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Rules for Revisiting and Revising Your Resume

Having to revise your resume and writing cover letters for jobs is stressful. Especially if your savings are running low and the phone’s just not ringing. It’s easy to start getting down on yourself and letting negative thoughts take over.

But you know you can’t quit. You got bills. However, you probably need to take a break and allow yourself to do something fun, so you’ll have a clearer head to get back out there. So quit applying from jobs from a place of fear, anxiety and disbelief.

Trust me, you have to feel good about yourself and your abilities in order to convince someone to pay you to do stuff.

Whether you’ve had a steady job for 12 years and looking for a change, or you’ve been out of work for a few weeks or a few months, taking the time to revisit your work history can feel like it’s painful as spring cleaning, or as anxiety-inducing as being asked to jot down how many sexual partners you’ve had on a health form.

Sometimes, you just don’t want to go back. But in all of those scenarios, in order to move forward, you have to face it.

Working on your resume and cover letters is time-consuming. It just is. It’s a necessary evil. But instead of being filled with fear and anxiety, be comforted that in the age of technology, you can get a lot of help and find free resources to help you polish things up a bit.

Rule number one: Just because you snagged a job with your old resume doesn’t mean sticking with what you’ve got will continue to work.

I like to use my job-winning resume format as a foundation, but I continue to tweak.

Rule number two: Work on your resume while you have a job and can readily think of accomplishments and achievements and your duties while you are actually doing them.

Rule number three: Tailor, tailor, tailor. I write different cover letters for every position. Why? Practice makes perfect and I challenge myself to say what I have to say with fewer words. I think I hit a new record when I got my cover letter down to about 380 words. This means you are getting closer to matching your written elevator pitch and effectively getting to the point, which is an attractive attribute for any kind of candidate. This also saves the recruiter and hiring managers some time, which they appreciate. This is not to say that I don’t have a base letter that reminds me of my accomplishments or uses good phrases that describe my experience level and background, but I try to change it up. Besides, you don’t want the mistake of copying and pasting an entire letter with the wrong position title, or worse yet, wrong company. This is why no matter how tired you are, you have to review your work, and always run it through spell check. I also like the other features like word count, and the passive voice percentage checker. Web writers, you want to have 0% passive sentences.

Rule number four: Government jobs are a different beast. As with all applications, READ THE DIRECTIONS CAREFULLY. Usajobs.gov actually has tips and videos that go along with their job descriptions and applications to help you bone up on what they expect and how your resume should be presented. If they took the time to do this, take the time to watch. It actually means qualified folks probably got tossed because they didn’t follow the rules, so this time, the government is trying to do us a solid here. Doing this may separate you from the folks who blindly upload resumes that get tossed immediately and may give you a few more points to compete with the veterans who get special preference.

Rule number five: Actually follow the directions as given. This applies to all applications, but the government in particular is rather fond of eliminating people for not doing things exactly as they asked. Just ask anyone who’s applied for a grant. Folks who approve grants are always trying to catch folks slipping. It’s not because they are mean, it’s just that there are strict rules when it comes to handing out government funds. They can get in a lot of trouble if they skip steps or let sloppy paperwork slide. It’s a picky, picky process. Details do matter. “Slay, trick or get eliminated.”

Rule number six: Imagine your resume is a contestant on “The Voice.” No one knows what you look like. Your resume has to sing and capture the attention of the hiring manager in less than a minute. Like the judges, they know what to listen for. Is this person confident? Can they even sing? Are they breathing right? Are they on key? Do they have a unique voice they haven’t heard before? Can they take songs people have heard millions of times and make it stand out? Same rules apply to your resume.

Are you on key? Does the tone of your resume and cover letter fit the description? Do you meet all of the requirements? Do you have examples?

Do you have a unique voice? What do you bring to the table that your other competitors don’t?

Can you take songs people have heard millions of times and make it stand out? There are millions of lawyers and accountants and teachers and nurses, but if you are in any of those fields there’s still only one you. You specialize in something, you may have come from another field that makes you have a different perspective on how you’re doing what you do now. You may have volunteered in another country, or had to use your skills in other ways. Play that up.

Rule number seven: Did you really read the job description? Use similar terminology the job description uses in your resume and cover letter so the machines can pick up the terms and match them. Say exactly how you meet each requirement and give an example.

Rule number nine: Don’t waste your time on long shots. Don’t apply to positions that are way out of your league and don’t apply to junior positions if you have a lot of experience. You have to strike the right balance.  Conserve your energy so you can concentrate on researching the company, rereading the job description so you can write an amazing cover letter and resume for jobs you have a real shot at getting.

Rule number nine: Don’t lie. This should be obvious, but do not lie or over embellish. There have been instances where people lied about credentials and were exposed several years later having to step down or being fired in shame. It’s never worth it. People also tend to lie about salary in hopes of getting a bump. It’s not worth it either. Report the truth, and ask for what you’re worth when it’s time to discuss the offer. If you can back it up, you’ll be surprised when companies step up.

Rule number 10: Say thank you.This goes back to kindergarten, but thank folks for their time and consideration. Don’t forget to include your contact information so someone can get back to you!

Bonus Rule: Have someone else look at your resume and give feedback. If you know someone who is an HR professional, that’s even better! Do you know writers or copy editors? Let them have a look too. They can provide some insight on things you should put more emphasis on, and things you can leave out.

Good luck!

 

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Just Say No (Confidently and Politely)

Not less than 10 minutes ago, I came out of a meeting that was about 10 minutes long.

It was supposed to be at least a half hour, but one word really shut down the entire conversation and ended the meeting abruptly.

The discussion was around coming up with some art to promote a very large section of the website, that had several groups listed within it, that each had their own webpage.

