My Quiet Victory

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Ironically, I’m secure with “myself” when it comes to choosing (and chasing) my life’s goals, but being “myself” - like comfortable-in-my-own skin-while-being-myself-self…. has been hard. Why is that? Why is hard for people to be themselves? Not getting into that today on this post, but its definitely a question in the back of many of our minds. 

My struggle with being my authentic self no matter the environment,

I think stemmed from this belief that everyone is judging me. Growing up, in spaces I didn’t feel “cool” enough, I remember trying to downplay things about myself that I thought made me seem nerdy like denying the fact I was bookworm, or using slang because I “talked white”. In spaces where I was one of few or the only black person, I’ll admit I code switched, made a conscious effort to avoid doing things that I thought my white counterparts would perceive as “black” - checking my black vernacular at the door, avoiding styling my hair this way or that way, or eating my anger because I didn’t want to be the “angry black woman”. In both examples, I spent so much mental energy on trying to mold for my environment, that I missed out on reaching my full potential in those spaces because I was too busy pretending to be someone else. Lets be real - Acting is a full-time career - so either I should change my career or stop that shit.

In my own therapy, 

we’ve noticed that I spend an enormous effort and time trying to avoid being negatively labeled, whether it's with stereotypically black labels or being labeled as the “bad” imperfect, girl — (which is a concept that is a psychoanalytic view that links our current dilemmas with dilemmas from our childhood). I hate being labeled! So much so I’d overthink the things I said, how I said them, where I sat in the room, who sat next to me, why no one sat next to me, how many questions I’d ask, what I’d wear, how’d I style my hair, what color polish I’d wear, what lip color to wear, what shoe to wear, how to speak, how loud to speak, how soft to speak, to say that “black” word or figure out the “white” equivalent… and on and on and on. Notice none of those questions I’d ask myself had to do with me. My day-to-day behavior was lead by what I’d thought others wanted from me, thought of me, or expected from me. But why? It’s protective. What if I was labeled? What would happen to me? To all I’ve built? To my future? There are many things that this could be protecting me from - which I explore in therapy. But as I write, it stands out in my mind that I”m protecting myself from the unknown and the assumption that what’s around the corner is the worst possible scenario. 

With that, I’m (slowly) learning, we are all coping with the fear of the unknown. The unknown is just that - the unknown and no matter what I do or don’t do, the unknown will always exist. The very existence of the unknown is some scary shit. And since it exists and its frightening regardless of me, my very act of thinking I can protect myself from the unknown is ridiculous. At the most superficial layer of the “fear of the unknown”, it’s the assumption that one bad decision is the slippery slope into a life of misery. While this can be true, lets be honest here, how I style my hair or choose to speak, probably won’t cost me my job. And if it does? It definitely won’t cost me my life - Hell, it may lead me to live the life of my dreams - will leave that concept for another day. For now, it seems that all this effort of molding to my environment is actually not as useful as I’d imagine. 

So my quiet victory …

I’ve been dabbling with self-expression in the workplace for the last few months. Whether it’s to dress more fashionably, our wear long braids, grow my nails longer so I can have perfect almond shaped, blue colored nails, I’d do them because they make me happy and because I wanted to - SIMPLY THAT.  So I figured I’d test out if the slippery slope to disaster was around the corner because I’m a nerd and I do love experiments! Well, what did I find? I felt happier AND no disaster has struck me yet. But also something else - that others either didn’t notice/care or they celebrated me and my wonder. And no one said anything negative, ironically. While my theory that all of this stuff was in my head to begin with, so far has been true. Feeling happier and in touch with myself and my own desires while noticing no one really gave a f*ck, gave me the quiet confidence that if someone labels me (which people do and they likely will or have already), so the hell what! I’m still out here living my best life, in a career that I earned and gave everything I had to obtain, and I’m happier and more confident while being comfortable-in-my-own skin-while-being-myself-self! It’s a no-brainer!

Figuring out ourselves is hard enough. The victory is in realizing that peace in our hearts and minds is tied to being ourselves whenever (and wherever) possible AND being comfortable with the choices we have made. So more red lip days and gold bobby pins in my daily life. My reality and yours is important and good and perfect too!

 

Jessica Clemons, MD

#askdrjess