Can I Be “Unapologetically Black” like Kendrick?

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Did you see the Grammys last night?  I did. I rarely watch award shows, or TV in general for that matter. However I happened to be at the boyfriend’s last night and we ended up watching it.

So…Kendrick Lamar. Kendrick Kendrick Kendrick! My mind is so blown, I am not sure where to start. That performance stole the entire show! His spirit, his fire, his lyrical talent, his artistic vision, his message! I was so proud to be Black in that moment.  Throughout his entire performance,  I was completely enthralled, not caring who else was in the room and what they were thinking or experiencing. Not caring if his passion and directness made anyone uncomfortable.  It was for me.  He was…

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“I Am Old Enough To Be Your Father”

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OK, so no one actually said this to me directly.  Not in those words anyway.  I put the quotation marks to rattle you. 😉

All kidding aside, the sentiment behind the title is one I have encountered countless times as a young woman in Corporate America.  Given the fact that I am often the youngest person at my level at each company I have worked at, this isn’t surprising. Having a coworker or supplier throw their years of experience in my face has become somewhat of a daily occurrence. Usually it’s prefaced with the statement, “I don’t want to date myself…“, but their intent is to do just that. To let me know they have been doing this job since I was in diapers. That my “fancy MBA” cannot compete with their hard-earned on-the-job training.  Other times they say things like “In the good old days…” or they find a way to work in the even-less subtle “I have a daughter/son about your age…” in the conversation.
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You Are One Of The Lucky Ones

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A while ago, I was invited to attend a week-long, company-sponsored seminar at a very reputable business school in London. The seminar was designed to reward the 30 highest performing, high potentials. Given the total company headcount of 15,000, being selected was a definite honor. Several countries were represented: U.S. by way of Nigeria (yours truly), India, China, Korea, Poland, Brazil, Germany, France. 

The trip was nothing short of lavish. After the day’s agendas, we were provided with foods of different varieties, free flowing drinks, the best hotel in Central London, expensive entertainment including a private boat tour of London on the Thames with a live band. I couldn’t complain. Lord knows I would never pay out of my own pocket for this.

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10 Stupid Questions And My Snarky Responses To Them

2015-04-25 15.07.32Americans have a saying : “There is no such thing as a stupid question.” I’ve heard professors say this as they try to encourage students to speak up in class and learn from each other.

Well, I disagree.

There are stupid questions. Many. I have been asked these questions by coworkers, classmates, acquaintances, frenemies, even strangers. In my previous post, I was asked a stupid question by a coworker which had me uncharacteristically stumped. Usually though, when  assaulted confronted with these, my first instinct may be to rain down a litany of African curses on their heads. The kind my grandmother used to dish out. But then, I would not only scare them, may also be labeled the anti-social, crazy, Black woman. So… what do I do? I check them with one of my snarky comebacks, while keeping my facial expressions pleasant by adding the following:

  • A big smile
  • Eyes opened a tad wider
  • Nodding
  • Frequent blinking

One or a combination of these will give off a very cheerful, friendly and chipper vibe, thereby creating a nice contrast for the sarcasm you are about to unleash.

Here are some questions I have gotten and my responses.

(At a work happy hour with a Supplier) You look too young to be in this role.  How old are you? Old enough, I think. Actually, I’m not sure. Would you mind cutting up my food into smaller, bite-sized pieces? Thanks.

You are so articulate and you’re from Africa. You speak English so well, how did you learn? At the airport. As soon as I arrived, I stopped the first White man I saw and asked him to teach me English.

Oh, where are you from? Nigeria? Oh cool. There’s a man in our church who’s from ummm… (*turns to husband*Honey where’s Peter from again? I think Tanzania. Do you know him? Peter from Tanzania? Oh, yes! I think I might. I think his hut might have been a few doors down from our compound.

Is this really your name? It sounds American. Did you just change your name because you were applying for the job? 👀…Yes. My reeaaal name is spelled  Nduxgherzxyhjsfikwe. It actually means Oh Sarcastic One.

