In April 2006 I lost my job as Editor-in-Chief of Marie Claire magazine.
The day I exited, I carried a box of TV makeup (stashed in my desk drawer for last-minute television interviews) and a farewell album of Polaroids hastily assembled by my shocked and grieving staff. My good friend Francine, who worked in the beauty industry, had heard about my beheading through the grapevine and beat a quick path to my back porch to sit and comfort me.
Truth was, I had been expecting to be fired.
My bully of a boss had a single tool hiding in her Chanel pocket: a cost-cutting knife which she wielded like Dexter at a vigilante reunion—gouging my budget by a million here, a million there until she slashed a vital artery—a flashy French fashion photographer who drew saleable celebrities to the Marie Claire cover; when I learned he’d started working for the competition, I knew my butt was headed the way of the Zoot Suit.
But here’s the point of my story: though a few other friends or colleagues reached out by phone or email, many vanished from my Rolodex (yes, we had those big armadillo-shaped things on every desk) like the purple invisible ink from the science kit I got for Christmas as a kid.
Without the portal of a corporate job, readers had no way of locating me. What was most jarring however was that after traveling the globe to offer women with no voice a strong, supportive outlet for their stories, my mission was muzzled; I had no longer had a way to impact the world. I free-lanced for More and the New York Times, among others but it was always on their terms; I could never reconnect with my audience.
Some adventurous journalists had begun writing blogs on this new thing called the Internet, but talking about myself 24/7 was wildly unappealing and Facebook was only a stomping ground for teens. The evening news had just started hyping Myspace and AOL!
Then one day I received a huge manila envelope in the mail. It was from the director of an orphanage on the island of Phuket in Thailand. The director and I had met when I travelled to Phuket to report the heart-breaking story of how the 2004 tsunami had torn families apart—and what women were doing to pull the country together again.
I had been so impressed by the industriousness of the groups I met in the refugee camps on Phuket that I’d decided to give the proceeds the magazine raised from selling T-shirts designed by cover-girl Gwen Stefani to one of the grassroots efforts. The director had not forgotten but she had to work like hell to find me through the Times. The envelope was filled with beautiful photos of children gathered in front of the building Marie Claire had built.
Fast forward to 2016. And what a difference a decade makes! When More came to a crashing halt in February, I snapped a photo of the last hours of the staff and posted it to my personal Facebook (FB), Twitter (TWTR) and LinkedIn (LNKD).
Hundreds of friends, competitors and readers jumped in to say how sad and angry they were that a magazine of such intelligence and quality was being shuttered—leaving them adrift in a sea of Kardashians and Premarin ads. For weeks afterward, I received both condolences and pep-talks.
Readers posted photos of the last issue (April) perched on their night tables or cradling their morning coffee, saying they were going to miss this bit of “sanity” “sisterhood” and “encouragement.” Readers encouraged me to “reach higher,” “not give up,” strike out on my own. One even reached out to offer seed funding for my next project!
Instead of leaving me feeling cut off, the folding of this iconic brand in this age of digital connection feels more like I’m emerging from a carapace to be embraced by an incredibly nurturing and giving community. The Marie Claire I ran had cultivated a similar community but the tools for outreach were lacking.
Building my personal brand
To be clear, after I got my fifth boss at More, I made it my business to do exactly what we advised readers to do on the pages of the magazine: build my personal brand. Day after day, I posted stories to social media (personal to Facebook; business to LinkedIn; trends to Twitter) and tweaked them to see which created the most traction. I added my social handles to my email signatures and business cards.
I jettisoned my obscure Pradagirl47 handle (given to me in a fit of “fer-god’s-sake-just-pick-something-woman!” pique by my nine-year-old daughter) in favor of an easy-to-identify proper name. I attended every networking event—and every lunch–I was invited to.
“Even if you have a job you love…carry a reinvention plan”
So when the worst happened and they closed More, I was prepared. Instead of crippling devastation and depression, I found hope and a sense of renewal.
So here’s my advice to you: Even if you have a job you love and have been there for 22 years, carry a reinvention plan in your back pocket.
I have plenty of friends who felt totally secure in their corporate jobs until they came in one day and found their company has been acquired or merged or moved to another state.
If you are over the age of 50 and have a top job with a large salary, beware that you could be a target in a downsizing; if you are female, alas, you could be even more of a target–as older men are considered “wise” and “experienced” and women, well, not so much (I’m not saying this is legal; I’m saying this is what happens behind closed doors).
“Build your brand. Every day”
Work that social media! Unless you are a banker and must remain off the grid for regulatory reasons, build your brand. Every day. Work your connections, every day. Don’t wait till you need to use them.
The good news is that with preparation, losing your job today no longer means losing your identity: it can mean a new start—for a new you. Let me know what you’ve experienced.