When Lauren Weisberger published, The Devil Wears Prada, I realized she beat me to the punch on writing about a mentor from hell.
I never worked for the fashion magazine editor about whom Weisberger based her story, but I did work for a woman in Hollywood who ran her own advertising agency who could give Miranda Priestly a run for her designer shoes.
She was my first experience with a Mentor from Hell.
So, if you’re wondering about the term, MFH, here’s the thing. A mentor is defined as a trusted and experienced adviser. A mentor is someone, either chosen informally or assigned formally, who shapes and guides a less experienced person in his or her endeavor(s). Someone who trains another on the ropes–someone whose influence will be felt down the road as one progresses in one’s career.
So what about the from Hell part?
Sometimes, life lessons come from those people who are unfit as mentors. People who should have no right to be in a position of authority over other human beings. But given that life is never fair, it seldom works out that a person is only mentored by worthy individuals.
Sometimes the lessons you learn from shitheads are the most important of all.
I would put Mrs. M. up against anyone else’s Mentor from Hell in a heartbeat.
I came to work for this woman as a newbie less than a year out of college and accepted a position as a receptionist/secretary in the advertising agency’s office. It was a small affair–besides Mrs. M at the helm, there was James who was the one-man art department and also Stephanie, Mrs. M’s personal assistant.
We worked in a swanky office building on Sunset Strip near the Beverly Hills line.
But one of my first lessons was that a tony address didn’t make someone classy.
Mrs. M was hell on wheels. When she entered the office, she expected Stephanie to come running. (I later learned Stephanie was seeing a therapist to deal with the stress of working for this woman.) I, too, learned that when Mrs. M hollered for you, you ran to do her bidding. Or else.
I also learned that Mrs. M had recently quit smoking cigarettes, and for this reason, was bitchier than usual–if that was even possible. I was informed that she quit the cigs after her physician told her that for health reasons, she had to quit cigarettes or pot, and she didn’t want to give up the latter.
Now, this fun fact made me wonder. Most people are made more mellow from a pot-smoking habit, but if this was Mrs. M’s version of mellow, then WTF was she like before she started chillaxing with a joint?
Another early lesson from the MFH came on a Jewish holiday during one of my first months at the agency. The office would be closed to observe Yom Kippur, however, I was told that since I was not Jewish, I was expected to be at work that day.
I came to work and did absolutely nothing. And that was that. Nobody came by. Nobody called. In fact, the advertising agency only had one client anyway. A local car dealership.
My last day of working for Mrs. M came on the day her one client was coming in for a meeting. Not long into the meeting with the client, Mrs. M barked at me to come to her office immediately.
I hustled in, notepad and pen in hand, and took Mrs. M’s lunch order. She was treating Mrs. Potter to a working lunch. There was a deli downstairs that was quite good.
I wrote down the order and accepted the money that Mrs. M handed me. On my way out the door, she called to me to stop.
I turned around. “Yes, Mrs. M? Will there be anything else?”
“Yes,” she said, looking down her long, straight nose at me, “While you’re out, fix that messy mop of hair of yours.”
My heart sank. I had worn a favorite dress that day since we were put on notice to be our best with the client coming and all. I had also pulled my long hair into a side ponytail, which was a stylish look at the time. “Yes, ma’am,” I managed.
“Well, I think she looks lovely,” Mrs. Potter said.
I went down to the deli and waited for the food, my own stomach in knots.
I knew what I had to do.
When I returned to the office, I left the lunch order and leftover cash on my desk, and then I picked up my bag and slipped out unnoticed.
I didn’t have another job and I didn’t care. I wasn’t going to do the Step and Fetch for someone who treated me as a Persona Non Grata.
I wasn’t going to make nice with the devil and end up in therapy myself.
I returned two Fridays later to pick up my check. I brought my boyfriend with me who had just wrapped a movie he starred in (he had leading-man good looks.) Mrs. M came out of her cave and looked the two of us over. “I see you brought your lawyer,” she said dryly.
I accepted the check from Stephanie and wished her well.
Several years later, I was not surprised by a national news report that Mrs. M was indicted for embezzling money from an international charity that was supposed to benefit needy children. I guess too much pot-smoking can dull one’s conscience. Or maybe she was just plain evil.
Come to think on it, had I the balls to peek under Mrs. M’s silver wig back in the day, I probably would have found venomous snakes sprouting from her scalp.
Got your own devil-boss? Feel free to dish in the comments below.