New Business

Edward Hopper "Office in a Small City"
Working Title/Artist: Edward Hopper: Office in a Small City Department: Modern Art Culture/Period/Location: HB/TOA Date Code: Working Date: photography by mma 1979/89, transparency #11ad scanned and retouched by film and media (jn) 5_16_07

“I like my job.”

Really? You do? Betty….is that you?

I’m surprised too. A month an a half in, I’ve grown somewhat more comfortable with those words.

I like my job. 

“Oh? And what do you do?”

“I work at an Ad Agency.”

“Copywriting?”

“No,” I say, though for months that’s the type of job I was searching for.

“I do New Business.”

“New Business?”

A part of me wants to nod and say, “Yes, it’s all business. And it’s all new to me.”

The thing about getting fired is that once it happens, you’re terrified of getting fired again.

For the first few weeks I worried that I was doing everything wrong. I still do, but it’s most acute (as I’m sure it is for most people) in the first few weeks. Was I asking too many questions? Did I look confused too often? Did I seem enthusiastic enough about the work? Yes, yes, and probably not.

But my boss was patient. She gave me a week and a half long runway to pick things up and when she finally began to hand projects off to me, made herself available for my daily avalanche of questions. She gave positive feedback, but so did my colleagues at the other company just a week before they fired me. So for a while, my heart lurched a little every time my boss went into the HR lady’s office to talk. I would wonder if I’d misstepped somehow and would review my actions (or inactions) leading up to my boss leaving her chair.

Most of the time though, she sat back down and said nothing. And because it would have been rude to start at her profile and attempt to guess at a conversation I wasn’t privy to, I would too, return to work. Over time, I learned my boss just really likes the HR lady.

—–

On a recent conference call, the CEO asked if I understood what she needed me to do.

I didn’t. But instead of saying, “No,” I said, “Yeeehhhh…eeeessss?”

“You don’t sound very sure,” she said.

My lying face, my lying voice. Neither was ever any good.

“You’re right,” I said, more loudly and with more confidence than I’d said anything else that whole week, “I’m not sure.”

I held my breath during the brief moment of silence that followed. I wondered if the CEO was rolling her eyes.

“Oh,” she said, and then started over and explained again.

—–

There’s always a moment of “Oh to hell with all of this,” before I admit I don’t know something – my jaded perception of work and all the egotistical know-it-alls I’ve come across in previous positions have made me suspect that to admit “I don’t know” is akin to committing corporate suicide. Like jumping off the corporate ladder onto cement, for instance.

But at the same time I’m growing into New Business, I’m also growing as a person. A person who writes. Who tells the truth. And I’d like to stay true to what I believe even if it might make me seem a little slow on the uptake. At least in the beginning.

And so far, the truth hasn’t hurt. Before I hit the ground “splat!” someone says, “Oh well, I can show you.” Or “So-and-so can tell you more about that,” or “That’s fine, I didn’t know either and it took me a long time to learn.”

Admitting I don’t know is, in the grand scheme of things, one of the most useful abilities to have. And I call it an “ability” because you and I both know people who do not, will not – almost to the point of being incapable – say, “I don’t know,” even if it will save them a mountain of time and pain.

My life isn’t hard. Why make it harder?

So I say, “I don’t know.” I say it a lot.

After all, what’s the worse that could happen – they fire me?

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