Still On Your Side

That night showed me that despite working in a difficult environment, I always have people watching out for me. People who provide me with positive feedback and ways of improvement. These people also offer opportunities for me to confide in them and stress my frustrations. Also, people who advocate for me in my professional career and be my biggest ally. I can definitely say I am fortunate to have colleagues like Pippa and Tyson in my corner who assure me that I’m not alone. I was later reminded of that sense of loyalty a few nights later.

Tyson had managed to convince me to go to a professional networking event. Since the event consisted of business insiders in software engineering and architecture.  I was going to say no, thinking I would be out of place. Then I thought hmm free food and wine plus an opportunity to dress up plus an opportunity to connect with some heavy weights and get to brag about myself. Something I can’t miss!

When getting ready, I definitely wanted to put together an outfit that screams powerful ambitious career woman. I managed to snag a great deal from a little boutique on Newbury Street, a silk red knot dress similar to the one Jessica Pearson wore on an episode of Suits with a pair of high black heels. Nothing says power like Jessica Pearson!

I soon made my way to the Liberty Hotel in Cambridge. When I walked into the well-lit space, I immediately sensed an air of white-collar professionalism…not to mention a bit of snobbery. Young professionals, with their Ivy League degrees, dressed in their finest suits, ties, and pencil-lined skirts and high pumps, gathered in various small groups spread across the room. The sounds of light jazz playing in the background.

I immediately made a bee-line for the bar. After getting my glass of wine, I glanced around  and finally spotted Tyson standing in a corner. He clearly looked very nervous and seemed out of place.  I could see why he wanted me to come to the networking event. He felt very relieved to see me walking towards him.

“Hi…you look amazing.” Wow that was a nice compliment especially from him. I felt flattered.

“Thank you. You look very…distinguished,” I smiled. He really did, sporting a blue blazer with a white shirt . “So met anyone important?”

“I just got here about 15 minutes ago. I don’t really know anyone here and I’m kinda shy,” he admitted sheepishly.

“Don’t worry. Your wing-woman is here,” I said slipping my arm into his.  “Come on let’s mingle.”  We then joined a group of young professionals near one of the bar tables with deliciously looking appetizers placed in the center of the table. After  introducing  myself and Tyson, I  started talking  my work at JLS. I soon found my groove and comfort in networking. I did mention my publishing goals, which did raise a few skeptical eye brows. I also may have heard a few scoffs. But I didn’t care. I might get famous one day and build my own company while these people are still climbing up that corporate ladder and kissing up to their bosses.

I did, however,connected with a few alums from Emerson who are on similar career paths as me. A lot of them ended up in a marketing firm or state government.  After a while, I started to forget Tyson was by my side. Until I looked over to see him standing in the corner by the bar, staring at me with a smile.

“Why are you smiling?” I asked walking towards him.

“You’re just really good at this.”

“Thank you. You can speak up too you know so I’m not taking up the whole space.”  You have a lot to offer.” Tyson just hesitated and looked down at his feet. I can tell this wasn’t his forte. “It’s time to tout your accomplishments and show why people should work with you.” You just have to be confident. Maybe find some common ground with these folks like sports,” I squeezed his hand. “Besides you should be cornering that guy over there,” I then tilted my head towards a middle-aged gentleman sitting at one of the tables by himself, checking his phone. “He happens to work for the Department of Housing and Urban Development. I read that they are looking for companies to partner with on refurbishing the South End for affordable housing You should talk to him, “ I hinted. Tyson briefly looked at the gentleman, who had just ordered his second drink, before looking back at me.

“Only if you come with me. ”

“Sure,” I said with a smile. We made our way towards the table where the gentleman was sitting. “Hi, may we seat with you?” I asked casually. The gentleman looked briefly up.

“Certainly,” he said gesturing for us to sit at the two seats.

“I am Belle Woods and this is my colleague, Tyson Knightley,” I said shaking the gentleman’s hand.  “We both work at JLS Solutions.”

“My name is Charlie Schon. I work at HUD,” Charlie introduced himself. We made small talk for while. Tyson still did not said one word during the entire conversation. It was time for me to make my move.

“So Charlie, I hear HUD is working on improving facilities management in affordable housing.”

