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Everyone loves quotes. They have a gravitational pull that compels and conjures up an innate drive to become the sentiment that the quote embodies—or at least aspire to it. Most of us want to exude a mere fraction of the excellence or the circumstance or the magnitude of accomplishment that is expressed in those words. And naturally, given that it’s February, the quotes that are bubbling up on social media, in conversation and everywhere else in between tend to come from those who have greatly influenced, shaped, inspired and persevered throughout their human experience as black people in America.
Like everyone, I also love quotes… and Post-it Notes. Post-its and quotes run (and ruin) my life. Every morning, I face myself and my aspirations as they are posted all over my bathroom mirror. “Be humble in your creativity and gracious in your success,” says Quincy Jones, or “Never be limited by other people’s limited imaginations,” says Dr. Mae Jemison, or “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced,” says James Baldwin, and of course, “Life is the choices that you make,” says mom.
But for every encouraging quote that’s pinned to my mirror, there are just as many ugly, hurtful ones that are etched into the not-so-bright halls of my own history as a black person in America. Quotes like the one that came from a girl in my sixth grade literature class, snarling at me with a glare and asking a rhetorical question about how slavery affects me. There’s also the “what are you doing here?” look when I walk into certain spaces, or moments like when my 10-year-old goddaughter shares how a kid at school name-called her and her friends with racial slurs.
Every moment, word and action plays into your history and the history you imprint onto others. We are living and creating our own history with each day, hour and minute that passes us by. It’s not just the Martin Luther King Juniors or the Frederick Douglases or the Maya Angelous of the world who can affect black history in a way that ripples out to others. It’s also our very own experiences and our reactions to them that have the potential to make waves.
Do you consider yourself a leader? Most of us don’t. Leading like Angela Davis, Langston Hughes, Patrisse Khan-Cullors, or any of the numerous black women and men who have stood up for what they believe in does take an amount of bravery that I’m honestly not sure I possess. However, as Aja Brown (no relation to yours truly)—the youngest elected mayor of Compton, California—expressed at Leadercast Live 2015, "Most leaders don’t consider themselves special or even brave at all, they simply did… and never quit.” And that’s what makes me pause.
Each day and each moment, we are living black history in the making. Any time race comes up, whether it’s at a party with friends or at work with a co-worker, can be a moment to compel progress through conversation; anytime someone mentions a route that will go through a “ghetto” or “sketchy” area can be an opportunity to correct the misled sentiment of a predominantly black neighborhood with its history explained; whenever a stereotype is brought up in jest (eating watermelon, swimming, etc.), the lessons of ugly contexts and assumptions can serve as a teaching moment instead of laughing along.
Six months ago, I accepted my first directorial position at Leadercast as its senior marketing manager. For the time being, I am the only person of color in a leadership role on the Leadercast team (granted, we are a small but mighty staff). The anxiety I felt being in my first major leadership position was magnified by the fact that I bring an entirely different background and perspective that has not always been encouraged, let alone welcomed, in previous roles (e.g. expressing an idea only to be shushed in the middle of a meeting with peers and superiors, etc.).
The reasons for my anxieties stem from what Aja brought up onstage: “Most leaders don’t consider themselves special or even brave at all.” As a new leader, your insecurities—and the anxiety brought on by your insecurities—can eat you alive. We all have them. It’s human nature. In the past six months, I’ve felt insecure, doubted myself and thus my decisions, became fearful of not being experienced enough for driving this team’s success, and worried what my team truly thought of my leadership. And in those same six months, I’ve also felt assured in what I know (as well as what I don’t), confident in the wins my team has made so far (and thus my decision-making), trusting in the knowledge I’ve gained with each passing day, and more vulnerable, authentic and transparent in my approach to leading.
The new Leadercast marketing team is journeying through uncharted territory. To add to that, we’re a team of four fervently working to create clarity and cohesion around the Leadercast brand. This is a potentially overwhelming venture, and yet a thrilling one. To keep the blend of my feelings from the past six months into a more harmonious balance, I’ve been doing the following to get through and rise above:
- A Morning Ritual. Every weekday morning, I do a writing practice for 5-10 minutes (getting inspired by Natalie Goldberg’s Wild Mind or Writing Down the Bones), do an awakening yoga routine or capoeira training (or both), and meditate for 5-10 minutes using the Headspace app. Every day I do my routine I feel closer to myself, more connected to fellow human beings and acutely mindful of each moment of my day.
- Therapy. I go to counseling every week to constantly work on myself from the inside out: unlearning, relearning, unpacking, discovering, gaining clarity (especially when it comes to seeing beyond yourself and what bothers you or frustrates you to the truth beneath all of what you think you thought), digesting and deeply empathizing with the context of others, and much more.
- Reading. Listening. Watching. As cliche as it may seem or sound, I legitimately use Leadercast’s content to help guide my leadership development. When I am working through something, I seek the expertise of those who I know have already been here or have studied it. It’s been ridiculously helpful. Here are just a few of my favorites from Leadercast NOW, our online video library of insights and solutions for leadership challenges, and our Leadercast Blog:
- Liberate Your Listener = Liberate Your Leader by Amy Balog
- Trust - Do You Have it in Your Team? By Patrick Lencioni
- 5 Things to Do Before Breakfast to Drive Your Success as a Leader by Heneka Watkis-Porter
In doing all of this, choosing to grow within each moment, I am living and making my own black history; and thus carving the way for others to do the same. Now the only question is, what will be the quotes you'll be known for? How will you influence, shape, inspire and persevere in progressing black history in your own way?