One day when Jackie Onassis was a book editor at Doubleday in the 1970s, her assistant came into her office and said, “Mrs. Onassis, your next appointment is here.”
Jackie slowly looked up and breathily asked, “And what does this one want to write a book about?”
“She wants to educate people about how to host dinner parties, make nice invitations, entertain properly in the home – that kind of thing,” the assistant said.
Jackie didn’t blink. “But doesn’t everyone already know how to do that?” she said, as the assistant brought in … Martha Stewart.
Cute story, right?
Well, it helped change my life a few years ago, when I realized I needed a Plan B, like the folks I blogged about Monday.
I had decided to leave the newspaper industry. It was showing signs of the disaster that soon followed and, somehow, I saw the “iceberg dead ahead” a bit before many of my colleagues and started looking for a life raft (way too much of a scramble to be called Plan B).
But when I began looking for another way to make a living, I was overwhelmed by bizspeak about “skill sets” and “project management” and “holistically synergizing teams and assets” — or whatever.
One night with a friend, I was complaining – whining, maybe – that my skills as a writer, editor and manager were not transferable outside of a newsroom.
“You think just because you can write well that everybody can write well,” he said. “Is that what all you newspaper people think – that you don’t know how to do anything special? Every day, you lead meetings and send out reporters to cover the news, and then you make a hundred business decisions about the product your company sells.”
That’s when my friend smiled and shook his head and told me the story about Jackie and Martha.
And then I understood. Maybe my skills and experience were, indeed, special. Maybe I could be of use to a different kind of organization.
Armed with this fresh perspective, I continued networking and eventually found a new place to work in corporate communications, where I felt appreciated and was nurtured in my transition into the business world, so different from the frat-house culture of newsrooms.
I tell that story a lot when I hear people with career troubles in any industry. Hang in there. Forget the nonsense you were told. Not everybody knows how to do what you do.
Thanks, Jackie. And Martha.
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