A Career Built on Sliding-Door Moments

My career has always been more kismet than strategic, a “Sliding Doors” adventure. Remember that movie where the woman’s life is drastically different depending on whether she does or doesn’t make the train? That’s me, sans the infidelity, death and dark intrigue. From my first day as a college intern when the city editor at the Bridgewater Courier News assigned me to cover a murder until now, chance has been my friend. Don’t get me wrong. I have goals and work hard to achieve them, but somehow or other the most amazing work experiences have been the ones that find me. The sliding doors.

That traumatizing but exhilarating night in the newsroom was Day 1 of an 18-year newspaper career in which I had all kinds of interesting run-ins with my buddy Mr. Chance. Like the day the food editor, who sat right near me, quit in a huff and I – organizer of gourmet dinners and avid reader of every foodie magazine on the newsstand – went right into the editor in charge and told him he had found his next food editor. That was a fun job.

Or the time the powers that be at the newspaper decided they wanted to combine the editing staffs of seven lifestyle sections and that I was the one who had to figure it out. I kicked, I screamed but ultimately I had no choice. The editors who had been happily nestled, all tucked in their beds in their travel sections, their style sections, their home and garden sections were so pissed off at me because they thought I was working for the man. I gathered them all in a conference room and I told them, “Look, either we figure this out together and create a new system that works as best as it can for us, or management will figure out a system that doesn’t.” Those editors cooperated, and the whole experience made me realize that I really had a knack for managing people and creating process and systems. Another sliding door.

The Wild, Wild Web

One day I had lunch with an old newspaper friend I hadn’t seen in years and told him I thought it was time I took a clue and got out of the business. Like the Ghost of Future Jobs he pointed me to my next career move– the Net, as we called it in the day. It was an ezine – remember those? – and our goal was to write about every website on the planet. I was the deluded executive editor who did not realize at the time that this was ridiculous, but I had stepped up to my neck into the exciting wild, wild web and a whole new world. That’s all that mattered.

A bit down the road I entered the will-code-for-food, logo-T-shirted, Birkenstock-footed world of search engines when Yahoo was just a twinkle and Google did not yet exist. A straight up technology company was not what I had in mind, but I went for the job anyway. This was the time when content and technology circled each other warily. There I learned that editorial people are from Mars and technology people are from Venus. We need each other but we sure have different views of the world. You either get that about the digital world or you don’t make it. That search engine sliding door taught me a lot.

In between jobs, I met a women who used to work for me at said search engine and she introduced me to her sister, who worked for cable TV giant Scripps Networks. Before you know it, I’m launching the digital portion of a new cable network. Sliding doors, I tell you. There were other jobs in cable, ecommerce and startup land, and then one day I reconnected with a woman I knew casually back in the code-for-food days. She just so happened to be Ms. Honcho of a big social media company, and you can guess the rest of the story. Honestly, I didn’t plan any of this, just a bunch of sliding doors every step of the way.

Hang On, It’s a Bumpy Ride

I have to admit it’s taken a tolerance for vertigo to ride this roller coaster. And let’s not even go into the bumps, bruises and ego-wracking twists and turns along the way. Many people look at me and say, “Mercy, mercy, you have really been through it.” It’s true, I have. Given a do-over, however, I wouldn’t do it any other way. It’s been a blast and the reason I’ve been able to do all sorts of things like move five times, travel through India, raise two daughters and throw myself into a new entrepreneurial world, brought on, I might add, by that sliding door called a layoff.

These days I am far more aware of those sliding door moments right in front of my nose. We just wink at each other and I take the next step.

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O’Shea,
you’re off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So … get on your way! – Dr. Seuss

I Found My Heart in San Francisco

Ihad been single for more or less 9 years for no good reason that I or anyone in my life could fathom. True, there had been a few multi-state moves and job changes, plus my girls’ final laps through high school and college, but still. Nine years!? How can that be, friends asked. You’re kidding, strangers marveled. This is ridiculous, I thought.

Was I paying for something I had done in the past? I was raised Catholic, after all, so that would make total sense. And there was that time in 10th grade when I broke poor Henry Hannity’s heart. But surely I had done enough work on myself to annihilate any residual demons in this lifetime and the next two. Was I too impatient? My expectations too high?  Whadya? I knew one thing for sure: I was a completely self-sufficient woman, capable of handling anything life threw my way, and I was sick to death of it. I knew one more thing: I would make a great partner, if I ever got the chance again.

I decided I was going to get married one snowy North Carolina night as I sat in my car outside the restaurant making final arrangements to move back to San Francisco, the place I knew was my real home. “I have an announcement,” I said to Terri and Jamie as I sat across from them and scanned the pasta-packed menu.  “I’m getting married.”  “Wow. Do you have anyone in mind??” Terri asked.

A few weeks later I picked up my laptop from one of the stacks of boxes yet to be unpacked in my new home and posted my profile on Match. I was way too busy with my new job and getting settled in to think seriously about finding my man, but I thought I should at least get things started. After all, there was a wedding to be planned.

One night as I was about to walk out the door to meet friends for dinner I read a Match email. It was from Jim: “You’re home on a Friday night, I’m home on a Friday night. We live close. Why not meet for a glass of wine?” A quick look at his profile, which showed a handsome, seemingly down to earth guy, and I did the unthinkable. I emailed him right back. “You know, if I didn’t already have plans I may well take you up on that.” “How about Sunday?” he shot back. “Sounds good,”  I replied.

I remember getting ready for the date. I looked in the mirror, mascara wand in hand, wondering why I was even bothering. Jesus, I would just have to wash this stuff off in a little while and, shit, I could be watching “60 Minutes” and relaxing before a grueling work week. … I fell in love with him on a hot afternoon about six weeks later as he tinkered with a broken fan that I had dragged from move to move. I watched him as he screwed this tighter, re-adjusted that and concentrated on the job at hand.  I tried really hard not to make a sound when the tears came, but he looked up at me. “Are you crying?” he asked. He just couldn’t believe it. Neither could I.

He sleeps beside me as I type away, two and a half years later. He opens his right eye once in a while to take a peek, and then sinks back down into sleep. In a minute I will turn off my laptop and wrap myself around him, grateful and awed about where life has lead me. Right where I belong.