Swan Song: Sunsetting My Work on Domestic Violence

joanne swans

Photo: Joanne Rosanio, 2017. Seaside Park, NJ

I admit, at first, it began as a vanity project. I was high off the success of my two prior Internet-based startups and felt invincible.  I had a lot of friends.  I felt empowered that I could do this.  I brought a whole lot of arrogance and conceit to the fight.

Then, nearly as soon as I began, I got knocked off my my pedestal.  I had to learn how to really work… how to really do research, how to make a real relationship, how to inspire someone to work for me for free with no guarantee of any return at all.  I had to learn how to persuade people very different from me that I could be trusted and that I was sincere.  I had to learn how to accept rejection, in the face of all logical evidence to the contrary that what I was selling was highly effective and worthy of investment.

I was told, “YOU HAVE NO STANDING” to have conversations in this field.  In other words, GO AWAY.

Nevertheless, I persisted.  But maybe, (h/t Stevie Wonder), like I fool I went and stayed too long––  I actually made progress against my goals.  I believe what I’ve set in motion will pay substantial dividends in the future.  I’ve said it hundreds of times: The Answers are in the Data.  The problem in domestic violence is the offender, and we can identify, track, predict, and control their behavior with proper data analysis and monitoring.  I’ve even filed a provisional patent for a software tool that will save lives if implemented properly.

Yet, after three years, I’m quitting.  Maybe quitting while I’m ahead, but quitting nonetheless.  The reason is personal, not business.  You see working on domestic violence brings me to the front lines of my own personal horror show every damned day.  I simply cannot continue to work on this for health reasons.  Let’s call it a graceful exit.

I will leave behind the seeds of an important beginning conversation about the vast potential of data, and the powerful transformational story told by High Point, NC in our film.  We should have a final cut soon.  I wholly underestimated the toll this work would take on my mental health.  At my peril.

Over time,  I’m contemplating writing a short ebook about my experiences working in this field featuring what I learned–– the challenges and opportunities as I see it–– but there I go being thought-leadery again.  I may also consider doing some public speaking aligned to the film, but we’ll see.

For now, I’m going back to tech consulting, and continuing with my R&R time in the comfort of the Florida winter chillzone.

Namaste.  And a sincere thanks to everyone who helped Big Mountain Data and our ambitious goals.

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Update 4/15/18:  I was asked to speak at a National conference in the fall and looks like the software tool is moving forward in the hands of some industry experts who can take it to the next level.  So, not exactly gone for good.  Plus, I have a meeting tomorrow with a  local data scientist who’s interested in our work.  There is that UPenn machine learning case study I’ve been interested to replicate on the assessed risk of DV bond hearings… 

 

Memory Stick

liplinerEvery morning for the past 39 years, while going through the mindless routine of putting on my morning makeup, I’m jolted by a memory from my past.

Just when I’m gliding the smooth lip liner over the contour of my lips, I see it.  The memory jars me. I scowl because I think to myself, “After nearly 40 years, why do you still have this reaction?  Why are you haunted by this memory?”

There’s a distinct tear, a split, an unmistakable scar on the surface of my lip.  It represents a very dark day in my life when my incisor tooth sliced through my face and bled non-stop down my brand new suede jacket.

Screen_shot_2012-03-26_at_9I remember I paid a handsome $79 for that jacket in 1978. 

It was a foolish, indulgent purchase that I really couldn’t afford. Now ruined, I’d have to throw it away; get rid of it.

Destroy the evidence.

I had managed to get away from my abusive boyfriend.  Had been accepted to the state university. I was starting a new life.  Even met a new guy.  My life was turning around.

Until that night.

I don’t recall specifically the circumstances of how or why my abuser showed up that evening at my campus dorm.  I just remember the fateful blow.  That white light that explodes behind your eyes when you’re hit with the physics of brute force, and the delayed pain.  The blood begins before the pain.  And thinking, “God damnit, I just bought this jacket!”

Then, the tears.  And then, the shame.

In a single swift blow, a violent man forever corrupted such a mundane experience hundreds of millions of women go through every day.  For the rest of my life, I’m trapped in that memory loop.  And, as you can see, that scar is just one of many.

That one is visible.

High-Performing Women Perform – Always.

