She looked terrified. Most students who came to my office look petrified. After all, the principal’s office is a scary place – even for the principal! Her school counselor accompanied her. I greeted them both with my usual gracious smile. I had become very adept at exuding kindness and keeping any anxiety buried so deeply that no one could see.
Being a school principal, for me, was a complicated and unpredictable wild ride. My desire to rescue all my students and the burden that their care was on my shoulders was often too much so I would pretend I had all the answers. The principal is supposed to have the answers and I became great at the pretense. The counselor spoke first and unraveled a story that immediately erased my pretending to be calm. I could feel my body tense and my heart pound faster. How could this happen under my watch?
I immediately moved closer to her. I reached for her shoulder wanting to hold her and keep her safe. I desperately needed her to hear me. My entire being wanted to cry for her and with her. The desire to comfort her, to tell her she was alright, to let her know that I would never let anything happen to her became my single thought. I had to let her know I believed her. I had to let her know she was safe. This was personal.
Schools are supposed to be safe havens. They are supposed to be places free from harm for students and adults. Schools are far from safe havens and even for me the school became a place of secret violation.
Eight years earlier, as a new faculty member, and one of the only women on staff, I was anxious to fit in. When a popular male faculty member welcomed me with kindness, I eagerly accepted his friendship. We would joke around sharing stories. We were buddies. He’d often compliment me and I liked his affirmation. He often stopped by my office to chat.
On one particular day he stopped by my office and things felt odd. He said how great I looked. He moved toward my desk saying, “wanna see what you do to me?” I froze. He pulled down his pants. I said nothing. I felt the familiar detachment and emotional distancing I had gained as a skill the first time this happened to me at age four. He left. I never told anyone. I was so filled with shame and fear I pretended it had not happened.
Now, eight years later, I’m no longer his buddy, I am his boss listening to a petrified 15-year-old describe an all too familiar scene where he again is the perpetrator. She cried, “I don’t want anything to happen to him, he’s my friend.” I reassured her. “You did nothing wrong.” She began to relay the details. “He was talking to me after school. He’s been helping me with boyfriend troubles.” I could feel my heart pounding so hard I feared she could hear it. “He said I was beautiful and wanted me to see what I did to him. He pulled down his pants.”
How had I let this happen? Had my silent shame, contributed to the heinous act? My deep fear that began so many years before had allowed to this young woman to be victimized. My image as a powerful, strong, woman of integrity who was a decisive and effective principal was all a façade. I hated myself. I had to find justice for this young woman and also find compassion and forgiveness for me. The task felt impossible.
My supervisor asked me if her story true. How could this beloved teacher do this? I knew the truth. The decision was clear. I fired him immediately. Faculty were enraged. Students were upset. I had stepped into my integrity and felt the shaming of a culture that denies things we cannot handle.
I was ordered by the school attorney to never share the details of the perpetrator’s acts to protect him and the school’s reputation. I complied. I went on with my work and kept moving. It is amazing how time moves forward and we forget terrible things. School moved on and so did I.
At the end of that school year, my evaluation from the superintendent was exceptional. I had consumed myself with work as I usually did to hide from shame and pain. A month later, I was asked to meet with him. I never imagined he would ask me to resign. I had a stellar record, school planning was in full swing, and I had a signed contract for the next school year. He said the board didn’t think I was a good fit any longer and there were questions of my integrity. Shame flooded every cell in my body. I didn’t disagree. I quietly with overwhelming pain submitted my resignation.
The moment I walked away from the school it was as if I had been freed from prison. I had constructed my own prison of silence, shame, and denial. The young woman who bravely shared her story of violation with me has been my greatest teacher of manifesting my truth and my purpose. She came into my office petrified to speak and left as a woman of courage and integrity. She risked all she knew to speak her truth. Manifesting the life of your dreams requires just two things – integrity and love. The moment I dropped into loving that young woman, I knew what was true. Deep within me was a calling to become a woman of truth who could help others own their truth. When we let go of shame, the freedom of integrity is born and with it we manifest the glorious peace of manifesting our highest and truest potential. To manifest the life of your dreams, begin by loving the beauty that is uniquely you and embrace the truth guiding you.