Our goal was to create an image that was going to represent 32 different entities, and invite people to not only visit the page that explains these entities further, but to join one that best fits their discipline.

So, here I am with my boss and the graphic designer on the case. I gave two examples of how we could handle the situation. One would be to highlight each entity with a distinguishing graphic of its own and feature a group each week. The other would be something that I saw where it was a graphic image made of words (all 32 entities) that spell out our call to action “Join this group.”

Yes, I grabbed an example used from “Black Lives Matter” where the phrase was spelled out using the names of the victims in a pattern. I knew this example would have been controversial, but it really was the best visual example of what I wanted to do with all 32 names.

My boss really liked it. We thought this would be a slam dunk.

The graphic designer, basically said no. Actually it wasn’t basically. She said no, period. And was unbothered about it.

My boss tried to sell her on the idea, and the graphic designer said no again.

She wasn’t angry or mean.

She just scrunched up her face a bit and offered that we go back to another previous version of the design for us to present to the client. It was direct, it was simple, and it was clear it wasn’t up for debate.

Then she didn’t even ask if there was anything else, or she’d take our ideas into consideration to come up with a happy medium of what we’d discussed.

She thanked us for our time and bounced.

This instantly reminded me of a line from a new instant classic movie “Dope” where the character Diggy says, “I’m George Bush. I don’t give a fuck what the vote says.”

I was really shocked and amused and confused at what I just witnessed. Did I think her reaction was professional in a collaborative setting?

My boss softly said, “Well, I liked that idea. But she’s the artist.”

It’s a rare moment when I see especially other women, especially women of color (the graphic designer was Asian) just assert themselves and it wasn’t in a confrontational way, but just firmly say no, case closed.

She did it so smooth, in the moment, I couldn’t be pissed.

I feel kind of strange about it.
While I applaud her for a level of unbotherdness I’d never witnessed on the job by a non-white male (she’s only about a month or so in), I do feel as if as a new person, she missed an opportunity to be more collaborative, or even take the ideas given to her and to elevate them.

The reason my boss and I didn’t react in a pissy way, is because one, we were shocked. Two, we didn’t have the time. She said she’d send back the original she was working on and give the client that first. That was her proposal. That would be her action item. That would be her contribution. She was firm, and still pleasant. That’s why I kind of admire her swag, even though I still think she was being a bit rigid. But it made me ask myself why was I so quick to feel like she wasn’t being a team player?

Because I’m a hater. And I wouldn’t have had the guts to do what she did. I would have defaulted to trying to please everyone despite my schedule, or other projects. We’ve romanticized being a team player to the point of emotional paralysis and to the point where true team players get manipulated.

The other flipside to this is, if you are someone who is good at what you do, you know what works and what doesn’t. She also has other projects to juggle, and must prioritize her time. Her quick assessment of what was presented before her led her to a simple answer to our suggestions. No. And as non graphic designers, they were totally suggestions. We are not her supervisor. So was our expectation that she at least put some of these ideas to paper unreasonable? Were we being poor collaborators?

This chick really had me scratching my head.

So I decided to put myself in her shoes. As a professional graphic designer, what we were offering up may have seemed way below her talents and appeared uninspired and trite, but once again, I would have taken that opportunity to elevate what my colleagues offered up which is usually what our lead graphic designer does.

I’ve often said I don’t like my time being wasted. And I’ve complained about non-writers telling me how to write.

This situation revealed to me something very interesting about myself.

Usually, when I say no to something, I have to think of 50 million ways to justify it or explain it to someone. Like, I spend a considerable amount of time thinking of ways to make my no go down a lot smoother, and that I tried my best to accommodate you first before making such a tough decision.

This new graphic designer did not go through such a mental exercise.

Was it appropriate to do so? I’ll let you chew on that, but it did reinforce the concept that’s especially lost on a lot of women that no is an answer, and it’s a full sentence. By itself. No further explanations needed.

I’ll have to try it on for size and see how it works to say the word no, without hesitation, explanation or sugar on top to make it go down sweeter for the listener. In other words, I take an inordinate amount of time being worried about someone’s reaction to me telling them no, that I automatically prepare for pushback.

This was a truly teachable moment for me.

Firmly and politely saying no with no qualms and no excuses, could appear arrogant and may make you seem difficult to work with. But sometimes a well-placed, confident no, can express the value of your time and your level of skill.

I’ll have to learn how to get comfortable with the word no, just as comfortable as I am with saying my own name. No isn’t offensive. No is a choice. No is a person exercising their autonomy. This is why we have difficulty hearing it, this is why we go off on children who say it to us with confidence.

While I believe children do need to be respectful of parents, when kids say no, our inclination is to react to it as an act of defiance and disrespect instead of a child acting as a human being who has likes, dislikes and is expressing discomfort or disagreement with a situation.

We are subconsciously telling our kids that there’s always a negative consequence to telling someone no.But as a woman, and as a person of color, we struggle with asserting our autonomy because when we do, when we are absolutely justified, there is pushback.

Any sign of our defiance can cost us jobs, a professional reputation, and even our lives.

That’s just the reality.

When we are in a store, we don’t have time to analyze it, or when it’s time to go to school or go to bed, those are the nonnegotiables. Children better pretend the word “no” doesn’t exist when it comes to such matters. People of color have to teach our kids to get along and be excessively compliant to authority figures as a matter of safety.

We make jokes and remind them that children don’t pay bills in this house, which is true.But underneath it all, we’re giving them a lesson about power and where they fit in all of that. It kind of disturbs me.

But children are still small people who grow into adults who want to either have their way all the time or be chronic people-pleasers with strained sanity, hanging for dear life to the one last nerve we’ve got left. Where is the healthy middle?

