As a young boy in elementary school, I had my first experiences of not being accepted and, in some cases, rejected. As a child, my family moved several times, which made me the new kid more times than I care to recall. Each time, the experience showed me what it was like to be left out.
I learned at a young age the consequences of being rejected, which for me, centered on my feelings. As a result of not being included, I began to believe that I was not good enough; as a young gay boy, that proved to be devastating as I grew up and found it challenging to accept myself for who I was.
The only thing close to acceptance for me was the bullying that I endured while in high school. While it was painful and hurtful in many ways, it had the eerie feeling of being included. My mind and heart were confused for many years as I struggled to find how I might be accepted entirely.
My story is not of victimhood, although I ended up in a deep depression for many years due to my feelings of being rejected. I was so blind to the effects of it that I could not bring myself to admit it when a friend pointed it out to me in a loving way.
When I lived in the victim role, it was only upon reflection that I realized its pain; while in it, I thought I was doing what was best for me to get accepted. That illusion of acceptance was a powerful motivator for me in my quest to be included.
During my career, I find my way to being accepted in many scenarios and situations. It felt freeing to be in a place of acceptance finally. This is just one reason I came out as a gay man in my corporate career at my first job within a few months of starting my new job.
Throughout my corporate career, I was fortunate to experience high levels of acceptance and inclusion. I accepted opportunities to take on roles that had a high profile and significant challenges. During my career, I was recruited in ways that made me feel valued and included.
My roller coaster ride of acceptance and inclusion is not something that I am ashamed of or embarrassed by in the least. I think that, in some ways, propelled me to seek more success in my career. Accolades are a power substitution for acceptance.
I left my corporate career nearly four years ago with every expectation that my business would offer services to support those willing to develop their unique leadership style or transform them. I had the vision that my mission would continue in working with people of many diverse backgrounds.
The brand and image that I hope that I am conveying focuses on my expertise in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion space. My work began nearly four decades ago with my first corporate job and coming out. I learned the value of being an ally and advocate for others around me.
I first saw the opportunity to include women and be an ally for the talented women I was working with who were often excluded. I knew first hand the feelings of being left out and wanted to be there in service and support.
I had the opportunity far more times than I can count to acknowledge and support women in pursuing their career goals. There was a time when our partnership was valuable and meaningful.
There seems to have been a shift in recent years, and rightfully so, with more women supporting other women. These partnerships drive forward for the change needed to have more women in high-profile leadership roles. I sometimes wish that my value as an ally was there for this generation of women who rarely reach out beyond their gender.
From a very early age, I have known the color of my skin and its impact on my life. I saw the first classmates of color come into our school and the reactions of others towards them. I still hurt when I think about it. They were treated differently based on the color of their skin.
As an adult, I have always been open to a wide variety of diversity in my friendships. I have done my best to develop meaningful relationships with people from as many races as possible. I have been amazed at times when I reflect on my friendships that are diverse globally and locally.
I recently experienced some of the same feelings as a kid in being excluded and rejected when it comes to other races. I am sensitive to this kind of bias and, in some cases, might be too keen. Being a white male brings a set of biases that I am all too aware of and can do little to affect except show up as me.
People find it easier to look in the mirror and find others who look like them than to open themselves to accepting and including others who might not look the same or have the same life experience.
Finally, I find myself being left out based on my age. It is as if when you go over 60 years of age, you are no longer relevant and have nothing to offer to others. Having 40 years of experience accounts for something, and some keen individuals seek out those who have a vast set of experiences. I get that society values youth and is invincible; however, there is a balance between the generations.
I know that many doors of opportunity have been closed and locked for no other reason than my age. While disappointing and sad, it lets me know where not to be. I have always enjoyed my friendships with people of all ages. I see the value in sharing ideas from all perspectives of our life experiences.
I did not write this article as a victim seeking pity, acceptance, or empathy; instead, I wrote it because many of us reflect and ponder some of these same things during this season of life. We want to continue to be engaged and included. It is clearly up to us to collectively make that happen in the same ways it happened nearly 40 years ago before Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion were the buzz words that they are today.
My invitation is to find how you want to be included and go for them with rigor!!! Keep moving in the direction of acceptance and inclusion no matter your gender, race, or age. We all have the right to be accepted for who we are no matter what.
I will continue to show up where I am invited, included, and valued. I will do my best to continue to accept others who are willing to meet me and get to know me beyond the labels I live with as an openly gay white male in his senior years. Their biases about me have nothing to do with me and everything to do with the affixed labels.
I recognize the high expectations that I place on others, especially those leading the charge for DE&I when walking the talk and modeling acceptance and inclusion. Leaders have a unique set of responsibilities that include being mindful of their impact on others.
How can you model acceptance and inclusion for those how surround you?
With much gratitude.