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The Myth Of The “Work Friend.”

You think they have your back? Think, again.


Fifteen years ago, when I began working at a privately-owned marketing agency that, as my husband pointed out, looked like a “sperm bank” from the outside, my immediate goal was to find another gig and get the hell out of Dodge.

For the first time in years, I would be sitting in a cubicle, instead of a private office. I know how that sounds, but I put in the work, and the years. This place was a cube farm! And a butt-ugly one, at that.

And then, something shifted. After a week at the sperm bank, I began to enjoy my job, and more importantly, my co-workers. I found them to be a down-to-earth bunch of people who, like myself, were just trying to make an honest buck…just trying, like everyone else, to “get through.”

For the first time, I was able to go home and actually leave my job, behind. As this was the first suburban marketing agency I’d worked at, I couldn’t help but be struck by the differences between this, and the downtown Chicago “big shops” where I’d previously been employed. There was a real caring about “work/life” balance here, and it wasn’t just smoke and mirrors. My employer actually walked the walk. I was so used to the sweatshops where 5:00 came and went with nary a ripple. Where we “creatives” were just expected to suck it up and work late. Like, every night.

So, I settled into a nice little groove at — let’s call it “Company A” — and, being a gregarious sort, made friends in short order. I discovered that I had a knack for bringing people together. For example, I initiated “Let’s Lunch” Thursdays, where I’d send an email inviting everyone in the creative department — and beyond, actually — to meet at a little hole-in-the-wall Mexican joint in a strip mall near work. These lunches were a great success and so much fun. And, my coworkers and I left there warmed by the glow of camaraderie and cheap wine. (Which helped with the “creative process.”)

As Company A grew, it became more difficult to maintain weekly lunches and after-work meet and greets over cocktails, but I did my best to keep the momentum going. And, I had what I thought was a tight, core group of buddies who had my back, and I, theirs. In retrospect, what an utter dupe I was.

Along with one of my best buds, I started a work band. I was the lead singer, she played rhythm guitar and we enlisted the help of a few co-workers who were also musicians. This was something that I never imagined myself doing and it was, at least for me, life-changing, in that it was like realizing an adolescent dream of becoming Joan Jett.

Our band, dubbed “2Drink Minimum,” or “2DM,” for the fact that Company A’s specialty was direct marketing, played at parties that we put on for our co-workers. For some reason, our employer was deficient in the whole holiday party thing, so we figured — “What the hell?” — we’ll do it ourselves. And we sure did.

Jazmin Quaynor/Unsplash

We began by playing on site, then gradually, our band moved to a couple of area bars where co-workers hung out. I like to believe that a stellar time was had by all. Oh, some of our rehearsals got a little “heated,” but, at the end of the day, everyone worked out their differences and pulled it together.

At Company A, as some of the players shifted during multiple “re-orgs,” and new senior management was put into place, the honeymoon started to sour. I could not stand my new supervisor, an over-her-head, albeit world-class, faker, who talked her way into a job she neither understood, nor deserved. To make matters worse, she was about as creative as ear wax, and uttered malaprops like “case and point.”

Also, this person was someone who worked at the same agency I had, many years prior. So, like a fungus that never goes away — there she was! Again!

Especially adept at smooching the collective butt of our lazy account team, a “grandfathered in” group who were adept in their own right — at losing business — life at work was no longer the Dickensian, Fezziwig-led utopia it once was. And then the unimaginable happened: Company A was sold to a huge, data-driven, marketing behemoth. (Cue keening, here.)

And then my parents were both diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, followed closely behind by their eldest child (me), who received her own diagnosis of breast cancer.

So, I had a lumpectomy, followed by four weeks of daily radiation, (with weekends off) during which I did my best to keep my work balls in the air. The company, and my co-workers were very supportive, to which I’ll always be thankful. I must give them that.

A couple of months prior to my world shifting, I had initiated a fund drive for an animal rights organization that one of my co-workers put a lot of time and energy toward. The plan was to start with donations of food, towels, blankets, etc., and then, when the group became certified to accept financial donations, the band was going to get together at a nearby pub and hold one hell of a fundraiser.

By the time the date of the fundraiser rolled around, my parents were on a downward spiral. Considering their age and diagnosis, the rest of the family knew what was on the horizon. It was an incredibly difficult and surreal time, as I was not only trying to come to terms with their inevitable demise but my own health concerns, as well.

I thought about canceling the gig and the fundraiser, but I didn’t want to let people down. And, as a lifelong animal lover and advocate, I wanted to make a difference. That said, the band played, people came, people danced, and most importantly, people donated. We raised almost one thousand dollars and I am enormously proud of that.

Fast forward to Valentine’s Day of last year, when I was laid off with the two other people on my team. My supervisor and a “Human Resources” rep laid me off over the phone, during one of my work-from-home-days.

During this involuntary separation from my salary and health insurance, my clueless supervisor actually said the following, “Well, Sherry, now you’ll have more time to try and write your screenplays.” First off, forget the absolutely stunning lack of empathy here, but note the word “try.” I don’t “try” to write screenplays. I actually do write them. I’ve had two short films produced, one on each coast, that won some pretty cool awards. I also have a manager who is shopping my feature scripts.

At one point, my supervisor tried to write a screenplay, herself. She asked me to read it and give my honest assessment. Well, I read it, but honest, I was not.

These days, I’m nothing if not honest, so here goes: “If you should see this (former supervisor), let me tell you what I really thought of your script. As the great, and always outspoken film critic, Pauline Kael, responded to one of her acolytes, who asked her opinion of one of his screenplays, ‘It’s shit, honey’.”

It’s been well over a year since I was laid off. I can hardly believe it. You know what else is hard to fathom? The fact that I can count on one hand the number of people who’ve reached out to me.

Allow me to point out that I am not, nor have I ever been, “naïve.” But I thought good people did good things. Like, maybe taking twenty seconds to shoot me an email saying, “Hey, Sherry. How are you doing?”

These same people, who I befriended and with whom I shared some truly special times, I believe now look upon me as some sort of pariah. Maybe they think they’ll get canned if they hang out with me. Rather like my estranged brother who perhaps thought he would “catch” cancer if he spent a little quality time with my parents and myself.

Sara Kurfess/Unsplash

In spite of the lack of real contact, I dutifully, and stupidly, have kept abreast of former coworkers’ doings on Facebook, “liked” the mind-numbing pics and videos of their kids, their vacation photos, their meal breakdowns and all the other detritus of their daily lives and in return, have gotten bubkis.

I tell you this not out of self-pity. Please believe me, as I don’t feel all that bad about being what is basically, discarded after more than fifteen years. Thankfully, I am blessed with other, real friends. I just find the whole thing curious. Like the curiosity of lemmings who follow one another over a cliff.

Nope. Not a pity party. I’m recounting my experience so that, in the unfortunate event you find yourself in the same position one day, you’ll know what to expect from former co-workers who you thought were also, “friends.”

Nothing. Expect nothing. Because maybe, to paraphrase Pauline Kael, it is people, who are “shit.”

But, what do I know?



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Sherry McGuinn

Sherry McGuinn


Long-time writer and big-time dreamer. Screenwriter. Cat mama. Red lip aficionado.