Six weeks ago I resigned from my position at Outspoken. Since then I’ve been thinking more about the other moments that have shaped me along the way. Maybe it’s because I know I’m in the middle of A Moment right now – after all, saying “yes” to any of the offers on the table will change my course – but this is also the first time I’ve been unemployed since I was a recent college grad. And while eight years later my situation and my circumstances are (thankfully) quite different, it seems inevitable that the memories from that time would creep back.
And they have.
We all have those moments of consequence, those defining stories that, when you put them together, create your story and your lens. It’s your job to remember them. Even if at the time all you want to do is forget.
I remember sitting in an oversized green chair at that Starbucks in Camarillo, CA waiting to meet her.
I remember staring at my resume, staring at my references, and staring back at the floor, in loop.
I remember trying to convince myself that I deserved this help.
Then my case worker walked through the door. I had a case worker now.
Her name was Pat and she was with the Department of Rehabilitation Services, an agency that provides advocacy for people with disabilities and helps them become employed in their communities. She was warm and genuine. She was my case worker. She was going to help.
Pat ran through the standard set of introductions, seemingly careful not to stray from her state-mandated script. While she did that, I thought of everything it had taken me to get here. The two years of driving across LA and surrounding areas for unsuccessful interviews. Prospective employers who openly laughed when I couldn’t get the words out. Assistants who hung up on me when I called. The abusive boss I had who told me I should complain less because I had no other option but to work for him.
I was in this Starbucks to prove them wrong. And to prove myself right. That I could do more.
Once Pat finished, it became my turn to introduce myself. I went through my own script while she followed along on the intake application she had in her hand.
My name is Lisa Barone. I’m living in Ventura, CA but I’m originally from the East Coast. My family, friends, and everything I know is still back there.
I moved out to Los Angeles before the ink on my journalism degree from Emerson College was dry. Things weren’t great back home. I can’t go back.
I have a stutter that I believe is impacting my ability to find quality employment. I know that it is illegal for someone not to hire me based on my speech, but it is happening.
I currently work for a man who sells vinyl records out of his home. I clean, list, and ship records. I also vacuum his house, do his dishes, dust, and perform other tasks I don’t believe are in my job description.
The fact that I am in this Starbucks is a testament to how out of options I am and how badly things have gotten. I had never identified as disabled or handicapped before. No one had ever informed me that I was legally disabled until a college professor forced me to register as such to pass her class. She didn’t sign my name on that dotted line, but she printed out the form and gave me the pen. When authority is abused it can be hard to spot.
By walking into that Starbucks, I was again admitting to a disability.
Back in the moment, Pat congratulated me on taking a bold first step toward finding a position I deserved. She then handed me a packet that would be our game plan. It outlined the steps we’d take together and the steps she would take on my behalf to serve as my advocate. It felt good to have someone on my team. Before we could officially get started, I’d have to visit her office to sign some paperwork.
A few weeks later I ventured in to see her. We huddled together at a small round table while she read the forms that I was to sign. I remember that she laughed nervously and apologized in advance. She said that while many of the forms “wouldn’t apply to my situation” I was required to sign them anyway. For legal reasons. It was standard procedure.
She apologized again.
On this day I was asked to sign forms promising that:
- I would not bite people in my new office.
- I would not become physical aggressive with my coworkers
- I would not throw or break things.
- I would not have tantrums.
- I would remember to groom myself and to shower regularly.
- I would wear deodorant and appropriate clothing.
Two years earlier I had graduated with honors from one of the best journalism schools in the country. Now I was facing a moment of consequence – reject the dehumanization happening or silently consent.
Even in that moment I recognized I was being given a second chance to take back the rights I handed over to that professor years earlier. Back then, I should have voluntarily failed the class. I should have stood up for myself and my own rights. I should have been my own advocate. But I wasn’t. I consented like she knew I would. Here I could make a different choice.
But I didn’t.
Instead of asking for what I needed — to hold on to my dignity through this process — I signed the form. And then I smiled at my case worker, thanked her for her time, and walked out of the building with shoulders sunk.
By the time I reached the parking lot I knew it was too late. I would never again walk into that building or allow them to help me. I wouldn’t allow anyone else to help me. I knew how they saw me.
Luckily, I got a break.
Soon after, I was called in for an interview with an SEO company located in Simi Valley, California. My case worker asked if I wanted her to contact the company before my interview and “explain my situation”. I asked her not to and I opted to interview blind. Two weeks later, I was notified I had the job. Two seconds after that I informed my old boss that I would be leaving. Because I could do better.
