I’ve walked out on one job in my life.
I had been in NYC for just over a year when I saw a Craigslist ad for an office manager/executive assistant for a fashion designer management agency in SoHo. I immediately jumped at the opportunity to work in fashion.
Although the book version of "The Devil Wears Prada" was already out, I had not read it, and the movie adaptation was still a year away.
Believe it or not, I had zero idea about the stereotypical catty world for which I was about to sign up. When they offered me the position, I gave my current job notice, dusted off my one pair of Jimmy Choo pumps and prepared to take my place in the world of fashion.
I had been making $28,000 at the previous job, and although the new one only paid $2,000 more, it was still more, and the work, I figured, would be far more exciting.
The Good, the Bad and the Fashionable
Admittedly, working in fashion had its perks. I got free shoes and an occasional lunch at Balthazar, a trendy French brasserie downtown … but I also had to deal with incessant screaming phone calls from designers, and the sting of everyone from industry insiders to my own boss questioning my intelligence (he would call me “clearly brainless”).
Making matters worse, I was not psychic.
I was supposed to somehow know my boss never flew American Airlines, never used condiments and had not one, but three phones — when he had never actually given me any of this information. I learned the hard way when I booked his trip to L.A. on American, got his turkey sandwich with mustard and gave out the wrong number to his BlackBerry. Each screw-up resulted in being pulled aside and reamed out for not figuring it all out on my own. I began to doubt myself: Maybe I was the idiot he claimed.
I won’t even get into the female agent who often opened her drawer of enemas and offered me a few to help with my weight problem. I don’t think I have a weight problem.
It was an emotional year, to say the least.
My Breaking Point
Just before Fashion Week in September, things got even worse. The once passive-aggressive ridiculing by my boss had started to take place in the main office, rather than in private. It was as though he got off on berating me out in the open, for everyone — even designers I had followed for years in Vogue — to see.
Every tiny mistake led to him asking if I was deliberately trying to get fired. When I asked for a raise because I was working 10 to 11 hours a day and was almost always at his beck and call, he literally laughed in my face. I countered that I was making $30,000 and putting up with emotional and mental distress on a daily basis. He suggested I get a therapist like the rest of New York; I politely said I couldn’t afford one.
Halfway through Fashion Week, one of my favorite designers came by the office. That same day, my boss was scheduled to fly to Miami, but his flight, as well as every other one, was canceled due to a hurricane. There was nothing I could do about a natural disaster. But to him, of course, it meant I didn’t try hard enough.
When I broke the news, he launched into a tirade of insults. I watched the interns cower, the other agent roll her eyes and I did everything within my power not to cry. (After I saw "The Devil Wears Prada," I started to wonder if he was taking tips from it.)
The designer, whom I had long admired, stared in horror and shot me a sympathetic glance. Other than that, no one said a word. I walked back to my desk and told my intern I was going for a walk. As I said it, I had already decided to never step foot in that office again.
As I walked toward the elevator choking back tears, my boss told me to pick him up a Starbucks coffee while I was out. I nodded silently and left.
What Happened After I Walked Out
I went to Starbucks, got myself an iced Americano and proceeded to walk up Broadway to the Flatiron building. I sat down and watched the tourists, thinking about how I would tell my parents what I had done. Even before quitting, I was living paycheck to paycheck. My savings were somewhere around $600.
But in that moment, money wasn’t my greatest concern. I had been so belittled, all I could do was sit there, feel the wooden slats of the bench under me and allow myself to feel freedom instead of fear.
Finally, I got up and headed back to my apartment. On the way home, I received a call from the owner of the company who apologized (very weakly, if we’re to be honest) for my boss’ behavior. He also said I never had a thick enough skin for the job, but he appreciated my hard work and would give me one week's severance. Not much, but it was something.
I was in no position to haggle. If anything, I was grateful.
My New Lease on Life
After drowning my sorrows in wine that first night, I started my job search with fervor. I also cut costs: no more eating out, no more bars and no more shopping until I got a job.
I didn’t want to tell my parents I had walked out until I had something else lined up. I was hoping we could have a good laugh about it, eventually. I have always found jobs on Craigslist, and once again started my search there. This was before the recession so finding a job wasn’t as difficult as it would be now; after only four interviews, I was offered a job just in time to pay October’s rent.
The job that came next was at a guerrilla marketing company. I was hired to be the office manager, and it was a job I had for over two years before I was eventually let go, along with almost everyone else, because of the recession. Unlike my job in fashion, the marketing company was full of great co-workers, an absent boss (which is always great) and an environment that nurtured our artistic pursuits outside of work.
I made amazing friends, met one of the great loves of my life and learned to have faith in myself again ... a difficult task considering the office from which I came. I started a blog based on my office manager experiences, and eventually found the necessary self-esteem to pursue writing as a full-time career after I was laid off with a very generous eight weeks' severance.
On a good day, I can say things happen for a reason. On a bad day, I don’t know why or how things happen.
While I can say now that having walked out on that fashion job was one of the wisest choices I ever made, I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same thing had the outcome gone in a completely different direction. However, instead of getting into “what if,” I’ll just say having had that job and then leaving it are two important parts of my life.
It also makes for a great story, and as a writer, that’s always a good thing.
Amanda Chatel is a writer based in New York City.