Read with some interest Paulette Light’s piece last week in the Atlantic.  “Why 43% of Women with Children Leave Jobs, and How to Get them Back.” Light is a good writer, and a budding entrepreneur.  She also has, as she says, “a similar background to Sandberg. With a BA from Columbia, a Masters from Harvard and an MBA from Wharton.”  She also has the benefit of a supportive, working spouse: “I know how lucky I am to have a partner who supports me in all ways, taking on more than his fair share of housework and parenting, sharing my philosophy, backing my ventures and listening to my struggles.”  Like Sandberg, Light is lucky.  For the rest of us, without those 1% head starts, it’s not so easy.  That said, I do agree with her.  And like my criticism of the Sandberg book, I hope she succeeds in getting her point into mass circulation.  This kind of thinking needs to start permeating the public consciousness in order to give women a modern-day break.  It actually will benefit me too, ultimately, but you’ll have to read to the end of this post to see that connection.

I left the workforce in 2001. First, I was laid off from a dot-com startup that went under.  The company was swept up in a tech sector that also imploded.  Shortly thereafter, 9/11 happened.  At the time, we lived in north Jersey and we were affected personally by the death of a friend.  It was at that time, I made the decision to retreat.  Quit.  Leave the workforce.  There is an image that is irrevocably etched in my brain of the footage from the collapse of the World Trade Center towers.  It is an image of hundreds of thousands of tiny pieces of paper floating to the ground.  Because most of my work life was pre-digital, all the work I had done in the sum total of my career had been done on paper.  That image signified to me, work is meaningless.  Nothing I had done professionally up to that point mattered at all in the grand scheme of things, and I felt compelled to politely bow out, and realign my priorities.

So I disengaged.  We moved into a small house that we owned at the Jersey shore, and I became a SAHM (stay-at-home-Mom).  We cut our family income by two-thirds (I was the sole supporter of the family until that point), and relied on my husband’s meager earnings in the construction industry.  I wanted to focus on my kids and my family – the only work that really mattered.

Now, unlike Ms. Light, I never struggled with “guilt, or “boredom,”  or ever struggled with “feeling overwhelmed.”  And I certainly never found myself, “many a mommygroup crying in the bathroom…”  No.  I LOVED being a SAHM.  During my 5-year tenure, along with all the home-cooked meals, gardening, doctor appointments, birthday parties, PTA meetings, etc., I was always busy.  This is just a sample of the projects I involved myself in:

  • Volunteered to be the press liaison for the local chamber of commerce.
  • Became a freelance writer for a leading NJ daily, the Asbury Park Press, covering local events
  • Helped brand and run a local township committee campaign
  • Managed my daughter’s singing career by orchestrating events and recording two demo CDs
  • Did PR and planning for a large volunteer Community-build Playground project
  • Organized a middle school Student Body President campaign for my daughter (she won)
  • Was part of a core team of volunteers to launch an annual event that celebrated our town’s heritage
  • Launched a small business for my ex-husband that generated over half a million dollars in its first year.

Had my marriage and the business worked out (very long story goes here), I would still be a SAHM.  In 2006, I had to return to the workforce as a single Mom–  financially and emotionally bankrupt, and desperate to support my children.  With a lot of hard work, I fought my way back into the professional world and was able to provide a decent quality of life for my kids with a combination of self-employment and employment.  But, I vowed upon returning to the professional world that I would not work in an office again.  There is something very stabilizing, very secure about “being here” every time my son (daughter now in college) walks in the door after school.

office

Every day my son comes home from school, he walks into my office, either plunks himself down on the rug or stands in the doorway, and tells me about his day.  We talk about his classes, how his work is progressing.  Anything that happened that day of interest.  He’s a good student. He spends most his time with his online gaming friends, but I can rest in the knowledge he is not engaged in most things that can derail a young, teenage boy (drugs, alcohol, etc.). I attribute my parenting diligence to that outcome. My middle daughter, who is a grown young woman now, will be graduating college next month at the top of her class.  I could not be more proud of all my children, including my oldest daughter who is juggling a busy schedule as a SAHM herself.  Both of my daughters are academic scholars.

Paulette Light’s main point in her piece revolves around finding a place for women who wish to return to work.  That place does not exist for most women, so we are forced to create our own businesses.  It’s not a bad option, but I assure you, especially as a single Mom, it’s a more difficult one.  Her advice is to create a mechanism for project-based work.  Interestingly enough, the business I just launched a few months ago, which is also somewhat in stealth mode, is focused on doing exactly that.  It’s not just SAHMs that want a more flexible work schedule, Dads do too.  The trending data suggests that 90 percent of firms have used contracted talent, and a recent Economist Intelligence Unit study found that 61 percent of senior executives anticipate a growing proportion of functions to be outsourced to contingent workers.

Net, net– If you want to bring talent back into to the marketplace without requiring them to “sit” there, you should invest in smart, high-performing professionals who can see this future and who care about what matters.  You can start here.

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