But how do we raise our kids to say no at the right time, so that when they are adults they are confident decision-makers while being good people to work with? How do they stand up for their rights as tax-paying citizens without the system turning on them? How do we teach them the powerful “nos” that help them exit unhealthy relationships and uncomfortable situations?

How do we retrain ourselves as adults to be confident enough to say no when it makes sense and to know when to sacrifice for the good of others?

So what do you think? While people do have a right to say no, and in a lot of cases we don’t say no enough, should we be more willing to compromise especially at work? Or have we been groomed as a society to accommodate first, then say no?

Job Hunting On a Deadline Is Emotionally Draining

Hey folks.

Not long ago, I found myself trying to coach and encourage my cousin visiting from the south about jumping in, getting a job and grinding like hell to achieve his goals.

I told him to be prepared for obstacles: some of which he had no control, and some of which may have been created by old choices or lack of planning and preparation.

As I enter my last month of employment in a few days, and still have bills to pay, so far, I’ve had one promising interview, and I’ve been putting in several applications all over the place.

I do believe that things are going to work out, and it’s never based on my sense of timing. And God hasn’t let me down before, even if things appeared to be down to the wire.

But my anxiety is ramping up. Especially after doing an electronic application for a job I know I was qualified for, but got a lightning quick rejection. Like immediate. LOL.

Me thinks my salary requirement got me bounced immediately. Which, probably is a good thing. There’s no point in even having a great interview if the salary they are offering is too low.

But see, everything is making me feel edgy and uncertain and in a kind of ho-hum mood.

I’ve been virtually silent at work, really just trying to get through the day and my tasks.

It’s nearly impossible for me to concentrate on the statistics class I’ve been “supposed” to be working so diligently on over the summer so I can return to my grad school program in good standing. Progress is at a standstill on that front. I get lumps in my throat thinking about it. It’s hard to move forward on a self-paced course. How sad is that?

So, per the usual, I’ve been not even looking for the silver lining, I’ve been looking for the golden lesson. The what is this preparing me for? What am I supposed to gain from feeling how I feel, and willing myself to put out just one more application?

Am I applying blindly out of fear? Or wisely out of purpose and true interest in the job?

Fear and uncertainty makes us scramble. It sounds a lot like our current presidential election.

We have a serious problem with discomfort. Fear makes us rationalize behaviors or ideas, that when we are otherwise calm and confident, we’d never consider.

It’s not limited to our votes, it extends to the partners we choose to stick with for fear of being alone, it extends to not expressing how we feel for fear of backlash or being unaccepted, it extends to every type of fear that holds us back.

So now, I have to speak myself out of the fear.

I am dwelling in the unknown. But I have family, I have friends, I have love, I have skills and talents. These are things that I know. I’ve lived in places I never thought I would and I’ve survived.

I had people tell me that I wasn’t good enough and I knew it was a lie, and I survived.

I thought the end of a relationship was the end of me ever being happy again, and six years later, I know it to be a lie.

The old church folks love to say “The Devil is a Lie.” And it’s very tempting to try to correct their grammar, and say isn’t it “The Devil is a liar?”

It’s both. Everything about the devil and all that comes with him is a lie. He works through very real things and very specific details in our lives to thwart us from our divine purpose he uses lies to get in our heads. He uses lies as agents of fear, because fear makes us move, it drives us to action.

I’m not a biblical scholar by any means, but now I get why there are so many scriptures that say things like “Fear not.” Or, “God hasn’t given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.”

Other verses mention love casting out fear. I gravitate to the idea of the power of a sound mind the most. The challenge is to maintain a sound mind when our natural impulse would be to fear. Our bodies react to all kinds of situations: we sweat, we want to run and hide, we get weak stomachs, we pass out, we fight.

But how do we calm ourselves in the face of fear? How do we accept what is and what will be?

Having fear is a natural human flaw that attempts to protect us from pain and threats.

However pushing beyond our fears draws us closer to our supernatural, interior selves.

Even self-help folks, and motivational speakers talk over and over again about conquering fear, about drowning out voices of self-doubt.

It’s very easy to be fearful in the world we live in, and some days, staying under the covers is the solution. But there comes a time when we must act. When we must do our part, do our best in the face of fear and trust our Creator will do the rest.

 

 

One of the Toughest Questions

The toughest question people have asked me, that will shut me up or make me stumble is when they look me square in the eye and ask me, “What do you want?”

To me, it seems like such a huge, massive question. I mean, maybe I’m not used to people asking me that, and now folks are asking me this all the time.

I’m being asked this when it comes to my career, what I want to do after grad school and in my love life and I often find myself completely thrown off guard and tongue-tied.

The craziest part about that is, I used to know. I was a person who knew early on what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.

When I was a little girl, I had no problem telling people I wanted to be the “first black woman president of the United States.”

I found out that when I’d be old enough to go to college, in order to be president, I’d of course have to study political science. So boom, I had a major set up by the third grade.

Things changed. In 8th grade I was working on the school newspaper and fell in love. I was going to be a journalist. And that’s what I had set out to do, and I went to college for it, I had my internships with magazines and newspapers and boom, I was working as a journalist. I’ve covered a lot of very cool things and met amazing people. And when people would ask me about my future, it was get to the big newspapers and eventually become a beloved columnist, writing until the day I died.

Well, the industry changed.
And that change, changed what I wanted and changed what was going to make me happy. Mainstream journalism wasn’t making me happy, not living in DC anymore wasn’t making me happy.

So I got another job, and I moved back. I knew I loved health and medical reporting so great, I got a gig doing that, I also loved learning about websites and incorporating technology to tell stories in creative ways, so I worked my way up, until I got bored. I told folks what I wanted, a new title and to lead the junior editors and I needed more money. And those things happened, but once I taught the junior editors all I could, I wondered what else was there for me to learn. So I went into government consulting.

