My whole life, I've been somewhat of a follower. I never really considered myself a leader — until August, when I was asked to step up as a leader for a special team in my life. Although I was extremely excited, I was hesitant on the inside. I knew that being asked to take over the president role was going to be a huge responsibility. Was I ready for it? Did I know what to do? Was I even good enough for this? Self-deprecating thoughts plagued my mind from sunrise to sundown.
As I took over my new position, I felt myself falling back into old ways of being a follower instead of being the leader that people were relying on me to be. I didn't have faith in myself that my voice was big enough for anybody to ever listen. Becoming a writer certainly helped, but it wasn't enough to give me confidence.
Until things changed rather quickly.
Six months after my promotion, I noticed a change with not only my team but others as well. Things in our business were changing in negative ways. As a writer, the last thing you ever want to feel is that your words aren't good enough. Not just myself, but other people were experiencing involuntary changes in their writing. We're hired to write, it's what we do. So, seeing every word we wrote being changed without our permission, it was like being told our voices weren't good enough unless they were changed.
For a while, I sat back and ignored it. Nobody else said anything so I figured there was no point in finally stepping up and saying something. Like everyone else, I followed.
Until an incredible member of my team (whose writing I value beyond comprehension) came to me and explained that they didn't like having their words changed. They didn't like having their words twisted and fixed to fit the aesthetic. I spent time recruiting this member, seeing their talent and wanting nothing more than to give them the platform to spread their voice because they have impeccable talent. I read their words and it brought tears to my eyes because this writer is so talented. So, as you can imagine, it broke my heart to see them feeling shot down and edited.
It was different when it was happening to me. I didn't care as much.
How could I call myself a president if I wasn't being a voice for my team?
At that moment, I tried to make changes quietly. I did what I could to try to revert their writing back to how it was originally meant to be, which was a failed attempt. The heavy editing came back before our personal editor could even do her job. It was like a big corporate hand was reaching over me and not only telling my team they weren't good enough, but like I wasn't good enough either.
So, I took a risk. A fairly big one.
When my attempts to manage the situation quietly failed, I'll admit that I got angry. To be quite honest, I was shaking with anger, that's how deeply I felt it. The moment made me feel so small, a complete lack of power and leadership which was my job!
For the first time, I stopped handling the situation quietly.
Instead, I didn't just turn up the volume, I went to everyone. Not my co-leader, but to all of the leaders of all of the teams. Roughly 1,600 people (for about 800 teams) in one chat room with our higher-ups. Me, the girl who has such bad social anxiety that I would literally let someone bury me alive without saying a word, wrote a long, detailed letter about having our voices taken away. Instead of hiding, I used my voice to explain how infuriating it was that every single word we spoke was being changed, edited beyond repair. Like I said, even before our own personal editor could do her job of fixing grammatical errors. That wasn't what was happening. Headlines were changed. Words were erased and retyped to fit a mold. Twisted and turned, our craft wasn't our own craft anymore. Our voices were no longer our voices.
If we don't have our voices, what do we have?
I was still shaking. I mean, there were three possible outcomes. Terrifying, nonetheless.
1. I could lose my job.
2. I could be ignored.
3. I could make a change.
Suddenly, #3 outweighed the rest.
As a president, I take pride in my job. I preach total freedom to my team members. That was our job originally; to write whatever we wanted, however we wanted. As long as it was formatted properly, we had complete freedom. There is no better job out there! Our platforms were ours to make into whatever we wanted them to be. I proudly proclaimed that if you joined me and my team, you had an audience for your voice.
But when that was taken away from us, I felt like the biggest liar on the planet. My pride was becoming misplaced. My job that I love so deeply was no longer the same job I was urging people to join me on. I felt like I was scamming people by telling them they could write whatever they want (because technically, they are allowed to) and then having their writing changed. Every time I preached, I was speaking out of truth, not out of persuasion. I meant every single word I said to those who wanted to join me!
What kind of leader would I be if I was being made out to be a liar when I meant every word I said?
That letter, it reached people. Important people.
You see, each team has a president and an editor. Then, there are corporate editorial teams that our writing teams aren't in touch with. Without our permission, editorial teams were the ones who changed our words. They altered our product. That's a big no-no when you're offered a position of freedom in the workplace.
Instantly, others reached out about the same problem. I felt myself exhale such a heavy deep breath. Like, 'finally, it's not just me anymore'. But looking back, even if it were just me, that'd be okay. This experience taught me that not only does my voice not need to be changed, but it doesn't need to be backed up in order to be valid. I allowed myself to be vulnerable for the sake of change. For the sake of our freedom to express ourselves. Maybe it sounds conceited, but it was a big deal. I put myself on the line, I put the job that I love on the line because I couldn't sit back and be silenced anymore. When it comes down to it, censorship is silence. Especially wrongful censorship.
For so long, we let them change every word we said. We let them make unnecessary changes to the things we said for the sake of aesthetics. Our toes were stepped on, and then they weren't.
Our message reached the people who silenced us.
Then, we received the compromise we wanted. I'll be honest, I felt pretty vindicated, but this isn't just about me. This is about thousands of writers who donate their time and effort and creativity for little to no compensation. It was about those who felt like they only had value once their words were 'fixed'. Even if we would lose promotional value to our writing or professional help, we had the option to retain our original writing.
It was a moment I'll never forget.
For as long as I can remember, I've felt small. No matter where I went or what I did, I didn't feel like I had much value to whatever team I was working with. Whatever classroom I was in. Whatever group I was amongst. I felt so small until that day. Until the day when speaking up didn't just give me my freedom back, it gave it back to not just 1,600 presidents and editors, but thousands of their team members. It felt like a revolution. Communities of people had the option to opt-out. That was all we really wanted. We had to rip the duct tape off of our mouths and use the platform we were promised.
Don't get me wrong, please. I am entirely grateful to have the opportunity to have my writing analyzed by professional editors. That doesn't mean that I want my words changed every single time though. There would only be true freedom if we had the choice to keep our authentic writing.
Maybe the lesson is in the principle of it all.
Silence wasn't an option anymore.
My voice does have value.
My voice is worth using.
Mine and my team's freedom is worth fighting for.
Sitting back and being a follower isn't worth it if you don't have to be a follower. Be a leader. Use your voice. Start the revolution. Now, I'm a little less scared to be a leader. Now, I feel like I can speak up for what I believe in. You should too.
Stop letting people silence you.
I'd like to say thank you to my co-leader for standing behind me as we made this risky choice together. I think we'd both also like to tell our team how much we appreciate their time and effort that they put into their craft. We're blessed to have a team like you. I'm sorry I haven't always been the voice you deserved. That's going to change. From here on out, you will never have to fear that I won't stand up for you. You gave me the motivation to be as loud as I can be for the change we deserve.