Yes, I had another career.
It had exciting elements, but all in all, still a pretty conventional career. For nearly a decade, I was all consumed by post-production editing houses. (We worked with advertising folks to put together their commercials.) I began by answering the phones for an office in midtown Manhattan on a totally historic block that had the Algonquin Hotel, the Harvard Club, and the headquarters of the New York Yacht Club. Then, about nine years later, I was the managing producer of a small San Francisco office that from its functioning roof deck had a view of the Transamerica building.
I started like many twenty-something’s of that time (early ‘90s). Moved away from home fairly impulsively not long after college, in my case to New York. I was working in Manhattan, but living in the outer borough of Queens, and taking a long subway to and from work. My hours were pretty much endless, and I made so little money starting out that I took a cash advance on my credit card to get going. I was lucky enough to be staying on the couch of friends of a friend for free, but I still needed to make money.
This first apartment was in the flight path of the airports, and the two cats that lived there always seemed to be in heat, but the woman who gave me a place to live I still remember as the most kind-hearted, benevolent woman I have ever met. A teacher who was always volunteering, speaking out for what she believed in and for those that needed a strong voice. She was truly a gentle, but powerful force. Someone I wish in hindsight I had spent more time with.
My second apartment was a two bedroom shared with seven flight attendants. One of them took 2 ½ hours to get ready, no matter what time she had to leave for her flight. She literally separated her eyelashes with a safety pin after applying mascara. Most of the time I had the place to myself. It did motivate me to get to the gym that came with the rent a few times. I hardly went. The bulk of my life revolved around “the office”.
Where I lived really didn’t matter much. One way the higher ups kept us happy and productive was to supply all food. Big baskets of bagels and muffins were put out in the morning. Lunch orders were taken for clients, and staff tagged theirs on to the restaurant(s) of choice for the day. There were countless snacks on the shelves in the kitchen and an entire refrigerator designated to beverages. If you worked late there was no over-time, unless you were an assistant, about three steps up from where you started out. The added carrot to working late then was dinner was paid for, and if it was past 10:00 you got a car service home. Sort of like college all over again with trying to avoid the freshman fifteen, but this time there was the addition of little to no sunlight.
As I moved up in the ranks, I changed offices, and moved into Manhattan with a great friend, but I started to really dislike advertising. Don’t get me wrong, for a while there were things about it that were very cool. Famous people came in to do voice-overs and the commercials were all over the popular television shows, including the Super Bowl. Most of my friends were the people I worked with and I was starting to make money. I could pay off my credit cards, buy nicer clothes and shoes, and eventually even get my own apartment. There were waves of happy times, but after about five years, there was a daily thought of, how do I get out of this? Or what will I do next? I remember sitting in a meeting thinking if I had to ooh and ah over one more cheese pull (that’s what you call that stretch of cheese when a piece of pizza is lifted from the full pie.), I might run screaming from the room.
There were Friday announcements of all hands on deck. The ad agency that brought us the majority of their work needed to do the preliminary pitches for a new campaign. For me that meant another weekend of doing anything from multiple estimates of costs to running to a steak house to pick up dinner, because it had to be that steak and they didn’t deliver. I was far enough up the ladder that I could certainly send an apprentice, but I was happy to get out. I think it kept me from losing it. The truth was I had already lost it. The “it” was me. It would be great if I could now say that I recognized all of this back then, had that ah ha moment, and made a move at this point. But, I wasn’t strong enough to have that Working Girl moment. At least, not yet.
In 1999, I was dealt a life-changing card and I knew it. I am a big believer that in life we are presented with opportunities, call them lucky breaks, fate, the universe, whatever. The point is, you have to be tuned in enough to notice when it happens, and more importantly be ready to act on it. Then once you have it, work, work, work, and then work even harder to pull it off. If you don’t there are a handful, sometimes a truck load full, of people behind you that will.
The high-profile office where I was working was known for its Super Bowl spot prowess. They had expanded past New York, to Los Angeles, and then to San Francisco. The partners were planning a visit to hire a manager for the San Francisco office. They had hopes of growing the office and capitalizing on the then booming .com and biotech companies that were everywhere in advertising. Interviews were lined up with local producers in the Bay Area. The night before they were set to leave, I called each of the three partners to tell them I wanted to be considered for the job. I only spoke to two of them, but I knew it would be discussed on the way out before they met any other candidates, probably giving me an unfair advantage. It really wasn’t a calculated move, but once I made the calls, it was out there. This was in mid November.
I broke the news that I was moving to San Francisco to my family over Thanksgiving and I was there by January. It was 2000, a new millennium, and the beginning of the new, well, really, the “me” that was always there, just waiting to come out.