I got hired because of my looks and it was one of the best lessons about work I ever got.
Once upon a time I was fresh out of uni, looking for my first real job in a bad economy. My upbringing and my academic career gave me a good amount of unwarranted self worth and I saw the world as nothing more than a neon-lit playground designed specifically for me to play in. Also, my breasts were perky.
I moved to London with big plans for my future but was quickly put in my place when the rejection emails started rolling in one after another. You know how it goes (probably), when you receive no upon no from HR and then poof, your confidence is gone and then your money starts to run dry and you start having all these thoughts about having to move back to your mother’s, penniless and broken-spirited, a bona fide failure, only three months after your elaborate goodbye party all your friends came to.
What a perfect time for my personal deus ex machina (or so I thought), a pasty ginger Englishman named Matthew*, who offered me a job after 20 minutes or so of talking to me. I know now, getting hired on the spot is a red flag and as a rule of thumb not done by companies anybody would really want to work for, but at 23 I was blissfully colorblind and happy to have gotten my foot through the door of the London media business.
I started the job the following Monday, when I learned that my title was “Senior Content Strategist and Marketing Manager,” which should have been another red flag because I was 23, I referred to my personal blog in my job application, I had no experience with either content strategy or marketing, so what the hell was I doing in a senior anything position? Turns out, not that much.
I was asked to come up with strategies for this or that client, which I would then type up until I felt I was finished, because I never had a deadline to meet. Whenever I tried to talk about what I’ve done with Matthew, he always exclaimed: “That’s a great idea, Lucy! Let’s discuss it with the client/designer/my partner tomorrow/Wednesday/at the next staff meeting." But he always somehow forgot all about it or was too busy and had to reschedule. In short: nothing I proposed ever got made, I never sat in on one client meeting despite the fact I was supposed to be managing all their content and marketing, and as a result, I was quickly left feeling bored by my job.
I was especially bored of Matthew parading me around his clients (all male, natch) and introducing me as his marketing guru, when in fact, I would spend my days at work scrolling the Facebook timeline to infinity and waiting to go home. But the pay was good, so I didn’t really want to complain. I still had my nights and my weekends.
I met a DJ, who I went batshit crazy for, as I’m wont to do with DJs and so began my career as a London party monster. Because I could more or less vegetate at work and because I found drugs really exciting at the time, it wasn’t long until I rolled into the office with red eyes, sex hair and last day’s clothes on.
This was the only time I can remember Matthew felt like he needed to be a boss. I was summoned into the conference room almost immediately, where I was told that I can’t come into the office looking like I partied, because a part of my job was to dress the part and look smart. Fair play, I thought and nodded and said I’m sorry and promised I was going to change my ways.
It didn’t really occur to me that everybody else at the office was dressing computer-geek-gross, yet somehow I was apparently expected to “look the part,” not fully understanding even what the damn part was.
Soon after that, I figured it out when the whole office went for some team-building pints and Matthew got wasted. In a fit of drunken honesty he told the new designer he knew I was right for the job as soon as I took off my cardigan and sat up straight at the interview. I was standing right there next to him while he said it and I couldn’t ignore the red flags anymore. The only reason I got hired was because, in an attempt to look confident, I accidentally pushed my perky 23-year-old boobs in Matthew’s face.
I left the pub that night with a myriad of feelings, but mostly feeling stupid and used. The next day I didn’t shower, apply makeup or brush my hair and I put on my stay-at-home hoodie. I might have been pretty clueless at 23, but I had passive aggression down.
By lunchtime I was summoned to the conference room again, where I was once again told of because fof my appearance.
“Didn’t I make myself clear?” Matthew asked.
I took the bait. “Yes,” I said, “But when you hired me, you also said I would be doing, you know, work. If being put on display was a professional goal of mine, I wouldn’t look for a job in marketing.” I saw it on Matthews face he knew exactly what was up, but I still told him that I felt like he wasted my time and that I was hurt by how I had been treated. He asked me what I wanted to do, with a humbled tone. My answer was simple: “I want to go.”
I was instructed to go wait at my workstation while he got his partner on the phone and talked about my jumping ship with him. When he emerged at my desk soon after, he told me I could leave there and then and offered me a nice surveillance package to "make the transition easier for me,” which was just his way of trying to butter me up so I wouldn’t put in a formal complaint against him. I collected my stuff as quickly as I could, made my rounds around the office to say goodbye and was out of there.
At the door, Matthew shook my hand and said: ”No hard feelings, yeah?” to which I didn’t reply. I was so over him and I didn’t need to front any longer.
I took the hush money and paid for a month of traveling around Europe, because it felt like something that boob money should go toward. Contemplating everything that happened somewhere in the south of France, I realized that the time wasted in Matthew’s company wasn’t all that wasted, and I should be thankful for getting the experience so early on in my professional career.
The lesson Matthew taught me was I had worth both as a human being and as an employee and I didn’t need to allow myself to be belittled in anyway just because there was a paycheck at the end of the month in it for me. I also learned that while endurance is a virtue, sometimes putting your head down and shuffling the hell out is the only option and nothing’s wrong with quitting a situation that’s bad for you.