What the Wrong Job Can Teach You

During the bathrobe-clad days of unemployment, this had been my fantasy—a sense of belonging and purpose. I envisioned sitting at my desk amid the office hum, sipping a cup of coffee, astutely engaged and juggling many tasks. I would be a reliable resource—the person to come to when you need a solution or when you need a laugh—a chick on her toes.

I first heard about this job when Tom, the recruiter, presented me with the senior executive assistant role at Angel Heritage Life Insurance Company in little detail and big pay. He asked if I could interview in an hour. I scrambled to make myself presentable-a quick blow out of my daringly short cut, a fast swipe of liner—lips red, eyes black—and I was off!

Tom and Angel’s elegant human resources manager, Pihu, waited for me in the lobby as I swirled through the revolving glass doors. Tom shook my hand, then disappeared; Pihu met with me briefly, her voice choppy and laced with an Indian accent. She took me to meet my prospective supervisor: a 42-year-old man from Cape Town named Fitz. He was a good-looking guy with a charming British accent. He ranked as a top salesman in the organization, affording him three residences, a flock of high-end sports cars, hand-tailored suits and fancy cologne. Impressed with my credentials, Fitz and I conversed for 20 minutes; then, he had a plane to catch.

Since Fitz traveled 90% of the time, I voiced concern about getting the details right—managing international travel is not a highlight on my resume. I’m a writer. He looked my credentials over and said he had confidence in me. He stood, slipping paperwork into the fold of his briefcase, and asked me when I could start.

A week into the job, free from Chivonn’s steady training (“do you watch Scandal?”), I began pulling 10 1/2-hour days without lunch; I wanted to get acclimated quickly. I reviewed the travel plans for Fitz to make sure all the dots connected—flights in and out of Shanghai, Singapore, Hong Kong and Dubai; car service to all points; accommodations at The Four Seasons and The Fairmount; meetings with executives in topsy-turvy time zones.

I was on top of it!

I felt so good I even let a bit of the genuine me shine through as I attempted to develop a rapport with Fitz. “GM” I said when I walked into the office. He had been looking intently into his computer screen, his brain formulating an elaborate pitch. Numbers, figures, big words, big deals. He looked up at me, half perturbed, half surprised that I interrupted him: “GM?” he repeated. “Good morning,” I said. “Morning,” he answered into his screen with his lovely voice.

I was so organized in week two, that when Chivonn whisked by my desk on her way to lunch, giving rise to the corners of my paperwork, she told me, “Chicka, you’re all over this job!”

Even if Fitz didn’t entirely get my sense of humor, I was back in the game, stressed as hell, my brain fully engaged, and there was money coming in! It was well worth the tradeoff of forgoing lunchtime hikes with my dog Sabrina, working on my memoir manuscript, hitting the gym at 5:00 and spending quiet evenings with my man—wasn’t it?

At the end of the third week on the job, I was home with a cold, dripping mucous all over the company’s laptop organizing a call in Jakarta when I got a bad feeling. A cloak of doom infiltrated my being. Then an email came in from Tom: “Call me at your nearest convenience.”

Before calling him I ducked into Fitz’s email Sent folder where I found two notes to Pihu entitled “reservation catastrophe!”

Before coming home with my cough drops and tissues, Fitz had asked me to change a reliable car service for a complimentary one. I canceled the existing reservation with its confirmation number, for the free car service that seemed vague in my opinion. “We guarantee it,” the agent told me when I asked for concrete evidence.

No driver held up a white sign marked “Fitz P” in black sharpie at the Shanghai Airport. But, the Gods interceded to save the day. Dongmei, a representative for Shanghai U for which Fitz was slated to speak, unbeknownst to either of us, arrived with a driver and a translator. Being a gracious host Dongmei transported him wherever he needed to go. Despite the fact that all his needs were actually met, Fitz sent Pihu the two emails, the first entailing the botched car service, and the second, explaining how he wasn’t expecting Dongmei and his supervening “discomfiture.”

Who uses the word “discomfiture?”

I connected with Tom and of course, I’d been canned. My heart sank and I felt the shame creeping in, the income trickling away, but then my heart rejoiced as I saw myself back at work on my manuscript and everything else that being home provided. Hell, we’d just have to hope for a Best Seller.