I would do better.
As I sit here contemplating what will come next after resigning from a perfectly profitable company, I won’t pretend that these fears and these moments aren’t still with me. They are. A small part of me is terrified. But the larger part of me knows that we all have to act as our own advocates and fight for the things we need, when we need them. Even when it’s hard. Maybe especially then. That’s what I’m doing.
I’ve received a lot of messages from people over the past couple of weeks congratulating me on leaving what was comfortable and comments they wish they could do the same thing. You can. Maybe for you that doesn’t mean quitting your job and taking on an unknown future. But I guarantee you it does mean identifying what you need and advocating for yourself. We should all be doing that. Just because someone hands you the pen doesn’t mean you can’t draw your own damn picture, whatever it may be.
Did you keep that list of dehumanizing questions or just remember? Love the theme of advocating for ourselves.
Lisa, you are such an inspiration and living proof that anyone can become anything they want. I loved your Tedx talk a few months ago, and I get so much positive energy out of your spirit.Thank you!
If someone asks you to sign off that you wouldn’t bite people in your office, you tend to remember it.
Lisa… I’ve always admired you so very much… and now I realize I didn’t admire you enough.Thank you, for being such an inspiration.
What a fascinating history. I must say, I’d be fascinated to hear what some of the dreams you’ve yet to accomplish are.
Hi Lisa,I just found your blog..Glad i found it! I learned one thing form you "Stuttering stops you from achieving your dreams only if you let it". You are my inspiration to become an entrepreneur and to face my fears. Thank you very much…
Lisa: I just read this on my Delta flight … 30,000 feet in the air. I have the chills. You are a true inspiration. You are an amazing human being. You also happen to be a kick ass writer. I’m honored to know you.
Love it. We all have those times in our lives that define us – it take courage to actually share them. We always hear the expression, "walk a mile in their shoes."Most people really can’t do that – so we need people to honestly share the details of their lives in order for us to gain insight into those experiences that shape us.When I was fired from my job in 2006, because I had the gall to stutter while on the job, for a long time, it felt shameful to me and I didn’t want to share the story. But then I realized that sharing could possibly help someone else, and it certainly helped me to talk about it.It sounds like the caseworker was using forms that were designed for people with developmental disabilities and they didn’t bother to modify them. Which certainly does a lot to remove humanity and dignity from the situation.Took a lot of guts for you to ask for help back then, and to share it now.I went to a doctors office about 2 months ago and was asked to sign a standard release, that included I agreed to have a random urine test done anytime. I refused to sign it. I was told – "oh, that doesn’t apply to you, but you still need to sign the form to get services here."So I crossed that section out – wrote "refuse to agree to this section" and initialed it. Then signed the paper. No one said anything,. Maybe they didn’t even look.
Chills. There’s no other way to respond to such powerful writing, Lisa.
I won’t sign a contract unless I get express permission to bite as many people as I want. That’s half the fun of coworkers :)It’s hard to look back on what we consider bad choices, but sometimes you have to give something up to realize how important it is to you. What’s important is that you took it back.
Your growth and self assurance is inspiring as you gracefully pirouette around, between and boldly through life’s moments. Beautifully written, sadly eye opening, and vastly powerful.
I bite people all the time, some taste salty ;)What an inspiration you are! Keep up the good work, don’t let anyone tell you what to do or how to do it.
Wow, Lisa. I don’t know you (though we have a zillion friends in common, and I’ve seen you go by many times, or heard others speak — fondly! — of you) but I felt compelled to comment and say that, by writing this post, you’ve helped give others the strength to say no to something unfair in their lives, or to pursue a dream that others have said they can’t achieve, or to step outside of their situation and chase the life they deserve, rather than the life they’ve been handed by circumstance. That’s an amazing thing. Thank you for telling your story and being honest so others would find the courage to do the same.
Written with amazing passion and heart.We haven’t always agreed and have had different perspectives. But I have always admired your ability to write with passion and heart.
