The first day of work often feels like the first day of school, and often just as memorable. My first job after college was as an Account Executive at an advertising agency. On my first day, I was paraded around the office with introductions, row by row in the maze of cubicles. I gave my name at least twice to everyone and shook their hand confidently and with a smile. My tour ended at my desk by the window. Mike was in the cubicle next to me. I’ll never forget our first conversation:
Mike: “Where are you from?”
Me: “Staten Island.” I kept it vague. I wasn’t really FROM Staten Island; I just happened to spend 6 of my prime adolescent years there.
Mike: “My girlfriend is from Staten Island. We met at Binghamton University.”
Me: “What’s her name.” Because DUH I knew everyone from Staten Island.
Mike: “Sheri Last Name”
Me: “Seriously? That’s a small world; she was my best friend in junior high school.”
Me: “We went to different high schools and colleges, and lost touch. I guess the universe wanted us to reconnect.”
It’s been 20 years, 3 weddings, 4 children, and 4 funerals of friendship thanks to that job.
After a few years, I found myself working for the agency’s direct competitor. On my first day there, the woman whose job I was taking over was not interested in teaching me anything. She was bubbly and overly friendly but underly helpful. She was long gone, dreaming about meeting a new guy from Match.com and showing me her Boston apartment choices. I had to “shadow” her for a week. I will not boast, but within 8 months I won the first (and maybe only) Employee of the Year award. The president of our division presented me with the faux wood plaque at our company holiday party. I was two cosmopolitans deep and wasted when she surprised me by calling out my name to come on down and claim my award. I tripped in my stilettos (I left those in 2008 with the broken foot) as I meandered through the dark bar to claim my prize. My name was engraved on it. I had never won anything with my name on it before; I valued this moment and felt recognized and appreciated. I lingered in that bubble of happiness for a few moments. Then I dropped the award and everyone cracked up. I spent the rest of the night throwing up.
These Bridget Jones-worthy moments are the ones I miss most about corporate jobs.
I gained years of experience at various jobs under the advertising and marketing umbrella. I managed million dollar accounts and went on dozens of business trips, accruing thousands of frequent flyers miles. I compiled hundreds of PowerPoint decks and wrote hundreds of RFPs. I dined on overpriced sushi and sipped sake out of boxes all on a corporate credit card. I reaped the rewards of free tickets to theater, sporting events, and concerts. I made lifelong friends.
I miss the peace of mind of guaranteed bi-weekly paycheck. I miss paid vacations. I miss my own office and the chit chat with my co-workers. I miss a car service taking me to my meetings and I miss the feeling of importance outside the home. I miss the validation from strangers when I gave them my business card. I miss fancy health insurance. I miss not having to say “I used to be in advertising” whenever I meet someone new.
I miss the holiday parties most. I treasure the memorable stories which evolved from these events. One year a bunch of us ladies ended up doing shots in the men’s bathroom with our (male) boss. Nothing happened beyond the shots; it was as devilish as us advertising folk in the mid-2000s got. (Gone were the glory coke days of the 80s.) Another year we engaged in an x-rated version of charades. My last holiday party I made a grand exit as I threw up in the bathroom, on the street trying to get a cab, and I lost my wallet and my cell phone somewhere on the ride because by the time he got to my street I couldn’t pay him and burst out crying and threw up again in front of my apartment.
What I don’t miss about a corporate job is someone else owning my time. I don’t miss the feeling of living only 2/7 of my life, living just for the weekend. I felt every second away from work was so precious it made me very tense. I don’t miss the feeling of answering to anyone else and constant judgement. I don’t miss the million dollars I brought in to just see a very small chunk. I don’t miss the lies and the deceit and I certainly don’t miss the bullshit.
When my daughter began kindergarten this year, I considered going back to a corporate job. I began a tentative search and felt less prepared than I was right out of college. I felt like an adult going back to high school; only I didn’t deserve to backtrack. I didn’t take a five-year hiatus; I was miles beyond where I would have been had I stayed in the same trajectory for 5 years.
I’ve run two small businesses, including taxes and employee payroll, besides managing a family, with two kids in schools in two states. Multi-tasking and detail-orientation aren’t so much in play in proofreading ads as much as in keeping my kids alive. My skills are beyond a corporate job; I am my own corporation.
Nowadays it feels like the first day of work every day. I’m 41 years old and in a 365-day (no day off) free internship with myself. Oh and I’m sharing this journey for the world to witness my year-long audition for a part I haven’t created yet. Is anyone hiring a metaphor writer?
I wish I did this sooner; it feels like I’ve squandered away precious writing years. I find myself thinking “I could have …if…” unnecessarily. Pursuing dreams takes courage and while youth may have the gift of fearlessness, age has the advantage of experience. In my life of false maturity, I never really grew a pair of real balls until I launched this project.