We’ve all been there; the job is working your very last nerves. There is too much work to do and too little time to do it. On top of that, you have no time to spend with your family and friends and your social life sucks. It’s not just you. Over the last couple of years, many people I know have walked away from “good” jobs in pursuit of self-care, personal peace, and mental stability, myself included. In fact, The Mayo Clinic has identified “burnout” as one of the primary causes of workers leaving organizations. The lack of work-life balance, combined with impossible expectations, isolation, lack of autonomy, and chaotic office environments has been too much to bear for some, while others have decided to stick around, hoping for change. If you are part of the latter, keep reading for three ways to keep your job while maintaining your sanity.
Ease into your day. In the fast-paced world of work, stepping into the office usually kicks off a tornado of activity where everything seems like a priority. Without proper time to prepare for your day, before you know it, stress, anxiety, and frustration can overcome you, curbing your enthusiasm and making you less efficient. Instead of creating a whirlwind of action, decide what must be done today by spending the first hour of your day reviewing emails, deadlines, and deliverables. Be realistic. Do not overextend yourself. Once you have a clear plan, get to work on the top priority items and if you have time left in your regular workday, tackle some of the tasks that are lower on your list. Interruptions and impromptu requests will come. Be prepared to say no to anything, barring an emergency that will keep you at work past quitting time. According to this Health Guide article, setting boundaries and learning to say no are two of the many ways to prioritize your mental health on the job.
Hang out with your colleagues. Anyone that knows me is well-aware of my history of apprehension about fraternizing with co-workers. Over the years, I learned that being antisocial in the workplace worked to my detriment. With so many studies done on the impact of isolation at work, it is no wonder inclusion is often paired with diversity and equity when leadership attempts to improve the employee experience. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs lists Love and Belonging as number three in the five-tier model of human needs. This sense of acceptance is so important, that it falls just behind physiological needs such as food and clothing, and safety requirements. Instead of working in your own silo, invite a co-worker to lunch or to happy hour after work. If that is a big ask for your personality, try small talk at the water cooler. Interacting with others can break up the monotony of the day and build a support system. You don’t have to become besties with the people at work, but forming meaningful and authentic relationships in the workplace is something we should all strive for.
Find new ways to do old things. A lack of control over the work you do can leave you feeling powerless and bored. The fifth item in Maslow’s Hierarchy is self-actualization. This is defined as the desire to reach one’s full potential, to grow and learn as much as possible. Discovering ways to be autonomous within the boundaries of your role can create a new appreciation for your work, provide fresh challenges to overcome, and give you a sense of pride in your accomplishments. Getting your creative juices flowing will breathe new life into an otherwise mundane task.
Trying these steps before deciding to move on could be a recipe for success in your current role. That said, there are some jobs that are just crappy. Know the difference. If the work itself is burning you out, implementing the practices can help. However, if your employer is just toxic and the culture doesn’t align with your morals and values, perhaps it’s time to move on after all.
Unless you have been living under a rock for the past several years, you have heard something about the disagreement between the Comedienne, Mo’Nique, Oprah Winfrey, Lee Daniels, and Tyler Perry. I am going to focus mostly on Lee Daniels, as he was the most vocal in impacting public perception of the actress/comedienne.
Mo’Nique starred in the 2009 film,Precious, alongside Gabourey Sidibe. I will not go into the details of the movie since the trailer is linked, but to make a long story short, Mo’Nique was paid $50,000 for the role. At the time, no one had any idea that Precious would turn out to be an epic success, eventually winning the star an Emmy. As the buzz spread around the world, Mo’Nique was asked to travel far and wide to promote the movie. None of these responsibilities were included in her original contract and Lee Daniels, the film’s Producer, neglected to offer any compensation for the change in the scope of her work.
The actress refused to do additional work that she was not being compensated for and was immediately labeled “hard to work with”, “bitter”, and “angry”. Eventually, these stereotypes placed on her led to her being blackballed from the film industry for the last twelve years. To add insult to injury, when Steve Harvey invited her on his show to discuss that matter, he chastised her about how she addressed the matter, belittled her, and minimized her complaints. Mo’Nique’s words fell on deaf ears as public opinion had been formed based on the misinformation primarily pushed by Lee Daniels. Mo’Nique had her career stripped away in the blink of an eye for demanding to be paid for the work she was expected to do. Her “attitude” and her mouth were blamed for the loss of her livelihood.
Most people would have crawled in a hole and wallowed in self-pity, but not Mo’Nique. Now she was truly angry. That’s the thing; Black women at work are often treated in a way that would logically make any human being upset. When we finally do get mad, the bias is confirmed and the narrative set. In 2020, Mo’Nique filed a discrimination lawsuit against Netflix. Mo’Nique had been offered $500,000 for a comedy special on the streaming platform, while her white counterpart, Amy Schumer had been offered $11 million. In addition, Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle had received $40 million and $60 million respectively for their own specials. Mo’Nique believed that she had been underpaid due to both her race and gender. Prior to filing the lawsuit, Mo’Nique attempted to renegotiate the deal and was denied the opportunity. The case is still pending with the last update in 2020; Netflix attempted to dismiss the case and was denied.
Apparently, 50 Cent’s voice carries weight because after twelve long years, Lee Daniels showed up to her comedy show in Staten Island, New York to apologize. He admitted to blackballing Mo’Nique and corroborated her story. After over a decade of being called a liar and constantly victim-shamed, her experience had been validated. The negative words commonly associated with Black women that refuse to stay ‘in their place’ had disappeared. Mo’Nique had won. But in a show of absolute humility, she immediately accepted Lee’s apology and hugged him. I applaud her for that because I am not sure how many people would have been so receptive after what had happened to her. As a show of good faith, Lee cast Mo’Nique in his upcoming Netflix film, Demon House, giving her the first appearance there since she filed the lawsuit against them.
Mo’Nique was validated and celebrated. Watching her win back everything she had lost was emotional for me because I know so many Black women that never get that chance. Most end up rebuilding their confidence and personal brand over several years with no admission of wrongdoing from an employer and with no powerful ally willing to vouch for them publicly. This situation eventually worked out, but many of us are still giving Lee Daniels the side-eye. It’s a shame that it took another powerful man to finally get him to do the right thing. Because of that I have to question his authenticity, but there are a few lessons employers can take from this situation:
Pay employees for all the work they do – If the scope of a job changes, compensate your employees for the additional work they are doing. According to this Gallup poll, in 2018, 43% of employees believed they were overworked and underpaid. With the Great Resignation in full swing and many Gen Z and Millennial workers willing to jump ship if they are not appreciated, pay and equity are crucial in retaining good employees and maintaining the stability of your organization.
Believe Black women – More often than not Black women in the workplace are put in a position of being both the victim and the advocate when treated unfairly at work. At first, they report an incident or pattern of behavior. Next, they are disbelieved and forced to advocate for themselves. Eventually, they are labeled “angry” or “difficult” because they refused to back down. In this Harvard Business Review article, the following paragraph stands out for me:
Dothe right thing… Even when no one is watching – It should not take over a decade for an employer to admit they are wrong. In fact, covering up the mistreatment of an employee should never occur. On one hand, most employers get away with it on the surface. On the other hand, other employees are watching and taking notes on how you treat people that work for you. They are fully aware and will be much more prepared when it is their turn to address an issue. A testament to this is that over half of American workers do not trust their employers when reporting workplace issues. Treating everyone at your organization with respect and dignity allows space to work issues out confidentially, avoids legal proceedings and EEOC complaints, and most importantly, signal to others that you are truly a good person, even behind closed doors.