Honestly Lisa I was going to do something else on the computer, but I started to read your post and I’m glad I did. This is a very touching story with a great lesson learned. I love to read about people who may not seem as fortunate as others, but they actually have a talent far beyond what others may think they have. I tip my hat to you for becoming more aware of who you are and what you can become with a little growth. As my wife would say to her girlfriends. "You Go Girl" LOL, Blessings
@Arsen RabInovIch that is funny that you bite people and I agree you are your own boss
If I could afford you, I would CREATE a job just for you. 😉
Lisa, you’re going to look back on this in a year and recognize it as another pivotal moment towards something amazing you couldn’t predict from wehre you were. You’re incredibly talented, smart and courageous. You’ll do more amazing things. Go girl, go!
Such an inspirational post. Thank you. I’m going through some rough time right now – this was a great reminder.
Lisa: this is an extraordinary piece of writing. Many here have used the word "chills" to describe their reactions to it. For me, it was a kick to the stomach, reminding me of a time that I was made to feel like that … to feel like I was so much less than I *knew* that I was. I thank you for having the courage to get this on "paper".And for the record, while I’ve never followed through, there have been PLENTY of moments when I’ve wanted to bite coworkers. My bicuspids are honed and ready. 😉
love ya dude, its been a pleasure and privilege to know you as long as I have. even through our ups and downs i’ve always admired you.
Chills, kick in the stomach, whatever, I have it. Please write a book so I can come to one of your signings and get your autograph. You are an amazing writer and I’m so happy you are going after your dreams.
Thank you for sharing this perspective on moments! Very brave for sharing also. I bet this will help people process their moments to make a decision. Good luck and I think with your human experiences and professional experiences you will land exactly where you want!
Wow, great job Lisa. Keep kicking ass!
Outstanding post. Brave and honest. Don’t know you personally but wish I did because you are my kinda smart. 😉 Outstanding writer, too. Wishing you only the best in your next endeavor. Kudos and blessings!
Thank you so much, Lisa.I’m a bit late to the game; I didn’t know that you had left.You’ll do great in whatever you choose to do.Your talent and strength will ensure that.Joel.
| Amber Porter Cox|
SO completely raw and beautiful. You inspire me, and made me think about the times that I have felt uncertain about myself, even without a stated disability. We all need help at one point or another, but we should not be made to feel any less human as a result.I have also held jobs where I was bullied and treated horribly, but I have never written about it publicly. You are brave and bold to share it. Hopefully, by now, you recognize that our culture is the one with the disability. Congrats to you for leaning into the fear and moving forward. Thank you for sharing your truth with us.You are correct, these experiences shape us and influence us; but you, we, must not let it define our future. Thanks to you, many people will also get this message. Good luck to you as you write your own story!
I have twins daughters who were premature and are in special ed. We are currently working with Voc Rehab so they can attend college. I get so frustrated with current teachers that don’t think they "are smart enough" to attend college. Your post inspires me. Rock on.
Wow! I’m passing this on to some people who can use it and even more who will love reading it. You’re hardly disabled, Lisa. You are a Rock Star and an inspiration to everyone.
Lisa,This was a very brave an honorable post. Thanks for sharing. You rock.
Lisa,Want to know how much the Internet levels the playing field? I would bet almost everyone reading this post, including those of us who have "known" you for years would never guess you went through this or were not as "normal" as the rest of us.Keep it up!
Lisa, I wish every person I’ve ever met who doesn’t yet believe they have the right, the opportunity or the ability to choose differently, would read this. You set a stellar example others can learn from…
Lisa, You are a true hero. I will say that always. Why? Because you fight harder for what you want than anyone I know. Because you have an ABILITY.
Funny – I would not bite people in my new office.
I’m so glad that you titled this Moments of Consequence. Isn’t wonderful that we have a choice each and every moment. We can take one step and typically we know pretty quickly whether that step is bringing us closer or farther from the right direction, allowing us to take that next step that much more surety. Powerful choices inspire more powerful choices in those around us. Thanks sharing for the empowerment.
When I was little, I overhead my grandmother telling my mom that I was retarded because my words didn’t come out right. My mom took me to doctors, and they told her that my tongue was too big for my mouth but eventually I would grow and it would be less of an issue. I had to take 5 years of speech therapy. Eventually, I grew, my lisp got better and most days folks don’t even notice unless I’m nervous or angry.Your story brought me back to those days. Thank you. I have a habit of putting those memories away. While they can be painful, they remind you where you were and how much you’ve grown. You have a gift with the written word. I wish you well on your next project. I’m sure whoever you choose to work with will be extremely lucky.
