Top editor's advice? Women can have it all
In her inspirational book, 'The Joys of Much Too Much,' Bonnie Fuller tells how she beat her demons to become a successful editor. Here's an excerpt:
Bonnie Fuller has it all: She's a high-powered magazine editor, a happily married woman, and a mother of four. In her upbeat new book,”The Joys of Much Too Much,” the editorial director of American Media – publisher of Star Magazine and the National Enquirer – tells women how they can have it all, too! One of her secrets is to keep your inner demons at bay. “If I had ever really 'faced the facts' about myself,” she writes, “I never would have reached for even a zillionth of what I've managed to accomplish.” She also tells how she tackled setbacks. After reviving Glamour magazine, she was tossed out. But she persevered. Fuller was invited to appear on “Today” to share her secrets for happiness and success. Here's an excerpt:
Never Face the Facts: The Positive Aspects of Denial
A few years ago when I was having lunch with David Brown, the Oscar-winning producer of films such as Jaws and Chocolat, I garnered a bit of wisdom I recognized instantly as right on the money: “Under no circumstances, face the facts.” David first heard this motivating mantra from the legendary actress Ruth Gordon.
David explained that if he and his producing partner Richard D. Zanuck had read the book Jaws more closely and realized they had to create a mechanical shark to make the story work onscreen, they never would have gone near the project. Ignorant, they went forward, and even hired a then-unknown, twenty-nine-year-old director named Steven Spielberg. The rest is movie box office history. Jaws, the first of the big summer blockbusters, took in $470 million worldwide, which stood as a record until the release of Star Wars.
As soon as the words left his mouth, I realized that, consciously or unconsciously, I had been living my life by David and Ruth's mantra. How else could a geeky, Canadian Jewish girl from a dysfunctional family grow up to be a successful magazine editor in New York City?
If I had ever really “faced the facts” about myself, I never would have reached for even a zillionth of what I've managed to accomplish. In 1989, as editor in chief, I relaunched YM, the teen magazine, which went on to great success before eventually folding many years later; three years after that, I created and launched Marie Claire in America; three years later, I revamped Cosmopolitan; then in 1998 I brought Glamour magazine to its highest circulation and profits ever before being very publicly tossed out of the editor in chief position.
Eight months later I landed at the celebrity magazine Us Weekly, which I worked hard to turn into a blockbuster success. Now I am editorial director of American Media, whose twenty publications include Shape, Men's Fitness, and Star, which I have just retooled with the help of a great team, led by editor in chief Joe Dolce, from a newsprint tabloid into a glossy magazine.
To make YM a success, I had to ignore the fact that Seventeen had dominated the teen magazine market for years. If I had really stopped to consider the fact that Us Weekly had been written off by the media and advertising world before I was able to revive it, I might have been paralyzed by fear and self-doubt. If I had fixated on the fact that many people thought Star was about aliens when I started at the magazine, I would have been in a state of despair from day one. These were my versions of David Brown's mechanical shark.
Imagine a short brunette, with bitten-to-the-quick nails, flyaway hair, adult acne, with no family connections or money, no Ivy League or literary credentials, no appearances on a reality TV show. Imagine her thinking she could land the job of her dreams not once, but over and over again — not to mention find a wonderful man to love, and learn how to keep a pack of personal demons at bay. I've been able to make it happen, and I'll show how you can, too.
Adopt a make-things-happen mind-set
You don't have to be Dr. Freud to come to see that just forging ahead – and not giving yourself excuses for not doing so – can do wonders for your ability to keep unpleasant, unhelpful “facts” about your perceived imperfections in your own personal box marked Do Not Open.
In the Real World, who can sit on a couch each week and overanalyze his or her problems? Staying occupied with truly worthwhile, though often trying tasks, such as child rearing or doing a job you love, wards off self-indulgence and a kind of paralyzing introspection that leads to nothing but further insecurities.
Focus on the things that bring joy into your life: self-obsession rarely does. I'd rather watch my kids perform in the high school musical, make a photo album for my mom, or work with my staff to redesign a magazine than sit on a couch, analyzing my past and my problems. Doing the best job you can, both at work and in your personal life – whether it's dating or raising a family or being involved in your community – is what's satisfying in a deep and lasting way.
