I walked into the office and sat down in the chair. I was surprised but not completely dumbfounded. I mean, they said they were going to do it. Shame on me for doubting them. I was more wondering how this was going to work. How are they going to run the company with only one designer who only kinda sorta knows what she’s doing?
Maybe it was my social anxiety but as I sat there thinking about it, I was almost sure that some how, for some reason, I was going to get fired. Even though I didn’t do anything. But given everything that had happened, I thought that maybe they’d want to wipe the slate clean, start fresh with a whole new team. It was the beginning of the new year, just wrapped up a big job. It’d be a good time to bring in some fresh talent.
I was rationalizing why they were probably going to fire me when my phone rang. It was one of the design managers, Jocelyn (do you love how dramatic I’m being with these names because I am). She told me she was coming to the office to get me and take me to Miranda’s house.
OH COME ON. Why do we have to go to her house? Can’t we just keep this relationship professional? I don’t want to know what her bathroom looks like.
When I sat down with Miranda, she did all the talking. Which was fine by me because 29-year-old really had nothing to say (I’ve since learned how to stand up for myself, thank you very much). She came close to something resembling an apology when mentioning what happened in Vegas. She also promoted me to lead designer which would have been much more exciting if it hadn’t been by default.
Those first few weeks were rough but just it wasn’t very long before the company hired three more designers. And as lead designer, I got assigned an awesome project starring a couple relocating from Manhattan. They were looking to renovate a big townhouse in Philly’s fancy Society Hill neighborhood and wanted to buy brand new everything. Over time, things started to even out.
Notice I don’t say “things went back to normal”. Because it was never normal. As I had learned early on, Miranda lacked patience and wasn’t afraid to embarrass her employees. She was also a micro-manager. She wanted to be copied on every email and then would write a critique on the email you sent. I also began to wonder if she read our email-sometimes she’d talk to me about things that she wouldn’t know otherwise. (Tip: ALWAYS assume your boss is reading your email. You’ll thank me.)
Not surprisingly, turn over was high; new people either quit because it was too much for them or Miranda quickly found them incompetent and fired them. I just tried to keep my head down and stay on top of things so that she had no reason to talk to me. I figured if I could just finish my townhouse project and make it to my one year anniversary, I’d have enough for my portfolio and resume and I COULD GET THE HELL OUT OF THERE.
Yet despite all of the craziness happening in the office, we did good work and the jobs just kept coming. Including a major job where we’d be designers on a major luxury condo project. This was for all intents and purposes, the next big thing.
All of the designers were working on the project with Miranda as the project’s lead. As one of the more senior designers on staff (having been there a whole seven months), I had more involvement when it came to interacting with the clients. I went to all of the meetings and I got to be friendly with some of the guys on the client side of the table. (Tip: Be careful about getting too friendly with the client. You’ll thank me.)
About two months into the project, I was working late one night. A co-worker had a presentation the next morning and she wasn’t ready so I stayed to help her. Miranda was also in the office (it wasn’t uncommon for her to stay in the office until all hours). Needing a break, I went outside smoke a cigarette. Miranda came out for a cigarette as well and we started talking about I don’t remember what. But eventually the conversation got over to the condo building project.
“Raina, I know what you’re doing. I saw the email from Daniel,” she said abruptly.
“You know I’m doing what?” I asked, hoping I sounded like I didn’t know what she was talking about, even though I knew exactly what she was talking about.
“I get copied on all of your emails so I know that you’re going behind my back with the client,” she hissed. “I know about your secret lunch.”
Fuck my life. I knew this was going to happen.
Ok, here’s what happened:
The week prior, I had a lunch meeting with one of the from the condo project clients. We discussed project particulars over fast-food cheeseburgers and on the ride back to the office, he invited me to a networking event later that week. While extending the invitation, he also mentioned that he’d prefer I not extend the invite to the rest of the office. The event was the kind of thing guys in suits go to and he found some of my eccentric coworkers to be less than polished professionals. What can I say, I guess I’m just sophisticated.
Later that same afternoon, he sent me an email about the conversation. I can’t remember the exact phrasing, but he was basically asking me again not to tell any of the other designers in the office about the networking thing. I don’t remember the exact phrasing but I do remember this: the message was cryptic without context and while he didn’t mention the networking event, he was asking me not to share what we’d talked about with the rest of the office.
Oh yeah, I get it. That sounds shady as shit. The moment I read the email, I feared that this moment was coming. And here it was.