“Yes. The project just got approved by the Secretary. I am actually spear-heading the project,” Charlie said. “We are looking for facilities companies to collaborate..”

“Well Charlie, you are in luck cause my colleague, Tyson here, actually runs the facilities management software service for our government clients,” I said putting an arm around Tyson’s shoulder.

“Oh really?” Charlie said turning his attention to Tyson.

“Yes why not you talk about what you do Tyson,” I hinted  noticing  his face  turning bright red. He  then gave me a look as if asking why are you putting me in the spotlight.  But then he started talking about his current projects and his position at JLS. As the conversation continued,  Tyson  began to feel more comfortable and confident about himself. Soon, he and Charlie engaged in a deep conversation about facility management. I quietly got up and made my way to the buffet table for a second round of delicious appetizers.

“I see Tyson invited you as the plus one,” said a voice. I looked up after filling my small plate to see Mr. Byrne standing right there.  I started to shudder, knowing all the dirty laundry about him, but tried to hold a straight face.

“Yes he thought it would be a great networking opportunity for both of us,” I said feeling a lump in my throat.

“Oh is that what he told you?” Mr. Byrne raised an eye brow. “ I thought he brought you here so you can make him look good.”

“What do you mean?” I asked not liking his choice of words.

“By showing off  his important position at JLS, his accomplishments and gaining future business relationships,”  Mr. Byrne said. “And I see you have accomplished that,” he noted to Charlie and Tyson shaking hands. “And also that dress should attract more partners to Tyson,” Mr. Byrne said looking me up and down.

“Oh,” I said starting feel devalued and small and insecure.

“By the way you are doing a great job. Keep it up,” Mr. Byrne said patting me on the back, making me feel even more uncomfortable. I just nodded silently. “Besides, do you really think you, as a receptionist, will get any attention at this type of event?” Adding more insult to my injury. He then went to go speak with someone he recognized at the door. I immediately headed out to the balcony realizing I needed air. Fortunately no one else was out there so I could be alone. I sat down on one of the patio seats and began to wonder.

Did Tyson really invite me for his own benefit? I thought he knew my goals and strongly supported my professional development. Should I have trusted him? Or was I misguided? I mean he did go all out for getting me that special spot at the Boston Public Library. Was that gesture just an act of bribery? Was I being played? Did I just come here to be…the trophy co-worker?

“What are you doing out here?” Tyson’s voice interrupted my thoughts.

“The room felt stuffy  and I needed some air,” I stuttered. .

“Oh why didn’t you ask me to come with you?” he searched my face.

“I..wanted  some space. Besides you looked like you were engaging in an important business conversation and I figured my work was done,” I said turning my back to him.

“Belle, what’s wrong?”

“Why did you invite me Tyson?”

“Because I thought this would be a great opportunity for us to make connections. In fact, I was just talking to an editor of a major publishing company about how valuable you are and she really wants to speak to you.”

“But it’s really just for you? I’m just here to make you look good,” I managed to spit out.

“Belle, is that how you truly feel?” Tyson asked with genuine shock look in his face. “If I just wanted to bring someone who just made me look good, I would have invited my ex-girlfriend.”

“Oh,” was all I could say, realizing how stupid I was to believe Mr. Byrne’s lies.

“What makes you think I just brought you here as a trophy?” Tyson said now sitting down beside me. I briefly looked back into the room to see Mr. Byrne chatting up a group of people. Tyson looked over to see where I was looking and understood. “You shouldn’t believe the rumors that people plant in your head and belittle you no matter how higher up they are,” Tyson sighed. I looked up and gave a small smile.

“I’m sorry, Tyson,” he then waved off my apology.

“Come on. Let’s go back inside and you show everyone the talented person you are,” he offered me his arm and I slipped my hand through it. Tyson was right and he really did believe in me. No matter what others say, I am more than qualified professional with great skills set, passion, determination and work ethic. Any future employer would be lucky to have me as a valuable employee.

We walked back into the room. Out of the corner of my eye, Mr. Byrne stared at us with a disapproving look. In response, I gave him the side eye and decided to ignore him the whole night which helped me find my groove back.

I began introducing myself to various people and spoke confidently about  my skills No one needs to judge me by actions. Especially if I have someone by my side who believes in me and that’s all that matters.

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