast?” I asked.
“Denise is staying on and we’re replacing you with a man,” he replied. Then he added, “Now that you’re married, you’ll be okay.”
I was too stunned to respond, but later it was those words — “Now that you’re married, you’ll be okay” — that upset me. I was so disappointed that after I’d spent four years at his station, he still had no idea who I was. I was a professional who had dedicated years to establishing my career, and he had brushed me off with a gratuitous remark. I’d never heard of a man losing his job and being told, “Don’t worry. You’re married. You’ll be okay.”
My career had zero to do with whether or not my husband also worked. It had everything to do with personal identity, personal goals, and making the most of my life.
Sure, I had other failures in my life growing up. I didn’t win class President in tenth grade. I was too chubby to win a role in the school play “Oklahoma!” and I didn’t make it into a singing and dancing group in high school for the same reason – too fat. But I had been a child prodigy on the violin and had worked so hard to win the Miss America crown. So being fired was the biggest failure thus far in my life.
For years, I never spoke publicly about being fired. I was too embarrassed and ashamed. It was a huge failure. But after getting back on my feet, first at the NBC affiliate in Dallas (ironically working for my same female boss from Cleveland), my hard work paid off . Less than two years later, I made it to the national stage working for “CBS News” in New York as a correspondent.
Recently, I realized I could help other people who’d also been humiliated with losing their jobs. And that’s why I decided to speak out about my experience in my new book, Getting Real. I believe failures can ultimately lead to success if we put our nose to the grindstone and keep putting one step in front of the other.
My advice to people who’ve lost their job: go back to the things that made you from the start. I relied on strong family relationships, networking (I called everyone I had ever known or worked with) and faith. But, in retrospect, I made mistakes, too. I should have gone back to my violin that lonely year – to rekindle my love for my music and reinvigorate myself with something I once did so well. It was the one thing no one could ever take away from me – even a boss who had fired me. So, if you’re in this situation, go back to what you love; you never know – it may spark a new passion or career path you had never dreamed of.
One thing is for sure: I have a special place in my heart for anyone who has ever lost a job and is still looking for a job. Trust me, I feel your pain.
Gretchen Carlson is anchor of FOX News Channel’s (FNC) “The Real Story with Gretchen Carlson.” Prior to joining Fox News Channel, she worked at CBS News, where she won two Emmy awards. A Stanford University grad, she was the first classical violinist to be crowned Miss America. Her memoir, Getting Real, will be published June 16. Visit www.GretchenCarlson.com for more information.