Today we’d like to introduce you to Catherine Bosley.
Hi Catherine, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
Broadcast news. I was fascinated by it from the time I was a little girl. All through high school and college I was obsessed with it—obsessed with learning all I could about every facet of the business. My dream. That meant studying hard, little social life, spending every free moment knocking on doors of TV stations and even radio stations looking for any kind of work they might have available. Shoot, I’d even mop the floors if that would mean a chance to get in the door and behind the scenes. The commitment paid off! Only a few months after I graduated from Kent State University, not far from my home in Northeast Ohio, I landed that first job as a reporter in little Erie, Pennsylvania. Excited is an understatement. Then—oh boy. Reality set it. A career in TV news is not easy. It means moving from city to city leaving behind family and friends, working nights, weekends, holidays, working in the snow, rain, and blistering heat. And, I can’t tell you how many times I had to hide behind police car doors, covering a standoff with the bad guys, knowing bullets could fly at any moment. The danger is real. Also, when you begin in TV news, the pay is a joke. I was broke for years. The more I learned the truth about the crazy industry though, the more I knew for sure I loved it! I also knew eventually it would have to get easier. About five years in, it did. I landed a job back in my home state of Ohio, surrounded again by family and friends, working my way to the anchor desk with decent hours, finally making respectable money. And, who knew I’d meet THE guy in Youngstown, Ohio? I got married. On “cloud 9.” Everything was perfect.
Then, on Christmas morning 2003, expecting a houseful of guests, I’m running around taking care of all the last-minute details when I notice there’s a message on our answering machine. Thinking it’s someone calling to wish us a Merry Christmas, I eagerly hit play. That’s when my life changed forever: “Hi, Rick and Catherine —” I had no idea who this woman was. Her tone turned vicious. “Just want to let you know the video from Girls Gone Wild has hit the Youngstown area. You’re being shown, Catherine, or Cathy from Kent, I guess that’s your stage name, everywhere from Channel 21 to Irish Bob’s and Royal Oaks Bar and Grill.”
My heart started racing.
“Everyone has seen you in your full entire. Honey, your days are over. You think you’re such a prissy little b*tch, but your days are over. Have a very Merry Christmas.”
I knew immediately what she was talking about. It was that night in Key West, Florida on vacation with my husband. We were there to celebrate our one-year anniversary—and the fact that I was still alive. Earlier that year I’d suffered a life-threatening lung illness. I went from running a marathon to a hospital bed and lung surgery in a matter of only a few weeks. Didn’t help that when I asked my lung specialist if I was going to survive all he could say was “one day at a time dear.” Those were some long days of not knowing if I was going to live—about three months. Finally, it was determined this monstrous, experimental drug therapy I was on was working. I was going to live. So, heck yeah, we head south to some badly needed healing sunshine.
One evening while strolling the main strip, Duval Street, it hits me. All the college students on spring break are having a blast. Their giddiness is almost contagious. There’s great live music pouring out onto the street from all the bars and eateries, and a warm breeze flowing over the island—life is good! I turn to my husband and say “I’ve got a second chance at life; I’m going to live it to the fullest do things I would’ve never done before.”
That night we walk into a bar we learn is going to host, of all things, a wet t-shirt contest. This thirty-something, “goodie-two-shoes” had never even seen a wet t-shirt contest. Neither did my husband—okay, at least that’s what he says. Suddenly, a man jumps on the stage and starts soliciting women to take part. Still on heavy medication treating my lung illness, in the mindset of “going to live life to the fullest,” I hear myself yell out, “I’ll do it!”
Boy, did I do it. What was I thinking? I’ll never forget that walk back to our hotel room. I was in tears that I could let myself get so caught up in something like that. My husband felt bad too. So, we made a pact: leave it in Key West, learn from it and NEVER do anything like that again. Back then, we had the not so smart cell phones. We were just starting to take pictures with them, but they were very poor quality and no one really knew what to do with those pictures. There wasn’t anything like the social media we know today. There was, however, still the internet—the foundation of it all. Little did I know there were people there that night working for a popular website similar to Girls Gone Wild, documenting it all to sell online.
What that woman in that phone message was telling me was that these disgraceful images of me are out there forever and for all to see. It seemed she was right—my days were over.
The video and pictures went what today we call viral.
I was fired. My dream job, what I’d wanted since I was a kid, what I had worked tirelessly for. A career shattered. The downward spiral would begin. My story became national news as I was hounded by the media, invited to appear on shows like Good Morning America, Oprah, Inside Edition, and The O’Reilly Factor. The theme became “Girl next door turns girl gone wild.” I was chased down in public by people blurting out vile comments. Cars would slow down in front of our house; people would honk their horns and yell awful things out their windows.
It seemed the only escape would be to end it all—end my life. Many nights I’d lay in bed thinking, tomorrow will be the day.
Thank God, that tomorrow never happened, instead, it was faith, family, and friends to the rescue, not just to help me survive, but to help find an inner strength I never knew I had. I fought back. Three federal lawsuits later I got control of my life back again. I was granted copyright ownership to all those images from Key West, giving me legal means to stop the dissemination and get them taken off the Internet. But, when it comes to our digital world, the reality is to some degree, no matter how many times it’s deleted, what is put out there stays out there forever and for all to see. For me, that means my attorneys can’t get to some websites that might be posting the pictures or video on the dark side of the Internet or some obscure sites overseas. That’s something I had to come to terms with. But as I was fighting my way back, a TV station in Cleveland, a much bigger market than from where I was let go, recognized what they called my resolve and gave me the chance to reclaim my TV career.
