After I became a Christian in the eighth grade, I shared my newfound faith with everyone. I hoped my relationship with Jesus would be contagious. After a few months of sharing, multiple friends called and asked if they could come to church with me. I was so excited! Some came and responded to the gospel like I had. But others decided that the Christian faith wasn’t for them. These “friends” who’d rejected the message began to reject me as well.
On several occasions, I was physically or verbally threatened because of my beliefs. I was ridiculed and ostracized by my “friends.” Being bullied became a constant pattern in my life.
One semester, a group of tough guys began intimidating me. They’d sneak up on me and whisper, “Do you want to fight? You’d better watch yourself after school. We’re gonna kick your butt!” They were relentless. The bullies stared and laughed at me in class, followed me down the halls every day, and prevented me from getting into my locker. I was scared to death and felt like no one could help me.
I didn’t know how to fight back. I was a scrawny, five-foot-two kid who weighed eighty pounds soaking wet. The bullies seemed like they were ten feet tall. Their intimidation became overbearing, so I went to see the school counselor. After hearing my story, he began escorting me to the bike rack after school for the next month. I’d unlock my bike, hop on, and ride like the wind, hoping to get home before the bullies caught me.
One time, I was home alone, and the doorbell rang. Two bullies were at the door. They tried to pull me outside and beat me up—in a nice, middle-class neighborhood, no less! I forced the door shut. They looked for another way into the house, calling me names as I hid inside. I tried to call my neighbors for help. No one was home. I was so scared that the bullies would find a way into my house that I called the police. The bullies left.
My dad came home, and I told him what happened. Trying to help me, he called the bullies’ parents and had stern conversations with them. Well, you can imagine how the bullies reacted. During P. E. the next day, the bullies told me I’d pay for my dad’s calls. Their threats, intimidation, and pressure grew worse.
Somehow, through all that, I kept my faith and prayed for God’s protection. I trusted God’s promise in Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand” (ESV). I surrounded myself with other believers and found support. I was never physically harmed, but I was mentally scarred.
Admittedly, I’ve struggled with resentment toward those bullies over the years and wanted to get revenge. It took a long time for me to forgive them and overcome my fear and anger. Being bullied was humiliating and embarrassing. These traumatic episodes molded me at a very early age that had a lasting impact. On one side, they taught me to trust God and persevere. On the other side, I learned how to hide my faith from others as a form of self-protection.
Eventually, I grew out of the five-foot-two frame into a six-foot-one frame. I matured physically, emotionally, and spiritually. My confidence grew much stronger and I’m no longer intimidated by bullies. I stick up for myself. But when I sense someone is trying to threaten me or someone else, I have a visceral reaction (i.e. hair standing up on the back of my neck) that motivates me to fight back – stand up for myself and others. This isn’t always good. At times, I can become the aggressor. I’m still a work in progress. God continues shaping me – healing the wounds from long ago, building my faith in him and moderating my reaction to bullies. He’s not done with me yet, but I know that he’ll finish what he started.
Statistics show that 20% of children ages 12 to 18 years old experience some type of bullying – unwanted aggressive behavior meant to hurt. Bullying comes in several forms (verbal, social, and physical) and typically occurs in a few locations (school or online).
How do you prevent bullying? It can be complex. But based on my experience, I recommend the following seven ways:
- Keep the faith – I ran to God and sought his help in my time of need. He heard my cries and protected me. My faith in him grew deeper because of my experience and he continues to mend me today.
- Speak up – If you’re the one being bullied, tell a trusted adult or authority. Don’t be embarrassed. Ask for help. It took me a long time to muster the courage to admit I was being bullied. Ultimately, I told my parents and teachers. My experience may not have lasted as long or been as acute if I’d confided in someone earlier.
- Surround yourself – seek support, safety and solace with your friends and family. I leaned into my church youth group and will always remember their encouragement.