I'm sure a therapist would tell me that part of the reason why I work so hard is that doing so distracts me from my inner demons. You know what? That's probably true. But I'd rather take pleasure out of working, and in the other parts of my life. After all, how long can you go on about your rotten childhood, your father's running out on you, and the insecurities brought about by not having the safety net a secure family background provides? How does it help to dwell on these things?
I don't believe in digging down to find out about the roots of the problems. Generally I know where the problems come from; how does further digging help the situation? At a certain point, you have to get on with your life. You have to move on.
Silence your inner naysayer
Start telling yourself with 100 percent, rock-solid conviction that you can get to where you want to go. It isn't easy. We all have those nagging doubts, those little voices in our heads that tell us, “You're nuts, you'll never even make it close to the top, you're not worthy.”
When those evil whisperers burrow inside your head, stop whatever you're doing, and think for a moment: Who is doing this trash talking? A relentlessly critical, unsupportive teacher; an insecure parent, passing on his or her own self-doubts and insecurities; a lover who can't wait to kick you while you're down? A boss or coworker threatened by your work ethic or your talent? Or is it a nagging, negative inner voice?
Start tuning them out, literally. These are voices you know better than to listen to. Every time the negative voices start up, you have to consciously tell yourself, “No-no-no, I'm not listening; I'm going to think about something else,” or turn on the TV, or start reading a book, or do some work, or make a phone call.
It's a very deliberate strategy, like stopping smoking. Every time you think about smoking, you have to do something different to keep your mind off it. In this case, the bad habit you have to break is listening to inner negative voices. After a while, they just stop coming as much. Or you stop listening to them. Or you cut them off faster. Listening to them becomes less a part of your life, and they just fade away.
I have yet to meet a completely secure woman. If a woman is beautiful, with all the money in the world and a gorgeous husband, she has doubts about her intellect, or her professional abilities – or what color shoes she should wear to her best friend's wedding. As they used to say on Saturday Night Live, “It's always something.” You are not the perfect woman – the smartest, the funniest, the most successful, the most loved, the best connected, the most beautiful, the most physically fit, the most fashionable. And neither am I.
If you stop facing these troublesome “facts,” it's amazing how quickly they lose their hold over you and stop haunting your dreams at night. Once you lay these little devils to rest, you will have removed the biggest roadblock to getting whatever it is you want out of life.
The biggest hurdles you will ever face are the ones you've built up in your own self-critical mind
Granted, some people are born into circumstances of poverty or physical disability that present great challenges; others have faced accidents or illnesses that are no fault of their own. But most of us have no such roadblocks in our way. We have our health and our capacities, so take a moment to thank the Lord for these major gifts, and then get going.
If I've managed to shrug off all kinds of hold-you-back ideas, feelings, and people, then you can, too. If I've opened some tightly closed doors and said, “Hey, I'm coming in,” why can't you?
It can help to take out a blank piece of white paper and actually list all your so-called faults and deficiencies, the things you use to keep yourself in check. My whining internal voices often said these things:
“You're not that talented. There must be a lot of other women who really know what they're doing.”
“If your ideas are so great, why hasn't someone else thought of them first?”
“No great guy is ever going to fall for you: you're not that special.”
List these awful thoughts carefully, then put them in the garbage or in a locked box in the back of the closet, which is exactly where they belong.
Don't be afraid to go for the big job, the big love, the big life
If you are ready to grapple with the negative forces within you, you can banish them, like the self-appointed queen of her kingdom getting rid of unruly subjects. Call me crazy, but I do believe there will be a female president in my lifetime. I believe with equal fervor that women across America, and maybe the world, can achieve great things with a little help – some from others but a great deal from themselves.
I can tell you one thing with absolute certainty: there will be no fairy godmother who appears out of nowhere to place you in a job at the top of the organizational chart; no one to hand you a $20 million-a-picture advance of the sort commanded by Julia Roberts. It would be lovely, yes: who hasn't fantasized about such things?
The reality is that you're going to have to go out and make happiness and success happen for you against all “factual” odds. Over the long haul real hopes and dreams come true for the women who can differentiate between what many people suppose to be true and what they can actually achieve. Once you've compiled the list of noisome negative “facts” and disposed of it, start making a new one, and put this at the top: Why Not?
