Jeffrey Taylor was a public relations intern at the same time I was. He was about 22, trim and handsome, with dark hair, dark eyes and aristocratic features. He sported crisp suits that were obviously purchased by an affluent parent. I think he graduated from an upscale college somewhere in our state, Michigan, and I heard that his Dad was a big-time executive at one of the auto companies.
I hated him.
Or rather, I was insanely jealous of him. At 24 I was getting a very late start in PR. I had almost no professional clothes (except the outdated hand-me-downs an aunt had given me), no money and I was waitressing at night to get by. I was exhausted all the time and, most of all, really, really scared that I didn’t have what it took to be successful.
Jeffrey, on the other hand, seemed to glide around the office spouting corporate-speak as if it was a first language. He worked buzzwords like “synergy” and “leverage” into casual conversation, while I was still trying to figure out how to use “per” in emails. At night, in my tiny apartment, when I would try to decide which of my three outfits to wear the next day, I would think of him, probably still sitting at a glossy dining room table with his dad, who was undoubtedly walking him through the fine points of how to get a full-time time gig in PR.
My dad was missing, and probably standing on a street corner somewhere in Detroit, trying to score.
Why did Jeffrey have it so easy? It was as if his success was pre-arranged. I could see every locked door swinging open at his touch, while I wandered lost in a maze without a map.
And, as expected, within a month or so, he landed a full-time job at a global PR firm based in Detroit and they quickly decided he was such an up-and-comer, they moved him to their Washington D.C. office. They paid all the moving costs and even set him up in a shared apartment with another employee. Welcome back to Easy Street, Jeffrey.
The months went by and I kept blundering through work, trying to learn how to write press releases and place stories. I was terrible at it and still just barely covering my bills. I began to wonder if maybe I should just cash out, waitress full-time and leave the corporate world to guys like Jeffrey.
Then one night, I had drinks with a friend who knew him. When I asked about Jeffrey, he raised his eyebrows and said: “Oh, he’s out. Way out.”
“What? What happened?” I asked.
“Well, they got him there, all set up, and assigned him to a project team at the firm. But after a few weeks he realized he wasn’t getting invited to some of the confidential team meetings. He was outraged, did a little more digging and found he wasn’t being copied on a few emails too. So, one night, after everyone went home, he snuck into his boss’s office, logged onto her computer and sent emails to the administrator and a few others stating: ‘Jeffrey needs to be added henceforth to all future correspondence and meetings’. The next morning he came in and the general manager was waiting for him. ‘You’re finished,’ he said. Then they had security escort him out. He’s done.”
It was the best news I’d ever heard. I laughed in extreme relief; feeling shivers down my arms and blew the rest of the week’s allowance on another beer. That night I walked around in an elated fog. There was justice in the world – and no matter what advantages Jeffrey had, we were all equalized by our own stupidity anyway.
And that meant I still had a shot at the life I wanted.
And I was right. The years passed and slowly (sometimes painfully) I gained experience and skill. Jobs and promotions came and went. I moved from my tiny apartment to a bigger apartment and built a respectable wardrobe and eventually a respectable life. Today you could even mistake me for a Jeffrey.
But I don’t feel like one.
I forget who I am and all I’ve achieved. I look at the people around me, and see Jeffreys, talking on cell phones, stepping out of expensive cars and into beautiful homes. They skip here and there, looking like they’ve got it all figured out. I become my old self, falling prey to the lie that some people have an immutable advantage. But then I think of Jeffrey; being escorted out of that office with a flummoxed look on his face. He doesn’t have it all figured out. Neither do I. Neither do you.
And that’s where justice lies.