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That Time I Blew a Career in Publishing and Lost a Friend

Opportunity knocked, but my head was in the clouds

By Steffany RitchiePublished 6 months ago 9 min read
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

I was living in New York, having made it back after graduating from college a year earlier. (I previously lived in New York City for a year after my sophomore year, dropping out of college, not sure if I would go back.)

In my year off, I made a friend in an acting class. A few years older than me, she was mainly in the class to improve her public speaking skills. She had a “real job” working for a large bookseller.

I and most of my friends my age worked retail or restaurant jobs. Being her friend made me feel more grown-up, she was young/still in her twenties, but she had her sh*t together. She took me out to dinner in a fancy restaurant one night and insisted on footing the bill. She could afford it, she said, it was her pleasure.

One day I could take her out she said, and despite my flighty/more artistic inclinations, some part of me wanted to believe that someday I could be a successful New York career girl too. Something about living in New York, even as a starving artist, made me want to believe I could “make it” too, even though realistically I knew that I wasn’t interested in an office job career as my own dream.

We stayed in touch when I went back to college and met up when I visited New York a couple of times. We had long conversations on the phone as people did in those days, and I felt like she was a real friend. She always had solid, real-world advice, and made me feel capable of what sometimes felt like the insurmountable obstacle of making my way back to New York somehow.

But I did make it back, almost exactly a year after graduating from college, having saved up money working two jobs. I didn’t really have a “plan” per se, I am not the best at practicalities, and maybe I was always doomed to fail. I couldn’t throw myself entirely into acting, because of needing healthcare for my asthma I always had to work some kind of office job so I could (barely) afford my medication. So I enrolled in a nighttime acting class at my old school and started looking for temp work.

Not long after I arrived my aforementioned friend let me know about a job opportunity. And here is where I have to hold my hands up, because the level of privilege handed to me in this situation was ridiculous. Her boyfriend was a pretty high-up editor at a large publishing house. We had all hung out a few times, he was a nice guy, and I felt comfortable with him.

My friend told me that there was a position available working as his assistant. It would be a pretty big leap for me, although I had worked at an investment company (another unlikely story) for a few months and temped in offices for the past year, so I wasn’t completely inexperienced. But still, it was probably the type of job interview most post-grads would kill for. Especially former English majors like me, we aren’t exactly a hot ticket on the job market!

My friend told me that the job was mine if I wanted it, I basically just had to show up for the interview. What could possibly go wrong? How could anyone fuck up such a plum opportunity? (cues up Taylor Swift….”It’s me, me, I’m the problem it’s me”*).

I made an effort. I wore my nicest suit and pulled my unruly curls into some semblance of a bun. But as I sat in the waiting room of the very fancy office, I had a sinking feeling in my stomach. Why was I here? I felt both excitement and dread.

The interview with the guy, my friend’s boyfriend, seemingly went well and was about as informal as it could be. But there was a spanner in the mix. It turned out I would not just be assisting him, but another editor as well. I just had to do a short interview with him, it was a formality really, he said. My friend’s boyfriend smiled reassuringly and my heart sank.

The other editor was not my kind of guy at all. He was a “Chad” type, he reeked of privilege and overconfidence. He was younger than my friend’s boyfriend but immediately I felt the power shift as he grilled me with lots of in-depth questions I wasn’t expecting. Oh shit. I became nervous and flustered.

I am ok at interviews generally, but also I am not amazing at coming up with bullshit answers on the fly. It was not my dream to work in an office, not even a publishing house, at that moment in time. It was my dream to be an actress, and I made the colossal mistake of letting this slip. I dug my hole ever deeper, and before I knew it I was just spouting thoughts as they came into my brain - the wheels had come off the train completely.

I remember walking down the street after the interview. It was the tail end of summer, and hot as hades in New York. I took off my black blazer and was wearing a sleeveless pale blue camisole underneath. It had a low back which allowed air in and felt cool on my skin.

It came from a bargain-type shop, I had worn it because it had a high neck and looked smart under the suit, knowing they wouldn’t see the cheapness of it underneath. I received a few wolf whistles, but for once it didn’t bug me. I was back in New York and I didn’t need to put on a facade for anyone if I didn’t want to.

I knew that rationally I had blown the interview, but I am nothing if not an optimist. I figured maybe my friend’s boyfriend had fought my corner. A large part of me didn’t even want the job. I knew I had to work to survive but I also didn’t want to be tied to a full-time job either. I had a dream, a young person’s crazy pipe dream, but it was mine. I needed wiggle room to even hope to achieve it, I felt.

A week or so later, I hadn’t heard anything about the job. I knew it was not good, but I guess considering my friendship with the guy’s girlfriend I thought I might hear back either way. I called my friend and she immediately had a weird, sort of formal tone with me.

I tried to be casual, saying I was just double-checking about the interview since I hadn’t heard anything back. In retrospect, I will say this must have been very awkward for my friend. It’s not her fault she was in this position, but still, she had suggested the whole thing in the first place. Her boyfriend should have also had the decency to let me know I hadn’t got the job.

What surprised me was that my friend took on an immediately chastising tone with me. Of course, I didn’t get it, she said, what was I thinking telling the other guy I was an actress and might need to go on auditions at lunchtime?! (LOL I genuinely had blacked out by this point in the interview! I had no recollection of saying this!).

My friend was annoyed if not outright angry with me, and this made me feel ashamed. I had let her down, I had embarrassed her with her boyfriend, she had gone out on a limb for me, etc. I felt really bad to have let her down.

I didn’t know it then, but this was basically the end of our friendship. I tried reaching out to her a couple of times after this but she was suddenly always too busy to speak to me. I think maybe we hung out once more. But it was never the same between us, and we lost touch completely before long.

For a long time, I felt terrible about this. It wasn’t even until the pandemic, one day I found myself looking her up on social media. I still felt guilty/responsible when it came to our former friendship. We had once been close. I still blamed myself entirely for the whole thing.

But then a light kind of dawned on me. I was able to look back on myself as I was with a compassion that seemed to come from out of nowhere. My friend was around six or seven years older than me. I looked up to her. Yes, I messed up, but she knew me. She knew I wanted to be an actress. She knew the type of dreamy/not always practical person I was.

I know she thought she was doing me a favor, but to throw me under the bus like that was not cool. I had not been as prepared as I should have been for the interview, I had my guard completely down going into it, and I do feel that part at least was not entirely my fault.

I actually did ok for myself working at several long-term high-pressure temp jobs in the two years that followed. I was capable of being a responsible and good employee. But for a long time, I felt unsettled by the experience with this friend.

I felt like I had failed her, I had failed myself, and I think I was overly harsh on myself in retrospect.

Carrying around unnecessary guilt over stuff like this weighed on me for no reason. I wasn’t faultless, but for a long time when I was younger, I blamed myself completely for everything that ever went wrong in my life, without questioning it.

Yes, I made a mistake, but I now feel that a real friend would have forgiven me and not made me feel even worse about the situation. I could never be a success as a New York career girl, it was not meant for me. I was trying to fit in where I didn’t belong, I knew this in my gut relatively young but it’s pretty hard to accept when you want to thrive and succeed in the world.

*This article was originally published by the author on Medium.


About the Creator

Steffany Ritchie

Hi, I mostly write memoir, essays and pop culture things. I am a long-time American expat in Scotland.

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