“YOU are not of this world, you just live in it”. — My mama used to quote John 17:16 as she would look dead into my eyes while straightening my pleated uniform and looking around our housing project lined street. Our house was exactly 0.4 miles from one of the deadliest housing projects, D-Block, in Yonkers, NY.
Retrospectively, that world that “I didn’t live in” provided me with lessons that has made me a successful administrator and continues to give me an edge over my competitors and peers in the professional world.
This is my ode to the hood:
Mama- You kept us under your wing. Protected us from the world around us.
Yonkers- So different from the oasis you grew up in, on your beautiful island.
Babies having babies, people slinging drugs.
Displaced persons, mangled families
Just trying to live, to rebuild their lives
Fighting against the patriarchy and the weight of systematic oppression
Cops, shrouded in blue, busting down doors, just spitting distance from our own front door
I remember you whispering: “You are not of this world — Remember that”
But I was, Mama.
Because I was not blind, and I was not deaf.
I hoarded the lessons of the street.
Breathing them in until they flowed like oxygen through my veins
Stuffing them deep down.
Burying them away below the layers of brown skin, so that my white,rich peers would not happen to catch a glance of them.
I hid them, so I would not be found out.
So that they wouldn’t call me or assume me- Ghetto
Now I’m a professional and it’s the hood lessons chosen time to shine
The ones that have made me strong, creative, bold:
The importance of the witty clap back.
To use my voice boldly.
To sound the alarm-
To identify- Danger.
I learned ….
Look both ways before you cross the street.
Look up, down and around before making a move. Be strategic
To make something out of nothing.
To create my own sunshine, when skies were gray.
Follow your gut.
It’s ok to be different and to march to my own drum.
A little skepticism is healthy.
Think Twice Before you Speak.
To make the food stretch, when there was little or none.
To tell the truth plainly
To tell a brilliant and clever story
to know when to mind my own business
The importance of boundaries
The significance of family
Both blood and chosen
How to take action and when to break rules
To initiate change and not to wait for it to happen
Note: BE AWARE, THERE ARE SPOILERS as themes are discussed.
Moana, is an animated film about the coming of age process and navigating through the world as a young person. There were so many times when I, as a female-identified person, beamed with pride as Moana traverses her way across the world and fought against the expectations set for her by her family and village. I’ve watched Moana ten times and I’m a bit ashamed to say, each time I’ve watched it, I’ve cried. During my tenth viewing with a group of friends in San Francisco, I realized that unlike many of my peers, it was not Moana’s feminine strength that resonated with me. Instead, Moana’s story was a direct reflection of my adult life and the lives of many of my millennial peers. The power of the film stems from it’s relevancy, discussing topics such as resiliency, familial expectation, gender norms, coming of age, friendship, impostor syndrome and pursuing one’s dreams and destiny.
Have you ever been in a conversation with your parents or grandparents, or read one of those articles that blame millennials for the destruction of one thing or another: the end of the hotel industry, fast food, the list goes on? Well, even millennial Moana in her animated world cannot escape the blame game from her parents for trying to embrace change and find innovative ways to save her island. She defies her father and runs away from her own island to challenge the existing paradigms of leadership and survivorship. She breaks borders by leaving the reef to restore the heart of Tafiti which she alone believes would save the island from destruction.
We might not all be future village chiefs but each one of us must break free of our parents’ or social expectations to discover what makes us tick and fills our soul. We too must face our fears; our fears of failure, fear of not living up to our peers, fear of being second best, and our fears of getting stuck.
When I speak to peers or mentees after they’ve gotten their first or second job, they express to me a drive to work hard, to never make mistakes and to get everything right the first time around. I challenge you though, “What will actually happen if you take on a project that is new to you and you royally screw it up? Is it possible you’ll get fired? Yes, of course but is that likely? On your first or second big mistake, probably not. I’ve sat on quite a few hiring committees and one thing I’ve learned from having to read all those boring cover-letters and resumes is that, it is much more expensive to hire and woo a new person then to deal with the current mess of an employee that the company already. Take some comfort in that.