Wow, you travel a lot. You must make a lot of money? Yes. You know I also work nights as a part time flight attendant.

Oh, you went to a ‘Black’ University? That’s… interesting. Do you feel it was as good as sayyyy a…..non ‘Black’ University?  You may be right! *rubs chin thoughtfully* We did spend the entire time learning about MLK and Malcolm X and Stomping the Yard.

The length of your hair changes so frequently. First long and then short and then long again in 2 weeks. Yea, Black hair is like that. You literally pull on it and it extends out of our scalps. Cool, eh?

I heard Black women can’t wash their hair.  How gross! Is it true? Yea well, we do our bit to conserve water. We do care about the planet.

You run? That’s … different.  I don’t know any Black women who run. I think it’s because of their hair, right? Oh no, that’s not true. We have to practice running from the Police.

You like watermelon. That makes sense I guess. Do you like any other fruits? No, just watermelon. Yea, as kids we used to practice who could spit the seeds out the farthest. Wanna see me try?

What stupid questions have you gotten and what are your snarky comebacks? Please follow and share.

Life Lessons Away From Home: Where There’s a Will…

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I love traveling. It has truly been the most rewarding part of my corporate career. Whether it’s from observing different behaviors at the airport or the varied experiences I have had in different parts of the world, I have learned a great deal.  I have been fortunate enough to visit almost all 50 states of the U.S., as well as most continents. I am appreciative of this, seeing as I couldn’t afford to have such a vast travel repertoire on my own dime. Even though I am there to do the company’s bidding, I manage to take one or two days to take in the sights.

One of my most enjoyable travels was my business trip to Brazil in 2013. ( I wish that I had waited and  gone in 2014 so I could stay for World Cup..oh well). The whole week, including evenings had been spent locked away in conference rooms. By Friday, I was eager to break free and make the most of the weekend. I had so much fun exploring the popular tourist sights like the Cristo statue and Pao de Acucar, finding handmade treasures off the beaten path, and simply basking in the sun while laying on the Ipanema beach.

Amidst all the fun, one thing struck me. In my humble opinion, these were the friendliest people I had ever met. Even though I speak two words of Portuguese and the people I met barely spoke English, I still felt genuinely welcomed by everyone I met.  Whether it was asking for directions or getting a drink at the bar, there was an element of patience as they would try to communicate using one or two English words and mostly hand gestures.

I remember Ana, a middle-aged woman I met while waiting for my flight from Sao Paolo to Rio de Janeiro.  She spoke no English but kept speaking to me in Portuguese even though it was clear I didn’t know what she was saying. After I exhausted my knowledge of Portuguese, getting past the basic desculpa and muito bom,we were stuck. That’s when I whipped out Google translate, aka life saver. We had a pleasant hour-long conversation about life (work, marriage /divorce, family, etc.) in which she told me I was too beautiful to be single (lol), and she wanted me to marry her son.

On the flip side, my experiences in London and France were … mixed at best. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve met some nice and welcoming people. But I did meet many more that were abrupt and sometimes rude.  Many years ago, I walked into an antique store in Strasbourg and spoke to the woman behind the counter.  I asked her a question in English and she responded in French. I then attempted to communicate using my broken (taught-in-high-school-by-a-Nigerian-professor-with-a-thick-accent) French and she pretended not to understand me. Frustrated, I gave up and just kept browsing.  A minute later, I heard her speak fluent English to someone else in the store! Although I didn’t know of Google translate at the time, I doubt it would have helped me.

I have had shops in Central London look at me, not as a potential customer, but as someone who was lost when I walked into their stores. Even before words were spoken, I was met with impatience, an unwillingness to try.

While language difference can sometimes be a barrier, it is not an insurmountable one . Remember the movie Love Actually? Though fictional, the interaction and ensuing love between Colin Firth’s and Lucia Moniz’s characters exemplifies this. You can sense a person’s spirit, their desire to connect and communicate,  even when you cannot understand their words.  Once this desire is there, you will find a way to understand each other.

