Without my job, who am I?
People often ask me why I left the job of editing Glamour. The answer is simple: along with most of my team back then in October 2017, I was made redundant. It was not my choice to go.
No, the more interesting question is: Why did I stay in that one job for 17 years? It’s a complicated answer that morphed from one reason to another over time.
I stayed for the first five or six years because I bloody loved it. We worked hard, we were riding an incredibly successful wave. The glamorous invitations and press gifts were endless. I worked my nuts off and lost hours of sleep worrying about whether or not I was doing a good enough job. But largely, this job was the goal, the personal summit I’d been dreaming about and sweating for, since I was 14.
After my maternity leave, at the beginning of 2006, I’d been doing the job for six years and I still loved it. But it got harder. Not so much because I was a mum (although the juggle definitely made its presence known: glamorous work trips to Paris are less so when you’re suddenly having to rush back in the middle of the night to relieve an exhausted husband of another sleepless night with a feverish baby). The newly-launched Grazia magazine was our irritating, hip new rival, managing to position itself as a cooler, faster magazine than Glamour. We lost some readers to them, but even more advertisers. My sleepless nights increased.
But it was still largely a fantastic, seductive job and then one day I realised I’d been doing it for a decade. People started asking me questions like, ‘What do you think you’ll do after Glamour?’ or ‘Surely you must be so bored of it by now?’
I used to joke that I was embarrassed that I wasn’t bored, and it was true. My peers included Alex Shulman at Vogue and Dylan Jones at GQ who’d been editing their respective titles for even longer, so it felt OK to still be at Glamour.
But if I’m honest, it wasn’t just love that kept me clinging on. It was fear.
My identity had become so fused with the magazine’s. I’d launched it, so anyone who read it only knew it with me as the editor. It got to the point where I became convinced that I wasn’t capable of doing anything else. I’d confide in friends who’d say, ‘I’m sure there are TONS of other things you could do’ but no one could explain to me what, exactly. In desperation, I even consulted a couple of life coaches who were similarly encouraging that I had a lot of skills to offer, but could only provide me with vagaries about what those were. I lived and breathed my job so much that I couldn’t seem to imagine any other possibilities for myself.
I’d seen others leave their well-paid, high profile jobs and still expect to be treated in exactly the same way when they weren’t in charge of a useful magazine. I know of one editor who was really shocked to learn that her replacement - not her - would now be getting those coveted front row invitations for fashion shows. The cautionary tale doing a constant loop in my head was ‘People don’t like Jo Elvin, they like The Editor of Glamour. They don’t want Jo Elvin at their party, they want The Editor of Glamour. Remember that.’ And I really did. I absolutely believed that, the second I wasn’t ‘The Editor of Glamour’, it would be like I’d died.
The job - the creation of the pages, the celebrity events we hosted, the fashion shows, the parties - were still fun. But the realities of the changing media landscape were creeping in. My working day started to be less about creative ideas and decisions and more about meetings with stern-faced accountants keen to know how I could create the same magazine with slashed budgets and smaller teams.
Our fortunes were down and Glamour was not the cash cow it had once been throughout the noughties. About once a year, I’d be asked to select a handful of people and tell them their roles were redundant and then turn around to the ‘lucky’ ones still employed and explain how they would now be doing a lot more work for no more money. We were so out of favour as a brand within our own company that it really felt like even any time we achieved something great - a coup of a cover star, global publicity from a big celebrity event, launching a successful podcast - it wasn’t noticed, much less celebrated.
Demoralised, and now getting angry, I still stayed. As my confidence plummeted, I became even more convinced of my own narrative that I was incapable of doing anything else.
So as much as there was shock and real grief and terror when I was made redundant, I can’t lie - there was so much relief. Suddenly this decision I would never have had the guts to make for myself was made for me.
One day I will write about that time and some of the appalling behaviour my colleagues and I were subjected to at that time. But that’s for another day.
Today I want to tell you about what happened next that shocked me. People still wanted to talk to me. The phone rang and people said, ‘Now that you’re not working there, does this mean you’d be able to do xxxxx?’
It was actually only a few weeks later that I was offered the job editing You magazine at the Mail on Sunday. It’s a magazine I had often looked at and thought would be a great one to work on. An enormous readership, interested in a broad range of subjects. I could see endless creative possibilities.
I’ve now done that job, very happily, for four years. But the experience of Glamour left me with a stark lesson, and that is: I won’t outstay my welcome in a job, ever again.
You magazine has millions of readers. They engage readily and I have incredible conversations with many of them, every week. I have painstakingly crafted a team of incredibly talented people who are a joy to work with and bring their A Game every day. Against the backdrop of a two-year pandemic, the magazine is making good money. And they pay me very well.
And yet, I have resigned. My friend and Substack colleague Farrah Storr also has great thoughts on leaving a job you love. Why have I done it? Because I don’t want to be enslaved by that fear again. I’m 52. I don’t want to coast in a job and slide towards my senior years without evolving and trying new things. I want the decision to leave to be mine this time.
I haven’t lost the fear. Actually I’m damn terrified. I don’t know what the future holds. I don’t know if the phone will stop ringing and the work will dry up. I don’t know if I’ll ever entirely lose that baseline belief that I’m unworthy without a big high profile title next to my name.
But I won’t let that rule my decisions again.
Who am I without my big fancy glamourous job title? I don’t know yet but this time, instead of being scared to find out, I’m excited.
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