18 Nov The Road Not Taken: How Getting Fired Boosted My Career
Love this article posted today by Mika Brzezinski, Co-Host of MSNBC’s Morning Joe:
The road I took was set in stone for me at a very early age, influenced by two dynamic parents. My father exposed me to the medium of television — tagging me along on his interviews at “Nightline” and “Charlie Rose.” I got the TV bug immediately as a preteen. I loved how news stories were put together and presented on air.
My mother, a sculptor, tells stories as well — she has a 50-year career of using an axe and a chainsaw to reveal the “stories” inside massive tree trunks. Twelve pieces are on display right now at the Kreeger Museum in Washington, D.C., including my all-time favorite, “Lament.”
Photo right: My mother, Emilie Brzezinski’s sculpture at The Kreeger Museum in D.C.
So the road started early for me. Telling stories. Communicating a message. Developing my voice in this evolving medium over the course of more than two decades. Sometimes there is no way to take a different path when it is what you love — even when it doesn’t love you back.
I trudged through 10 years in local news, worked overnights at CBS News for four years, hosted a cable show for women for two years after that until finally settling into what I thought would be a life-long career as a correspondent for CBS News. My first week on the job was 9/11. I traveled America finding stories for “The CBS Evening News,” “CBS Sunday Morning,” even “60 Minutes.” Anchoring the CBS Evening News Sunday edition felt like a feather in my cap.
(A week after 9/11, covering live from NYC for CBS)
Just shy of my 40th birthday, the road ended. I was called down to the office of the President of CBS News and was told, “They were moving in a different direction.” I was being fired. I. Was. Fired. They liked my work… but didn’t like it anymore… or just had other people coming in… Whatever it was, my days at CBS News had abruptly come to an end.
Being fired is an out-of-body experience. I remember it like it was yesterday. A mixture of anger, feeling victimized, feeling exhilarated and free, and feeling scared shitless all at once. But then the time starts to pass, and if you are like I was, the NEXT job couldn’t come soon enough.
I sent my work to other networks and the response was… crickets. I went from everything to everyone to nothing to no one. If I did get an interview, the first question was: Why were you fired? I didn’t have an answer because I didn’t really know. Each job interview set me deeper back; deeper into knowing it was over. It’s hard to fight nothing. No phone ringing. No calls back. Just “No thank you,” from everywhere I applied. I would re-apply six months later. Nothing.
I did get an audition to anchor the local news at the ABC affiliate in Washington. I was told I was close… down to three. I went for the audition and was desperate for the job. So desperate it was written all over my face. They gave it to the talented Alison Starling who is still there to this day.
At about nine months of nothing, with severance running out, I knew I had to find another road. I began the task of applying for any job anywhere. I was overqualified for many jobs I applied for online, but still got no calls. Slowly… ever so slowly, I got responses from a few major PR firms. One, just one, called me in for an interview. I had the skills and the experience to do PR well.
It was at this time that a good friend — a talented producer at CBS News — was in the process of getter fired too (or “released from her contract”). The turnover was continuing there and this time, it was my friend’s turn. Since I had been through it, I was coaching her through the process — the hurt, the anger, the loss, the fear. I was reliving it all with her. Knowing the place and the players, it really was like my loss all over again. She was one of the best producers there and had taught me everything I know about voice control, studio tracking and storytelling.
My job interview turned into another one until it was down to a final round. A job as a VP at a major PR firm. Real money. It was the kind of money that would keep the family moving forward. We were at a dead stop with no hope in sight. This job was a potential lifeline… right there for the taking.
I was waiting for the call to line up the last round. I’ll never forget the moment. Driving my pickup up the hill near my house, the ’93 Ford 150 with roll-up windows just stopped… Stalled out and died. I knew that meant another $500 at the shop. $500 that I did not have. Then my cell phone rings. It’s the PR firm. Wanting to know if I can come in this week…
I put the truck in park in the middle of the road and listened to myself as I said, “I’d love to come in but I have to be honest; I know someone better for the job. Perfect actually.” I then began to sing the praises of my soon-to-be fired friend. It came out of my mouth as if I had been practicing it forever… So easy to say, because it was true. She was perfect for the job, and I was not. I knew this road, as much as I needed one, would not be taken by me.
I remember clunking my head on the steering wheel after I hung up asking myself: “Why, WHY?? You need a job so badly!” But I knew it even then. There was still only one road for me… and that this one wasn’t it. I knew even then I would have to find my way back to that road I chose at 13 years old. Somehow.
It took many more months, but I called every network known to man and begged for ANY job they had available. I found myself LEAPING at the opportunity to work a day rate, part-time, freelance job at MSNBC reading 30 second news cut-ins — a job I probably would have scoffed at 15 years prior.
Eight weeks into working the “cut-in shift” at MSNBC, Don Imus was knocked off the air for making unfortunate comments. MSNBC was on the hunt for a new morning show…
I was back on the road again.