Written By: Leslie Means
By the time I finally opened the e-mail, four or five sets of eyes had already read its content. As I breezed over the words a handful of others nearby were doing the same. Unfortunately for me, it was a very, very bad e-mail.
I had already received negative comments during my television days. Some discussed my hairstyles, others wondered about my clothing options – but nothing compared to this one. Usually the negative e-mails and letters were kept away from the on-air personalities. Probably to shield us from the exact moment I was about to have.
I know this e-mail began by praising my co-workers for a job well done. Apparently that part didn’t stick with me. Instead the words engraved into my memory bank go a little something like this.
“I don’t know why Leslie is working on TV. She talks with a lisp. You can’t even understand what she’s saying.”
I’m sure it went further than that, but my eyes couldn’t leave those 3 sentences. I felt like someone had stabbed me with a knife of despair. I can handle people commenting about my appearance or personality, but the way I talk? That was a low blow.
At first, I wanted to throw rotten eggs at the head of this stranger and then possibly duct tape his or her self to a chair. When I realized that option was out, I instead made my way to the restroom, locked the door and bawled.
It got worse.
Once I had calmed myself down and reapplied my makeup, I found my way out of the stall. Then, the dagger dug deep. I had a few people mention the very, very bad e-mail to me; because as you recall, everyone in the newsroom had read it by now.
“Leslie, don’t listen to them. It’s OK, you don’t have a lisp,” they assured me.
I wanted to die.
OK. Maybe not actually die – but at that moment, I wanted to be alone in a very dark room with a glass of wine and my sorrows. I’m pretty sure I even thought about leaving the TV business.
After I begged my boss to have a specialist come in and work with me – it was determined that:
I didn’t have a lisp.
I think about that e-mail and my lisp every so often. Deep down, I knew I did speak with a bit of a slur, but it had never really bothered me to this level of angst. It took a total stranger pointing out one silly flaw, for me to break down.
I try very hard to not let anyone or anything break me like that anymore.
Last week a friend of mine was upset. Her daughter got kicked off a sports team that she had worked so hard to be on. Hearing the coach say, “You just don’t quite fit the team” isn’t easy for any teenager or the parent of that teen. I wasn’t sure what advice to give in that moment. Instead, I simply listened while she shed a few tears. Even though I couldn’t find the words on that day – I think I have them now.
“We can’t control the words people use, but we can control the way we react. There will be times when someone says something so terrible you’ll want to hide in a dark room, or lock yourself in the bathroom stall and have a good cry. And yes, there may even be times you’ll want to duct tape the accuser to a chair. (Hopefully that doesn’t actually happen – otherwise that’s another chat for another day). But you can decide what to do with their words. You can choose whether you want to pick yourself up or stay on the floor. It’s that easy and that difficult. It really is up to you.”
I don’t know if it’s right, but it’s what I’m planning to tell my daughters when their breakdown day comes. And on that day, I’ll likely find myself more crushed than the moment I read the very, very bad e-mail from a total stranger.