56: Opening Reflections
originally written November 22, 2017 Edited by Raquel Fletcher I would look in the mirror, and then look around - all of whom did not look like me – and I would wonder, when will I change? Surely this can’t be me. I wondered what I would look like when I grew up. I wondered when the change would happen. When I was a teenager, I was self-conscious and scared. I had no idea who I was, what I was capable of, what I was made of. My strength. My resolve. My signature defiance that has held me up when life’s gravity seemed to want to suck me under. When I got married, at the age of 19, I knew nothing about the world. About myself. Except that I knew that I had be the kind of woman who takes care of herself, like my mother was, and her mother. I hadn’t changed much, by then. I was still waiting for “the change” – to become the person I was supposed to be. The person who was waiting inside of me. Life’s surprises escalated through my 20, 30’s and 40’s. In my 20’s I did all the things I never wanted to do again, except for having my babies – they are the most perfect thing I have ever done. They are the true light of my life. My daughters made me look at the world outside of myself. And when I could see myself in them, and they were beautiful, I began to think that I was too. Seeing that they needed a mother who could provide for them, and teach them to provide for themselves, I went to University at the age of 29. I studied English and Journalism, taking a student loan and job as a school bus driver, to create an environment where I would not walk away from my goal of graduating. Aside from six months where I was unable to attend school due to acute pancreatitis, I made school my job, and graduated in 1996 with a degree in English, and one in Journalism. There on the stage at convocation, I had no idea what I knew how to do; all I knew is I had a family to support. So I walked off that stage knowing only my why. In 1996, after graduating from the school of journalism, I took a job as a student at FCC, while I reported for the Leader Post on weekends. My income doubled within a year as I was hired as a full-time communications consultant, where I worked among women who today are still my mentors 21 years later. During that time, my work won communications and corporate reporting rewards. I had found my place as someone who could translate business into words so that people could see what the vision keepers could see, and say “me too.”At 45 – on November 26 – I began to look at the world differently. My daughters were growing up, and so was I, as it turns out. I had reached a point in my life where I had been building careers and businesses for . . . not even people . . . entities, corporations, and I realized one day that I could not remember a single word that I had written that was my own. I began to change that day. The years that followed in the corporate world were fraught with struggle and it was there that I felt like I had found the place I was meant to be. The companies for which I worked were in turmoil with contractions, expansions, mergers, convergences and joint ventures. As a corporate planner, my job was to bring the business minds together so that I could write the poetry of their soul. I loved my job. I felt like I was the luckiest person in the world – to have a front row seat on the future as it was happening, and being part of building businesses. My shoes were my secret weapon – as I walked into the boardroom to lead the executive team – I knew that my stride mattered. The longer the stride, the more confident the walk. The walk mattered. It still does. What I have learned is that every step we take is a step to a new place. Every single step matters. Those steps into the boardroom took me to places few people even know exist – corporate takeovers, makeovers, restructures – I practiced the art of business planning, strategy development and risk management, and I built things with my mind. I built companies, created structures, made careers, and even broke one or two careers. That was a different time. I was different. Looking back at who I was then, I don’t know who she was. She was somebody’s something. She put up with things. She allowed herself to be taken advantage of. She was weak and powerless. She did not own her body, and she did not own her mind. She was a slave to the story – until death do we part . . . the golden pay cheque. She believed that somehow she was tantamount to their success, that she was defined humanly, socially, and economically by her work, her job, her title, her office and her business card. And yet there was a part of her that would scream out from within my chest, and I became adept at containing her outbursts. Nobody could hear her, just me. Because we knew that we was in the middle of something big, and it would inevitably show itself to us. Serendipity, destiny, the universe. It’s hard to say what it is that calls us out on our own bullshit. And it was bullshit. I see that now. Because the more I would quell her voice, the louder she screamed from within. The first wakeup call in my life was an acute pancreatitis attack that left me in a heap on my kitchen floor one morning at the age of 30. My children, then 5 and 2 watched me get taken away by ambulance to the hospital. I almost lost my life that time . . . I remember the moment in my mind that I told myself that could not die – that I had too much to do, children who needed me, a family, a husband who needed me, and then I woke up. My pancreas was 13 times it’s normal size (the size of a baby finger). The healing process involved letting it rest, so nutrients needed to live had to be injected into my body via TPN. After six weeks, I went home, but food had to be reintroduced to my body carefully, as my pancreas was still healing. Eventually I was readmitted to the hospital for exploratory surgery and my pancreas had heeled, although scarred for life. Since then, I have not had so much as a slice of cheese cake. While in hospital, I had the opportunity to interview for the school of journalism at the University of Regina. My doctor would not let me leave the hospital for the interview, so I wrote a detailed letter explaining my situation, and asked that the invitation be deferred to the next term. They eventually admitted me to the School of Journalism, and upon graduation, my professor Jim McKenzie, read the letter aloud, because