Category Archives: career

Who Moved My Cheese?

who moved my cheese book cover I’ve never read the damn book but it poses an important question: Who the fuck moved my shit? My “shit” is not cheese, but it is a solid reason to get out of bed in the morning–job security, relationships, skinny jeans.

Anyone who told me my thirties are going to be the best years of my life deserves to be punched in the face. The day I turned 30, I went into a deep depressive state where the only thing that gave me solace was sitting on my bathroom floor listening to Billy Joel’s “Captain Jack” and “Allentown” on repeat. From there, I went on to break up with my boyfriend of two years–the one I thought was the one (we named our future children for christ’s sake)–and go back out into the dating world, which today consists of being “matched” by a computer with men by the names of Aruyn and LoveBoat69 and heights ranging from 5’4″ to 5’8″. I was 5’4″ in third grade!

But all of this was ok. Equipped with 50 milligrams of Prozac and a job that I loved going to each day, I was treading like an Olympian in the unknown tides of 30. I was so proud of myself (and thankful for a doc who realized after 30 minutes of meeting with me that my dosage needed to be upped); I was feeling happy despite the loss of a long-term relationship.  And then like Lot, who unlike me believed in a loving God, the universe decided to strike again. My boss at my beloved job decided to leave to pursue her next chapter. One loss is doable, but two? Is this supposed to make me believe in a loving God or in a god at all? Is Ashton Kutcher going to come out and say “you’ve been punked!”?

The one religion I’ve always been able to get down with is Buddhism and there’s a passage that always helps me get through transitional periods in my life: It’s about a man who uses a raft to cross a river–the foolish man carries the raft with him wherever he goes in case he needs to use it again. The wise man appreciates that the raft got him across the river but leaves it behind so as not to be burdened with it. After all, who says the same raft can get you across another river? I’m trying to use that quote right now but it’s not working. When change is sudden and unexpected it lets the air out of your tires. I’m driving around at half the speed I was a week ago. How do I fix that? I need more shit!

If I’m going to lose things like a boyfriend, a good boss, and jeans that I fit into, then I need to gain other things, good things. Right now I just feel like I’m being toyed with–just how much can I get through and still keep my head above water, stay away from the bottom?

I compare taking meds to being buoyed; I can see the beautiful sunny sky above and I can see the cold, dark depth below and stay in the middle of both. What I really want though, is to be anchored. I want a place where I can always dock, a place that will always be there–protection from the unpredictable sea that I know now is life.

The problem is, I can lose weight, I can run to the people I love and ask them never to leave, for things to never change and to stay good until I’m ready, but someone or something is always going to be moved.

*(I think today’s bookstore purchase will be Who Moved My Cheese?, after I finish Tina Fey’s Bossypants, of course.)

“Love lost, such a cost/Give me things that don’t get lost/Like a coin that won’t get tossed/Rolling home to you.”


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Time to Make the Donuts

You know that feeling when you look at an up-escalator that isn’t working? Those silver metal stairs staring at you, mocking your laziness, leaving you with no choice but to climb them. Then you know how I’m feeling right now. I start (yet another) new job next week. (I write this with little more enthusiasm than that dude from the old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial who says: “time to make the donuts.”) I swear to you I have more experience on my resume than someone who’s at a senior level in their career despite the fact that I don’t yet have a senior title or salary.

When I graduated from college, I was ready to take on the magazine world. It took me two to three years before I landed my first full-time editorial assistant position at a magazine–a coveted entry-level job for which there are as many openings in New York as there are UFO sightings. In that three-year span, I witnessed some friends get lucky and some friends change careers. I considered myself one of the strong who survived and had a career that matched my $500,000 diploma. The reason why I survived can be found on my resume–I took as many freelance assistant, writing and research magazine jobs as I could get. This journey included calling hotels in Zimbabwe to confirm that Angelina Jolie had stayed there and checking the spelling of luxury golf courses. I even interviewed the rapper Jadakiss in person. (“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!”) My resume became a patchwork of one-year stints here and six-months there. It’s certainly not how I pictured it would be. (“I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I’m living“…)

Despite the arduous climb, there was a moment in time ever so briefly when I felt like I was soaring. When that editorial assistant job led to my first ever promotion, I felt more than a tinge of confidence. Finally my ship had set sail. And it was wonderful. Another year later, I landed an even better job for more money at a new place. Enter Career Ladder Phase Two and we’re off. I felt like I imagine Celine Dion felt when Ceasars Palace gave her her own performance venue in Vegas, except, like, I was in a cubicle. This company wanted me for the long haul and I was game. My days calling Zimbabwe were definitely long gone.

