“What did you do previously?” (Bill Leesman)
Ah. The loaded question for which there is no “right” answer. Asked with honest intent to discern something tacit, a question asked about yesterday to help the questioner discern their ability to trust me today.
“I was in HR before this.”
My answer is a vague response that I have learned to throw out to also determine the head space of anyone sitting or standing across from me. Do I get a knowing nod or a furrowed brow that somehow asks for more? Or do I get the subtle or not so quiet eye roll of the other person’s experience with the words “HR”?
Today it is the eye roll and I know I have to explain the two letters further or risk losing the tenuous thread that brought us together. I am used to this. I have been pre-judged all my life. It used to get under my skin. I would either shrink away, afraid to face the other person or become defensive in my place in the world as Bill Leesman.
I have learned we are all judged in mere moments, rightly or wrongly, so the other people we come across can decide if we are someone they will like and trust, whether we are competent in our roles, are we on a side of the aisle they can agree with and avoid confrontation. Over the years, I have been forthright with people not aware of this momentary call to judgment until it was too late and I was in fight, flight or shrinking violet mode. One woman called me “refreshingly naive” in a way that was not a compliment. Like the southern lady’s “Bless your heart”.
So how do I answer the question – Who am I? Who is Bill Leesman?
Perhaps the only way to get around the pre-judgements of the readers is to go back in time.
I was born in Canada, but we moved to the Unites States when I was a toddler. At the time that meant nothing. I was a kid where the moment of the hour was all that was important. Of course, as I grew and we moved from school to school each year, the explanation of where I came from would invariably arise. Not in terms of nationality but of neighborhood. You see, we came from the “wrong side of the tracks”. I wore hand-me-down clothes, mostly sent to us from my Canadian cousins.
As I grew, or didn’t in my case, as I was always one of the smallest in my class, I was drawn to sports. This is a world where size seems to matter. A lot. I was very capable as an athlete, but usually picked near to last due to that lack of mass. As the other kids learned who I was, I moved up the pecking order but I had to prove myself more than others did.
When I was a pre-teen, we moved back to Canada. That was when I really learned you were being judged by appearances, background, and pre-dispositions of the judge. When the teachers learned I was “from the States”, I was put in the remedial classes. Everyone knew that the American education system was just a bit behind the Canadian system. It didn’t matter that I was an avid reader and learner and that I quickly moved out of those classes once they saw I could keep up.
Being perceived as being American, didn’t always hinder me though. When I enrolled in Little League, it was assumed that at least I knew the game. Which I did. I just had to overcome my size, still one of the smallest players in the league. I was viewed like Tanner from the Bad News Bears. The smallest kid who had to prove himself. I did just that. The funny thing was, in school I was still not considered part of the “jocks” group because I played baseball and so few kids in Canada did back then. The rest of my classmates played hockey (I didn’t even know how to skate) and soccer.
By my teen years, I was not included in any of the cliques that pervaded the academic halls of John Diefenbaker High School. As mentioned, the jocks didn’t include me as my sport was baseball. This was pre-Blue Jays and the Expos were still new and in Quebec anyway. Although, they couldn’t outright reject me because I was able to keep up with them in gym. The “brains” didn’t include me because I actually talked about sports and movies and things cultural all the time. But my grades said I should be in the group. The “heads” didn’t embrace me as I didn’t partake of drugs and alcohol, yet how could they reject me wholly as I was still from the side of the tracks that hinted at trouble. It helped that my older sister had all sorts of friends in that group. I didn’t want to be included with the “nerds” and “losers”. In short, I was a loner. An outsider who was accepted and rejected by all at the same time.
When I went back to the States for college, my now Canadian accent gave me away as an outsider and I was held under a microscope to ensure I could play at their level. Most of the players had never met a Canadian before. And some of the coaches felt I was taking a spot of a good ole American kid.
I could go on and on about my experiences in sports, but this is really about labelling and pre-judging.
We all do it.
I remember when I left the HR industry to join my wife and partner, Jacki, in real estate. I called my mom up to tell her. Her response?
