It’s Not You, Sis. It’s Me!

A few weeks ago, I told my counselor that I wanted to unpack my apprehension around professional women of my age. I have long-standing relationships with women of all professions and caliber. I am honored to be connected to the sisters who make up my tribe. But when it comes to new friendships, if I am making connections in a work environment, my guard goes up. I am open to women in church, at my children’s school, through family friends and virtually everywhere else I can meet new faces, but when it comes to women in my same career field or a similar professional track, I have virtually no work friends. There are no other women attorneys in my life that I go to outside of the ones who have been with me since we started our first study group together in law school. I wanted to know why I have no work friends. I had an inkling of a reason but needed confirmation.

This week I have gotten to the root of my lack of professional connections and interestingly enough, it ties back to the fear of failure that kept me stuck professionally for so many years. I do not make new female attorney/professional friends because I do not think I have anything to offer them. For years, I was fearlessly pursuing my dreams and eager to connect with women who were doing the same. I suffered my first real “fail” in and regarding law school and unbeknownst to me, the failure traumatized me. It was the first time I felt like I could not do something I genuinely gave my best efforts towards. “Oh! I’m not as smart as I thought” came the notion, and every seeming failure since then has been a confirmation of my worst nightmare. I have been carrying a deep sense of inadequacy when it came to career and that weight kept me from connecting with others. In my eyes, professional women who were in my age group and other similar demographics were better than me because they took the same set of circumstances as mine and created success for themselves while I continued to struggle. Every affluent, professional, black woman was out of my league. I had nothing to give them. They were smarter than me, had more money than me and probably knew more about their field than I could know about mine. If I opened myself up to them, they would discover what a failure I was with my lack of income and lack of achievements and likely move on any way. It was better for me to keep everyone at arms length than risk their rejection when they discovered how little I had to offer. I have always known that young professional women scared me, but until today I could not pinpoint why.

Nowhere is this more clear than with my mentoring relationships. Women I have watched over and discipled since they were in middle school and high school are now thriving professionals in their twenties and whenever I glimpse their lives I am always filled with a mixture of pride and sadness. Pride at all they have achieved even if my contribution was limited to being a listening ear, a big sister and letter of recommendation for college. Sadness that at my thirty-six years of age, I had no connections or resources to which I could add to their life to benefit them as young professionals climbing their various ladders of success. It made me sad that I was only a benefit to them for that short window and could not be a resource now because in my own eyes, my professional life had not measured up to much.

I did not realize that I had measured myself against my peers, professional women I admire from afar who were thriving in their various field, and found myself unworthy of their friendship. What if I opened my life up to them and they realized how little I knew (I’m not as smart as I once thought, remember)? What if I invited them to my home and they saw how meager we were living compared to their multiple six-figures? What if they figured out I was a fraud who was only pretending to know what she was doing in this field (imposter syndrome in overdrive)? I was actually afraid to make friends within my professional circle because I was deathly afraid of rejection and embarrassment.

Once again, I divided my abilities between my career and everything else. In any other aspect of my life, I fully acknowledge that I am an empathetic and compassionate friend. I show up for my friends as often as possible and I give the best of me to the people I care about. I know that God has given me enough personality, wisdom and compassion to be a blessing to as many as He will lead my way and I derive deep and genuine joy from making authentic connections. But for some reason when it came to professional connections, I was convinced that I had nothing to offer anyone. If it sounds crazy to you, it is because it is. And if it sounds familiar because this is how you operate as well, then pull up a chair and let’s work through this thing together.

I am finally ready to admit to any woman who has known me for years in a professional capacity but with whom I have always “kept it cute and kept it moving,” never escalating our acquaintanceship beyond the few laughs we share between courtroom sessions or networking events – it is not you, sis. It is me. I was afraid I was not good enough for you. I was afraid that you would laugh at me if you truly knew my situation. I was afraid you would deem me as unworthy as I felt. I was afraid that you would talk about me because I did not have this or could not afford that. And I was jealous. Because you had lawyers in your family to guide you and I had to figure this thing out by myself. Because you got the LSAT score for a scholarship and I was drowning in debt. Because you got hired right out of law school and the last 12 years have felt like I am not good enough for a seat at anyone’s table. Because your life seems so much better on paper than mine. I was afraid. I was jealous and I projected all of my insecurities on you without even bothering to learn your story.

It was not you. It was me.

But I am working through my insecurities. I have pinpointed the lies I once believed and I am dismantling them brick by brick, session by session. I am ready to connect now, if you will still have me. Pull up a chair, sis. Let’s talk this through.


