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Help wanted, resilience required

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I re-read the memo to be sure I hadn't read it wrong: "I told you not to hire a woman." A colleague wrote the sentence in a memo to the top boss and it was about me. My heart sank.

A month earlier I aced a challenging test of industry jargon and completed a tough interview in order to land my dream job. I was aware of no other female who had worked in this office before, but I also knew I had the abilities needed. I could hardly wait to get started.

Cheerfully entering the office on my first day, my co-workers (all male) barely looked up from their desks. None of my coworkers greeted me that day or any of the days that followed. As the week went on I had specific questions about how to do the job, but little help was offered. I was grateful for one man who said hello when he walked by. Unfortunately, he didn't work in my department.

At the end of two weeks, I gloomily submitted my resignation in defeat. On my last day, I accidentally came across the memo my colleague had written to the brave fellow who had hired me. Soon afterward, I changed fields and pursued other professions.

That was a long time ago. It was easier to derail me from my dreams back then.

A prominent CEO remarked to me, "There is no glass ceiling in Duluth. There is a brick wall." The good news is that the CEO who made this statement two decades ago was one of many fine local mentors, male and female, who invested in my professional growth and kept me going despite barriers.

I gradually developed a higher level of resilience, the ability to bounce back from these setbacks and persevere. No longer do I give up so easily. In time the world changed, too.

Whatever your political views, this summer's historic events are worth celebrating. When the glass ceiling shatters, the sky is the limit. We cannot afford to lose the creativity and passion of all people. Maybe the one thing we can all agree on is that we need all the help we can get.

Perhaps you have your own story of facing obstacles. Keep going. Things can get better.

In the years since landing and leaving my dream job, I had chances to live and work in Europe, Asia and South America. I learned to keep taking risks and believe that possibilities are not just for some. Eventually I returned to Duluth and poured myself into leadership positions in higher education and health care.

Colleagues and friends often hear me say, "Nothing grows in a straight line." A step back can be a way to move forward. Sometimes a detour even takes you back to the place you started. But by then, you have been changed by the journey.

So what if there are obstacles? Move them or get around them. Perhaps the time is ripe to dust off those long-lost dreams and pursue them once more.

Arlene Anderson

Arlene J. Anderson is a Twin Ports native turned writer, teacher, traveler and speaker on resilience and leadership. She is currently working on her memoir to be released next summer. She believes there is always more music to play and dancing to do.

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