This has been a long time coming. Since the first Saturday of December in 2016 to be exact. That was the day I read an email that brought nearly eight years of hard work crashing down around me, and unfortunately, many around me.
“Santa Claus” sent myself, and everyone else on my company’s email list; investors, founders, mentors, community, and the press – an email that basically said I was the worst scum on planet Earth and had bamboozled them all. In the way of a true troll, Santa deftly mixed a little truth with some embellishment and a lot of outright lies. Santa even had snapshots of line items from my company’s Quickbooks.
AND I FELL FOR IT!
I went into reaction mode immediately. I told my investors that I would conduct an audit of our financials. I hired a lawyer because a former employee was threatening to sue. I did something I rarely allowed myself, I cried. Then I started to play the victim. I also took the age-old (and not very sage) advice Don’t Feed the Trolls.
Everywhere I turned I was certain that every person was against me. Were they the troll? Did they believe the troll? Did they believe me?
If you’ve ever been trolled, you know what it’s like to read anonymous posts, or those pretending to be people you know and trust saying the worst things about you. To obsess over another 1 star rating on a site that no one has ever heard of, yet suddenly it’s at the top of your google search and there are multiple nasty and some normalish sounding negative reviews of you and your work.
You begin to wonder if you deserve it. You begin to close in on yourself. That light you once had and shared with so many begins to dim. You start to believe what other people say about you instead of believing in yourself.
I still get sick to my stomach when that one fake website pulls up in a vanity google search. You see, I finally got my first scifi novel to the point of querying agents. I’m curious what they see when they search my name. And it’s back. At the top.
I found out the likely purpose behind all the trolling when I was subpoenaed to give a testimony in a case where the same type of trolling happened to another company. Hurray! Mystery solved and reputation restored, you say. Uh, not quite. As with that company, I was under an NDA. I’m not legally allowed to protect other people by sharing the information I have. Thanks, system.
AND I STILL FEEL GUILTY THAT IT HAPPENED TO ME!
I take that back. I feel guilty for turning inward. I feel guilty for not sharing the successes of my portfolio companies because I thought they wouldn’t want to associate with me. I feel guilty for not speaking up about what was happening. I feel guilty for not trusting those who stood by me. I feel guilty for the one time I lost my cool in an email. I feel guilty for believing the worst about myself and for the punishment I put myself through.
It’s coming up on four years and I still haven’t accepted the unfairness of it all. If I’ve learned nothing these past few years, it’s that most mental anguish comes from a refusal to accept what is. Boy, have I spent a lot of time learning about behavioral patterns and working to break the ones that no longer serve my purpose. I can see this for exactly what it is. It’s my deep-seated missionary’s kid (MK) need to be liked and seen as “good” (thought I’m still a typical MK rebel – hello, internal conflict).
These days it seems as if trolls are winning, doesn’t it? The hate and complete character assassinations of good people who hold strong opinions is evident nearly everywhere you turn. And where do we have to turn when we’re confined to our homes? Televisions and the internet. I see people I love suddenly turn nasty and start name calling after someone challenges them or calls them a name first.
How do we end this downward spiral? Well, maybe I can start with myself.
I’ve finally shared a TL:DR version of what kept me hiding in the shadows. How can I step back out and serve the communities I used to be a part of and that I’ve recently joined? I’ll have to think about that, but feel free to suggest something. What I do know is that it will include everyone, whether they share an opposing opinion or not. What I won’t do is allow tearing down. I can call out name calling. Humans can be so much better than that and I want them to play to their higher selves, not their lowest.
I can also thank those who stood beside me and congratulate those who have experienced wins in our TW family.
My partner John was there every step of the way as I struggled to make sense of what was happening and save what I could of the company. Without him providing guidance and sticking up for me when a lot of others wouldn’t, I’m not sure what would have happened. So thank you, John. You’re one of the best humans I know.
I wasn’t able to give the best of myself to my husband Peter, my son Philip, and my stepsons as I dealt with the troll fallout. I still carry a burden of guilt from not being present for my son when he was in his senior year of high school. I don’t want to tell my husband, but I wonder if my dark night of the soul didn’t infect his son’s psyche that year.
I received more than one offer to buy the company, and I ultimately went with the person that was familiar with us as one of our fund investors. Ricky wanted to run his own funds and I knew I was too burnt out to do the kind of job I expect of myself, so I handed him the reins in 2017. Ricky unfortunately got as much or more trolling than I did. They made every disgusting comment about a Thai immigrant you can think of. And he handled it all in stride. He is still investing in stellar startups and building his own trusted group of investors and mentors who see the value in building strong, innovative companies.
If I name more of you awesome people, I know I’ll leave too many out. Just know that I appreciate your kind words when everything looked bleak. I also appreciate some of our most successful investors who laughed and said, “welcome to the club”. What a club it is…
For those of you who find yourself in this club, my best advice is not to play the victim. Sure, someone is toying with your entire life, but there’s a lot on the other side. Here are my biggest takeaways:
- You learn super quick who your real friends are. I lost a lot of naivete on that one and it’s made my life and interactions surprisingly far more meaningful.
- It clears a path. I wrote down my Big Five for Life (great book) in 2012 and it included putting my company in good hands after my son finished high school, then moving to a beach and writing science fiction novels. I now live on St. Croix and write science fiction. Maybe the troll was just a nasty kick in the tits to get me to move on.
- I see things more clearly now because I’m not trying to move so fast and I smashed my rose-colored glasses when I stumbled.
- I heed my intuition. I knew something was wrong and acted too late.
- I’m closer to my husband. Two type A, headstrong, independent people really can make a great team.
If anyone reads this and is going through online bullying, please feel free to reach out to me. I REALLY understand and am happy to provide a listening ear. It can be lonely and isolating, but it doesn’t have to be.
Finally, to our portfolio companies, none of this had anything to do with you. I celebrate all your successes that you share with me (seriously, ask my hubby). I’m proud and honored to have played a small role in your early years and I wish you the best. HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to those of you who had an exit in the past few years!
OK, this was all very personal and far too late in my opinion, but it’s out in the ether now and out of my head.