A Junior Mistake by
(149 Stories)

Prompted By Embarrassment

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To this day I have no idea why this incident, really a minor embarrassment in the scheme of things, continues to make me break into a cold sweat and make my stomach twist if I think about it. Probably it has to do with realizing I hurt and/or angered another person without meaning to.

The room froze, and I immediately realized that I'd said something that was taken in a way I didn't mean.

My first full-time job after college was working in a San Francisco advertising agency, where I’d been promoted from the receptionist to the admin for an account executive. Unfortunately the main client wouldn’t accept a woman at any higher level, and I wanted to pursue writing anyway, so I left. I look back on my time at the agency with fondness and really enjoyed being there, and especially learning from the copywriters, who were very experienced. Ultimately I got a job writing for a biomedical company in Palo Alto.

For reasons I don’t remember now, I had the occasion to go back to San Francisco and drop in at the agency. It was wonderful see the people there. They had just taken on a new writer, whose name I can’t recall, who was relatively young. I thought he was there to help out one of the senior-level writers, so when we were introduced, I said, “Hi, it’s great to meet the junior writer.” The room froze, and I immediately realized that I’d said something that was taken in a way I didn’t mean.

I’d thought it was common to use “junior” as the opposite of “senior” to indicate someone with a bit less experience, but apparently this wasn’t the case, and this man took it to mean he had limited ability and potential. Somehow I got out of the situation, but I was so mortified that I couldn’t even apologize.

If this were to happen now, I think I’d be able to apologize and salvage the situation. At least I hope so.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: well written


  1. Your last paragraph really says it all, Mare…it’s nice to think we’ve matured to that point — think being the operative word. Hopefully we won’t have to put it to the test.

  2. Suzy says:

    Aha, so you used the word “mortified” too! Maybe it’s a Jersey thing. I can’t help thinking there was sexism at work in causing the room to freeze – a woman calling a man “junior” was shocking. If you had said that to a young woman, nobody would have batted an eye. And likewise if you had been a man, especially an older man, I bet no one would have minded. Just sayin’ . . . .

    • Marian says:

      Really perceptive take, Suzy, I hadn’t thought about it that way. Especially at the time, I wouldn’t have blinked an eye if someone had called me a junior writer at the job I’d just taken. I wrote my story before I read yours, so yes, mortified could be a Jersey thing.

  3. Laurie Levy says:

    I think when we are young, it is hard to come up with the right thing to say after a gaffe. In retrospect, Marian, yours was not so bad. Sorry the guy made you feel that way.

  4. Betsy Pfau says:

    I just used the word “mortified” in a comment to one of Marcia’s cartoons…I know how you felt; that awful, queasy feeling. I agree with the other comments. With maturity comes wisdom and your last remark says it all. You now would have read the room and come out of the situation better. I hope you feel better now, and can relate to your situation. I’ve done things like that too and wish I could press “erase, replay”. We carry those moments with us a long time. Hope it feels good to share and know you are not alone.

  5. Ah Marian, I hope you can stop agonizing over your long-ago innocent words, I’m sure “Junior” has forgotten it by now, and who knows, maybe he went on to win a Pulitzer!

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