It was my second job out of college. My first, in the marketing department of a publishing house, had lasted four years, until a bigger company came calling with a title bump and the salary to match. Eager to afford the rent on my New York City apartment with money to spare for overpriced nights out, I jumped at it. But rather than enjoy my little step up the corporate ladder, I started to feel like something had gone horribly wrong.
On paper, my life was moving in the right direction: bigger paycheck, nicer apartment, a clear path for professional advancement in my chosen field. Still, I couldn’t drink enough $20 martinis to drown the dread I felt at the thought of going to work every day. Here’s why.
I felt no personal connection to my work.
As a newly minted “Marketing Manager,” my job consisted largely of looking at, analyzing, and discussing spreadsheets that other people created. Once a month, I would plug the numbers into a different spreadsheet, which had also been created by someone else, and talk about that. I had no idea how all the formulas were calculated. It felt like the spreadsheet, not I, was actually doing the work. Which is kinda true, because...
I spent a lot of time NOT working.
I called in sick. A LOT. When I did come in, I procrastinated like crazy, rushing through my work the day, sometimes even the hour, before it was due. I worked mindlessly, reserving my mental energy for more important things, like daydreaming and planning my outfit for the club that weekend. If online shopping had been as effortless then as it is now, I’d still be in credit card debt. Don’t get me wrong, I did my job, but...
When I did work, I did only the bare minimum required to not get fired.
I never brought any new ideas to the table. Never tried to do a better job than those who came before me. Never questioned or improved on the processes I was following. Never considered how my personal role played into the company’s big-picture goals. You’d think someone at some point might have noticed my lackluster performance. But...
I flew under the radar.
The one thing I did really well was avoid drawing attention to myself. I was never argumentative or insubordinate. I never caused tension, dissension or strife. In fact, I never caused anything. I just came and went, keeping my head down and my direct deposits rolling in.
My wardrobe got depressed.
I kept convincing myself that I was happy. This was a great job! After all, what was so bad about effortless money? Then one day I realized that I’d started wearing sweatpants and flats to work on a pretty regular basis. As a hardcore heel junkie who hates the collective dressing down of society, this was a major cry for help.
The one bright spot in my soul-draining days were my monthly meetings with the creative team. I’d been an English major in college. I loved writing and books and poetry, and talking about writing and books and poetry with other literary types. In fact, I’d gone into publishing in the first place because I wanted to write. But when I graduated and was offered two entry-level positions, one in editorial and one in marketing, I chose the one that paid five thousand dollars more… not realizing that it would cost me an opportunity to do something I actually enjoyed.
Those meetings made me realize what had been missing. For two precious hours, I got to close the dreaded spreadsheets and collaborate with the copywriters and designers who developed our marketing pieces. It was the only time I felt I had something real to contribute. The only time I fully inhabited my seat at the table. One day, the lightbulb went off. I was sitting on the wrong side.
Everything I did after that was based on getting over to the side I belonged on. I quit. I moved. I faked writing samples to land my first copywriting job — which turned out to be my last. Today, I’m fortunate enough to be part of a great creative team for a company I love going to work for every day. I have it all.
I’ve never been so argumentative and insubordinate in my life.
Diane Levine is the Associate Creative Director of the award-winning branding and marketing agency Think Creative. She specializes in writing, branding, marketing and inspiring people to believe in their own awesomeness so they can find more joy at work and in life (she writes more on those topics on her personal blog, Operation Goosebumps). She is a mom of two, a wife of one, and a collector of many pairs of high heels.
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