What I wanted changed again. What once made me happy, got old.

So I decided to go to grad school to work on my Masters in Public Health.

I love how the random pieces of my life really do set the tone for the things I eventually realize I want, but there are these moments where I truly don’t know. Where I need to explore.

I’m supposed to meet with someone a friend recommended I speak with, but I’m really afraid of that person asking me the inevitable and not having what I think is a “good” answer.

This same friend asked me if I’d ever be interested in launching my own business. I had told her that I love being creative and if I did, I’d need a business manager who would gladly take care of the details that I hate when it comes to running a business.

I admire business owners, I love their guts and their confidence and their ability to win people over, and in turn, give other people opportunities. It’s so cool to me, but sometimes, I wonder if I have enough in me to pull it off. I get very impatient. Sometimes, I have to just quit temporarily because I get overwhelmed. I’m a worry wort. I appreciate stability. I have a serious fear problem.

And these same fears carry over into my love life. Right now, there’s nothing going on. Nothing. No signs of life. And if a really great man looked me in the eyes and asked me what do I want, well, I might do a better job of listing what it is that I need and want than career wise.

I’ve been so used to knowing, then mapping out a plan to get there. That’s another reason why grad school has been so fulfilling. I knew I wanted my MPH, but two years would be enough time to figure out how to Frankenstein together my perfect career that still allowed me to bring my experience and skills as a reporter, writer and editor, while also giving a nod to this growing techy side as a content consultant. I’m certain that I want to work in health communications, but the questions my friends raise about me stepping out on my own has me wondering.

I have a combination of unique skills. How do I build a business out of that? I know great people over the years who I’d love to work with and who I’d love to give opportunities to and just let them do their thing, but how would I make that happen? But I wouldn’t want to drag people into something and let them down.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m lying to myself and deep down I do know what I want.
I’m just terrified of it.

Reconnecting to My High-Achieving Self

It has been a tiring week, that was filled with crazy highs and neurotic lows. Moments that made me feel unsure and tired and other moments that made me feel ridiculously proud of myself.

It all surrounds the project I’ve been working on for my job.

At the beginning of the week, I was vexed because the ideas I presented to my group was originally met with a meh, kind of tepid response. To the end of the week, me having a breakthrough moment and actually being inspired getting out of bed to present my ideas through a well-produced, high-quality video.

I’m normally reluctant to get on camera, but for whatever reason (God, prayer) it just came together. I felt good, I felt confident. I hadn’t been this passionate about anything in a while.

My big boss seemed to even feel inspired and I haven’t spent this much face time with her in a long time. When I’d come in to her office, she’d stop what she was doing, and we’d end up talking for two hours. She seemed just as excited about my ideas as I was.

When she got in the door the same morning that I woke up with a script for my video concept, I made a beeline to her and shared my even bigger idea. She gave me full support. By the end of the day, I had a product and she was thrilled. She began to heap credit on me, and I reminded her of the people who quickly rallied around me to make the project turn out as amazing as it did.

So she looked at me and she said, “I’ve never seen you this happy.”

I said, “Oh, boy. I must look pretty unhappy most of the time.”

We laughed and she assured me I didn’t look unhappy most of the time, but it had to have been clear to both of us that I’d been in a professional rut. Her giving me this opportunity ended up being much bigger and better for me than I really initially anticipated. As I mentioned in the last post, I really wanted to play the background, but the ideas kept coming. Then the confidence kept building. I was working for my own integrity, and doing it from my heart and an honest place. And that’s what made it feel good.

Then I felt like we had an ultimate mentoring moment. And I do respect my boss. She is one of those started from the bottom now we’re here type women. And at every level she’s gotten to she’s had to learn things the hard way, she’s had to make mistakes, she’s had to make really tough decisions and she’s had to fight harder because she’s a woman. Sometimes she’s had to walk blindly through somethings or put on a brave face, but she’s tough, she’s sharp and she has an insatiable curiosity. For some reason, I feel like our interactions this week did just as much for her as it did for me. My favorite part of the conversation was when she asked me what I thought of my finished product.

I told her, “I think it’s fabulous.” She noticed me catching myself and trying to turn humble. And she laughed. She laughed really hard.

I explained that it was an affirmation for me. I woke up this morning with an idea. Just this morning, I had this vision in my head and now it’s something real. In one day. I’m so happy about that. I’m happy that people rallied around me to make it happen and they also believed in what I was trying to do and eagerly supported me. That’s what made it even more special. It seemed like the excitement was infectious throughout the office. People saw me standing in front of the cameras, some watched and smiled. Some people were thrilled I asked them to participate or do a quick cameo. I realized, people want to feel acknowledged and even feel like a star sometimes… little did I know that I did too.

So here I was, channeling one of my favorite television host personalities Rene Syler, proudly rocking my natural hair and I found myself calm and cool and confident on camera.

I gave my boss all the details that the final edit would be done soon, but even the rough cut made me very happy. I told her that I did wonder what our group would think of it, because sometimes they could be downers and she said to me, “What do you think of it?”

“I love it.”

“Well that’s all that matters.”

And she smiled.

Even though I’ve been exhausted every night this week, I haven’t felt more excited or happy about my work. And that hasn’t happened in a really long time. I had a meeting today with my group and even the most critical ones of the bunch loved my video concept. It seems to have reenergized everyone and we might create a lot of buzz during our out-of-town business trip next week. Everyone wins.

I did put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best. I won’t lie, I did tell a friend earlier in the week that I wanted my presentation to be so good, I want anyone going on after me to have a panic attack in the restroom.

When members of my group were trying to figure out the order of presentations, people quickly suggested I go last because no one wanted to go on after me. “I can’t follow that.” “Me, either,” they said.

