Saturday, April 18, 2020

The importance of standing up

Long before my current job....
I should’ve known something was strange the day he offered me the job. He told me he really liked my haircut, and then afterward – as I was walking away – said he thought I was a beautiful woman. I told one of my friends immediately after, stating that his words made me hesitate, wondering if I really should take the job. 

“Oh, Elisa!” She laughed and told me everyone thought he was gay. “You have nothing to worry about.  And who would hit on someone during an interview? He was just being nice.” 

So, I thought about things and took the job despite my resolve. Things were okay at first, even more professional than I’d hoped. I would share ideas and soon I wasn’t just sharing them for my team, I was placed in front of departments and even talking to the “highly important” CEO.

Soon after that, my boss asked to start having weekly meetings with me.  At first he left the door open, but soon, he began closing the door so the air felt stale and I’d get fidgety and nervous despite how calm and collected I could be talking to entire departments – AND their leaders.  The meetings were…uncomfortable for me. One time I told him this, and he said they weren’t uncomfortable for him.  “So, what’s the problem?” 

Maybe the whole thing was just in my head?

Then, the final meeting – the one that left me reeling – is something hard to explain. The man sat, wearing an oversized suit and sporting hair plastered to his head.  Then, he used a single word, something so disgusting I can barely say it aloud. I suddenly felt worthless, like my beautiful dress was really hundreds of years old, moth-worn and falling apart.  I felt my pride ripped from me and suddenly I was every bit the scared little girl I had been during a terrible moment years and years ago…. And his words and the ravenous look in his eyes made me want to cry.

My professional demeanor and good work-ethic hadn’t helped me gain his respect and the realization stung my eyes because nothing I could do – nothing – would make him appreciate me for the reasons he should have.

I didn’t talk with anybody about it for a couple of days. But when I got home that night, I shut my bedroom door and cried and cried on my bed. It wasn’t that I’m a prude, not really. It was just that I felt so disrespected that someone thought they could talk to me like that. The next day I ended up visiting with one of my friends who works in a human resource profession. I’m not sure why, but when we went to lunch I just broke down. She became irate when I relayed what had happened.
“It’s not right,  Elisa,” she said. “What he said was really bad.”

“But I can’t tell anyone. That would make me some type of social leper at work. None of the other guys there will want to talk to me. They’ll be scared they might say something that will offend me. And the women, I just know this would affect how everybody would treat me.” And feeling completely claustrophobic, I realized how truly terrible situations like this can be.

Somehow the conversation shifted and we began talking about my oldest daughter and her job. Suddenly the woman said, “What if your daughter’s boss treated her like that?” 

Days later, after thinking about the conversation with my friend, I went and told the HR director. “I know this will affect my job… But it’s just not right.” And I’m embarrassed to say it, but I sobbed even though I’d told myself not to.  It was terrifying to say something, knowing I might get someone in trouble and negatively impact their life despite what he had done to me. 

The HR director always spoke in a monotone and every word sounded laced with judgement.  He grabbed a notebook, asked me the same questions over and over, in and out, backward and forward…. 

Finally, at the end, he said he had to do an investigation. 

Those two weeks were excruciating.  All of my special projects and big presentations were taken from me during that time. Although my boss tried acting normal it was even more uncomfortable being around him than it had been before.  I wanted another job, but it takes longer than a few days to find a good place, and plus it was really depressing thinking I might need to leave because of something this man said.

Anyway, a couple of weeks later, the HR director called me back in and said my boss had admitted to everything. As a countermeasure, to ensure this would never happen again, they had given him a personality test.

“Oh? A personality test?” I asked, confused. 

“We’ve disciplined him, but now we want you to learn to understand him more. So you can work around this.”

“Work around his behavior?” I whispered, shocked. 

After that, the HR director said there were things I could change about myself, too.  For example, he said, “Sometimes you wear form-fitting outfits.  They do meet dress-code requirements, but they aren’t helping the situation.”  

“So, this is my issue…because I’ve worn form-fitting clothes?”

“Oh, no!” he said.  “That’s not it at all, but I do think that response shows something else I wanted to talk with you about.  I do think you’re being a bit emotional about the whole situation.  Try to take your emotions out of it.”

