The bottom fell out of the U.S. economy in the fall of 2008 and most businesses – and individuals – didn’t quite know what hit them. The business I ran was heavily dependent on the consumer magazine industry, which was already beginning to feel the effects of consumers’ move to the Internet. We had begun to shift our strategic direction earlier, paying even more attention to the treasure trove of data that we collected each year and mining it for broader use and additional revenue streams. Our head of marketing, a smart and hard-working woman who had created a smoothly functioning and strategically focused department from not much more than shoe strings and tape, was releasing data nuggets to the press to pique interest in the broader uses of our information. One such nugget came out of our latest data release: Was this the beginning of a trend? We noticed that even upscale households seemed to be paying attention to current economic uncertainty and they had increased their propensity to shop in big box stores.
The press noticed, too. Ann Marie took a call from a cable business network assistant producer, asking if I would appear on one of their shows tomorrow to discuss the data. Of course I would! This is exactly what my hard-working marketing VP was aiming for!
“Great,” said the assistant producer. “Be at the studio by 5:45 am. Do your own make-up before you get here.”
I was there 15 minutes early, no small feat when the commute is nearly an hour, even at that time of the morning. I was dressed in my best business suit, in full make-up. The guard in the lobby even had my name on his list. Up in the studio there was a flurry of activity. The assistant in charge of me led me to a small room where other guests were waiting. My segment needed no prep, she reassured me, and you’ll be sharing the couch with this gentleman, an economist, who would be talking about how people are adjusting to the current economic conditions. Then she looked closely at me and asked, “Didn’t someone tell you to do your own make-up?” Without waiting for an answer, she said, “it’s a good thing you’re early and the talent is finished getting made up. We can fix you.”
I was ushered into an even smaller room, where the make-up artist asked again, “Weren’t you told to do your own make-up?” When I replied that I had done my own make-up, she muttered something unflattering and proceeded to make me look like a raccoon, with white swaths under eyes ringed in black. Before I could protest, I was led to the couch, the cameras were on and I was sitting across from a pert, blond woman in a red sheath asking me about the data press release and what I thought it meant for the future of the country. As I was answering the economist interrupted and he told me – and the viewers – what my data really meant. And then it was over. Not my finest moment.
But it is worthy of writing about. I felt awful. I felt stupid. I should have done it all differently. How inept I must have appeared even to the make-up artist. I seethed about this man jumping in and stealing my moment (the term mansplaining was not part of the vernacular then). I cringed when I looked at the tape and realized how large I looked next to the pert woman in the red sheath and berated myself for not sticking to my diet. In fact even a beloved relative suggested that I should stop wearing black because ‘didn’t I notice how cute the woman on the show looked in her pretty red dress?’
I felt all of that. But what did I do? I came back to the office. I laughed about looking like a raccoon with a few people. And I got back to work. The business thrived.
What do I hope a reader takes away from this story?
A small segment of my coaching practice consists of young adults who are frozen with fear. They are stalled in their careers and they don’t know how to move forward. Many can’t even acknowledge those feelings about work. A tool we use in our work together refers back to an essay I wrote that included the “Top 5 Regrets of the Dying.” Number 3 was “ I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.”
I want people in business and in my coaching practice to know that even their leaders have complex feelings about their jobs and their own performance. Now, years later, after the proof is in the performance, sharing some of my feelings just might help give others courage to own theirs.
People feel frightened all the time. We feel inadequate. We feel inept. What is important is to identify that feeling. Process it. Get help with it if you need to. Remember that feelings can be important but they are not facts. Pick yourself up and go back, do an even better job and celebrate the successes at least to the degree that you feel the failures!
“Every time you encounter something that forces you to “handle it,” your self-esteem is raised considerably. You learn to trust that you will survive, no matter what happens. And in this way your fears are diminished immeasurably.” ― Susan Jeffers