So this week, I felt like I was reconnected to my high-achieving self. And I won’t lie. It felt good. It felt right. It felt like me. I believe this is truly the start of a new season in my life. New opportunities are opening, some of which are very unexpected. But I’m glad I threw myself into this experience because what I’m feeling right now is worth being tired or feeling a little uncomfortable. This is worth it.

Now, I just hope it goes over with the really important people at the meeting next week!

Stop Hiding

So there has been a recurring theme that’s been popping up lately.

I came to an epiphany while talking to a good ex. He was wishing me a belated happy birthday and we started talking about a lot of random things. And he said to me some very positive things about me to me.

I asked him if I had changed and to him, he said not one bit, but he was very worried when I was going through my rough patch. He told me he didn’t like it when I would be down on myself because I could do anything.

He said it so simply and with so much love and admiration it made me miss our relationship so much. And it reminded me that whoever I choose needs to shower me with that kind of support. It didn’t feel syrupy at all, because as soon as he said something sweet, he said something absurd and silly as he often does to break the moment. And I enjoy that about him.

I disclosed to my good ex, that for the last several years I had been hiding in a sense.

After what I thought was a failure at a newspaper I worked at, I went to another job for security and got satisfied with consistent raises and well-deserved promotions. When I fell in love, and was preparing to get married, I saw my impending move as a way out to something else; a convenient excuse for a fresh start that I was all too ready for. At that time my comfy job was making me miserable with a tyrant of a co-worker trying to ruin my life.

And finally, the feeling that the last time I had to choose between career and love, I chose a career. So to show I was all in, I went all in and chose the man. But, that still didn’t work out, I said laughing. I was existing and hiding after the split, just trying to survive. I was too unhappy to think about purpose, I used all of my energy to simply get out of bed and make it to work.

To that, the good ex said, no way. And that I was awesome for holding it down everyday and paying my bills and staying employed which a lot of people in our industry were having a very tough time doing. I was glad we were texting because I was blushing.

I told him about grad school and how it scared me a bit, but how in some ways, I had no other choice. It was time for me to take control and live up to my best self. And I can’t keep doing that being satisfied where I am.

Which brings me to work and a certain project my big boss personally selected me for.

I thought I could hide.

But for some reason, my big boss chose me. So, I was given a task and I did it, I represented. I was prepared, confident and cool. After a conference call today when I asked her a few questions about the direction of the project and preparation for a larger presentation. She basically said aside from her I was one of the best people on the team. And this was in an area I knew nothing about and had to study in the span of a week. But I brought my ideas. And people were receptive and enthusiastic. It made me feel good. She also basically told me to take the ball and run with it and I will be a presenter in a major out-of-town meeting.

Whether I liked it or not, I could not hide.

God gave me a whole lot of time to sit on the sidelines and occasionally step forward at work with moments of brilliance and leadership even when I didn’t want to, or when I just wanted to lay low. He gave me time to rest and heal and deal with my own confidence issues and insecurities.

But I’m noticing more and more, God presenting certain opportunities that say, it’s time for you to shine. Do the work, don’t fear, if I’m telling you to go and you do it, you will not fail. You will have favor.

So I started being thankful for this season, even if it means if I do something impressive today, folks are looking at me to do something even more impressive tomorrow. That’s a good thing and like my ex said, its beyond high time to start seriously believing in myself the way I used to.

When I was busy questioning why my big boss chose me to do something way different from what I do everyday, I had to stop and say why not me?

Take this challenge and impress the heck out of everyone in the room. You belong at the table. You can lead. And with the full endorsement of the big boss, I am very much empowered to do so.

Then it made me think about the bigger picture and how God gives us tasks of varying degree of difficulty to prepare us for greater things and higher things. So I started thinking about what I’m studying and the kinds of things I want to do, like be a guest on Melissa Harris Perry or be a thought leader in public health or in public health communications, and what’s going on right now with work is practice.

God is letting me practice on a smaller scale so I’ll be ready to work at the CDC or NIH or even the White House. All things are possible.

But I can’t accomplish any of those things if I’m hiding. Or if I’m doubting myself. He sent me a bunch of signs in unexpected places that I cannot ignore.

So join me and come out of hiding. If you have a gift and a skill and a sincere desire to do something, then come out of hiding, put aside your fear and do it, even if it feels like it’s on a small-scale. When you are honest, when you do things from the heart and you are trying your best, the right people notice and you find yourself rising. When you show gratitude to people who give you chances, you get more chances. When you give other people chances, you get bigger chances. You notice you aren’t where you were a few years ago and you are in places you’d never thought you’d be.

Don’t hide anymore.

Oh Baby– On Office Shade for Unmarried Folks With Babies

I’ve been on a work-related post kick lately.

But something came up that was fascinating to me that I really want to delve into an examine. But first I want to share with you this very moving clip from a poet during the Arsenio Hall show recently. He is discussing what black male co-parenthood is. And when his voice cracks, I nearly started crying for this man. There’s a reason I’m including this clip. http://www.arseniohall.com/video/show-highlights/4127_Prentice_Powell_Performs_Good_Father/index.html

I hope you watched it.

There is one black young male that works at my job. There are a total of four black women. He’s a nice guy. He’s quiet and he’s knowledgeable about his work. There have been times that people who are uncomfortable with his presence have said they’d wait for another person to help with their problems, even though he was available and more than qualified to get done what they needed quickly.

It made me sad to hear that. It made me mad to hear that, because he worked a miracle for me while I was working from home. I know he’s smart.

I’d noticed it seemed he’d been out of the office for awhile, but I’m only in the office three days a week now, and with all the snow, sometimes I’m there barely two days.

But I didn’t think anything of it.

Today an email pops up, and he’s announced the birth of his beautiful son. And attached is a great picture of the new father holding his baby boy swaddled in a blanket in his arms.