WRONG.

After six months at Career Ladder Phase Two I was laid-off and it was back to square one. So I did what I know best–I freelanced. I took stints here and there all the while trying to get back to where I felt…important and talented. The star of my own show. A cubicle with my name on it, a business card–all without an expiration date.

Alas, after multiple edit tests–(for those of you not in publishing, an edit test is given to a job applicant by a publication to test the applicant’s editing, writing and creativity as it pertains to that publication’s needs)–and rounds of interviews (and lots of tears) I got a real job offer (a.k.a. a staff position). It took exactly a year and a half, but I climbed my way back. So I should be excited, right? Relieved? Well, not really. I have the same feeling about this new job as someone who’s been recently divorced–I’m in no rush to remarry and go down THAT road again.

The office manager at my most recent permalance (another word for full-time freelance) gig used to make fun of me for never ordering office supplies while I worked there. For a year, I got by on what I could borrow. I didn’t want to get comfortable ’cause I never knew when I’d have to leave. It’s like moving in with someone and not bringing any of your stuff except maybe a pillow and a toothbrush. Pens, paper clips and Post-Its–these are the things that make a cube a home. But hey, play it as it lays.

The people at my new job have made it clear that they trust in my ability to meet their expectations as much as they’ve made it clear I still have a lot to learn. I’m nervous about this learning part. I hope it entails becoming the person I’ve always wanted to be and staying there awhile.

Whenever I start a new job, I listen to this song:

I was born by the river in a little tent
Oh and just like the river I been a runnin’ ever since
It’s been a long, a long time coming but I know
A change gon’ come oh yes it will
” – Sam Cooke

Don’t Try This at Home

(Wednesday afternoon. Two girls sit at their desks, avenues and offices apart. They strike up their usual conversation over AIM.)

Friend: “Do you have a minute to play arm-chair psychologist?”

Me: “Always.”

Friend: “I want to know why every time I watch Friday Night Lights, I cry.”

Me: “Probably because it touches you somehow. I cried the first time I saw Almost Famous and that movie ain’t sad. And then I became obsessed with working for Rolling Stone.”

(Conversation moves on to people and things we hate.)

How many people do you know chose their careers based on a movie? Seriously.

Up until junior year of high school I dreamt of becoming a lawyer. My mom would actually take me to courthouses just because I wanted to know what they were like inside. Then a few debate club losses later (among some other teenage disappointments), I gave up on that dream. In the midst of all the typical teenage drama, I discovered music. Not just any music–classic rock, my friends. Zeppelin, Dylan, Joni, the Stones, Greatful Dead, and most importantly, Fleetwood Mac. I honestly cannot say why or how lead singer, Ms. Stevie Nicks, reached me at the age of 16 (“Edge of 17” maybe?), but the bitch moved in and still won’t leave.

In my quest to learn everything possible about these bands that I loved from a time before I was born, I spent hours on the computer doing research. While the rest of my friends studied for AP classes and went to basement keggers, I sought out unreleased albums, out-of-print books and old articles. On one of these nights, I discovered a Rolling Stone article written by Tim White titled “Out There with Stevie Nicks.” It was the best piece of writing I’d come across in my life. I actually looked at the byline, something I never did. And then it all kind of came together. I wanted to go to there. I realized that yes, I had been in debate club, but I also wrote for the newspaper and was a die-hard member of poetry club. I wrote for fun as a kid. I even won awards for it. It was an early A-Ha! moment. I was born to be a journalist. And once I saw the film Almost Famous, I did indeed cry. I cried because what I saw on screen was what I wanted from life. I wanted to be with the band.

