The Mid-Career GPS Podcast

Empathy and Identity: A Journey Through the LGBTQ+ Experience in Life and Career

June 06, 2023 John Neral Season 3 Episode 160
The Mid-Career GPS Podcast
Empathy and Identity: A Journey Through the LGBTQ+ Experience in Life and Career
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Have you ever felt the weight of hiding a part of yourself in your personal and professional life? As I share my journey as a gay man navigating my identity and career in this heartfelt episode, you'll discover the power of empathy and understanding. I open up about my experiences with discrimination, harassment, and even physical violence and the importance of representation in stories, faces, and voices within the LGBTQ+ community.

Join me as I discuss my own coming out journey and how I related those strategies to create a safe and inclusive environment for everyone on my team. You'll hear about the challenges I faced early in my career and how I learned to embrace my identity. This episode also emphasizes the significance of Pride Month and how we can all show up in a loving and supportive way for those in the LGBTQ+ community.

As we celebrate Pride and the progress we've made, it's crucial to remember the importance of fostering empathy in our personal and professional lives. By sharing my story and reflecting on the strides we've made, I hope to inspire you to be more respectful, understanding, and empathetic to experiences that are not your own. Let's continue building bridges and working together to promote acceptance and understanding. Happy Pride Month!

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John: Representation matters. It's a phrase often echoed, and I don't want us to overlook its importance during Pride Month or any time during the year. One of the reasons why representation matters is that it means seeing ourselves reflected in the stories, faces and voices that surround us. It's about having role models who inspire us, defy stereotypes and demonstrate that our dreams and aspirations are not limited by our identities. When we see people like us succeeding, it fuels our imagination, broadens our perspectives and helps us realize that we too can make a difference and achieve similar accomplishments. Positive representation affirms our identities, boosts our self-esteem and empowers us to embrace the uniqueness of ourselves and others. Throughout our career, we will encounter people from different backgrounds, experiences and circumstances different than our own. And yes, work is supposed to be a safe space, free from harassment, abuse and negativity. Imagine working for an organization where only white heterosexual men had leadership roles. Yeah, that happened back in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s. You get the point. I personally experienced discrimination in my life and in my career, where I missed opportunities and it was harassed because of my sexual orientation. I have been physically attacked and injured. I had my job threatened on a few occasions simply because I am gay. These are my experiences. I can't relate to every experience, nor should I, but I do believe it's my duty and responsibility as a human being to be respectful, understanding and empathetic to experiences that are not my own, and I believe it is yours as well. We all have differences when it comes to where we grew up, our backgrounds, our politics, our religion, and it is sad to say that, yes, we know hate exists and there is a lot of it in the world right now. There are people who represent different nationalities, backgrounds, sexual orientations and experiences that are victims of hate, and it needs to stop. As somebody who has managed large and small teams throughout his career, there were many times when I needed to educate myself about different cultures or circumstances that were out of my experience or purview, in order to provide a safe space for everyone on my team. I am still learning and evolving, and I know you are too. Two years ago, i recorded an episode that detailed a big part of my professional journey about why Pride Month is important and also why representation matters. Many of you have never heard this episode and, rather than record something new, i went back and listened to that episode and felt that that message was still relevant today. So taking you all the way back to Season 1, episode 33,. 

John: This is the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. Hi, I'm John Neral and welcome to the Mid-Career GPS Podcast. If you're feeling stuck in your career and overwhelmed by what steps to take, I can help you. As an executive and career transition coach, i help my clients prepare position and promote who they are and what they do to show up and find a job they love, or love the job they have. It's time to start building your Mid-Career GPS. So let's get started. Hi everyone, welcome back to the podcast. 

John: Today is June 1st. It is Episode 33. I'm going to take this podcast in a little different direction today. Hope you're along with me for the ride. I'm going to open up today to you a little differently than I've done in the past. I'm going to get really personal and vulnerable with you. 

John:  See, June is LGBTQ plus Pride Month. It is the month where we recognize and celebrate the diversity of our LGBTQ people in our lives, professionals we work alongside of and we create greater awareness and understanding and information around the LGBTQ plus community. I'm 52 years old and at 26, half my age, it was the first time I ever uttered the words to someone. I think I'm gay. I remember that day so clearly. It took so much for me to say those words and I am blessed and honored that the people who I first came out to were so loving and caring and supportive to help me through that whole process. It took another two years before I came out to my family and the whole story in and of itself, i firmly believe, makes a great lifetime movie. I'll tell you a little more about that later, with a lot of love and gratitude about how all of that happened. But in this Pride Month, I wanted to take the mic in this way to open up and share a little bit more with you about the lessons I've learned and how I've shown up through all of it. 

