It was the fall of 1996. As a recent ASME intern and almost-J School graduate, I was interviewing for magazine jobs. A production assistant at The New Yorker. A health assistant at Woman’s Day. An office assistant at Smoke (really!). A features assistant at Good Housekeeping. …. I took the first job that was offered: at Good Housekeeping (thanks Ellen!). I was over the moon. Me! At a seven sisters magazine! With like 5 billion readers. My name would be in the masthead at Kroger! I DID IT.
That weekend, I was at a party that another former ASME intern was throwing. Actually, it was her Travel-Holiday-editor boyfriend’s and his Reader’s-Digest-editor roommate’s party. But whatever. The point is that there were a lot of junior-level magazine people there, and I got to talking to the boyfriend’s roommate’s friend. (Hi Courtenay!) She was fun and chatty, and I’m sure we were drinking too much cheap beer. In any case, my new friend told me she was looking for a health assistant job. What a coincidence! I was up for a health EA spot at Woman’s Day. But I wasn’t going to take it, I explained, because I accepted the GHK job. Her eyes lit up. And then it just came out: “I’ll tell the editor tomorrow that she should hire you!” My new friend said that’d be awesome, we exchanged numbers and promised to stay in touch. The next day, I called the health director at Woman’s Day, told her I accepted another job, and then said, But I know someone who would be great ….
Courtenay got the job.
When she told me the news, a spark zinged through me. My eyes watered. I was verklempt. (There really is no better word.) Courtenay was thrilled to have landed the position, it was her perfect next step (she would go in to become a health editor and climbed from there into the top ranks of various publications), and she was grateful. Of course I didn’t “get” her the job. I didn’t help her with her resume or interview questions. I didn’t read her edit test. I just made a connection. That’s all. And yet that feeling. I know it’s cheesy, but damn, did it feel good.
Soon after that, I launched Ed2010 to connect people, like I connected Courtenay. It somehow grew and grew until it was a national organization with city and college chapters and even made a few “best” lists — 10 Best Websites For Millennial Women from Forbes, Best Website for College Women from Her Campus. With my volunteer staff (40+ of them!) we ran mentor programs, workshops, conferences, job boards, networking events, a scholarship program, and provided tons of career advice. I didn’t run Ed2010 for the money, but I can’t say my reasons were selfless. I loved being known as the connector. I loved when my magazine friends called: I need an [insert editorial type]: Who do you know? I loved the thank you notes from whippersnappers. I lived for random bump-ins: You’re Ed?! I got my first job thanks to you! I loved the nickname one reporter gave me in her story about unpaid internships: She called me the industry’s Fairy Godmother.
Yet I never wanted to quit magazines to run Ed full time. I believed that I couldn’t help others if I was on the outside. There was a little devil on my shoulder that said, Those who can’t do, teach. So I continued to do.
And I loved my magazine career. Over two decades I worked at eight titles (Good Housekeeping, Glamour, YM, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, ComoGIRL!, Parents). I edited thousands of stories. Earned a few ASME nods. Hired and developed talent. But I continued to chase that feeling I got from career coaching (although no one called it that then). I met with any recent grad, junior editor, or career changer who asked. I responded to every email. Took every late-night What should I say my salary requirements are? call. For a few years there, I was meeting with 2-3 people a week. My 8-9 a.m. time slot was reserved for informational interviews and I loved starting the day chatting with people about their careers. I loved seeing them leave my office more confident than when they walked in. That feeling was my Prozac.
Then the bottom fell out in magazines and Prozac became my Prozac. My awesome boss was let go, my friends and coworkers were being laid off on the quarter, and I felt guilty giving career advice to magazine wannabes. I even disbanded our Ed on Campus chapters with this cautionary blog post. Not long after that I was let go myself and realized my dream career was over. I did quickly land another job — running the creative team of an in-house branded content group — but it wasn’t the same. No one knew Ed or really knew me. I was any executive working in any corporate job dealing with corporate politics. I told myself I was just too busy to run Ed2010 and no one needed my help anymore anyway.
I stopped making connections*. I stopped doing informationals and giving career advice. And people stopped asking for it. I let Ed’s content lapse. And that feeling, that feeling that drove me for 20 years. It disappeared. In its place was just a hollow, sad space. I was lost and didn’t know what to do next. I no longer had a dream job.
Then the best thing happened. I was reorg’d. Restructured. Let go. My company was generous with the severance and provided out-placement services. I met with a career coach. Yeah, one of those people who don’t do, but teach. She was awesome and encouraging (of course she was!), and told me what I’m sure you have already figured out 1,819 words into this post … I did have a dream job. It was there all along.
So I took Ed out of hibernation, tapered him off Prozac, and shook some life into him. I also gave him a little sister — Talent Fairy. And I’m back to meeting with people, lots of people, dozens a week. Yesterday I met with a young woman who was stuck in her career. Smart, bubbly personality, talented writer. But stuck all the same. We talked, we laughed, we bonded. I helped her restructure her resume and cover letter. We talked about her goals. I connected her with a few key people. She was grateful. Excited about the career ahead of her. She had the same look on her face that Courtenay had 23 years ago. That feeling was back. I’m not going to let it slip away this time.
Chandra Turner is founder and CEO of Ed2010. She provides personalized career coaching for media professionals at all stages of their career. This year she launched Talent Fairy to help brands recruit and develop high-quality creative talent.