I am a pre-#Me. To be clear, that does not mean that I am or was a “premie”. Confused? Let me explain the difference. If I were a premie” that would mean that I was a baby that was born before my actual due date from my mother, but that was not the case with me. I was born a healthy full-term baby, with a big appetite and I have the pics to prove it. As you may know, many premie’s are born into high risk situations. Babies that decide to make their entrance early into this world typically have a team of doctors on deck ready and waiting for them, and when they finally do arrive, they are rushed into incubators and placed on all kinds of life support. The tremendous amount of care afforded to these babies is to ensure they are given every opportunity for survival. The baby usually spends their first few weeks in the ICU so they can be monitored and given the love and attention and the acute medical care they need to get them out of the danger zone. All of this is necessary to ensure that that beautiful baby is given the best odds to thrive and succeed, thereby possibly increasing their chances of making it in the world.
So how does a premie differ from a pre-#Me? A pre-#ME, is someone who has lived in a world of sexual harassment before the #Metoo movement was ever even a movement. My pre-#Me story has striking similarities to that of the pre-mie above, however. It turns out that I was hired into a company based on my skill set, and I was a valued member of the senior leadership team. I was “fed” juicy assignments and I was respected by my coworkers and colleagues. I was living and working in a world that was comfortable and “nurturing”, so to speak. But then much like a pre-mie, something went terribly wrong. My boss at the time, and someone who had a tremendous amount of power in the organization began to slowly poison my lifeline and attempted to blur the lines of our professional relationship. I endured having to change my schedule so that I wouldn’t be caught in the line of sight to be subjected to the barrage of his unwelcome behavior. So, for a while, I did what so many other women did at the time, and maybe still do. I tolerated the behavior. I “laughed it off”. I told myself that it wasn’t “that bad”. I endured having to change my schedule so that I wouldn’t be caught in his line of sight, especially on Friday’s where he would wait to ask what I was doing over the weekend and then ask for “adult company”. When I would politely decline, I was always subjected to the silent treatment, or bouts of anger, and the cycle would continue. I did my best to keep my head down, and I tried to plow through. I did it for the sake of my job, for my reputation and ultimately because it was the “safer” route.
Until one day, I couldn’t, and realized I shouldn’t. So, I finally stood up and I said, “no more”. His repeated attempts on my psyche began to take its toll on me and over a long period of time, I felt unable to thrive in that environment. And therefore, I made the decision to leave the company, but did so prematurely. I did not leave because it was the best time professionally to do so. I loved my job in that organization and I still had great work to do. I did not leave because I had found a better position that paid more or because it was a stepping stone to bigger and better things. I left before my time without another position to go to. And I did it before the #Metoo movement gave women “permission” to do so. This is the very reason why I consider myself a “pre-#Me.
Unlike my premie counterparts, I did not have a team surrounding me to help me survive. I did not have a built-in support system who assured me that I would be okay and rallied around me. With very few exceptions, I did not have the encouragement from friends or family members. As a matter of fact, I had the exact opposite. People that I knew both personally and professionally started to keep their distance from me. I became a liability to them, even by association. Many recruiters would not talk to me or work with me. Coworkers or colleagues I used to work with were reluctant to help me network with people they knew. If I was lucky enough to garner an in-person interview, I was put in a compromising position to explain why I left a job without another one to go to. If I was honest about why I left, I received the polite hand shake and then I was ushered to the door and told “they would get back to me”. They never did. If I did bend the truth (I cannot or would not ever lie), then I was met with skepticism and the end result was largely the same. It was extremely frustrating to know that I was the victim in this situation, but I was the one who was treated like I did the crime.
What I ended up being forced to do, was to put myself in my own self-induced “incubator” for two years to try to heal and build back my strength, because at that time, I did not have the #Metoo sisterhood to lean on. You see, before the #Metoo movement, I felt alone, vulnerable and ashamed, and yet I knew there had to be other women who were in the same shoes as me, but also felt they had no voice or thought they would be believed. I’m not sure I will ever be the same after that experience as there are scars that will never fully heal. But I decided that this experience was fuel for me to find a way to help other women who have felt they’ve lost their personal or professional power due to this illegal behavior, and I took the time out and I wrote a self-help book on empowerment. I consciously made the choice to take this horrible experience and use it as a platform to help others. I learned a lot in those two years about resilience, perseverance and doing the right thing especially in the face of adversity. And the one saving grace from this experience, and what I now know is that just like a pre-mie, this pre-#Me is a fighter and I have developed survival skills that have made me stronger and more resistant to keep quiet despite the odds against me. The #Metoo team came to fruition two years after I needed them, but I made it through anyway. And I will continue to thrive and I will continue to support the cause. I will always be grateful to those brave women who were able to pave the way for the rest of us. A huge thank you to Rose McGowan, Alyssa Milano and countless other women, and especially Tarana Burke, for raising awareness and making this a “mainstream” topic. We owe you a lifetime of gratitude. But if, like me, you too were a pre-#Me, I would love to hear your story and how you overcame the challenges you faced before it became “acceptable” to do so.