Is It The End Of Dream Jobs?
After putting in time in the traditional world of media, getting let go made me realize it wasn't what I wanted after all.
Illustration by Kimberly Elliot
“Do you want this job?” my boss Cyan, wearing thick black glasses that make her look like a cross between Jenna Lyons and the Tootsie Pop owl, asks. A nervous-looking HR rep sits to her left. Cyan’s merlot-colored Birkin sits between them. “We noticed you let flowers from the general manager die on your desk.” I’m lost. “Was I supposed to resuscitate them?” I ask. “See?” Cyan looks at the HR rep. “This is the attitude I’m talking about.” She turns back to me. “We want someone who wants this job. Someone who will be a good corporate citizen.” Ew. A what? And with that, I’m given two weeks. I pick up my laptop, smile at the HR rep who’s fully dissociated by this point and sulk back to my cubicle.
What I initially thought would be a dream job, working for all the ~cool girl~ (rich, white, cis, skinny, straight) magazines, turned out to be a lot of underpaid, overworked women in their 20s competing for promotions that didn’t exist. Screaming at each other about celebrities’ “What’s In My Bag?” videos (usually just a phone and some gum), and who wore what cummerbun to the Met Gala. I once sobbed to my therapist for an hour over a Khloé Kardashian interview I’d accidentally published early. I’d spent months trying to learn how to contour only to look like an AI-aged photo of a cast member of Toddlers & Tiaras. I didn’t belong in this world. But I needed to be violently and unceremoniously ejected from it in order to see that.
As much as I didn’t want Cyan to know it, being fired devastated me. I’d always been a gold-star employee, getting promotions and raises and glowing praise from my bosses. But this job had sucked the life out of me. It became exhausting trying to stay afloat in a sea of people who use the term “girl crush” and stare blankly when I reference anything to do with queer women’s relationships or sex. Despite wanting to be a New York Media Girlie—essentially just an anthropomorphized bowl of lemons, with wrists weighed down by stacks of gold bracelets I couldn’t afford and legs as long and thin as pool noodles—I’m just not.
On my last day, as I stared out at rows of gray boxes full of deeply bored-looking people half obstructed by giant purple headphones we were gifted at the office Christmas party, I realized I didn’t want to work for free headphones anymore. In fact I never wanted to see the inside of a cubicle again. As I left the office, I got a message from Cyan. “Good luck,” she wrote. She couldn’t imagine how a bad corporate citizen like me would thrive without a lot of luck. But unfortunately, her luck wasn’t going to pay my rent.
After taking a week or two to spiral deep into an existential crisis, I got an offer to write for another publication, this one helmed by a queer woman. It was a platform through which I could cultivate an audience that was more like-minded. Essentially, it was a place where I could be myself. Over time, I sank more comfortably into my voice. When that publication was eventually sold, I was once again terrified of what to do next. But I realized I didn’t need a big fancy name attached to my work to have an impact.
I created my own site and community, Mad Dyke Mag, dedicated to pop culture through the lens of queer women and non-binary people. I no longer had to shapeshift in order to embody someone else’s vision or voice. I built a small, weird, funny, enthusiastic audience just by being myself. They made work fun again. They reminded me of why I wanted to be a writer in the first place. I can actually enjoy myself and that’s reflected in the things I create. Do I sometimes miss the hot Vogue editors yelling at me? Of course. But I can be my own hot Vogue editor now.
In the past few years, since the pandemic prompted a mass migration to a work-from-home lifestyle, there’s been conflicting studies as to whether people are more productive working outside the confines of a 9-to-5 office job, or less. But I’m not sure where we work is as important now. Working in an environment that lives and dies by the hierarchy makes it difficult for people to really bring their full selves to the table. It’s easy to feel like a cog in the machine.
Getting fired, while mildly traumatizing, was truly the best thing that could’ve ever happened to me. I could’ve easily become complacent getting a regular paycheck for taking my brain out of my skull and locking it in a filing cabinet every morning, hopefully remembering to retrieve it before I left for the day. And I never would’ve had the confidence (desperation?) to start my own site and find my people.
In the end I didn’t need Cyan or the cachet of her publications. I needed to remember who I was and what makes me happy. And that’s easy to forget working every day for a boss who hates you. If I could go back I would tell Cyan to keep her luck—and ask her how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop.