Four years ago, I did what all the Oprah-approved self-help books tell you to do: I quit my soul-sucking job as a lab technician on the east coast and moved to Los Angeles to be a screenwriter. Being a shy, scared-of-my-own-shadow kind of girl, stepping out of my comfort zone seemed totally crazy, but hey, I had a dream.
Moving to LA was terrifying. The culture shock was extreme. Free parking doesn’t exist, and all the restaurants serve some form of kale and pretend like potatoes don’t exist. I left the security of a job, friends, and family for this? Sure, my intuition was all, “This is what you’re meant to do!” But I cried every day and wondered how the hell I was going to get a job when I didn’t look like a model.
Well, my gut feeling took care of that. It’s all about who you know, and I didn’t know anyone … except there was this one producer of a TV show who followed me on Twitter. I took a deep breath and sent her a private message, asking if there were any jobs where she worked. Turns out there was a production assistant position opening up right then and there. Kismet! Yay for gut feelings!
Two months after I moved to LA, I was working on one of my favorite TV shows. In your face, doubters! Everything was going well. I learned the ins and outs of the city and developed a sixth sense for when coffee was running low in the kitchen. Despite the drudgery of being a PA, the perks were great. I got free lunch every day, met celebrities on the regular, and worked with some of the best people I’ve ever met.
Sure, there were moments of not-so-greatness. Moments of feeling like maybe I wasn’t the best fit at this particular show. But, I ignored those. I was a Cinderella story. Only, instead of getting a prince that would probably bore me after a few years, I got a clear path to becoming a paid writer. Way better.
About three years after being a PA, I was promoted to executive assistant. Yay! One step closer to writer. No more fetching lunches, running errands and copying numerous scripts. Now, I just had to manage the two showrunners. I learned new skills, like the ability to lie about how my boss was super busy when really he was just meditating. (Read: napping.) I was on top of the world for a little over a year.
And then the shit hit the fan.
One of my bosses came in one morning and said, "Today, you get to be a real assistant," and informed me he needed me to take traffic school for his wife because she had gotten a speeding ticket.
Now, part of my job was to do personal things for the showrunners. I didn't mind doing that. Booking plane tickets, making dinner reservations, paying bills ... these were all things I did often and didn't find them to be a big deal. It’s not like I had to deal with any Devil Wears Prada requests.
But doing something illegal? I didn't sign up for that. So, I said I wasn't comfortable doing it, and expected the matter to be dropped.
It wasn't. I had to reiterate three times on three different days that I would not do something illegal because I just wasn't comfortable with it. I talked to friends and family to get advice, and everyone seemed to be on the same page as I was: This was not something I had to do. In fact, a friend’s husband, who’s a lawyer, advised against it, stating that at the least I would be committing perjury and at the worst, fraud.
That's when I started getting the silent treatment. And if looks could kill, I'd be dead several times over. It’s like my boss’s communication skills never developed past level “13-Year-Old Mean Girl.” I dreaded going to work. Anxiety was a constant companion, even when I was in the safety of my home.
Then I was called into HR's office. My boss was there, and with the HR woman present, he proceeded to list things I wasn't doing well. Not doing traffic school was brought up. He said the other showrunner (oddly enough, not present in this particular meeting) felt the same way. A certain task I was praised for just prior to the traffic school incident was suddenly an issue because it had been late (through no fault of my own).
I was written up for poor job performance. HR seemed to feel that I should have done the traffic school because my job was to make the showrunners’ lives easier. I was shocked, but tried to remain calm and assured everyone that I would try harder. I even apologized. I left the meeting feeling dejected and disillusioned about my professional Prince Charming. There those princes go again, falling off those tall white horses. But, I was hopeful that I could “kill him with kindness” and turn this miserable situation around. I was told we'd meet again in a month to review any improvements to my performance.
Three weeks later, I was fired.
HR insists it wasn't because I refused to do traffic school. It was also because I was letting things fall between the cracks and didn't have enthusiasm for the job. But before this all happened, everything was fine. I was never informed I was ever doing a bad job. On the contrary, I was told often that I did a great job. By several people.
And the other showrunner, the one who wasn't present for that awful meeting? The other showrunner told me he never said he was frustrated with me. That was a lie fabricated by the “you have to commit fraud for me to make my life easier” boss.
In the real world, this wouldn’t be tolerated. But, this is Hollywood. I’m not the first person who got screwed over by not bowing down to “the man,” and I most certainly won’t be the last. On the outrage scale of 1 to Cecil the Lion, this is like, a 0.5.
But I think we’re all presented with definitive moments in life where we get to decide what kind of person we want to be. I want to be the kind of person who does what’s best for me (and who doesn’t break the law), even if it means going against others’ expectations. I can sleep at night knowing I did the job to the best of my ability and refused to sacrifice my integrity. That's personal power. And no one should ever allow someone else to take away their power to say no because they're afraid of the consequences.
Taking traffic school for someone else may have not been a big deal to some people, and that’s fine. I don’t regret my decision. In fact, I’m a little proud of myself for saying “no” to someone who clearly doesn’t hear that word enough. Go me. I’ve come a long way from being that girl who was afraid of her own shadow.
Now, I’m unemployed and scared about money and wondering if I’ll ever find another job. And how the hell am I going to become a screenwriter? I was in! Now, I’m out. I’m back to where I was four years ago: Completely uncertain about my future. I'm left wondering why I would ever leave Virginia, where I had a good (albeit soul-sucking) job, friends, family, security…
But, I’ll figure it out. Because hey, I have a dream.