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Harper's Bazaar editor passes on life lessons

| Monday, March 10, 2008

NEW YORK -- Amy Dubois Barnett, a top editor at Harper's Bazaar's magazine, is the first person to admit that she's not a particular fan of the self-help book genre.

"They are not a staple of my library," says Barnett, looking appropriately fashionable, while eating lunch at an upscale hotel. "As a matter of fact, when someone tells me how to live, I'm really stubborn and I say, 'Well, I going to do it the opposite way!'"

Yet Barnett doesn't think it's particularly ironic that she herself has penned a self-help book of her own: "Get Yours! The Girlfriend's Guide to Having Everything You Ever Dreamed of and More," released in the fall. Indeed, Barnett doesn't see herself as a self-help guru, but more of a guide for women to find their own path in life, by sharing the troubles and triumphs of her own.

"I believe I am here in the universe for a specific reason. I really feel I am here to empower women," she says. "I feel like I have an ability to share my life and my lessons in a way that people can hear and they understand and it changes them ... that's my mission."

It's a mission Barnett first realized several years ago when she was editor in chief at Honey, the vibrant, sassy magazine geared toward black women. Like most editors, she had a message at the front of the magazine each month -- but hers usually were very personal. Readers learned about her mother, who died when Barnett was in her early 20s, or about painful relationship lessons, and other life experiences that Barnett was able to grow from.

Barnett says the response was overwhelming, with thousands of letters expressing their gratitude for her insight. It also made her realize that perhaps she needed to do something more than a one-page monthly column.

"It made me aware that women, particularly of color, are really hungry for a role model, are really hungry for people to be honest with them about their lives and the obstacles, and they really wanted to hear someone who they felt was in a position of power ... how they actually were human, too," says Barnett, who is deputy editor in chief at Harper's -- the first black woman to hold such a position at the magazine.

It was then that Barnett planted the seeds of "Get Yours!" She later would leave Honey to become the editor in chief for Teen People. It was another milestone -- she was the first black woman to head a major mainstream magazine.

But along the way, she also dealt with setbacks, including the breakup of her first marriage. Although she describes herself has happily remarried, and the mother of a young son, it was, as Barnett calls it, "one of the most challenging times in my life."

But it also helped spark a rebirth of sorts for Barnett. Instead of feeling sad and alone, she learned to relish being a single woman in her 30s. She cut her hair short, dated guys she might have overlooked before, and became more confident in her own skin -- which, she believes, eventually led her to find her true love, her husband.

She stresses, however, that finding her partner didn't make her complete: She learned to be happy and fulfilled on her own -- and that's one of the main points of her book.

"One of the deepest and most resonant lessons I have learned in my life is that life is this three-dimensional thing, and it doesn't just start when you're happy," Barnett says. "Everybody thinks that life just starts when you're happy -- 'It's going to start when I get the job when I want, when I find the guy that I want, when I buy the apartment I want; that's when I'm really going to be living.' But that's not actually the case -- life is right now."

The book, which touches on everything from getting your finances right to getting that dream job to finding your inner travel bug, not only uses Barnett's personal path to help guide readers, it also includes her interviews with luminaries such as Venus Williams, actress Sanaa Lathan, comedian Monique and others as they share their own stories.

Barnett calls the book a "love letter" to her mother, a college professor and world traveler from whom Barnett learned many of the mantras that would help shape her book, including "faking" a happy persona from time to time to help you achieve that eventual goal.

"It's such a funny thing, act happy and you'll be happy. ... It sounds so funny, but it's so true," she says. "Just try walking around one day with your head up. ... It will be reflected back at you, people will start treating you as a confident person. If you project that you know your value and you project that you expect the best from people, then that's what you get back.

"The core of my book is about getting your mind right," she adds. "It's all about expecting to achieve your goals and working toward them in a clear way but also projecting the confidence in your dreams. You're projecting the confidence that you will be able to achieve what you set out what you want to do, because, I swear, that's what comes back to you."

How to 'Get Yours'

Amy Dubois Barnett offers these tips for success in her book "Get Yours! The Girlfriend's Guide to Having Everything You Ever Dreamed of and More":

Celebrate each day: A key part of Barnett's message is reminding women that each day can be special and brings new opportunities -- so savor it.

Take the initiative in your career: Whether it's updating your resume every few months, networking or dressing for success, Barnett urges women not to wait for that great job to fall in their lap -- they have to go out and find it.

Stop believing the "man shortage" line: According to Barnett, the idea that there's a shortage of men to marry is a myth. She says figures show that, by 2010, there actually will be a surplus of men available.

Have your clothes tailored: As great as an outfit might be off the rack, having it tailored to your physique will only make it look more fabulous.

Don't let your career overrun your personal life: Give yourself time to flourish outside of work.

Don't settle for just any guy: If you just accept any guy, you'll never find the one with the qualities you want.

Enjoy your "you" time: Although Barnett talks a lot about maintaining strong ties with family, friends and significant others, she says women should not be afraid to be alone, whether it means taking a solo trip or just enjoying a night out on the town -- by yourself.

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