Amid the replies of Congratulations via email… there were quiet, yet still audible whispers.

“What?”

“We didn’t know? Did you know?”

Then there were uncomfortable silences, where you could practically see other questions running through people’s minds.

“Wait, he’s never mentioned a wife or girlfriend.”

It ran through my mind too. I don’t recall seeing a ring on his finger. But it doesn’t mean he isn’t married either. I haven’t gotten to talk to him much about his personal life.

Which leads me to something else in my predominately female and married office.

I have a feeling my co-worker did want to keep it to the vest that he was a new father, because he may very well not be married. And in truth, that isn’t anyone’s business. It has nothing to do with his job.

And keep it to the vest he did.

Even his supervisor didn’t know.

Which means, this brotha just asked for some time off and didn’t give much detail. And according to HR, he doesn’t have to unless he wants bonding time off through FMLA. (Family medical leave act). And men on my job have totally used their three months or broken it up to help their wives. So he should take it.

When his supervisor was asked, he shrugged his shoulders and said he didn’t know either and that he guessed the guy was just really private. While the folks on my job are well-meaning, they are nosey and they gossip. I really don’t blame my co-worker for his CIA-like steathness.

The very few men we have on the job, there were showers held for their wives who were asked to come into the office and baby gifts were collectively purchased. My job loves babies and weddings and they never mind ponying up to buy an expensive stroller.

But I think my co-worker knew his situation was different.

Since I don’t have any facts, I can’t confirm any possible scenarios. But I think if his situation involves a woman he really doesn’t want to marry or isn’t in a committed relationship with, but wanted to still keep the child, it’s very hard to go around prior to the birth without dealing with those kinds of questions around the relationship with the mother. It’s also hard to be completely excited about the birth, knowing he is going to have to deal with a woman he may not have wanted to for the rest of his life. There can be all kinds of sticky details.

But I honestly hope that is not the case. But even if it is, I want him to be the best father he can be to his child and have a positive relationship with the mother/girlfriend/wife/surrogate whatever she is.

Two, he knows the stereotypes placed on him as the ONLY black guy in the office. He knows even if he wasn’t married, people would already lump him into a category- which no doubt is probably happening right now and people still have no facts. Here goes the young black guy. Having babies. That’s what they do. Child support.

The email simply stated the child’s name and that he is a welcome addition to the family. There was no mention of the mother or a reference to my girlfriend or wife. His silence and the careful wording of the email kind of suggests, that he will be in a co-parenting situation. I wish him the best of luck.

There is a double standard when it comes to children out-of-wedlock for other races and for black people. Not taking into account the large numbers of women from a number of backgrounds who are mothers without husbands, especially lower-income women.

Precious is a tragic drain on society doomed to continue procreation. She had AIDS, was illiterate and morbidly obese. Well damn.

Juno was just a misguided girl who made a mistake. Her only afflictions were witty sarcasm and crushing on a married man.

So I watch my co-workers carefully as they try to dissect his situation, and politely ask for details, that they weren’t bold enough to ask him, themselves.

I had a wiry grin on my face during that discussion. Because I one time wondered if I showed up pregnant, unapologetic, and with no husband how supportive would people genuinely be? Would I be dropped down from my pedestal as the black girl who isn’t like the others (stereotypes)? Would I still be harshly judged for making a choice to keep my child as a 32-year-old woman with an education and a home and a career? Or would they look at me with the same lens as precious simply because of my color?

When I got engaged, I was the most popular person in the office. My office is big on marriage and family. They live for it, and they love throwing showers. I felt like I was finally in the in crowd. The women finally had some commonality on which they could finally reach out to me and have conversations. They seemed more relieved than I was. And when the news finally got around that my engagement ended, I may have gotten a few pity glances, but no one rallied around me or asked me how I was doing. Now that, that was my business.

I wouldn’t have wanted to go into details, but simply showing concern would have gone a long way.

There is another young lady around my age who went through a difficult divorce, and well, folks really rallied around her. One of my co-workers suggested that it wasn’t necessarily about race, but a level of openness. And I tend to be very private, meanwhile my divorced counterpart was quite vocal about the breakup. So I decided not to think of it in terms of race. But sometimes I do.

Sometimes I feel as a black person in the workplace any sign of emotion will cause people to equate that with being incapable and unable to handle stress… meanwhile black women have hypertension and diabetes and all sorts of ulcers and fibroids because they are putting on the strong woman front, and bosses continue to pile on the work, bragging about how so and so can handle it. She’s unshakeable. (I was described that way once by a very proud manager. And inside, it made me think of how proud Patsy’s master from “12 Years A Slave” bragged about her picking 50 pounds of cotton every day, out picking the men. And Patsy was being raped and beaten on a daily basis, but still outshone her male counterparts. This is historical yall. Same ish, different master.)

I started off this blog talking about black men and I got sidetracked bringing it back to me and black women. My bad.

Either way, I do think whether you want to deal with the facts or not, the brother at my job was very cognizant of the potential reactions and judgements if he mentioned his new son prior to his birth. And it’s not fair.

But it never is. Is it?

 

 

Professional Poor Shaming

When we think of the phrase “poor shaming” you may think of someone posting an angry Facebook post about being a hardworking person standing in the checkout line behind a person buying, shrimp and lobster and ceremoniously whipping out a public assistance card.

They are disgusted this person is flaunting what is apparent mooching off the system, because they didn’t dare fill their carts with, oh I don’t know Spam or government cheese or whatever good respectable folks on assistance are supposed to eat, because they don’t deserve hummus or omega 3 fatty acids. Or soy milk. Nope.