Getting Back To Joy

Have you ever been in a really good place in life? Relationships flourishing, home life thriving and your chosen field of work giving you a relative sense of accomplishment? Then all of a sudden a quiet dread settles in the pit of your stomach? It could be prompted by nothing in particular but suddenly you cannot shake the feeling that something horrifying is soon to come? If you relate to this feeling then you have an idea what the bulk of my adult life (post-grad) has felt like. I have had incredibly fulfilling seasons of life but in the back of my mind – even in those moments of deep joy – is a thought/fear that immediately fills me with dread. I do not have words to explain it yet, but the best way I can describe it is this feeling of “I am running out of time/I’m gonna die doing this/I am never gonna make it out.”

It is terrifying and all-consuming. I have not always felt like this but the earliest I can pinpoint the feeling was my time in law school (circa 2004-2007). Over the years, I have tried to push the feeling aside by striving for excellence. When I am achieving and crushing my goals, all is well. But as soon as I start cruising, or things begin to take a downward turn, the feeling returns. “You life is passing you by while you do nothing. You are never gonna reach (insert any goal) like this. Look at everyone your age who has already passed you by.” And just like that my heart will begin racing and the feeling of doom and dread returns. I often felt this as a single woman thinking about my prospects for marriage. But the most pressing area of my life where these thoughts assault me has been my career. Year after year, I would struggle to find my footing and year after year it felt like I had lost more ground while trying desperately to make a living. Another year in the red and the voice gets louder. “Your life is passing you by while you do nothing.” Another year of working without benefits or retirement savings. “You’re never going to be debt-free like this. You’re going to die owing everybody.”

Getting married and having children was an opportunity to pivot away from what was failing and invest in what I knew I could do well. I poured my all into my family, hoping and praying that it would be enough; but every time I had to confront what I wanted to do with my career or how I could help support my family’s finances, the thoughts returned. “You’ve lost too much ground. There are so many people more equipped than you for this field. You are never going to make a living doing this work.” To avoid the dread, I stuffed my career into the furthest corner of my life and focused on what brought me joy. The people I love, my marriage, writing and ministering to others. If you measured me by everything else, excluding my career, I was living the life of my dreams.

I could only live that chopped in half life for so long before I realized that I had to do something to get my joy back. The first step of that process was my husband challenging me to step out of my comfort zone. The second step was taking a job I was terrified to do. The next step after that has been showing up every day to begin crafting a new beginning for myself. I am in the midst of getting back to joy. I wake up each day grateful for an opportunity to earn and add value. When it takes me twelve hours to achieve an eight-hour work day, I applaud myself for sticking with it instead of lamenting my lack of productivity. When I get constructive feedback from my higher ups, I make a note to be grateful for the opportunity to grow instead of beating myself for not being perfect at my job after only one year in a new field. I save $20 every pay period into one account, and save all the cash I have on hand into another account. I opened a retirement savings account and started a rainy-day fund. It may not be a million dollars, but it is better than nothing and the small steps in the right direction encourage me to keep going.

While working from home full-time and watching my children (side bar – I took them out of childcare for the summer in hopes of finding a summer camp but honestly, my children are at their happiest when they are getting ample time with mom and dad), I have come to realize that my workday does not look like anyone else’s. I hope for nine to five but between making meals, fixing snacks, wiping tears and breaking up fights – it can be anything from 10 to 6 or 12 to 8 and on really crazy days, 4 to 12. But here I am getting it done. My children are happy and thriving. My husband and I have time to invest in one another; and I can still give myself to the things that matter to me, like writing and supporting the women I love. I am getting back to joy. I am giving myself permission to have deep, soul-lifting joy that permeates every aspect of my life – rather than limiting my happiness to the things that are going according to plan.

My house is still a wreck more often than not. I clean it as my schedule allows but I have learned to grace myself when dishes pile up and toys are all over the place. It does not always get done immediately. My house looks more like a home with toddlers than a showroom but I have learned to embrace it. I no longer compare myself to my friends with pristine homes and young children. What works for them wouldn’t work for me and vice versa. I’m graced to live this life and no one else’s. Self-care means seeing a therapist every 3-4 weeks, getting my eyebrows waxed and a pedicure every 2-3 weeks, and saying “no” when people ask for favors that give me anxiety.

I am learning to respectfully voice my concerns rather than stuffing my feelings until I explode. I am drawing boundaries between relationships that require everything I have to give and associations that are for the time being or for convenience sake. I am getting back to joy. Prioritizing joy means shifting my work schedule one hour later so my kids can visit their grandparents and have ice-cream. Life is far from perfect, but it does not need to be perfect for me to find the joy in today. After so many years of sacrificing my joy because I was not successful enough, rich enough, married enough (singleness was an adventure), it is an honor to be getting back to joy.

How are you getting back to (or staying in) your own joy?

(Share with me in the comments! I would love to hear from you)