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It was a dark and stormy couple of years....
by Fawn Germer

Several years ago, one of my bosses sat me down in his office and told me, "Youíve gone as far as youíre going to go. All you are now is all you are ever going to be - a reporter." I called him "The Tormentor" -- the very opposite of a mentor. For a long time, I wondered why heíd had it in for me.

He hated my hard-charging ways and the issues I wanted to cover. When I wrote a series on domestic violence, he accused me of having "an agenda." Well, yes. I am against domestic violence. When our publisher agreed to let me organize a task force of 75 of the stateís most influential leaders to come to the newspaper headquarters to give input on our coverage of women, my tormentor was livid. He especially resented me for bringing those outsiders onto his turf. Now that I sit down to write this, I realize I could have avoided a lot of grief had I been coached by the women in this book. I was a mustang, and I didnít know the rules of engagement.

Not even a month after the task force ended, he called me into his office and told me I would no longer cover womenís issues. My lifelong dream of having a column "will never happen," he pronounced, and thatís when he told me I wasnít going anywhere. Despite the investigative reporting that had gotten me four Pulitzer nominations and numerous state and national awards, he told me I was to spend more than six weeks writing daily Christmas features, and after that, Iíd cover the beat of his choosing. Obviously enjoying his power trip, he would not even deign to tell me what it was going to be. Apparently, since he couldnít tame me, heíd just try and 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 couldnít believe Iíd gotten beyond my difficulties until I attended my initial afternoon news meeting with a dozen other editors, including the tormentor, whoíd moved up the ladder and was now everyoneís boss. "Fawnís is here today because sheís our new night assistant city editor," the metro editor announced. Right in front of everybody, my tormentor proclaimed, "Thereís no promotion. Sheís 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. And, imagine: My old newspaper managers were angry I had only given three weeks notice!

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 donít go away just because we ultimately triumph. I was a hard-charging mustang and because of that, I paid a painful price. What I wouldnít have given for the coaching of Ann Richards, Gen. Claudia Kennedy, Erin Brockovich, Pat Heim and the other mustangs Iíve talked to for the past year. I hope you wonít 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 Iíve 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. Theyíll 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 arenít just high-profile women in high places. We are everywhere, in every possible class, education level and rank on the ladder. You may be in organized labor or in the corporate world, in politics or the arts. I donít 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. Donít listen to your tormentors, and donít 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 arenít. 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 canít get a job elsewhere, you can. Would I have ever left that job if the tormentor hadnít been so cruel? Iíd have missed out on the greatest adventure of my life - writing this. Itís amazing. Every time you find yourself in a moment of self-definition, it doesnít matter how dark it is, you have the power to turn it into light. Be bold.

Copyright Fawn Germer. All Rights Reserved.

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