After years of struggle, I’m finally starting to see a bright light career-wise. I’m on track to end 2016 in a much better place than where I started, and in a much better place than I’ve been in a long time. This isn’t just related to how much money I’m bringing home, but a sum of all of the other things that come with work and how I function. I could write a book about my work experiences, so here are a few chapter synopses I’d have to include:
Chapter 1 – “You Don’t Even Go Here”: Being A Young, Black Woman In Middle Management
In all of the managerial positions I’ve held, I’ve either been the only person of colour, or one of two. I’ve welcomed people into boardrooms where I was about to lead a meeting, and had them give me their coats to hang and coffee orders to take. I’ve gone to external meetings and been ignored until my White male colleagues arrived, or met with the “Oh – she’s Black!” look of shock when I meet people after only speaking via phone or email. I’ve had to redirect meetings when my hair became the topic of discussion. I’ve had my blog reported to senior management, who called me a racist for writing about my experiences as a Black Canadian woman. I’ve had colleagues tell me they don’t think I belong, and I’ve had aggressively insubordinate staff treat me in ways that they never did to any of their former (White) supervisors. I’ve seen and experienced a lot, and a big lesson for me has been around being finding my voice to call out problematic behaviour versus letting it slide.
Chapter 3 – “Work Twice As Hard To Get Half As Far”: Learning The Game When The Game Is Rigged
I’ve lived this motto since I was a child – being pushed to work harder than my counterparts because we were never given equal footing to start off on. As a Black woman, it’s also about being denied room to be mediocre or fail, and knowing that while your failures will be applied as an expected generalization befitting all Black people, your excellence will be dismissed as a lucky break. I recently wrote about the Glass Cliff theory and saw this all play out in my life recently:
I was a new supervisor at an agency that ran group homes for adults with developmental disabilities. I was assigned 2 homes, and was eventually told that I was given the most disorganized homes with the worst staff in the agency. I was determined to turn those homes around, but at every step I was met with opposition or insubordination from staff – refusals to follow through, silence when I’d ask for their feedback on decisions, blatantly lying to me in order to trip me up, rumour-spreading, the works. I constantly addressed issues and disciplined staff, and escalated to my managers as needed – but senior management never seemed to take my concerns seriously. After going to the ER one day because I was sure the stress had caused a heart attack, I resigned. The day I handed in my resignation, I overheard two directors talking about me in the office, and one said “I guess she’s just not the shining star I thought she was.” I was floored. After all I had gone through and all the effort I gave, I was seen as a failure for not continuing to take the abuse and do the work. I immediately called for an exit interview with senior management on my last day, and made sure I had the last word. I recently learned that one of my most problematic staff – one who my boss swore was going to face heavy discipline for her actions – was recently promoted to a supervisory position. Funny.
Chapter 7 – “Protect Your Heart, 3 Stacks”: Protecting Your Passions & Keeping Side Hustles Safe
I’ve always toyed with the idea of going the full-time freelance/entrepreneurship route, but so far, I’ve said “Not yet.” I’m not ashamed of appreciating the perceived security of getting a paycheque every 2 weeks (‘perceived’ because I know these companies ain’t loyal), I’m not ashamed to say that I’m not 100% ready to take the risk of making my passion projects my sole income earner, and I’m not ashamed to say that not everyone needs to be their own boss – entrepreneurship isn’t a necessity to personal development. I still consider the thought and know that if circumstances change in any way, I’d take the plunge. But what happens if I start to hate the very things that brought me solace? What happens if I don’t like the way that obligation changes the way I view the things I do simply because I enjoy doing them? I don’t think I’m ready to find out just yet.
Chapter 9: “Bitch, Just Be You:” Removing The Mask, Playing The Game, & Being Authentic
Navigating the collective of corporate life can make it tricky to be an individual. There are games to play and masks to wear – and both get more complex the further you are from whatever the “norm” is in your field. Code-switching, considering if I should bring those leftovers my Jamaican auntie cooked for lunch, being aware of how I may be viewed as the Angry Black Woman in times when I’m not angry at all – these and other examples are part of why it’s so difficult be myself at work. A gift that 2016 has given me has been the room to be a bit more Bee in my career – both at my day job and in my side hustles – and see the payoff. Part of embracing that authenticity meant switching careers from my previous health/social services field to the communications industry. It’s meant presenting my personal style in a way that truly reflects who I am. It’s meant speaking more of my truth in my writing, and it’s meant going for opportunities I would have passed up before, because I believe in myself more now than I ever have. I’ve gone from playing the game to learning the rules so that I can bend, break, and change them as I go – so while those navigation skills are vital for perseverance, I now see how I can be more me through the journey.
This career life ain’t been no crystal stair, but I continue to learn invaluable lessons and receive affirming messages every day. What career lessons have you learned? What defining moments have shaped your career? Share in the comments! Now, about this book deal…