Many people have stories of coming out. Some good, some bad, some painful, and some that stick out and make a difference in this world. Pride can be at the cost of everything for some, and can also be a breaking point and conclusion. For some, Pride can be the farthest distance between two societies that may never fully understand each other. They spend their entire existence educating the confused, the undecided, and the ones who turn their back on us. To some, Pride and being who you are can mean the end of the road. For many, Pride can change their life or enhance it.
To me, Pride is a sense of identity, acceptance, tolerance, and the achievement of being yourself.
I came out of the closet at an older age of 24. I was raised in a family where being gay was normal and always accepted. In my Polynesian family, we never judge, never ask questions, and accept people for who they are regardless of their religion or beliefs. I was very blessed to have supportive parents and a family that loved me no matter what, so coming out was easy for me. In high school I did hide it by having a girlfriend and hanging out with the notorious kids. But in college, I let myself be who I wanted and never cared about what others thought of me. I was more myself than most people I knew and very open when asked if I was gay.
However, the one place I could not be myself was at work. In fact, throughout most of my career no one knew I was gay. I’m sure some people guessed or didn’t care, but I always kept my personal life separate from my professional life. Partially because I was always a manager in my previous positions, but mostly because I worked in sales. The sales environment can be very antagonizing, with the bro atmosphere and the pressure to always produce, but mainly because you are in a department that sets the bar for the company’s worth. It’s often a position where staff looks up to you as a mentor and leader. Being gay was never an issue, but being a gay leader can rub some egos the wrong way.
I was always afraid of someone outing me or finding me on social media and tagging me on our corporate site. because I’ve been in public-facing roles, I was scared that my beliefs and quality of life could be unacceptable to consumers who do not understand or support it. So I hid it. I was ashamed. I hid it from my colleagues for almost 15 years. I wasn’t planning on coming out of the closet by painting rainbows in the office, but I planned to be successful and financially secure, and if I had to hide in the closet in fear of losing my job then that’s what I did.
I became close to a CFO at one of my companies and he knew I was gay. He took me under his wing and told me to hide it, and not to be out in a position of leadership that I held. That painful yet relevant decision at that time might have saved my career.
I climbed the ladder at all my companies and managed teams with the mindset of a professional leader. I never let my personal experiences overlap with my work ethics and derail the direction of my career path. In almost every professional setting – like hosting a demo, meetings, trade shows, or SKO – questions about my personal life would always come up. The morbid curiosity inevitably set in and people would ask things like what kind of girls I liked to date, why I was single, and why I didn’t have kids.
Holding the truth for 15 years was a hard pill to swallow, especially when you’re close to your co-workers and their families and you hold a secret that could change what they think of you and your role as a leader. It was so bad that sometimes I would sink into depression and often asked myself a series of questions. “What is my worth in this career?” “Is my career worth the expense of living a separate life my company doesn’t support?” “How long can I keep this separation and closet my life away from my fellow peers?”
I came to Neo4j four-and-a-half years ago, and the culture and values were very different here. It had that start-up vibe and one of openness, diversity, and a feeling of belonging. I naturally came out of the closet and was shockingly surprised that it was supported. Being able to be myself around my co-workers and my team opened up a lot of doors to help others identify with themselves.
It’s not like I wear heels and prance around the office, but I am able to be open and talk about my experiences and values while being part of a support group. I can comfortably maintain my personal ethics and not be afraid of judgement or termination. I am now part of the diversity committee and made a personal goal to be more involved in helping others identify with who they are and how their differences can be a blessing in the workplace.
This month I celebrate Pride and embrace the very essence of who I am as well as others. If I can change just one employee’s life and help them reach the next level, my mission is complete.
I would like to send a shout-out to the SDR team and leader for always believing in me and letting me be who I am. Also, a special shout-out to my West Coast team for always supporting me in my personal life and as their leader. They are the reason why I strive to be the best and deliver the best.
Cheers and happy Pride Month to all who are reading this.
“Our unity is our strength, and diversity is our power.” – Kamala Harris