Do not make assumptions – I can already hear some of you saying, “But all of the participants in this story are Black, so Mo’Nique couldn’t have been discriminated against.” I know it seems like a logical argument… if you are not familiar with internalized racism/oppression. To sum it up, those suffering from this affliction have a desire to distance themselves from their own race, so adapt the same stereotypes and racist practices as those of oppressors. They tend to view themselves as “one of the good ones” and have a strong desire to be accepted by the majority. The fact that two people are of the same race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, etc., does not make it impossible for one of them to discriminate against the other.
Like many other Black women watching, I am happy to see Mo’Nique finally getting the apology and opportunity she deserves. On the flip side, I am skeptical (but hopeful) about the authenticity of the reconciliation. In the end, I would love to see those in control of our livelihoods take heed and do much, much better than Lee Daniels did in relation to Mo’Nique.
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I’m a nurturer and a fixer. I always have been. Over the years people around me have come to know me in that way. I wore it like a badge of honor. If there was a problem that needed solving, I jumped right in and took it on as my own. If someone was in financial trouble, I was the first person they called. I was unofficially in charge of keeping my extended family connected. But my responsibilities didn’t stop there. At work, if I believed someone was being treated unfairly, I intervened. It didn’t matter what the cost was to me and my career. I felt I was strong and had a duty to stand up for those that could not advocate for themselves.
Then 2020 came. I was overworked in a job that took a lot with little reward. Covid was running rampant and my nine and eleven year old were doing online school. After managing kids all day, dedicating up to sixteen hours to my career, and attempting to carve out time to connect with my husband, I had nothing left to give. Still, when family, friends, and associates reached out in need of help, I sprang into action, providing advice, encouragement, and financial support.
I looked in the mirror and saw bags forming under my eyes, had trouble sleeping, and really felt like something was missing in my life. I was angry and negative. I believed I had been used by everyone and that they needed to pay for taking me for granted. I stayed in that negative space for months. Then at the end of 2021, it hit me. What was missing in my life was me. I had been so wrapped up taking care of people and in how I was perceived by others that I had neglected my own self-care and ignored that little voice inside me telling me I was doing it wrong.
I began to focus on myself and what made me happy. I’ve often told others that when a plane is going down, the flight attendants tell adults to put their oxygen masks on before helping their kids. Unfortunately, I found myself not practicing what I preach. Some changes needed to be made. I started thinking about what I wanted out of relationships versus what I was getting out of relationships. From there I came up with a list of relationship characteristics that will ensure I am creating healthy boundaries and being supported in the same way I support others:
We show up for one another personally and professionally – Everyone needs someone for something from time to time. Being the go-to person around the clock is exhausting. Make sure the the relationships you are in are recipricol. Connecting with people should be about give and take. Whether you need advice or just to vent, there should be people in your life that are available to you.
We check on one another – You should not always be the first to reach out when you haven’t heard from someone in a while. Relationships that only survive due to a one-sided effort are not worth it. Form authentic connections with people that care aout you and your wellbeing and exhibit that through actions.
We share information and resources – Nothing is worse than a friend who tells you all about their successes in life but intentionally withholds information that can help you in your quest for greatness. Surround yourself with people who want to see everyone around them win. Crabs-in-a-barrel mentalities are a recipe for dysfunctional relationships. There is enough room at the table for everyone to eat. Make sure everyone you align yourself with shares that belief.
We speak life into one another – There are two kinds of people in this world; those that kick you when you are down and those that reach down and lift you up. I prefer the latter. You should be able to talk about your mistakes and failures without the people that proport to love you piling on. Associate with those that offset your negative feelings with words of affirmation.
We are honest and authentic – While speaking life into friends and family is important, it is equally imperative that we tell them when they are in the wrong. Transparent, respectful dialog is key to healthy relationships. Criticism should be constructive and not belittling. Be specific when giving negative feedback and provide achievable solutions. When criticizing others, act with empathy and tact and do it privately. Speak up when you feel slighted. Even with the best intentions, some will take offense and tune you out. Those people just may not be your people and that’s okay.
We support without gossiping – Friends and family share their deepest darkest secrets. A lot of the times, it’s either implied that the conversation should stay private or said outright. That doesn’t stop the person on the receiving end from sharing with a significant other or heading over to a different circle of friends to share the juicy details. The practice is hurtful, disrespectful and disengenuous. Keeping confidence is a rare commodity these days. Be that human being that others can trust and make sure the people you are venting to are ethically sound.
We celebrate wins together – There are some people in this world that will compare every success you achieve to their position in life. They secretly despise you, while smiling in your face and hoping to outdo you. I have never understood this mindset. I love having people that inspire me in my presence. There is a saying, “If you’re the biggest fish in the pond, find a bigger pond.” Be in the company of people that love to see you prosper and be willing to drop anyone plotting on your downfall.
We take accountability, learn, and grow – The most important thing you can do for everyone in your orbit is acknowledge when you are wrong. Many people struggle with this. I have in my younger days. As I’ve grown, I’ve learned that taking accountability and apologizing when I am at fault frees me from the burden and gives the other party permission to forgive. I’ve seen many relationships crumble as too many things were left unsaid and unacknowledged. Get the elephant out of the room and communicate so everyone can learn and grow from life’s lessons.
I once saw a meme advising to stay away from “still” people. Still complaining. Still broken. Still jealous. Still not growing. Still living in the past. Still making excuses. Birds of a feather flock together and if you continue to keep negativity in your world, it’s sure to rub off on you.
Applying these rules to every relationship I have has been life-changing. Removing takers and negative people from my life has changed everything. I no longer carry burdens that do not belong to me. I take care of my needs first, filling my cup so I have something to pour into those that deserve it. Life is to be lived and I am intent on living my best life.
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Another day… another prominent Black man is using his blackness to garner support from Black women. Let me start by saying that I have no problem whatsoever with interracial relationships. I believe that all human beings are entitled to and should love who they love. I do have a problem with Black people justifying their self-worth by their proximity to whiteness. In addition, nothing bothers me more than those same Black people getting shunned by the white people they have aligned themselves with and returning to the Black community for support in their self-imposed plight.
I remember when Kanye West first hit the scene with his College Dropoutalbum. He was raw and gritty, from the streets of Chicago, had just survived a terrible car accident that inspired his debut single, Through the Wire, and had been raised by his mother, Donda West, for whom he had the utmost love and respect. We could relate, as most of us had been through or knew someone who had experienced some aspect of his life. He was the ultimate story of overcoming. Black women’s reverence for him was further solidified when he dropped his single with Jamie Foxx, Gold Digger. One verse, in particular, caught fire:
“So you stick by his side. I know there’s dudes ballin’, and yeah, that’s nice. And they gonna keep callin’ and tryin’, but you stay right, girl, And when you get on, he leave yo’ ass for a white girl.”
I couldn’t personally relate to the lyrics and could not have cared less who any man chose but knew this was a strong narrative circulating amongst Black women. The belief that some Black men would stay with us while they struggled, using our loyalty to grow and flourish, then move on to white women when success hit was hurtful to many. Kanye understood. He, too, could relate. He put Black women’s pain to pen and paper and hit a gold mine. I was skeptical, as I knew the history of people using Black pain and suffering for profit.
Fast forward to today. Kanye is in the midst of a messy divorce from Kim Kardashian. His unstable behavior over several years had led to the decline of his marriage. Last year we watched as he begged his wife to take him back. She seems to have ignored his pleas and since then, we have seen him publicize his co-parenting drama time and time again. Then today, Kanye issued the following statement on Instagram:
Divorce and co-parenting problems are not new or exclusive to Kanye West. With almost half of marriages ending in divorce, it’s entirely possible that many of us have experienced the same. Expressing one’s feelings on social media is the new norm. Although not ideal, many people do it to gain support, get sympathy, or simply to vent. But something about this post really bothered me.
