As I often did when I felt unsettled, I threw myself head-first into a number of big work projects in January. When I really focused on a particular project and timeline, it was a great distraction from everything else. Although I didn’t take any active steps to search for other jobs, when the usual new-year recruitment calls began to come in, I dropped my usual stock phrases of “I’m happy where I am”, “I’m not looking at the moment, thank you” … and took a more curious approach.
Nothing much happens in recruitment in the Autumn. Companies generally fed off the big summer months’ income, work up to year end, take a break over Christmas, and it’s only come the New Year that they start to look at their annual business plans and say “right, who do we need to get onboard to achieve this?”. At first I just dipped my toe into the calls, so to speak; enquiring about salary ranges, perks, opportunities, why they were recruiting etc. It was all very non-committal and low-risk I told myslef, although it still set my pulse racing when they called me. If Miriam had heard my name as out in the market for a new role, from however distant a source, I would pay dearly for that. But good recruitment agents could smell blood from miles away, and two in particular had not accepted my vague commitment to get back to them.
“I’ll give you overnight to think about this package and we’ll chat again. This company basically have a desk set out for you and can’t wait to implement your ideas”. One even knew of Miriam personally and had gone for the jugular – “let’s just say this is an environment that you will really appreciate after working under someone like Miriam.”
‘Under’, not ‘for’. These guys were good.
In short, one role was a huge leap sideways, to work for a New York Department Store, curating their own in-house design magazine. This would be the harder role to get as it was quite a step up, and sideways in that it was not a magazine per se. You would not be advertising anything, and although it seems very high minded to mention, I would have lost all editorial integrity. If the buyers had bought it, you had to say it was good. And if they’d bought enough of the stuff you’d have to feature it on the cover and exclaim it was the next big thing. The magazine was also being pitched to me as really exciting and flexible, because as it was so ‘fresh and new’. In non-recruiter speak that could mean possibly short-lived; ‘everyday is a surprise’ could translate turning up to find you’re unemployed anytime. They had no magazine before. They may decide they didn’t need one after all.
The other role was more interesting to me, but also quite different to my current position. It was working as a Contributing Editor of an interiors supplement given out in one of the big national newspapers, the US Herald. This had all the editorial freedom and flexibility you could wish for, and I knew about and liked the supplement myself, which helped. It would also be a step sideways, as it was not a magazine which sold copies in its own right, and the salary was not dissimilar to my current one at New England Interiors. But the move would be more than worth it for the perks. As the supplement was weekly, and US-wide (with some international), there was not as much of a need to be in the office as the newspaper staff. Indeed, the office in Central Manhattan was a little short on seats apparently, so aside from the main journalists, the Sunday version and supplement guys had more of a self-employed lifestyle; coming in for meetings, hotdesking and working from home or whilst travelling to find new stories. You were also encouraged to take your own photography, if possible, and a camera and a course in photography with their in-house, on site photographer was included in the training.
I loved this idea of this job, the creativity it would allow and the opportunity to try new things and a different lifestyle. I thought it would suit me as I loved photography (as an enthusiast), but New England Interiors had been pretty closed minded on that subject; only allowing the staff photographer to deal with any pictures. I also liked the fact that I would still be involved in meeting advertising clients, as I had been at New England Interiors. Each role was requesting applications by the end of January, after which they would shortlist candidates for interviews. For the Herald the interviews were likely to take place in mid-late February, whereas the Department Store were more relaxed and had said the interviews would take place ‘at some point later in the year’. The Department Store’s vague timeline hadn’t helped me get over my suspicion that they may be a little light on commitment. The way I had left it with both recruitment agents was that I would prep up a CV and be in touch shortly. I had of course promised this to many agents before, and never got around to it, but this time felt different. It had a momentum about it.
Another great escape from the stress of the office, was having lunch outside. Unless I had agreed to meet someone for lunch, I would buy my lunch at the little deli on the corner and go to the park and eat it in the fresh air. Even if it was only 20 minutes of getting away from it all, and the sun on my face, it was worth it. One such day, I was sitting in the park, half eating and half jotting down some notes of things to add into my CV, when my cellphone rang, with an unrecognised number.
“Hey Kim, it’s Aunt Jane.”
“Ah, Jane, how are things, everything ok?”
“Oh I’m just fine, thanks. Look, Kimberley, I won’t bother you for too long now as I know you’re always busy at work. I just wanted to say that I know we discussed the Ireland trip and you said it would be too hard to get the leave and you were trying to save etc., but I just wanted to pass on some news from American Airlines. They had to change the times of your Mom’s and my flights, three hours later than previously planned. They called to say and apologise. They were offering double airmails as compensation, and just out of interest, I asked how much it would cost for one more person to be added, using both your Mom’s and my airmiles, after counting the double allowance for our booking. To my surprise, she said that, if we all go economy, rather than premium economy, we can add the third seat for no cost. What do you think?”