“It wasn’t a secret,” I said flatly. In fact, it was the exact opposite of a secret; everyone knew that I’d gone to lunch with the client that day because I brought back frosties for everyone in the office (it was usually a safe bet that at least one person would be having a bad day and chocolate makes everything better).
From there, Miranda went on a long diatribe where she all but accused me of trying to steal the client out from under her and openly questioned my loyalty to her company. I stood there, bewildered by the line of questioning and her commentary. First of all, it was straight crazy talk, as if I alone could handle a project of that size single-handedly. And second of all, I couldn’t understand how at 10 o’clock on a Monday night, when I’m still in the office working on a project THAT’S NOT EVEN MINE, she could seriously question my loyalty and work ethic.
Eventually, I managed to get her to back off long enough for me to pack up my stuff and get the hell out of there. That next morning, one of the managers pulled me aside to suggest that I craft a sort of Pledge of Allegiance, an email detailing all of the ways I was wrong for having lunch with the client and explain how and why I plan to prove my dedication to the company.
“Ok,” I said before excusing myself and heading to the restroom. I locked myself in the stall and started to cry. This was insanity and I didn’t want to do it anymore. All I wanted to do was come to work and do my job, like normal grownup people. I didn’t want to have to play games and pretend to be friendly with someone who treats people badly.
Two days later, I got to work early as usual. I’d been there less than an hour when I heard voices out in the hall. I could tell they were yelling but couldn’t make out what they were saying. Until the voices came through the office door. It was one of the managers, Emily, and Miranda’s husband and the company’s co-owner, Tom. They were arguing, which wasn’t completely out of the ordinary; people tended to argue with Tom. I sat at my desk, not ten feet from where they were, and tried my level best to pretend like nothing was happening until Emily said, “They’re firing me, Raina!”
I was stunned. I wasn’t expecting that. And I definitely wasn’t expecting what Mr. Miranda said next.
“Yeah, and you’re fired too. Get off your computer,” he snapped at me. I was momentarily stunned, though more by his tone than by his words. Why was he so angry so early in the morning?
The two of them went back to yelling. I wanted to get the hell out of dodge as fast as possible. I methodically went through my bag and wallet, making sure that I left everything company-related on my desk. I placed my work phone, credit card, and parking pass neatly in a row next to my laptop. I interrupted Mr. Miranda mid-tirade to make sure I wasn’t forgetting anything; one I left that circus, I didn’t want to have to come back.
The other designers got to work only to find out from Tom (who was still yelling) that they no longer had a job. A couple of them stayed behind to argue with Tom while the rest walked out of the building. I started to walk to my car and then I stopped. I turned around walked right back to the office. I had something to say to Tom and it was important to me that I said it to his red face.
I got back to the office building just as the last of them were leaving the building. The remaining designers were walking to their cars, still yelling things over their shoulder at Tom, who was yelling right back. When he stopped yelling for a minute, I made my move.
“Tom,” I started hesitantly.
“What?” he snapped.
“I wanted to thank you for this opportunity. I learned a lot and I wish you the best.” They decided it was my time to go, but I was going to decide how I went out.
I could tell I caught him off guard. He softened slightly and got a little bumbly in his response, which was to basically explain the strategy behind the mass termination: They were wiping the slate clean, not unlike what I’d expected to happen after Vegas. They were cleaning house and going to hire a whole new staff. Our services were no longer needed.
And that was that. The other designers and I met up for brunch. I got drunk on mimosas and went home to figure out how to apply for unemployment. In the following months, I interviewed for a few other design jobs (with few other Miranda types) but nothing panned out. Eventually I took a job temping at Sunoco to pay the bills and the rest is history.
I don’t tell this story very often, for obvious reasons. And while I don’t tell this one very often, there is another story that I tell myself quite often: A story about how I had worked so hard to get that degree and worked so hard at that job and some mean girl with power took it all away.
And that story I’ve been telling myself has done little to improve my enjoyment of life. But here’s the thing: she didn’t take my career away. I gave up on my design career after I had a seriously shitty go of it. And here’s the good news: if I gave up, I can un-give up.
Because I did work hard to get that degree. And I did work hard at that job. So I just need to change the ending to this story.
I think the quality of our lives often comes down to the choices we make and the stories we tell ourselves. But fun fact: you can alway tell yourself a different story.
So, what’s your story?