The use of the word “BLACK” and the context it was used in feel inauthentic and in my opinion, take away from the real problems that Black people experience. In the first instance, Kanye talks about claims that he put a hit on Kim and how easily these false accusations can impact the lives of Black men. You have to be living under a rock to not understand the impact of police brutality on the Black community and the frequency of Black men being locked up, based solely on the testimony of white women. Although this is a valid concern, I believe Kanye is bringing it up to exploit the emotions that Black women feel when confronted with racism and injustice against Black men. It’s common knowledge that Black women are at the forefront of the fight for racial justice. He knows that and is using that for his own personal benefit, whether warranted or not.
In the second instance, Kanye uses the word “BLACK” in reference to his children, implying the need to protect them. Black women have a history of being viewed as nurturers and living up to that stereotype. Whether being forced to care for the families and nurse the children of slaveowners while ours went neglected, and even feeding our broken and battered men from our breasts when they were deprived of food or the expectation that we are the empathetic caretakers in the organizations, Black women are often given everyone’s burden to carry. When it comes to children, especially Black children, our natural inclination is to protect them from the unique dangers they face in this world. As the son of a Black mother, Kanye gets this. Instead of dealing with his marital woes like a man, he is using his platform to lay his problems at the feet of black women. Words have power and he is yielding that power to play on our emotions.
As a man with the resources needed for whatever legal custody battles he faces and undoubtedly, a team of “yes” men and women surrounding him, ready to jump at his every beck and call, there is no financial support that we can provide him in his time of need. But that’s not what he is looking for. What he needs is our anger, our empathy, our maternal instincts toward his Black children. Kanye wants to win in the court of public opinion and he wants to enlist the help of Black women to wage emotional warfare on his soon-to-be ex-wife. Make no mistake about it. There are some of us that have already internalized his plight and decided that we are ready to get in the trenches to protect this man against the racial injustice he is apparently facing. I am not one of those women and you should not be.
In recent times, self-care has become a 10 billion dollar industry, buoyed by the realization of Black women that our first obligation is to ourselves. We have awakened to the idea that it is not our job to save every Black man that needs saving. Kanye cannot launch a successful career off the backs of black people, say and do hurtful things to those same people, and return to them for support when it’s convenient. He made the decisions that he felt were best for his life and career and has to lie in the bed he made. Most of us get it and take the situation and his obvious pandering to Black women for what it is… gaslighting. My hope for all of us is that we save our energy for those that deserve it and live up to the responsibility they hold as influencers. Let’s prioritize ourselves and ignore the chatter. Don’t be sucked into situations that do not involve you, protect your energy, and certainly do not allow toxic and conniving men of any race to use your Black Girl Magic reserves to fill their cups while leaving your tank on empty.
People are often surprised when I tell them that I just obtained my bachelor’s degree in 2021. Because I appear to have progressed through my career seamlessly from the outside looking in (far from true), people tend to assume that I have an extensive formal education that paved the way. However, my non-traditional way of navigating to a six-figure career has been filled with triumphs, roadblocks, learning, experiencing, overcoming, and giving up at times.
In the past, much relevance has been placed on degrees obtained at prestigious colleges. With the information age in full swing, e-commerce on the rise, and Covid-19 forcing many out of the workplace and into remote settings, the importance of traditional education has declined, while the value of individual learning, experience, and personal development has come to the forefront. Of course, getting a college degree is a huge accomplishment and should be celebrated but the world is starting the realize that there are alternate ways of gaining the knowledge needed to excel at work.
I have had many experiences, good and bad, throughout my career. There have been so many valuable lessons and I have used those to create a list of ways to build value in your career without enrolling in a university. In this post, I am only focusing on things I have done to further my corporate career so will exclude things like apprenticeships, internships, etc. Those are obviously viable options but I am only listing avenues that I have experienced.
Many industries look for candidates with specialized skills. Over time, that pursuit has led to the creation of certifications that provide proof that the candidate has mastered the skills needed to do the job. As a Payroll and Human Resources professional, I have obtained certifications from the American Payroll Association, The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), and The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Each organization has provided training and study tools to help with obtaining certifications. They also offer memberships that include notifications to keep you up-to-date on industry changes. Whatever your career choice, search for specialty certification in that profession and after obtaining it, keep connected so you are always current on the body of knowledge. Some other advantages of joining these professional associations are the seminars, conferences, webinars, and the availability of mentorship.
CROSS-TRAINING AND IDENTIFYING OPPORTUNITIES
Prior to establishing my expertise in Payroll and HR, I was working in customer service. One day, the Payroll Specialist and her manager had a disagreement and she quit on the spot. I was asked if I knew Payroll and I answered, “No, but I’m sure I can figure it out.” I worked late into the night and got payroll processed. What I learned from that experience is that when a chance to grow presents itself, I should always be ready. I got into Human Resources the same way; opportunity knocked and I answered. Even now, I love to write so within my role, I take advantage of any task that involves writing. Know what your interests are and as long as you are meeting or exceeding expectations in your day-to-day work, make time to learn in preparation for your next role.
BOOKS, E-BOOKS, AUDIOBOOKS, VIDEOS & PODCASTS
With so many different mediums available to find information, it is easy to come across exactly what you’re looking for. Amazon has books and e-books on any subject you can conjure up. You can also find them in places like Barnes and Noble or whoever your book retailer of choice is. If you’re like many people who do not have time to sit and read a book, listen to one. Audible is my go-to for audiobooks. I keep a subscription and listen to at least one book a month. In addition, they offer podcasts on varying subjects that you can take advantage of. For the video aspect, I absolutely love learning on YouTube. No matter the topic, I have solved so many problems by watching videos from different content creators. Whatever platform you choose, there is an infinite amount of information at your disposal. Take advantage.
Subject matter experts are found everywhere. Now that the misconception of teachers in school being the only people you can learn from has been rightfully put to rest, the ability to create valuable content around expertise has expanded to everyone with a specific talent. There are several online platforms you can invest in to further your education. LinkedIn is well known as a professional social media. There, you can showcase your resume, references, networking skills, and anything else related to your career. A lesser-known service that is offered there is LinkedIn Learning, where a simple entry into the search bar returns a plethora of courses in your area of interest. This is a paid platform included in a premium membership. Udemy was first introduced to me as a professional development platform included in benefits at a former employer. I found the courses so useful that I continued using the service after I moved on. They, too, offer either a monthly subscription or you can pay a small fee for each course. Another great continuing education service is Coursera. They are a little different than the aforementioned spaces as in addition to courses, they work directly with some universities and companies to provide certificates and degrees. They can be more costly than the others, but if your plan is to get your degree or certification without student loans or heavy debt, it could be perfect!
BUILD RELATIONSHIPS WITH POTENTIAL MENTORS
Denise Benson passed away many years ago, but I will never forget her. Not only did she give me my first opportunity in what turned out to be a lasting career; she wholeheartedly believed I could do a great job at whatever task was put in front of me. Having someone to learn from, bounce ideas off of, and advocate for you is pivotal when you want to advance your career. Performing well and building relationships with people in power that can vouch for your work ethic while showing you the ropes is a priceless weapon in your arsenal when climbing the corporate ladder. I am not saying pursue executives and members of the leadership team in hopes of getting them to co-sign your desire to move up in the company. I am saying that you should find commonalities with people around you. Get to know them and take advantage of informal opportunities to connect and build authentic relationships. Happy hours, coffee mornings, potlucks, etc. can be fun, but they can also be beneficial for building a great support system in the workplace.