I wanted to ask then if it was my pure emotion that caused my boss to take away my projects right after I’d reported him. Was it my “emotion” that had made that man see me in a terribly skewed light…one where my sole value was placed in an act that’s reserved for my husband?  I felt unsafe and this HR director was supposed to be the person to confide in?

Although many of my friends said I should have stayed and fought…I’ve never been one for lawsuits and so, I quit the job.  What’s odd is that within a week I was offered two amazing jobs – and that after a month of working somewhere else, I received a call from the VP of HR for the entire company I had worked for before.

“After a recent audit, I read your file.  What happened?” she prodded.

I didn’t tell her everything because it was in the past and I didn’t want to go there again.  But I did tell her about the personality test that I was supposed to gain insight from.

Within the following months, neither of those men worked for that company anymore.  Come to find out…I hadn’t been the only one.

And although some pretty terrible rumors circulated about me after that – amongst the people who stayed – I was glad the whole ordeal had ended.

I thought about all of this today because a man in Bingham County told me he doesn’t think women really get sexually harassed at work but it’s just a claim some people make for attention. “The Me Too Movement was a very scary thing for men,” he said. “Now, women think they can claim anything.    I bet one-percent of the harassment claims are real.”

I told him this story, and whether or not he believed me, I don’t know, but I sure wish that people would wake up!  It was so much harder to say something because of the fallout, the fact that I had to quit a good-paying job, the rumors, the judgement (mainly from women)….  It’s so much easier to try pushing the bad behavior aside; why is that so insanely hard for people to understand?  Saying something took strength, ignoring it would have just slowly taken my dignity.

I guess I wanted to write this to say that sexual harassment does happen. I inevitably stood up because I don’t want my kids to ever get treated that way and if people don’t say something, the bad behavior will continue…for generations.  As someone once told me “you promote what you permit.”
Maybe I should have fought and stayed, but for me it was much better to simply leave and find a healthy environment; after all, that’s what anyone deserves.

If you find yourself in a bad situation (whether at work or your personal life), stand up for yourself. Sometimes it’s hard to be brave – trust me – but everything will fall into place…things WILL get better. 

“Each relationship nurtures a strength or weakness within you.” -Mike Murdock

What do your current relationships nurture within you?

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Fight in the Grocery Store: Part 2

So, my hair is naturally strawberry blonde.  I’ve thought many times how lucky I am that it wasn’t all red because I can be feisty enough as it is!

This story is about my strangest trip to the grocery store, but it starts in an unexpected place: Over five years ago, I dated a man who I thought was wonderful, amazing...the best person ever.  He was a cowboy who broke horses for a living and would go herd cattle through the treacherous mountains.  He was a great boyfriend until I discovered a catch; he was married.  Embarrassing as it is, it took me an entire month to break up with the guy.  I just refused to believe he’d lied to me…and his wife…and well, everyone except his brothers.

After that, I obtained a superpower; I could spot a married man a mile away.  My friends were impressed by how accurate I became.  They even did some investigating and confirmed that I’d been right.

“I just don’t know how you do it,” my friend, Kara, said.

“Well, for starters there’s this weird confidence about them.  The don’t mind getting turned down because they’ll ‘get some’ whether it’s from you or their wife.”

She paled.  “You’re serious.”

“Of course I’m serious!”

Later that day, I shopped at the grocery store, and stood looking at various flavors of Doritos when a gorgeous man came up to me.

“You like Doritos?  I like Doritos!” Fabio said to me.  “What are the odds?”

I just stared at him.  The man had a tan line where his wedding ring should have been!  “99-percent of Americans like Doritos!  That doesn’t make me your flippin’ soulmate.” I said, then grabbed the closest bag to me, and marched to the front of the store.

As I stood waiting to check out, the man found me in line.  “Hey, I have somethin’ to say to you.”
“Yes?” I glared at him with all the hatred I could muster.

“Do you have any idea how hard it is to approach a girl – who you think is beautiful – and try to strike up a conversation?  I’ve been going through a terrible time and I finally got the guts to say ‘hello’ to someone because my counselor has been encouraging me to.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just raised a brow.  Did “Fabio” – with those deep eyes and that perfect skin – expect me to believe HE had trouble approaching women?  “Well, better luck next time,” I said and turned away. 

“Elisa,” Kara said later,  “you should feel terrible.  That poor man probably just got divorced or something.”