Fast forward to sophomore year in college. I scored an internship with none other than Tim White at Billboard magazine. I was writing reviews and listening to CDs all day and I was blissful. And then Tim died. He had a heart-attack in the lobby of the building. I hadn’t even really spoken with him yet. I was just waiting for the right moment, but it never came.

A couple of years later, I knocked down the doors of Rolling Stone and stayed there (for free) until they pretty much kicked me out. Even though I didn’t want to leave, it wasn’t the environment I was holding onto. It was my dream.

I learned an invaluable lesson in my pursuit to be a rockstar writer: Dreams can come true. You can get to where you’ve always wanted to go, but the catch is it’s nothing like you dreamt it would be. That’s some painful shit.

As one of the groupies in the film said (in reference to the new wave of girls hanging out backstage):

“I mean, they don’t even know what it is to be a fan. You know, to truly love some silly little piece of music, or some band so much that it hurts.”

That’s just it. You can want something so badly it hurts. Just to get near it almost destroys you. You unwillingly change, whatever it takes, to stay there. But all the while you know something isn’t right.  See, the party is over and it ended before you even arrived.

Sometimes I think I should throw in the towel with my writing career and go to law school, and sometimes I think I’m the best music journalist that will never be. That’s the nature of dreams. They don’t die. They creep up on us in movies and music and in books. Something or someone can touch us so profoundly there are no words, there’s just that familiar feeling.

“And the days go by/Like a strand in the wind/In the web that is my own/I begin again/I went today/ Maybe I will go again tomorrow/The music there it was hauntingly familiar/On the edge of 17…”

When interviewers ask me where I want to be in five years or what my dream job is, I’m honest with them. I don’t believe in dream jobs and I don’t believe in destinations. For me, it’s what I’m doing at that job and who I’m doing it with. So while I’ll still fantasize about backstage press passes, I know I may never get them and I’m not gonna die trying. I don’t need to. Happiness can’t be sought–it’s discovered, and in the least expected places and people. There is no Hollywood script. There are no happily ever afters. It’s what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans (thank you, John Lennon).

“I always tell the girls, never take it seriously, if ya never take it seriously, ya never get hurt, and if ya never get hurt, ya always have fun, and if you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends.” -Penny Lane

“I’ve Seen All Good People,” Yes. My favorite song on the Almost Famous soundtrack.

Confidence Lost

If confidence is lost, did you ever really have it?

Born to write. Born cursed.

Friday, April 23rd, 9:31 pm. I’m sitting on my couch, on the phone with my mom for the third time in one day.

Me: “Do you remember when I was little?”

Mom: “Of course I do.”

Me: “Tell me your favorite memory.”

Mom: “Oh here we go again.”

Me: (laughs) “Come on, tell me something funny I did as a kid!”

Mom: “I don’t know. I can’t think right now. You woke me up.”

Me: “Sorry. (pause) Do you remember when I used to put shit in your bed?”

Mom: (quietly exasperated) “What?!  No.”

Me: “I cannot believe you don’t remember this. Whenever I was mad at you I’d put potpourri in your pillow case and under your sheets so it would poke you and make your bed smell.”

Mom: “I probably liked it.”

Me: “You’re crazy. Go back to bed.”

End scene.

You know things are bad when you call your mom for a mood lift. There are so many things wrong with this. For starters, moms are meant to annoy. No matter how much I resent her self-help b.s., she somehow always convinces me to drink the Kool-Aid. Tell her you don’t want any and she’ll give it to you anyway.

Secondly, moms are blinded by bias. Of course she’s going to tell you you’re qualified to be an editor-in-chief at 29 even though the closest experience you have for this job comes from bossing around your stuffed animals and dolls from ages five to 11. Or 12.

Lastly, moms are bad with the tough love. When my mom tries to tell me to suck things up, I just want to put potpourri in her bed again. I demand my bottle, my bath and my bedtime story please.

