Religion, Relationships & Corporate America
What does it mean to truly be yourself? Do you show up transparently honest in your friendships, in relationships? In business? The more I talk to folks I realize that most people can recall some circumstance or environment in their life that caused them to suppress the fullness of their being. Most often in these moments, no one directly asks you to adjust who you are, it’s just something you do. You take the external cues and you adjust to fit in; to feel like you belong, to assimilate if you will. Because who doesn’t want to feel included?
These adjustments of your authentic self can happen in the blink of an eye and often without one conscious thought. I’d like to believe that no one wakes up in the morning and declares “Today, I’m going to be a total FAKE!” LOL. At least I hope not. In contrast, losing yourself is a slow progression. One tiny subconscious choice after the next compounded over time and one day you won’t even recognize who’s in your mirror. What I’ve discovered is that the journey to being your true, authentic self takes intention and a certain stroke of effort.
BAABYYY, let me tell you I fumbled, failed, and fought my way to authenticity. I lost myself, found myself, and lost myself again (Rinse and repeat) before truly learning how to JUST BE ME. And it turns out that time and time again, JUST BEING ME is not just cool, it’s actually the secret sauce that opens doors for me. I am enough. As I am. With all my quirks, my natural hair, brown skin, grown woman weight gain, strong opinions, slang talking, book reading, outgoing self. All the things!
I’ve made so many discoveries in the journey to self-actualization (Which continues, btw) that I couldn’t possibly capture them all here. But this brings me to the title…
“Religion, Relationships & Corporate America”
When I reflect on my journey to authenticity, these are the top 3 things that challenged my expression of who I was and who I wanted to become. In different ways, each forced me to mold myself in uncomfortable ways trying to fit some prescribed expectation. Let’s take a look at my experience with each one.
I love the Lord. I really do, but religion is for the birds. I grew up in a Pentecostal Holiness church. My early church upbringing was loaded with a whole lot of hand-clapping, foot-stomping, and hymn-lining good times. It was also filled with a solid tutelage in the Word of God. I gained a strong foundation and love for Christ that I would not trade for anything. What my childhood church also delivered was rules. Lots of them. Rules about how to dress, what to watch, where to go, and where not to go. A whole lotta rules. As a developing teen, I desperately wanted to please God and do everything just right, so for a stretch of years, I tried my best to follow all the rules. Talk about Exhausting! I found myself on a tight rope that I knew I could not maintain.
What I struggled with the most were the teachings on the humility of a woman. The lessons, as I recall, were that a woman should not be heard. A woman is not made to lead men. I had a picture in my head of a very meek, quiet woman as a woman God would be most pleased with… and I was everything but that. Organic me didn’t fit the mold. I had a big mouth then. I have a big mouth now. I had a huge inner conflict around this.
You see, I found myself in leadership positions very early on. I was the president of my 7th and 8th-grade class in middle school. Then later I was the president of my high school junior and senior class. I was constantly grappling with the leader in me and my desire to also please God by being the quiet woman I was learning about in Sunday school. My authenticity felt like a rebellion against God!
Ultimately, I didn’t learn to be humble and soft-spoken. What I learned was how to modify myself in that environment. What I gained was the guilt of living a seemingly double life. These were perhaps my earliest memories of being in-authentic for a cause. After a while, I knew that the woman God was calling me to be would require me to move on from there. The inner reconciliation was too difficult. In my early 20’s I did move on. I didn’t give up on church or God I simply went in search of other Christ-centered organizations where I could continue to learn but also allowed me to feel more true to myself.
Oooooo boy! This is a big one! If you don’t know who you are before entering a relationship, a relationship can truly gut you. I said CAN. Not WILL. I have some beautiful examples in my life of people who married young and matured and grew together. My parents, being one example of that, just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary! Amazing huh? I’m also happy to say that my 2 best friends on the planet are also happily married. I have had deep personal relationships with both of these women for decades so I can attest to the ways that they have grown since being married. Their husbands are caring men who tenderly nurture their families. They do marriage well. I really have some fantastic relationships close to me. So clearly, my experience does not represent the monopoly.
