Nina Jacobson was at the hospital with her partner, who was in labor with their third child, when she got the shocking news that she was being fired from her job as president of the Walt Disney Motion Picture Group. Jacobson went on to start her own production company, Color Force—the studio behind The Hunger Games. Walking briskly through a back lot, Jacobson, 50, spoke with Real Simple about career bumps (this was her third firing) and what she’s learned about balance (or lack thereof) by being her own boss.

By Jane Porter
Updated December 10, 2015
Christopher Patey/Getty Images
Christopher Patey/Getty Images

If You Don't Like the Game, Don't Play It.

“The protocol in Hollywood is you don’t actually say you were fired. Everybody knows it, but you pretend you made this choice. And I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t make this choice. I loved the job, and I was in the thick of it and doing well at it. So I decided to tell the truth, because I was sad that it was over.”

Know What Really Matters.

“I learned to be grateful for never having mistaken my job for my life. Your family, your kids, your parents—those are the things that matter. My mother, my brother, and his family live five minutes from me. I grew up five minutes from where I live now. My grandparents on both sides lived five minutes from us. We’re a tight clan.”

Partner Wisely.

“One of the best decisions I’ve ever made is to partner on things. I would much rather not keep all the money for myself if it means I have more of a life. It’s absolutely a trade worth making. I partnered with producer Jon Kilik on The Hunger Games and with Brad Simpson in running my company so that we can tag-team. It allows you to say, “I’ve got to go,” and walk away.”

Say What You Mean.

“People in my company are very close-knit. We have a lot of fun together. I’m also very direct. I think people really appreciate a straight answer. Sometimes you’ll sit in a meeting and people are so busy trying to be nice and respectful that you can’t understand what they’re saying. If you’re so busy worrying about hurting my feelings that I don’t know what needs to be done, that’s not helpful.”

Think Small.

“If you have a lot of people working for you, they’re going to want and need to express themselves. I didn’t want to be frustrating a bunch of people who never get to do the things they want to do because I’m too picky. It’s better for us to be a small group who put a lot of time into a few things than a big group who put a little bit of time into a lot.”

Use the Intelligence Around You.

“I don’t believe in mandating things. The better idea should prevail, as opposed to the one that came from the person who happens to have more power.”

Understand That the Hard Stuff Makes You Stronger.

“Oftentimes you get knocked down, and that’s when you pick yourself up and the greater success occurs.”