Business

I learned that my dream job came at a cost when my relationships suffered

In the 2010s, Silicon Valley loves a “disruptor,” but I quickly discover that in real life that translates into simply interrupting, raising your hand in the middle of Mitch’s overloaded PowerPoint and blurting, “Wait, why do we do it (terrible/expensive idea)? Who is this initiative really aimed at? »

It’s Tom Hanks’ tactic in “Big” – so simple it could be performed by a child – and I’m starting to implement it as often as possible. This earns me a reputation as a crappy starter and a maverick, which translates well to these white-collar rooms of mostly white-collar men, especially because it’s unexpected from a ” creative type” and, more importantly, a girl.

The part of the business I run is the lifestyle section, an under-resourced and understaffed division of the news division, the unloved half-sister of better-funded and more respected categories. like finance and sports, which are managed by men. I oversee a team of highly skilled writers and editors who cover fashion, beauty, fitness, recipes, parenting, pets, and PG-13 rated sex for an audience that is less of a cool coastal elite and bold than a comfortable audience, a USA Today for the digital age, all the tips for cooking and cleaning on a budget and in-depth reports on Kate Middleton’s lipstick shade.

I’m good at my job, but it comes at a cost

It’s a site I wouldn’t necessarily read myself, but I understand the mission. Unlike my last job, where I often struggled to find the right tone, my editorial vision for the tech company’s lifestyle site is clear and confident. Growing up working class in a home where People magazine was the primary source of news, I am almost preternaturally competent at a job that involves getting into the minds of the general public and finding out what motivates them and, more importantly, the click.

In addition to meetings and managing the day-to-day operations of our site, I’m in charge of an open blogging and user-generated content (UGC) platform, a project that my bosses are particularly proud of. They brag about how useful it is at board meetings, rave to advertisers about how it builds “community” and “engagement,” how they’re all happy moms from the Midwest who share their happy mom advice. It’s not. Even with our team’s relentless curating and moderation efforts, it’s less populated with wholesome housekeeping tips than it is with racism, homophobia, and lots and lots of user-generated sneaky dick pics.


Green cover of the book Ambition Monster: A Memoir by Jennifer Romolini with pink writing

“Ambition Monster: A Memoir” by Jennifer Romolini comes out June 4.

Atria Books



The work just keeps coming. I put in 60 hours a week. There is always a fire to put out, an ego to soothe, a stray dong to remove. During these first months, I enjoy almost every professional challenge. Productivity gives me purpose, order and clearly organizes my days. I show up overprepared for every meeting. I carefully define editorial objectives. I fight for more resources for my team, mostly to no avail.

I frequently receive unsolicited comments from high-level male executives, which is often a nuisance, if not a complete waste of my time. One afternoon, a senior manager called me “hot pants” in the office kitchen, as a comment on the red pants I wore earlier in the week.

Another morning, an SVP takes me aside to talk about the number of mothers I’ve hired: Are your ENTIRE staff pregnant? That same day, a senior marketing executive suggested that what the site I run really needs is more nip-slips. I smile politely and ignore them. I’m tapping into a well of competitiveness, a level of discipline from Sun Tzu that I didn’t know about.

Killing it at work means other parts of my life suffer

In all the strategic and interpersonal areas that I initially failed at Lucky, I triumph in corporate life. The secret to my success is a lifelong mania, although these days you would probably call it “passion” for what I do. If I’m not at my desk, I’m on my BlackBerry.

When I’m away, I regularly interrupt friends’ stories and life updates to raise an index finger – just for a second, I really need to fix this – and write my emails, without considering the damage I caused to the conversation flow. I never slow down long enough to consider how little I give to my friendships, how uncomfortable it must be to sit with someone who is so sidelined.

Staying on top of my work is my top priority; it makes me feel responsible and important, a feeling I enjoy. I’m no longer the messy, unreliable shit I felt I was in my twenties, I think, but a more robust person; respectable, established, docked.

I’m not just an absent-minded friend. Apart from childcare duties, I am rarely present at home. After the baby’s bath and bedtime routines, when Alex and I finally sit down to eat takeout, I often spend the meal refreshing my inbox rather than asking him about his day. Later, I pull out my laptop and check the traffic numbers while we’re supposed to be watching “Game of Thrones.” Instead of reaching for it in bed, I lie awake with my back turned, proactively identifying and solving office problems in my head. Proud of my diligence, how few things escape my notice.

In a capitalist society, hard work is often as satisfying as it is exhausting. We have been conditioned from a young age to find pleasure in the rigors and strains of achievement. It seems natural to me to consider my overwork as noble, to settle into this fundamental groove of the brain. During these first few months of high performance, I revel in the momentum of my own skills, but the stress that accompanies it means that this comes at the expense of the health of my central nervous system.

Real and imagined threats to my work keep my amygdala active throughout my days. The goals of the company I work for remain evolving; it is difficult to predict which direction to walk. I survive several rounds of layoffs and am assured that my department is not a future target, but my position never feels entirely secure. This work provides my family’s health care and our livelihood. By definition, I depend on it. Keeping me motivated to work harder, to do as much as I can with less, is an institutional feature, not a bug.

Extract of Ambition Monster: a memoir by Jennifer Romolini. Copyright 2024 Jennifer Romolini. Published by Atria Books.

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