that was the moment they had accepted me. I went on to work as a journalist, which led to a career in communications, policy, strategy, and ultimately an executive role, which was my ultimate goal, I thought. On my trek to the corner office, the second wake up call was happening now in a shared services consulting environment where I was leading a consulting group working for two companies. Gradually, my boss assumed ownership of my work to the point where he was representing it as his own, either outright, or by not giving me credit. He left the shared services consulting group and was hired by one of the two companies. On February 28, 2008, the CFO (his boss) called me to his office and informed me my department was being outsourced. I did the consulting thing and boxed up the company files and sent them off site, and proceeded to pursue new business. My hunches were correct. My former boss was going to replace me. When he came for my files, I said no. And I dismissed him from my office with the wave of my hand. Eventually I was offered another job as the head of business planning and risk management for a gaming organization, so on April 3 I resigned, two days after the CFO’s retirement was unexpectedly announced. When I left that job, I remember the HR VP taking me out for lunch, and commented that I was a great support to my boss in leading the planning process, to which I replied, “Support? I did it all. He had nothing to do with it.” She replied, “Then what was this all for?” A sad footnote to this story: the CEO who had worked her way up from administrative assistant to CEO succumbed to cancer, leaving to mourn her daughter, her husband and her potential. I went to work for a gaming company, where over three years I developed and implemented an enterprise risk management framework, a corporate performance-based planning process, led the business planning and reporting process, and was the acting vice president of communications, community investment, policy and social responsibility. The environment was tumultuous to say the least, but perhaps the greatest learning event of my life – the place where the third wake up call would show itself to me. My boss - the ultimate brown duck and OK, another man – and I did not see eye to eye. But I was getting stronger by the day. I saw things coming, and I did apply for other jobs, but to no avail. The last Christmas I worked there, I worked through the entire Christmas break to develop an ERM board planning process for after Christmas. The meeting and process was successful. My boss took the credit again. Outside of the room, in the hallway, one of the VP’s congratulated on my work, saying “he took the credit, but we all know who did the work.” That’s awesome, I thought, but not enough. Damage was done. Avoid Rooms with No Doors (insert head slap here) February 11, 2011 I was to have a performance review in his office. I had no performance plan but I developed one based on my job and deliverables. When I sat down at the table in his office, the door closed behind me, and I had the urge to run. He began rat-tat-tat-ing at me (that’s what his voice sounded like to me – sort of a broken quack), criticizing everything from the structure of my sentences to the sound of my voice as he read off a document. I stopped him, and demanded to see what he was reading. He slid it across the desk at me and said, “Oh yeah, I guess you need this.” I objected. “No!” I yelled at him. I cried. I said I would not accept this treatment or these words on a corporate document. All the while his phone rang, and he answered it every single time. It was close to noon and I wanted out. So I changed my approach, so that he would think he had won. I asked him to send me the document that he was reading from. He wheeled over to his desk and emailed it to me. I emailed it directly to my home email address and left.
I went home angry and crying, thinking I would get control of my emotions, but I couldn’t. I cried all afternoon. That weekend, I wrote the conversation down word for word and sent it to my lawyer. He said that I had to make a choice. If I went back after that, it would be as if it never happened, and he could not help me if that was my choice. I rallied, as I had many times before, and that weekend I bought a two piece Calvin Klein navy blue double-breasted button suit, to armour up for work. Monday morning I drove to work, pulled into my parking stall, and sat there, imagining how I was going to feel if saw him again. I backed out and drove to my doctor’s office. I called a mentor with HR expertise to get her advice, and she gave me the name of a counselor. I waited to see my doctor all afternoon, and he put me on leave for a month. My body crashed after that, and I was violently sick and unable to get out of bed for three weeks. Once I was able to function, I began seeing a counselor weekly, and on my own dime. Upon my lawyer’s advice, I set up a courier to communicate with the company via letter only and stayed away from work entirely. I withdrew from social media and stopped interacting with the world as I knew it. I was afraid to answer my door and afraid to go out. I cried every day, all day for months. My doctor offered me medication but I said no. I wanted to feel it all. I had given myself four months to close this book, and I needed to be immersed in every aspect of it. I researched harassment and bullying. I couldn’t stop asking myself why it hurt so much. Why couldn’t I just shake it off. I was for the first time in my life afraid and I couldn’t function because of it. I exercised a lot, and taught classes at the gym – although I was afraid to go there too. But when I was teaching a class, it was one hour that I wasn’t in my own head. When I am upset, I paint. My house was painted in dark jewel tones. But I needed light. I was in search of the light. So I painted the whole house inside white. And then I painted the outside of the house. And I cried. Over four months of painting and crying, I researched and wrote my own letters to the company, addressed the VP, Human Resources. My lawyer reviewed and advised me on strategy. The letters would come back directly to me from my bosses signature, not the VP of Human Resources, which made me feel even more afraid – why was he being allowed to speak to me given what he had done to me. Sometime letters would show up in my mailbox on my property without a