“Oh wow. Well that is good. Um … I know I said I didn’t want to take the time off, but I did only use eight days’ holiday last year… isn’t it awkward days though, like flying out on Tuesday, and back the next Wednesday? I might have to take off like 6 or 7 days from work just to get that and we have weekly team meetings so it would … ”
“No! No, that was the original plan, but we changed it to suit the holiday cottage booking, which was available from Monday to Sunday. So it’s from Monday 9th Feb to Sunday 15th. We’re flying out on Sunday the 8th, arriving on the Monday and flying back the following Sunday morning, arriving in the evening. You would only need to take one block of five days off. Your Mom and I are flying down from Maine to JFK, to connect for Dublin, but you can just get a taxi straight to JFK and back if you were coming too.”
“Oh, well, that might be …”
“Look Kim, an asteroid could hit the planet tomorrow and, if it did, what would you regret … not spending a couple more days in the office? The magazine will still be there when you come back. Why don’t you tell them it’s a fact-finding trip, and write a piece about Irish interiors when you come back? They might want to pay for your share of the flights, and some of the cottage costs, you know on those big corporate expense accounts you guys have. They might be delighted.”
“Ha…” I laughed out loud, “Yes, well I don’t think they’d go that far, but, yes, I suppose they might agree the leave … mmm …”.
I had to admit that I was now really in the mood for going. I’d spent years ploughing time into New England Interiors, and what thanks had I got? Yes I was a Section Editor, but I got very little credit for all my work and my pay had only been raised ‘in line with inflation’ at September’s ‘review’.
“I tell you what, let me think about it again and I’ll call you tonight to confirm. Is that ok Jane?”
“Oh great Kim, that’s great news, please do, your mom would be delighted. You know how much she misses you so much once you go away again after Christmas.”
“Yes Jane, but I have worked so hard on my career and it is hard for me to take time off.”
“I know, I know. Let me know.”
On my return to the office after lunch, I logged into my e-mails and noticed a telephone note from one of the secretaries in the other team, Emma, Claudia’s team secretary and her pet bitch in training. I was going to deal with my emails later but, having seen the sender, interest got the better of me and I checked it straight away. “Sam called for your from Entwistle designs, re an upcoming editorial piece. Apparently you’ve asked him to do some work but given him no details at all, and he is a bit bewildered by the whole thing. I spoke to Claudia and she said you need to call him back ASAP as we don’t want to give the wrong impression of how we do business here. She also asked if you can make sure there is always at least one person in your Section at all times, because we are so busy we’re not even taking lunches at the moment, but today we ended up fielding all the calls for your team when people were out. We think teamwork is really important.”
I was absolutely livid. So angry, I thought I might explode. Who the fuck did this little jumped-up bitch think she was to speak to me like that. I had overlooked a lot of nasty and rude behaviour from Claudia in the past, but she was a peer in the Section Editor Role. This was different, this was inexcusable. When I was a Team Secretary I wouldn’t have even dare speak to a Section Editor, never mind send a message like that. She obviously felt she could do it as she had been egged on by Claudia, her own line manager, but that was no excuse. And then to try and mask the whole, totally unnecessary attack on a colleague and their team as promoting teamwork … it was infuriating. Only someone with the very deepest psychological issues could contort the world in this way.
I marched straight over to Miriam’s room to complain that I could not work in this bitchy, back-stabbing environment any longer. She would have to discipline the secretary and speak to Claudia. As I was on my way I thought that, whatever the outcome of the disciplinary processes, the relationship between Claudia and I was clearly beyond repair. Any effort in salvaging it would have to come from me and now I had no appetite for that at all. I’d gone beyond caring. My pace slowed slightly as my mind was turning over at a hundred miles an hour; it turned to the jobs I was applying for. I pictured Miriam filling in the reference forms, sections entitled ‘getting on with others’ and ‘teamwork’. I’d seen these on our own reference forms for recent joiners. “Oh god” I thought, if I really want to leave maybe I actually need to be strong and just take the bullshit for a bit longer. If I was a junior I could complain of bullying by the instigator, but as a senior to this little bitch, I didn’t have that privilege. I would either look like I was lying or just appear weak. Neither was a good position for me to get myself into.
I stopped mid stride, looked at my watch, as if having forgotten something, and turned back to my desk. I sat there, took a few deep breaths and closed my eyes, trying hard to channel the mature, objective adult within. I remembered my father telling at junior school me that bullies thrived on responses, not their own behaviour. They wanted to see you get annoyed. That was the goal. Don’t give them the pleasure he would say. If you simply ignored them, and it looked like you didn’t care, they would eventually get bored and turn their attention elsewhere. So I conjured up all the high-ground seizing mentality I had left, and sent the briefest and politest response I could think of;
“Thanks for taking a message, I’ll give Sam a call.”.
I then stood, picked up my landline, smiled and started dialling.
When the phone answered I looked around and said as loudly and happily as I could “Hi, just giving you a call back as promised, how are things?”
I then sat down in my chair, swung my back towards Claudia’s section and said:
“Book the flights”.