FOR MORE THAN A DECADE of her life, Lisa Sherman tried to present the right image to achieve success in a corporate job in marketing communications. Sherman is a lesbian, and she worried that coming out would derail her career.
Everything changed during a diversity training seminar in 1993.
At the time Sherman was working for Bell Atlantic, and during the seminar, participants were asked to describe their feelings on flipcharts toward certain groups of people. When she came to the a page that read "Gay People Are...," she was appalled to see what her colleagues had written: "Pathetic," "Perverse," and "Immoral." Some of these epithets were written by people whom she considered to be her friends.
Sherman left the company a few weeks later, but not before coming out to then-CEO Raymond Smith. Since then, she's made it a personal mantra to focus her career on being a professional gay person, and has sought career opportunities that embrace her for who she is.
"The whole notion of hiding takes a lot of energy that could be focused on things that are more creative and productive," she says. "When you're hiding part of yourself, you're also not exactly putting yourself in a position to build open, quality relationships."
After years of entrepreneurialism in smaller businesses and another stint in corporate America, Sherman recently landed her dream job: a gig as executive vice president and general manager of Logo, the gay television channel owned by Viacom and MTV.
Even though Sherman admittedly didn't know anything about the television industry, she was encouraged to learn quickly. Beside, when MTV President Brian Graden hired her, he charged her to be open about her sexuality ("gay for pay," as she ironically puts it), and to plan programming that encourages others to do the same.
To wit: a series dubbed "Coming Out Stories" about the experiences that different gay men and women had coming out, as well as short films about living with the specter of HIV and AIDS.
Sherman says the day-to-day challenges of this job invigorate her, noting that she puts more energy and passion into what she does because she feels that the ultimate validation of the gay and lesbian market and of the gay and lesbian community itself is building a successful commercial business.
"When you get to the place in your life where the half ahead of you may not be as long as the half that's behind you, your priorities begin to shift and it's important to get really clear about the kinds of things you'd want to spend your time doing," she says. "I feel like the luckiest person on the planet to have a job that both feels personally meaningful and is just a great business."
Matt Villano writes about careers for Live & Learn and the New York Times from his home base in California.
Watch for new stories every Thursday in Live & Learn, NRTA's publication for the AARP educator community: Celebrating learning as a creative lifestyle.