It’s not the emails that make me panic.
It’s not even the “chasing” emails. (Just wondering if you got my last email as I have had no reply?)
It’s the “chasing-the-chasing” emails. The ones with two red exclamation marks. The ones that are either super-pissed off—As I mentioned in my TWO previous emails—or else faux-concerned and sarcastic—I’m starting to wonder whether you have been trapped down a well or suffered some other calamity??
Those are the ones that make my chest spasm and my left eye start twitching. Especially when I realize I forgot to flag them. My life is governed by the flagged email, my life. But I forgot to flag the latest one and that was days ago and now my colleague sounds pretty pissed off, although he’s being nice: Seriously, is everything OK with you, Sasha? So now I feel even more guilty. He’s a nice guy. He’s reasonable. It’s not his fault I’m doing the work of three people and keep dropping all the plates.
I work for Zoose, the travel app that’s everywhere right now. You didn’t use Zoose? That’s our latest ad campaign, and it’s genuinely a good app. Wherever you want to go in the world, Zoose finds you instant itineraries, bargain tickets, and a great rewards program. I’m director of special promotions, covering fourteen territories. The fancy title lured me into the job, I’ll be honest. And the fact that Zoose is such a buzzy start-up. When I tell people about my job, they say, “Oh, that! I’ve seen it advertised on the tube!” Then they add, “Cool job!”
It is a cool job. On paper. Zoose is a young company, it’s growing fast, there’s a living wall of plants in our open-plan workspace, and free herbal tea. When I first started here, a couple of years ago, I did feel lucky. Every day I woke up and thought, Lucky me! But at some point that transitioned into waking up and thinking, Oh God, oh please, I can’t do this, how many emails have I got, how many meetings, what have I missed, how will I cope, what am I going to do?
I’m not sure when that was. Maybe six months ago? Seven? But it feels as if I’ve been in this state forever. Kind of in a tunnel, where the only thing I can do is keep going. Just keep going.
I write myself yet another Post-it reminder—FLAG EMAILS!!!—and stick it above my computer screen, next to APP??, which has been there for months.
My mum’s into apps. She’s got a Christmas-planning app and a holiday-planning app and a talking clock from her gadget catalog that reminds you to take your vitamins every 7:30 a.m. (It also reminds you to do pelvic-floor exercises every night and calls out “inspirational quotes” randomly throughout the day. I find it very weird and controlling, although I haven’t told her that.)
Anyway, I’m sure she’s right—if I could just find the right app, my life would fall into place. But there are too many to choose from and, my God, they all need so much input. I have a bullet journal, which came with colored felt tips. You’re supposed to write out all your tasks, color-code them, and tick them off. But who has time for that? Who has time to select a turquoise pen and write, Answer those thirty-four furious emails in your inbox and then find an appropriate sad-face sticker? I’ve got precisely one entry in my bullet journal, which I made a year ago. It reads, Task: work. And it’s never ticked off.
I glance at the clock and feel a nasty lurch. How is it 11:27 already? I need to get on. Get on, Sasha.
Dear Rob, I’m so sorry I have not yet got back to you on this, please accept my apologies. I must type those words, what, twenty times a day? We are looking at April 12 now, and I will be sure to advise you of any change. Meanwhile, on the subject of the rollout (Netherlands), the decision was made that—
“Sasha!” I’m so preoccupied that when a familiar strident voice breaks into my thoughts, I jump right off my office chair. “Got a sec?”
My whole body stiffens. A sec? A sec? No. I do not have a sec. I’m sweating through my shirt. My fingers are on fire. I have a million other urgent emails after this one, I need to get on, I do not have a sec. . . .
But Joanne, our empowerment and well-being officer, is heading toward me. Joanne is in her forties, maybe ten years older than me, although she often says “Women of our age” in meetings, with a glance at me. She’s dressed in her usual athleisure trousers and expensive, understated T-shirt and has a disapproving look in her eye that I recognize all too well. I’ve messed up. But how? Hastily, I grope in my mind for crimes I might have committed, but I can’t think of any. With a sigh, I stop typing and turn my chair toward her a smidge. Just enough to be polite.
“Sasha,” she says briskly, flicking back her straightened hair. “I’m a little disappointed with your level of engagement in our employee-joyfulness program.”
Shit. Joyfulness. I knew I’d forgotten something. I thought I’d written myself a Post-it—JOYFULNESS! —but maybe it fell off my computer? I shift my gaze and, sure enough, there are two Post-its stuck to the radiator: JOYFULNESS! and GAS BILL.
“Sorry,” I say, trying to sound ingratiating and humble. “I’m really sorry, Joanne. Sorry.”
Sometimes if you say “Sorry” enough times to Joanne, she moves on. But not today. She leans against my desk and my stomach clenches. I’m in for the full lecture.
“Asher has also noticed your lack of participation, Sasha.” She eyes me more closely. “As you know, Asher is particularly committed to the joyfulness of employees.”
Asher is head of marketing and therefore my boss. He’s also the brother of Lev, the founder of Zoose, the famous one. Lev is the one who came up with the idea. He was arriving at an airport when the notion came to him, and he sat in a café in the terminal all day, missing six flights to Luxembourg while he sketched out the first concepts for Zoose. That’s the story, anyway. I’ve seen him tell it on a TED Talk.
Lev is wiry and charismatic and charming and asks everyone questions all the time. Whenever he’s in the office, he walks around, a distinctive figure with his wild hair, asking people, “Why this?” “Why that?” “What are you doing?” “Why not try it this way?” During my interview, he asked me about my coat and my university tutors and what I thought of motorway service stations. It was random and fun and inspiring.
But I never see him now—I only see Asher, who could be from a different planet than Lev. Asher has this thin layer of polished charm, which bowls you over at first. But then you realize he’s really self-important and prickly about Lev’s fame and very sensitive to anything he sees as criticism. Which is pretty much any response apart from “That’s a groundbreaking idea, Asher, you’re a genius!”
(In every meeting, whatever stupid thing he says, Joanne exclaims, “That’s a groundbreaking idea, Asher, you’re a genius!”)
Anyway. So you have to be careful around Asher and equally careful around Joanne, who is Asher’s old friend from uni and strides around like his henchwoman, looking for heretics.
“I fully support Asher’s joyfulness program,” I say hastily, trying to sound sincere. “I attended the Zoom lecture by Dr. Sussman yesterday. It was inspirational.”
The Zoom lecture by Dr. Sussman (Downward can be upward! A journey to personal fulfillment) was compulsory for all employees. It was two hours long and was mostly Dr. Sussman talking about her divorce and subsequent sexual awakening in a commune in Croydon. I have no idea what it was supposed to teach us, but at least because it was on Zoom, I managed to get some work done at the same time.
“I’m talking about the online aspirations mood board, Sasha,” says Joanne, folding her toned arms like a scary gym teacher who’s about to make you do twenty press-ups. (Is she about to make me do twenty press-ups?) “You haven’t logged in for ten days, we notice. Do you have no aspirations?”
Oh God. The online bloody aspirations mood board. I completely forgot about that.
“Sorry,” I say. “I’ll get to it.”
“Asher is a very caring head of department,” Joanne says, her eyes still narrowed. “He’s keen that each employee takes time to reflect on their goals and note their everyday joyful moments. Are you making notes of your everyday joyful moments?”
I’m dumbstruck. An everyday joyful moment? What would one of those look like?
“This is for your own empowerment, Sasha,” continues Joanne. “We at Zoose care about you.” She makes it sound like an accusation. “But you have to care about yourself too.”