The Man or The Career?


Long ago and far away, I was married. Let’s just call him “Jacko” for the hell of it. He was a gold-plated up-and-comer in the advertising business. We had an office romance, dated, moved in together and three years later, got hitched. Soon, the Wild Wild West came calling and Jacko was recruited to big-paying job in San Francisco. He went to work and I went looking. I’d had a nearly 10 year career clawing my way to the middle of a big time Madison Avenue ad agency and suddenly, there was no work for me. Once we’d bought the cozy love nest in the redwoods, the Audi and the golden retriever puppy, there was no turning back.

We’d been there nearly two years before I found a job in my chosen profession, television production, and for a reduction in pay and a humiliating standard compared to where’d I’d been, I worked my ass off. For that job, I often flew back and forth to Los Angeles, making a 4 a.m. trek to the airport a few times a month, sometimes commuting back and forth in one day. On one particular Thanksgiving, though, my job took me there for about a week. I arrived back home on Thanksgiving Day. I remember asking Jacko where he’d made a reservation for Thanksgiving Dinner.  He looked at me crestfallen. “Huh?” he questioned, “You didn’t cook?” And he was serious!

Therein is the story of women working and maintaining a family. In the 1980’s anyway. From that moment on, the marriage became a series of sacrifices. When he worked, Jacko made great money and life was dreamy in big houses with limos and luxuries.  Trouble was, Jacko could barely keep any job for more than a year. The minute he was fired, the perks dried up. Because my business life was second to his (that’s how it was in those days when men were the bread winners), he led and I followed. Just like the marriage, my career went into a ditch.

Recently, in a therapy session, I was asked to list opportunities that had been presented to me in life that I had grabbed and those I’d rejected. I reviewed the circumstances of those pivotal decisions that brought me to where I am today. (more on that later)

It turns out that there was a fork in the road about four years into our marriage when I had a chance to go in another direction solo. I remember it like I were sitting there now. My then boss, the head of a major ad agency production department, popped a $10,000 (read as triple that by today’s count) check out of his desk drawer. This was his inducement to stay and not to follow the bouncing ball of Jacko’s career path one more time to another city, this time a far less desirable one than San Francisco.  I was further induced to stay by my supervisor who suggested I take over one of the agency’s major accounts. Here in New York, where we were living, I’d found and decorated a superior apartment (the place was cheap and well located). We’d spent a few bucks renovating too.

The marriage was troubled for the money problems that came with high interest (16% fixed rate) mortgages and lack of consistent work to pay for our propensity for high living. Not to mention hefty child support payments and the nasty back-and-forthing that  results between exes.  He lived in the mid-West, where the only job he could find was headquartered, and I remained in New York for as long as I could hold out. With the house in California and an apartment in New York, adding yet another residence in another city made our  expenses prohibitive. While the distance necessitated planned, and often far more romantic interludes than we’d had in years, the situation became untennable until finally Jacko was making promises to me he ultimately couldn’t keep.

My friends and family saw the handwriting on the wall. Everyone who knew me urged me to leave the marriage and stay in New York, my hometown, the City I love and the place where the greatest career possibilities existed for me. I was still only 34 with plenty of road still ahead of me.  Jacko was more and more desperate to have me move to the mid-West to be with him and finally after 18 months of commuting, I caved in, packed and left.

This was the decision that, I believe, has influenced my life ever since.

Today, as different from the early 1980’s, I think women can choose differently. Back then, there was no negotiating for both people in a couple. When your husband was recruited, even by a wealthy company, you were on your own to find a job for yourself. Most couples weren’t comprised of two working professionals. Women were liberated by the second-wave of feminism (1950’s-1980’s) which was largely concerned with issues of equality, such as the end to discrimination a la Gloria Steinem and Betty Friedan (The Feminine Mystique, 1963) but, apparently not all that much. Back then, I was one of few women I knew who wanted a job, not just an engagement ring, after college.  To move to a city without a network or a vehicle for acquiring one quickly, meant no real way to find a circle of like-minded professionals. Back then, without a open system for parlaying a decade’s worth of corporate ladder climbing, there was no way to break in to a small, closed society of workers. Back then, to work in television advertising meant living in one of two places and San Francisco and the mid-West weren’t either of them.

