Dear E. Jean: I’m reeling from an attack on my reputation. A higher-up who’s quite powerful in my company (a major film studio) emailed a scathing critique of my performance to top management. My boss forwarded it to me as an FYI. You can’t imagine the vitriol contained in the indirect swipes.
Normally, I let this kind of stuff roll off my back, but I felt compelled to defend myself to my boss. From the looks of things, the way I do my job (i.e., my long-standing career here) is not the way they want it done. I’m both terrified of losing my job and angry enough to say screw them for not valuing my work!
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I’ve also been spending hard the past few months on the assumption I have an income. Now it looks like I’m out. My question is, how do I spin this “bad performance” to prospective employers? —Didn’t Know I Suck
Didn’t Know, My Darling: Get up! Come on! Go save your job! You’re angry? Good. You want to tell them to go screw themselves? Use that gall. It will make you look, paradoxically, a little more in control. Here’s the plan:
Bypass your boss. This is your battle. Go straight to the person who wrote the “scathing critique.”
Once you’re in her office, be upbeat, not aggressive. State your case without challenging her judgment. You know her passions, her vanities. Launch your ideas accordingly. Quickly note your major accomplishments and then present ideas for new ways to raise the fortunes of the studio, which will help her. If she interrupts, if she froths at the mouth like a rabid skunk, keep your composure. You don’t have to smile, but look optimistic. She probably knows more than you, so let her speak. Studio execs are under a lot of pressure.
If you can remain standing the whole time, your energy will be higher. You understand she wants you to do things differently. Tell her you can do it! Ask her to give you a month to turn things around. Gird your loins by reading a Lee Child thriller, a Tana French crime mystery, or David Black’s saucy, high-octane brain-burner The Extinction Event. It will show you new ways to be faster, stronger, and smarter. (Yes, I’ve finally come to believe that a woman can be more inspired by whirring through a thrilling page-turner than by slogging through 17 self-help books.)
This letter is from the E. Jean archive.