I texted Chivonn to tell her that I was coming in to drop off the laptop. An hour later, I got out of the car carrying bags of obvious office stuff—a picture of Sabrina, a five-pound container of whey protein, an extra pair of black heels, an African violet— and collided with my upstairs neighbor. She couldn’t have summed up the predicament more perfectly.

“Congratulations,” she said.

The day before, Chivonn had spoken into our common cube wall asking me how to spell “warp.”

“You mean like bent or distorted?” I asked. She didn’t answer. “W-a-r-p,” I said, “as in warp speed, Mr. Sulu.”

My voice carried throughout the busy sales department, over the cubicles, infiltrating the honchos in the offices with the cool frosted glass and sliding doors. The tapping on my colleague’s keyboards ceased, voices paused, just for a moment. I smiled to myself.

Did the new girl just say warp speed, Mr. Sulu?

Typing and sales pitch resumed. I wondered if anyone got me? Did anyone ever let their real self pop through—crack a joke, say anything other than oh fine, thanks? Where is the office where I can unbutton a little, or laugh or even make a mistake—and be allowed the space for connection, redemption? Next time I will find this place and it will be in a position that uses my writing skill. Now I’m on the lookout.

I worked for Angel Heritage for a total of three weeks. The job would have taken over my life, with its long hours and standby on weekends. In my short tenure, while I was counting every dollar coming in, paying gobs to doggie daycare, I was wearing down. The martinis began making a comeback, the olives bruised and moldy from June when I had stopped drinking and started exercising.

So here I am where I started, but richer in knowledge. I instinctively knew going into a job with my confidence teetering predestined a crash and burn outcome. I didn’t listen to that little voice, to my intuition. I wanted to fit in, I wanted to find the validation that comes from doing my job well and being in an environment that appreciates what I can offer. This wasn’t Angel; I knew it from the beginning—but those dollar signs and the echo of my own heels clicking on the tile floors seduced me.

The takeaways?

I am a skilled individual with good experience, but I have my own set of requisites too. Next time I will pay attention to those instincts and remember that finding a good fit takes more than simply thinking about what Fitz needs. I also have to ask myself what I need. It’s as important as anything on the job description. I know I need to have a bit of fun, develop and nurture camaraderie with my boss who can display on occasion, humility. I need to collaborate with colleagues and not feel tethered to a 4-foot area like a sheep grazing on a picket line. I want to do my job well and I want to be my authentic self—something I am particularly good at!

The day after the ax came down, I emailed Pihu giving her a broader perspective on the “reservation catastrophes.” Out of fairness to me, with Fitz’s request to switch to a free car service and the language barrier experienced with Dongmei, it’s no surprise that things got botched.

“But what’s really disappointing in these two scenarios” I wrote, “is the blame resides wholly with me. I understand Fitz’s VIP status, really I do, but when it comes down to it, we’re both human beings, aren’t we.” Period versus question mark.

Pihu emailed me back, quite graciously, calling him a “tough customer.” I read the rest of her words aloud, imitating her lilting Indian accent. “I’m sure you will excel in your next role.”

I’m going to bet on that Pihu.

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This essay was published in Ariana’s HuffPost, January 8, 2017.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.

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Why I Don’t Regret Having Kids

We’re seated by the gate at Logan, held captive by the airline’s whim, watching a steady stream of disheveled passengers walk or dash by, but the place remains stale and lifeless somehow.

Until a little princess, right out of a storybook, toddles into the seating area of our gate. She is unhurried, functions in her own dimension, immune to the chaos, the germfest, the push to get to point A to B.

Her presence casts a tiny spell on me. My book collapses into my lap. I’m drinking her sweetness in: a beautiful, clean-faced, bright-eyed little girl—a gene pool homerun.

What would my path have looked like with children in it?

Rarely do I question my decision to forgo becoming a vessel of reproduction. My goal in life was to become CEO of a wildly growing company, not wiping little beasties’ noses. I even left my husband when he wanted them. But as sometimes happens, this delightful girl seems to be showcasing my poor decision. She looks like what I imagine my little girl would have looked like had I not married my dark-haired husband of 5’7” with a 27-inch waistline, but Bob Redford.

Not to mention that I never did become the CEO of wildly growing company, and the jobs I have had have been sort of wildly unsatisfying.