Whomever said you don’t have to choose is full of sh*t! Let’s face it. None of us would rather have one OR the other but the truth is – there are only so many hours in a day and we each have only so much energy to go around. What then was a choice between my marriage to a man I loved and felt committed to, no matter what damage had been done already, and a job or career was, in my mind, not a contest.  Today, if couples don’t get along that’s reason enough to split up. Until recently, 50% of marriages ended in divorce. Why things have changed, I’m not quite sure. I doubt it’s that women are taking their careers less seriously. If anything, my guess is that the gender slant of breadwinners is changing. Perhaps men are considering women’s professional lives more important. Perhaps both spouses are part of the negotiation when one is recruited to another city.

After my last exit from a highly respected New York advertising agency, I was never able to move vertically again, only laterally, at best, and was mostly relegated to compromising freelance jobs. Because television production is like any other “you’re as good as your last gig” industry, no good salary in advertising ever followed.  By the time the marriage broke for good and I moved to a serious production city, L.A., I had very little to offer in the stiffest competitive marketplace in the country.

Now, I was on my own. I scrambled for work and got none. The Divorce Court judge saw a working woman who only needed “rehabilitation” to be back on her feet. My ex got away with murder and welched on what he did owe. Since then, my resume has been a patchwork of reinvention. I don’t regret any of the roads this history has taken me down. I would never have had the chance to find my other talents. I do feel sure though, that, had things been more equitable, there could have been an easier way.

Resolve to advance your career in 2009


By Tara Weiss
Forbes Online
updated 8:01 a.m. ET, Mon., Jan. 5, 2009
Update your resume, focus on your goals and increase your visibility.

It has been a rough year for the American workforce. Jobs have been eliminated left and right. The threat of downsizing continues to loom. For those who still have a job, raises and bonuses are a receding memory.

Yes, times are tough. But that doesn’t mean you should put your career goals on the back burner. This downturn will pass, hiring will ramp up again and you will want to be ready. With that in mind, here are career resolutions that will help you achieve success in 2009.

Your first one: Update your résumé. The end of the year is an ideal time to reflect on your accomplishments, especially if it’s slow at work. When writing your résumé, don’t just list all your job responsibilities. That won’t set you apart. A more impressive résumé shows results, too. Briefly describe projects and then detail what they concretely achieved.
“Having a career plan doesn’t mean it will all happen immediately, especially since the market has changed,” says Laura Hill, founder of Careers in Motion, a Manhattan-based career coaching firm. “But it’s good over time, since it allows you to direct your career.”

As you consider your career plan, be honest about whether you’re happy in your current job and industry. Is the job still a good fit? Are you still learning and growing professionally? What are the longer-term threats to and opportunities for your company, your career there and the industry?

Take an assessment test
There’s no reason to wither away in a job you hate, and there are plenty of books that can help unhappy employees match their passions with more appropriate jobs. Many have assessment tests that ask probing questions to help you figure out what field best suits you.

Laura Hill recommends “Now, Discover Your Strengths,” by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton. There’s a unique code on each copy’s book jacket that you can use to take a career assessment test over the Web. She also recommends “Career Match: Connecting Who You Are with What You’ll Love to Do,” by Shoya Zichy and Ann Bidou, which has an assessment test between its covers.

Next, consider the skills you need to get ahead and take classes to acquire them. Some employers offer in-house training; others will reimburse you for courses you take at a local college. This will make you more marketable both inside and outside the company. Classes are also a good way to dip your toe into another profession to see if it’s something you’d want to pursue full time.

Join a professional association
This year, join your industry’s professional association. Every industry has one. Just type the name of your field and the word “association” into an Internet search, and most likely more than one will pop up. But don’t simply pay the membership dues and put it on your résumé. Get involved. Join committees. That’s how you network, says Alexandra Levit, author of several career books, including “How’d You Score That Gig: A Guide to the Coolest Jobs — and How to Get Them.” You’ll meet industry leaders you wouldn’t normally be exposed to.

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It’s also an easy way to get experience in another area. For example, if you’re a marketing executive, join your association’s finance committee. Voila, you now have finance experience to beef up your résumé.

Meanwhile, up your visibility at work. If you’ve just completed a big project, don’t assume the higher-ups know how successful it was. A great way to tip off the bosses without boasting, says Levit, is by sending a thank you e-mail to all the team members who participated in the project, with a CC to the bosses. The e-mail might say, “I’d just like to thank everyone who was involved in this presentation. Because of your hard work we were able to bring in X dollars for the company.”

If you recently lost your job, allow yourself a few days to wallow. Then move full speed ahead. Attend activities at your professional association and get involved in its committees. Do one thing a day to push your job search forward, whether it’s sending out a networking query, applying for a particular job or signing on with a temp agency that places professionals in your industry.

Don’t forget, Levit says, “The business world is going to recover.”