That Time I Worked for Candace Bushnell and Made a Fool of Myself
You know how they say you should never meet your idols? I'm not totally convinced that's true. In fact, I have lots of stories about meeting the ones that I absolutely WORSHIP and it only made me admire them even more. I'll just name drop Nora Ephron and Steven Tyler and promise those stories are coming in future posts. But, my interactions with them were brief. When I got a job at Sirius Satellite Radio and found out that I'd be WORKING with one of my idols? I really had to play it cool when I was assigned a new show hosted by the real Carrie Bradshaw—yes, Miss Sex and the City herself, Candace Bushnell.
Let me say that Candace was incredible but made me so nervous. The year was 2007. In Candace's world, she was writing a new best-seller, the first Sex and the City movie had just gone into production and Lipstick Jungle, her latest book turned TV series was a hit. In my world, the timing of working with Candace could not have been more perfect. A late bloomer, I'd recently lost 70 pounds and was navigating a sex and dating renaissance that would have made Samantha blush.
My job was to book all the guests for Candace's radio show “Sex, Success and Sensibility.” I lived for Thursday nights when she came to the studio. I always thought of myself as a “fat” Carrie Bradshaw—a writer in New York City, minus the sex—and now I was trying my hardest to live as a “thin” Carrie (who dabbled in Samantha territory).
Candace made me nervous because I knew if anyone could see right through my dating nerves and inexperience, it was her. But, I couldn't help myself—once a week, I had unfiltered access to CANDACE BUSHNELL. Who wouldn't try to get dating advice? Within minutes of her arriving at the studio, I always found myself spilling my latest dating woes and adventures. Like a newly trained puppy, I eagerly awaited her approval, feedback and signature tough love.
“Sweetie,” she’d purr between drags of her pre-show cigarette. “Don’t worry, if he doesn’t call you back, find a back-up. Then he’ll call. They always just know when you have a back-up because you don't need them as much . . . just act confident and like you don't give a shit. Then he'll care—a lot.”
My friends begged me to get them on Candace's show so she could dissect their own love lives. And, there she was in her fur shawl and leopard stilettos, casually giving me advice on sixth avenue, casually suggesting we talk out my problems like I was the Miranda to her Carrie. One week, I booked my “guy of the moment” on a “Battle of the Sexes” edition of her show but didn’t tell Candace. The very next week she asked me if I was sleeping with the nervous, sweaty douchebag with no game from round three.
“How did you know?” I asked, my stomach dropping because she didn’t view him as a young Mr. Big. “Because I saw how you looked at him. You’re not giving yourself enough credit. Sweetie, don’t settle,” she purred.
I was so focused on trying to impress Candace with my parade of suitors that I never exactly told her that I was a writer too. I tried to slip in that I previously worked at CosmoGIRL! or wrote three books—but I mainly focused on piquing her interest with my dating shenanigans instead of my smarts and career passions. I thought she'd be more willing dissect the strides I was making in my dating life than sit down and map out for me her process for outlining her novels. It was so stupid of me to barely ask Candace about writing. She usually arrived at the studio after spending the week writing at her country house in Connecticut!
Candace drank white wine that was chilled and we knew to have waiting for her. Her opinions on current events were just as strong as they were on hot topics like sleeping together on the first date. This was 2007 and Barack Obama was setting the stage for his initial presidential run. In 2004, I watched Obama on The Oprah Winfrey Show and told all my friends he was our future president. I read Dreams From My Father cover to cover. I even toyed around with the idea of applying to work on his campaign despite having zero political experience. So, when Candace expressed that she wasn't so sure about him as president, I was devastated. If she didn't like Obama, maybe I needed to rethink my support? But, at first, I attempted to stand my ground and express that he had my vote.
"Okay sweetie, but why? Because he's popular right now?" she asked.
My response could have been airtight - from healthcare to the budget, I knew why I wanted him in office. But, I was intimidated and instead of giving Candace an earful of solid answers all backed up with research, I went in a slightly different direction that makes me CRINGE to this very day.
"No—because he's cute!"
Candace gave me a look I can only describe as disgust (rightfully so) and said something about giving the women's right to vote a bad name. She wasn't wrong, especially since I can't for the life of me decide how else I thought she'd react. Did I really think we'd have an honest dialogue about how awesome it was that our future POTUS was attractive? Did I think I came across intelligent and as the protege I hoped Candace viewed me as by uttering that out loud?
It was, however, an amazing lesson in not only thinking before you speak but also understanding that when you deviate from your true self, you look like an ass. And it can't be undone. I tried to tell Candace I was kidding and knew all the facts and stats on Obama . . . but the "cute" comment lingered, creating a haze of confusion around my abilities, goals and priorities. It was inauthentic of me to say that and clearly didn't impress her or even elicit a chuckle. Candace probably has zero recollection of the time we worked together but it's had a lasting impact on me. Candace owned who she was and didn't try to pretend otherwise.
And, that my friends is the incredibly true story of how I stopped being who I thought everyone wanted me to be and started being myself—saying I wanted Obama in office because he was "cute" was not me and it showed. I still put my foot in my mouth all the time, but I do try, especially in business, to take an extra minute and really think about my words before they're uttered. Even if what I want to say is an unpopular opinion—it's much better to say what's in my heart and gut rather than something regrettable that I can never take back.
Can We Get Real?
I'm guilty—and see so many smart, thoughtful, creative women I know doing the same—we become afraid of our power, fearful of our own ideas and swallowed up by intimidation. Candace Bushell was larger than life to me—but she was a human being, not some deity. She wasn't going to banish me to another dimension if our opinions differed. I know now that she likely would have celebrated and respected hearing my honest viewpoints. I'm certain she would have welcomed the chance to be challenged. Instead, I didn't muster up the confidence to be myself and made comments, such as the one about Obama being "cute," because I thought that was "speaking her language." No, instead, it just showed that I was completely out of touch with myself (and Candace) and opened the door to have her remember me for the wrong reasons—reasons I couldn't easily reverse and show her the real me.
I'm sure that Candace doesn't recollect those conversations nor did they take up the same amount of space in her head that they do in mine. But, it's so important that we always speak our truth in the workplace and beyond . . . it's the only thing that will always earn us respect and make us memorable for the right reasons!