I recently reflected on my personal and professional development growth with one of my colleagues. I went over my 2018 professional goals and was pleased that despite a heavy workload I had accomplished quite a bit. I also acknowledged and expressed concerns about the sustainability of the pace.
Over the weekend, I started replaying the conversation over in my head. Something hadn’t felt ‘right’ in the conversation but I had brushed it off at the time. In my
As a Black woman, working with mostly white people I have learned that the rules I need to know are never explicitly stated. Like, I don’t need to know about PTO and dress codes. Those are written in the handbook. I do need to know how unspoken rules about when to take time off and what attire is actually acceptable.
I quickly learned that those unspoken rules were actually things to change so I could be more like my white peers. The message = stand out less, blend in more. The senders of the message have been white women, white men, and Black men. Honestly, I even get it from myself.
You talked too much in the meeting [from a Black male corporate partner]
You ask too many questions? Why can’t you just trust me [from a romantic partner]
You apologize too much. [ from a white woman executive]
You should not say ‘if I can be honest’ because it negates everything you’ve said before. [from a Black male community leader]
You really shouldn’t say anything because they might think you’re not a team player. [from ME]
Yes, all of these leaders have gone through professional development that makes them feel confident that they are giving me sound advice. And, sometimes they could be right. But what I realized in my conversation is that rarely do I get any constructive feedback, just tips on how to not be too much/smart/vocal/strong/ etc.
Real talk: none of them has walked in my shoes as a Black woman so they have zero understanding of the tools I use to navigate my professional and personal lives.
Truth: As a Black woman, I have spent a ridiculous amount of time thinking about my words and actions.
This year, I decided to not do put as much emotional labor into thinking so much about what I would say and how I come across. I realized that the stress of that labor was having a negative impact on my mental and physical health. Instead, I looked inward this year and focused on my personal development. And I still had a dope year professionally! While I appreciate the acknowledgments of my peers, I am personally noting the things I did that I know contributed to my overall success:
- I took vacations;
- I was healthy this year and did not need to take any sick days;
- I showed up more consistently for my BestSisters;
- I maintained boundaries with loved ones about where I spend my time and money;
- I kept up with my planner;
- I made time to write;
- I more regularly went to bed before midnight;
- I stopped trying to fix things before/unless being asked for support;
- I proactively sought more outward-facing (i.e. public speaking) opportunities; and
- I said ‘no’ when I meant it.
I have not been perfect in any of these 10 areas.
And still I rose…
I showed up for ME in 2018.
I was afraid of letting people down.
I was oftentimes reluctant to be more bold.
And yet I moved…
I still have a LOT of work to do on ME. I’m proud to say that for the first time in a long time I have the emotional bandwidth to think about me. Next year is going to mean big changes for me personally and professionally. Once you see the possibility of freedom, you cannot go back.
The overarching theme of my growth this year was dismantling whiteness. I put down the mantle of whiteness – in my career and my personal life. However, I still struggle to not be defined by whiteness. Thankfully, I am more fully able to walk as a Black woman in all spaces of my life. I am not cowering to hide my Blackness in all its forms.
I no longer have to explain myself. I am no longer chasing the ever-moving target of approval. I can continue to do an excellent job while also serving my community and showing up for my family in healthy ways. I do not have to justify when, how, and why service to others fills my bank to overflowing. And I can do all of that while being Blackity Black.
I’m curious, how are you growing while Black? What are you learning about yourself?