Say you decide you want to be a pediatric neurosurgeon, so you can save children with brain tumors. For many reasons, including no doubt the number of years required to train in the profession, there happen to be very few female pediatric neurosurgeons. The key to reaching your goal is not necessarily to talk to every expert in the field, many of whom will be discouraging, but to think, “Why not?” and then determine and take the necessary steps.
If someone is going to be the next – or even the first – in a field, why shouldn't it be you? Of course you've got to go through the requisite schooling, but now at least you've given yourself the mental go-ahead, and whether it's because of a deliberate decision, naïveté or both, you're able to block all the nay-saying voices that may be telling you that you can't do this. Now you have the energy and focus to concentrate on achieving your goals.
As you'll see in the examples that follow, if I hadn't been ignorant about the obstacles I'd face, I never would have embarked on my own adventures.
Even if you do know about the obstacles, pretend you don't. Don't face facts!
Join the “why not?” club
In college I had a hard time silencing my “You can't do it” inner voices. At my alma mater, the University of Toronto, there was a highly professional newspaper on campus, The Varsity, which came out three times a week. It wasn't until my junior year that I could even summon the nerve to volunteer to do some reporting for it. Though my goal in life at this point was to become a newspaper reporter, I was not at all sure I was a talented writer; it wasn't until I saw an ad in the paper itself advertising its desperate need for reporters that I finally gave it a shot. If they're that desperate, I thought, maybe even I will have a chance.
At the first meeting I attended, the sports editor sounded the most desperate of all. After volunteering to write for him and receiving positive feedback, I was thrilled to discover that I actually did have an aptitude for writing. I started to take on weekly assignments. Then a man named Doug Bassett, the owner at the time of a string of local newspapers as well as a major Toronto daily, spoke at a career seminar on campus. If any of us were really serious about working as a reporter, he suggested, we should call him for a summer job. He answered his own phone.
Not sure whether he was serious, I gathered up my courage and introduced myself to him after his talk. Then I followed through with a phone call a few weeks later: again, I was thinking, why not? True to his word, he did pick up his phone, and after receiving my resume and a few sample stories, he wound up giving me a real job at the Markham Economist and Sun, the local weekly newspaper in a small town about twenty miles outside Toronto. I bought a junk heap of a car and drove myself there every day.
If I had stopped to evaluate the fact that there were about seventy-five equally interested students at Doug Bassett's lecture, many of whom were surely smarter, better-looking, and more talented than I was, I wouldn't be sitting where I am today. Any employer will tell you that the number of people who actually follow up on initial inquiries or expressions of interest in a job is shockingly low.
Score one for the “I can't do it” brigade. It's large enough without having you in its ranks! Join the “Why not?” club, and stay there.
Think of the great achievers who never would have accomplished anything if they had spent too much time thinking about the perfectly sensible reasons why they shouldn't have done something. Why did Ted Turner think we needed another network, CNN, when the Big Three networks served up news just fine? Why did Ben and Jerry think people would buy ice cream with those groovy names, when we already had so many other choices?
Or consider the story of Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the geniuses behind Google, who quit graduate school to start their own company. Their lack of business savvy was a plus. They went live on the Internet, for instance, before hiring a Web master; so while giant competitors like Yahoo were filling their home pages with stock quotes and sports scores, Google had nothing but a search box and a logo at the start. Some people would have been terrified by this lack of bells and whistles. But asking themselves, “Why not?” Page and Brin went ahead in their quest to help people get information as quickly as possible. Now Google sees 200 million searches a day and has entered our vocabulary as a verb. Their focus paid off in creating one of the most successful companies of the dot-com era.
Are there ideas to be explored, resumes to be written, phone calls to be made that could lead you where you want to go? Get on the phone, on e-mail, or to the post office. If you ask, somebody might say, “Yes, come on board.” If you ask with enough conviction and frequency, someone will definitely answer in the affirmative sooner or later.
By now you've turned your inner fear into your most potent weapon. You're afraid not to succeed, so you keep trying until you do.
Excerpted from “The Joys of Much Too Much: Go for the Big Life – The Great Career, The Perfect Guy, and Everything Else You've Ever Wanted,” by Bonnie Fuller. Copyright © 2006 by Bonnie Fuller.
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