“And what if he did?  It’s a rough world out here.  I’m just easing him into it.  And I call b.s. on his story.  A man who looks like that...if he’s single, there’s something wrong with this world.”

“You call that ‘easing’ someone into it?  Maybe his wife died, or cheated on him with their even better looking butler.”

“Lay off the romance novels for two seconds!” I laughed.

So, even though this was years ago, part of me still feels terrible.  I do wonder if “Fabio” was suffering some tragic loss.  But there’s another part of me that still thinks he was married! 
So, despite how weird things currently are at the grocery stores in Idaho, with the silence and (some places with) plastic barriers, the partially barren shelves, and that half the people are wearing masks; it’s still not as weird as when I almost made a grown man cry over some Doritos.

The only people I like hitting on me are old men because at least they’re entertaining!  If they tried to pick someone up (over a bag of chips), they’d have something much better to say than “you like Doritos!”

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Fight in the Grocery Store: Part 1

Standing in the grocery store yesterday, I watched, a bit mystified.  Most of the shelves are stocked now with some essential items people need – even Top Ramen.  Too bad the coffee grinder at the store is shut down because apparently if you’re going to get “corona” from ANYTHING, it’s the public coffee grinder.  It is odd how quiet the store is though.  Half of the people inside wore masks – and everyone stayed far away from each other – so somber it’s reminiscent of a library!  I used to work at a library in my teen years, but I’m so hyper and happy that it was a strange combination.  In high school I’d dyed my hair the colors of the rainbow and the head librarian said I had a personality to match.  She just wanted me to stop making the patrons laugh so much...because the library is supposed to be quieter than death...or something.

Anyway, being solemn is NOT a gift God gave me. So, yesterday, I stood half an aisle away from an old man and I raised my voice to ask, “How are you doin’?” 
“Ornery as ever,” he said, and pulled his mask down so I could see his momentary smile.  “Don’t you run that paper in Blackfoot?”

I nodded.  “Why yes, I do.”

“I get it,” he said.  “Figure as long as I don’t see myself in the obituaries, I’m doing all right.”
“I hear ya there.  I heard someone say six feet apart is better than six feet under.”

He laughed pretty hard.  “You take care!  Hopefully I can come visit that office of yours sometime when this whole thing blows over.”

“I’d love that!” I grinned.

Then he put his mask back on, and hobbled away.

The cashiers now have thick plastic barriers around them like they work for a bank that might get robbed.  It cracked me up because there’s one young cashier who’s freaked out about germs on a good day.  You should see her after the virus.  She has this head scarf thing and all you can see are her eyes.  I really hope she’ll be okay, not just in regard to corona, but mentally; I can’t imagine how scared she must be.  “That head thing really brings out your eyes,” I said to her, meaning it.

“I’ve missed you!” She laughed.  “You always have something different to say.”

“It’s so quiet though,” I whispered, turning to look at the grumpy people who stood in line behind me...almost a football field away.

“Is this one of your strangest trips to the grocery store?” she asked.

“Well, no....but it’s up there.”

That’s when I thought of something hilarious; it’s not a moment I’m proud of, but it’s my strangest trip to the store.

To be continued tomorrow....

Monday, April 13, 2020

Sincerity and Wax

Sincerity is something often lost....

A few years ago, I sat next to my stunning coworker.  Everyone noticed Sara's beauty, and various men would visit her quite often throughout the days. Sara and I talked for a moment about life and process improvement.  Throughout the conversation her shallow responses continued to surprise me until, June walked into the room.  Now, June wasn't someone people called “attractive,” even if God did give her an extra dose of kindness. Sara, ascertaining the "plainness," immediately looked at the woman and said, “That shirt looks fabulous on you!”

June glowed and thanked Sara. I was proud of Sara's kindness, but after June left, Sara snidely turned to me and said, “Didn’t she look terrible. I hate that shirt!”

Sincere, derived from the Latin, breaks into: sine (meaning without) and cera (meaning wax). It comes from a tradition of broken statues being repaired with wax, so perfections could be hidden and painted. To be without wax is to be real, to be original. People see what they get.