I have heard some friends express reluctance to travel to places where English is not widely spoken. They resist going to places outside of the U.S and Western Europe for fear that they will not be able to communicate or have fun. Do not let this stop you. Get out there with an open mind and take in the culture.  You’ll be amazed at how easy it can be to communicate …. especially if you both really want to!

7 Tips For My Recovering Workaholics

So, you’ve probably diagnosed yourself as a recovering workaholic? If not, then read the previous post to make sure. If so, you are in good company.

Before going any further, let me ask one important question.  Why have you taken this very stressful “corporate” role and why do you work so many hours at it?  Here are some common thoughts and answers:

You: I need the money.
Me: But you have no time to spend it.

You: My parents expect me to.  They love to brag about how their child works for that biiiggg (*spreads arms wide to illustrate*) Accounting firm /law firm /investment bank.
Me: ha! Like a true ‘Naija’ parent. Lol. That same parent will complain and guilt-trip you everyday because you never call or visit and tell you, you don’t care about them.

Here’s one that usually lurks beneath the surface but no one wants to say out loud.

You: I have to work longer hours to prove to them that I can do it…that it was not a mistake to take a chance on a Black woman.
Me: I need you to take a minute and mentally high-five yourself right now. You are the sh-t! You are the best person for the job and you have more than earned it. As much as Corporate America likes to fill their diversity quotas, they will not sacrifice performance, trust!.

I remember when I got my last promotion. I was (and still am) the youngest person to hold that position, not to mention the only Black woman…and my goodness, the rumors! I felt I had to work four times as hard to prove I could do it. I was putting in late hours like you cannot imagine. Because I kept doubting and second-guessing myself.  Until I realized that the harder and longer I worked, their expectations kept increasing, and my personal life suffered. So I stopped and recalibrated. You are smart, capable and quite frankly more so than many of your White colleagues.

Last one…

You: It’s the company culture. Everyone works these hours. I need to do it to survive here.
Me:  You need to decide what’s most important and put that first.  If you claim family is the most important thing to you, then make quality time for them. If your health is important, take care of you. A few years ago, a coworker was admitted into a mental institution from the tough environment at work. He’s still there now.

Unfortunately, many companies who claim to support work-life balance are only paying lip-service. They want you chained to at your desk for as long as possible.  If you work for one of these, you may need to make a tough decision. Do I want to do whatever it takes to go above and beyond every single day? And more importantly, is this sustainable? How long can I continue to work for this company in this capacity? You have to be honest with yourself and decide.  If you choose to stay here, then understand that it’s a choice.  A sacrifice. And be sure it is what you want.

Luckily though, you may not have to. More and more companies are starting to ‘walk the talk’ on work-life balance. They are the ones who allow you to work from home, have day care centers in the office, and let you take whole summers off. These companies are finding that allowing their employees to take care of their personal lives really does pay off and does not compromise the bottom line. Seek these companies out in your job search.  When comparing offers, do not only look at salary, but evaluate the company’s culture and how closely their values align with yours.

I trust by now, you are evaluating whether you want to stay here, at this job. While you decide...

Practice Mindfulness. I know this is easier said than done. When I first started dealing with this, I would tell myself every morning that I would stay in control of my thoughts, emotions and actions. I would listen to inspiring words by Joel Osteen on my way in to work.  And then I get that annoying email or phone call from a coworker, or that crisis arises at a customer throws me into a panic and it all goes out the window.

There is no easy fix.  Just practice. One technique I used was to actually set alarms on my phone…little reminders every 3 hours to “check in” with myself. I would go to the ladies’ room, stare at my reflection for several seconds to compose myself, drink some water and take several very deep breaths with eyes closed. It might sound corny but I used those few minutes to acknowledge and then rid myself of negative energy and just be…self aware and centered. Bikram yoga, running and regular massages helped me become better at this.  Before long, you’ll find you no longer need the reminders and your body will let you know when you feel out of sorts and need to “check in”.

