Friday, January 21, 2011

Learning big lessons from losing a big job

View of Cleveland & Lake Erie from my former corner office
Yesterday's post was about how unsettling and eye-opening it's been to lose my job. Today I'm talking about how I got here.

What's interesting about being in my position is that it didn't come about in a 'conventional' way -- if there is a such thing. What I mean is that even though I work in a shrinking industry (journalism) during a massive recession, neither of those things were responsible for my job loss. In fact, my own ambition and desire to climb may have as much to do with it as anything. Let me explain.

Two years ago I worked for the Cincinnati Enquirer as a business reporter covering Procter & Gamble, the biggest company in a town with several Fortune 500 headquarters. In my early 30s, I'd say I had done well building my career; decent enough that my blog had a nice following, I was freelancing cover stories for major magazines and national TV and radio outlets regularly called me for commentary.

Still, journalists were getting fired left and right, I'd recently had a setback at work and a bunch of people at my company were being laid off. On top of that, my goal was never to write for anyone else forever: I wanted to be a magazine editor, to have a gig that came with a bigger following and management experience I could apply when I struck out on my own as an entrepreneur.

Then the call came: a magazine in Cleveland needed a new top editor and their headhunter got my name from an editor I'd worked with in NYC. Was I interested? Unsure at first, I got advice from family, mentors and my then significant other, then packed up and moved to Cleveland. A nonprofit operation whose funders were losing faith, my job was to use what I'd learned about management to turn the place around. And boy did I try.

In the ensuing two years we got some of the highest praise for our editorial content we'd ever gotten. Our audience loved what we were doing. We even took home some major journalism awards; one of my commentaries narrowly lost one contest to Earl G. Graves, founder of the much larger Black Enterprise, one of my role models in this business. I took the nomination as a victory.

The business side was a different story. I had a staff of four valiantly doing the work of at least twice as many people. My title was editor, by my responsibilities were more like editor/publisher/development officer/marketing and circulation guru. Our funders said how much they loved our work, but the love didn't come with a commitment to extend our funding. I closed our office in favor of telecommuting last August to save money, and we shut down for good Dec. 31. As trying as it's been for me, my biggest lament was for my three colleagues who lost their jobs.

So why post about this on a blog where I usually answer questions about personal finance and the economy? Well, because some of the lessons I learned have universal application for anyone climbing a career ladder, or stumbling down a couple rungs. When I was in Cincinnati, the paper's executive editor told me he had to take detours to smaller markets and off the beaten path in order to land in the big chair. I didn't forget that when Cleveland called, and neither should you when you get a similar call. To paraphrase another mentor: companies, no matter how small, don't call you looking for chief executives every day.

On the other hand, I learned how important it is to do due diligence on new employers, especially when stepping into an executive role. Had my mouth not watered so much at landing that beautiful corner office with a spectacular view, I might have discovered how dire the management and financial situations were at the magazine (although, honestly, I still would have taken the job).

There were plenty of other lessons, but the last one I'll share comes out of losing the job: It's not the end. As many daily postmortems as I subject myself to about what I could've done to save the place, ultimately none of them matter. Nor does my frustration and anxiety over what's next. What matters is I gained, in two years, a ton of experience that many other people my age don't have. No one can take from me that at 31, I sat in the big chair, even if it was in a small shop. By 33, I'd grown totally into that chair and with my 34th birthday just days behind me, the challenge now is to figure out how to parlay all those lessons into the next big opportunity.

And the thing to remember, if you've lost your gig like I have, is that that opportunity is coming. The only question is whether you'll be ready to recognize it when it does.


theblackguywhotips said...

Sorry you lost your gig man. Sounds like you were doing it big out there though and the time is worth something. I'm sure you'll land on your feet. You've always come across as a pretty astute individual on Twitter. I'd tell you to "keep your head up" but it seems you've already done so.

Culturatist said...

I just saw a RT via Kash Shaikh on twitter on your post :) I'm in your same boat (biotech industry), but for about 5 months now. I must say though...I've had the best career days of my life, post my management job.

The thing I am dealing w/ now is this statement that you made: "The challenge now is to figure out how to parlay all those lessons into the next big opportunity".

Your post made me excited! I have had great lows and highs w/ my career to date and I have learned something of value from each to take me higher! Sending you blessings for your new great gig!!!!

- Masha

Tammy said...

Thanks for being vulnerable enough to share. Wishing you the best in the job hunt, and hopefully we'll glean a lesson or two along the way.

marcclarke said...

Loved your article and I have been on the beach for almost three years but the time spent with family and what I have learned about myself is invaluable. "Can't stop, won't stop"

Melisa Marzett said...

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