SHOOT FOR THE STARS AND LAND ON THE MOON
My grandmother used to say that a closed mouth doesn’t get fed. She was right. I have listened to countless employees complain about all of the work they were doing while not being compensated appropriately. There are people around you that have no idea of how cumbersome or complex your workload is. On the flip side, there are others that notice the additional tasks you have taken on and are happy to continue to use you while saving money by not hiring for your additional job and not raising your pay to match your work. Either way, you have to speak up for yourself. Think of yourself as your own PR and an activist for your rights. Standing up to leadership can be scary as it is a moment that can and likely will shape the relationship moving forward. Seek guidance from your mentor, circle of professional friends, be reasonable and open to other perspectives. Years ago, I was recommended a book by Kerry Patterson called Crucial Conversations. I have called on what I learned so many times to help me navigate tough situations in life. Making your intentions known can benefit you in many ways. Even if your demands can’t be met right now, a roadmap on how to get there can be created.
There are situations where no matter how much you bring to the table, your value will remain unseen. Let’s say you have the experience and expertise and are able to satisfactorily perform the duties. You have sought mentorship and opportunities, have met any time thresholds required for your current position before promotion, and have let your organization know about your desire to grow and develop. They still ignore your requests. It is likely time to move on. According to this CNBC Article, switching jobs is an effective way to boost your income. The average annual increase is about 3% while switching jobs can net a 4.3% increase. Still, those numbers are modest as I have personally witnessed colleagues denied a well-deserved promotion move on and receive salary increases upwards of 40%.
A degree had been on my bucket list, so I went back to school and obtained it but in all honesty, it has not changed how employers see me. There is no substitute for on-the-job experience, discipline, continuous self-improvement, and a willingness to set learning and career goals. Be willing to do the work needed for advancement but also be willing to move on if the company you give your all to fails to see how much of a commodity you are.
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For years, some of us have been taking steps to build our careers while also taking care of our families and finding the time to pursue our passions. The journey has led to exhilarating highs and the lowest of lows. Making sure to meet and exceed expectations at work, at home, and within can lead to extreme burnout, especially when success is achieved in each area.
Burnout can leave you feeling tired, resentful, and can even paralyze your progress, causing you to fail in important areas of life. Recognizing the early signs of burnout is imperative to assessing your work/life balance and setting priorities.
Success is a double-edged sword. Most people find it difficult to practice self-care when they are riding high on success or pursuing it. Forming healthy self-care habits can help stay ahead of potential problems. Allocating time to do the things you love is one of the best things you can do to keep burnout at bay. That’s why I’ve decided to create a Protecting Your Peace in 2022 blog series. I want to remind all of us grinding and hustling for success to make ourselves the priority. Here are 10 ways to prevent burnout this year:
Be on the lookout for warning signs. Burnout affects people in different ways. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and are lacking the energy necessary to perform your work. Or perhaps you feel sad and stressed out, unable to sleep due to worry or the inability to shut your mind down. There are also physical signs to be aware of. Some that I have personally experienced are blurred vision, headache, and sensitive eyes. This came from spending hours on end in front of the computer for an extended amount of time and neglecting breaks. Whatever negative impact you are experiencing, these are clear signals that you need to stop and assess the impact the daily grind is having on you.
Take regular breaks. One thing that I have let go of this year is the need to prove my value by overworking and skipping breaks. Any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, stuck or just need to take my mind off of working briefly, I just do it. A 15-20 minute break can make all the difference between being your most productive and spinning in place. When you feel burnout creeping up, take a break and rest, go for a walk, or do something you truly enjoy. Giving yourself time to clear your mind is key for your health and well-being.
Find a consistent sleep pattern. Studies show that people who do not get enough sleep each night are more likely to burn out. If you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, unable to focus, lacking concentration, or routinely suffering from headaches, it may be time to adjust your sleep schedule. Everyone varies in how much rest they need on a daily basis, but most experts agree that 6-8 hours is the minimum amount of sleep necessary to function in a healthy way. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time everyday creates consistency in your body and reduces the stress of having to constantly adjust to changes in your sleep pattern.
Make regular exercise an essential part of your life. Regular exercise reduces stress and increases energy. With many of us juggling so many things in life, working out can seem like an inconvenient chore. However, the benefits of routinely raising your heart rate and working your muscles is immeasurable. It does not have to be strenuous exercise. Whether you are taking a brisk walk, raising your desk to stand for portions of your day, or just stretching, it all counts! Since adding a brief workout to my everyday routine, I have noticed less stress equating to less exhaustion and headaches.
Set goals and take action. In order to get to your destination, you need direction. Establish goals and take some action in pursuit of them each day. Knowing exactly what you’re working toward makes it easier to get your day started. I set daily goals that roll into larger goals that happen over time. Once I meet the day-to-day goals I have set, I give myself permission to stop working. I intend to meet those self-imposed obligations each day, but from time to time, things come up and I can’t. In those cases, I move the goal forward to the next day, forgive myself from the miss and still prioritize my rest and rejuvenation.
Don’t try to do it all. Being a one-person operation can be overwhelming. I used to believe that unless I did something, it would not be done right. By changing my mindset to vetting, trusting, then verifying, I have been able to release some of the pressure I had created for myself. No one is expected to know and be everything. It is okay to delegate to coworkers, hire an assistant, find a nanny, or pay for a cleaning service. Trusting someone else to help with your workload will free up time for taking care of yourself. It will also help you think more clearly and creatively. Never feel guilty for making free time a priority. Allowing time to just be is as important to your success as hard work and discipline are.
Identify the problem and fix it. If you have already exhibited signs of burnout, knowing what to do about it is the logical next step. You need to take some time to reflect on what is creating the feeling. Is it your work? Do you need additional training? Is your job impossible for one person to perform? Do you need to move on? Is your family life filled with drama? Are you suffering from illness? Once you know exactly what is ailing you, the necessary solutions will begin to present themselves and you can take action to heal.
Go on a vacation. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. A change of scenery may be just what you need to restart your engine. Plan a trip by yourself or with people that you enjoy being with. Go for some fresh air, shut out any responsibilities, dance, eat, sit on the beach, and return feeling refreshed. Whether you take a simple road trip or hop on an international flight, dedicate the time to being in the moment and temporarily letting your worries vanish.
Self-care should be ongoing. Some of us wait until burnout arises to decide on practicing self-care but recharging your battery should not only happen when it’s dead. You don’t just wait until your car has a problem before you take it in to the dealership. Preventative measures are taken to keep mechanical failures away. Think of yourself as a high-end car. You need routine maintenance to stay strong and healthy, regular analysis to detect any potential issues, and the tools on hand to fix those troubles.
Establish boundaries. Over the years, I have inadvertently developed a caretaker persona the extends from my personal life into my career and entrepreneurial ventures. Part of this has been giving to others when I had nothing to give to myself and allowing people to use my time and resources without consideration of the impact on me. Making people around you aware of your boundaries and enforcing them is the biggest thing you can do to protect your peace. In the workplace, let leadership and your colleagues know that you are not working around the clock. You deserve to have set expectations surrounding work/life balance. In your personal life, stop letting your family and friends come to you repeatedly with the same issues. There’s a thin line between being of service and enabling problematic behavior.
Being successful is not about doing whatever you are asked no matter the consequences on your mental, physical and emotional health. Success is about making sure you have the time to do what is important to you and ensuring that you have a healthy and balanced life inside and outside of the workplace. Implement some of these tips into your life and see the positive changes unfold.
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Several years ago, a colleague walked up to me and started firing off questions about Kwaanza. As the only black person working in the office, she assumed I would have in-depth knowledge of the holiday. I didn’t know whether I should be offended by the assumption or embarrassed that I knew absolutely nothing about it. Either way, I decided to do my research to enlighten myself about the meaning of the celebration.
