“What I Wish You Knew” is a series of essays written by Sparq colleagues. Each heartfelt narrative delves into an aspect of their personal journey that they’d like their fellow colleagues to learn from.
Why am I always exhausted after a day of work? No, it’s not because I have an hour commute. It’s not even because I have four daughters at home. Why then? First off, I must say, I’m not bitter. I’m truly better each day; not because I continue to routinely conform, but because I am slowly learning to find my voice, my full self, and bring her to work each day. I would love it if we could stop talking about our anxiety and frustrations regarding race and sex. But right now, as a whole, that’s impossible. But right here and right now, I am trying to be the change I want to see in this world, and hopefully sharing my story will help at least two people – someone to better understand me after reading this and myself, as I take another bold step towards letting down my guard and healing by sharing what it’s like in my world.
So, let’s return to why I am exhausted.
I often spend my days working towards perfection, all the while second-guessing my responses and making sure to tailor those responses for each audience so I don’t give off any stereotypical vibes or make anyone uncomfortable—my comfort, or lack thereof, irrelevant. I am constantly monitoring my surroundings; I tend not to wear t-shirts too many times a month so I appear professional. I debated for months about wearing my natural hair because I know for some people that is a defining characteristic of who I “might” be. I try not to talk too loud or laugh too loud to draw unneeded attention to myself. I don’t like it, but one small choice can be the only impression someone gets of me. And I try my best to make sure it is not one that supports any stereotypical behavior or thoughts. I sometimes feel as if failure is expected only to confirm the preconceived notions about the black community.
It’s exhausting, but I have to keep talking about it.
I call what I do survival mode. Burn-out, code-switching, imposter syndrome are all fairly new terms to explain what I often feel every day of my life, but it’s not often an option, just a requirement for sanity and survival. I try not to show emotions, especially anger or irritation. I never cry because I don’t want to be seen as weak. I am firm in my speech, but I am airy in my words, and most, if not all of my words, are encased in a smile. Because, I cannot be too firm or too harsh, because I can’t bear being called an Angry Black Woman. Like most, I am careful with my words and actions because often my actions and words will reflect on people that look like me, whether or not we have anything in common outside of our gender and race. I am not claiming to be completely selfless. I am saying that I am cautious.
As a black woman, my actions represent an entire community. I am fully aware of the stereotypes, and I try to tear them down one by one by not reinforcing them. All the “extra” work I put in also comes at a huge cost.
I struggle often with a huge amount of self-doubt, and I put more pressure on myself than I could ever imagine sometimes. I still get paranoid and second-guess every word that comes out of my mouth, despite all of the hard work, time and dedication I put in to have this career. I shy away from taking credit for my hard work by believing people will see me as selfish and show-off, instead of a confident team-player. I deflect when someone commends me on doing a great job, usually downplaying and equating it to something that didn’t require any time or thought on my part.
I’m often afraid to ask for anything from anyone because I don’t want to be seen as too difficult or demanding — a stereotype often used when black women assert their needs. I am qualified to do so much more, but I am not vocal enough for the exact same reason—I don’t want to be too difficult or demanding, so I wait patiently to be offered an opportunity. Often dropping subtle hints but never directly asking for more.
What makes this so exhausting?
This isn’t just the pressure from outside sources. Oppression and offense are two-way streets more often than not. I often feel that I am putting more pressure on myself and assuming the outcome than anyone else ever could or feels the need to do.
Self-sabotage is real. It’s sometimes really difficult to differentiate between lack of opportunity and standing in my own way for growth.
Truth is, I’ve become conditioned to defeated thinking, and I am personally responsible for most of my exhaustion. I have to be willing to be my whole self and give people a chance to know me. Not the “me” I’ve decided they need to meet—a me built of fear of what may happen and the hurt of what has happened in the past. I also owe it to myself, and anyone else, to take a chance and get to know them. Remembering that my biases, unconscious, or from past experience, do not apply to everyone with whom I come into contact. I sometimes forget to let people write their own stories with me starting with a blank slate.
The ability to stand out or the wisdom to blend in, you may say that’s growth and evolving. To some extent, I agree, but each time I grow and evolve for the comfort of others, I risk losing more of me. As confident as I truly am, and as confident as others see me as; I still struggle some days to bring my whole self to work.
The best part about it all is knowing I am a work in progress and recognizing and sharing my struggle is half the battle. Oh, and knowing that, without a doubt, this is a battle I am sure I can eventually win.