When I turned 30, I took a big job to open up a large-scale nightlife project & left the hotel business.
I was excited, scared, and curious.
I was leaving the hotel industry after lathering in it for 7 years and leaving a hotel where I had built familial relationships.
My hotel peers knew me well enough to know that I love to write.
They gave me a goodbye journal.
They all mainly wrote nice messages bidding me luck and best wishes.
All of them were nice, except for one.
One woman taped a wrapped piece of gum to the page.
I can't remember what she wrote, because over the years the ink has faded, but the wrapped piece of gum is still there.
This was mean. This was spiteful. This was cowardly.
I am sure she thought it was funny.
I probably pretended to think it was funny, masking my shame, embarrassment, and overall hurt feelings. That's what we do when we are younger. We experience these mini traumas, and we don't talk about them. We let them sit under the surface until they bubble up later in life.
This memory keeps creeping back to me over the last month and I don't know why.
My best guess is that it needs healing. I heal through writing and bike riding.
So today, let's break this down and heal together.
It's no secret that I have been stinky in the past.
I've always been active, sweaty & full of gusto.
My assumption when that woman put the piece of gum in the book was and to my ever-present bad breath. I drank a lot of coffee in those days, and I worked there in my 20's so I am sure I was hungover at work, a lot. Coffee breathe and day-after vanilla cheap vodka and pineapple juice breath are gross for the average person.
Tack that onto a stinky person, I am sure it was miserable for those around me.
I remember seeing people put their shirts over their noses when I close talked or just wince and looked away.
My breath has always been bad until recently. When I gave up gluten and dairy--mostly--my breath didn't smell as bad anymore. I remember as a kid after sporting events my little tootsies smelled so bad. I remember my mom putting my shoes in the garage because they would permeate the whole living room. I was an active kid--cheerleading, softball, dancing, frolicking around the Ohio neighborhood, hills, creeks, and big backyards. I was sweaty and smelly.
This scent carried me into my college years. I remember hooking up with a guy one time. Before we "got to business" I went into his bathroom, took my shoes and socks off, hid them under his bathroom sink in the cabinet, washed my feet, and then met him in the bedroom. Luckily, he didn't storm into the bathroom and bust me like the Pretty Woman moment when Richard Gere caught Julia Roberts flossing her teeth.
As a complete grown-up, I do all the things grown-ups do. I shower, brush my teeth, floss, deodorant, carry altoids, lotions, perfume, I carry roller balls of scented objects. I think I have a handle on it now, but I am human. I eat foods that make my breath smell. I am active and work up a sweat. I mean, it's not so bad that I can't live a normal life, it's just something that is "noticeable" every now and again. If my breath or body is buggin', I prefer people to be honest. I am a tough cookie; I can take it.
I prefer people to use their words and try and help. That's what I do.
In the first couple of years, we were dating my boyfriend, (husband now) said to me:
"Hun bun, your breath is really bad, do you think you should get it checked out?"
He was kind.
He was sincere.
He thought I had a medical condition.
I did get it checked out.
I do not have halitosis.
I don't have a gut health issue. I just had bad breath.
He was the first person, in my adult life, who had the courage to say something.
That's probably why I married him. (one of the many reasons I love him so much)
Enough about my stank and back to regularly scheduled programming.
This woman put a piece of wrapped gum in my farewell book.
My goodbye book officially turned into a burn book a la Mean Girls by this mean lady.
Who was she trying to impress?
Do you think when she did it, she giggled and showed her office mates and they all laughed that forever this piece of gum would be in my bye-bye book?
Do you think she just never liked me and that was her spiteful way of telling me?
Do you think she remembers she did it?
Do you think she regrets it?
This woman was a grown-up, a leader, an executive at the hotel.
This woman was a mom. What would she say if someone did that to her kids?
Why wouldn't she help me out like my husband eventually would?
I clearly had no idea I had bad breath. I was 29 years old.
I clearly had no idea about a lot of things.
Wouldn't it have been kinder to have pulled me aside one day and say:
"Girl, your breath, it's bad, carry some Altoids"
I remember one of my sales mentors at the same hotel telling me:
"People make judgments about women in business all the time. They judge women more than men. Some people may think unmanicured nails are not professional."
I looked at her nails-short, clean, painted.
I asked her where she went to get her nails done. I was 26 and never had my nails done.
She took me to her place the next week. We went together for a while. I've been getting my nails done ever since. My nails aren't always painted. However, whenever I do a live coaching session, public speaking or make an in-person presentation, my nails are always manicured.
THAT was a kind way of guiding a younger woman in the workplace.
I have made that attempt many times over the years to lift younger women up.
Make suggestions. Give feedback. Be helpful.
Maybe I do it because of the mean gum lady.
Mostly I do it because it’s the right thing to do.
I had a few women help me as I was coming up in business. More often than not, I had many women who were mean to me, made fun of me (for being from Ohio, for knowing the answers, for having binders) and many were silent and judging.
I saw and heard their silence.
When you’re young and new to business, you need people to step up and guide you. Sometimes you take the advice, sometimes you don’t. It’s important to at least try to help.
It makes me sad when people are spiteful.
It makes me disrespect people who don't speak up.
Subtle gestures are harmful. Silence is harmful. Judging is harmful.
I still wonder why that woman did that so many years ago.
She could have just said:
"I've never told you this, but your breath is bad. It might be helpful if you carry some gum or mint."
But she didn't. She put a piece of gum in my see ya later book and she stayed silent.
I remember when I was presented with the book. My general manager gave it to me, and he was proud of it. It was filled with kind words, goodbye messages, and stay in touch.
The piece of wrapped gum served as a bookmark. It was unavoidable.
Every time I flipped a page, there it was, weighing all the other pages down.
I couldn't ignore it. It tainted the overall positive spirit of the book.
It was a reminder of one of my many flaws.
Today, it's a reminder to be kind, help out, and accept myself for who I am.
Moral of the story---if you are a person in a leadership role and you notice something about someone younger that they can improve, strap on your big girl panties and say something.
They may listen. They may ignore it. But at least you tried.
It's on you to be brave, be bold and help out.
If this mean lady had a little more courage, a little more leadership, a little more strength, I could have been breathing less dragon breath on people for many years and more Altoid air onto my colleagues. If she was a little kinder, I would have seen an example of a strong leader sooner and what leaning in and lifting up looks like. I later learned the value of lifting up those around me and try to live my life in that way now, but wouldn't it have been cool if I learned it earlier from the mean spearminted lady?
I guess, in a way, the memory is so impactful that it did make me different.
I guess it's sort of a gift. I never want anyone to feel badly about the unique nuances that make them who they are. I always try and find the good in all beings and accept people for who they are probably because of experiences like the mean gum lady and more.
I guess I am grateful for that moment because it is a piece of fabric that has woven me into the interesting quilt that I am today.
I wonder where she is now?
I wonder if she's still being mean?
I wonder if she's grown some strength to speak up when she can help OR if she's still leaving subtle silent hints of spite in bye-bye books???
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