Move. You are sitting at your desk for hours on end everyday. When you don’t have to be, move. Walk. Run. Hike. Bike. Skate. Dance. Something. I know you are so tired after work and you  want to lie on that couch and pass out. Get up and move. Don’t think about it too much. If you prefer, go in the mornings. Wake up 30 – 60 mins earlier and just go. Trust me, it makes a difference. It relieves stress by flooding your body with endorphins and replenishing awesome energy to replace the negative energy from the day’s work. And you know you need to replenish. So you don’t snap at someone at work, or worse yet, at home.

Remove those sugary, salty snacks from your desk drawer and replace them with healthier versions. No, really.  Get rid of them now. I won’t even bother to explain why. I’m sure you know. So just do it. If you don’t see it, you won’t eat it. And stay away from that vending machine. I wish someone would just ban those evil things! The mistake many recovering workaholics make is that they forget that they spend most of their time at work. So they spend all this money buying healthy food to keep at home but they don’t eat it and it just rots.  If you have a fridge and microwave at work, store your healthy meals there. I now make a habit of keeping snacks like carrot sticks, oatmeal, granola and fruits at work for those extra stressful days when I can’t eat my jollof.

Say No sometimes. It’s ok. You are a professional woman. You know your worth and what you bring to the table. After you’ve spent some time there, they know it too. As you climb this ladder, know your limits. Know when you cannot get on a recurring conference call with China at 1am. Know when you cannot go to Australia for 2 years.  Know when what they are asking for is not only humanly impossible, but when it doesn’t not fit your plan for your life. If you find yourself constantly saying no, then you need to get out of there.  But it’s ok to manage expectations. You have nothing to prove.

Maximize the times spent alone or with friends and family. You are a dual citizen remember?  You have a fulfilling life outside of this place. You have friends, boy/girl friends, husbands, parents, kids, mentees, pets, hobbies, passions.  There are things you love to do that do not include ratchet tv after work.  Think about what those things are and rediscover them. Discover new ones. Dedicate at least 1 hour a day to those things. Luckily for me, I love the gym so I can kill 2 birds with one stone. Lol. So I’m there most days. I love traveling so I take quick weekend trips. I love reading so I try to read at least a chapter a day. And I love writing this blog ;).  So no matter how busy it gets, I must dedicate quality time to these things or people I love. It’s really what keeps me going.

Oh, and part of this is knowing how to separate work time from your time. Don’t be checking your work email when your boyfriend is trying to connect with you emotionally. Don’t be responding to work email when your young children are craving your attention. You prayed long and hard for that partner, for those kids. Now enjoy them. This is not the time for multitasking.   I refuse to check my work phone before bed. I even make sure to keep my work devices (phone and computer), very separate from personal ones.  Don’t worry. If you don’t respond to that email at 2am, the building will not collapse. It will still be there waiting in the morning.

Do not drown your stress with excessive alcohol and club hopping. This one isn’t that hard for me to abide by. The older I’ve gotten, the more I abhor the club scene.  I found that clubbing was really not the best use of my time and it seemed to make the weekend fly by even faster!  I do not see the point of being in a drunken stupor, losing track of those precious hours when I should be aware and savoring every minute. Not to mention the morning-after hangover when you then spend the day in a haze trying to recover.  No bueno.

Please take your vacation days and sick days.  This is currency. Not using them is like handing back part of your paycheck to your boss.  Not to mention it helps you relax and take care of yourself.   Ideally you should go away. Somewhere far and fun. But if you can’t, then take a stay-cation and get yourself together. Use this time to clean out your mind or even just clean and de-clutter your home.  Use sick days to make your doctor’s and dentist appointments. I even use mine to take “mental health” days once in a while. I know a lot of us International Black folks sometimes shy away from using these days. We want to go above and beyond. Stop it. Take your days and rest. You are a Black woman, not super human.

So… until the day comes when you are able to select the job you truly are passionate about and it doesn’t feel like work, try these tips which have proven effective for me.  I hope they help you too.

Do you have others I may have missed? Please follow and share your thoughts.