John: Whether you followed my podcast last year called Show Up 2020, or if you've been following this podcast for a while or this is the first time you're here, how we show up matters And for me and my life and my career, and how I came to terms with my sexual orientation and how I navigated that in my career, i want to share a few stories with you. In some ways it's been great, in some ways it's been extremely trying and difficult, and I believe it is important in this intimate setting that you and I have for me, just to open up a little bit more and share my stories with you. I grew up in a wonderfully loving family who, fair enough to say, were not tolerant or maybe the better word is really aware of LGBTQ plus people. I grew up in a very staunch Catholic religious family. I appreciate that terms of growing up, but in the same breath, again, it wasn't something that was accepted or met with a lot of grace at the time. Growing up, we just didn't have a lot of role models, if you will, or examples of LGBTQ plus people on TV that we could identify with or look up to. As somebody who is a huge game show fan, paul Lind in the center square of the original Hollywood Squares or Charles Nelson Riley on Match Game were probably the two closest examples of closeted gay men that I could find growing up. 

John:  I knew early on, or at least I had a sense of what was going on early in my life, but it took me a while before I could finally admit and come to terms with my sexual orientation. Now I write about this in the first part of my book Show Up Six strategies to lead a more energetic and impactful career. The memoir portion in the first part of the story really shaped the lessons about what it has meant for me to show up in my life and in my career. So let's talk about the career point for a minute. As you think about your workplaces that are having various pride celebrations or pride activities this year, know that these activities are really designed to simply increase your awareness and celebrate the wonderful diversity that you have in the workplace. 

John:  Now I remember throughout my career that in the early stages of that, i kept a lot of that quiet And honestly at the time and where I was working it probably was important, or actually it was important for me to do that. I didn't always work in the most openly supportive places where coming out would have been looked at as a risk or a detriment or a liability in some ways And, in all fairness, it could have gotten me fired. Now, when you hear that, especially now, you might be thinking well, you just go ahead and you sue them. That takes a lot. It takes a lot of money, effort, time and energy, and I'm not saying it's right or it's wrong in any way, shape or form. What I'm saying is that that's an individual decision. For me in my career, yes, i got asked questions that were probably borderline illegal in the interview process, and yet I found a way to answer them, to assure them that I was never going to do anything that would jeopardize their company or their organization or give them anything to be embarrassed by. I remember those questions. They weren't easy, but when you're on your own and you want a job, sometimes you answer questions in a way that just allows you to put food on the table. Certainly now I would answer those questions if asked, albeit very differently, and I'm hopeful that the hiring managers and interviewers out there would know enough of the legal laws and guidelines that are in place that they would never ask such a question. 

John:  There's so many things in my life that I define myself as I'm a son. Sadly, both of my parents are deceased. I miss them every single day. I'm a brother, i'm a brother-in-law, i'm a great friend. I cherish my family of origin and my family of choice, the people who are not biologically related to me, but I truly consider them part of my family. I'm a godfather to two amazing kids that are now practically adults. One is, and what's going to be a senior in high school, and another one who I also consider to be a godson of mine. I'm proud of them all. I don't have kids of my own. I'm a husband. My husband and I have been together for almost 13 years, actually, now that I'm saying it well, yeah, 13 years. We'll be married for five this November And I often say, as much as I love my husband, i like him, i am proud of him for who he is and what he does. 

John:  He gets me and I get him, and we lead the most boring and amazing life all at the same time. We watch a lot of HGTV and game shows, we play cards. We, thankfully, were very healthy and fine during the pandemic And we get along. We get each other. Isn't that what you want in any relationship? I'm very blessed to have him by my side And I know he feels the same way. 

John: I'm a professional athlete. I still actively compete on the Professional Bowlers Association regional tour. Sometimes I get an opportunity to bowl a national senior event And I've had some success as well. I won a title back in 2010. I have four second place finishes. I'm very proud of my bowling career And certainly, while you look at your career and go gosh. I wish I did a little bit more. I still feel physically able and healthy and well enough to continue the passion for pursuing the sport that I love. 

John: At the end of the day, i will always say to people I just happen to be gay. I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not overly proud of it in any way. It's just who I am And in celebrating pride, that's part of what we want. We want people to just understand that this is just part of who we are. It's part of our makeup. I believe it's how we're made. You may believe differently, it's OK. My goal in today's podcast is to just share some stories with you, bring some awareness or understanding or enlightenment to this in a way that perhaps lets us to get to know each other just a little bit more. As a kid, when I remember growing up and realizing that I might be gay, there was certainly a lot of fear around that because I knew my family's beliefs about that. And in the late 90s and the early 2000s there was a wonderful show on NBC called Will and Grace. It brought awareness of two gay men and their best friends into our living rooms where we got to know them a little bit. 