Moana’s lesson in wayfaying across the sea was not free of setbacks and failures. There are many moments of defeat that she could have easily used as an excuse to turn her boat around and head back home. She falls asleep during her lessons with Maui, she gets lost more than once, her boat capsizes, and she is even tricked by Maui and left boatless on the island he had been stranded on for years. None of theses scenes were her shiniest moments. Lucky for her, she was on the water, mostly alone for miles, so there was no one to be a testament to her many screw-ups. Regardless of the magnitude of her mistakes, each time, she dries herself off and continues to pursue her mission.
We can learn resilience and bravery from Moana. She was told repeatedly, that she would not be able to sail across the sea and return the heart of Tafiti. But, time and time again, she faces her fears, even jumping into the realm of monsters to help Maui get his magic hook back. There’s nothing scarier than that except perhaps being in an interview room with ten interviewers at once.
There were times that Maona questioned her own legitimacy and mission, which is quintessentially millennial. At one point she begs the ocean, with tears in her eyes, to take back the heart of Tafiti and to choose another person to fulfill the mission. Like Moana, it is 100% normal to question your calling, especially as a young professional. Passions grow, they change, they evolve. The evolution can be difficult, even painful. When you’ve been pursuing one path for as long as you can remember and you suddenly realize that path no longer revs your engine, what do you do then? Do you wallow in self pity? No! Instead, try some self-exploration, some in-depth self-research. I guarantee that when you start to pay attention to yourself outside of social and familial expectation, you’ll find your path, that career that will bring you peace.
Another moment that felt particularly millennial, was Moana’s perceived greatest moment of failure. At this point in the movie, she’s fought through impostor syndrome and many bumps along the way, big and small. She finally makes it to Te-Ka, the monster that is blocking her way to restoring Tafiti’s heart. This scene was supposed to be her big, shiny, moment. You know the one. The moment equivalent to getting that big promotion, getting into grad school or starting your first company. Instead of restoring the heart, two of the traits that double as strengths leads to her failure: her pride and her stubbornness. Maui, who is older and wiser and more importantly has faced Te-Ka in combat previously, assesses the situation and urges her to re-evaluate their strategy. Instead of heeding Maui’s warning, she listens to her pride and her fear and drives the boat onward. My mom always did say: “If you do not hear, you will feel” and feel she did. Her inability to cast her pride aside in that moment resulted in a broken magic hook and her boat being hurtled halfway back across the sea.
Can any of you relate to this moment? When you would not heed the lesson of a parent, or mentor and ended up back at the beginning or losing out on an opportunity? It’s familiar to me. I can’t count the amount of times when I’ve overheard an older person complaining about the stubbornness of millennials and our inability to hear. I usually laugh because seeing situations through unique lenses makes us millennials amazing. The world would not be where it is today in terms of technology and redefining social norms without us. However, are bright octagon shaped lenses can be our biggest enemy if we are unable to reason or listen to compromise. As philosopher George Santayana once said, ‘Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’ Like Maona had to learn, there has to be balance between forging ahead, challenging the status quo and also taking advice from lived experience into consideration.
In the end, with the help of her grandmother’s ancestral spirit, she verbally re-defines who she is and what the mission means to her both on a personal level and as the leader of her tribe. She stares impostor syndrome down reminding herself that she is a bad ass singing:
“I am a girl who loves my island. I’m the girl who loves the sea… I am the daughter of the village chief. We are descended from voyagers…”
She reminds herself of the importance of trusting her instincts and listening to her heart. She sings:
I’ve delivered us to where we are. I have journeyed farther
I am everything I’ve learned and more…The call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me
It’s like the tide; always falling and rising.
That come what may
I know the way
I am Moana!
Sometimes we all need to encourage ourselves a little, even if that means singing out loud, alone in the middle of the ocean, about who we are and what are purpose is.
Moana got up, turned her ship around, sailed all the way back to Tafiti and this time was able to restore the heart to it’s rightful owner.
After her successful mission, she returns home triumphant, to claim her throne. In her tribe’s tradition, to formally claim the throne, you must place a stone on top of the leadership stone; each stone placed by the chiefs before her. In true millennial form, she accepts her role but alters the tradition to better fit her style, instead of an ugly stone, she places a conch shell instead. I personally think she might need to rethink her choice of declaration, as it will make it harder for the next leader to place their stone on the leadership structure. But all in all, loved the spunk and the integration of old and new tradition.
Moral of the story, to hell with those people and the little voice inside that tell you that you can’t do something. You can do anything you set your mind to doing, even if that is finding your passion and sticking to it.
