The Spotlight is Shining. Stand in It!

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If you know anything about growing up in an African, ultra-Christian home, then you know a bit about how I was raised.  I, like most of you, was brought up by family members who believed humility and gratitude were the most extolled virtues. It’s hard to disagree when you think of how many chapters in the Bible are dedicated to this ideology.

“Blessed are the meek…”

“In all things, give thanks…”

Where religion leaves off, conventional African wisdom picks up with sayings like…

“Pride goes before a fall…”

“The fool speaks, the wise man listens…”

“Pride is the mother of arrogance…”, etc again teaching us, from a very young age how far we can get in life simply by being humble and meek.

So it suffices to say that I grew up with these values ‘beaten’ (literally, albeit lovingly) into my subconscious.

As a young adult entering into the Corporate American landscape, I struggled with balancing these values long inculcated in me, with the new Corporate values of self promotion, i.e., speaking highly of one’s self and achievements.  I had a difficult time talking about or taking credit for good work I had done.

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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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Obama May Be President, But You May Never Be CEO

A couple of years ago I decided to start volunteering as a mentor to high school women in my neighborhood.  Many of them were minorities, from poor, often dysfunctional families.  These young women although very smart, had been done a great disservice by the horrendous school system they were subjected to. The goal was to get them not only interested in college, but through the application and acceptance  process and help them launch a successful college career.  This mission is near and dear to my heart.  Many of these young women had no other positive influences in their lives. Many had no role models, no one they knew who had gone to college and “made it”.

The purpose of the program,  or at least my personal goal,  was to convince these women that they could make it. That if they worked hard, paid their dues, they, too, could be successful. That no one could stand in their way if they put their mind to something.

Usually, I have no issue delivering this message. I do my best to encourage each young woman that comes my way. I am normally filled with upbeat optimism and passion.

Today, on this particular day,  I feel differently. Here is my message to the intelligent,  talented lovely lady who told me she wanted to be CEO of a multi billion dollar corporation so she could “call the shots” (lol).

You can work hard and still not get it. Your success is not guaranteed. We often hear the message of many artists, singers, athletes, models, etc who never make it. For every successful one, there are thousands who no one ever hears of. Well, Corporate America is no different. It is just as cutthroat, imbalanced and corrupt.

Here, you will also see racism, sexism, nepotism, ageism and other isms in full display. You will come across people who do not achieve any results and watch their careers overtake yours.  You will wonder why.

Am I not smart enough? Visible enough?
Did I make any mistakes in that presentation?
Did I not network enough, go to enough company parties?
Do I just not have what it takes to succeed?

And the reality is that it is none of these things. You are awesome just as you are! You made it thus far so you clearly have what it takes. You made it here even against the odds.

But it will get even harder as you progress and the odds will be even less in your favor.  You will be passed over for a promotion you deserve because, the ‘Black woman quota’ has been reached and the diversity numbers met. You will be given more and more to do, because “we know you are capable and can handle it”, but you will watch your pay fall farther and farther behind from your White male colleagues. With all of this happening, you will still be expected to keep giving 150% with a smile on your face because anything short of this will reinforce their unfounded belief that Black women are emotional and unprofessional.

When this inevitably happens, my dear…
Keep your face up, but your soul tucked away! Like a boxer during a match, guard your essence. Do not let them destroy the inner you, the you that matters. It’s ok if you cry in that office bathroom stall when you hear news of the VP’s incompetent son getting the job you worked tirelessly for and earned. Get used to that sick-to-your-stomach, hot/cold feeling because you will experience it time and time again.  Stock up on tissues because,  you may need to stick them under your arms for a few minutes to absorb the sweat (if you sweat like I do).  But do not measure your worth based on how fairly they treat you. Do not start seeing yourself from their eyes, letting self-doubt creep in. Keep the mask on and do not bare your spirit to them or they will trample it. It is difficult I know,  but you must try. Because if you dont, then they win. And you my fellow dual citizen,  cannot afford that!

And through it all years from now, when you need any support or just the listening, empathetic ear of a forerunner, a survivor, I will still be here for you.