To every employer who has hired me, fired me, or may hire me (and fire me) in the future,
This is a hard letter to write.
I think most people believe that I speak without a filter, that honesty is something I wield without reservations or fear of consequences. Nothing could be further from the truth. I speak when I am most fearful. I gamble with my reputation because I dread insincerity more than I do censure. And I know I can’t demand of others that which I am unwilling to give.
So this is probably stupid. But here we go.
I am not a good employee. I know that.
I wasn’t a good student, either. It’s sort of always been this way. I don’t work any harder than I have to. I am easily distracted. I am abrasive. I have difficulty waking up in the morning and getting where I need to be on time. I daydream. I resent the authority of those I perceive to be less intelligent and more disingenuous than I am. In procrastinating, I often create more work for others.
I’m sorry for all of this. It’s not you. It’s not your business. It’s not the system. It’s me.
I’m especially sorry because I love to write. I love to be paid to write. I am a good writer. I take so long to write anything because I cherry-pick my parts of speech. I vacillate over comma placement. I begin to research your project and end up half a dozen Wikipedia articles deep into the wheres and whys of the thing that makes your project go, because the gears that drive the machine are so much more nuanced and interesting than their sum. I love to read. I love to learn. I am the only one in your office who knows how a semicolon works.
I don’t want to be a word robot. And I know. I know. This is the real world. Deadlines don’t wait for artists and prima donnas. Sometimes you need a word robot. You need someone who can produce great language and do it fast. I can’t. I don’t want to. And I’m so sorry, because I’m not going to change.
The prevailing wisdom seems to be that it is not good enough to merely excel at a skill. This makes perfect sense to me. Economies aren’t driven by earnestness and good intentions. Nature tends towards chaos and entropy – it is only through a concerted effort of Sisyphean will that anyone succeeds at anything at all. In cellular biology, this is called active transport: a substance that, through impulsion or propulsion, penetrates a cellular membrane into an area of high pressure – a little like shoving your way past a bouncer into a packed club. It’s the same sensation I experience every time I have to interrupt a lucid dream to wake up and make it in for a 9 a.m. meeting. I realize this is not your fault, either – what must be done must be done. But I am not good at doing it.
So I admire the single-minded gumption necessary to make a business thrive. It is not in me to navigate the niceties of commerce; I simply do not have the energy. The prospect of being a creative director, or a “senior” anything, makes me feel tired and anxious. Even my low-level peers seem to have a knack for doggedness that eludes me entirely. I just can’t put my head down and work all day. I don’t know how anyone else does.
But I am a good person and a better writer. I am intelligent. I take chances. I am insightful. At times I have been known to be pretty goddamn funny.
I don’t want to be stigmatized as a lazy know-it-all who doesn’t pull her weight. Okay, fine, it’s true. But I am so much more than that. I just need a little help.
Please don’t leave me to twist in the wind. Please help me understand what you need me to do. I want to have a job. I want to be an asset. I know that I’m a pain.
But when you say to me, “You’re a brilliant writer, but we’re just not feeling it” when I am feeling it; when you say, “You’re not happy here” when once I was happy, and could be again if you’d just take me off the fucking demos and let me write something brave and weird and new; when you presume to tell me what I should be instead of letting me be what I am – fierce and curious and funny and pedantic – then you do damage to me. You obliterate my trust in you. And you teach me not to strive for more.
You cannot make me what I’m not. But you can help me be a better version of what I am.
I am angry with myself for not working harder. I am angry with myself for not having more patience. I am angry with myself for my crappy time management. I am angry with myself for not being able to see the writing on the wall, time after time after time after time.
But I am angry with you for telling me to make bricks without straw. I am angry with you for withholding critical tools like information and empathy. I am angry with you for cutting me loose with phrases like “I’m sorry” and “This is hard for me, too.” I am angry with you for misrepresenting your faith in my abilities. I am angry with you for enticing me with a future you never meant for me to reach.
I am a shitty employee. But you are a shitty manager. We both could have tried harder. We both should have done better. I hope you have the wherewithal to ask yourself whether you did everything you were supposed to.
And yet, for all of that, I still really want you to like me. And I want to like you, too. We are not bad people.
I want to be the kind of person who can own her foibles – who can try to make the most of her shortcomings by turning them into something positive; or who, failing that, can at least exist without regret. Perhaps this is a deluded, unrealistic expectation. Perhaps I’m just gilding my albatross.
But for all of my failings, my optimism persists: I can survive as a creative writer in the right environment. I will probably arrive at 9:15 instead of 8:59 (and I will be proud of myself for not arriving at 9:30). I will use every last minute of my allotted deadline time (and I will want three days more).
But here are some things I can promise:
- I promise to write my heart out for anyone who can get used to the sound of “I’m sorry.”
- I promise never to give you words that I don’t believe in; I will agonize over them. They will pour out of me in a fever the last thirty minutes of Friday afternoon.
- I promise to argue over my adjectives with any tight-assed, perfectly manicured project managers who think they know the first damn thing about writing—and I will gladly do so to the detriment of my reputation, because all that matters is the words, all that matters is being right about the fucking words.
- I promise to make your clients say, “I never would have thought to phrase it that way.” I promise to hate you if you let your clients do my writing for me.
- I promise not to take criticism personally if you can provide thoughtful and reasoned criticism. “Just because” or “I don’t like it” are not reasons.
- I will go to battle for my words. I will go to war. Just tell me what to do, and then step back and let me do it.
I am weird and unpredictable and crass and forgetful. I am incorrigible. I am insufferable.
I am at your mercy. Let me write for you.
who should probably start practicing wrapping trout in old newspapers (whatever those are)