I yawned and wiped the sleep out of my eyes. Then I stretched my hand out, feeling around the left side of my body for my phone. I find it, tucked slightly beneath my left hipbone. I unplug it and pick it up. As per usual, I opened the follower insight app first to check for the faithless unfollowers that I lost during the night. However, unlike other days, this morning I had awakened in Havana, Cuba and there was no data or wifi on hand. Instead there was a sign: “no available service”. I immediately felt a slight surge of panic, but just as quickly that feeling subsided and I breathed a deep sigh of relief.
It was in that moment, on an old creaky mattress on the floor in Cuba, that I realized that somewhere along this journey of Live.Laugh.Boss, I had stumbled off the wellness path and had started to embody the two things that I hate the most and advocate strongly against.
2. I had allowed marketing for my blog take over a large component of my life.
My first blog post launched on March 16 ,2017, and I’ve tried to be faithful in posting once a week ever since. I am not always successful with my weekly posting but I try to practice what I preach by being self-compassionate when I am unable to post on time. But that morning, laying on my uncomfortable mattress in Havana, Cuba, sun-blazing brightly through the silky, bright blue curtains; I realized it was the first morning in five months that the first thing that I saw was not going to be my Instagram insights.
In trying to grow this blog, I’ve become obsessed with taking photos, writing and posting to Instagram daily. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy doing the activities and taking the photos. However, there’s a part of me, an old habit, that has snuck back in to my wellness world: the compulsory need for perfection. I was spending hours of my time, editing photos and blog-posts, re-taking photos that were good enough. Wanting to kidnap and freeze every moment in time to share with all of you, instead of just living my life and allowing the blog to be a part of it.
I know that this is a part of the growing process as a new blogger, figuring out the balance between work, fun, play and life. I’m still learning how much of my life to share and what parts of my life need to remain strictly private to maintain my wellness journey.
Things I’ve learned thus far:
There are positives and negatives to entrenching myself in my blogging world. On the positive side, since I started writing Live. Laugh. Boss, I have felt more like myself than ever before. Encouraging myself to write as often as possible, working out consistently, eating healthily and finding new and exciting ways to enjoy life every single day, has been exhilarating. Writing the blog keeps me accountable to maintaining and documenting my chosen wellness lifestyle.
On the other hand, there’s the exposure. Prior to the birth ofLive. Laugh. Boss, I was not a frequent user of social media. I would actively check my Facebook or Instagram once a day, more to consume media rather than to add to it. Now, I feel like I am constantly checking the insights to see how many likes I have on a post or how many new followers or unfollowers I have. The consistency of it can be exhausting. The other negative is that I find that FONLU (fear of no living up) has found a way to sneak into my amazing blogging experience, working it’s hardest to steal the joy from this experience. I’ve noticed that when I post something particularly vulnerable or a piece that was particularly fun or life-changing to write, my ego takes a hit if I feel that people do not respond to it the way that I expect. For example, if it does not get the right number of likes, comments or new follows. Then, when I’m feeling low from the “failure”, I scroll through my Instagram and see a friend posting similar content that gets 200+ likes. Damn! That FONLU can sneak in and fuck up my afternoon but I’m determined not to let it.
So back to my mattress in Cuba. Since I was unable to check my Instagram or medium followers. I made a list of vows to myself on my phone to remedy the negatives of my blogging experience.
Here are a few:
I vowed, that no matter what, Live. Laugh. Boss will always be written for me, to express my opinions, feelings, emotions and thoughts.
I will not allow it to take over my life.
I will check my followers only twice a day. Once in the morning and once at night, either right after my daily 4pm Instagram post or right before bed. I will continue to live in the moment and not ruin the authenticity of all those moments by trying to capture them in a photo or video but will allow some of my wellness moments to continue to be private and just for me.
I will not take the loss of followers personally. It is not about me or the content, it’s about them. That’s okay.
I will choose two wellness activities per week that will be photo fasted. I won’t even take my phone.
These are the vows that I make to myself and to you all, Tribe. I pray that as you all venture through your own life journeys that you will take moments to assess yourself and your actions and not be afraid to make changes that are right for you and your sanity. Remember, just because you have a set-back moment or you find yourself giving into FONLU, you are not a failure, it happens to the best of us.