HOWEVER, FOR ME, with all I’ve been through in relationships, I could literally write a whole book. And perhaps one day I will. But today I’m just going to focus on one small perspective; and that is, losing your authentic voice. And by voice, I mean how freely you express your thoughts, your opinions, and your perspective on things.
Have you ever heard someone say you have to pick your battles? This is fantastic wisdom. It simply means that it’s not wise to speak on every little thing that annoys you. Especially in a marriage. It’s best to learn what things are worth rocking the boat vs small pet peeves that are better left unsaid. For me, however, I know what It’s like when this pendulum swings far too far to one side. I had gotten into a groove in my marriage where for a few years I never spoke up about anything. Why? Because early on I learned that the stakes were too high.
Go with me married folks, y’all know what it’s like when a disagreement or misunderstanding has taken place, and maybe it’s noooot quite resolved. During this time there is an awkward tension in the house. Conversations are limited to necessary questions and 1-word answers. You camp out in different rooms. And god forbid your feet touch under the covers! YIKES! This is a sure indicator that there’s some unsettled business between you. The looming issue can literally take on a presence of its own. Ideally, most successful couples develop a way to prevent, minimize, or work through these moments and get back to a healthy place as quickly as possible.
Well, me and my ex didn’t always work through. The longest bout of silence lasted 6 weeks. 6 weeks in the same house, in the same bed, sitting in the same church, without one single word between us. Absolutely insane huh? After a few episodes of this, I learned it was better not to rock the boat. I wanted good times and good times only. So, I tucked away my opinions and hardly spoke up about anything for years. Did we enjoy those good times I desired? Yes. Was I dying on the inside? Also, yes.
I eventually came to a crossroad where my silence about things that mattered to me couldn’t continue. One day I dug deep inside and dusted off my voice. I was going to speak my truth as often as necessary. I knew there were two possible outcomes from this decision. Either we would learn to work through things together or the end would be near. Well, he’s my ex now.
Let’s be clear, no one forced me into silence. It was something I subconsciously (or consciously) began to do to make things feel better. I was terribly untrue to myself just to keep the peace. I learned my lesson here, albeit painful. Lesson learned. You better believe I freely and effortlessly speak my truth these days.
I’ve heard people joke that marriage is for grown folks. It’s so very true.
The 3rd big bad thief of authenticity for me was navigating corporate America. I have a wonderful corporate career that I genuinely love but this didn’t come easily. This one is probably most grounded in the authenticity of my race. I grappled with how to show up in a predominately non-black workforce as a Black girl from Philly. I do technical work and I’m usually the only Black person on my teams. Insert my tendency to use slang when I speak. Insert my huge afro curly hair. It’s a familiar formula that many young Black women must learn to work through in their careers.
It’s not that I didn’t feel good enough because I knew I was. I’m fortunate that the work I do doesn’t lend much room for interpretation. Either it’s good or it’s not. My work stands for itself. The challenge was managing what happened in my own head when I realized no one talked like me. Or making peace that my entire physical presence was so much different than everyone else. Big hair will certainly make you feel like you stick out… because I really did stick out, physically. For a long time, I tried to fit in by taming my hair and speaking more eloquently. Ugh! That was probably the fakest I’ve ever been y’all! LOL
Those were the early days of my career. In time I matured, and these things became much easier. All except 1 thing. I must admit that as recently as 2 years ago I found I was still modifying how I speak. I had to check myself. I did the internal work and I settled into an honest sweet spot where I could be professional AND still be authentically me. When that all came together, the glass ceiling lifted right before my eyes. It turned out that lacing my presentations with a little slang pushed me higher and higher in my career. How about that!
Perhaps I was a late bloomer on these concepts, but I surely have it now. The message is this… In everything you want in life, there is no greater flex than being authentically you. Never play small for humility's sake. God doesn’t require that. Speak your truth in love regardless of the consequences or what may be lost when you speak up. Show up as you are. You are enough.
I write these words in hopes that some young person will step into their authenticity more effortlessly and a whole lot sooner than I did. Here’s to being YOU!