Kwaanza is a secular holiday that takes place annually over seven days from December 26th to January 1st. It was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African-American Studies Professor, specializing in Pan-Africanism, in response to the Watts Riots. The goal of the Kwaanza celebration, according to Karenga, was to “Give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Originally thought of as a replacement for Christmas, which Karenga deemed a “white holiday”, many now celebrate Kwaanza alongside Christmas. Karenga believed that celebrating African cultural norms that pre-dated American slavery was a natural part of our evolution a necessary tie back to our stolen history.
Kwaanza is a Swahili word meaning “first fruit”. It originated from the Nguni people of South Africa and the ceremony was a sacrifice of the first fruits of the harvest to God(s), who they believed was responsible for the abundance of food. It symbolized a time of prosperity after the agricultural season. Kwaanza is represented by the Pan-African colors; red, green, and black (yellow is often incorporated as well). The rituals performed during the holiday promote African tradition and are based around Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage”. The seven principles are represented by the Kinara, a candleholder with seven red, black and green candles. Each day one is lit until all have been used. Whatever your personal beliefs, there is no downside to implementing this celebration for your family. Personally, I try to practice these year-round but having a focused celebration on the importance of each is an excellent way to keep your family moving in the right direction. The thought of starting something new can be daunting, so to simplify, I have listed the seven principles below, along with how my family aspires to celebrate each:
Umoja (Unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. On Day One, December 26th, my family takes part in a game day where we play games that require us to work together. In addition, we talk about struggles and either listen or offer suggestions to overcome them.
Kujichagulia (Self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. On this day, December 27th, we take the time to write down words that represent who we are and how we want the world to see us. This includes listing what is important to us, what he have learned and done in the current year and what we would like to achieve in the upcoming year.
Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Day Three is a continuation of Day Two; today we review the the self-determination items and collectively come up with ideas to help one another. We brainstorm ways that we can help each other reach the goals for the upcoming years.
Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. My household family is full of creatives; I write and create/sell products, my husband is a filmmaker/producer and videographer, my twelve-year-old is a YouTuber and my 10-year-old is a avid TikToker. In addition to their regular jobs, my grown children make music. On Day Four of Kwaanza, we spend time generating ideas, timelines and even working on projects for our collective businesses. The goal is to spend at least an hour focused on each individual’s ventures. In addition, we go over topics like, building credit, financial responsibility, wealthbuilding, equity, and provide funding for everyone to make a small stock purchase.
Nia (Purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. Day Five is all about learning. With our goals and business ideas fresh in our minds, we focus on books, videos, and any other learning materials that can be beneficial in our success. Even whe nothing directly correlates, we spend the day reading, writing or watching movies related to our history or of eductional value.
Kuumba (Creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. Day Six, the last day of December and of the year, we focus on giving back. We either go clean up an area in need or prepare and hand out post-holiday meals to those in need.
Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. My family likes to start Day Seven, the final day of Kwaanza and the first day of the new year, by either listening to positive affirmations or reciting our own. We believe that faith and the Law of Attraction go hand-in-hand. What we believe, we will achieve. We end this day with gratitude by delivering gifts to our parents and elders who have been supportive and influential in our lives.
Food, of course is a staple throughout the entire celebration especially on the final day of celebration. On January 1st, we prepare a meal consisting of traditional soul food such as ox tails, greens, dressing, jambalaya, and cornbread, combined with some of our favorite Ethiopian recipes such as lamb dishes, veggie platter, including Shiro Wot and Misir Wot. Each year, we plan to add a new African recipe to our feast. These meals are included in our New Year’s Day gift deliveries.
With a global pandemic in full swing, violence at an all-time high, and mental health issues becoming more commonplace, any reason to keep family close, build together and support one another is a welcome reprieve. Whether you take some of my ideas or come up with your own unique ways of celebrating, incorporating these tenets can be the start of an epic 2022. Start small with just you and your household. From there, you can start to include more family members and create meaningful and beneficial experiences for all. Happy Kwaanza and a blessed and fruitful New Year to you and yours!
I can recall the very first time I came to the devasting conclusion that a co-worker I had spent time with, built a bond with, and treated like family was not my friend. I was working in Payroll/HR at a construction company, and she was a Project Manager. We hit it off immediately, going to lunch on a daily basis, supporting each other through family issues and work-related matters. She even helped to host my baby shower. Naturally, when I began to realize I was underpaid and overworked, she was my biggest supporter… privately. I shared my conversations with my manager, my stresses and frustration regarding what I felt was a discriminatory workplace. She listened and agreed, seemingly upset that I was being treated unfairly. The workplace situation escalated when I was “laid off” while on maternity leave due to a supposed reduction in force. It turned out that the company had decided to replace me with the owner’s niece, who I had trained to fill in while I was out. They also paid her appropriately. My co-worker/friend provided me with details about the office after I left the company, noting that there was no reduction in force and the owners of the company simply wanted to employ their own. This, of course, prompted me to take legal action.
After meeting with an attorney, my former employer had their company records subpoenaed. This included all email correspondence. To my astonishment, my friend at work had been passing all of our conversations along to my manager. I scanned email after email that detailed all of my personal business I had discussed with her. She had been rewarded for her loyalty to the company with an increase and promotion immediately after I left. After finding this out, I contacted my former co-worker and she was speechless, offering no explanation for her betrayal. I didn’t need one, really. She had used me and my situation to look out for herself. She apologized, but I ceased any communication with her. The situation landed in my favor, but the damage had been done. Over the years, there have been attempts by her to reconnect and I have rejected them because there can never be trust in our “friendship” again.
When friendships formed at work go awry, it is not always this dramatic. There are, however, variables in place that can prevent the relationship from being authentic. Workplace relationships are usually formed from compatible personality traits or a shared experience, whether good or bad. Either you are in the trenches together and form a bond or you are in a toxic environment and lean on each other to make it through a tough time.
The problem with believing that you and your friend/colleague have compatible personalities is that most people do not bring their authentic selves to work so whether you actually know your co-worker is questionable. What’s important to them? Is it equality in the workplace? How about opportunities for advancement? Does money motivate them? Do they know how to form healthy, functional relationships? I cannot count how many times I thought I knew what was important to a co-worker only to be surprised by their actions. As a dedicated activist for diversity, equality, and inclusion in the workplace, I have connected with many people to help them through trying times. Those connections have led to friendships. But I’ve noticed that once their trials and tribulations are over, the friendship we had formed was not the same. Sure, if they are in trouble again and need support, they reach out but is that really a friendship?
Let’s talk about human psychology. In my last blog post, Black Women: Stop Going Where You Are Not Welcomed, I talked about a psychologist, Abraham Maslow, and introduced Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The illustration below shows the five human needs represented in this theory, starting at the bottom of the pyramid. As you move up from the foundation, each need must be met before moving to the next. One necessity cannot be fulfilled unless those beneath it have been achieved.
Once the physiological needs (food, clothing, and shelter) have been met, the safety needs, including employment, resources, and property must be met before we even think about friendship and social interaction. I would even submit that the physiological and safety needs are interdependent as you need money and resources to obtain basic needs. Let’s face it; no matter how much you love what you do or how good you are at it, most people work to provide for themselves and their families. Employment and resources equal financial security and stability and will always be a primary concern. To further exemplify this, in an article by Employment First Florida, the top two reasons people work are listed as money and independence.
To add to Maslow’s Theory, another psychologist, Frederick Herzberg, developed the motivation-hygiene theory illustrated below. The idea is that the hygiene factors on the left must be fulfilled before the motivation factors on the right can even be considered. The motivation factors are what people need to be satisfied and happy in the workplace assuming the basic hygiene factors are met.
