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  • Writer's pictureJo Elvin

My goodness! by Jo Elvin

I nearly had a nervous breakdown, so that you don't have to!

Award-winning journalist, Jo Elvin, and CEO of Children with Cancer UK writes about conquering your own career fears.

Jo Elvin Career change in midlife
Jo Elvin

Have you seen the film Frozen? If not, how is that possible? Go and watch it and come back, I’ll wait.

Don’t laugh, but I often think of the profound lesson it holds for any of us who want it. Elsa’s life only changes for the better when she stops making decisions from a place of fear.

In my first piece on My Goodness I wrote about the fear that paralsyed me into staying at my job at Glamour magazine for longer than I should have. Today I want to talk about how the lessons from that time have helped me make choices more positively.

First, I need to tell you a little bit more about what that time was like for me, particularly in the last few months as Glamour’s editor - the period of roughly the beginning of 2016 until the day in October 2017 when I was told I was leaving. I was very confused at work about how to be; how to keep a lid on my inner stresses and fears while still trying to manage and motivate a team. Morale was low. Fewer people were doing more work and the message seeping through from management was that somehow the business woes of our print magazine were only bad because we weren’t working hard enough.

I saw my job as trying to keep spirits up as much as I could - and I know at least some of my team from then would tell you I failed! I hid a lot of the grim ad revenue and sales info from them. Some cold business realities might have helped more of them understand things like, why their request for a meagre pay rise had been turned down. But I thought that too much of that information would be such a downer that people would find it hard to keep trying to do good work.

So I decided to try and be Mrs Motivator: pull up my big girl pants, put on my best rictus grin and hope that if we worked hard, stayed creative and stayed positive, it would reward us with better fortunes. Looking back now, I can’t really explain to you what the hell I was thinking, other than I didn’t want to bum everyone out with all the shitty news I was constantly getting. There’s nothing more panic-inducing than the boss admitting they don’t know how to solve a problem. Remember that time you saw your dad cry and it freaked you out? I didn’t want the kids to see dad crying and freak them out.

And so, all the things I wrote about here, about feeling depressed and insecure and clueless about what my next move might be, I largely kept to myself. I told my long-suffering, unfailingly supportive husband. And a £90 an hour therapist. I cried in her office a lot about feeling glued to the spot, unable to make any concrete decisions about my future.

My doctor prescribed me a mild anti-depressant which, I must tell you, really helped soothe the constant gnawing in my gut. Honestly it was so severe it was physically painful and sometimes made me breathe weirdly. I’m not ashamed that I needed help to stay a step ahead of this rising panic, nor am I ashamed to tell you that right now.

The reason I’m telling you all of this is because, as awful as all of that was, I’ve learnt a lot from it that has benefited me so much during my current career shift. All of the above has helped me approach it very differently this time around and with much better results.

So the main differences between then and now?

Then: I felt like being unhappy in my job was a sign of my weakness. If I was actually good at my job, I reasoned, things would be going much, much better. So when people asked me how things were at work, I lied.

Now: I feel amazingly powerful and in control through actively telling people I’m looking to move on. When I first announced I was leaving You magazine, people would ask me what I was going to do, and I would readily, happily, say, ‘I don’t know yet, to be honest.’ It’s not embarrassing, it’s exciting.

Then: I felt like I absolutely must have the next move figured out before I leave. I told myself I’d look weak, lost and therefore a very unattractive hire if I didn’t.

Now: Experience has finally taught me that I can’t figure out my next move while I’m already working a full-on full time job. This won’t be true for everyone, but it is for me. Running a weekly magazine, with a team of around 35, is very demanding, high pressure and relentlessly deadline focused. I realised that I wouldn’t ever have time, while working there, to spend meaningful time looking for other work. And that not enough people would realise I was available for new opportunities until it was common knowledge that I was leaving.

Then: As I said before, I thought the phone would stop ringing the second I couldn’t say ‘Editor of’ next to my name.

Now: The Glamour experience made me realise that sometimes the phone won’t ring because you are ‘editor of’. People will quite rightly assume you already have your hands full and not even consider you for stuff that maybe they should.

Then: I worked really hard and I was proud of what the team and I were producing and I thought eventually someone would notice and call me up and ask me to come and work for them. And then I’d often be jealous when someone else got offered a shiny new media job and offended that no one had thought to offer it to me.

Now: I don’t know when I started telling myself that absolute bullshit. I used to think it was embarrassing to be vocal about the kind of jobs you would like to be considered for. Now I tell people. Not everyone is going to be able, or want, to work with me. But you can’t wait like a shy girl in the corner of the gym hall to be asked to dance. Get on the damn floor and command attention.

Then: I was terrified of what would happen when I didn’t have a job.

Now: I am excited about the possibilities and opportunities that really might happen if I am not a full-time employee. This is genuinely only a very recent mind shift for me.

I’m telling you all of this because if one person shifts their fearful mindset because they’ve read this, I would be overjoyed. I spent about three years locked in my own terrified head and it was awful. I don’t want that for you. Not even half an hour of it. Let me know what you think, let’s chat.

Listen to our podcast , What's fame got to do with it!' where we chat Jo Elvin, Ex editor of the Mail on Sunday and Glamour Magazine.

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