The magazine was in real peril and I knew I could bring it back. I felt this was the exact challenge I needed to step up my game, working with the very best writers and editors and recruiting the next generation of talent.
My Lean In moment came with a vengeance in June 1992. I had been editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair for nearly nine years when S.I. Newhouse, chairman of Condé Nast magazines, asked me if I would take over the ailing literary jewel in his publishing empire, the New Yorker. Readers had been steadily aging and advertisers were dropping. It needed a makeover, but one that would maintain its legendary high quality. He wanted me to do it.
It was an enormously exciting prospect but one I thought I should decline for many reasons. First, as editor of Vanity Fair, I would be anathema to the rooted “old guard” who would view the editor who just put a naked, pregnant, Demi Moore shot by Annie Leibovitz on the cover of VF as Genghis Khan in tights. Who needed all the flak that would fly when I arrived to freshen up their act? Plus, I loved my staff at VF and had a happy, universally acknowledged success. Why take the risk? Secondly, and most importantly, I had a two-year-old daughter, Izzy, and a son, Georgie, seven, with Asperger’s syndrome. It was hard enough to keep up with the demands of family and work on a monthly magazine, let alone a weekly. Georgie required absolute routine to reduce anxiety. Every night I needed to be home at the same time – 6.30pm – to have dinner with the kids and if I didn’t, he would flip out and there was hell to pay. I felt I couldn’t possibly take on this additional challenge.
Except I really longed to do it. The New Yorker seemed like a sleeping beauty to me, and I have always loved a cause that needed saving. The magazine was in real peril and I knew I could bring it back. I felt this was the exact challenge I needed to step up my game, working with the very best writers and editors and recruiting the next generation of talent. I told myself I would do the job on one condition. I called my mother in London. “Would you ever consider moving here with dad?” I said, “Just for a few years? If you were here with George and Izzy for those crucial hours at the end of the day, it’s the only way I would feel confident I could do this without letting them down.”
And that’s when my mother leaned in too. Even though she had never lived in New York, even though it meant leaving friends and putting on hold her own plans to spend a glorious act three in Spain, she said yes at once. In November of that year, my parents came to live in the apartment across the corridor from us on East 57th Street in New York. Every afternoon at 3:20pm when the kids got off the school bus, my mother was there waiting with tea, games and the uniquely warm grandparent welcome. She made sure they felt secure and loved until, a few hours later, I burst through the front door, wound up and hassled from running a complicated news story in the New Yorker. What a huge relief it was to my peace of mind. And as I remade the New Yorker (under the constant glare of controversy), my mother was my support as well.
So this is a double lean in story that I offer: For my mother, life in New York was a scary jump into the unknown. She did it so I could lean in to the job I loved, one that gave me some of the most successful and joyful years of my editing career.