Background: I was one of five selected to be on the reality TV show The Job, which aired February 8th and 15th. I was on the February 15th show. The show was canceled after that, but this is my story about why I’m blessed not be be selected to work for Cosmo.
When a New York fashion magazine called about a job that would provide cash and clout in an office overlooking Manhattan from the iconic Hearst Tower, I jumped.
I didn’t think twice about what I’d be peddling just about the ego candy, career boost and corporate perks.
Thoughts of bylines and glossy business cards muted any reservations about producing copy that no longer hit home with me or other women my age, let alone making a difference in the world. I simply snatched and bit the apple from the tree with the biggest apples of all, New York City.
Preparing for the interview, I dusted off my stilettos, bought three back issues of Cosmo, and headed to the east coast to see if my clips could impress Joanna Coles, known as the Simon Cowell of fashion.
There was one caveat: I had to sign an agreement that to get offered the job, I had to outshine four candidates half my age on national TV.
I reluctantly consented in writing to sell my soul to the devil who did indeed wear Prada, and write copy about Versace, vibrators, what vixen Lindsay Lohan would wear before and after her court appearances.
I silenced my conscience by reminding myself that my savings were gone, love life dead, and my freelance writing career dry as day-after-Thanksgiving turkey. If Drew Barrymore, Ellen DeGeneres and Betty White could stage career comebacks, why not me?
I was going to go for it because I wanted to be the poster child of a midlife crisis gone right. I wanted to carry the torch for midlife women on a great big stage and scream, look at us—we’re not invisible, we’re invincible.
“If we don’t risk it all, we may as well not write at all.” ~ Anne Stuart
Upon arrival, I’m told to wait in my room until the producers come to screen me. Four hours later, the phone rings, “Check your hair, check your makeup.” Fifteen minutes later eight people enter my room.
I back nervously to the bed and plop down. They form a circle around me and fire questions.
Two hours later I receive another call, “You’re in. Be dressed and in full makeup at 6 a.m. tomorrow.”
Entering the hotel lobby I see my competition: a gay male, two blondes and an exotic bombshell. All stunners and old enough to drink.
We receive no introductions and are forbidden to speak.
Throughout the day I entertain myself by giving them nicknames. I name Carlos “Diva” Bell A.D.D. Boy because he can’t sit still or quit talking, which he gets reprimanded for often. Then there was The Stick (Rachele Trainor), Chicago Girl (Kristina Leng) and Cosmo Girl (Diandra Barnwell).
Watch “The Job” and tell me if the shoe fits.
We hit our first shoot location and I come out firing—my mouth. After shooting six hours in a frigid park, we wrap.
We silently enter Cosmopolitan magazine’s corporate offices. It’s surreal with nearly a 300-degree view of Central Park and Manhattan, 27-inch Macs on every desk and picture-perfect people as beautiful as the models in the magazine, but none are smiling.
Holy Helen Gurley Brown, what have I gotten myself into showing up with a blistered lip from a wax job gone bad and a Walmart tote?
We receive our assignment to hit the streets, learn what’s on people’s minds and get them to sign photo release waivers. I know there’s some secret Cosmo code or section to what the hell this means, but for the life of me I can’t recall it, so I do what I do best—make something out of nothing, create something uniquely my own.
Oh hell, I faked it.
Three to four hours later I feel good about showing the editors my ability to bond instantly with strangers, get juicy quotes about their thoughts on living fiercely and fashionably, and a few interesting photographs. But 14 hours into this long, weird day, I no longer feel fierce. I feel like I’m about to become a bug on a windshield.
When they put me on camera and ask me if I still want the job, I lie.
Starring into the hot lights and Joanna Cole’s cold eyes, I get cast back into the land of unemployment first. Despite Joanna being rude to me both on and off camera, and Carlos condemning me for being only a “writer” and wearing flats when off camera, I’m relieved.
“Brenda, I can’t offer you the job,” makes tears well and a false eyelash pop off, but secretly I just want to regain the feeling in my feet, have a steak and never hear “check your hair, check your makeup” again.
While the CBS crew was kind, the Ms. Coles was catty. I believe she wanted someone to worship her, not work for her. And though I do like expressing myself through fashion, my preferred ensembles come from Lululemon or Target.
I’m back in my yoga pants once again writing for my fledgling midlife blog, which coincidentally was what got me on “The Job,” and for my small Kansas City clients who I appreciate more than ever before—especially those with a casual dress code.
I’ve learned living your storybook life for me doesn’t include buying Prada, knowing 613 sex positions or being more familiar with celebrities than your own family.
Living your storybook life means following your heart, being yourself, wearing flats when your feet hurt, saying no in front of millions if your heart isn’t truly in it and not getting seduced by the thought of your name in a top-selling magazine where it doesn’t belong in the first place.
All that is glossy is not good.
And for me, the blessing the universe handed me was a chance to concentrate more on writing stories of spiritual empowerment, not fashion slavery.
To work more diligently on blogging about what is in people’s hearts, not what is in their closets, to write about how to be beautiful through inner radiance, not outer adornment and how to love all mankind, not just those 18-35.
“When you align what you do with who you are, you will become who you need to be.” ~ Excerpt from the Good Life Project Living Creed
*There are more photos and footage at www.cbs.com/shows/the-job.
Brenda Clevenger, aka Midlife Mona Lisa, is a freelance writer and PR consultant in Kansas City who helps cities and women reinvent themselves. She believes storybook endings are within reach for all mankind. You can follow her on Twitter if that’s your thing.
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Assist: Sara Crolick
Ed: Brianna Bemel