- Stick up for yourself – Sometimes you need to dig deep inside and find the courage to overcome your fear. Let the bully know you’re not gonna take it anymore. I’m not condoning violence. I am condoning a deep resolve that prevents anyone from unwanted aggressive behavior. Tell the bully to stop.
- Be someone’s hero – Don’t stand on the sidelines if you see someone being bullied. Intervene, stick up for the person being bullied, if you see something say something. I wished I had more heroes that were willing to stand up for me. Now, I try to be that hero in someone’s life that I didn’t have.
- Build awareness and a culture of safety – Teachers, administrators, parents and students can all play a role in bully prevention. Educate everyone on what bullying is and what it isn’t. Teach respect, dignity and what to do if bullying is occurring. Learn to listen. Be empathetic. Protect others.
- Forgive and forget – It took a long time for me to resolve my feelings of anger and resentment. I learned that it’s not good to hang on to grudges. If you do, you’ll become bitter. The path to becoming better is through forgiveness and forgetting the circumstances – move on.
To learn more about bullying, its effects and how to prevent it, visit: https://www.stopbullying.gov
Lastly, October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Support prevention awareness through participating in the weekly campaigns. Visit: https://www.stompoutbullying.org/national-bullying-prevention-awareness-month
Have you ever been bullied? What was your experience? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect and continue the conversation.
Early in my career, I was honored to become part of The Hershey Company’s Sales Development team. The 12-member team was comprised of top performers from across the country; a bunch of young guns. The purpose of the two-year assignment was to learn about all aspects of the candy business including brand management, marketing, and production. We also had a chance to engage senior leadership and participate in a mentorship program.
I remember my first few weeks with the team. It was almost like a fraternity, and I felt like a pledge. I was advised before I took the role to make every effort to fit in. They told me that I’d be surrounded by a lot of great leaders. At the same time, I was warned to not “shine too brightly,” or a few egomaniacs will “try to marginalize you.” I realized early on that I’d need to humbly work my way up and do my part to belong.
Early on, I met a team member named Doug. He was from the Midwest, a go-getter and had a reputation for being arrogant. For some reason, Doug didn’t like me from the start. When he introduced himself, he went on and on about his success and how he’d become president of the company someday. Before our conversation ended, he told me with an intimidating tone that he’d “be watching me.” He continued, “one screw up and I’ll be all over you!”
The next day, the Sales Development team attended a town hall meeting in the magnificent Hershey Theater. We all sat in the same row toward the front to listen to Hershey’s president. As we were filing into our seats, guess who jumped ahead in line and sat next to me?
Doug. Of all people, Doug.
After a few minutes, he leaned over to me and sternly said, “you really should think more about how you dress. You’re wearing a blue dress shirt, and the rest of our team is wearing white. Look down the row for yourself. Not a good move!”
I looked down the row, and he was right, everyone was wearing white. I stuck out like a sore thumb. He smirked and said, “maybe next time, you’ll have a white shirt hanging in your closet for times like this.”
I felt embarrassed and very out of place. It seemed like a small thing. I didn’t give any thought to wearing a blue shirt to work when I dressed in the morning. Doug made it sound like it was a career limiting move. His comment caused me to worry for the rest of the town hall. I don’t think I heard anything that the president said; I was so distracted.
Later that afternoon, I approached Mike, my team lead. I told him what happened and he laughed out loud. He said, “are you kidding me? Doug’s a workplace bully, and he’s just trying to intimidate you. Don’ t worry about it.”
He patted me on the back and sent me on my way.
The next day, I went to work and walked into my first meeting. Doug was there along with the rest of my peers. As I looked around the room, guess what color shirt they were ALL wearing?
Doug was the only one wearing a white shirt. I got the biggest smile on my face. When the team saw me light up, they smiled as well.
After the meeting, I asked Mike why everyone was wearing blue. He said, “We wanted to send a message. We’re a team, and we stick together . We also want you to know that you belong here and you’re one of us.”
