||The Brazen Careerist
Listen to the voice of experience
My friend Ann has a really deep voice. Not a
sexy, deep voice like at a 1-900 service. It's more like Oscar the
Grouch with a sore throat, or maybe even like Darth Vader on Prozac.
Her voice, the result of a birth complication, is a disability that
she must deal with daily, and for the most part has overcome. I
know that now, but I didn't always see things that way.
I knew Ann in grade school where I confess to
having had evil thoughts:
1. Why is she first chair in saxophone and I am
last chair in oboe? She has a weird mouth and I don't. It's not
2. Why is she class president and I am not
even getting invited to boy-girl parties? How is someone with
such an awful voice so much more popular than I am?
In high school, Ann and I were on the track team together
and we became close friends. I spent so much time with her that
I stopped noticing that her voice was different. It seemed normal
But there were constant reminders: People in
restaurants stared when they heard us talking. Often sales people
did not understand her question at first because they were so stunned
by her voice. Ann never lost patience, never looked uncomfortable.
I never knew how she did it.
In the track world, you meet tons of kids from
schools all over the state, and when Ann walked by, I heard lots
of them say: "What's wrong with her voice?"
When I asked Ann if she felt uncomfortable about
how she sounded, she'd say no. "A deep voice sounds authoritative,"
she'd tell me.
Ann flourished in college. She learned to be
extra nice to people because they usually would be extra nice back.
She became very loyal to friends who stuck by her because so many
other acquaintances walked away after hearing her speak. Naturally,
she knew she was different, so she concentrated hard in school since
good grades would help her overcome prejudices.
After college she went to a top advertising
firm. I assume that her voice was not a problem during interviews,
or at least that the interviewers believed Ann could overcome her
voice impediment enough to impress potential clients.
But then she was assigned to a manager who hated
her. He berated her intelligence, made sexually explicit comments
in her presence and generally let her know he did not want her around.
In truth, his actions amounted to harassment. But harassment is
usually thought to occur when a man in power is attracted to a woman
with less power. No one would have thought of anyone harassing Darth
Vadar girl. Then, too, her harasser was powerful in the company,
so Ann didn't have much leverage.
Ann left the company. And once you leave a high-profile
company without recommendations, you can forget going to another
company in that industry. So she went back to where she flourished:
school. She took programming classes and impressed a classmate so
much that he got her a job. His software firm needed someone who
knew advertising and someone who knew programming, and the company
liked the idea of Ann wearing two hats.
The company went under in the tech meltdown
of 2002, but Ann found that by switching gears, she had developed
a new specialty in a very narrow niche that she dominates. She would
not want me to say that in this column because she didn't even want
me to write the column in the first place. But the bottom line is
that things are good for Ann. She weathered many storms and is successful
despite her disability. Her tips for others who are struggling with
some kind of impediment amount to good advice for any of us:
1. Convince yourself you are great. Then convincing
other people is so much easier.
2. Don't blame other people for your failures.
Take responsibility for your life and move past people who don't
3. Have patience with yourself if you don't
choose the right career on your first try. Trust that you will
find a place that is right for you, and keep looking.
4. Don't make friends with a writer. They
never stop using their friends' lives as fodder.
-- Posted: March 8, 2004