“No. you can’t be serious. Bill Leesman I thought I raised you better than that.”
If that isn’t a pre-judgement of the worst kind, I don’t know what is.
I have worked in many industries. I have worked in many roles and in all circumstances. Those who do not know me and sometimes those who do, pre-ordain their opinion of me. As we all do.
I once had a co-worker say she looked at people’s shoes. That is how she judged their competency. All I could think of at the time was “wow”. Especially given that she was a manager and in charge of hiring for her team. Competency based on footwear!?!
So, who am I?
I am a Canadian who spent many formative years in the US. I have lived in the mostly progressively liberal state of Oregon growing up around hippies and blue-collar workers. I also have lived most of the rest of my life in conservative Alberta around those same blue-collar workers AND white-collar intellectuals.
I have worked in retail where the incomes are low, and the personal interactions are high. I owned a bookstore where I met wonderful people who read Harlequins along side those who read Robert Ludlum.
I worked for a decade in the little know industry of numismatics, notaphily (look it up if you need to), precious metals and foreign exchange. I went from the guy who emptied the garbage to one of the most respected experts in my city who people came to for opinion. I have been an expert witness for the bank and asked to evaluate $100,000 items. I would have difficulty today telling the difference between an AU from an UNC (again look it up) but I can still discern a 1973 small bust quarter from a large bust. And, no, that has nothing to do with bra size. That lack of ability has more to do with being out of the industry for decades.
I owned my own business services company helping other small entrepreneurs build their websites in the days before programs allowed anyone to drop in text and logos and magically have a viewable site.
Yes, I was in the HR industry for almost 15 years. In my initial years, I was on the sales side (having been hired without any outside sales experience) to lead a team of fifteen of the most professional women salespeople I had ever met. By the time they were done teaching me about sales and me teaching them about human nature, we had grown that business into the largest independent HR recruiting company in Alberta. I moved up the ranks to become a director in the payroll and benefits side of the industry and along the way became as close to an expert in HR as I could without the degree behind my name.
I left that world to earn a living in Real Estate with the aforementioned Jacki. She has taught me how to “look for flaws in a house without stepping outside my lane”. For almost a decade we have thrived and survived in an industry that is at times cutthroat and not for the faint of heart. We have been subject to valleys and mountains at times.
So, who am I, you ask.
I am not your impression of the trope of each of those industries or my outward appearance.
I am an athlete who loves to read. From the classics to novels to non-fiction to comics. I have read Madame Bovary and Stephen King and Captain America and a lot in between.
I am a reader who loves movies of all sorts. From the war epics to rom coms to the latest in sci-fi. Even book adaptations. I can enjoy watching Captain Kirk battle the Klingons and tear up during the Notebook.
I am a movie watcher who loves to put on the headphones and listen to music. Classic Rock? Yes. Country? Yes. Alternative Rock? Of course. My phone collection has Bob Seger, Alan Jackson as well as Shinedown and Disturbed.
I am a music lover who will dive into the world of video games, from sports simulation to mysteries. I have played Earl Weaver baseball and most of the Nancy Drew mysteries.
I am a gaming nerd who loves live sports. From baseball to football to hockey and much more. I have played competitive sports and rec quality fun games.
This is not to say that I am competent in all things. Far from the truth. I still can’t skate. My wife can cut circles around me on the ice. Despite my love of music, I cannot play an instrument or carry a tune. Not even in a bucket. And as far as things like building something, unlike my father, I must measure 4 times and still have to cut twice sometimes to straighten the line.
I had to come to that realization of shortcomings a long time ago. This article has a lot of “I” in it. It must, for it is coming from my perspective.
Judge me on first impressions if you must. Roll your eyes and dismiss me if you feel the need. Yes, I worked in sales and HR and real estate and numismatics and been successful in each, it does not box me into your idea of those industries. Good or bad.
Today, I have my day job but I am also a writer. I always have been. I tell good stories in a way that is accessible and entertaining. I am trying to get those stories published. But, to do so, I have to find that person who can see past the boxes I have lived inside.