Lady Business: My career has stalled

I'm professionally successful -- but I want to climb higher, and I haven't been able to

Published July 16, 2010 1:01PM (EDT)

Julie Klausner
Julie Klausner

Dear Julie,

I am an accomplished editorial professional. I've had a very successful career, but feel that I've reached a point where I can't break through from a senior editor position to the editorial director level. For the last several years, I've made lateral moves, always making a bit more money, but never that vertical move upward in responsibility. I've handled budgets, personnel and strategy -- all of the things that add up to the experience necessary for such a move.

I'm in my mid-40s and am not ready to throw in the towel, quietly riding out my career at this level. I still have things to learn and a great deal to impart. Is it me? Is it the economy? Is it the sheer dearth of such opportunities because I'm in a niche market (healthcare editorial)?



Maria! Thank you for writing me. Your concerns will give me a chance to prove myself capable of writing a service-y, well-informed, maybe not-as-funny answer to your very serious, valid question. Perhaps in the process I can show off not only that I know what I'm talking about to Salon's commenters -- all of whom I'm certain are individuals who are hugely fulfilled in their day jobs and personal lives and could easily use their real names instead of anonymous handles in their signatures if they chose to do so, but opt instead to criticize my "bright red bouffant" and "idiot gossip cutsie voice" under brave, informed, artisinally crafted pseudonyms -- and mayhaps even win them over, because, really, impressing strangers is the only ambition I've ever had, since I was a tot. I also have some unresolved issues around trying to make bullies like me in third grade, and at one point seriously pursued a career in the performing arts. Do you think those issues are related?

This will no longer be about me, I promise. This is about you -- and you, Maria, are a very impressive professional with a great track record at your company. So, before I continue, I want to give you a hearty, Teddy-Roosevelt-worthy "huzzah" for getting yourself to the "bully" level of senior editor at your place of business -- a position that, considering the potentially John Hughes-ian, popular-kid politics of your workplace, is nothing to sneeze at. I mention John Hughes not just because it's been a year since he passed away (R.I.P.), but because it sounds to me like there might be some popularity politics at work at your office, especially since I get the feeling from the tone of your letter that you're a confident enough career woman type to have already asked your supervisor for the promotion you feel rightly entitled to, having put in your sweat and time at your place of business.

The best thing I can advise you to do is to start sniffing around elsewhere in your field, however niche it may be. Send some queries to colleagues at competitive firms along the lines of what you told me, just now, about vertical versus lateral moves, and all the experience you've accumulated in your impressive tenure at your current gig. If your boss finds out about your hunting, she won't know anything you haven't already told her. Or, wait -- that was an assumption on my part, wasn't it.

Meet with your boss, if you haven't already. Tell her that you're frustrated with the lack of growth opportunities at your work. Keep in mind that if she resists promoting you or giving you clear feedback as to why you haven't been promoted or what you can do in terms of steps to take toward those ends, you might be working against a bit of a high school popularity situation, meaning there's no accounting for people's taste when it comes to who's in and who's out. In other words, whether or not your work speaks for itself, you might be competing against the inevitable, which is the fact that not everybody plain old likes everyone else, and whether it's your boss, or your boss's boss, I have a feeling that something besides your experience is working against you that may have to do with the politics of personalities.

So, write to contacts at other firms to inquire about work elsewhere, keeping in mind that you have nothing to hide from your supervisor in doing so, because you've already spoken to her, remember? Finally, if you haven't already considered it before, allow me to be the concierge of your imagination for a moment or two and suggest you seek out other fields to which you could lend your superior editing skills as well as your panache around rather-universal corporate matters of budgets, personnel and strategy. Not to be all "my mom" about leading you to water, but I just typed in "Editorial Director" into this site's search engine, and a whole ton of results turned up, from a gig at Lowe's Creative Ideas (in Des Moines! I've never been, but I heard if sitcoms succeed among their demographic, network executives are happy) to various positions at Tufts University, near your own hometown. Good school, Tufts. I visited once. They have a cannon on campus and everything.

I hope this helps. Best of luck to you, Maria! And for what it's worth, I adore your namesake on Sesame Street.

Red Bouffantedly Yours,


By Julie Klausner

Julie Klausner is a New York City writer and performer. She is the writer of Salon's Lady Business column and the author of "I Don't Care About Your Band."

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