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Comeback Careers
Updated 6 years ago
Career Growth

Jane Pauley's pro tips on coming back to work after a break

Jane Pauley has great advice on returning to work after a career break
Jane Pauley speaks at the Know Your Value event in New York City on Oct. 30.
Jane Pauley speaks at the Know Your Value event in New York City on Oct. 30.Anthony Scutro/Miller Hawkins

Jane Pauley is a legend in the broadcasting world. As an anchor for the Today Show for 13 years, host of Dateline NBC for a decade, host of her own program, The Jane Pauley Show, and now anchor of CBS Sunday Morning, there’s no doubt that Jane has had an incredible career.

During Monday’s Know Your Value event in New York City, I was lucky enough to ask her advice for someone who has taken a career break and is trying to figure out what’s next. Jane, after all, is intimately familiar with career breaks, in her case involuntary. At the age of 54, her daytime program, The Jane Pauley Show, was cancelled.

“You do need to narrow your focus somewhat and then you need to establish how you might need to prepare for it,” she said, adding that could mean going back to school or getting a new certification.

Jane also said women who want to return to work shouldn’t be afraid of failure. “Embrace it, be proud of it … As long as you are learning from your choices you have not been thrown for a loss on the play.”

According to Jane, the most important thing is to just get started. “Get out there and do something. Don’t stay home making notes. Don’t stay home watching TV waiting for inspiration to strike. Don’t look for some epiphany. Don’t think we’ve all got some perfect thing that we were meant to do,” Jane advised. “There are many perfect things that we may have been meant to do. Pick one thing and work on it.”

A few months ago, Mika and I also spoke to Jane. She shared more of her own story. Below are some highlights from that interview:

Jane on practical inspiration and on failure as a catalyst

Jane’s road back - her “relaunch” - was a winding one. It took four years. Today she is back and better than ever, in the anchor chair as host of CBS Sunday Morning. She says the failure of her daytime show was the catalyst.

If my daytime show had not failed, I would not have been inoculated against failure. That daytime show was the hardest thing I ever did, but I loved it. I’d never worked harder and it didn’t succeed.

Jane Pauley

Jane said her 23-year-old son pushed her to get back up. “He saw me sitting on the sofa and thought I was wasting my life and talents. He told me it was time to make something happen. He was saying what I already knew, but his wisdom at 23 was pretty great.”

Jane toyed with ideas that would use her talents and creativity. She spent years developing a concept for live events she called “Practical Inspiration”, then ditched it, realizing that she did not want to be the boss of a huge undertaking. “I did not need to be CEO and I did not want to be a boss. Yet, I wanted the freedom to be creative and productive.” But she said all the time invested in the idea “had not been a waste of time - it was a learning opportunity.”

Finally, inspiration hit one day when she was watching her old friends on the Today Show. Always a fan of “reinvention”, she realized that she could do segments for NBC on people who had reinvented their lives after age 50. She partnered with AARP and made what she calls a “modest” return to TV.

“It was such a small thing I was doing. Less than once a month for less than five minutes with my little stories. Four years, 37 stories. Then, that’s when I knew there was a book.” The book, she said, led to segments on CBS This Morning, which led to her being offered the anchor job.

Her lesson?

“If you don’t get that job or can’t find an on ramp to the perfect thing - don’t be deterred by failure. Start again. And, in failing, you’ve learned something about yourself.”

Jane on stay-at-home moms and the empty nest as an opportunity

“Whether you’re sending your little one to elementary school, or you’ve just dropped off your teen at college, suddenly your world changes. It’s an emotional time for a lot of parents, but for women who have been home with their kids, it can feel like you’ve been laid off.

“For moms who have been home, you go from feeling a sense of purpose where you know you are needed and nobody can do the job but you, to sending your children off to college or school,” Jane explained. “You are walking by empty bedrooms, there’s less laundry to do, you’re making a meal for just one or two and (you’ve got) that feeling of - well if I'm not somebody’s mother today, than who am I? It feels blank. Finding a new set of circumstances that informs your identity is pretty important now.”

But, she says, it is the start of a new chapter and an opportunity.

It’s an opportunity to dig a little deep, to explore further afield, to find something brand new, or to look at something you have always been or always done and see it in a new context that can be life defining

Jane Pauley

Jane on modeling resilience for your kids

“I don’t think that anything is more important as a mother than to model exploring. I was a mom who went to work and had her hair and makeup done, my resume was all good. When my kids saw me try so hard and not succeed (at my daytime talk show) - I can’t think of a better thing for me to have modeled for my children than to try, fail and get back up.”

She added, “The act of looking, exploring, of trying, failing, trying again and then succeeding is a really important thing that you can do in your role as mom.”

Jane on making opportunities, saying yes and the upside of age.

“At this point in my life, I can look back and see patterns. One of my personal revelations is that whenever I was given an opportunity, I said yes. Every time I was offered something scary I said yes,” she said.

“The difference became in my mid-fifties, I had to make my opportunities,” she added. “Now, I am inoculated against failure and I have a lot more confidence - that’s one of the benefits of being 50.”

Thank you, Jane. You inspire us!

For more about Ginny, Know Your Value’s comeback career contributor, click here.