Although “relationships” are listed as one of the hygiene factors, once relationships are established, they can be impacted by the quest for achievement and advancement. Simplified, it’s highly likely that despite your friendship with your co-worker, if the possibility of losing a job, opportunities for achievement, recognition or advancement come into play, they may through you under the bus, drive over you like a speed bump, then throw the bus in reverse to make sure you are dead. Even more will play both sides against the middle, telling you what you want to hear while simultaneously using your situation to benefit themselves. Since you, too, need your basic needs met, it’s important to consider the why in workplace interactions. Be friendly. Be cordial. Be easy to work with, but also be reasonable. Always bear in mind that everyone is there to fulfill one of their basic needs and everything else is secondary.
With that said, I will tell you that I have met some awesome ladies in the workplace and been able to maintain authentic, supportive friendships outside of our professional connections. The landscape of those relationships has changed because we are no longer having a shared experience in our careers, but the common denominator is that we have things in common that have nothing to do with our jobs. In addition, when we did work together we were upfront, transparent, and never created an element of distrust. From a Human Resources perspective, I can say that often, friendships that start in the workplace fall apart when tested with the possibility of losing stability and resources or the introduction of an opportunity. Choose your close associates wisely and set boundaries. Remember that a listening ear is close to a running mouth.
People come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. When you figure out which it is, you know exactly what to do.
I usually don’t write about pop culture, but this story caught my attention for many reasons. Yesterday, I came across an article on Yahoo by way of HelloBeautiful. The post talked about an incident that occurred at E11even, a nightclub in Miami. A group of black women was waiting to get in and apparently being bypassed by the doormen. Cardi B approached to make an appearance and the women advised her that they were being discriminated against. After being made aware of the situation, Cardi proceeded to “advocate” for the women by chanting, “Let them in!” until the men at the door relented.
Although we can all appreciate the Latina rapper stepping in to make sure these women were able to drink, dance, and party the night away. As a black woman, I experienced some serious secondhand embarrassment. Before I get into the reason for that, I would like to say first that Cardi B has no obligation to stand up for me or you or anyone. With that said, instead of leading a “Let them in” chant, I would have preferred she left a club that refused service to any people of color and took her talents and fans elsewhere. But I digress.
Black women throughout history have fought for the right to be seen, heard, and treated fairly and equally. We have protested for the rights to vote, read, write, against police brutality, escaped the horrors of slavery, and came out of Jim Crow and segregation. We have come from some of the worst circumstances to become who we are today. The stakes have been high, and we have always risen to the occasion.
Today is a new day, though. Collectively, black women are becoming well-aware of their worth no longer settling for mediocre treatment, and foregoing inclusion in spaces that make us feel like an outsider. Whether it be a job that is devaluing us, a relationship where we are settling for less than we deserve, or establishments that make it clear that we are not a part of their target demographic, we are just saying no. So it astonishes me that a group of grown women stood in the face of rejection with such low stakes and collectively begged to enter a nightclub that did not want them there.
I get it; human beings have an overwhelming need to be accepted. According to this thoughtco.com article explaining Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, human beings have five requirements to be happy in life:
Physiological– food, shelter, and drink. These are the basic things you need to survive. Without meeting this need, nothing else matters.
Safety – the need to feel safe from harm and have stability in a predictable environment. Without feeling safe and meeting your basic needs, it’s difficult to consider less pertinent necessities.
Love and belonging – this applies to romantic relationships, family, friends, and social circles. People must feel loved, accepted, and included.
Esteem – self-confidence and feeling good about oneself along with being valued by others. We need to feel that we matter and that our contributions are valued by others.
Self-Actualization – the feeling that we are walking in our purpose; the idea that we are doing exactly what we are supposed to be doing.
Assuming that the women that pleaded to be granted entry in this nightclub had their physiological needs met, my guess is that their actions were taken in pursuit of love and belonging, and esteem. From code-switching to attempting to meet Eurocentric standards of beauty, black women have long felt the need to fit into spaces we were never intended to be in; despite what we thought about ourselves we felt forced to compete with the barrage of non-black images inundating our daily lives and labeled the epitome of beauty. Even with our black features and vernacular in high demand, these attributes were still unacceptable when paired with black skin. A lot of progress has been made and black women have decidedly shown up authentically wearing natural hair, full lips, and covered in black girl magic. Even still, there are many of us that want to be accepted into circles that are not interested in us. Some of us want to prove we are special by getting validation from places that have forsaken us in the past.
These ladies waited outside in the December cold, overlooked and ignored, imploring a woman who has allegedly been colorist toward women that look like them in the past to throw them a lifeline. They were finally admitted as a negotiation to secure the presence of the said non-black woman. Perhaps they felt the need to be included in the social circle that E11even represented or maybe they felt that entering this business would prove to everyone around them that they were among the women that were considered beautiful by the patrons and staff. Either way, it was a sad sight to see. The disappointment I felt in my heart for these women that settled for being treated like second-class citizens while contributing to the offender’s bottom line was heavy.
I will sit in my house alone for the rest of my life before I allow myself to be marginalized, disrespected, or mistreated anywhere. But I don’t have to. There are people and places that respect and appreciate black women. There are social circles that you will be welcomed into with open arms; cultivating your sense of belonging and boosting your self-esteem by connecting with people that wholeheartedly believe that black is beautiful.
Below are a few resources with black businesses to frequent and support. A simple Google search will turn up many more. We no longer go where we are not welcomed and in the words of the amazing High Priestess of Soul, Nina Simone, “You’ve gotta learn to leave the table when respect is no longer being served.”
Over the past several years, the term “Imposter Syndrome” has inundated social networking platforms like LinkedIn. Imposter Phenomenon was first introduced in 1978 in an article entitled, “The Impostor Phenomenon in High Achieving Women: Dynamics and Therapeutic Intervention” by Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes. The idea behind imposter syndrome or imposter phenomenon is that despite overwhelming evidence that you are competent, you doubt your skills and abilities and have a constant fear of being exposed as a fraud. You attribute your success to luck or the ability to deceive people into believing that you are smarter than you actually are. Wikipedia provides a detailed description here. Imposter syndrome is usually used to refer to women in the workplace but also occurs in men and in interactions outside of work.
I wasn’t aware of the term in my early twenties but clearly recall the first time I doubted myself. I was working in a Payroll department with no manager so decided to apply myself and take on manager duties. The CFO of the company was happy with my performance, so much so that they decided not to hire a manager for over a year. As the company grew, the need to expand the department became obvious, so the role of Payroll Manager was opened. I had performed all of the duties and done them well, but to my surprise, an external candidate was selected and I was completely overlooked. To add insult to injury, I was enlisted to train the new manager to take on the duties I was already performing. When I got up the nerve to confront the CFO, I was told that although I could perform the job, they were still (after two years) trying to determine whether or not I was a cultural fit for leadership at the organization. As the only black woman working in a company full of white men and sprinkled with a few white women, I read between the lines and understood that I was too black to be promoted.
Despite understanding what had gone unsaid in that situation, I began to overthink every single action I took during my tenure. Maybe I should have gone to lunch with co-workers more. Could I have smiled more? Is it possible I could have handled even more work? Was I “angry” or “aggressive”? Perhaps I was not as smart or talented as I thought I was. Despite being fully aware that my skills and abilities in payroll were exemplary and receiving confirmation from numerous outside sources, that self-doubt stuck with me for several years. I would refrain from applying to positions I was qualified for and stay in roles I was overqualified for, constantly working above my title and pay grade. I was afraid of rejection; scared of finding out that I was stupid and didn’t know it. Even after realizing my worth, I continued to battle with “superiors” who wanted to keep me in my place throughout my career.
