I have had a year of change to say the very least about where I sit today and write. I have had to fully embrace that life isn’t fair and it won’t be. In the last year I have learned so much about letting go of expectations. Not only of the expectations that I have for others, but also the expectations that I have for myself. If you would have said to me in April of 2017 where I would be in 2019 I would have said. I would be running a multi-million dollar company, speaking at national conventions and shattering the expectations of what it meant to be a working mother, a female COO and a girl from small town Montana. Boy was I wrong.
I had been working for the same company since 2012. I worked my way from being the office manager, to the Director of Operations, to the COO. To me a title was not the big deal, until I realized how much more respect I received because of it. It was eye opening to think that although the tasks, pride, and professionalism I had in my job had not drastically changed, the way that I was received by others, especially men in the professional world was different. VASTLY different. The force that I imagined I was didn’t take full effect until I had a title to match. I was shocked. I grew up being treated and taught that people would judge you for the job that you did not the title you had. I worked hard. I have always prided myself on my ability to do the job no one else wants before I asked someone else to do it. I bonused well but it was based on the way the ownership “felt” about me not on a metric of performance and after two years I wanted to change the way I was compensated. I scheduled a meeting with my boss. He canceled on me 6 times before I reached my breaking point. I had helped to grow the company from 200 Million in sales and under $100 sales people to upward of $650 million and 200 sales people. We were tracking to pass $800 that year (2017). I was frustrated and I sent him an email with all of the metrics of growth, education, and savings that I had created and asked him to please meet with me. What he didn’t know that I did, was that I was pregnant and I knew from my past (that is a topic for another post) that if I was pregnant there was no way I was getting a raise or a metric based bonus structure. I also knew from my interview that it was very likely that I would be fired for being pregnant. Is it illegal to do that yes, does it matter in a state that is a right to work state, no they would have found another reason. Over the next 11 months I found out how hard they would try. Finally I did get the meeting, I did get a raise with the consideration that a higher salary would mean less opportunity for a bonus and I said that for me and my family I needed the bonus structure to be based on metrics and thought that I had earned a bump in my wage. The raise I got was awesome. I felt elated that I presented myself, worked through the challenge and came out ahead and on good terms with my boss. I remember thinking to myself that he cared about who I was as a person and that I was very lucky to be able to work with someone who respected me. I remember thinking that I could help other women who struggled when asking for raises on how to have a professional conversation. I was wrong.
I had worked for 4.5 years for the company before I got pregnant the first time. My husband and I were so excited I told my bosses and they were excited. Then I miscarried, and had to tell them that and it was heartbreaking to feel like such a failure. During this time my boss was in the midst of an ugly divorce. I know it was ugly because I did all the record transmission for him as far as emails, calendar dates, franchise agreements, etc. (This all feeds into the whole story I promise). During this time I learned that my suspicions about his infidelity to his wife, whom I considered a friend, and his drinking were indeed not just suspicions. I knew more than I wanted to know. But I also knew that he was my boss and it wasn’t interfering with my work and it was really none of my business. I also had the naive thought that if it wasn’t interfering with work it would continue on that path. I was wrong.
As my pregnancy progressed it was not only physically demanding on me but also mentally. I was working 70 hours a week on top of being pregnant. I wrote everything down so I wouldn’t forget. I undertook several major remodeling projects including a 3000 square foot office building. My boss continued to miss meetings and it was becoming more and more frequent that he would ask me to cover for him during his meetings causing me to be double booked. I did cover for him. I enabled him to continue down a path that would end up crushing my career. There were days that he was noticeably intoxicated at work. I remember working to fix projectors for office meetings at 9 months pregnant standing on tables and being yelled at that some part of technology didn’t work. I remember thinking this is crazy, but I just need to get through it and once the baby is here it will all go back to normal. I was wrong.
