By Fawn Germer
Copyright 2009, by Fawn Germer. All rights reserved.
SEVERAL years ago, one of my bosses sat me down in his office and told me, “You’ve gone as far as you’re going to go. All you are now is all you are ever going to be-a reporter.” I think of him as “The Tormentor,” – the very opposite of a mentor.
He hated my hard-charging ways and the issues I wanted to cover. I was a mustang, and I didn’t know the rules of engagement. I could have avoided a lot of grief had I been coached by the women in this book.
I’ll never forget the day when he called me into his office, told me I would no longer cover women’s issues, swore my lifelong dream of having a column would “never happen,” and told me I wasn’t going anywhere. Despite the investigative reporting that had gotten me numerous
state and national awards and four Pulitzer nominations, he told me I was to spend more than six weeks writing daily Christmas features, and after that, I’d cover the beat of his choosing. Obviously enjoying his power trip, he would not even deign to tell me what that beat would be.
Apparently, since he couldn’t tame me, he’d just try to break my spirit. I felt demoralized, and my self-esteem plunged. My work performance suffered as I slacked off in protest. Finally realizing I was turning myself into a victim, I started working hard again. After two years, the metro editor promoted me into management. I couldn’t believe I’d gotten beyond my difficulties until I attended my initial afternoon news meeting with a dozen other editors, including The Tormentor. In that two years, he had moved way up the ladder and was now everyone’s boss. “Fawn is here today because she’s our new night assistant city editor,” my metro editor announced. Right in front of everybody, The Tormentor declared, “There’s no promotion. She’s just a reporter.” I just stared, speechless, as I realized there would be no title and no raise-despite what was promised.
After the meeting, I went to my desk, picked up the telephone, and called the editor at another newspaper who had been trying to recruit me for several years. “If you want me,” I told him, “make it happen now.”
He did. I refused to play victim and fired my tormentor. It took me two days to write the previous six paragraphs. Even though we move on and up, some old lessons are especially hard to learn, and the hurt feelings and anger don’t go away just because we ultimately triumph. I was a hard-charging mustang and because of that, I paid a painful price. What I wouldn’t have given for the coaching of AnnRichards, Claudia Kennedy, Erin Brockovich, Pat Heim, and the other mustangs I’ve talked to for the past year. I hope you won’t have to pay like I did, which is why I wrote this book. I just want you to know that you are not crazy and you are not alone.
Almost all of the bold, successful women I’ve interviewed for this book have had soul-challenging experiences like the rest of us and have learned to win in arenas where they were not appreciated or acknowledged. They found ways to overcome their fears and insecurities, and crossed the bridge from being reviled to being revered. They’ll tell you that authenticity is not only a challenge, but a reward. You may have been born a mustang, or perhaps the mustang spirit is just starting to stir.
Let it live. Every woman can be a mustang. Mustangs aren’t just high profile women in high places. We are everywhere, in every possible socioeconomic class, education level, and rank on the ladder. You may be in organized labor or in the corporate world, in politics or in the arts. I don’t care if you work in a law firm or a grocery store, a Fortune 500 company or a Burger King. The mustang spirit lives. Any woman can be a mustang, as long as she dares to be real.
Life is so sweet when you take your power and use it for yourself. If you feel stuck, unstick yourself. Don’t listen to your tormentors, and don’t torment yourself. You have the right to feel good about who you are, love what you do, and do it well. When you think you are trapped in a bad relationship, you aren’t. When you feel sure no one else will want you, they will. If the job is dragging you way down, move on. If you are scared you can’t get a job elsewhere, you can. Would I have ever left that job if “The Tormentor” hadn’t been so cruel? I’d have missed
out on the greatest adventure of my life: writing this. It’s amazing. Every time you find yourself in a moment of self-definition, no matter how dark it is, you have the power to turn it into light. Be bold.