My colleague and I looked at each other in disbelief. He had the same text I did, from our boss, the owner of the company. It was angry and aggressive, sent very early in the morning, accusing us of being lazy and stupid. We were two adult professionals being called Bill and Ted.
This was the polar opposite of the cheery, clever, positive banter of the day before and exactly nothing had changed. It was mystifying. It was also a pattern, and by the end of a week of consultancy at this place, sure enough, a staff member was in tears in front of me downstairs, saying she was being "bullied'.
The goalposts just didn't move, there weren't any. Days of work, already approved, born of hours of overtime, was scrapped 20 minutes before presentations. The message was delivered by screaming. I kid you not.
I knew I wouldn't last long.
Spectrum's other end
Many years ago I was lucky enough to manage a major media group's fledgling magazine division. I was surrounded by smart, creative people who wanted to do beautiful work in a fun, relaxed, environment. I was bothered by virtually no detail at all – it was all long-term strategy and relationships. Management encouraged long lunches as long as they were invited. It was enormously enjoyable and satisfying.
Of course, it didn't last long.
The point is "fit" is important. How well your job, or partner, fits, matters as much as how well your pants fit. Bad fits will always get you right in the nuts.
As I've worked on developing a career as a writer, I've been freelancing and consulting around the place, to support myself as best I can while I wrote a book. The things I have seen, the incompetence, the politics, the bitterness, the lies, the backstabbing, the maneuvering, have been eye-watering. And pretty standard in 20-plus years of media. There's hardly a workplace free of it and I know anyone off to work reading this will be saying, "I hear you, Brother."
A workplace that fits, where leaders offer the tools, time, guidance and freedom to do great work, where your skills are appreciated and utilised, where you make a difference and are valued? Well, they're like truffles in a great deal of corporate mud.
Understanding our individual personality is profound in maximising happiness and productivity at work.
If I had to work with numbers, I'd be gone by lunchtime on day one, leaving a half-empty bottle of whisky and a pool of tears on my desk, beside a crayon drawing of Deadpool on an Excel spreadsheet .
A good fit everywhere
The importance of fit in work and love has been illustrated to me with startling clarity in, well, my work and love lives.
When my partner and I fell for each other almost seven years ago now, we were both completely gob-smacked how well we "fit" together - from our personalities, to our dreams, aspirations, abilities and even how we fell asleep at night locked together. We even, somewhat nauseatingly I know, named the experience "perfect fit".
For a while I've been looking for a part-time job that utilizes my odd and limited skill set, is rewarding and fun, and will help pay the rent. I know, right? I had a better chance of catching a unicorn fart in a fairy floss bag.
Flipping the script
A few weeks ago, in a fit of pique, I sent a recent column to the boss of a company advertising a perfectly formed little job, with an email that said, "I am too old and way overqualified to do the job you have advertised. Read this." That was it.
It turns out my target is a beautiful man, about my age, wise, curious and full of joy at being in the world with clever people every day, making nice things.
I work for him now, three days a week, plying my trade on the 17th floor of a glass tower in North Sydney.
The place is like some kind of Brigadoon agency from the late 1990s, all respect and care and time and process. I can't believe it's real. Thing is, it fits. For someone else with different skills, my job would be an impossible agony.
Understanding the importance of fit is a brilliant aid in life choices. Am I happy here? Does this workplace feel good?
Am I happy in these pants? Do these pants feel good?
Am I happy with this man/woman? Does life with him/her feel good?
Am I happy saying or doing this thing? Does it feel good and right to me?
It's actually easy to spot fit, and lack of fit, once you start to think about it.
If it doesn't fit, it's going to hurt. Don't do it.
If it fits, it'll feel great. Do it.
With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.
Have you had your own struggle finding the right fit? Share your experience in the comments section below.