My Own Destiny

My Own Destiny

From Chicken Soup for the Soul 20th Anniversary Edition

My Own Destiny

There is an unseen life that dreams us.

It knows our true direction and destiny. We can trust ourselves more than we realize and we need have no fear of change.

~John O’Donohue

I was a 22-year-old hotshot — or so I thought. As a publicist for NBC News in New York — the youngest ever, I was told — I was making enough money to rent a nice apartment near Lincoln Center, enjoy manicures and pedicures on weekends, eat out and shop. Not bad for a nice Jewish girl from Miami Beach who had always dreamed of making it in the Big Apple.

I was on a first-name basis with some of the biggest names in broadcast news: Jane Pauley, Maria Shriver and the late Tim Russert. At some point those boldface names benefited from my publicity skills. It was heady stuff and I was on a roll. I envisioned a long and happy career at NBC’s iconic 30 Rock headquarters.

Then NBC News hired a new division president. He planned to make big changes, or so I learned abruptly one day when I got a call from a human resources representative who told me to report to the new boss’s office. When I walked in, he was sitting behind his big desk. He didn’t get up to greet me. Not a good sign.

He clasped his hands behind his head, leaned back in his leather chair and told me that anytime someone took over a company or a division, he or she would want to put his or her mark on things — new protocols, new processes, and a new team.

The light dawned. “Are you firing me?” I interrupted.

“You have 30 minutes to leave the building,” he said, matter-of-factly.

My world was crashing, so I quickly went into spin mode, using all the skills I had learned as a high school debate champ. I told him he was making a terrible mistake, and I listed the reasons. I told him that if he talked to anyone internally and externally they would say what a great asset I was, that I really knew my stuff, and that I was one thousand percent committed to NBC News.

He looked at his watch.

Desperate, I asked him to give me a chance to prove myself. “Give me three things to accomplish in three weeks, three months — any timeframe you decide — to prove myself directly to you.” All I wanted, I said, was to stay at NBC News.

His response? “You now have 25 minutes to leave the building.” Game over. As I stood up to walk out of his office — trying desperately not to burst into tears — his parting words of wisdom were, “Tory, it’s a big world out there, and I suggest you go explore it.”

I left in shock. My world as I had known it had come to an end. I thought my career was over. I didn’t even get to pack up my office. It was done for me and my boxes were messengered to my apartment later that day.

I walked home, climbed into my pajamas and threw myself an old-fashioned pity party, catered by Haagen-Dazs. The entertainment? Daytime TV, long conversations with my mom in Florida, and lots of sleepless nights filled with self-doubt, wondering what would become of me. My party turned into a misery marathon for months, financed by severance pay, unemployment benefits and a cashed-out 401(k) — something only someone naïve in her twenties would think was a great idea.

With a cool $23,000 in my checking account, going to the ATM never felt scary. That is, until one day I stood at a Citibank machine, stunned that I had run out of money. I’m not sure why a smart girl like me was so surprised: when nothing’s coming in and it’s all going out, it’s inevitable that the funds dry up.

I realized I had two choices: pack my bags and move back home to Miami Beach or snap out of my funk and get another job.

Having no desire to go backwards, I took stock of my situation. First, I told myself: nothing lasts forever. All jobs are temporary and nobody holds onto the same role forever. Second, sometimes you can do everything right and still lose your job. And third, you can take away my business cards, my corporate ID and my paycheck, but nobody can strip me of my skills or experience, or my friends and colleagues who’d vouch for me and my talent. Once I discovered that — and truly believed it — it took me just weeks to get hired.

As I began my new job, I reflected on other key lessons, which most notably was that I control my self-worth — and it’s up to me to project what I want others to see. It’s not about job title or place of employment. It’s about me and all that I’m capable of doing, giving and achieving.

I also realized that I never wanted to be on someone else’s payroll — to leave my destiny in someone else’s hands. I resented the notion that, despite all my hard work and commitment, an arrogant man in a suit could take away my paycheck and attempt to rob me of my dignity and self-worth. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t stomach the specter of getting fired again.

The permanent scar of a pink slip convinced me that I’d feel best running my own shop and signing my own paycheck. I’d bank exclusively on me. Everything would be up to me. That concept is terrifying for many people, but I found it exhilarating. I still do. It was the most freeing personal move I could have made. Ask anyone who has quit corporate America to go out on their own and many will say the same thing.

~Tory Johnson

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