I believe the term “gaslighting” originated from George Orwell in his book entitled 1984. If you haven’t read it… Whew! You really need to. But a great explanation of gaslighting can be found in this NBC news article by Sarah DiGiulio. The article defines gaslighting as someone manipulating another person into questioning their own perceptions, recollections, and reality. The manipulator is essentially telling the victim, “Don’t believe your lying eyes.” It’s a form of emotional abuse and usually occurs in relationships, whether professional or personal, where there is a power dynamic. Sometimes imposter syndrome starts internally. Other times it is imposed on you by outside sources. External gaslighting from those in positions of power can cause you to believe that your success was a fluke or that you are pretending to be something that you are not.
Imposter syndrome is not an equal opportunity condition. As a matter of fact, according to this Equality Matterswrite-up by Sheryl Nance-Nash on BBC, women of color (specifically Black and Latinx) are impacted by this far more frequently than their white counterparts. With less than five percent of corporate board seats held by women of color and virtually no black women heading up Fortune 500 companies, it’s no surprise that there is an overwhelming sense that we don’t belong when considering roles in leadership or submitting our candidacy. Even more often, we are allowed to do the work but denied the recognition and compensation associated with it.
It is vitally important to differentiate between authentic imposter syndrome and being gaslighted into believing you are an imposter. A feeling of self-doubt prompted by being the only one, the first person that looks like you to be in the position, coming from a non-traditional background, or being unable to relate to the people around you is normal and can be overcome with self-work and personal counseling. But the latter, being told that you are unqualified, not ready, or not a “cultural fit” despite exhibiting competence and living up to expectations is downright abusive. Determining which is afflicting you is important and whatever the cause, taking action is necessary. If your self-doubt is self-imposed, seek help. If you believe that you are being used and abused, speak up and remove yourself from the situation. Your feelings are valid nothing is more important than your mental health. Know your worth and protect your peace.
If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health crisis, the CDC offers connections to various resources here.
If you believe you are being/have been discriminated against in the workplace or subjected to disparate treatment, contact the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission).
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Unless you’ve been under a rock for the last year, you’ve likely heard about the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse. On August 25, 2020, the 17-year-old traveled from his home in Antioch, Illinois to Kenosha, Wisconsin claiming to be there to protect businesses during a protest against police brutality due to the shooting of Jacob Blake. I won’t go into all of the details, but you can read up on it the Rittenhouse case here.
As expected by most of the Black people I know, just a couple of hours ago, Rittenhouse was found not guilty on all charges: First-Degree Reckless Homicide, First Degree Reckless Endangering Safety, First-Degree Intentional Homicide, Attempted FIrst-Degree Intentional Homicide, Possession of a Dangerous Weapon by a Person Under 18, and Failure to Comply with an Emergency Order. Even though acquittals of white men who murder Black people and our allies are par for the course in the criminal justice system, it still hurts. We all know that had Kyle been a Black teen, he would have most likely been acquitted.
Over the past several years, we have watched as murderers were given the benefit of the doubt when killing black people. The Trayvon Martin case reiterated to us that we are exempt from claims of self-defense and subject to harassment based solely on our skin color. Breonna Taylor’s killing confirmed to us that Black women’s lives do not matter no matter how much you accomplish and that the same Stand Your Ground laws that have repeatedly been applied to white men who slaughter people of color would not be applied to her boyfriend. There have been too many cases like this to count, but one thing remains consistent; the legal system was not meant to protect Black people and it is working as intended.
The trauma inflicted on the psyche of Black people is compounded by the routine dismissal of our rights and the absence of justice in the face of clear and intentional murders and assaults. I’ve sat at work time after time, crying at my desk in between meetings and unable to focus because of the emotional toll of the news of yet another unjustified homicide or unwarranted acquittal. I could have used some support in the workplace but found that oftentimes, these matters are avoided and business continues as usual. I want to change that, so here are 3 ways to support your impacted employees.
Cancel Work Obligations – One of the most difficult things to do is put on a happy face while dealing with devastating emotions. One of my first jobs was as a 9-11 operator. When we took a stressful call, the center would offer the opportunity to debrief afterward and take the remainder of the day off. This offer was not just extended to the employee that took the call, but everyone in the center who beared witness. The ability to stop and process emotions is important for the mental health and healing of your affected employees
Onsite Support – Most companies have EAP programs to assist employees in personal situations. Allowing access to this support is important, but should be paired with onsite help during major incidents. Form a team that is aware of circumstances that can potentially negatively influence your workforce and proactively set up the resources needed to address those needs
Monitor & Address Workplace Chatter – Whether your organization frowns on political conversations or not (sidenote: silencing your employees is a bad idea), they are being discussed. I can recall multiple times race matters spilled in to the workplace, causing conflict between black employees who felt betrayed by the system of justice and white employees who considered the outcome to be fair. These communications should be monitored and discussed transparently and any resulting discord dealt with fairly and effectively.
Regardless of your opinion on the case, if you are serious about diversity, equity and inclusion, it is your duty to create a safe space for your employees to express anger, grief, and empathy. Ignoring these matters continues to compound the scar left on your Black employees by generations of unfair treatment and discrimination. Be an empathetic leader, listen, understand and take action to keep toxicity, exclusion and racism at bay in your business.
I don’t know who originated the quote above, but throughout the years, I have made it my own, internalizing it and applying it to every aspect of my life. I strongly believe that everything that happens in life is either a blessing or a lesson. Every success is an opportunity to celebrate and every failure is a chance to learn a valuable lesson; I consider both epic wins. This mindset has been pivotal in my ability to bounce back, reinvent myself, and create new opportunities. I have compiled a list of 8 ways to always win in life, even when it feels like you’re losing.
Change Your Perspective:
In times of challenge, it’s easy to see the glass as half empty. Early in my career, a company I was at suddenly made the announcement that they were shutting down and laying everyone off. I immediately started to panic but when I settled down at home that night, I realized that I no longer had to endure a three-hour daily commute, had run out of opportunities for advancement, and was only there for a paycheck. I enrolled in training courses and secured a higher-level position that paid more, offered growth and provided continuing education opportunities. Every time one door closes, another one opens. You just have to decide on which door to try.
It’s easy to blame other people when things go wrong. Having the ability to be introspective and identify how you contributed to a failure or an unsatisfactory outcome is important in turning that loss into a win. No one is perfect, so there should always be something that you can find to improve on or do better next time. The fact that you survived and are able to look back at the situation is a success in itself.
I used to believe that any time I lost, someone else had to have won. In my mind, there was always a supervillain behind the scenes praying for my demise and celebrating when that prayer was answered. Okay, that’s a little extreme, but you catch my drift. As I’ve grown, I’ve found that there is not always a clear winner and loser in every situation. Sometimes it’s a win-win and in others, everyone is mourning a loss. Putting yourself in another person’s shoes can help to ease anger and emotional baggage, freeing you to find the lesson and blessing.
Stand Up for Yourself or Someone Else:
I’ve always been a fighter. I stand up for what I believe in and refuse to stand by idly watching as another human being is treated unfairly. But when I started my career, I toned it down; as a black woman at work, I was careful not to be labeled as “aggressive” or “angry”. I wanted to fit in and not make waves. Every time I stood down when I should have stood up, I went home and almost couldn’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. It wasn’t long before I decided to be myself; no more going along to get along, no more code-switching or smiling in the face of disrespect, microaggressions, or disregard. Standing up for myself and others taught me to deal with my emotions and conflict effectively, what motivates others and what circumstances to avoid in the future.
