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  • Writer's pictureCaitlin Rother

A Welcome Reminder of My Past

When a coworker from the past asks to buy your entire backlist of books, it reminds you of just how far you've come and brings a new perspective to the concept of perseverance

With all the bad news and the unease many of us have about being on Facebook these days, I want to share a personal story with you guys that really touched me.

It all started back in 1985. It was four days after I had graduated from UC Berkeley, I was staying with my boyfriend at the time, and I had just $100 in the bank. Feeling desperate, I knew I needed to find a job, any job, so I went to the campus job center, where I had previously found an internship at KGO radio, where I got my start in journalism, and found a position that I thought I could do.

It was secretarial gig in a PR department of a cruise line, Royal Viking Line, on the 41st floor of the Embarcadero in San Francisco. Not what I'd had in mind for a post-graduate job, but I felt I had no choice.

When I interviewed, I looked out the window of my boss's window-lined office and wondered what would happen, so high up and with all that glass, if we had an earthquake. I swallowed hard and hoped for the best.

I didn't really see my future in being a secretary, but I was told it was an entry-level job that would help me rise in the world of PR and corporate communications. I'd previously had an internship in the creative department of an advertising agency in LA, which I enjoyed; I also had been published in the Daily Cal at Berkeley, and liked to write.

As part of this job, I was told, I would be in charge of writing and putting out the 8- or 12-page employee newsletter as my own little magazine to publish, which I thought would be fun. My boss, who I will call by a pseudonym, Fred, and his assistant, both of whom I would be working for, seemed nice enough. But more importantly, I needed the money, and I thought this was a promising career path that could take me back into advertising or further in PR.

I wasn't there long before the assistant left, and was replaced by a nice woman named Nancy Swasey, who is now Nancy Fossey. Suffice it to say I was not cut out for PR and my boss was not a nice man. In fact, at times, I felt he was downright abusive and insulting.

Nothing I did was ever good enough for him. As he wrote short stories at home that never got published, he told me that he'd never seen me produce any writing that was any better than mediocre, and he bragged about past employees who had worked as editors of the shipboard "newspapers," then gone on to other, more ambitious jobs as journalists.

But even as I got more duties, which I enjoyed, such as being an editorial assistant to a glossy passenger magazine that won design awards, he said I was still not qualified to get one of the shipboard editor jobs.

It got so bad between us that he and I wouldn't talk to each other for days and Nancy had to act as a buffer and go-between. Thank God for her or I don't think I could have lasted as long as I did in a job I hated and in which I was made to feel so inadequate. He didn't even like the way I answered the phone!

Determined to get out of there, I applied to graduate journalism schools. In my application essays, I wrote about how I wanted to write the truth, not just the one-sided spin of corporate communications. I was accepted by 3 of the 4 schools to which I applied, and chose to attend Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Excited about being accepted, I told Fred that once I had my master's I would love to come back and get one of those shipboard jobs. But, that was not to be.

"You'll be overqualified," he told me.

I just kept on, graduated, and then got my first newspaper job at the Berkshire Eagle. I made it through my six-month probation period before I was told that they weren't going to keep me -- I wasn't cut out to be a print reporter, why didn't I go into TV, because I had the looks for it -- but I could keep working there until they found someone to replace me.

So, I was fired, but not really, because it could be a couple of months before they found someone. And once, again, told I wasn't good enough. But, again, I kept on. Within a few days, I had another reporting job at a competing paper, the Springfield Union-News, and left the small-staffed Eagle in the lurch.

From there, I jumped to the Los Angeles Times as a full-time freelancer (aka indentured slave, an arrangement which ultimately got them sued and in trouble with the IRS, but again, I was told I wasn't good enough to get hired on staff, even after filling their pages with my stories), and from there to the LA Daily News and then The San Diego Union-Tribune, which nominated one of my stories for a Pulitzer.

So...after 19 years as a daily newspaper reporter, and then 13 books later as a New York Times bestselling author, here we are.

Like I always tell my students and the aspiring authors who are my coaching clients, persistence pays off and you have to learn how to rebound from rejection and pick yourself up from the curb.

The great thing about Facebook is that Nancy and I found each other again all these years and careers later. And the reason I was motivated to tell you this story today is that Nancy just bought an entire set of my backlist of books to proudly display on her bookshelf, to show that she knows "a famous author."

I was so very touched by that, told her that, and thanked her. And then she said the magic words that always make my week and keep me forging ahead in the roller-coaster world of publishing:

"You are an inspiration."

Nancy, thank you, and thanks for letting me share this story with the folks who are out there, pursuing their dreams and wondering if they should give up.

The answer, my friends, is a resounding NO.

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