“What the f**k are you doing?” is what I heard on the other end of the phone as I sat in my car 15 minutes before my fifth panel interview for a principal role. The caller, a mentor who has been the CEO of several urban school districts, had gotten wind of my lackluster performance. “Let them see who you are!” she yelled. I burst into tears fifteen minutes before I was to present myself as a worthy candidate for a middle school principal role. After going back and forth with myself as to whether I was going into the interview or back home, I showed up in that interview as a fierce and confident contender.
I was afraid to be too “fill in the blank” for each of the communities I was presented to. The truth is that I was afraid to show up [as myself]. I did not get that job, but that’s not the point! The point is that sometimes other people can see your light even with your best attempts at playing small.
Ten years later I would have a similar experience when participating in an executive leadership training with a phenomenal facilitator and coach. The session was two days -Friday and Saturday. I was on cloud nine after the first day and was ready to dive in headfirst on the second day. Was I imagining it or was this lady hating on me in a training that I had paid for? I sat through the last few hours of the training fuming trying to figure out what could possibly be her problem. She called me after the training, but somehow I missed her call. I listened to her voicemail where she thanked me for my participation, blah, blah, blah. She called again Sunday and Monday. As soon as I had a break Monday, I called her back because I was ready for her!
She quickly picked up and greeted me like we were old friends. She said, “Before I tell you the reason for my call, I want to say that you are sharp. You have a lot to offer. You are a badass! But I have to say that in every scenario you shared there was a voice telling you that it wasn’t safe. You continued to give the person an exit and they didn’t have to choose you.” This message was eerily reminiscent of conversations I had been having with my therapist. The difference was that this woman had spent all of 8 hours with me, but she saw me. Truth be told, I knew she had soul food for me when she was “hating” on Day 2 of the training.
My light is shining a little more brightly these days because I was given permission by powerful Black women who declared that I shall no longer apologize for who I am; nor fear the power, gifts, and brilliance that I bring to the world. I give thanks to these women. I honor these Black women who were willing to curse me out, pull me close and compel me to stop playing and play to win. It was a beautiful reminder that the ancestors also walk among us!
“When I stand before God at the end of my life, I would hope that I will not have a single bit of talent left, and could say, ‘I used everything you gave me.” – Chadwick Boseman