It’s inevitable. At some point in time we all have been faced or will face a negative response from someone that for an inexplicable reason does not believe in our ability to succeed.
Michele Delatour is no stranger to this type of negative behavior. For the first time ever, she is ready to talk about a very sensitive, personal part of her past with everyone.
Negative Responses Can Impact Your Ability to Succeed
My mom is an immigrant from Haiti, married to a French Canadian. Being new to the country, she wanted to make sure I would have a smooth transition and be accepted by my peers. She raised me to be polite, respectful and most of all to be quiet in class. “Listen to the teacher and don’t cause any trouble,” she would remind me before going to school.
Among the other kids in my kindergarten class, I came off to be different. While they were playing, laughing and running around, I was taught to stay put. “This behavior is disrespectful, stay quiet and behave yourself,” my mom kept repeating. So, I sat alone and watched the other kids having fun from a distance.
I remember sitting next to my mom in the principal’s office, waiting for the news. My behavior had been observed and recorded for several months. As she shuffled through the report on her desk, the principal looked at my mom and dropped the bomb on her. “I am sorry to announce that your daughter has been diagnosed with a behavior disorder”.
I would not be allowed to complete my high school years. My diagnosis showed that I would not be able to assimilate that level of material. My mom was told not to have any high hopes for me. I would never amount to anything big in life. “She might be functional working at a corner store as a cashier.” My mom turned her face away from me, trying to hold back her tears for my benefit. I just sat there helpless, feeling those words taking over all the space in my soul. I was sinking in a downward spiral as I witnessed those words take over my whole existence.
My parents fought with the school board. Although they never believed nor accepted the diagnostic, I was “the strange kid”, the other kid. I started going to sessions with a psychiatrist and took all kinds of tests. This went on for a few years, until finally my results proved that I was “normal” and was allowed to complete high school.
Throughout my school years, being the “strange kid” continued to haunt me. I grew up being the only Afro-American kid in the neighborhood. I cannot go as far as to say I was a victim of racism. However, I was treated differently. People were nice to me. I guess it was weird for them that my dad, a French Canadian was married to an Afro-American woman who was twenty-two years younger than he.
So I went through high school being excluded from social events and having people stop their conversations every time I walked by.
I moved to Montreal when I started University. It was exciting! I was starting a brand new life where no one knew about my past. For the first time, I would be around other Afro-Americans. I was looking forward to making new friends and be surrounded with people sharing the same background. Finally I would fit in and be accepted.
I was more of an OUTCAST than ever! They did not see me as a “real” immigrant. “Your dad is from here!” Furthermore, I had not gone through the same hardships that they and their parents went through when they moved to Canada. My dad had a good profession. I grew up in a wealthy environment. I was labeled as the little “rich” kid. I was not accepted in their world. Again, I felt the weight of the rejection.
When we were teamed up together on assignments, I was pushed aside. I worked twice as hard to get through them and tried really hard to work together with others as a team. But the harder I tried the worst it became. My colleagues teamed up to tell the teacher that I wasn’t a team player. “She did not do her part,” they would say to get rid of me. I was left alone to complete my assignments.
After university, I got a summer job working for the government in social services. I worked so hard and was dedicated at improving my abilities. I truly wanted to make a difference in others lives.
At the end of the summer, my superior met me with my evaluation. Looking at me in the eyes, he poured on me nothing but negative feedback. After all the effort put in this job, I was hurt. I questioned him as to why he had not met me sooner and coached me along the way. He did not reply and just handed me my report. A report that would go on my file for future job applications. My chances of finding another job in this field were second to none.
I was devastated. I had no support from friends. Furthermore, my mom kept reminding me of her disapproval over my choice of career. She had always dreamed I would become a lawyer. “I did not come to this country to have my daughter become a social worker,” she kept saying.
I went on to work for various companies, only to be surrounded with the same type of negative response whenever I displayed interest in going beyond my line of duty. I settled for any job. I gave up on finding a job where I could make difference. I was going to focus on having fun in my life. A job would remain a job, something everyone has to do to make a living.
In 2007, I started working for a new company. My team manager focused on recognizing my strengths and developing them further. My first reaction was, “huh, someone is talking about my strengths and telling me that I have a potential to contribute more?” It seemed like a dream. Thanks to her encouragement and support, I soon moved up to join an elite team. This group worked together and contributed to successful projects for the company. At first I thought, “Wow, I am part of this team. But, will I be accepted?”
It was like nothing I had ever experienced from my past. They welcomed me, pointed out all I had to offer and asked for my opinion. I was included in multiple projects. I was not only supported, I was guided, and encouraged to make decisions even if sometimes it involved taking risks. I made mistakes, however, I was taught to learn from my mistakes instead of being reprimanded.
It was not easy for me at first. I did not know how to approach being part of the team. I kept thinking: “I am not ready to give ideas. I am new to this team. How can I tell these people how we should do our work?”
Believe in Yourself and Make a Difference
To my surprise, my manager took interest in me. She showed me not to dwell on my past experiences. Seniority was not a prerequisite to communicate ideas. Once I let go of all the beliefs and negative messages that had build up since my childhood, I became free to express myself. I opened up to accept that it was possible to exceed my abilities and further contribute to the success of my team. My manager and mentor made me realize that how we react towards a situation, is usually based on how we feel about ourselves and what we deserve.
She set realistic expectations personalized to my profile. She gave me the tools to achieve and accomplish each expectation. I am proud to say that I rose to the challenge, embracing it by not hiding in a corner when surrounded by highly effective colleagues.
I started believing I could make a difference and most importantly that I deserved it. My mentor took the time to discover and recognize my strengths. It felt awkward that someone was talking about my strengths and telling me that I had a potential to make a difference.
One day, I was given the opportunity to give training sessions for new employees. I immediately developed a strong passion for this field of work. I was mentored and provided with all the tools I needed to continue on this path. I gained so much confidence. I once again gained passion in the work I did. I was no longer the strange kid. I was recognized as a person and grew even more. Most importantly, it healed all my past negative wounds!
Today, I am so proud to say that I am the Trainer for new employees in my department. I have responsibilities, not tasks!
Did I mention that Antonia was my manager and mentor?
When I first met Michele, she released so much positive energy towards any given situation. It was clear that she had a potential that was uniquely hers. The problem was that she kept it buried deep inside of her. I was intrigued in tapping into that “something” and discovering everything she had to offer.
Michele not only achieved her goal, she achieved doing what others tried to make her believe was impossible!
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