So clearly my mom can never win (as her daughter, it’s my job to set her up to fail), but I still love her and this is all beside the point. The point here is that I’m so desperate for a confidence fix that I’m searching between the couch cushions for it.

How did this happen? I’m the girl who’s famous for the line “clankity clank,” which is short for “pull out your brass balls and fight for your right.” Let those mo-fos in charge know who you are.

And here I am. Stuck. In my own mud. Sure, I can blame getting laid off a year ago. I can blame my current mind-numbing job. I can blame myself and I often do. There are plenty of culprits in the lineup for confidence robbery. But at a certain point, I need to pull out of this mental quicksand and pull out my brass cojones. If there’s one thing my mom’s personal PSAs have taught me it’s think it and you’ll be it. But how can you believe in your talent without the success?

I know, pray to Buddha, right? It’s not all about the material recognition. Fuck that. Look, I’ve prayed to Buddha and Jesus, to Rolling Stone and Fleetwood Mac. I’ve paid for therapy and medication and opened myself up to love. I’ve given up security for the chance of something better. And the only thing I can tell you is that in America, success matters. It’s measurable. And I want it. But first, I need my confidence back.

Then We Came to the End…A Question of PTSD

Then We Came to the End, written by Joshua Ferris, is a book about getting laid-off. And it’s fucking hilarious. Except getting laid-off in real life–as I was around this time last year–is not so hilarious.

Instead of being able to smugly shrug off the fact that I got canned (without warning, I may add, like a goddamn terrorist attack), I freak out on a daily basis that I’m going to lose the job I have now at any minute. It’s that survivalist mentality
(you know, of people who actually lived through terrorist attacks and war) that it’s going to happen again!

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is defined by the National Institute of Mental Health as: “an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened.” OK, so maybe I don’t technically suffer from PTSD–losing my job wasn’t exactly a physical trauma (but I do have flashbacks, mmm…k?). But seriously, for someone who places so much importance and pride in the work I do, getting let-go, laid-off, fired, canned, axed, was traumatic. I became a victim of sorts. As Ferris writes in his book: “Every lovelorn jerk is the victim of bad timing, good intentions, and someone else’s poor decision making.” Yup. One day you walk into your job and walk out never to return.

The point of no return for me came right before I was supposed to have my six-month review. I was called into HR the day before my review was scheduled and was told that I just wasn’t the right fit. (I’ve since learned that this meant I didn’t fit into the budget anymore.) If you want to know the nitty-gritty details of what happened on that fateful day, just check out an “anonymous” post I wrote titled “The Editor and the Cockroach: A Tale of Karmic Retribution. Or Something” for my friend’s blog, Your Unemployed Daughter.

Now, close to a year later, I’m still freaked out about losing my job whether it’s babysitting or editing. People tell me I should be proud of myself and the fact that I never went a day without work, even after getting laid-off, and how that proves how talented I am. But in my mind, there’s a difference between surviving and excelling. I survived. It was instinctual. But I always imagined I’d be an accelerator, running fast up that ladder to the tippy top. This is my post traumatic stress disorder: I’m haunted by failure. The vision I had of my career path hasn’t quite materialized. Instead, I’ve been on this unpredictable ride where there are terrifying delays and entertaining rest stops with some lucky opportunities in between. I once knew where I wanted to land, but experience has taught me to stop looking so far ahead. In the meantime, I wish I knew how to avoid hearing the bombs of fear go off in my head.

We hated not knowing something. We hated not knowing who was next to walk Spanish down the hall. How would our bills get paid? And where would we find new work? We knew the power of the credit card companies and the collection agencies and the consequences of bankruptcy. They put your name into a system, and from that point forward vital parts of the American dream were foreclosed upon. These were not Jeffersonian ideals, perhaps, on par with life and liberty, but at this advanced stage, with the West won and the Cold War over, they too, seemed among our inalienable rights.” -J.F.

Today’s musical end note is provided by Led Zeppelin. “Ten Years Gone” is my favorite song of theirs, for good reason.

If you’re too lazy to listen to 8 minutes of brilliance, at least check out the lyrics here.