Going for More, Again
Am I afraid of failure? Sure. But I'm in it for the journey — wherever that may lead
I slowly raise the lid of the computer. A pop-up reminds me I have a message from Six, my developers in England. I click the e-mail. “Hooray,” it says. “We’re happy to tell you we’re finally ready to go live!”
I’ve waited two years for this moment. But instead of excitement, I feel woozy. The Oxycontin is kicking in, muffling the burning pain in my abdomen; an IV hisses softly near my shoulder. A halo is beginning to form around my husband’s head as he sits and reads in the chair at the foot of my bed.
This is déjà vu. Nearly 27 years earlier to the day I’d been sitting in a similar hospital bed in New York City, experiencing a similar searing abdominal pain from a C-section. (I‘d asked the nurse if someone had left a pack of burning matches on my belly.) Same type of lovely, narcotic blur — except the earlier version came from morphine, the painkiller of choice back in 1991. The other difference today is that no nurse is walking up to me and handing me a delicious-smelling baby who is going to take over the next twenty years of my life!
Except that, wait, yes, isn’t “the business”— my new Internet site called CoveyClub.com — my new baby? And hasn’t it arrived just in time to kill the heartbreak of my empty nest? JJ, 27, is settled and working in New York and Lake, twenty-two, is ensconced in Boston. Both are happy and prospering. And as we know, every mother is only as happy as her most miserable child. So I am happy. Really happy.
I hit return and type: “Sorry guys. Launch will have to wait. Just had an emergency appendectomy at 3 a.m. Going to sleep.”
Oh wait. Another parallel. Twenty-seven years ago, after 28 hours of labor, the doctor was stitching me up when the nurse came around the partition to hand me JJ; gazing upon that gorgeous little square head that refused to come down the birth canal made me start crying with such uncontrollable force that the doctor knocked me out so he could finish sewing. The last thing I said that day: “Give him to Jeff. I’m going to sleep.”
And so go the parallels in the life of an entrepreneur. At age 61.
It’s a life I embarked upon two years ago when the company I worked for decided to close the magazine I’d run for eight years (yes, that was my business baby) called More. More was the only magazine dedicated to upscale educated 40-plus women. It had a passionate readership of 1.5 million but not enough advertisers to support its mission. Even though all the facts and figures prove that women over the age of forty control 40 billion dollars-worth of household spending — and have the freedom to decide where to spend it — upscale advertisers are so terrified that older women will stigmatize their brands that they refuse to lay down the bucks for any vehicle that is not Millennial-oriented.
The saddest, and in retrospect most prescient, day for me occurred a few months after I’d begun as editor-in-chief at More. It was 2008, smack in the middle of the Great Recession when I had lunch with a very famous designer who had, ten years earlier, sketched my wedding dress on a napkin during a similar lunch. “Lesley,” he said leaning in over his spicy tuna roll, “the only people who are keeping my stores open right now are women over 40. But I just can’t advertise to them.”
Yet he had no problem advertising to 50-year-old men in the Esquires and GQs of the world. It was age prejudice: up close and personal. And I battled that stigma — in both advertising and Hollywood for nearly a decade. Just imagine trying to convince an obviously 40-plus actress to admit she is more than 35 so she would do More’s cover! It’s insta-death because, as one of my agent friends revealed to me confidentially, the male actors write their contracts requiring any love interest to be at least 15 years younger than they are!
I adopted a countervailing mantra: “Aging is not a disease,” I would say politely. “It’s not something you can outrun or outsmart. It happens to everyone. It will happen to you.” But I gave up mentioning it to the 25-year-old media planner who was glancing at his watch every five minutes while obviously thinking, “Geez, can’t wait to get to basketball practice. Wish I could get my mom’s friend here to hurry up.”
And I’d lost jobs before. Back in the 1980s I’d been hired by the famous New York magazine editor Clay Felker to help create an evening paper competitive to the New York Post; I was honored to be given one of the most coveted writing spots in the city. But, due to poor advertising sales, Felker’s paper closed after only one year and I was out on the street. Two decades later I was running Marie Claire to killer newsstand sales and dozens of awards. That lasted all of five years because even great success is no guarantee of longevity in the world of magazine publishing.
Luckily, losing More magazine in 2016 was different. When I’d been forced out of Marie Claire it was 2006, pre-social media boom. None of my readers — many of whom had been following me since my days as editor-in-chief of YM and Redbook magazines – could locate me. When More came to a crashing halt, however, I was able to snap a last photo of the staff and post it to my personal social media. Hundreds of friends, competitors, and readers jumped in to say how sad and angry they were that a magazine of such intelligence and quality was being shuttered. Readers posted photos of the final April issue with their coffee mugs, mourning the fact that their favorite read was going away. Hundreds of them encouraged me to “reach higher,” “not give up,” and strike out on my own. One even offered seed funding for my next project!
Even though I was hard at work on my masters in Sustainability Management at Columbia — and ready to stop shaving the hair on my legs, don Birkenstocks and let the hair on my head go gray while I saved the world from climate change — my readers convinced me that I should create something radically new in media. Six-hundred-twenty-seven of them took a 54-question survey that allowed me to create a map of what CoveyClub should look like. (FYI: The word “covey” means “a small group of birds”). My supporters were clear: though they wanted great reads, they also wanted live and virtual events that would challenge and connect them, group escapes and travel. I set aside my severance pay from More to fund the business, found a fabulous web developer and began writing down every idea that popped into my head.
While CoveyClub can’t be More magazine (I don’t have a staff of thirty-four fabulous editors and a multi-million dollar budget), it can be inspired by the incredible energy and enthusiasm of a readership that refuses to be invisible no matter what advertisers say or do. That is why it is a club and there are dues. Members are helping to fund this project themselves.
Being my own boss after 4o years is a delight that takes some getting used to. I’m still learning that I don’t have to build consensus or ask anyone’s permission before I try something new. And every day is a learning experience.
Have I walked into technical walls? Missed deadlines because I don’t have enough help? Been mortified when a new Covey member called the technology I’d chosen for sharing and connecting women “a mess”? Yes. Yes. And yes. But I can tell you this. Every morning my eyes fly open at 5 a.m. and I’m as excited about going to work as I was at 20.
I am learning and growing and making a whole new slew of friends with whom I have richer, more meaningful interactions than I ever did in the corporate world. Am I terrified of failure? Sure. Do I think sometimes that I’m risking my sterling reputation on something that may go bust? Absolutely. But I don’t care. I’m in it for the journey — wherever that may lead. CoveyClub.com launched on Valentine’s Day 2018, two days after my emergency appendectomy. I’m still going for more!
Story by Lesley Jane Seymour, Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Empowered Woman. (c)2018 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved
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