Working my way up at my new station, more than anything I wanted to separate myself from my nightmare—pretend it never happened. Eventually, it struck me that’s not possible. I realized how much that experience had become part of me, how much I learned from it, and how much I don’t want something like what happened to me to happen to anyone else. Sadly, people from all walks of life, from teens to middle-aged professionals, suffer this new brand of humiliation, online humiliation, daily. It ruins lives. It ends lives. After reading news stories from the anchor desk of so many young people taking their own lives because of this troubling trend, eventually, it hit me that I have a story, a success, and survival story, that might give hope to others in danger. I have a story that might make a difference.
While I still work in TV news on a freelance basis, I started my own business with a mission in mind. With the branding “FOREVER AND FOR ALL TO SEE,” I put my on-camera skills to work on a new level with speaking events nationwide, and put my writing skills to work as an author. I use my story, as well as a number of other true tales, to both caution and inspire others. On the cautionary side, I offer insight on how to better protect yourself, personally and professionally from an online nightmare. On the inspirational side, I share what I call my P.A.C.T. strategy for rising above online torment. It is survivable. I’m heartened to be living proof.
Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way? Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
Health challenges can certainly get in the way of anyone’s career or dreams. I had my share. First, in my early 30’s it was discovered I was born with a severely defective heart. What was supposed to be a quick visit to my doctor to get treated for what was a simple cold/flu virus, turned into news that I needed open-heart surgery, and soon! It was shocking and frightening at the time, but ultimately, not only did the surgery save my life, it gave me a much better quality of life. I never knew I had heart disease, instead, I just thought I was always more tired than most people, and sub-par when it came to taking part in any kind of sport. A year after that surgery I was able to complete my first of 13 marathons.
Then, only a couple of years later, I developed a lung disease that would make the heart ordeal seem not so bad. The illness was very rare and took some time to diagnose. I’ll never forget laying in a hospital bed and having to struggle to breathe. I’ll also never forget the doctors who were baffled by what was happening with me, and finally coming up with the right experimental drug therapy to pull me through.
Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I wear a lot of so-called hats: speaker, TV anchor/reporter, author, on-camera coach, and business owner. Of all I do, speaking events are what I enjoy most. They’re such a great way to connect. What’s unique about my primary keynote is that it resonates with groups of all kinds and all ages. Anyone who spends any time online, or takes part in our digital world on any level, finds value in the presentation. It’s easily modified and customized to match groups ranging from high school and college students to small business owners, executives, and a vast variety of organizations. It does its magic in smaller intimate settings as much as it does in a packed conference center.
It’s difficult for me to say I’m “proud” of anything I’ve accomplished. More appropriate would be the word grateful for everything (good and bad). That happens to be the topic of my other keynote presentation. I truly credit help from “above” as well as tremendous support and love of family and friends in guiding me through my journey and toward success. It sure does make me feel empowered, though, to experience that transition from tumult to triumph. Most importantly, I’m deeply grateful God gave me the courage to forge ahead. It’s not easy to share my story, I have to take a deep breath every time I do. Every time, however, I walk away with an indescribable sense of satisfaction.
With that, what makes me different from others who are experts in the area of online image/reputation management is that after living through global online humiliation, I know what it’s like firsthand. Even better, I know what it takes to get past it, to rise above, and ultimately find value in the experience. But the idea is to avoid falling victim in the first place, of course. What I went through makes me more aware than most about the degree of mindfulness needed, online and off, to protect yourself, personally and professionally from an online/social media disaster. That allows me to offer actionable steps on how to do just that. When all it takes is one misstep in the presence of the wrong cell phone camera, one tweet, text, picture, or email gone wrong or misinterpreted to change someone’s life in the worst way. No one is immune. No one thinks it’s going to happen to them until it does. No one knows the pain until it’s theirs.
What do you think about happiness?
That’s simple. Even the smallest sign that I may be making a difference fills my heart! I believe in the saying “everything for a reason.” That’s what makes me committed to making every experience life throws my way, good or bad, count for something. We all have unique victories and defeats that hold true value, not only as learning experiences in our own lives, but also experiences that we can share to guide, inspire and caution others. So, as I share my primary life-changing experience, when there’s that special smile from an audience member during one of my speaking events, that touching thank you during a handshake or hug afterward, or a quick email acknowledging something I shared on the stage, or in my book truly resonated in some way with someone, I know I’m doing exactly what I need to do. I’ve made a difference and couldn’t be more appreciative that I’m blessed with a platform to do exactly that.
On the personal side, I’m most happy just hanging out with my husband on a lazy day doing anything and everything spontaneously, from going for a long ride to nowhere in particular in the summer to a winter day when we stay in, cook, watch movies and laugh at our cats. We don’t get enough of those moments. That’s followed by time with the rest of our family and friends and any chance I can get to run or workout.
- Email: Catherine@CatherineBosley.com
- Website: https://catherinebosley.com/
- Instagram: CatherineBosleySpeaks
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/catherine.bosley.142
- Twitter: @cbosley19
- Other: https://shop.catherinebosley.com/product/forever-and-for-all-to-see