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Regrowing Roots

Here are ways to build a new self when your professional life has been uprooted

Deedee Cheriel

After losing a job in an industry in decline, Jill Herzig came up with a plan for moving forward with her life and career.

It’s one thing to lose a job, but it’s another level of terror to lose an industry. Veteran magazine editor Jill Herzig had gone through her career checking off all the boxes: She got a degree from Yale, then scaled up the mastheads at titans of American magazine publishing, with jobs at Cosmopolitan, Redbook, and Glamour, among others. But as she rose, her industry was melting down. From 2008 to 2017, newsroom employment in the U.S. dropped by nearly a quarter. And one day, the headline read: “Dr. Oz: The Good Life Cuts Frequency, Guts Staff.” Ouch. Herzig had been the magazine’s editor-in-chief.

“I was nearing 50 when I was hip-checked out of a job and out of an industry,” she recalls. “There were so many people losing jobs that we couldn’t help each other in the way we could have otherwise. It was like a lifeboat struggle.”

Luckily, she had been careful financially and was OK in that department, so for Herzig, the more stressful question was: If I have one or two more career moves left in me, what are they going to be?

“I’d say it was about three months of grappling emotionally with that sense of being unmoored and acknowledging those feelings and not trying to push them down,” she says. She went on a long backpacking trip in the mountains. Then she was ready to act.

Herzig worked with a résumé coach, which she found very helpful in “figuring out what doors were likely to be open to me and what realistically were not.” She was still interested in helping people lead healthier lives, but she no longer wanted to manage teams of 30 to 70 people. She’s since found a new role as the director of content innovation for WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers), where she is working to transform a 56-year-old organization into a global wellness brand. Better still, she works four days a week with WW, leaving room to volunteer with underserved girls in Brooklyn.

“I found a single job couldn’t satisfy what I needed from work life anymore. I hadn’t had the time to do the work I wanted to do. One of the things about journalism that had satisfied me on a soul-deep level was the connection with other people. That’s where podcasting came in.”

She and her friend Lisa Oz created and co-host “You Turns: Because Shift Happens” (youturnspodcast.com). It explores life transitions and how to navigate them with an open heart and mind.

“The first thing that comes up in almost every conversation is fear. It’s universal and it can be crippling,” says Herzig. “We turn it into other things, because it’s uncomfortable to sit with. We turn it into resentment, or we dig in our heels. If you can interrogate your fear, you can be more constructive and find ways to cope better.”

“Nothing about the shape of my life is what it was,” she muses. “And if someone had told me that before, it would have been even more scary. And I realize, life keeps on shaking. Just when you think you’ve locked in a great lifestyle or a great work-life balance, things change. If you are not ready for change all the time, you are fooling yourself. But that doesn’t have to be a terrifying truth. It’s just a truth.”

Here are four lessons Herzig learned during her own personal You Turn.

Be honest. “It’s reaching out to people and being open about what you’re dealing with,” says Herzig. “I actually have a tough time dealing with people who are less than frank these days. Earlier in my life I didn’t really care. People would put up a glossy front and were really interesting. And now I’m less tolerant. ‘C’mon guys, can’t we all be a little less polished and perfect?’

Don’t hold up a front all the time. It certainly doesn’t help with connections or with moving forward with the next step.”

Ageism is real. “I can’t brush it away or make it disappear,” she says. “Ageism may be the most stubborn prejudice for our society to overcome. It may take longer than racism and sexism to overcome. So, I don’t have an easy source of comfort to point to. But I discovered that maturity, and the ability to work with people, and have patience, and appreciate people’s talents, and not overreact to a problem and deal constructively with it—those abilities all come with age. Those things are valued very highly by organizations. I have found more acceptance than I thought possible, because I bring that maturity with me to work and people really appreciate it.”

Work with a résumé coach. Things have changed since you last updated that document. “And when you are changing industries, you can’t use industry shorthand,” Herzig notes. Her coach helped her express what she had been doing and the tangible results. “I had to come to a truthful and accurate accounting. From a psychological standpoint, it was helpful to go back and appreciate what I had done. That my industry was in a freefall was not my fault. The groups I’d been with had done great things.”

Don’t be intimidated by technology. “It’s not, repeat not, beyond you,” says Herzig. “I had an assistant who handled pretty much everything technical for me for close to 30 years. I never had to learn anything I didn’t want to. I wish I had been forced to keep up. But I have caught up. It is a continuing education project for me. I ask Google ridiculous questions and if I can’t find an answer, I ask the 32-year-old woman next to me, and you know what, there are things I can offer her, too. Don’t be afraid to go to a course or hire an expert. You will be able to figure this out. And you’ll be shocked how much satisfaction you will get once you know it. You just have to get in there and start swimming. And then keep swimming.”