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Monday, August 21, 2006

The Devil Wears Kiton


Sometimes, we don't understand the things we do until several months later. Sometimes, the decisions we felt so compelled to make do not explain themselves until years have past. I don't know about you, but there have been a couple of experiences in my life which I have yet to understand.

One of those experiences was my nine month stint at an international film financing firm in Beverly Hills. It is hard for me to even reflect on it. I think this is because I feel the tension of something that has yet to be processed, has yet to be made clear.

When I first met JP, the man who hired me, I told God "I can't handle another rejection. I have wanted to be in the film industry for so long. I can not handle another 'no.'"

This time, I got a 'yes.'

On September 1st, I drove to Beverly Hills, my stomach a sting of nerves. I parked the car in the wrong part of the garage. I took the wrong elevator to the office. I wore the wrong shoes, but I started, none-the-less. I got along very well with the five men in the office. They liked working with me, and I like working with them, but I still hadn't met my boss, the owner of the company.

He was in Europe when I was hired, and it was another three weeks before he pushed his way through the door, flinging it open in a particular way that I would come to recognize as his "entrance." He sped across the carpet, dragging his Kiton heels in a determined way, which was his signature walk. It was as if he would rocket into flight if he didn't keep his feet pinned to the ground.

JP leapt from his desk, and handling David with agility, turned him toward me. "This is Christin," JP said. David's hand jutted out from beneath his jacket.

"Welcome. You must have really impressed these guys! They're hard to please." I was mute with intimidation. I mumbled an answer, blushed pink, and flopped back into my chair. I was relieved when he turned his direct gaze from me back to JP.

My learning curve started immediately. David called me into the office, "I need reservations with S--- at Matsuhisa. The German investors are in town next month. Find me something to do with them in LA. Get my mother reservations at Le Meridien or the Peninsula. Take my car to the car wash, but I need it back by 12:30 for my lunch with P-----. Oh, and get me directions to The Ivy. JP does those little buckslips things. I like them."

I was thrown head first into a world of fancy restaurants, hotels, international travel, and expensive entertainment. Two or three words were enough to spin me into a frenzy of work. Half the time I didn't know who he was talking about, or how to find the places he asked for.

In just a few months, I learned that being an executive assistant is one of the hardest jobs around. To be a great assistant you must push the boundaries of your personal life out and out until they encompass your employer's world. There is no going home. There is no leaving for vacation. Your time is his time, and your energy is his to spend.

On Valentine's Day I ordered flowers for David's wife. On my vacation home to Indiana, I got a call from David in France who was in a fury over his Cannes Film Festival registration. I did everything from wrapping Christmas presents to making his daily coffee. It is so hard to be perfect, but perfection is the lowest common denominator as an assistant. It is simply a MUST. No questions asked.

And still, in the middle of this frenzy, I never quite caught on to what was expected of me. I wanted my job to be an office job that I could leave behind when it was time to go home. I wanted it to fit neatly into a 9-6 schedule and to stay tucked away when it was time for me to do homework, or spend time with Dwayne. This is where the trouble began.

In May of this year, I walked into David's office and sparked a conversation that made the next several days of my life click out like dominoes. I could tell he was upset with me, but he wouldn't to tell me what was wrong. Finally, in the quietness of his office he leveled with me.

"In the first few months you were doing great. I thought you were really going to catch on. But now you've hit a plateau. I need someone who can run with the ball, who can see into the future and anticipate everything that's going to happen. This company is growing, and I've got to manage these guys and a lot more pressure. I need someone that can manage this office for me. Free me up."

I sat quietly, letting his words pour over me like hot lava.

"I'm just not sure you're the right person for the job. There are a lot of things you do well and we don't need to go over those things, but my two biggest critiques are that you're too hesitant and too needy."

My future at SCC opened up before me like a movie.

"I'm not looking for a change," he said, but I didn't believe him. He had been so blunt with me that I assumed he was done with me. I found out later, that I was wrong. Somehow, David was trying to motivate me, but the dominoes were already falling. I understood something in my gut that I haven't been able to articulate until now.

I wasn't willing to let go of the quiet places in my life where David couldn't reach me. I wasn't willing to make SCC my priority, and for that reason, I needed to leave.

At a recent interview, the employer asked me, "What has been your biggest failure." I couldn't bring myself to tell him, but I knew the answer in my heart. SCC has been my biggest failure. It was the first job I ever took that I didn't finish to completion. David has been the first employer that I've completely let down.

"This makes me sad!" David said, when I turned in my resignation. "I hope I didn't chase you away." I could only shake my head and say "This is my decision."

I can still see David's Kiton shoes and hear the way he used to drag his feet across the carpet. I used to jam my feet into all kinds of uncomfortable high heels and leather shoes when I worked there. It has been a singular relief to go back to flip flops.

11 Comments:

Blogger ideasenator said...

Cheer up! Better things are waiting for you. Maybe you are SAVED from this person.

9:15 AM  
Blogger Brandon and Lisa said...

Wow Christin. I just felt like I watched a summary of the movie "The devil wears prada." Have you seen the movie or read the book? If not, you must! You will 100% relate to the main character, Andy. It's funny because at the end of the movie/book, the lesson learned is that Andy doesn't belong at the high maintenance, invade your personal life, office. She doesn't want that lifestyle and doesn't need that job. I don't know why God had you go through that experience, but I think we both can agree that you learned what you aren't looking for in your career. Remember how I went through a similar experience with my internship? (Although I think your experience was even worse than mine.) The main thing I can point out through that time is that I now know exactly what I do and don't want at an Interior Design firm. At least both of our experiences were temporary. :) You're now ready to move on to bigger and better jobs!

