Once upon a time, in the vibrant city of Atlanta, Georgia, a young and ambitious Danny Acevedo found himself at a local commercial real estate trade show. My mission was clear: to win over the commercial property managers and building engineers with our offerings. At the time, I was content chasing opportunities from one employer to the next, following the lure of the almighty dollar. This was already my fourth career and second telecom company since graduating from the University of Georgia less than five years earlier. Little did I know, my life was about to change for the better.

I had the chance to interview with Stacey Marx, who was leading AT&T’s newly formed Fiber team. From the moment we spoke, I could tell Stacey was determined to build a diverse and talented team dedicated to quality growth. And so, over a decade ago, our tale began.

My first role was customer-facing, selling Fiber solutions to business leaders and IT professionals. Talking to 50 strangers a day was tough enough, but I also faced questions most people never consider. How much of my true self should I bring to work? Should I be honest about my vacations or weekend plans? Should I avoid pronouns? If I use them, will I lose the sale or, worse yet, my job?

At this crossroads, I saw two paths before me. One path meant being true to myself, embracing honesty and authenticity, even if it led to uncomfortable conversations and potentially fewer opportunities than my heterosexual peers. The other path was easier—blending in with what I felt was “normal.”

This is where Lynda Lusardi entered my story. On days when I was tempted to take the easier path, Lynda’s encouragement and genuine interest in my professional and personal growth kept me going. She showed me that I could excel at my work while being true to myself. AT&T’s culture, which values individuals based on their merits and quality of work, also played a crucial role in my journey. There are heroes that came before me and blazed the trail for future generations. Because of their Herculean efforts, I can show up each day and contribute without being worried about being accepted.

Over the past 11 years, I’ve had the pleasure of holding three sales jobs and four staff/HQ roles. Today, I am the Chief of Staff supporting one of the greatest leaders I’ve ever worked for. Shelley Goodman, another heroine joins in my story. Shelley’s care for her team and support of my triumphs, both professional and personal, have been invaluable. She has encouraged my involvement in our LGBTQ+ Employee Group, LEAGUE, and cheered me on as I married my best friend and biggest supporter.

Looking back, I’m grateful for the path I chose. Along the way, I’ve learned some important lessons:

  1. Show up. Every day. Be present at meetings. Participate.
  2. Be you. You were hired for a reason. Bring your authentic self to work and don’t waste energy trying to be someone you’re not.
  3. Control the controllables. You can only control two things: your attitude and your activity. Make sure you’re proud of both.
  4. Lift as you climb. As you reach one hand forward, make sure to reach one hand back to help those who will come after you.
  5. Pay it forward. Do your part to build diverse teams and foster a safe environment for others.

Which path will you choose?

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