John: As a school teacher, i want to be really clear with you. I never talked about my personal life with my students. I just didn't think it was appropriate, and I would say the same thing for my heterosexual counterparts as well. I feel like we had a job to do and that job was to teach kids. And, yes, when I got to know you a little bit, sharing intimate details about my personal life was not something that I ever felt was appropriate to the middle school students I taught. 

John: Now, yes, as they get to know you during the year, they want to know things like what did you do on the weekend? A lot of times for me it was talking about bowling, working around the house. Maybe I would say I got together with friends or got together with family. But I'll never forget the day that a student asked me I was covering a class for someone And I got asked if I was a homeowner. Isn't that a great question. Like I can't help but laugh at that, mr Narrell, are you a homeowner? I knew what he meant. 

John:  I also deflected and didn't answer it, but as I was talking with my teacher colleagues and, of course, when you're not tenured, the rule is basically that you could be let go for any reason. In an earlier episode I talked about at-will employment. They want to find a reason to let you go. They can find a reason to let you go. I'm not saying that people are going to overtly fire you because of your sexual orientation, but there are places out there that just might, or have. 

John:  I remember being so afraid to answer this question in the teacher's room Hey, john, what did you do over the weekend? And then someone would pry a little bit more and say well, don't you have friends you hang out with? Don't you spend time with somebody? I used to get so defensive about that for fear of being outed or recognized or known. Looking back, i think in the majority of those cases, those people who asked those questions were really just trying to figure out if I had somebody in my life or if my life was full. Maybe I didn't need to be as defensive, but it was the coping mechanism and the strategies that I had to get me through. 

John: Even when I got my tenure, i was still cautious. I learned later on that during my non-tenured years that there were people who had made an assumption, albeit a correct one, that I was gay and I shouldn't be a teacher, i shouldn't be working in their community. And there were people who stood up for me And this always gets me a little choked up because I remember hearing about this later on And the people who stood up for me and advocated for me and said he's a great teacher, he's made my kid like math for the first time in their lives. I don't care what he does outside of work, he stays. We could all be so lucky and blessed to have advocates and champions on our side who stand up for us. This was back in the late 90s. We're 20-plus years away from it And if we think that these conversations don't happen in pockets of this country or they don't happen in your organization, i beg you to take a really hard look and make sure they don't. Celebrating pride is about recognizing the talents and the accomplishments of people who happen to be a little different than you, and celebrating members of the LGBTQ plus community for the recognition and the talents that they bring to the table. 

John:  When I moved to Washington DC in 2010, and I moved in part because of a job opportunity I was leveling up my career, But it was also an opportunity for me to be with my now husband. We had been dating long distance for two years. I was living in Northern New Jersey, he was living in Washington DC. 255 miles each way each weekend on the I-95 corridor is not easy. We often joke We did that in our late 30s and early 40s. Had we been doing that now we'd been like, look, you have a great life. I'm not doing that commute anymore, but it was a great opportunity for us to see if we could make our relationship work. I'm so glad it did. 

John: Working for an organization, working for two different or three different organizations really in Washington DC, i was in a place where cultural, ethnic, sexual orientation diversity was recognized and celebrated. I worked alongside people who were out. The organizations made it a lot easier for me to do the little things that are really big. I could have a picture of my husband on my desk. When people asked me what I did over the weekend I could say my partner and I, or my husband and I, went and did this. It's those little things that mean a whole lot. And when you're straight, when you're heterosexual, you don't think about those things because they're just commonplace talk. It's just things you talk about when you're getting a cup of coffee or you're walking the lunch or you're in a Zoom meeting. It's small talk, but for people who are not out or afraid of being out, or members of the LGBTQ community, they may not know they have an ally in you, someone who is on their side and celebrating their diversity, your diversity, their uniqueness, their special qualities I mean the things that just make you who you are, in a very safe and welcoming environment. 

John:  I often have gotten asked this question. I even got asked this question after I released my book. Why do you have to tell your story that way? I don't tell people, i'm straight. Why do you have to just make a big deal about it? Aren't we past that? No, we're not. Here's the thing. As an LGBTQ plus member, as a gay man, telling my story is important for me because I never want anybody to have to go through the things that I did. 

