That Time I Hated Working at Us Weekly So Much That I Ran Away
When it comes to job searching, my gut never steers me wrong. The problem is I rarely pay attention and it's always too late when I decide to listen.
I just turned 40 and while I've had some INCREDIBLE career experiences, I always thought my trajectory would have included less freelance and more stability . . . less begging for low paying, not quite right opportunities and more satisfaction in high paying, dream job scenarios. Time and time again, my gut has told me to run yet I've said "yes" for all the wrong reasons, like fear of being homeless—even when the job was clearly the wrong fit.
This pattern began when I took a job at US Weekly in 2004 that I KNEW was wrong. I spent five years at CosmoGIRL! and really wasn't ready to leave. But, I read one too many self-help books during my quarter-life crisis and talked myself into NEEDING to leave my comfort zone. Yes, that's usually a good thing . . . but there was a LOT of change at CosmoGIRL! that I was actually running away from instead of confronting it head on and making it work in my favor. So, I became my own worst enemy—making this grandiose point to show my colleagues of five years that I was ready to flee the nest and fly into the big leagues at Us Weekly.
This was all BS that I told myself . I really was ignoring my gut and knew I was moving into the belly of the beast.
Joining the staff of Us Weekly is what I imagine it’s like going to hell when you belong in heaven. It never felt right to me. The day I got the job offer, I invited my closest CosmoGIRL! friends into my office. I stood tearfully behind my desk and announced that I accepted a new position as a staff writer at Us Weekly. They all cheered and hugged me while I ignored the ginormous pit in my stomach and willed myself not to throw up.
Us Weekly was a disaster from day one. The editor who recruited me, coached me on nailing the job interview, walked me through the edit test and promised me that my career in entertainment journalism was really about to begin—completely ditched me the minute I got hired. On my first day, she acted like she didn’t know me and worse yet acted like she was embarrassed to be associated with me. That attitude was contagious and tripped me up. I realized very quickly that the Us Weekly culture thrived on cliques and I was not welcome with the "cool kids."
At CG, I was friends with everyone. . . and while I certainly was not everyone's bestie, I never felt like an outcast. It was my home and the staff was my New York City family. At Us Weekly, everyone worked until 10pm at the earliest so it was a very lonely place to be if no one wanted you around.
Why did I even apply or move forward if things felt off? I told myself I wanted to work at Us Weekly to up my cred as an entertainment writer and talent booker. I decided that five years at CG! was making me complacent and I needed to see how it was done somewhere else. Instead, I got quite a shock to the system. I went from having direct access to major celebrities at CG! to writing about them from afar via “sources” that included disgruntled ex-girlfriends and fame hungry hairstylists. I wasn't loved and embraced by publicists anymore—if anything they rolled their eyes and dreaded the "controversial" coverage I was likely to propose every time I called about one of their clients.
Truth be told? I didn’t negotiate when Us Weekly offered me a job nor did I ask many important questions. I left a lot on the table which ultimately contributed to my utter unhappiness. I was 27-years-old and this was my second job ever—I thought they'd take the offer away if I negotiated. For example, I had an office at CG!—I barely had a desk with any privacy at Us Weekly. Sure, I made more money (barely) at US Weekly but I was way down on the totem pole. I had no say or autonomy or ownership over anything. At CG!, I was the lead on all the entertainment sections and had amazing, sit-down, heart-to-hearts with A-list celebrities. Us Weekly claimed they wanted me to work on "nicer" stories . . . something I accepted at face value, no questions asked. Yet, instead, I was asked to come up with “sources” to uncover news and gossip that could ruin people's lives.
One night around midnight, I sat at my desk waiting for permission to go home and overheard an editor take a call from Cameron Diaz. It was not an exciting "how did I get here moment"—it was terrifying because Cameron screamed at her to “get cancer and die” for digging into her break-up with Justin Timberlake.
I was so frightened of the messy, reputation damaging assignments I might receive that I started pretending I had endless "off-site meetings" or "doctors appointments." I really escaped across the street and sat in the Hilton lobby bar—for hours on end. I just couldn't bear getting strong-armed into finding sources to dissect things like Lindsay Lohan's latest boob job.
And it's not like I didn't try—I simply was NOT cut out to play the part of the sleazy but well-meaning interviewer. This was clear after a phoner with actor Paul Bettany—of all actors—about the movie Wimbledon he was starring in with Kirsten Dunst. The film just happened to feature Kirsten's very first sex scene. My editor basically made it sound like my job was in jeopardy if I didn’t get Paul to reveal every single intimate detail of taking Kirsten's on-screen virginity. And, even though I could tell Paul was quite irritated that the entire interview focused on Kirsten's nudity—I kept going, approaching the subject from a million different angles. He complained to his publicist and I got in trouble with my editor. I was devastated—I just left a job where celebrities requested me by name to conduct their interviews. Interviewing was my specialty and even that was something that didn't make me stand out in Us Weekly land.
Now, yes, Us Weekly did have SOME perks. I went to the Sundance Film Festival and watched the cast of Entourage film a snowball fight on the street. I did make a few friends who I still keep in touch with (hello, Kristen!!! What's up Rachel?) and recognized the enormous talent of those on staff (those who liked me and even those who did not) as most have gone on to do incredible things. And, even though I worked 72 hours straight the weekend that Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston announced their divorce (it was the tabloid version of Watergate), my tiny contribution is great dinner party fodder. I wrote a sidebar that suggested perhaps Angelina Jolie had something to do with their split. It was called "The Angelina Factor" and I still have the cease and desist from Brad Pitt’s lawyer proudly displayed in my portfolio.
Can We Get Real?
NEGOTIATING is NON-NEGOTIABLE! If you want something at a NEW job, you better ask for it and get it in writing BEFORE you accept the offer and WAY BEFORE YOU START! Otherwise, you'll be miserable and have zero leverage to negotiate for anything after your first day. Just ask—your job offer won't get rescinded and your new employer will appreciate knowing what you're ultimately working towards.
- Sometimes you won't like your job, your workload, your boss, the list goes on . . . and it’s a terrible position to be in. Some jobs just aren't the right fit and you may not know it until you start. There’s nothing worse than getting up every day and dreading what’s ahead. There’s nothing worse than feeling diminished, undermined or unworthy by your peers—and flat out ignored by your bosses. But, you never know how those colleagues might intersect in your professional life later on. So, ALWAYS be kind, work hard and resist every urge to roll your eyes or sneak out and hide at a bar across the street. These horrid work situations feel disastrous but nothing is permanent. The last thing you want is to ruin your career because you've now earned a reputation as complacent, sloppy, lazy—or all of the above.
- It's okay to ask people if you did something that offended them. On my last day at Us Weekly (I made it a whopping nine months), I desperately wanted to go up to the girl who iced me out and say in my sweetest, Reese Witherspoon inspired twang, "I'm just oh so sorry that I wasn't cool enough for you." I didn't have the courage . . . and that passive aggressiveness wouldn't have been appreciated. Instead, I should have invited her to coffee months earlier to simply ask what I did between our courtship as I was interviewing to the day I was actually hired. I deserved to know what I did that made her want nothing to do with me. It could have changed things—or at the very least made my time at Us Weekly more palatable.
- I currently have a roster of freelance assignments that I love and look forward to working on every day. Why? Because I turned down things I knew would make me miserable, opening up the space for the right projects to manifest. It's scary but sometimes you have to know that if you leap—a net will appear. It's my mantra and keeps my sanity in check!