I was 22 and crying at my desk. My coworkers gathered around me and asked what was wrong. “My dad just had a heart attack,” I said through my sobs. “He’s in the hospital.” In fact, this was a lie. My dad was fine.
My first serious job out of college was at a publisher of computer textbooks. I was an editorial assistant and hated my job, which lacked glamour. I had no idea what SQL was, or any of the other programming languages we published books about.
I was applying for new jobs and there was one in particular I really wanted — as an assistant editor at a new home magazine. I went through several interviews and knew it was down to me and one other candidate. I called my voicemail — this was pre-cell phone days, in the late nineties — and heard a message from the editor: I hadn’t gotten the job.
I went back to my cubicle and burst into tears. I wasn’t the type to cry at work, never had before, but I couldn’t help myself. It sounds ludicrous now, but this seemed like my last chance at a dream job, like I’d be stuck in this textbook assistant hell job forever. So I cried and, out of embarrassment, I lied about my dad being in the hospital.
It just came out. In reality, he was probably at work at the courthouse at that very moment. I’d never told a lie like that before. But I was panicked and young and felt pushed against a wall. I didn’t want to say that I was crying was because I didn’t get another job, and I felt disappointed at myself for taking it so personally. So I blurted out the first thing that came to mind without even thinking through the lie. Why my dad? I have no idea. It sounded dramatic and just plausible enough.
At work, I kept crying, partly because I felt even more pathetic for creating a huge lie out of not getting a job. My boss told me I should leave immediately, join my family, and take a few days off. I agreed.
So I went home and slept in, went shopping, saw movies. I don’t recall feeling much paranoia about being caught by one of my coworkers or even feeling terribly guilty. In retrospect, I’m shocked at myself — I’d never do something like that now — and can’t quite believe my younger self was capable of it. But at the time, the lie and its aftermath felt like a necessary mental health break. I needed to have some space apart from my job if I was going to face working there again.
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