But there’s another kind that isn’t so easy to see, that you probably won’t read about or hear about, because the victims of what I call “professional poor shaming” would never want to be outed. It would destroy the persona they’ve built at work or in their social circles. But as sneaky as professional poor shaming is, it’s managed to work its way into workplace culture and it has a lot of people who are financially in the margins, living in fear during every business trip, or business lunch.

One of the best illustrations of this is reflected in a scene from a movie called “The Pursuit of Happiness” you know the feel good, keep dreaming working story starring Will Smith and his son Jaden (when he was little and super cute).

Will Smith has killed himself to earn an internship with a major company, he hides the fact that he is homeless and sleeping in public bathrooms at night and fighting for beds at shelters and emerges as one of the rising stars. He is in a cab with one of his very wealthy bosses. The cab ride is but a mere $10, and his boss says, “Hey, I don’t have any cash, can you take it?” Will’s character is mortified because basically that is the only $10 he had which would be a meal for he and his son, but the shame and the desire for this man to see him as an equal steps in, and you can feel the pain as Will has to hand over that money to the cabbie.

This scene plays out at lunches, where if you are a young professional, single and paying most of your bills and paying back large student loans or repairing your credit, surrounded by people who make more money than you and live in dual income homes you are overwhelmed with the feeling of being able to keep up, pay your share, or even take the tab for the entire group, because the last person who opted to pay for everyone reminded the whole table it’s your turn.

This scene plays out in an institutional way if your company sends you on a business trip, but turns around and says you have to use your credit card to pay for the trip and once you file expenses you’ll get the money back later. But what if you don’t have the money or the credit now?

The panic sets in. You may ask your boss a whole lot of details about the cost of things, and they will wonder why you are so uncomfortable. “Just charge it, you’ll get reimbursed. It’s no big deal.” Will be the response.

They don’t realize, nor the people who put together these reimbursement protocols that everyone doesn’t take home the same check they do, or face certain financial difficulties. Just like the boss in the movie, they think about money, but they don’t really think about money. And if you are in the world of the powerful or wealthy, everyone in the circle kind of assumes everyone else’s financial status and no one is going to be crazy enough to admit, I just can’t do it.

Especially in business, it would seem you are weak or irresponsible if you just can’t quickly muster up $300. In some people’s mind it may pull into question your judgement. But for people trying to make it everyday, you best believe that $300 they had to use on a trip or the additional $30 to make up for Frank’s tab at the restaurant since he treated last time, can put people in a financial tail spin. It will cause people to hold their breath when the card swipes, it will cause people to go without other necessary things at home, to keep up a good face at work.

I feel like professional institutionalized poor shaming is like an invisible electric fence to people who come from lower incomes who are making strides to enter another professional and economic level. You want to feel your talents are what get you in the door, and it is. But a “little” thing like paying for your own hotel room at the conference so you can show your talents and show people why you belong there are an added and in my opinion unnecessary pressure that management can easily resolve. But those in management at a number of companies that don’t send socioeconomically diverse people anywhere do not see or understand, because they are not quite in touch with being an educated, professional person still living in the margins.

Educational professionals don’t want to admit to it because they are ashamed, and it is taboo to discuss salary, when most folks know a lot of people, especially women and minorities are statistically underpaid. It seems that if you are able to boldly pick up the tab or have no questions when the company says you have to come out of pocket for a company sponsored event, you are implicitly saying, “Yes, I belong here. I am better than, those people.”

If you raise a question, in order to brace yourself for the costs and how it will affect you and your money and your life, which you are responsible for, you may get clarification, but now people are questioning you. And your professional currency is losing value.

It’s a form of poor shaming, and these practices are exclusionary to really bright people who can contribute something valuable, but because they may not have enough credit, or any credit or they are repairing their credit, they are being discriminated against or missing out on other opportunities that can really boost their career and in turn their earning potential. It further frightens me that this is a very real barrier to some people getting ahead. It is something to think about and if you are in a position of power within your organization, you should take a look at company-sponsored events, group lunches and proactively think of ways to even the playing field for your lower paid workers so they can participate without fear and not just lower paid workers, but employees who are struggling regardless of income.

You Wore Your Fake Hair Today: A Holiday Party Don’t

We recently had our company holiday party and it was nice. The company sprang for a lovely lunch and a brief cocktail hour at a local hotel ballroom.

Excellent.

Something that really surprised me was how casually people were dressed for this event. We are in a creative industry, and most of the people at my job aren’t in suits and heels or stockings everyday, but I assumed since we were having an offsite holiday party, folks would step it up.

The IT guys did wear ties, and some people did have a festive edge to their ensembles, wearing red, greens, golds.
I chose to get in the spirit, and I wore a great gold metallic H&M sweater with a long leather looking green skirt. I slicked my hair down and added some hair to make a simple bun. Some red lipstick and I was good to go.
I had a lot of really nice compliments until one co-worker said the unthinkable.
“Yes, doesn’t she look nice? You even have your fake hair in today.”
RECORD SCRATCH

I couldn’t hold back. The look on my face shot daggers because I couldn’t believe this woman had the nerve to say what she said.
Another woman in the conversation, “complimented” my hair, said that it looked very nice and she really had no idea I included some extra hair. Then looking very awkward, she took a swig from her wine glass.

After giving the offensive woman, probably the side eye of certain death, she waddled away.

When desserts were being served, she wanted to remark about how great my sweater was and at that point I just wanted her to shut up.
When I wear hair pieces or wear braids, I don’t broadcast that they are extensions. Clearly they are. I don’t have a problem with it, and I usually don’t mind if people ask me questions about my hair, I’ll give them the answer I feel like giving and move on. It’s far better than them just reaching in and petting me like an animal.

What I can’t go for is what that woman said. “You even have your fake hair in today.” It wasn’t even a simple, “I like your hair, or it looks nice.”

