It was probably the third or fourth time watching ‘The Devil Wears Prada’ that one of the scenes really hit home. As a conversation played out between Andy Sachs (played by Anne Hathaway), a wannabe journalist who accepted an assistant job at a fashion magazine, and Nigel (played by Stanley Tucci), a stylist and advisor to the boss (or ‘Devil’), I had a flashback.
The scene went something like this.
After voicing her dissatisfaction about not getting credit for the work she does and garnering seemingly zero request from Miranda Priestly, the magazine’s editor-in-chief, Andy expects sympathy from Nigel. What she gets, however, is tough love. Rather than comfort the young staffer, who desperately seeks validation, he suggests she quit, adding, “I can get another girl to take your job in five minutes — one who really wants it.”
“I don’t want to quit,” she says. “I want a little credit for the fact that I’m killing myself trying.”
Nigel, having reached his limit, launches into a rant, saying, “Be serious. You are not trying. You are whining. What is it that you want me to say to you? Do you want me to say, ‘Poor you. Miranda’s picking on you?’ … Wake up. She’s just doing her job.”
To Nigel, working at Runway, “the place that published some of the greatest artists of the century,” is a privilege, and someone as young and experienced as Andy should be grateful for the opportunity. She shouldn’t need a “gold star” as he put it.
Only in my case, I didn’t approach a coworker seeking validation; rather, it was a meeting in which my managing director catalogued all the reasons why I wasn’t getting a raise or promotion. In short, he felt I lacked focus and showed little initiative in my role.
Like Andy, I was indignant, arguing that I did, in fact, take on responsibility and was, indeed, serious about the job. My pleas fell on deaf ears, and I left the conference room feeling wronged.
Now, I should point out that my former manager and I often didn’t see eye to eye. We had some clear philosophical differences, and he made it known (more than once) that I wasn’t his first choice for the position I held. But the truth is, he had some valid points during our meeting. I wasn’t working to my full potential — or even half of it — and was clearly unhappy with my responsibilities. In that moment, however, I couldn’t see that; I could only see the injustice of being called out.
Spoken like a true 20-something.
What I later saw was that the infamous meeting was, in fact, a turning point. It prompted me to do some serious thinking about what I was capable of, why I didn’t try harder, and what I actually wanted in a job. Sometimes the most painful and humbling conversations can turn out to be game changers.
In a recent interview, Sheryl Sypek talked about the “life-changing experience” that came when a former CEO told her the organization had planned to move forward without her. After recovering from the initial shock, she viewed it as an opportunity to do some much-needed reflection.
“Once I stepped away, it was easy to see where I could improve and do better,” said Sypek, now CIO at Chapters Health System. Eventually she realized that being let go was “absolutely a gift. I might not have left; I might have continued to be frustrated in the role if that hadn’t happened.”
Instead, she was willing and able to learn from her mistakes, and invest the time and energy needed to grow as a professional. Sypek has undoubtedly come a long way since her Andy Sachs moment, and I’d like to think I have as well. In fact, I can honestly say that I now have gratitude (and perhaps even sympathy for) the ‘Devil.”