It's 5:49 am and I'm awake and writing, a sure sign of restless agitation for someone who needs 8 hours of sleep to be her best self. I've been up since 4 am, replaying events of the past day, the past few months, the past few years. Recounting how I became complicit in the dismissal of my professional authority over time and thus, the dismal outlook on my future.
Time and time again, I've spoken of the joys of working in an urban space. The freedom of not having to explain my Blackness (on most days), the privilege of working in a space with only faces of color, the experience that I think I still wouldn't trade in to return to a non-diverse diverse working environment. But one thing that working for a start up or working with "my people" hasn't eliminated is the persistent battle to do what my title implies, manage. Whereas before the attempts to control and belittle my power were based on my race -- and age to an extent -- I now fight the good fight of sexism and Stockholm Syndrome, conditions, it should be noted, that are not specific to one gender.
One thing you should know about me is I don't get off on titles and I don't spend my days contemplating how I can attain power and dominate. I'll be the first to admit I have control issues, but that's a symptom of a lack of trust more than a desire to dictate the behavior of others. As such, I don't feel the need, in my day to day dealings with people, to announce who I am or what I'm supposed to be able to do as a result of the title I hold. I don't flex unless I'm in the gym -- and even there I'm not there yet. I like to let people cook and put the pieces together in the end. I believe in holding people accountable for end results without requiring they take a certain route to get there. I like to help people exercise their free will and creativity, so long as it leads us back to the agreed upon destination. I like for people to do what the fuck they are supposed to do without my having to say anything, especially because whenever I do say something I find myself battling unfair and unfortunate labels.
A former CEO once asked me during lunch what I would say to the perception that I thought the site I worked on was more important than anyone else's? If I had the foresight and the sense of self then that I have now I would've asked in return, "Shouldn't everyone work like their brand is the most important thing in the world?"
Over time, I've come to learn a commitment to excellence has left me with the reputation of being "difficult" because I've attempted, in quite passive-aggressive ways I might add, to reclaim my time. If asked that if people are going to "pick my brain" and use me to fulfill responsibilities that are theirs and theirs alone, then the least they could do is produce something of quality in the end. I've been branded "bitter" because I have an opinion and don't take kindly to people who aren't aware of nor interested in the Black female experience dictating how I speak about what I live. I've become a figurehead with no authority because people who are no longer around got to say what was best for a brand I was willing to do anything to make succeed. And then when disrespectful experience after disrespectful experience continued to slap me in the face, I broke. I gave up. It's yours. You can have it. But even conceding wasn't enough. Now the very people who have promised me a fresh start have made sure to let others know that I "lack morale." And not one person has bothered to stand up for me and say, "But did she still do the work though?"
If I'm going to point the finger outward however, I have to point it internally as well. I don't like confrontation, mostly because I've never seen a healthy example of it. In my home, conversations turned into arguments which turned into altercations. So now, I swallow, I internalize, and I hope things go away. And I reap the consequences of that behavior every day. I swallowed one too many instances of disrespect, internalized others' negative behavior as an indication I was doing something wrong, and now no one even bothers to recognize I'm still the person who's supposed to manage. It's why people talk to my team about issues they have instead of me. It's why I receive email demands masked as requests from people who haven't even bothered to learn, let alone speak, my name or acknowledge my role. It's why people don't respond to emails I send and try to convince me I'm wrong for requesting acknowledgement of receipt. It's why people use me to keep their jobs and then throw me under the boss the minute they think their role is threatened. It's why friend has become a muddled designation because a true friend would never put you in a position to lose your position just so they can skate by doing the bare minimum. I've allowed every single one of these things to happen to me in a quest to escape stereotypes and I ended up becoming one anyway.
At this juncture in life, though, I don't feel like I have anything (else) to lose by putting an end to this behavior. I've lost respect for those around me and myself for allowing things to get to this point. What that tells me is as much as I try to be a go with the flow gal, that's not who I am; nor is it who I am paid to be. Losing respect has proven to be just as exhausting as fighting to maintain it because in the pit of my stomach there's always the sensation I'm disrespecting myself when I tolerate certain behaviors and fail to correct others. So reclaiming my title isn't about walking into a room and telling people "I'm the boss;" it's about regaining self-respect and realizing I have a right to be all that my title requires me to be. If other people think doing my job infringes on their rights then that's something they'll have to work out on their own time at 5 am.