While having lunch with my family this Sunday, we talked about the Latin root of sincerity. My husband immediately said, “It’s not as beautiful as the statue analogy, but it makes me think of apples in the store. I once bought the reddest apple I could find, but when I bit into it, the inside had completely bruised. The only thing that made it look so wonderful, was the wax.”
My son also piped in. “Don’t they fix imperfections with gold in Japan? Broken bowls end up having gold streaks?” he asked.

“I think so,” I said because I’ve heard stories about such practices.

Wax could be when we try to fix ourselves, but gold is when God does.”

One of my oldest daughters smiled. “The statues that are worth the very most now aren’t the kind fixed with wax. They’re the kind with broken arms and missing pieces. People want to see what’s real, and what time did.”

I thought about the whole thing and called my writing mentor later that night. “I’ve heard this so much, but imperfections do make some things perfect. I’d much rather be sincere, than like that woman–full of flattery and fake compliments.”

She told stories of how some of the most influential people in her life have been the most sincere. “It’s because you can trust them,” she said.

I’ve thought about how I’ve written memoirs about my life, memoirs that have been like ripping open my chest, just to see what makes me tick. Some of the compliments and criticisms have  empowered me to continue sharing so I can heal along with others. The criticism has both helped and hurt. But each bit of feedback is something I can use as wax to fill holes I have from the things I’ve been through.

Not only has the study of sincerity–and the honesty of those around me–taught me about motives, it’s also encouraged me to set the wax and paint aside.

I might be more battered than people realize, but I’m still standing and that makes me worth far more than a cheap fix or something any amount of “repairs” can do.

Having interviewed many people for stories over the years, I just wanted to encourage others to set the wax aside. We’re amazing for our battle scars and all.

I’m proud of who I am. Because when people see my flaws maybe they’ll realize their scars make them more precious, too.

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

My get up and go, got up and left

I heard a story once about hundreds of rats trapped in a room. At first they bustled about—even tried to work together—until growing frantic...and hungry. It didn’t take long until the creatures started eating each other, pawing through flesh until they reached bone. All the rats lay decaying and bleeding in a sort of stench that could make even the dead retch. Finally, one rat remained. And after he looked around, he gingerly lifted up his own leg...and started eating.

This is how the economy feels right now. We can’t bury our heads in the sand; the economy is struggling. And as such, bigger companies—thinking they can benefit—swoop in and try to overtake markets. They might look like “hometown” places, disguised as the people who work for them. But they aren’t ‘those’ people. In some cases those poor workers are just a disposable front. Local companies are fighting to not be eaten.  Greed, the deadly sin I’ve never understood, is a driving force with the power to destroy.

Right now, I’m worried, thinking about the local businesses I love. I fear, this could be the end of some of them if people don’t show the support they need. Companies everywhere have cut employee hours and services.  It appears workers continue striving under significantly reduced pay and hours, yet those in essential roles have absorbed more work than ever before.

We, as a society, have worked so hard to succeed…but, like a game of chess, the economy is losing her pawns, worried it might become one itself. Slowly people are giving time, hearts, and souls to the American dream; yet, the economy still feels like a vacuum.

As I tucked my son into bed the other day, he asked, “Do you think people will talk about this in the future; when the coronavirus brought the world together?”  He went on to talk about a common enemy uniting people “like in the movies.”

“This will be in the history books for sure, kid.” His eyes lit up.  “When you’re a very old man, I bet people will ask you what it was like to live through this.”

“Really?  And I can tell them about the grocery stores being empty, businesses closing, people going nuts over toilet paper…and how we couldn’t find Top Ramen?!”

“You’ll have to tell them all of that,” I said.  “Hey,” I said before walking from his room, “is that a roll of toilet paper hidden under your bed?”

“Yeah, you never know when you might need it.”

As I shut his door, a realization hit me.  My grandparents used to hide things like that (toilet paper, medicine, shampoo…canned food).  My grandma said it started after they lived through the Great Depression.  They were brilliant people, business-minded and savvy.  If they could live through all that and be all right, I figure we’ll be okay too. 

Rats and a struggling economy aside, there are lessons to be garnered that will buoy future generations forward and make them better for it. 

Some “old-timers” have worried about technology and a pervading laziness that has come to rest over generations.  Maybe all of that is about to change as we strive to help ourselves and each other so the places we love can make it through these hard times.

What we have right now is hope... Hope is “an expectation.” So for now, I’m going to “expect” to find something positive in all this.  After all, we get what we look for