10 Signs You Might Be A Workaholic

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  1. You work 10 or more hours a day in a job that is fast paced, highly demanding and stressful.
  2. No matter how much you try, your boss demands more. Maybe nicely. Maybe not so much.
  3. Like a prisoner, you are confined to a small cube or office space that barely receives any sunlight or fresh air. That small plant or framed picture of a loved one is your attempt to make it more…liveable. And why not? You are after all spending most of your waking hours here.
  4. You leave home with hair and make up freshly done, however the stress of the day has made you chew off your lipstick. Remnants of your eyeshadow give away how often you have rubbed your eyes from staring at your screen. Your hands, like mine, have been in your hair all day, so it’s now a tangled mess. If your condition is acute, you may have given up trying all together. It’ll get messed up anyway. Why bother?
  5. On particularly stressful days, you may forget to eat a proper lunch. You may, however have a secret stash of candy, chocolate bars and chips that you mindlessly throw into your mouth as you stare at that computer screen.
  6. You don’t even know how you got home. You must have gotten in your car or waited for the subway or bus. You must have taken the usual route. But do you remember anything you saw? Nope. Completely zoned out.
  7. You drop everything at the door once you get home. Coat, shoes, laptop bag, purse, bra, maybe even clothes. Everything. Your doorway is starting to look like a flea market or thrift store.
  8. On one or more occasions, you may or may not have done something completely stupid. Like forgotten to take your keys out of the keyhole as you let yourself in (I am not admitting to anything! Lol), leaving the keys outside all night! (This is how you know someone back home is praying for you!)
  9. You eat everything in sight. Haha. Over the weekend you told yourself you would be “good” this week. You’ve spent hundreds of dollars on green veggies but they are all rotting away in your fridge and you will have to throw them out next weekend. Oh well. As for today, only fat, grease, sugar and carbs will do.
  10. Lastly, you plop yourself in front of the TV. Doesn’t even matter what’s on. Could be “ratchet tv”; in fact the more ratchet, the better. This way you don’t have to think too much. You are in a vegetative state. Brain dead till you fall asleep. Before long, the TV is watching you. Lol. And you know what? You get to do it again tomorrow! Oh joy!

Okay, if you checked most of these boxes, you may be a recovering workaholic, like me. Don’t worry. This is a safe space. We can talk freely.

If you really think about it, this is very concerning. Kinda scary. We have such a short time on this earth, is this how we really want to spend it? Especially when you think about the fact that by traditional American workplace standards, we have another 20-30 years left of this before retirement?

I know work is important, don’t get me wrong. I want my shot at CEO as much as the next woman and I’m working hard to get there. I have bills, too. As is characteristic of “good ol’ Naija upbringing”, I send money back home, too. I like to take the occasional vacation, too. I want to make sure my future children have more than enough, too.

But at what cost? So many illnesses are linked to stress – heart disease, headaches, Alzheimer’s, GI issues, depression, anxiety and obesity. Are we taking care of ourselves physically? Or are we sacrificing our short term well being in the hopes of some long term gain? Even if we are physically ok and not at risk, what about our psychological health? Have we really sat down to think about those “issues” we keep sweeping under the rug? Or maybe we work this hard so we don’t have to deal with “it”? What about our relationships? Do we nurture them? When was the last time you truly connected with a friend? I mean really listened and shared? Or do you just make the half-assed phone call, maybe while heading home, simply to pass the time? I know I’m guilty.

Bottom line is, while we need to work, it should contribute to our essence, not deplete it. We should still have plenty to give ourselves and loved ones at the end of the day. We should not be irritated when our phones ring and it’s mom calling to check in. We should not be upset when our young children ask us a million questions because they just want our attention. We should not be too tired to pick up that book we’ve always wanted to read. These are the things that should give us joy and yet we dedicate so little time to them.

Notice earlier, I said “recovering” workaholic? I say so because we are going to beat this together! 🙂

Check out my next post on suggested tips I use currently to address this.

I want to hear from you. Please follow, leave a comment and share other symptoms you’ve experienced and let’s learn from each other!