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June 9, 2017

returning to me

When my CEO asked me to be involved in finding others who do what I do, it was a proud moment. I remembered my first week on the job and this same person saying essentially, “I’m not sure what you do, but they say we need you… looking forward to your work!” Now, eighteen months later, I had earned my employment it seemed.

When he suggested that I not just be involved but consider leading, managing a team of peers, instead of showing excitement and eagerness to grow I responded vaguely, becoming demure at subsequent mentions. I told myself it was my long-running avoidance of being someone’s boss, but as I considered it more, it was easy to see that was not true.

Why was I resisting growth and opportunity? How did I become this hesitant and uncertain about my abilities? A bit of soul searching was in order. I came to recognize a self-imposed restriction on being my best; I’ve been actively avoiding being great. Allow me to step off of my “win and lose as a team” soapbox and point a few fingers at my first few months in California.

When I moved west, I left my position as an assistant communications director for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church for a 6-month contract-to-hire role as a support agent at Twitter. I’d never done customer support; the role was pitched as more user advocacy than customer service, so I figured my past peddling user experience would serve well. It did not. When I asked my team leads what personas were used in determining our responses to users, “what’s a persona?” was the only reply. Instead of pushing the envelope and encouraging a new approach I let it drop and focused on my conversion.

You see, I’d already bumped into invisible boundaries. My manager and his manager called me into a room, concerned about a tweet-based discussion I was having with my mutual friends on their opinion of Twitter. They felt my tweets were “telling the user they were wrong,” not disagreeing with the opinion of my friends and debating points civilly. Having just abandoned a position where my words and actions were necessarily scrutinized, I was a bit heartbroken to see the same happening here for much less logical a reason. I changed how I used my Twitter account, created private accounts, and followed the party line.

I’d already been in the habit of biting my lip. During my interview process I felt I hit it off with one of my interviewees, but when I showed up for work, I perceived a cold shoulder. There was nothing I could do that would elicit more than a two word answer out of this person’s mouth, and it unnerved me. They were also a fairly central figure on my team, so that perceived polarized interaction often translated into awkwardness socializing with other peers. In true East Coast fashion I intended to tell him about himself, but in discussing my frustrations with my sister she reminded me, “you’re not there to win friends; you’re there to convert to a full time position. I put my head down and focused on my key objective.

It was no surprise to me, then, that when I was asked by several Adventist-run media outlets to share my experience in the tech world I got the thumbs down from Twitter’s communication team. This previously unknown dude from the support team came asking permission to be interviewed by magazines and send media clips to TV stations overseas—it didn’t make any sense. “I’m sure you spend a lot of time on this,” they said (I’d done a single take in the minutes before coming into the office), “but we have a select list of people who speak on behalf of the company.” I waved it off and gave up trying to be who I was and just focused on being who was needed for my job.

Twitter wasn’t all bad; it was by no means a prison sentence, and in fact my job became a bit of a haven from the stresses I’d been feeling in my personal life. On top of those burdens, when I reached out to people who I considered family—as well as professional counselors—for advice on communicating with someone we both loved dearly, what I received in return was very hurtful opinions about me, my ability, and my relationship with my spouse.

So my abilities, my voice, my sense of belonging, my financial freedom—all these things stripped from me in perhaps my first 90 days in California? Twenty-seven hundred miles away from anyone who I was certain valued me for who I am? I am at fault for choosing acceptance over authenticity, but the circumstances certainly didn’t help.

So here we are now. All of that? Past. But somehow that past was still holding my future captive.

So the question is: how does one undo this binding and return to being me? How do I relearn what I’m capable of, self acceptance and self belief? How do I reengage and by doing so give even more reason others can believe what I’m selling? And how long does that process take? Opportunities don’t last forever.

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