stamp, personally delivered by someone to my home. This was another form of invasion and bullying – not respecting my request to communicate via courier. I felt like I was being watched. At times, I wasn’t sure if I was paranoid or just aware of what was happening and the lengths the company would go to win. The final straw was when I was demanded by letter to deliver my medical records or my employment would be reconsidered, a demand which broke the rules of privacy. I delivered, as I had no choice. Things moved quickly to conclusion after that. Communications began to flow between our lawyers as it should have been and the voice of my boss removed from the process. Four months later, it ended. On June 15, 2011, in my gold sling back kitten heel pumps and navy suit (the same one that I wore February 11), I signed my emancipation papers with my lawyer, and the incorporation papers for my first company, Lynear Thinking Strategy & Communications Ltd. Despite the fact that it was for all intents and purpose over, it wasn’t. The game would continue in another arena. I could not get a job despite an impeccable job record. Lynear Thinking was new, and to be honest, my forte was corporate, and I didn’t understand what entrepreneurs needed to be successful. So in my first year as a consultant, I might have made $80 for writing a letter, an invoice which I recall took four months to be paid. In 2012 I began writing about it. The story was living on in my mind, despite the fact that it was legally over. It wasn’t. Not only was my life as I knew it over, and my career severely damaged, but I was damaged. I was angry and afraid. I couldn’t help but wonder, could others feel this anger and fear that I felt? Recovering from this was kind of like trying to reverse a childbirth. It was impossible to go back to the person I was before that day. It was impossible to undo what had been done to me. It was impossible to let it go, because it changed everything about me. How I felt about me. Who I thought I was. What I thought I could do. I was broken, from the inside, and it was getting more and more difficult to hide it.
How to be a Pink Flamingo in a Brown Duck Pond (Pink Flamingo) was published in December 2014, after 39 drafts and 82,000 words. The original version was 300 pages. The published version was 98, because I was too afraid to tell the whole story, and I didn’t think I could bear the stigma. “On that day I fell from the sky and began to fade to white.” I wrote these words in “Pink Flamingo” to describe my broken heart and the loss that I felt when my life, livelihood and even sense of self was ripped away from me that day. It was as violent as it could be. I have wished many days that day had never happened. I questioned myself on what I did to deserve it. I questioned myself as to why I would sit down in a room with a closed door at work with my boss when I didn’t feel safe. I questioned myself as to why I was so weak that day. I questioned myself every day as to what I should have done that day. But it did happen. It’s as real as the scars on my body from childbirth and illness. My choice was to lie there and die or fight. I fought. I still fight. Distance has made me feel safer, although I don’t always feel safe. I can’t regret the experience any more. That’s futile. Wishing does not make it real. And I had to pick my pink ass up off the ground, and I did.
That experience was the beginning of a new chapter for me. I don’t regret . . . now. It made me strong. I gave me my life . . . for the first time. It gave me a perspective. A story that others have also experienced and who are also suffering from. But it will never be gone for me. It will always be there. Every time someone asks me about how I became an entrepreneur, it takes me back to this – a rather painful birthing process.
It made it possible for me to hear the stories of other women who have endured the same or worse than I did. I tore me apart and threw parts of me all over the place, to the point where I was not the same person – where there was no way I could assemble myself or my life in the same way ever again. It took away everything I thought about myself and threw me in my face, from the sound of my voice to the way I looked. It made me afraid for a long time. But it gave me courage too. Courage to get off the floor every single day. It opened my soul and revealed it me, in the most humbling way. At 50, after having worked hard to build a future for me and my family. It was as if the circle opened, and closed without me in it, in the blink of an eye. At the same time, though, I knew that I stayed too long in that life, that I had gambled my time, and this experience spurred me to do what I didn’t have the courage to do on my own. Serendipity, the universe, God . . . whatever the higher power is that opens our eyes to something we’ve not yet imagined, stepped into my life, and the only thing I have now is faith in myself, and what ever it is that is bigger than me. LYNEAR THINKING, FROM THE BOARDROOM TO THE ENTREPRENEUR'S REALM On June 15, 2011, in gold shoes and a navy blue double breasted suit, on the date of my emancipation, I signed my incorporation papers creating my first company, at the insistence of my lawyer, who could see my future at that time before I could. My vision for Lynear Thinking was to create a shared services model that would enable private business owners to collaborate on business to create an economy of scale against larger competitors in the market place and to share expenses. I had a beautiful office, but that model never really materialized: entrepreneurs don’t really play well with others. Myself included. I also learned that being on my own – catapulted into the private business world – did not make me an entrepreneur. I had to learn the language of the new world, and what it would take to be helpful. Thinking, Lynearly. The only that I know of to find success is to work more than my competitors are working. I have this theory that the more time I spend investing in learning, the more I will learn. The more time I spend practicing something, the better I will become at it. So that’s what I have always done – from grade school to now. In the first year of business, I learned a lot about how to ask for work, propose, deliver and bill. Of course, I learned the hard way – giving it all away up front so they didn’t have to hire me. They could actually follow my model.