Rule #1: Go Big or Go Home
I once heard someone famous say that what separates successful people from the unsuccessful ones is their willingness to work really, really hard. Sure, hard work is part of the equation, and so are well-honed skills. And in certain cases, success is even somewhat about the people you know. But I think those factors get you only so far. From what I’ve seen again and again, success is most often the result of doing the bold extra something that no one else has thought of or dared to try.
I call it the go‑big-or-go-home strategy. And before I even talk about the ins and outs of gaining your first career successes, I need to stress the importance of going big. It’s a strategy you need to use now and during every other stage of your career.
You’ve heard the phrase “go big or go home,” right? My first encounter with it was about five or six years ago. A young staffer used it when she was talking about her plans for Saturday night. What she meant was that if she wasn’t willing to give the whole night an extra push—with her outfit, her hair, her makeup, her attitude—she should bag the entire thing.
I secretly co-opted that phrase for everything I did in the next years at Cosmo. The magazine is geared toward fun, fearless females, and from the moment I arrived I tried to factor that into my approach. But I liked having a specific mantra to work with. With every photo, article, and cover line I began to ask myself: did I go big or go home with it? If the answer was that I went home, I gave myself a swift kick in the butt and rethought what I was doing.
Soon I began using that mantra in other parts of my life. And as I thought about it, I realized that most of my successes—and the successes of women I knew—always involved going big. Doing a job well is not enough. The key is to do more than what’s expected, power it up, go balls to the wall.
Going big doesn’t always have to involve some huge undertaking. You can go big in key little ways, too. Here’s a sampling of how I’ve used the strategy in my own career.
• When I was up for my first big job—as editor in chief of Child magazine—the headhunter mentioned that the magazine was looking for someone who was “mediagenic.” Soright before my first interview, I had my hair professionally blown out and styled. And I swear that my long, flowing, “mediagenic” locks helped me land the job.
• When I shot a cover of Pierce Brosnan, his partner, Keely Shaye Smith, and their newborn for Redbook, they asked the photographer to take a few pictures of the baby breastfeeding for them to keep personally. But when I saw those photos, I decided, with the couple’s permission, to run one as the cover image. That photo literally became news around the world.
• When one of my top staffers at a magazine resigned to take another job, I didn’t just graciously (or grumpily) accept her resignation. I wrote a memo called “Ten ReasonsYou Shouldn’t Leave” and left it on her chair. She decided to turn down the offer and stay.
You’ll see the “going big” theme running through everything I talk about in this section, as well as the rest of the book. You may be just beginning in a particular job or field, but in order to score your first major successes, you’re going to have to go big—with your job search, the interviewing process, your early career moves, everything.
In this world of the supersized, going big is, in fact, probably more important now than ever. Everything seems to be bolder and even more badass. When Cosmo interviewed Pink after the birth of her daughter, she told us she was going to get back into the game full throttle. “I want my album to be really great, and I want to do an amazing tour. I’m going to up the ante, even if it means covering myself in Velcro, lighting myself on fire, and shooting myself out of a cannon. I’ll do that, no prob.”
I’m not suggesting you shoot yourself out of a cannon, but you need to push the envelope these days. You have to be strategic, though, and assess your surroundings first. If you’re in a new job, how much (from what you can tell) will your new work culture welcome the big idea, the bold new strategy? How much will your boss welcome it? What kind of big ideas is your boss likely to be receptive to? Good bosses will respond positively and love you for it.
A small warning: when you go big, whether it’s early in your career or later, there will be people wishing you had gone home instead. Perhaps you’re pulling off a feat someone else wishes she’d thought of or you’re infringing on her turf—at least in her own mind. Or maybe one of your accomplishments has necessitated a change in someone else’s daily work MO and that person now has to take care of business each morning rather than spending an hour nibbling on his blueberry muffin. You may end up with a few haters.
Regardless, you can’t get caught up in worrying about whether everyone you work with likes you. Ultimately you want the respect of your coworkers, but you don’t need them to be your buddies. No one says this better than Mika Brzezinski, the cohost of msnbc’s Morning Joe, whom I asked to write a work column for Cosmo. “Look, it took me twenty-five years in television news and writing two books to realize that it doesn’t matter if everyone adores me,” she says. “Being liked is what women strive for. But when you make that mistake, it diverts your attention from more important tasks at hand.”
So go big, love the thrill of it and the prizes it brings, but know that when you make a big move, it creates a big breeze, and that can sometimes ruffle feathers.