I was once working as a payroll specialist but doing the work of a supervisor. When the supervisory role opened up, I figured I was going to be selected; I had proven I could do the job and do it well. My manager thought differently. She hired an external candidate and asked me to train her in her supervisory duties. I asked about why I have been passed over and was told that it was because I didn’t have a payroll certification. That day, I signed up to take the certification exam and began studying. After passing a few months later I moved to a supervisor role elsewhere. I decided that no one would ever be able to hold the lack of credentials over my head again. Even in times where you know you’re being treated unfairly, there are things that you can do to eliminate that roadblock going forward.
Find Clarity & Direction:
One of the first places that I worked for several years was at a cell phone provider. For years, I received accolades as a top customer service rep. I had built my phone persona and no matter how many customers cursed me out, yelled at me, and disrespected me, I stayed in character and did everything by the book. The company loved me. After a few years, employees were notified that the organization was relocating and I got offered a chance to move with them. I recalled the dread I felt pulling into work every day and the willpower and self-control it took to listen to people verbally assault you in one call after the next. I declined and dedicated my efforts to my payroll and human resources career. Sometimes we are well aware that we are not happy with the status quo, but need a push to move in the right direction.
Take a Break:
Nothing is more important than your mental health. In a culture where accomplishments, titles, and wealth rule, finding the time for self-care is hard. As many know, I left a “good job” six months ago. The pay was good, but not what it should have been for the work I was doing. The company was international so I was online early in the morning and late at night to meet with co-workers in various time zones. I had no job lined up and didn’t care. I needed a break. Since then, I have pampered myself, grown closer with my family, rediscovered my love of writing, and released years of stress. You can’t win in life without your health and mental wellness. Your first priority is to take care of yourself. Don’t sell out your God-given talents to make a buck or fill the emotional tanks of others while yours is running on empty. Plan, prepare and take a break when you need to.
Let it Go:
I used to hate when people told me that forgiveness is for me and not for the person being forgiven. I always felt as if I were being too passive by moving on from the transgression. However, the person that had wronged me would be past the situation and living their best life as if it never happened. I finally recognized that I was staying in a negative place and inflicting further suffering on myself. I began to practice the art of letting go. When I encounter something that I consider to be a bad experience, I ask myself two questions: Can I change it? If not, is there a lesson to be learned? If I can’t change it, I take the lesson and move on. If there is a lesson to be learned, I write it down, meditate on it to avoid a recurrence, and move on. If I can find no lesson in it, I stop the proverbial bleeding and move on. Either way, I move on. Erykah Badu famously said, “Bag lady, you gone hurt your back… dragging all them bags like that…” in one of my favorite songs, Bag Lady. The message was about moving on and not carrying excess baggage with you. So change things if you can, take in the lesson and lighten your load.
Whether the loss of a loved one has taught you to love your family while they are still here, you are starting out new with a fresh outlook on life, or you have simply cut your losses and kept it moving, every situation in life has been a stepping stone to get you to where you are today: alive and of sound mind with a world full of endless possibility at your fingertips.
Last night I dreamed that my teeth were falling out. The dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I ran to the bathroom fully expecting to see nothing but gums when I opened my mouth. This prompted me to search do a quick Google search for the interpretation of this dream. I came across a post by Delta Dental. To summarize, this dream is associated with starting anew and insecurities surrounding embarking on an unfamiliar path. The dream analysis seemed to represent exactly where I am in life.
I always felt smart. I read early, got good grades, and when I finally took my first job in Payroll and Human Resources, I expected to work hard and climb the ranks to the top of my field where I could really make an impact. I did my part; I worked hard, learned something new when I identified an area where I was lacking, and always worked well above my title and pay to prove I had what it took to be promoted. In my naivety, I believed that the playing field was even and that everyone that worked hard would be rewarded. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.
I first became aware that I was held to a different standard than my colleagues in my early twenties. I was working a hybrid role as a Human Resources and Payroll Specialist. I caught on quickly and was “rewarded” with more work but my title and pay remained the same. The company grew and decided they needed a manager in my department. Although doing the exact work for over a year and receiving accolades, I applied for the role. I was overlooked and someone with less experience was hired into the role. After it was decided that they could not keep up with the workload, the organization came back to ask if I was interested. I wasn’t so I moved on.
That was not a unique situation. My career progression has come at a staggering cost. Many times, the only way I could be promoted was to apply for a new job. I always hoped that new leadership would see my value and give me the opportunities I worked so hard for. I cannot think of a time where that was the case. My leveling up has always been a hard-fought battle, leaving a bad taste in both mine and my employer’s mouths. They believed I should just be grateful to work for them while I believed I should not have to work two times as hard as my peers in order to be valued.
The beginning of the end of my Payroll and Human resources career came this year. I came into an organization because I believed the CEO was a true ally. This time would be different; he understood the plight of black women in the workplace and was doing something about the inequality, or so I thought. After a year and a half of working at a Director level while being paid and titled as a Manager, I left the company. Right after leaving, I heard the CEO discussing issues such as mine on a podcast and decided to reach out on LinkedIn. I believed that by sharing my experience, I could help to make the company a better place for those that came after me. I thought he cared and would appreciate my insight. Instead of simply thanking me for my feedback, I was given first-hand experience with performative allyship. Although proclaiming his support publicly, this leader became defensive, even going as far as to blame me for the experience (more on this in my upcoming book, The Inclusion Illusion). The experience was so shocking and traumatic that I spoke with the company’s legal team but opted to end discussions as I wanted to maintain my right to speak out about what happened to me. Far too often, people that look like me are offered severance pay in exchange for their silence allowing these problematic employers to continue inflicting damage on others while sucking the lifeblood out of them.
Since leaving that organization early this year, I have been involved in a plethora of job interview loops. I have sat in many Zoom interviews, explaining to people that did not look like me or relate to me why I am a good fit for their organizations. There have been times that I made it to the end, but another candidate was selected. In those situations, I have asked for feedback and been told repeatedly how great I was and that the only issue was location although each role I applied for was remote. Other times, I have discovered red flags about companies that have led me to drop out of the process. The thought of getting into another role where I am overworked and overlooked creates extreme anxiety in me and I am no longer sacrificing my mental health for financial gain.
Then yesterday it hit me. On a plane ride home from my grandmother-in-law’s funeral, I had the epiphany life is too short to be unhappy. I already knew that, but told myself that I had put so much into my career and could not just throw it away. It was familiar and stable but it was not my dream. I realized that although I had left one workplace, I was still constantly interviewing for roles that would put me right back into the position that I had so desperately wanted out of. I accepted that Corporate America was not set up for black women and that it would be a long time, if ever before we found ourselves on equal footing. With that, I went home and canceled all of my upcoming interviews. I immediately felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and a true sense of freedom.
The decision to walk away from something I have dedicated my whole life to was not an easy one. It takes financial preparation, a clear sense of direction and self-worth, confidence, support from family and friends, and most importantly a sense of exhaustion with the status quo. My dream about losing my teeth represented all of those things and came right after I made the life-changing decision to let something that I have worked so hard for die in order to give life to my true calling. I am not alone in this. Black women are leaving Corporate America in droves. We are tired of working twice as hard, proving ourselves repeatedly, and going unrecognized. We are exhausted with ignoring microaggressions, silencing ourselves to keep the peace, and being overlooked. We are opening our eyes to the possibility of successfully launching our own ventures when we stop asking for a seat at the table and decide to take a seat at our own.
Black women are starting businesses at breakneck speed. With organizations refusing to do something tangible about the lack of equality in the workplace, the economic landscape will change drastically over the next decade and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We will do what we do best; survive, overcome and thrive. But the absence of black women in the workplace will have a negative impact on companies for many years to come.