Lunch with a journalist friend looking for work reminded me of my own first dedicated job search. I was in my mid-twenties with two young children. By then I had written one story and two or three ‘new-mum’ articles, all published first time out by South Africa’s leading women’s and family magazines. All were recompensed, probably quite well by today’s standards, but not enough to provide any reliable income. What I saved from the housekeeping money had to suffice for personal needs, make-up and clothes – about 10 rands a week – not unusual in those days, but I wanted spending money and I wanted – and needed – a job, passionately. And preferably in the publishing industry.
I started by approaching anyone I knew remotely connected with publishing – but we had not been in Johannesburg for long and they were few. Next I tried acquaintances who worked for corporations that produced house magazines. They tried to help – and I had a lot of fun cups of coffee – but without a university degree or experience, it became clear that passion alone wasn’t cutting it. Next I knocked on doors. Each night I made up a list of newspapers, magazines and journals, each morning I dressed my best, breathed very deeply, and drove into the city. No job offers, but some writing commissions – some for which I was paid, some not.
One day – many doors on – I stumbled across the Diners Club office that published the house magazine Signature. I had a portfolio of my writing by then, embarrassingly skimpy when I look back on it, and I arrived clutching this only to be invited to join the manager Jack Fisch and a freelance writer in his office for a meeting – much to my embarrassment and perhaps to hers. ‘Perhaps there’s something you can learn from this,’ he said as she presented her article to him and I could only sit and make mental notes while he praised her writing and accepted the piece. Afterwards, his answer to me was not much different from what I had experienced around the rest of the traps. This was a small office and he had no vacancies, he said. But I can’t remember being any more crushed than usual; I imagine I was getting reasonably used to rejection by this time.
But a few days later the phone rang and it was Jack Fisch. ‘I don’t know whether you’re still interested, but I need an editorial assistant for Signature. Mornings. I can’t pay you a lot, but how about it?’ It was agreed I would start the following week. There is no hyperbole invented that can describe my feelings as I put down the phone.
But that was that day. The following morning was a different matter. I woke absolutely appalled that I’d had the temerity to accept a position without any idea of what it involved. I had no experience in the industry. I could write and I knew my grammar – but that was about it. That was totally it. The measure of confidence that had got me into all those offices evaporated like water on hot bitumen. I came out in a rash – a sort of itchy psoriasis – from the chin downwards. The stammer I’d had as a kid returned. My hearing deserted me. I couldn’t function, let alone turn up for work at a new job. One I’d lusted after and worked hard to get. Altogether a mess.
Somehow – and I don’t know how – I happened on a copy of *Norman Vincent Peale’s You can if you think you can. Right at that very juncture. Go figure. I read every word of that book. I clung to that phrase. I steadied my mind. I ‘cooled it’. In those few short days before I was due to start work, I practised as many of his wisdoms as possible.
I went into that office on the Monday with fewer nerves than I’d ever had. After a few months I was promoted to Assistant Editor (the same job, but more pay) and for the time I worked there until we left for Saudi Arabia 18 months later I never lost the effervescent frisson of excitement that came over me each morning I set out for what is said to be the ugliest city in the world – but which for me gleamed white in the early morning sunshine like an enchanted castle built of sugar cubes.
Jack Fisch took a chance on me and Norman Vincent Peale provided me with the courage and the mental skill to front up to the task. I went on to spend the next couple of decades in the publishing and communications industry and I’ve had some terrific jobs all over the world.
So. Can a book change your life? I think so. That one certainly changed mine – quite substantially. I downloaded this same book two days ago – and it’s as magical today as it was back then. Actually – even more so.
- Norman Vincent Peale was among the leaders of the motivational writers. For me, he is still one of the best. But there are some sensational books out there. See my book For Women Who Grieve (downloadable on this site) for many titles that helped me through a difficult time — as well as books by my good friend Dr. Walter Staples whose books rate an average of 4 stars on Goodreads.
Image courtesy of pakorn / FreeDigitalPhotos.net