I’ll never forget that day. I felt like I belonged, was appreciated and I was one of the team. My confidence grew, and over time, I became a key contributor to the group. I also appreciated the team sending a message to Doug that his behavior wouldn’t be tolerated. Doug left me alone and never tried to intimidate me or anyone else again.
I learned that strong leaders instill a sense of belonging
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Have you ever had one of those moments and thought, “There’s no way am going to do that?” I did a couple of years ago in New York City. I was on a business trip and meeting with a new team. Part our agenda was to build comradery through a fun, shared experience. The night before the event, the team seemed very excited about what we were going to do, but they kept it a secret from me. I’m a planner and always like to be ready for what’s next. I softly pressed the team about the what we were going to do, but they didn’t budge. All they asked of me is to have an open mind and wear some workout clothes.
Early the next morning, we met in the hotel lobby. Everyone else was in their workout clothes, and I thought we’d do something like jogging in Central Park. We left the hotel and began walking toward Radio City Music Hall. I thought, “This is interesting, I wonder what’s up.”
The team leader knocked on a side door, and we were escorted into a dance studio.
I asked the team leader, “This is cool being in Radio City Music Hall, but what are we going to do?”
She replied, “It’s always been a bucket list item of mine to dance with the Rockettes. We are going to learn a dance together.”
I said, “Awesome. It will be fun to watch you all today. It sounds like a unique experience.”
She smiled and said, “Watch you all? You’re going to dance with us, aren’t you?”
I got a lump in my throat and suddenly became anxious. I’d rather get a root canal. I love to freestyle dance, but I’ve never been any good at choreographed dances. I’m quite possibly one of the clumsiest people around. Honestly, I was afraid I was going to embarrass myself.
I sheepishly said, “Mind if I sit this one out?”
“Oh, come on Preston, you can do this, and the team will love you for it.”
I was at a decision point – do I excuse myself, not participate and watch from the sidelines? Or, do I risk the embarrassment, leap in and connect with the team? Do I stay in my comfort zone or move outside of it?
After a brief moment with all of this going through my head, I mustered up the courage to dance with the team and said, “Ok, I’ll do it. What have I got to lose?”
You know what? I had an absolute blast. Two Rockettes came into the studio and taught our nine-member team how to dance the March of the Toy Soldier. The dance is from the Nutcracker ballet and is one of the most famous routines in Radio City Music Hall’s Christmas Spectacular. We learned all of the dance steps and kicks. It was a great team building exercise; we all laughed a bunch and had a great time. Also, I stepped outside my comfort zone, grew and connected with the team. None of this would have happened if I sat on the sidelines.
As a leader, why is it important to step into the Discomfort Zone – the place where you are tested or do something new?
- You’ll Grow – Moving out of the safe and secure will stretch your limits. Growth occurs in the yet to be experienced moments of life that are outside your normal boundaries.
- Your Perspective Will Change – When you muster the courage to intentionally engage in a new, different or possibly embarrassing experience, your mindset will move from I can’t to I can, I won’t to I will and I shouldn’t to I should.
- You’ll Realize Your Potential – Think about it. Have you ever accomplished anything significant inside your comfort zone? Greatness, excellence, and success can be yours if you’re willing to step into the unknown and do something new. As you succeed or learn from failures, your confidence will grow, and you’ll begin to realize your potential.
When faced with something that is new or different from the norm, I challenge you to try it. If you do, you’ll learn and grow as you dance into the Discomfort Zone.
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I’m a disciple of Christ and an executive at a Fortune 500 Company. In my blog, The Discipled Leader, I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work.
As a certified coach, speaker, and trainer with the John Maxwell Team, I help others grow their relationship with Christ, develop their leadership skills, and understand how they can make a positive difference in today’s chaotic world.
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I draw on my diverse business experience to help Christians connect their secular and spiritual lives at work. I invite you to subscribe to my blog and learn how to develop Christlike character, influence your culture and change your world.