It’s funny how the most disastrous events have a way of bringing things into focus like nothing else can. Last summer, my then TV agent talked me into going for an audition to read news for a cable operation. Maybe it was the bump on my head I sustained trying to reach past the jeans and screen T-shirts to find a suit that still fit. Maybe it was the idea of working with people again. Whatever the case, I totally forgot the resolution I made to myself about never going back to TV news.
After a quick make-up touch-up, I found myself in-studio, microphone on and papers in hand, ready to go. But not before executives came out and tried to pat those unruly curls that fit my personality to a T, into a tight, tiny Afro. So there I sat, sweating like a sinner in church, make-up melting with a perfectly round, brown helmet atop my head.
I have no qualms about saying the audition itself was a disaster. I spent two decades in TV news and yet you’d have thought the text scrolling across the prompter was in Russian. Then of course, there was the “BREAKING NEWS!” the producer dictated into my ill-fitting earpiece, which I stammered through as best I could.
As humiliating as that was, the worst was still to come. I walked into the newsroom where the woman responsible for my ‘tryout’ met me at her office door. Before I got the point of my pump inside, she pronounced, rather loudly, “That was pretty bad wasn’t it? Wow, what happened to you? I really expected to see the woman who left the morning show. You were not her!”
In my defense, it was an unfamiliar setting and the first time in four years since I’d read off a prompter. But what I really wanted to say was “Hey lady, I have been to hell and back so many times in the last four years I have a frequent user pass!” I held my tongue and instead sat there with a shit-eating grin on my face. I was embarrassed and humiliated and quite frankly, stunned at this woman’s ability to make a 47-year-old woman with two decades of broadcast experience, feel like a 21-year-old, still wet behind the ears. When it was over I managed a weak smile, thanked her for her candor and headed out.
With shoulders hunched, I began the ten-block walk toward Grand Central thankful I’d grabbed my big, black sunglasses that morning. I met Buff for a quick bite and it is times like this I’m so damn grateful for him. We shared a salad and the tears that had been hidden behind the glasses, finally spilled over. But a funny thing happened as well. I got strong, much stronger than I had ever been, and clear on what the path for me would look like as I moved forward. In that moment I realized it’s as important to know what you DON’T want to do, as it is to know what you do want. I call it ‘The Target Moment’.
Now, please know I am not disparaging my favorite store or the hard workers who toil there. But that experience made it clear to me that I would rather work in a department store, in a job far different from the one I had trained for, rather than feel the way I felt that afternoon. That woman’s words, harsh as they were, served as rocket fuel for my resolve and I dried my tears and headed home.
I’d love to wrap this up with a neat bow, something along the lines of, “And then I landed a talk show where executives didn’t try to pat my hair into a helmet and they let me be myself, which is who I’m most comfortable being. There was a big signing bonus and I never had to worry about my career or money again.”
Sadly that point hasn’t arrived yet. But it’s coming. I guess I should thank that woman for putting the final nail in the news coffin. That experience for me was like thrashing wheat where only the good stuff is left behind, but it’s a violent process. I promised myself that never again would I let my hair, or me, be patted into a shape we were not meant to be.
What about you, have you ever experienced your own ‘Target Moment?’ What was it and how did you move forward from it? Start sharing everyone!
(Editor’s note: This post first aired Jan 27, 2011)