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It happened when I was in my mid-20s. I spent a full year in an office that was clearly a “good old boys” sort of place. Even now, I wonder why they hired me, a young woman. My predecessor (a good old boy, naturally) was practically revered, and they spared no effort letting me know that at every turn.

At meetings, they joked about their wives and girlfriends, not playful joking but mean-spirited commentary. I met these women at various corporate functions and could barely look them in the eye for fear my hurt for them would show on my face.

Still, I went to work five days a week, whether I felt like it or not (and I almost always did not). I kept my mouth shut and my head down. I did my best possible work. I helped the company increase revenue as well as their market share. I managed the corporate presence at trade shows and conventions. I was a good employee.

Why did I say nothing? Why’d I keep going in, day after day? All I can say is that I was young. I knew these were unacceptable behaviors, but at the same time I was paying my bills in an area that was, frankly, economically depressed. Who of us hasn’t looked back on a time when we said nothing, and wished we had stepped up?

Today, as a mid-40-something, I realize that my awful job helped shape me. My work there led me to an incredible job that I loved, which in turn has led me, however roundabout in its way, to where I am here and now. So many times I wish I’d quit that horrible job earlier, but life is a series of lessons, is it not? And I learned some important lessons about myself and other people during those 12 months.

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