Huffpost Style
The Blog

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Shaena Henry Headshot

The Devil Wears Puma: When Mediocrity and Ambition Collide

Posted: Updated:
Print Article

Anyone who works in the fashion industry can confirm that The Devil Wears Prada is a piece of non-fiction work. At some point in our careers, we all have encountered our own Miranda Priestly, the unreasonable and oppressive manager whose mission is to make your life second-place to her demands. Impossible tasks, 14-hour work days, and personal sacrifices are the norm. Your salary is laughable, lunch is just a distraction, and your efforts are thankless. You envy your 9 to 5 friends and if you even dreamed of wearing flats to the office, you'd apologize to your boss first thing in the morning. Most of us will pay our two-year dues of hell for the stellar reference and prestigious name on our resumes. However, some of us aren't willing to forsake our sanity and go in search of laid-back pastures instead.

But is the grass greener?

Now, I am no fashion industry veteran, but I know for sure that on the other side there is a character that has yet to be captured in a New York Times bestseller or major motion picture. This one opts for comfortable, inexpensive footwear and strikes up conversations about your weekend. She actually cares that you eat lunch and will even join you. Her office door is always open and no attitudes are allowed. On the surface she seems harmless, but her actions are carefully calculated to distract you from her ulterior motive: to keep you from becoming greater than her. This proverbial wolf in sheep's clothing is riddled with mediocrity and preys on the ambitious. So when you're a brilliant 20-something with vocalized goals beyond the cubicle, watch out.

Here are some signs that this is your boss.

1. She's been in the same position since Cher and Dionne were running the streets of Beverly Hills.

If she took her mid-level position in a previous century, your drive will be misunderstood as a danger to her non-existent career. Complacency breeds idiocy. Miranda Priestly may be a battle-axe, but she appreciates the go-getter and eventually uses her power to help you move forward.

2. Your seasoned co-workers are mistaken for interns.

Mundane assignments are a part of any assistant position, and not every company has the room to promote. However, a sensible manager will offer a good assistant more exciting responsibilities to compensate. If your co-workers' duties haven't surpassed packing boxes after three years, then you probably won't be going much further than the tape-gun either.

3. Her face turns redder than a Louboutin bottom with any indication of you working outside of Microsoft Office.

This quote recently came across my Twitter timeline: "Those who subscribe to mediocrity will always fear and mock those who subscribe to excelling in life". And this type of manager has a lifetime subscription to mediocrity that contains detailed instructions on how to target and suppress potential. Networking and gaining marketable job skills are keys to success, which she throws away because her insecurity cannot stand for you to be extraordinary.

4. She has complicit managers.

This master-manipulator is protected by her superiors who rely on her lack of ambition for their own good. While they work five hour days before heading to a Broadway show, she does the dirty work. They benefit from her settle-for-less mentality so a threat to her is a threat to them. And that threat is your ambition.

5. She wears Puma sneakers to a job in fashion.

Enough said.

You may be wondering how someone just four years out of undergraduate school can offer career advice. Well, I lived through this.

Once upon a time, I mastered the art of stuffing envelopes and expressed a reasonable interest in other areas of my job. (Ever heard of a producer forbidden to work on set?) I was faced with sabotage, passive-aggressive behavior, and inciting emails. I sat through a series of meetings with managers and human resources executives who patronized and mocked me, insulted my character, then dramatically exited-fur coat and Hermes bag swinging. I guess they looked to reality TV for a black woman reference and expected me to go Nene Leakes because disappointment was expressed in my composure: "Why are you smiling?"

For some peculiar reason, they were surprised by the integrity, dignity and poise of a you-can-do-anything raised, Howard University educated young lady.

Despite the Mean Girls games, I don't feel that it was a waste of time. I realized that this experience was not meant for me to acquire more job skills. It was about character building. I learned the power of calm and that not everyone appreciates the will to achieve. So be on high alert for those who take advantage of your hard work while keeping you from reaching your highest potential. And when they provoke, don't quit or react. Just do the following:

1. Privately line up other opportunities where ambition is required.

2. Celebrate after they not coincidentally decide to restructure the team and eliminate your position only.

3. Share your story with millions of readers to let those mediocre broads know they can't screw with everyone.