A Female Hollywood Exec on Surviving "Career Suicide" for Husband's Dream Job

His Turn  - H 2015
Illustration by Sarah Niemann

"It was his turn," says Courteney Monroe, who left after a 14-year stint at HBO so her husband could pursue a career opportunity. Writing for The Hollywood Reporter, National Geographic's new chief reveals what happened after she chose to put her family first.

This story first appeared in the 2015 Women in Entertainment issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

I had been at HBO for nearly 14 years. It's the place where I grew up, and I loved it there. I loved my experience, and I loved the people with whom I worked. But as a family, we decided to move to Washington, D.C. Truth be told, my husband was really the one who instigated it. He was ready for a different professional challenge, and he was interested in raising our kids outside of New York. There was a job opportunity in particular [an intelligence officer at the Department of Defense] that he wanted to pursue and, well, I went along with it. He'd moved to New York for me, and it was his turn professionally to drive the decisions in the family. But honestly, I don't think at that moment I ever thought it was really going to happen. And then things start to progress.

I should tell you, Washington was not a random place that he had picked. I grew up there, and my mom isn't well, so the opportunity to be closer to home was somewhere in my heart of hearts an appealing thing, even if I still never thought it was actually going to happen. And then, lo and behold, he gets this great opportunity. And because of the other family aspects, it made sense for us. So [in July 2010] we moved, and HBO was incredibly generous and allowed me to — in fact, almost insisted that I keep my job. I commuted back and forth for a little less than two years.

Monroe with her husband and kids, Miles and Lola.

They would've allowed me to continue doing it, but I just felt like I wasn't doing anything well enough. Being a full-time working mom is hard enough under the best of circumstances, but when that full-time job is actually in a different city than the one in which you live, it adds a complicating layer. And I happen to have a husband and children — Miles, 11, and Lola, 9 — whom I adore and whom I want to be with. I began to realize as important as my job was to me, and as much of a huge part of my identity it was, family came first. So I made the decision to step away.

I remember having a conver­sation with HBO's then-CEO Bill Nelson before I left. I told him about my decision, and I will never forget what he said to me. He's a man with incredible professional accomplishments, but he's also very devoted to his family. He said, "You know what, Courteney? You will never ever regret a decision that you make in favor of your family. But you might regret a decision that you make solely in favor of your career. So you're making the right decision." I wanted to cry right there in his office. It was such a big deal for me to hear that because I really thought I was committing professional suicide. At that point, I had not had one exploratory conversation in D.C. I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do for a living. And I was sure I was never going to be able to replicate that experience that I had worked so hard for or for so long.

Now that I've gotten this opportunity to run the networks at National Geographic, I know that's not true. But even for the first two and a half years when I was running marketing here, I never regretted my choice because every night I was going home to have dinner with my family, and that's what it was about.

As told to Lacey Rose.

Read more essays from THR's Women in Entertainment issue:

Barbra Streisand on Hollywood's Double Standard: "What Does 'Difficult' Mean, Anyway?"

Jessica Chastain Pens Essay From Female-Helmed Movie Set: No One Feels "Left Out or Bullied"

Patricia Arquette: What Happened After My Oscar Speech on Pay Inequality (Guest Column)

Camille Paglia Takes on Taylor Swift, Hollywood's #GirlSquad Culture

Ellen Pao on How to Fix the Pay Gap: I Eliminated Salary Haggling at Reddit

Why Girls Who Love Fairy Tales Grow Up to Be Film Editors (Not Directors)

Hollywood's Over-40 Female Dating Hell: Gavin Polone Searches for Solutions (Guest Column)

Shondaland's Betsy Beers: Why I'm No Longer Hiding My Age in Hollywood (Guest Column)

Top Female Hollywood Exec on Gender Inequality: "I Guarantee Jeff Shell Will Not Be Worrying About Spanx, Hair and Makeup"