10:32 AM  
Blogger Amy said...

I like this a lot.

12:55 PM  
Blogger tibbitts said...

you're an excellent writer.

7:34 PM  
Blogger Jo said...

This just flowed and carried me along right to the end, as if I were mesmerized.

Anyway, I applaud your choice to leave. I'm guessing that, as a child, you didn't dream of growing up to be someone else's slave. ;) Congrats on surviving there so long.

5:55 AM  
Blogger Eric Nentrup said...

You know what I see so frequently, Christin? People "at the bottom of the ladder" believing they're at the bottom of the ladder.

My sister was just asking me about getting her first job, and I told her to go in and interview them, not vice versa.

Know who you really are, friend.

And KEEP writing.

Flippin' the flippin' ladder....

Eric

8:21 PM  
Blogger ap said...

going back to flip flops is smart. those are some of the ugliest shoes i've seen. i realize you didn't wear them, but i would have had a tough time not making fun of the fact that someone near me was wearing them. i suppose that's why i am in ministry: no one wears over expensive shoes.

3:30 PM  
Blogger Dave Ward said...

Glad for your post. Simply the most honest, transparent, refreshing blog post i have read in months.

No "buck up and move on" message from me. I appreciate the deep level of yuck that leaves in your gut. I understand how hard it is to shake a failure when you REALLY wanted to be perfect this time. And I know how easy it is to get sucked into pleasing people.

So, hats off to you Christin for being human and being willing to admit it. For recognizing it when it got the best of you, and for walking out without parting shots.

Sometimes I have wondered lately if people who get "executive assistants" really don't WANT the person to do well. They want to keep raising the bar and giving "read my mind AND the future at the same time" kinds of demands so that they have someone they can be frustrated with. Why? They are frustrated with themselves...they aren't perfect either. And they desperately need to be. So they hire someone to help them become perfect, and when they fail....hmmm

Just a thought.

by the way...this is a little closer to knowing what kind of job it is you WANT. But you never really did answer that for me. What kid of job would you have if you could have ANYTHING???

8:02 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

After just reading the book, I was awestruck at how similar your experiences were. I like that there was no happy ending, no "Well it all ended up working out in the end." While I do believe things happen for a reason, when a door closes, another one does not necessarily have to open. This was very real, very candid...which I appreciate.

10:19 AM  
Blogger Christin said...

ideasenator: Thanks for dropping by! I am cheered up. Things are going very well for me these days.;-)

B&L: Hey guys. It was watching TDWP that lead to this post. I walked away processing everything that had happened to me.

Amy: I like YOU alot. ;-)

Tibbitts: Thanks for the compliment!

Jo: You read my mind! Wow, you're good!;-) Unfortunately, there are many people in the film industry who allow themselves to become someone else's slaves. And they think that they have arrived.

Eric: Hi Eric! You know, this time around I have been much more selective about jobs. I've gotten a couple job offers for admin asst positions, but I've walked away from all of those. I am holding out for the best job - and I found it! I will be an adjunct professor of Freshman Writing at APU, this Fall.

AP: AB-SO-LUTELY! I just can't appreciate people's obsession with expensive shoes. It's fascinating to me, in the same way shoes from Mars would be fascinating to see.

Dave: I'm stumped. You asked me that before, and I just don't know. I'll be teaching Freshman Writing this Fall at Azusa Pacific University. That is exciting for me, but I'm not sure I'll end up being a career college prof.

I've never been one of those ambitious people that got their mind set on a goal in the future and then plowed straight toward it. I think I'm more of an experiential learner. It seems like my goals are shaped by my journey, as opposed to vice versa. Everything I experience is shaping me and preparing me for my dream job, which I can't see at the moment.

My 5 year goal is to write the textbook on shared literary devices used in Documentaries and Creative Nonfiction. Then I would like to travel across the country lecturing and speaking about the ideas in that book. But I'm not sure what I want after that. Probably just to continue to be published and to continue to be able to share my ideas with people.

I pray for discipline and focus.

Beth: Hello Beth! Nice to hear from you. You know, there is something so peaceful about letting go of happy endings, and allowing all doors to be closed for the moment. I don't know if I'll ever be a part of the film industry again. Although it's hard for me to imagine that chapter of my life being over. But, I now have the opportunity to teach at the college level, which I am looking forward to very much.

10:51 AM  
Blogger Dave Ward said...

So after a long sabattical from blogging I am finally back. It took me a bit to get my feet on the ground here in Marion. I am assuming no one else will ever read this post since it is so buried. ANd I hope it gets emailed to you because otherwise you never will either. :)

I wonder if I THINK I am one of those plow toward the goal guys when really I am a journeyer, too. I know I want to train preachers. But 6 months ago if you had said I should professor I would have told you that was my brother.

Here I am in Marion teaching preaching.

There you are at APU. Funny.

I saw Mary Brown walk across the lawn today...my favorite professor.

Talked with Ron Mazellan, the guy I wish was a professor of mine.

Rambling...but I like your idea! Your book idea fascinates me. Probably because it is beyond me.

Anyhow...have you read The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron????

8:24 PM  

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