I knew I could do this job and do it well. I knew I'd have fun. I also knew with total conviction that I would be miserable if I did the job five days a week, which they were insisting on. I had reached a line in the sand. The job I currently had was also fun, reasonably well paid, and flexible enough to allow me enough time at home. I would do the new job four days a week or not at all. I was prepared to walk away. Still, this was ridiculous. Here I was, a grown woman, afraid to pick up the phone. I answered. I told my boss about the four days and that line in the sand, I said I would of course be happy to help out and fill in when the new anchor was away but that I couldn't take the job under the terms they needed.
Then the executive did something I hadn't expected. She said that she didn't want to have just a reputation for being family-friendly—she actually wanted to be familyfriendly. She really wanted women with experience on air, and she really wanted me to do the job. If I could only do it on my timetable then she would talk to her bosses and recommend they accept my four-day-a-week proposition.
And she did—and they did.
At that point my producer came screaming out of the Capitol—shouting that I was on air in five minutes. I did some rather dazed political analysis, and only when I was done did I take a breath and realize I had got it all.
The fifth-floor executive suite at ABC News never fails to intimidate. The plush furniture. The hushed tones. The top executives all huddling, the occasional visitor imagines, to pass judgment about the network players.
This day, though, I was feeling somewhat more confident than usual. I had a reasonable request to outline, and I was bolstered by the fact that I didn't really care (much anyway) about the consequences. That attitude was years in the making, but it had finally arrived. Despite the last minute nature of our business, I was now forty-three with two children, and I needed to be able to plan at least SOME aspects of my life. Holidays, for example, and travel.
I was sweating a bit, and my voice was starting to sound whiny. I dropped an octave, tried for polish, and wrapped up my plea. The female executive on the other side of the desk had long been my mentor, supporter, and friend. But I'd been sensing a growing exasperation at my struggle to change the rules. "That all makes sense, Claire," she said, "but it's just that. . ." She paused, searching for words. "Everyone else here jumps when we say jump," she explained. "You don't."
I knew if I were in a clichéd Wall Street movie this was where I would fire back: "I will jump! I will! How high?" But I didn't think I could play that role convincingly. Instead out popped, "I don't think I'm a jumper."
Ugh. I couldn't believe I'd said that. Then I shrugged, unhelpfully, as I berated myself and wondered how "nonjumper" would look on my résumé, and whether it was a condition that could be treated.
The executive looked down. I waited for the worst, but it didn't come. "We've told you we like your work," she finally said, sighing. "You are complicated, but we'll deal with it."
The sense of liberation I felt that day was profound. At last the truth about my life at this point was out in the open. I'm a complicated nonjumper. And I'm still employed. And more importantly, for the first time in years, I'd taken an enormous step toward defining my job according to my needs, instead of the other way around.