Patricia McGuire
University president

Patricia McGuire

President of Trinity Washington University.


Fleeting fame

Q: Can you disagree with your boss's ideas and still wind up being successful at work? Describe a time when you were dragged kicking and screaming into a project you thought was a big waste of time, only to have it turn out to be a great success. Or not.

Because I had a bad attitude toward my boss, I almost missed my 15 minutes of fame.

A few years after graduating from law school, I was working for a public-interest legal program devoted to teaching kids in the D.C. schools about law and the legal system. Street Law was a juvenile delinquency prevention program premised on the idea that young people would be less likely to get into trouble with the law if they knew how the system worked. In addition to the local program run out of Georgetown Law Center, we had a national program that was one of the first of its kind.

The program attracted the attention of a producer at CBS News who was working on a new television program for children called "30 MInutes" -- yes, half of "60 Minutes." The producer contacted my boss to discuss having a lawyer from the Street Law team do a weekly segment on legal issues for kids.

That summer, I was on my way to the beach for a much-needed week of vacation (just one week back then!) when the boss stopped by to tell me that I had to come back to Washington early to be part of the "screen test" at the D.C. office of CBS News. I protested loudly, saying that this was just a boondoggle, that I wasn't interested in doing television, and that it wasn't fair that I had to interrupt my vacation for his (the boss's) flight of fancy.

He told me I could show up or stay away -- permanently. It wasn't the first time we'd tangled. I didn't like being ordered around, and he didn't like mouthy young women.

So, reluctantly, after a few days at the beach I returned to Washington, tanned and rested. I arrived at the CBS News studio in time for the screen test, which consisted of sitting in front of a camera and answering some questions. I wasn't nervous because I had no expectations. I was just following orders.

Later that afternoon, the boss came into my office to tell me that -- much to his chagrin --the CBS producer chose me to be the "on-air talent" for the legal segment. The boss explained that the other lawyers in the office were "too lawyer-like," but as for me, "you look like you're 15" -- and that was the winning point. So much for my legal talent.

So, I was off to New York, once a week for two years, doing a segment called "Who's Right?" that came toward the end of the newsmagazine. I had a blast. CBS Correspondents Betsy Aaron and Christopher Glenn hosted the show, which was chock full of great learning opportunities for young people. I learned a great deal from Betsy and Chris, and from the large staff of producers, writers and professionals who made the show an Emmy and Peabody Award winner for several years in a row.

The weirdest part of the experience was when people would walk up to me on the street to ask if I was the person they saw on the show -- something about television makes people so excited to see the TV personality "live" -- it was strange, but I actually got used to it!

Sadly, the show was cancelled after two years -- I always thought that the Saturday afternoon time slot was a killer, but that was all the network would give us. I was then recruited to do a legal segment on the local "Panorama" show on Channel 5, and that lasted a few years more. I stayed with the Street Law program as my main job, but enjoyed doing these occasional television stints.

I investigated doing television news full-time, but was told repeatedly that for a woman to break in as a TV news reporter, I'd have to move to Des Moines or some other place far away, be a secretary to the news director and hope to get noticed.

I decided that while doing TV part-time was interesting, I certainly did not want to give up my legal career to be somebody's assistant. I already had a boss that treated me that way. But thanks to his stern order to me to come back from the beach, I had a wonderful, albeit brief, career in television!

By Patricia McGuire  |  July 1, 2010; 12:46 PM ET  | Category:  Careers and success Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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