Yesterday, I broke down in tears as I considered my newest part of my journey- moving upstate on Wednesday and starting a new position as a director of a cultural center. I thought about my past failures, the past attempts to break my spirit, the heaviness of the weight of being a Black woman in position such as this in the current climate, and how I even ended up in this position to begin with. I cried.
Do not misunderstand me. I am beyond the moon to be starting this role. It is a honor. This position speaks to my calling – to serve my black and brown sisters and brothers, to educate, to be an activist, and give voices to the voiceless. It also represents a major promotion for me. It is much more exciting and challenging than my current job. But I am afraid and anxious.
The past two years have been rough on a sister. I spent a year in a job that was not healthy for me. I spent that year listening to others tell me I wasnt good enough, I shined too brightly, I was too joyful, I didn’t belong, and dismantling all of the good things I once believed in myself. I spent that same year battling racial battle fatigue, fighting invisible, yet omnipresent, systems of oppression which often left me thinking, “am I the crazy one?”
After some intense therapy sessions and 9 months, I began to realize that I could not stay, nor did I need to. My trauma past (personal and racial) had led me to believe, albeit erroneously, that enduring pain and fighting through it is how I prove my worth, and that I must do that. It leads to staying in painful situations way too long as I think to myself, “I must prove to everyone that I dont give up and that I am good enough.” It also reinforces to myself that I am not good enough, because it sends a message that “I will not protect you through pain because you must be better. Your trauma is your fault. You aren’t good enough and/or this is how you earn worth. And everyone’s needs are far more important than yours.” I told myself we could not do this anymore. I job searched and took the first job that I landed.
It was a smart move to leave. I don’t regret it. But the next year, I spent my time trying to fit into a puzzle they wasn’t even my box. And you know what they say – a fish will think it’s stupid if its measure of intelligence is climbing a tree. I spent a lot of time trying to figure out why it wasn’t working, even though in my head it seemed easy enough (I’m sure the fish felt this way looking at monkeys climbing a tree). I felt utterly useless and incompetent as I watched others soar. I was already a bit wounded from my past year, not fully healed (nor did I recognize my need for healing as legitimate) and this was salt to injury. And I did what I always do – I overworked to prove my worth. And once again, it did not help. Jamming a puzzle piece into a wrong puzzle does not make a puzzle come together. It creates a very ugly, mismatched picture.
In the meantime, I was suffering in other ways – socially, financially, and health wise. I had no friends within a close, “I am stopping by and having a meal” or “let’s go shopping” kind of way for a year. And building those friendships was near impossible in a place like NYC. I struggled to maintain a decent lifestyle in the city, and my health suffered. I developed illnesses, blood pressure would not lower, and I have developed all kinds of gastrointestinal issues alongside chronic hives (these are the worst). All of these things aren’t from my job alone, but I had a moment where I had to stop and think, “what is really going on, LeAnna?” I realized that I wasn’t fulfilled. And I realized how much I was allowing the past two years, along with a complicated trauma history, dictate my worth.
I remember being told by a friend that I wasn’t being fulfilled professionally, because I was playing it too small and safe. I kept taking positions that were easy and I knew I could do, only to find myself in those roles bored, unchallenged, or not using my greatest skills. I told myself in a stern “talking to” that I knew what my skills were and that I needed to use my strengths to feel like I was giving my talents to the world. And so I started a much more targeted, selective, and intentional job search. And within a matter of two months (and many rejection letters), I landed my newly anticipated role.
And I am so afraid and anxious.
I am afraid I will fail, that they made a mistake, that I am inherently unlikable, that I will bear the burden of representing all people of color, that I will be too loud, that I will have to job search again in a year, that all those things people said about me are true, that I can’t be authentic, that I will again become a shell of who I am.
The anxiety is real y’all.
So yesterday, at a conference, I took all that into a Black Woman healing sister circle. The divine energy in that room was powerful. I cried within 2 min of being in there, and although I planned to remain silent, within 10 minutes was sharing my load with 55 sisters I’ve never met. I was a bit ashamed, but also relieved. I was met with love, celebration, and understanding. And wisdom, so much wisdom.
I think as Black women we understand the heavy weight we pick up and rarely set down. We do not take our lives lightly. We understand what it means when we take on new roles – mother, sister, daughter, lover, friend, wife, even director. I think what we must understand more, is that we can lay that weight down in order to rejuvenate every once in awhile, and we can ask our sisters to help us carry it when they are stronger. I leaned into that yesterday. I felt some shame, not going to lie, but it was necessary.
“When you feel anxious, you also feel excitement. It’s two sides of the same coin. It’s all mixed in there,” the facilitator softly, but affirmatively, said into the mic. This was after my wise older sister pulled out an article about change and showed me that change, no matter how good, isn’t easy or without weight or some not so good feelings. “It’s all normal. Everything you’re feeling is normal,” she said.
This is something I know. But it was a timely and gracious reminder for me. I am anxious because I understand the magnitude of this accomplishment and its ability to transform my life. That I have an opportunity to impact lives, use my strengths, and be fulfilled. And because of very real reasons, I’m afraid and scared. I’m also overwhelmed and so maybe I can’t always feel the excitment, not because I’m not aware, but because I am rightfully so experiencing everything I should be experiencing (and trust me, telling me to think positive or be grateful is not helpful – just please don’t. It is very frustrating and I am aware of the other side of the coin). I am allowed to feel both positive and negative emotions about ultimately, a wonderful thing. It’s the same coin. Those two statements were gifts for me. They were the gift of me being ok and permission to feel what I felt.
My last note is this. My life hasn’t been easy for all kinds of reasons. And the past two years have been tough. And it’s so easy to say, “don’t let you past define you.” But as a therapist, I call bullshit. Of course, it will define you. You are constantly shaped by your past. I think for me, I’d offer to myself, allow your past to teach you, shape you, but never bound you. For myself, this is more doable. I can apply and do well in a director position in spite of that, because I can be afraid and do things anyway. I can love myself in spite of messages saying I shouldn’t, even if it is harder than if that wasn’t my past. I can feel everything and still find joy and peace. Things can define who I am today without being the sole person that I am. I can make lemons out of lemonade. And that makes life a little easier for me, at least today.