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When I was twenty-two I accepted my first corporate job, a moment I’d been waiting for since watching Working Girl at a tender young age. Back then I’d decided that I would work hard and rise to the top just like Melanie Griffith and I’d wear fashionable outfits that made men drool and women envious.

Real life turned out to be decidedly less glamorous than the movies suggested and my ten year old self imagined. The agency I joined was small, a mere twelve employees. It was run by a short man in his fifties who was bi-polar, or at least that’s what we diagnosed him with. He swung between being ecstatically happy and deeply irritable. He was stuck in the dark ages and refused to use a computer. Instead, he relied on his attractive assistant to print off emails, which he would pen a response to and she would type and send on his behalf. And when she was off sick or on vacation that became my task.

His erratic behavior created a bond between the remaining eleven employees, an us-against-him mentality. We avoided him when his mood soured, running for the safety of the meeting rooms. He liked to hover in the middle of our open plan office and fire questions at us and whatever we said was publicly ridiculed. There was no HR department. Our only method of coping was to laugh, so we sat straight-faced, emailing each other sarcastic remarks. I can’t imagine why his wife left him, I typed as he berated a colleague. When I received verbal abuse a colleague typed: Why don’t you try writing that insult down in an email?

My first few months were tough. Like all female recruits he made me cry. He tore documents I wrote to pieces. It didn’t matter that I was new. In his eyes I was useless and incompetent. I started to doubt myself. I ridiculed my Melanie Griffith dreams. My boss swore at me, he slammed a door in my face. But I wanted to make a success of this career path. So I came in early and worked late. I helped him with ugly projects, enduring his moods, until one day life changed.

He still had moods. He still hurled insults. But I became the recipient of abuse far less often than others. Soon his endorsement became embarrassing. He approached my desk glowing. He suffocated me with praise. Colleagues remarked on it.

“It won’t last, you’ll be next,” I said, laughing it off.

Life was clicking into place though. The job was better and I had a supportive boyfriend. He wasn’t quite Harrison Ford, although I had met him through work.

I had my performance review at a bar near our office. It was lunchtime, but it could have been midnight. My boss and I were sitting in a dark corner in velvet chairs. I was wearing a gray suit jacket and matching knee length skirt, loaned to me by my older sister. The review was going well until he switched topics.

“I have to say, you have very nice legs,” he said, staring at them.

“I don’t think we should be discussing that.” I shifted uncomfortably.

“Sorry,” he said. “It’s just that you do have nice legs.” Oh god, please stop talking about my legs. I switched topics. Back in the office he apologized again. And then he offered me a 50% pay rise.

That moment you receive your first raise is meant to be an ecstatic one. You work hard and it pays off, quite literally. I was on peanuts. I could finally buy my own suit instead of borrowing my sister’s. Rent and bills would no longer eat up two thirds of my pay check. This was it! My big moment of achievement! I deserved this. But I couldn’t stop reflecting on our conversation. Did my hard work matter, or was the enormous raise due to guilt over an inappropriate remark? Even as I bought new clothes with my next pay check his compliment grated on me. I felt guilty somehow, like I’d cheated the system to get where I was.

A month later he complimented my legs again. I stared at him, amazed, and walked away. I began interviewing elsewhere. There was an agency I wanted to join with a great reputation and huge clients. When I interviewed there the people I met were fiercely intelligent and witty. I want to be a part of this, I remember thinking as I left their offices.

When the offer came I was ecstatic. Naturally my boss took the resignation badly, his mood instantly soured. But I didn’t care, I was already planning a celebratory shopping spree. One that would be completely guilt free.