To me, that awkward statement was akin to saying to someone, “Your fake boobs look great in that top.”

“Grandma, you’re wearing your dentures today!”

There’s no need to point out the fakeness of something to attribute how special it is. Just compliment the thing you like about it, or just leave it alone. Actually, it isn’t a compliment to point out if something is fake. And this isn’t limited to holiday parties. Just don’t do that ever.

“Naturally” Supportive????

Hmmmm I feel stuck, blog family.

I really do.

My work rival/bully was in the office today, and I don’t speak to her much. But every now and then, I will pop in to check on her and ask how she’s doing.

She’s been attempting to go natural (and I’ve joked that once again she’s copied me). Some days have been more successful than others. Ok, most days haven’t been successful.

Because hair is a sticky subject for black women, especially those doing the natural thing, I haven’t commented on her hair. Because trust me, I’ve had my fair share of moments where I felt downright ugly.

The truth is I do think her natural look, while she is still trying to figure out what works for her, is probably an improvement from her relaxed hair that had no life, no movement and straw-like. But I was taught early on, if you don’t have nothing nice to say, or you don’t know what to say, shut up.

So I popped my head in the office, and I mentioned my latest product obsession. I really like it a lot. And I wanted to share it with her.

Then it happened. She said no one mentioned her hair save for a very kind, chatty, liberal white woman (who once lived in Africa with the Peace Corps). She said even me not giving her a compliment caused her to feel like her efforts were in vain. She even said she felt invisible. When she mentioned to our co-worker that no one complimented her hair, she did what most nice people try to do.

They were in the break room and two other co-workers came in. Kind, chatty, liberal oohed and awwed over homegirl’s hair and asked the other women, don’t you like it? Welp, as sister girl told me her story, she said she knew the other women didn’t like it and to avoid further embarrassment of seeing the looks on their faces, she purposely opened a cupboard to not look at them.

This broke my heart.

Keep in mind I was recently invigorated by watching an amazing discussion featuring Melissa Harris Perry and acclaimed pioneer in black feminism bell hooks. And they talked about black women, and our esteem and our bodies and shaming and fighting negative images and stereotypes of ourselves and I was cosigning and nearly in tears at how profound they were, and another sister was hoping I’d step in and lift her up.

We’ve had beef though. So more often than not, I don’t see her as a sister in the collective sense, because there have been times she’s stepped on me and seemed to take delight in my discomfort and set backs.

So this dysfunctional relationship that we have continues to challenge me spiritually.

She said she supported me, she complimented me, so it hurt that I said nothing.

I had no real response for her.

So I said, “well how do you feel about your hair?” “Do you like it?” “Is this journey worth it for you?”

Yup. I deflected.

I told her that there were plenty of times I woke up in the morning and thought I was ugly. I had my own parents look at me sideways with disapproval the first time I came home. But I had to keep working with and on my hair.

It became a new thing I had to study. I’m still learning what products will or won’t do.

She’s just started and she’s going through what thousands and thousands of black women are going through and in the earlier stages, after you’ve big chopped and your hair is really short, YOU GO THROUGH IT. Especially if you hadn’t worn your hair short before. It’s a shock to the system.

As for the other work people. There are only four black women in our office.

The white people at my job are smart people, and while they’ve had a number of cultural snafus in the past, they knew damn well to steer clear of our hair. They leave it alone. Honestly, the same sweet, kind, liberal lady was the one to compliment me on my hair when I changed it. No one else said anything to me either. But she understood the context, and she understood what it meant for me to do what I did, she’s quite aware.

It still broke my heart. My newly natural co-worker apparently needed my support and in my silence, I dropped the ball. There was no point in giving her a compliment now. So I didn’t.

I’m really not sure what to do at this point. She also mentioned that her boss told her she needed to be “nicer” and say “please” and “thank you” more.

The truth of the matter is, the boss was kind of on point with that. She has always had a smug kind of attitude, that didn’t sit well with most people.

So, there are self-esteem issues galore. Which I get as a fellow black woman. But at the same time, as a human being, an individual, you dish out funky you get funky. You funky on the inside, it radiates on the outside. People can’t see your true beauty if you don’t give up something and make yourself vulnerable.

I don’t agree with being fake either or overdoing it on the nice.

And sometimes I wonder what kind of vibe I put off at work and I try to be conscious about that. I do speak to people, say good morning, give compliments when it’s warranted and offer to help people out when I can. But, I know that my conversations only go so far because aside from the race, I’m a different age than most of these people, I’m single and I’m childless. I just don’t have the same interests.

So I’m stuck yall. Should I have bent over backwards to show my approval of my co-worker’s natural journey because I also went natural? Or am I right in the belief that choosing to go natural is a very personal and intimate thing, but it tends to affect the way others look at you and the way you look at yourself. It’s scary. It is raw.

But I’ve found, the more comfortable I got with my hair and the more confident, people started seeing other features of mine more clearly. I felt really, really honest and I noticed, that I felt other people and their reactions to me were really, really honest, positive or negative and I accepted those things.

I don’t suggest drastic changes to your hair if you don’t have a solid foundation of self-esteem anyway. Because it takes a long time for your hair to grow back or change color.

So, maybe my co-workers reactions and feelings of isolation reflect something deeper and reflect a truth about how she deals with the world and it doesn’t feel good. I sympathize with her. But basically saying I had a responsiblity to compliment her because she did it for me, ergo, because we are both black women in a workplace of so many white folks, it kind of had me stunned. But she said it.

He final words before heading to a meeting, she said she just didn’t even know if all the twisting and untwisting was worth it, and that she struggles because she’s raising two little girls and she wants them to feel that their hair is beautiful.

But if she’s walking around miserable, and expecting other people to say she’s pretty, hair isn’t the only thing her girls have to worry about learning from her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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