The year was 1998. The place was New York, NY. I had just graduated from college and quit my paid-internship at Bloomberg that had stretched into an almost-full-time job spanning two years. They taught me to write radio advertising copy, given me mastery in Quark and Photoshop, and allowed me to attend some of the most elaborate company parties on the planet. I quit because I thought that if I stayed I would always be “the intern” in the eyes of my coworkers.

Living amongst the energy and creativity of New York City, I had the romantic idea that I should at least take a shot at making money on my art. I found patrons amongst the well-salaried coworkers I had befriended at Bloomberg. I was also getting paid to build websites for friends of friends. It was lonely and I was poor. It didn’t last long. I happened to see an ad for a junior design position at a small firm, and got stars (and dollar signs) in my eyes.

The job seemed like a dream. The firm (which shall remain nameless) was all women. It was housed in a cute little apartment near mid-town and the clients were well known brands. I took it enthusiastically and for a pretty meager salary. My job was entry-level, but I was sure I would move up quickly. Little did I know how entry-level it really was. In addition to production work in Photoshop and Quark, I also answered the phones and took messages on little slips of paper. In addition, to building all the presentation boards and comps, I ordered lunch. One day it occurred to me while we were eating lunch in the tiny kitchen to ask the woman who was second in command why no men worked there. She answered, with a completely straight face, “Because we always end up doing all their work.”

I quickly realized how difficult it was to do heavy Photoshop retouching one moment and order urgent Fedex pickups the next, and began making mistakes. I got yelled at – a lot. One night, when I was there late alone, I answered the phone. It was one of our clients saying that there had been a mistake on a bus shelter ad and could we fix it ASAP. Not having any training on what to say to a client other than, “Can I take a message?” – which she wasn’t buying, I told her, no problem, but she would have to pay us to do that. The next day, the owner’s face was two inches from mine and she was not yelling. She was screaming.

Oddly, I didn’t get fired. And, I didn’t quit. I just kept trying hard and occasionally partying too hard to ease my pain. I thought things were going o.k., until the day #2 pulled me into the meeting room and said, “Well, we finally are going to let you go.”

Me: “Why?”

#2: “Do I have to list the reasons?”

I should have replied, “Well, yes, legally you do or I can sue you.” But, I was young and not versed in employment law. Instead I just blubbered through my tears and left feeling like a total loser.

Once the tears dried, I was peaceful. I had a vacation booked to see my family in Seattle. It was lovely. I was relaxed and didn’t really have a timeline to return. Ironically, part-way through my visit, I got a call from my former employer asking me if I could come back and freelance. As crazy as it sounds, I knew I had rent to pay and no job, so I went back.

The odd thing was, as a freelancer, I just did design work. I liked it and I got paid twice what I did before. In my absence, they had hired a young man to do my former job. I only came in to the office when there was work to do and I was starting to branch out and freelance elsewhere.

Then the totally surreal day came when they called me into that same meeting room and asked me to work for them again on salary. I gave them a resounding and heart-felt “No.” I told them I didn’t like they way the treated me when I was full-time and I wanted to pursue other opportunities. Which I did.

A short time later, when I was working at the fastest growing agency in the country, I got a phone call from the sweet young man who took my job. He was crying and said that they had fired him. I told him, “It’s not you. It’s them.”

The lesson to be learned here is, like any relationship, don’t suffer through a bad fit. It’s not going to get better. It’s wiser to own up to the fact that you made a bad choice. Rip the band-aid and move on. I however, was doomed to repeat this mistake and stay too long in other jobs as well. And each time, when I did leave (by choice or not), the next opportunity was always a better one.

This was my fourth post for #NaBloPoMo and was inspired by the prompt given to me yesterday by Laura Kimball. And for my next trick:

Prompt #4 (Nov 5)
Smell, the sense that triggers the richest, most obscure memories during the most awkward times. Write about a time when a smell triggered a deep or odd memory. What was the smell? What was the memory? And did that recollection cause you to do anything in that present moment?

One thought on “It’s not you. It’s them.

  1. Wise words! You spend so much time at work–it’s really important that the environment is good for you. If it’s not, you can leave. I’ll write that again because there are so many people who will tell you that you can’t, but you CAN leave your job.

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