Teen Detective Meets Ravishing Reporter
When Jane Bryant Quinn, the money columnist and author of Smart and Simple Financial Strategies for Busy People, was growing up, she dreamed of becoming Nancy Drew, the heroic teen detective in the Carolyn Keene novels. This beloved character had been solving mysteries since the time when women weren’t allowed to do that for a living.
But when Quinn ran across comic strip sleuth Brenda Starr, she traded up on her fantasy. As the glamorous journalist for a daily newspaper, unapologetically called The Flash, “Brenda travels the world solving mysteries, unearthing scoops, and stealing the heart of almost every man she meets.”6 Brenda was a career woman before the phrase was even acceptable, let alone fashionable—a smart, competitive, ravishing redhead created by Dale (Dahlia) Messick in 1940 when it wasn’t likely for a woman to get a job like that.
“Sounded like the best job in town when I was a teenager,” Quinn told us, “A life of adventure, boys, and making a difference all at once.” So, when she graduated with a liberal arts degree, she showed up at the doorstep of Newsweek.
“It was still legal at that time not to allow a woman to be a reporter,” she said. Undaunted, Quinn worked at the mail desk. Her ambition was to work in journalism. That’s what mattered to her—to have an extraordinary life and bring the truth to people. “I would live into my dream” even if the world wasn’t ready for it yet, she winked.
Quinn made herself more than useful, working behind the scenes on so many stories that she became indispensable to the reporting staff. Eventually, she took advantage of her growing interests in business and finance with a sort of Brenda Starr sense of righteousness about uncovering the dirt, dangers, and rewards of investing—a mission that makes her eyes shine with passion (and sometimes flash with rage) as much today as it did decades ago. That’s success built to last.
If Quinn had given in to believing that the only thing that had meaning was an egoistic need to be Brenda Starr on her first day at Newsweek—and if she thought that was the only way to turn her dream into action—then that would have been a tough target to hit. Such an attitude would have produced a minimal overlap of the three circles and a small bulls-eye. That would have made it terribly easy to miss the mark, become frustrated, and land in another profession. She might have missed her calling.
That’s not to say that you should settle for less. Quinn would argue that she didn’t settle at all. That’s the point. The toughest thing is to get out of your own way, even if life is incredibly unfair. Things seem to work out better for remarkable people when meaning, thought, and action overlap to create an abundant target for their dreams. Quinn realized that Brenda Starr wasn’t a destination; it was a way of life. She went for a bigger long-term prize. Quinn’s dedication to Starr’s sense of purpose rather than a job title got her on the playing field early, where she could build her skills and demonstrate her talent and creativity.
It didn’t bring her popularity in the beginning. A woman advising you about your money didn’t get much support 30 years ago. But Jane Bryant Quinn’s discipline to trust her head and her heart—to stay wide awake and bring them into alignment without relying on external adulation—freed her to develop passions that inevitably made her successful by her own definition. She worried less about being loved than being what she loved, and that meant many things to her: a fighter who would unearth injustice, a bestselling author, a wife, and a mother of five. In all parts of her life, Quinn brought together the domains of meaning, thought, and action and, as a result, she went from great to lasting and helped change the face of financial journalism in America.
Being what we love means doing what matters on and off the job. When Hector de J. Ruiz was busy starting his career and building a life with his wife in the early days, he found himself deeply troubled by the plight of young Hispanics in east Los Angeles. One of the things that greatly mattered to him was the notion that he “always had somebody that was willing to help [him]. That meant a lot to me,” he said. “So [at one point], I finally kind of grew up,” which to Ruiz meant that he would dedicate himself to helping the disadvantaged go to college despite the personal cost (and even when he had not long ago graduated himself).
“I was making very little money,” Ruiz said. But over time, “my wife and I both realized that it seemed like the more of it we did, the easier it got,” he said. “A lot of people in east L.A. feel like the Hispanic community is not capable of being able to perform well in some of the things that are required to be effective today in technology. You do a survey of people in east L.A. and they tell you that they are afraid of mathematics. And so I go and talk to these high school kids about the fact that the people who invented the zero were the Maya Indians in Mexico. The people who had one of the most sophisticated architectures in the world were the Aztecs. All of a sudden, you can see these kids beginning to develop a sense of self-worth, and that’s what these kids are missing,” said Ruiz, who today is CEO of Advanced Micro Devices, with 2005 net sales of $5.8 billion. (He’s really good at math, too.) “To be able to in some way contribute to that [before even his own traditionally defined success was assured] has been incredibly rewarding for both my wife and I.”