John: While I outline a lot of this in my book and I certainly invite you to check that out there was a time in my relationship with my biological family that I was disowned. It was 22 really, really dark months where we didn't talk to each other. We had always been quote, unquote close. Because I came out, i got disowned. Sadly, my mom got diagnosed with breast cancer. She wanted to see me and it was really at that point that it started changing the relationship dynamic in a lot of ways. We had a lot of very intentional and, at times, painful or difficult conversations. There was a lot of tears, there was a lot of anger. There were times when we also had a few laughs along the way, but I tell my story because I'm not ashamed of it. 

John:  At the end of the day, the journey that I have had, i'm proud of. I am proud of what brings me to this point on this microphone with you, to share this with you, because if you're listening to this, the likelihood is you know someone who is a member of the LGBTQ plus community. You know someone who might be looking at you as an ally, a friend, a confidant, a trusted person that they can lean on or reach out to. Or maybe you are a member of the LGBTQ plus community and this story serves in some way as an affirmation, some sort of inspiration or motivation for you. I will never apologize for telling my story And in doing so, it is why this whole theme of showing up is so important to me Over 50 years ago. The Stonewall Riots of New York City was the first time LGBTQ plus people stood up against police harassment. And what we know today is that companies who celebrate diversity or are increasing inclusivity initiatives, having very strong diversity and inclusion offices that are celebrating the diversity of their talented employees day in and day out, that retaining these LGBTQ plus employees, the companies, are 70% more likely to capture new markets due to the benefits of diversity. 

John: You will see companies change their logos to the rainbow color colors this June. You will hear things from your organizations. There might be virtual zoom events or town halls or meetings. Go to them, go to one, just go to one Right. Take it as an opportunity to go and learn something. You just might find a way to open yourself up a little bit more, to reach out that hand to somebody, to simply say I see you, i get you, i understand you. The whole notion of showing up and why I wrote my book centers around six very specific strategies. I've never talked about them in this way on the podcast, but I hope you will spend a few more minutes with me as I walk you through this, because these strategies served me so well in my coming out journey and in my life that it was easy for me to take those lessons and pull them into my career. 

John: The S is for setting ground rules. I had to set a lot of ground rules for myself and at times for my family, in terms of how we were repairing our relationship. When we set ground rules, we know how to play My mom, god lover. She had a really difficult time trying to understand what this all meant and was certainly conflicted by the thoughts she had heard from her religion and her beliefs that she had all her life And now her son has come out to her and trying to figure out what that meant. That did not give her a right to abuse me verbally, to say demeaning things against me or my character. We set ground rules for that. She could be angry. I held space for her at times to be angry, but I didn't let her abuse me. 

John: The H is for having intentional conversations. What I learned in my coming out journey was that having an intentional conversation is ensuring that the two parties who engage in that conversation are better for having that conversation than not. Intentional conversations are not all cheery and rosy. They're not all rainbows and unicorns by any means. In fact, sometimes intentional conversations can be really difficult. Say what you mean and mean what you say. Come to the conversation with something specific in mind that you need to work on, and, if so, let's both agree that we're better for it by having the conversation, even if we're still on different sides. 

John: The O is about owning where you are. My life was a mess for a while, there's no question about it, and owning where I was at the time was taking a really hard look in the mirror to own what was working and what wasn't, and to sit with that, to not run away from it. Yes, there was a time in my life when I did not have direct contact with my biological family. There was time when I had a lot of financial debt. There was time when I struggled, trying to figure out what was next in my career. Taking ownership gives you data and it allows you to figure out whatever is next. 

John: The W is about welcoming new opportunities. Every time I had a chance to talk to my family in some way, shape or form was a way for me to welcome a new opportunity in seeing how we could maybe make our relationship a little bit better When you go through a coming out process like I did, where there was a lot of hurt and a lot of anger and a lot of tears. Things still scare you, but not as much. I realized that I was really good at having a difficult conversation and I could go into any interview when they could throw a question at me and it really wasn't going to faze me. I had been asked far worse In those conversations I had with my family, but I would always rather look at the glasses half full rather than half empty. The perspectives that we have in our lives as we build our GPSs are all founded on the road ahead And what are the opportunities in front of us? The you is for using your genius. What I learned in my coming out story was that my genius is all about building relationships and repairing ones as well. I remember interviewing for a job and telling my boss that I did really good with repairing dysfunctional teams. If I could be the conduit for repairing the dysfunctional relationships that I had within my family around my situations, the workplace stuff was easy Building relationships, having those kind of conversations, that's my genius. It's where I thrive. 