In the second week of January, one week before I was due my blood pressure skyrocketed. My doctor watched me closely all week and on Friday said, if you don’t go into labor tomorrow we are inducing you on Sunday night. I was so excited! She was going to be here, I was going to have a wonderful labor and things would settle into a new normal. Saturday night I decided I wanted to have maternity photos taken and had a friend meet me and my husband to take a few photos. That day took forever, but at 7:00 we went to the hospital, got all checked in and started the process. Everything was going great, contractions were happening slowly but surely and at 4:00 AM my water broke. It was terrifying and painful. I went from a 3 to a 10 and my contractions didn’t stop. I had an epidural, they laid me on my side and continued to monitor me. At 7:00 AM my doctor came in and did an ultrasound, I am damn glad he did because our daughter who was all ready to go the night before flipped and was now but down and not going anywhere. I was going to have a C-section, which I was fine with as long as it wasn’t an emergency and it wasn’t. I still can hear the sound of her sweet cry as they pulled her out of my body, I still remember the tears streaming down my face that we had done it that I had made it. We went to recovery, we had family only in the room which was wonderful. I thought I would take two weeks 100% off and everyone at the office would understand. I was wrong.
I remember getting emails and texts the day after I gave birth that were: I am so sorry to disturb you. I remember thinking they must really need me and I don’t want to let people down so I answered and got the information back to them. I was discharged on a Wednesday and started working from my bed that night. I got phone calls from my boss and text messages about our awards banquet that was two weeks away. I worked hard to stay on top of all that I could while learning to nurse, take care of myself, and heal. I didn’t want to let anyone down. I set up for the awards banquet for 4 hours the night before, went home was up and down all night and showed up for what should have been an easy morning. I remember getting home and thinking it is all set tomorrow will be a walk through the park to hook up computers and get out of there. I was wrong.
The morning was okay until my intoxicated boss got there. He screamed at me in front of my staff, in front of our sales people that were early, and in front of the CEO of the national franchise. I held back tears. Finished what was needed and left. The next month things continued to deteriorate. Items that I had done and discussed with him were questioned and I was ridiculed. I was called in to meet and interview new potential sales agents and then his business partner would stop by to check to make sure I made the appointment. I was treated horribly. Not only that, but the maternity leave that we had discussed in length I had been told was never approved. I looked into FMLA, I looked into pregnancy discrimination, I spoke with friends in the HR field, and I discovered that because the company had all sales people who were independent contractors and that the employee base was under 13 none of the laws applied. On the day before I was scheduled to fly out to a leadership event I got a voicemail, via a Slydial app so my phone didn’t ring, telling me to check my email. My boss had canceled my trip less than 24 hours before I was to fly out, and demanded that I be in the office on Monday. I lost my mind. The mind that I had been working so hard to preserve. I had no child care, I had appointments to cancel, flights to cancel, and a boss who didn’t have the courtesy to tell me during the business week so that I could be a professional. I cried, and I am not a crier, I called my dad, I talked to my husband, I yelled, and I resigned. I was right.
After a year of fighting a long, hard, uphill, losing battle that I would never win because it wasn’t winnable I gave in. The failure that I felt, the death of my career, the heartache I had faced was not something I could grasp. I sent in a letter of resignation and asked for a face to face meeting to discuss my exit. I was offered the world, more money, a better schedule, what would it take to get me back? I struggled with the idea of what it could mean for my family financially, what it would mean for my career, and then there was one thought that made me let go and run off the cliff without looking, my daughter. Would I be willing to compromise who I was, and what I stood for and be able to look at her and know that? I knew if I did that I would be wrong. I worked out a 6 month exit plan that allowed me to remain the professional that I am. I continued to work on relationships that I had built and create a business for myself. I came to the self-realization that there is a fundamental issue in our country with the way that women are treated in the workplace and that I wanted to choose to be part of the solution, part of the right and leave the wrong behind.
However, I have to be grateful for being wrong. In my career had I not made hard choices, and slammed against the glass ceiling, stood up against the people who said that I couldn’t, learned the hard way that as a female I was and would be treated differently I never would be in a position to help change the path moving forward. To all of you reading this embrace the learning opportunities that you have, embrace the challenge, and embrace the change we all can be a part of.