I read your inspiring post yesterday, just before going out for a birthday celebration dinner with my father, and it inevitably reminded me of his early life. He was wounded three times in WW2 and lost the power of speech for a while. When it returned he stuttered and this affected him for many years. At one point it appeared that I was picking up his stutter and he took the incredibly brave decision to stop talking to me for a few years while I had speech therapy. I cannot imagine what that must have cost him emotionally. Thankfully he overcame his stutter and mine disappeared. Indeed in our respective fields of interest we are both confident public speakers. I’m thankful for his bravery and I applaud you for yours. I hope that one day your spoken words are as fluent and valued as your written ones undoubtedly are now, and I wish you all possible success in your new career move.
An gut-wrenching story and an inspiration. So much of our lives, our silver tongues, perfect bodies, great hair, pretty faces, strong backs are the results of genetics and luck, yet we judge each other on these things we have no control over. We should be looking at what we do with our talents and how we overcome our shortcomings.
Just posting to let you know I’m a big fan of yours. Your writing has helped me both professionally and personally.
Lisa, thanks for posting this. I had no idea that you stuttered.I found your post quite inspiring. It’s great to see that you’ve found success and haven’t let your condition hold you back. Unfortunately there are always people out there who’ll try to hold us back because of these kinds of things and often we do it to ourselves.Good luck in your new adventures!
This is my favorite thing of yours I’ve ever read. Not that it matter, but I’d hire you in a heart beat and I’m hopeful that hen my kids grow up, they exercise their voice in the same manner that you have – fearlessly.
Wow. I’ve never read you before, Brian Clark sent me over. Such a gentle spirit. I hope you encounter much kindness in this life. Your writing is wonderful. Thank you.
Some years ago there was a talented writer, a columnist, for our local newspaper that I always used to enjoy reading, for his humor and perceptive observations. I had no idea that he stuttered until I moved to that city. He obviously did not shrink from public view and sometimes gave talks. I also had a close friend years ago that had a severe stutter – I could not have asked for a better friend. We went on canoe trips sometimes and did a lot of talking. He had 2 brothers who became doctors, but he eventually moved to another state for some kind of warehouse job, and I have no idea how things have gone for him since then. I grew up with a fear of stuttering because of incidents in 6th grade, and had worries into my 20’s, but somehow it went away as I got into different job situations. I enjoy your writing very much and look forward to reading more. All the best.
I just watched your Tedx talk and I have to say that to be honest it was rather difficult and I almost turned it off. Instead I remembered how I used to stutter as a young boy and how my schoolmates would tease me for doing so. I have since overcome my stuttering and speak as a trainer all the time on behalf of my business. I can only imagine how challenging it has been for you and I so commend you for your courage and your ability to not take even your stuttering seriously. I cam across your work via the blog Small Biz Trends and was very impressed with your writing but I am even more impressed with you. I will take the advice of your Tedx talk and look for my weirdness and see how I can use just that to become more of myself and see, like you who will follow me after I let go and embrace my weird. You now have one more person in your tribe of followers. All the bestJB
Cheering loudly after reading this post. I can almost see the balcony filled with your fans, all of us standing and cheering for your boldness and to see the amazing things you will do next! ~ A fan in the balcony
Hold up…you mean if I’m classified as disabled I can bite people and blame it on my disability?ADHD counts, right? 😉
Just so you know. You have one of the most powerful voices I have ever encountered. I don’t say this lightly, but you, miss half my age, are the writer I wish I were. Don’t ever sell yourself short. In a raging sea of voices, yours rises clear and sweet. Your writing has an awe-inspiring mixture of poetic license, personal introspection, passion, and clarity of ideas. I’d love to know what you’re up to now, so I’ll catch up on newer posts, but let’s connect soon for a personal chat. I have missed your wit, your wisdom, and your whimsy.
Came across this post when a friend of mine sent the link to it. I love it, the way you think
I have followed you on Twitter for some time, love that you love animals, and I read your every post I find and lament my inability to come close to your awesome. Every time I read your content, I’m reminded of the West Wing episode where Toby and Will are discussing writing and they talk about blood going to their writing. Your writing, especially this piece of content, has blood going to it in about 13 different ways and they are all great. Keep drawing your own damn picture, everyone will be the better for it.
I haven’t had the pleasure to hang out with you in far too long Lisa and this awesome heartfelt post made we wish I could see you sooner than later. Keep kicking ass and being yourself… that is what we all love. Cheers!
Incredible story. I’m really sorry you had to go through that.