John:  And the P was about protecting and promoting my brand. I'm not going to get too graphic here, but there was a family member who said some really really horrible and disparaging things about me Graphic things that were extremely untrue, so false. And I remember going toe to toe with him and speaking up and saying look, you can disagree with me, you can look at me and say you believe I'm going to hell, but I will not sit here and have you disgrace my character and my being. And he looked at me and he said you better watch who you're talking to. And I said you better do the same thing. We protect and promote our brands because that's what we're putting out into the world. 

John:  Look, i'm not perfect. I am not a perfect human being. I haven't met anybody who is. We all have our faults, we all have our shortcomings and everything like that, but we also have brands and our brands and what we put out there and what people get to know us as. Yeah, people get to know me as somebody who is a very caring, attentive individual who listens really well and has really good conversations. But my closest friends will also tell you that if you push me too hard, i snap. I snap back pretty hard. I had a friend of mine recently tell me. He's like you know, sometimes you can be mean and I was like, well, is it mean or just being honest? He's like I don't know if it's about you being honest or you just being over 50. But I said, well, okay, i've learned, i'm nobody's doormat anymore. Going through the relationships I've had that have brought me to the one that I'm in today, that I am beyond grateful for, we learn how to navigate. We learn how to navigate through all of those jobs that we've had, the good ones, the not so good ones, the relationships we've had with the most amazing boss And the ones who were just awful. Future podcast episode is all around dealing with a bad manager, but we'll table that one for now. 

John:  Your brand is about how you show up. I love Jeff Bezos's quote. Your brand is what people say about you when you're not in the room. I want people to say things about me when I'm not in the room that are really indicative of the quality of work I do and the quality of the kind of person I believe I am. If I happen to be gay, it's just part of it. Maybe I'm a little funny, right. Maybe I know how to tell a really good joke. Maybe I do a really good Paul Lind impression from the Hollywood Squares I do, by the way, right Those those kind of things. What I learned in repairing the relationship with my family was that brand was important, but standing up for who I am and what I believe, and recognizing that we could have a difference of opinion or a difference of viewpoint, but at the end of the day it didn't really change who I am. 

John:  I admire our younger LGBTQ plus people who are coming out, who are coming out far earlier, and they're doing so in very welcoming families and circles of friends who are more aware, more accepting of the diversity. Maybe some are just more tolerant, but as we leave with this celebrating pride, it's just recognizing that in some way we're all a little bit different. For me, in my case, it's my sexual orientation. I'd love to be 6'4". I don't know For me, i always thought there was advantages about being taller. I'm 5'8", right, 6'4". It just sounds really good. I don't know why. Maybe somebody who's 6'4" It's like you know what. Now, 6'8" It's probably really good. It's just part of who I am. But this is a great month to celebrate and recognize the differences or the qualities, or the really wonderful talents and skills and abilities of our LGBTQ plus professionals. So I hope this podcast has helped you in some way. Maybe, if anything, it was just a chance for us to get to know each other a little bit more. If you know someone who would benefit from this episode, i hope you'll share it with them. 

John: I want you to go to Amazoncom and check out my book Show Up Six Strategies to Lead a More Energetic and Impactful Career. I'm going to have a special price for that book for Pride for the month of June. I certainly hope you will check it out for both the Kindle and for the paperback. And one of the things I would love to invite you to do and it doesn't have to be this month, it could be later on If you're looking for a really good book to pull people in to do a book club and a discussion on it, please give consideration to my book. And if you're ever interested in bringing someone like me into your company or organization to have a talk about what it means to show up in the workplace and to perhaps even look at it through the lens of my own personal story and what that means, contact me. Email me at johnandjohnnarrowcom. You can find me on social in a lot of different places, especially on LinkedIn, and I'd love to see how I can help you in your organization. 

John: Well, i'm going to go ahead and edit this podcast episode and I'm sure there are things that I missed or I wished I would have said or anything, but I think this has been good. I think I'm okay just putting this out there as is and sharing this with all of you. I hope you enjoyed this conversation. Hope you enjoyed getting to know me a little bit more. I wish you a great rest of the day. 

John: May you have a happy Pride month. I'm really excited to see what other guests and content and episodes are coming forth this month. I'm really excited about some of the things I have planned for the podcast coming up. But, most importantly, i want you to know I appreciate you. Thanks for being on this journey with me. I hope you enjoyed the last 36, 37 minutes or so. Maybe it got you where you needed to be, gave you a few things to think about and I think it's fair enough to say, as I've said in many podcast episodes before thank you And remember how you show up matters. Making a great rest of the day. Happy Pride everybody. Thanks for listening. I'll see you next time. 

LGBTQ+ Representation Matters
Navigating Career and Identity
Showing Up
Happy Pride Month and Appreciation