I watch her, feeling that regret wash over me. She stands on sea legs between her mother’s thighs, crunching Cape Cod potato chips with less than perfect execution, savoring what makes it into her mouth. She babbles, a form of self-engagement, and randomly feeds “Kit-Tee,” a wide-eyed cat peering out from a crate on the floor.

Women of all ages watch her, heads cocked, wearing expressions of maternal yearning, remembrances, maybe regret, like my own.

I bet she still has that baby smell thing going on. You know, like puppies.

I surmise, too, that Zoe’s recently graduated from applesauce and whipped franks to adult food. And now, I think, and a disgruntled flatline my mother used to wear when I was in high school settles on my lips, her parents are giving her junk food, creating an unhealthy palate and a rhythmic type of oral indulgence.

I elbow Dennis. “If that sweetness were mine, I’d give her a hard cooked egg and fruit to eat, not crap food.”

He eyeballs Zoe for a nanosecond, nods and returns his gaze to his handheld.

I think of the other things I’d feed Zoe: Greek yogurt, kale crisps (much softer than potato chips), hummus, non-GMO whole grain crackers, organically grown vegetarian stuff.

And then, Zoe begins to choke.

When adults get something caught in their throat, we place a napkin to our mouth, cough, grumble it away. If that doesn’t work? We set into panic. We choke like hell to obtain clear passage. We don’t care how much attention we draw doing it. We want to live and we fight like hell to continue doing so.

Zoe, on the other hand, doesn’t understand the threat of death. Maternal instincts, ingrained in women’s DNA, alert three to their feet. Those not wearing headphones or enthralled with an electronic device, register a disturbance.

Zoe has one hand on her mother’s knee, stabilizing her squat before Kit-Tee’s crate. She brings herself upright and faces me. Her blue eyes have teared up, no sound comes from her windpipe. The fragments of crap food are lodged in her throat. She is the little girl I never had and wish was mine and she can’t breathe.

Someone, do something.

The book slides off my lap and crashes to the floor as Zoe’s mother scoops her up and lays her across her knees.

The little girl lies there flat as an ironing board.

Zoe?

Three deft pats on her back and Cape Cods chips in a variety of shapes project from Zoe’s mouth. Saliva spills over her lips. Oxygen returns to her lungs. She cries.

The maternal patrons lean in, ask if Zoe is okay. Her mother waves them off. “Yes, thank you,” she says.

My dream child is back on her feet; the waterworks have subsided. Her father strokes her cheeks dry. Her mood changes back to the state of pre-choking as if by a flick of a switch. I pick up my book from the floor.

She’s perfect again.

She asks for another chip.

This makes a number of bystanders chuckle.

I listen with the book covering my face, curious to learn if good ole mom is going to give her toddler just off Gerber Stage Four another chip.

“You can have some Goldfish,” she says.

Goldfish?!

In a Mickey Mouse voice, I say onto the open pages, “How ‘bout some yogurt?”

Dennis elbows me, a prompt to behave.

Over the P.A., a flight attendant announces the initial stages of boarding.

We gather our things. I impart a secret smile to Zoe, which she catches. Means nothing to her.

When we’re settling into our seats, an emaciated brown-haired woman with a Tom Petty overbite slides in. Her thighs are the same width as my forearms, and Zoe appears in the aisle. She’s screaming like a banshee. Ear piercing stuff. I barely get a glimpse of her because she passes by so swiftly—her father carries her like a surfboard. This must be a common position for her—flat and rigid.

Zoe’s mother follows behind, toting a handbag crammed with baby survival equipment and the crate containing Kit-Tee. She wears an expression indicative of the relief she’s feeling that her husband has finally stepped up to the plate, but also of deep embarrassment about her imperfect daughter.

Emaciated Woman and I snap together our respective seatbelts. By the sounds of it, Zoe has been strapped into a seat four or so rows behind us. Amid the chaos of the 737’s boarding, she has stopped crying and is sweetly introducing Kit-Tee to neighbors.

And now again, I wish she were mine, mine, mine.

The cabin is packed. There’s little clearance, cramming of luggage in overhead bins. Last minute phone calls are made. The air is stale. Actually there is no air. Tim is giving emergency landing instruction, his props old and yellowed. The teenager across the way is licking the remnants of a BK cheeseburger from his thumbs. Zoe’s voice pierces through all this clear as a bell. She has dismissed her affections for Kit-Tee and is dead set against keeping her seatbelt fastened.

