All my life, people told me I had chutzpah. That word was passed around often in my Jewish day school. While most kids were following rules and social norms, I was breaking them. I was impatient and as such, I acted impulsively.
Sometimes, this character trait seemed destructive, but it led me to take risks that other people shied away from. I distinctly remember asking my crush out over AOL in the 5th grade and being laughed at by my whole class the following day because it was deemed weird for a girl to ask out a boy. I was mortified.
But here’s the thing: My crush said yes.
Years later, I found myself in a SoHo subway station, marching up to the Editor-in-Chief of Bridal Guide Magazine, Diane Forden. I was a year out of college and still hadn’t landed a full-time job. Standing one subway car’s length away from Diane, I decided to use my boldness to my advantage. In that split second decision to approach her, I knew there was much more to gain (a job) than to lose (my ego).
And it worked. Here’s why:
I Took a Calculated Risk
No one’s completely immune to rejection. It stung hunting for a full-time job in media for more than a year after graduation even though by then, I’d interned and written for Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Coveteur, and Nylon, and had additional bylines in Man Repeller, Elite Daily, Shape, Hello Giggles, and more.
When I saw Diane that day, I softened the potential blow by reminding myself that no matter what she said, I couldn’t take it personally. If she doesn’t give me the time of day, I told myself, it could be because she’s in a rush to get to the next show. I also thought of the worst-case scenario, the one in which I walked away completely deflated, licking my wounds. But even then, so long as I wasn’t horribly rude, I’d approach her as a part-time digital marketer and freelance writer looking for a full-time gig—and come out no less than that.
Leading up to that moment, I’d been cold emailing editors for months and was shocked at how many of them, no matter how high their positions, were more than willing to meet with me. Knowing that there were people in the industry who wanted to help made me feel less intimidated by the mogul standing before me.
I looked at her from the corner of my eye before bringing my focus back to the train tracks. Morilee was the last Bridal Fashion Week show I’d be covering, and it was unlikely that I’d ever bump into her again. If I didn’t act quickly, I’d lose the opportunity to speak to her. If she shut me down after our encounter, at least I could say I’d tried. The embarrassment would wear off, and I’d go back to lurking on LinkedIn. What’s the worst that could happen? I thought, and finally mustered up the courage to walk up to her.
I Pushed Through the Embarrassment
I tried to remember what my name was as I got closer to her and her team of editors. This was not a rom-com where I planned to “accidentally” bump into her and flusteredly apologize. I needed a subtle but cheery introduction line before I went full elevator pitch on them.
“Hi! Did you just leave Morilee?” I asked with curiosity even though I knew very well she’d just come from there.
“Yes! Are you heading to the next show, too?” Diane asked kindly. She made eye contact the whole time and didn’t seem distracted by the chaos.
Her team of four glared at me as their ring leader and I conversed. Who does this girl think she is? I imagined them thinking. The imposter syndrome I felt was very real. Who do I think I am? I thought. I told her that I was covering Bridal Fashion Week as a freelancer for a publication. I wanted her to know that I belonged there even though a part of me felt like I didn’t.
We chatted some more about our favorite looks from the collection. My top pick was an ethereal floral gown and hers was something I can no longer recall because I was too enamored by her presence and chic blonde bob. Before we parted ways, I asked if she’d like to grab coffee sometime. “I’d love to hear your perspective on the industry!” I beamed.
Diane was everything I could’ve hoped for in an editor-in-chief who was unexpectedly fan-girled by an industry novice. As the train pulled up to our stop, she smiled and gave me her business card. I didn’t have a business card to hand her in return (I’m a Millennial after all), but I promised that I’d email her.
I Followed Up Immediately
I followed Diane on LinkedIn and emailed her quickly in hopes that our meet-cute was fresh in her mind. Here’s an excerpt:
Subject line: Nice to meet you yesterday, Diane!
I hope you are doing well! My name’s Bonnie Azoulay, the young woman who took your business card at the subway station after Morilee’s bridal show. I’m very inspired by your work for Bridal Guide and would love to take you for a quick coffee to learn more about the industry from your perspective.
A couple of days later, she emailed me back that she’d love to meet and proposed two dates that worked with her schedule. I hastily agreed to the first time slot, afraid she’d be too busy the following week to even remember our conversation.
I swung by her office and we spoke about her career trajectory, the mission of Bridal Guide, and how I might contribute to the magazine. More importantly, we spoke about minutiae like our daily commutes and our skepticism about Hedi Slimane’s new Celine.
The most pivotal moment of our conversation came when she complimented my writing and my proactive approach. She clearly appreciated my bold move and follow-up email. “I took a look at your clips. I’m very impressed,” she said. At that moment, I knew I’d made the right decision to walk up to her.
I Got in the Door—Then I Totally Wowed Them
Diane referred me to Bridal Guide’s Digital Director, who was hiring a Digital Marketing Coordinator. In this role, I’d be working on the digital editorial team and still have the opportunity to write branded content and other marketing copy. My experience working part-time as the marketing coordinator for a startup, coupled with my magazine experience, put me in the running. More than anything, though, Diane’s referral solidified my chances.
After she put me in touch with my now boss, everything moved quickly. The Digital Director and I had an initial phone call to speak about the role, I met the three-person digital team in person, completed a marketing test, and negotiated my salary before I signed a contract.
During the in-person interview, my prospective boss said: “How did you muster up the chutzpah to approach Diane Forden?” I shrugged. It dawned on me: This flaw that was frowned upon all my life finally came through in the clutch.
On my first day, Diane came up to my desk and said: “Can you believe this all happened from a chance encounter?” I shook my head and smiled.
Even now that I’m a few months into my role, I feel imposter syndrome creep up on me sometimes. But then I think to myself: This wasn’t just luck. A serendipitous meeting may have gotten me through the door, but then I earned it. Many people interviewed for my position, but they chose me.
Still, none of it would’ve happened if not for that two-minute conversation on a subway platform. So the next time you have a chance to approach someone who could benefit your career, acknowledge your fear, but then try to focus on the possibilities that await you. I’m so glad I did.