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It starts off great. The recruiter you spent two months talking to over emails and voicemails takes you on a tour of your new office. They show you all the free snacks. You spy a Foosball table. Someone walks by holding a beer. You notice a DJ booth in the corner. You don’t know how you earned the right to work among these intimidatingly cool people, but you have. You rush home after work and stay up all night bingeing the first season of Mad Men. “Wow, this show is pretty good,” you say to yourself.
Whether you’re a man or woman, you spend hours deciding what to wear on your first day. You get to work and realize immediately that your clothes are all wrong and vow to never wear them again.
You arrive at work on your first day. The agency has not assigned you a desk yet. Your laptop is being cleared of files from an employee that quit last week. They introduce you to one of your team members and tell you that you’ll be shadowing them until your desk and computer are ready. Your teammate gives you the same tour you got in the interview, but with more small talk and questions about where you came from. When you list a couple companies she hasn’t heard of, you receive an affirmative “Oh yeah, I know them, I think I had a friend that worked there. Do you know…?”
Lunch rolls around and you are still deskless. If you’re lucky, your Account Director or Supervisor will have set up a team lunch so you can get to know everyone. More likely, you’re on your own and you go sit in your car and call whoever will answer the phone to tell them how your new job is great, but a little weird.
After lunch, you learn the names of Creative Directors that you should be honored to work with. You can’t meet them now because they are off on a shoot, or more likely, they hate themselves and their job so they roll in at the latest acceptable time, around noonish. When you finally meet these CDs they pepper you with inappropriate jokes to see how stiff you are and then casually mention their Clio Award. You have no idea what a Clio Award is.
A month goes by. You have your first panic attack and find your first white hair. Your coworkers consistently drop the ball because they know you’ll pick it up. Meetings are scheduled and rescheduled. No one shows up on time except for the developer guy and you can’t find a way to hold a normal conversation with him. You pretend to be busy finishing a deck but you’re really trash chatting with your roommate. “This guy is so awkward.”
Six months pass. Your pro bono client is hosting a gala so you and your team attend looking unrecognizable to one another because you usually look like freshmen that rolled out of a dorm room. Everyone is in suits and gowns. The creatives are wearing sneakers. You pose for countless photos with your team and take more than a handful of selfies on the red carpet. Your Facebook friends are going to be so jealous.
The office politics and gossip all wash away. You are on the red carpet. Everyone on Facebook knows it. You made it. You are famous. You have a cool job. You deserve this cool job. You got this cool job by being smarter, hipper, and more creative than your Facebook friends. You are doing okay in life.
The next morning, the whole team is hung over. The Account Supervisor’s voice is deeper than usual when she greets clients on the morning check-in call. The creatives call in from home, put the phone on mute, and fall back to sleep.
You get a call at your desk asking if you’ll show the new Junior Account Exec around the office. You roll your eyes and look her up on Facebook to see how weird she is. She’s young and attractive. You either hate or love this.
You take the new Junior AE by the free snacks, past the keg where the new business celebrations happen, past the Foosball table, and then back to your desk. All you want to do is surf the web, but you have to pretend to be hard at work until her laptop is ready. You decide to get some space by running to a “meeting” that is actually lunch with someone on another account.
Reflecting on your awkward tour of the office, your lunch friend smiles when you tell her how excited your new team member was about the office. She sighs and moans “All the perks you need to stay at work 24/7.” You realize that your cool office is a ruse. A piece of cheese on a mouse trap. That cheese looked so good six months ago, and you find you’re not as hungry anymore.
You immediately become disenchanted with all things advertising. “It’s so fake,” you tell your roommate. “I just want to do something that helps the world” you tell your therapist.
Three more months pass. You are thrown under the bus for misinterpreting a client request. You cancel plans with family members and stay home sending emails all night so the client knows you’re working hard to make things right. The client loves that you’re working into the wee hours and starts sending you late night requests that are due by morning.
You never take advantage of the free snacks. You’re always in a meeting when the keg is tapped. No one realizes the Foosball table’s ball has been missing for two years.
You fantasize about going “client side,” but you don’t want to work on a PC or wear business attire. You think about consulting but realize you haven’t developed any new skills other than managing other people’s skills.
You find a small “boutique” agency that is very excited that you responded to their Linkedin message. They offer you a generous bump in pay but you are hesitant to accept because no one has ever heard of them. Your friends tell you that the pay increase makes it a no-brainer.
You grab drinks with your team who all admit to being jealous of your escape. You take a short vacation between jobs and wonder why you can’t figure out a way to work from the beach year round. You return home and don’t bother to stress about your first day apparel because you are the big fish in a little pond.
People at the new agency are excited to meet you. Your laptop is not ready yet, but there is a space cleared on one of the long tables where everyone sits. They take you out to lunch on your first day and you share all your big agency stories. Everyone nods and shares stories about where they used to work and how crazy it was.
You settle into your new job after a couple weeks. Going to work now seems like a huge hassle. You’re invited to contribute creative ideas for the first time but you can’t be bothered. Most of the creatives you work with are freelancers. You’re bored even when things are hectic. You talk to your therapist about being depressed. She puts you on Lexapro.
You still want a fulfilling job that benefits the world, but every job description looks like a demotion. You scroll through your Facebook feed and stop when you see a photo of your old high school friend smiling at an in-office birthday party with her fellow dental assistants. You click on her profile and see photos of her happy family on their annual vacation to a lake. She hasn’t paid for a toothbrush in years.