How I learned to always have a Plan B

October 21, 2013

When it comes to resilience, Corynne Corbett has displayed more than most throughout her career in the mixed-up world of magazine publishing. Rather than merely survive, she thrived in an industry under assault — while at the same time devising her exit plans. Here, Corynne tells her story of ups and downs, and shares insights that led to creating and acting on her own Plan B.

During the last decade in my career as an editor in the world of women’s magazines, I lost my job on three different occasions. The first time came abruptly when the company filed for Chapter 11. The next time my position was eliminated. Most recently, I was part of a staff reduction. Working in print publishing is a gamble these days because the industry and its revenue models have undergone some seismic shifts — and, truthfully, each time I had a feeling that something wasn’t quite right. Three times, however, is a lot more than I bargained for, so I have come to realize the importance of having a real Plan B: to actively identify your passions and dreams, and to begin putting them into action. Take it from me: You need a Plan B whether you lose your job or not.

Staying too long at the fair
My first job was at a fancy fashion magazine. I worked long hours surrounded by tons of skincare, makeup, and posh fragrances. I got to visit swanky spas around the world. Plus it was French — what’s not to love? And I did for some time. One day, I distinctly remember going out to pick up lunch with a colleague named Frannie. As we walked down Fifth Avenue she said that it was time for her to move on because she had stayed too long at the fair. She explained that working in the current environment was much like being at a fair: there are rides, games, entertaining acts, and tons of food. It’s exciting at first, then it becomes overwhelming, and finally it makes you sick (and you hate it!). Frannie told me that you want to leave a job before you get to the sick phase because when you’re sick of your work, it shows (through attitude, performance, or both). That story helped me realize that infatuation with a current job may not last forever. And before I reach the sick phase, I should already be exploring my Plan B.

Justokay is never okay
But I didn’t get serious about my Plan B until years later. At that time, I had a nice, cushy, safe job at a big lifestyle magazine. At a women’s conference, I ran into a friend from a former job, and she asked me a simple question: “How are you doing?” My response was a song and dance about how good the company was, how I got to go home at a reasonable hour (which I had never done in the history of my career), and other random things. Finally, I ended by saying something like, “It’s okay.” Her reply was priceless: “I didn’t ask you if the job was okay, I want to know if you are okay.” That’s when I realized that I was bored to tears in the cushy job, and I wasn’t doing a good job of hiding it.  Sometimes your friends and family can make you see something you’ve been ignoring.

So I did some soul searching. And I took a bunch of writing classes to keep myself busy and stave off the tedium. I soon realized I not only missed writing in my own voice, I missed the connection I previously had with readers when I was in charge of a small magazine. Back then, readers would recognize me from my Editor’s Letter photo and come up to me on the street, subway, or bus to talk. Sure, it was weird, but it was also cool because I knew what they liked and what they didn’t. I knew who and what I was working for. In contrast, while I understood exactly who my reader was at the cushy magazine, I had no emotional commitment to her. I was managing people and participating in big-picture brand discussions. It was quite educational, but I missed the human engagement. My solution was to start a blog on the side called That Black Girl Blogging, initially for my friends and family. I enjoyed it so much I turned it into That Black Girl Site and added a number of contributors.

When my boss delivered the news that my job at the magazine was being eliminated, I knew that I wanted to devote my time to building That Black Girl Site, and I did just that for a few years, adding a radio show to the mix. I acquired new digital skills, which would serve me well in a changing industry. My zeal for the site started to wane, however, when I took a job at a magazine aimed at Black women. Everything I discussed at work seemed old by the time I got home. So I took a hiatus from writing on That Black Girl Site and even toyed with the idea of shutting it down. But I instinctively knew that wasn’t the right thing to do. The site is five years old now, so maybe it’s ready to go in a new direction. While I am figuring it all out, I started The Beautysphere Blog, where I can riff on the intersection of beauty and multicultural women.

Sometimes you need help figuring it all out
After I was bitten by the job-loss bug a second time, I could never really get comfortable in an ever-dwindling magazine world again. The small voice in my head persistently reminded me that I needed to get back to Plan B — but I had no idea where to begin. Then, a year before I was laid off for the third time, I went to a press preview of a coaching method. I really liked the methodology but I walked away believing I could never afford it.

Five months later, however, I decided it was worth more to sacrifice the money and get some help than to continue on a path that could end abruptly at any moment. After a weekend crash course, I took a five-month intensive with about 20 other women. Through it I was able to identify what I really love: empowering women, particularly women of color, through the lens of beauty. But I also discovered what has held me back on a number of ideas I’ve had over the years (the memoir, the non-fiction book, the beauty book, and so much more): Failure to launch. You see, I am that girl with tons of great ideas. And since I have a great imagination, I often make the idea so big it’s hard to know where to start. So I usually don’t. However, with the help of the group leader, Samantha, and my coach, Hildie, I was able to break down my audacious dream into bite-size chunks with attainable daily and weekly goals. That’s how The Beauty Swirl, which helps position multicultural women for success in the beauty industry, and Beauty BizCamp, for the next generation of beauty leaders, were birthed.

When I was laid off again a year later, I had already spent a great deal of time thinking about my Plan B. Here was my chance to follow through. 

Fighting the monster called fear
This past June, as I was preparing to launch Beauty BizCamp, Nick Wallenda was in the news for daring to walk across one of the Grand Canyon gorges. I couldn’t bring myself to watch him do it live, but one day, when fear was trying to come into my life for an extended stay, I pulled up his video. And here’s what I took away: The only way is forward; there is nothing behind you that can help. Every small step is progress for your dream, but sometimes rest is required. Will it be perfect? Probably not. But it is a start. So do something to move your life forward in the direction you’re yearning for, even if it’s a single step.

I am not going to lie to you: I was still afraid. I don’t know anyone who ventures into unknown territory who isn’t. But a dose of fear is healthy — to keep you moving and to keep you in check — as long as you don’t let it stop you.

PRINTABLE TIP CARD #14: Prepare for Plan B

Corynne L. Corbett has spent more than twenty years encouraging and empowering women to look good and live well across a variety of media platforms. She has held prominent editorial positions at Essence, Real Simple, Heart & Soul, Mode, and Elle. In addition, she has written for Town & Country, Self, and Ebony, among others. She is the CEO and Founder of Beauty BizCamp Inc. and President of The Beauty Swirl Inc. Corbett is a graduate of Pratt Institute and is a member of The National Association of Black Journalists and Cosmetic Executive Women. Corbett is also a contributor to the new book, Bet on Black: African-American Women Celebrate Fatherhood in the Age of Barack Obama (Kifani Inc.), out this month.

You can follow Corynne on Twitter: @corynnecorbett. 

Next week: We ask, kids answer: Are you afraid to fail?
Last week: 5 steps to make failure your friend, including a printable Failure Analysis Checklist

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