“No, no, no, Mama!”

My dazzling opinion of this little girl, wanting to drown in the pools of her aquamarine eyes, having envisioned birthing her through my own womb and canal, flickers like a film noir played on an old projector. I don’t want it to. I want her to remain fresh, magical, novel, her presence filling me with regret about what I could have had.

The flight gets underway. The minutes slip into hours, it’s horrendous. Not because of turbulence, the crew, Emaciated Woman, or lack of turkey, sprouts and avocado sandwiches. It’s because Zoe’s steady stream of “no!” is now followed by parental correction with an edge and curmudgeon-type shushing. My iPod is packed away in cargo below; I have no way of tuning out the racket, which would have kept Zoe magical to me. Instead, I watch the display that shows the plane’s elevation, speed, and the long ass Midwest state we’re hovering over.

We’re practically standing still at 500 MPH.

Dennis types away on his laptop, the time flies by for him. I listen to little Zoe carry on; tearing apart her magicalness. She was so perfect before.

When descent at last begins from 40,000 feet, cabin air pressure intensifies. Zoe begins wailing with a set of lungs worthy of crossing the English Channel.

I know this: if I stayed married, I couldn’t have had all the daring affairs with executives my father’s age. I wouldn’t have experienced the freedom of telling off Gloria Steinem and discovering the rugged beauty of the West, proving myself and doing “boys’ chores” where my leg “got broke.”

So what’s the seduction of remorse, regret?

Even if we are self-actualized, accomplished people who have had good lives, why do we actually like that deep longing for what we could have had? And that’s when I discover something really genius about not doing things.

It makes us heroes in our own minds. It buoys us up. We can’t do everything, there will always be paths we could have taken. And the brilliance of that is we get to imagine doing it all and being perfect at it. I know I know we’re supposed to stay in the moment, but most of us don’t because the moment can be as boring as a…well, a long-ass plane ride.

So, thinking of all those unlived lives can be a way to boost self-confidence for one happy soaring moment.

If we’d written the novel, we would have written a bestseller. Not going to Hollywood to audition for all those bit parts and staying back east, we get to imagine our lives as movies stars. Not going to law school means we can tell ourselves we would have been kick-ass prosecutors, killing it in the courtroom. People tell us not to regret what could have been, but actually it’s sort of fun. Not becoming a mother is so much better than actually becoming a mother because I can imagine I would have had the perfect child. Never mind the choking, the quick-switch moods, the screaming like a banshee. I would have nourished my daughter perfectly, and she would have been absolutely flawless.

Zoe snaps me out of my reverie. She’s back to her ear-piercing screaming. Somewhere around 15,000 feet the display shows the aircraft has overshot SFO. The plane’s nose is sticking into the Pacific.

I see around me that people are glimpsing in Zoe’s direction—even Emaciated Woman—and shrugging their shoulders in a way that suggests they wish they could envelope their ears with them.

Land is drawing ever closer out Emaciated Woman’s window, but we’re back on track, the pilot tells us the 737’s nose is destined for the runway. We drop elevation in big chunks until at last the wheels skid. Only minutes remain before we get off this tin bus and little Zoe will disappear from my life forever.

When she and her parents file out before us, I catch those beautiful aquamarines, her body is horizontal and at waist-height again. In my mind I make peace with her, thank her for giving me the chance to be a perfect mother to a perfect child.

She has returned to lightheartedness and answering the saint-of-a-lady behind her about what color Kit-Tee is.

“He’s pink and purple,” she says.

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This essay by the title of Why Regret Is So Deliciously Fun was published in Ariana’s HuffPost, 1/15/16.

Lisa has been publishing essays for five years on the writing life, sex and relationships, and her love for horses, dogs and cowboy country. One of her essays appeared in the IPPY-award-winning anthology Unmasked: Women Write About Sex and Intimacy After Fifty, published in 2017. She lives near Boston, where she rides horses and commutes by bike to her job writing and editing technology blogs for Dell Technologies. She is currently pitching her memoir Calamity Becomes Her to literary agents and is at work on the sequel. You can contact her at lisa dot demasi at gmail dot com.