“People are capable, at any time in their lives, of doing what they dream of.”
~ Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
We arrived at the gilded Merrill Lynch office at Copley Place in Boston’s Back Bay early that Monday morning. We knew from the previous Friday’s market slide that we might be in for a wild ride from the moment the market opened.
I got my desk organized and switched on the Quotron. I walked around and spoke with each of the 13 brokers I worked for, trying to get a sense of what they needed in advance of what promised to be a very hectic day.
“Sell tickets,” one broker said, “get a few bundles from the supply closet.”
The market opened, and I looked up at the ticker above the sales floor. I saw a string of red symbols speeding across the ticker, and I took a breath. Each of the 26 lines on the two phones on my desk were illuminated at once. I turned to my fellow sales associate who sat at the desk to my right and watched the color drain from her face.
Black Monday, October 19, 1987, was underway.
By the time the market closed, we were ankle deep in Sell tickets. The Dow had plunged an astonishing 22.6%. I had fielded dozens of calls from my brokers’ clients who were sobbing, screaming, and threatening to jump out of their windows.
I stood up, receiver in hand, and turned behind me to get advice from the broker at the desk behind mine. He read my face and just shook his head. He cupped his hand over his phone and said quietly, “Let people talk and do your best to keep them calm.”
Several months later, I gave my notice. The office manager was kind and understanding. She told me how much they all would miss me and wished me well. “So, where are you going now?” she asked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I haven’t figured that out yet.”
Alison was stunned. “You mean you don’t have another job lined up? Wow, you must really be ready to make a change.”
She was right. I had thought the world of investing would be an interesting one to pursue as a stark contrast to my liberal arts studies in college. But the Culture of Greed I had been immersed in before the crash, and the devastating losses of our clients were more than enough to send me in a different direction.
I didn’t tell myself a story, though, that kept me in a situation that I knew was not a fit for me. I didn’t settle, and I didn’t worry that I’d starve. I just decided to change my life.
I inventoried my skills and applied to become a legal temp. The hourly pay was extraordinary, and I could begin working immediately. I worked for banks, high-profile attorneys (one of whom represented New Kids on the Block), and financial institutions throughout the city.
The work was simply a means to paying bills, and I decided I wanted a career in book publishing. Breaking into the publishing world, however, was very difficult, and I didn’t have any experience.
I applied for an unpaid internship at a Back Bay publisher and spent one day a week doing marketing for their latest releases. I learned who was who at NPR, The Guardian, and The Boston Globe. I landed interviews for authors and got reviews published in newspapers. I loved the world of books, authors, and ideas.
When a full-time job for an editorial assistant opened up at a small academic publisher, I applied. I followed up and continued to pitch the editor. She ultimately chose a woman who had several years’ experience, and I was devastated. I continued to temp and work as an intern, and a few months later, the editor called me. Her editorial assistant was being called to the London office, and now she needed someone to replace her.
Voila! I was an editorial assistant!
I was in HEAVEN at Unwin Hyman, Publishers. My job included reviewing unsolicited manuscripts, working with the book production editor, and supporting the editor in doing acquisitions and contracts. Occasionally the managing editor from the London office would come and work at our Winchester office, and I would follow him around like a puppy dog. He was one of the most brilliant people I had ever met, and I wanted to download everything from his brain into mine.
One morning we were informed that we were moving our office to Cambridge, and I was delighted. I would be working near Harvard and could frequent the incredible bookstores and cafes on my lunch break. Then, the news came that the company had been sold to HarperCollins (based in Hammersmith in the UK), and the Cambridge office would be closed. Simultaneously, the man I was dating was offered an opportunity to launch a UK branch of the digital communications company he worked for.
I was very much in love and was going to find a way to get a job in London, come hell or high water!
Everyone at Unwin Hyman told me the same story: you will NEVER get a work permit in the UK. They simply do not offer jobs to US citizens, thereby taking a job away from someone in the UK … unless you can prove you are the only one who can do the job.
I knew the list, the authors, and the editors—something that no one else in the UK could say. I started to build my case. Then, I began calling the managing director of the Hammersmith office at 4am Boston time each day.
“Good morning, Chris, my name is Susie deVille, and I have been working at the US office of Unwin Hyman. I believe I could be of great assistance to you during this transition, and ….”
He cut me off, “No, sorry, thank you. We are not hiring anyone.”
I called back the next morning and continued my pitch. He’d tell me no again. I called back the following morning.
This went on for a couple of weeks. He finally said one morning, “BLOODY HELL!!! Are you just going to call me every morning until you get a job here?”
He exhaled. “So, do you know book production work? Could you assist our main production editor?”
“Of course! I would absolutely love to!”
And with that, I was hired. I had no idea what it paid, nor did I have any real book production experience. I didn’t care. I knew I would figure it out. I packed my bags, got a plane ticket, and read a book on book production on the plane. My boyfriend picked me up at the airport, and we began a two-year adventure together in Europe.
Dr. Martha Beck says that all too often we live our lives as if there are bars in front of our faces. That we are choosing to be held captive to lives we simply do not want, and believe that there is no way to escape. But if we were to look to our left or to our right, we’d see the bars have no sides, and that all we need to do is walk around the bars to freedom.
You walk around those bars by choosing to think different thoughts.
You walk around those bars by not giving up.
You walk around those bars by deciding to find a way.
You walk around those bars by suiting up and getting on the field, even when you have know idea which play to run.
Do a quick inventory and ask yourself where you are holding bars in front of your face. What are you telling yourself that is not true about your heart’s desires? Where are you choosing to stay small, believing a bigger life is not possible for you?
Are you addicted to a life you don’t want?
Remember the fellow who I followed around at the Winchester office? After Unwin Hyman was sold, he, Roger Jones, launched his own publishing company. Several months after I arrived in London, HarperCollins sold the part of the list I was working on to Routledge, and I was out of a job. Roger called me and invited me to dinner with his associate and him. They asked me to describe my dream job in publishing, and I described the work that a head of marketing would do for a firm.
“Great! Come do that for us!” Roger said.
We shook hands, and with that, I was hired to work with University College London Press.
You walk around those bars by believing you are capable, at any time in your life, to live the life you dream of.
This is not to say there is no fear, no disappointment, no obstacles, no pain, no frustration, no embarrassment, and no failure when charting your course and sailing toward your right life. You can absolutely count on all of that.
Freedom, though, is available to you in the moment. In any moment. Choose to set yourself free.
Are you holding bars in front of your face and are struggling to set yourself free? Join an intimate circle of 7 fellow freedom seekers; we get going in January! Release your addiction to the life that no longer serves you. Choose to set yourself free in the company of amazing souls. For details, please visit here.