The Worth No One Can Take Away

I was twenty-something years old. Perhaps that fact alone bought my silence. I was old enough to know better, big enough to enforce a “no.” Instead, I didn’t know I had any options. Doubted I was worth it. Thus, I stayed silent. After all, he never touched me. And he dressed his words with just enough power and deception to make me wonder if I was the one in the wrong.

The dismantling of my confidence took minutes.

For weeks I’d been negotiating a contract between our company, a customer and a vendor. It was a huge deal, my biggest to date, requiring missed lunches and extended hours. I didn’t mind, because I loved my job. And, as a young single mama, I desperately needed the commission.

However, the closer I came to closing the deal, the more the {married} vendor started crossing lines. Friendliness turned to flirtation. Flirtation turned to near-constant phone calls. And our conversations morphed into something centered less around our immediate business dealings and more around his personal appetites and how I could satisfy them.

Uncomfortable, I stopped picking up the phone, limited our interactions, talked in short, clipped tones while still trying to do my job and close the deal.

Then one day the boss made his way to my cubicle. Not my boss, but THE boss. The big guy in charge. At six-foot-five, he towered over my desk and invited me to follow him out of our office and into the building’s expansive foyer for a quick chat. It didn’t occur to me to question his motives or say “no, thank you.” He was an executive, in charge of dozens of people and millions of dollars. I was a young and up-and-coming sales rep. It wasn’t until we were alone that I knew I was in danger:

Simply, he said I needed to do whatever it took to close the deal. Whatever it took. Two-million dollars sat on the table, and if the vendor required something from me in order to make it happen, I was to give it to him. No questions asked.

Are we clear?

His eyes bore into mine, making sure I received his message. I did.

Now, years later, I’m able to call it what it was—sexual harassment. At the time, however, my young and confused self hid in the conference room and wept. I was a failure, a weak and incompetent woman who didn’t know how to hold her own in the workplace. Besides, didn’t I bring it on myself? Wasn’t I too friendly, opening myself up to those kind of liberties?

It’s been two decades since that incident. I’ve not really talked about it until now, haven’t felt the need to. Until the last week as I’ve watched the unfolding news stories and watched the #metoo threads on social media. The truth is I always felt a slithering shame and culpability whenever the memory popped up. Besides, I know many who have suffered far worse treatment. Does mine really matter?

Historically, I’ve resisted anything that that sniffs of faddish campaigns or glorified victimization. These situations are serious and require more than flippant social media posts that are sometimes shared as much for the attention they gain as the truth they disclose. I’ve played that game myself, albeit without intent, and try diligently to avoid it. I don’t want to see myself a victim; I see myself an overcomer.

Even so, I no longer believe it’s wisdom to be dismissive or silent about gross abuses like these, especially ones that so deeply compromise a man or woman’s sense of boundaries and personal dignity. Perhaps this is a result of my growing confidence and security in who I am, who God has created me to be. But I suspect it’s more the result of my fairly recent role as a mama of girls. I don’t want them to end up weeping in a lonely conference room because they didn’t know they were worth more.

So to my sweet girls who don’t yet fully know the dangers that await them, and to the scores of women and men who have found themselves publicly (or privately) whispering #metoo this week, these are the truths I would tell the twenty-something me, the one crying alone in the conference room.

And these are the words my heart wants YOU to hear, too.

  1. You were intentionally created by a God who crazy loves you. Exactly as you are.
  2. You are more than your job. No job is irreplaceable. You, however, are.
  3. You are more than your relationships. No man, woman, child will make you complete. God alone holds the key to your wholeness.
  4. You are more than what you do. No amount of achievement will add to your value. No lack of achievement will take it away.
  5. You are more than the most recent critique or affirmation. Your worth is not subject to anyone’s opinion. Not even your own.
  6. You are human. That means you have made—and will make—mistakes. But you are not an accident, misfit, nuisance or problem to be solved. Your life is a gift worth savoring. And respecting.
  7. Your mistakes do not diminish your value. Or your right to dignity and respect. Period.
  8. You don’t deserve shame. So let it go. It’s not yours to carry.
  9. You are worth protecting, fighting for, defending, nurturing, loving. Always.

Question: If you could go back in time and talk to your younger self, what would you tell her (or him)? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

13 thoughts on “The Worth No One Can Take Away

  1. I would tell myself it’s ok…you did the best you could at the time with very little insight. You were hurt and you did not deserve it or ask for it. You are more than a piece of flesh for some man to take over or abuse or treat like anything less than the daughter of God you are. There is sick in the world but your worth is not determined by what was done to you. Sex is not love neither is letting someone betray you over and over again and telling you that is love…it is not. I have learned God is my vindicator and knows my heart He leads me to myself to my truth and value tough Him and He heals me every day …He heals me

  2. What a terrible experience, Michele! Did you end up quitting your job? Getting fired? That is just horrible.

    I would tell my younger self, “There are more jobs out there, and God will provide. He is bigger, better, kinder and smarter than the creeps”.

    • I closed the deal (without compromising myself), but then quit my job shortly after. Couldn’t handle the pressure. You’re correct—it was awful. However, I’m thankful that the vast majority of men (and women) I’ve worked with have been just the opposite—full of integrity and generous with respect. At the least, I taught me to appreciate how many good men there really are.

  3. That it’s perfectly ok to be yourself, your uniqueness is in itself a gift. That at the end of the day, regardless of how the world takes it or appreciates it, it’s enough to know that you have given you’re very best at what you have been called to do or accomplish. That truth should give you enough peace.

  4. Thanks Michelle. This is inspiring. Exactly the things you highlighted are what I will tell my younger self. In summary I’ll say, “You are special, irreplaceable and loved, by the person who matters most, God.”

  5. Thank you for sharing what you shared, Michele.

    The question – wow – ??

    I think I would go way back, maybe to someplace like the 5th grade, and tell myself, “You are not required to live up to anyone else’s expectations of who you are supposed to be.”

  6. #metoo

    Thanks for sharing, Michelle. I couldn’t see this clearly either until I had a daughter.

    Now, I would tell my younger self, “Trust your gut. When God created you as an individual, He gave you the right to set boundaries for yourself and your personal space. Kindly but firmly explain your boundaries to others around you and expect healthy people to respect them. If someone proves that they don’t respect you, step away from them. It’s okay to do this even as a Christian girl or woman. Even Jesus walked away sometimes when He recognized that people wanted to hurt Him.” (Jn. 8:59)

  7. I would tell myself that it’s okay to hurt someone’s feelings if I needed to say no, and then walk away so they couldn’t convince me otherwise. I wish I would have known that. It would have saved me lots of heart ache.

  8. I have continued to enjoy & be blessed &inspired by your emails which I have been receiving for the past few years. They are always spot on & seem to arrive at just the needed moment. Today I read the message abt. your experience in the working world as a Mom. I am often haunted(esp. At night) by my own years as a single working Mom with no child support in similar situations. I 1st heard you speak at a Women’s religious retreat in Tuscorora. You really helped me with my relationship with my adult son at that event . It was a wonderful spiritual moment for me. God bless you & help you to continue your valued work. Prisccilla

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