I won the “Career Coach of the Year” 2020 award and it’s still a little hard to accept.
I put it out on social media to share this great achievement but deep down I didn’t feel much. Although it’s a good thing, I can’t shake the fact that we are in a pandemic and that has affected me in more ways than I actually can express..... Before you say, how are the two things related, let me outline how the last couple months have gone, workwise.
When the coronavirus hit and we were told to go home because we will now be working from home, I knew immediately that I wouldn’t love it but I was determined to try. You see I’m an extrovert and I thrive on other’s energy as a source of inspiration, not the ONLY source but a source, nonetheless. I also love “certainty” lol…. and I didn’t know I liked it until I was put in an environment that didn’t just call for mere adaptability but ACTUAL resilience! We have surely all read enough emails that say something along the lines of “during these unprecedented times” -which is corporate-speak for “no one knows anything about anything” which can be quite stressful…..Right about now, you are probably thinking “well Ibiyemi, at least we are ALL in a pandemic, that should be comforting right? it’s not just you”......except this thought is not all that comforting because we are still in“a limbo-like state” PLUS I have a tendency to be quite self-critical and judgemental in times of crisis (I’m working on this, I promise).
I ask myself constantly, “am I the only struggling with work from home?” “am I the only one that gets physically exhausted from google hangouts and zoom calls?”, “am I the only one waking up at least once a week with ZERO motivation?” “am I the only one that CAN’T focus even though I really want to?” to top it all off, I feel extremely guilty for even thinking about my work stress because so many people have lost work and it feels selfish to even complain. Contrary to my opening paragraphs, this hasn’t been my story the whole while. I started off the pandemic/work from home season VERY strong. I had an airtight morning routine that started at 6 am! I read my bible and prayed, did Noom – (a weight loss online program) worked out, cooked breakfast all before 9 am when work started. I got through my meetings….. As a career consultant, you are on student calls, employer calls or team calls all day, and I got through 7 calls on the low end and 17 calls during the busy season. I worked on webinars and I’m currently planning a 3-day online conference with about 25+ external stakeholders meaning 291 moving parts….BUT guess what I was killing it! I got closer to God through my quiet time in the morning, lost over 5lbs and about 6 inches around my body because of my new healthy eating/working out habit, got recognized at work for great webinars and I did this routine for about 10 solid weeks.
All of a sudden, black people started dying in the street, protests started happening, people started talking about race and it was as if I shut down as a person and my whole world halted. It HIT me like a ton of bricks and all of these unresolved feelings and experiences of racism started flooding in and every time I would talk/think about it, I would burst out in tears, feeling powerlessness in some conversations but empowered in others without knowing how to parse through them. The first place to suffer was my job performance because I started to disengage from the team conversation, started feeling immense fear at the thought of putting on a webinar, and found myself angry/sad in the workplace all the time and I didn’t have words for it. Soon after that, my healthy journey started to decline, and worst of all, I couldn’t find the words to pray in the morning – to ask God why all of this was happening and it seemed like everything just got HARDER….so I started taking days off. Although those days off helped to just quieten the stress of work, it also created space for me to wallow in self-critical talk…..” if you were stronger, you would be at work right now, if you weren’t so sad you wouldn’t eat that, if you were consistent you would go workout right now”. Because a lot of my experiences were internalized it was hard to process much less get myself out of that place.
When I finally went back to work I felt like I started dropping the ball all over the place.....however, I don’t think it was “noticeable” because as a black person in the workplace you always employ the “twice as hard” mentality, whether or not you were taught to think that way.
**The Twice as hard mentality is the idea that black people have to work twice as hard as their white counterparts to get half as far in advancement, career progression, recognition, etc. This thought process also amplifies if you are a woman. You end up fighting racism and sexism in the workplace knowingly or unknowingly through micro-aggressions BUT when your guard is down because we are in a freaking pandemic and a heightened season of racial injustice it feels like you are just fighting to stay engaged. And just when you think, things can’t get that bad ....in comes our beautiful friend “imposter syndrome”.
Imposter syndrome – according to Forbes, is defined as the fear of being “found out” that you’re not as competent as people think you are. It goes on to say that 70% of the population has suffered from this in one way or another. Harvard Business Review defines it as a collection of feelings of inadequacy that persist despite evident success. It says that it affects high achieving and successful people. What was interesting is that imposter syndrome was not necessarily linked to low self-confidence or self-esteem but highly linked to perfectionism, especially in women and academics. For me, imposter syndrome kept playing like a bad record in my head that said “I don’t deserve this job, I’m not good enough, look I’m dropping the ball and it's all my fault"! To say it was a hard time is an understatement of the century...... However, this story actually has a happy ending, well more like a silver lining and I owe it all to GOD….cue the “Thank You” worship song by maverick city.
Unbeknownst to me, in the other room, while I was wallowing, my leadership team was singing my praises to the dean of the university and nominating me for this award. My co-worker was gathering up my accolades and writing up the nomination (thanks Shab). My boss was fighting my battles and looking for resources to make our team’s lives easier, and he also deeply cared about my hard time as a black woman in the workplace (shout out to Jerome). My teammates –(Madhavi, Aman, Alizeh, Alethia & Tanya) were reaching out via social media and WhatsApp because they genuinely cared about my experiences PLUS they were showing MAD love to the blog and loving my growth. All of a sudden, in the last couple of days it clicked- “I am Loved”, “I am cared for”, “I am worthy” and not necessarily because of all the things I have done for the company BUT because of who I am and how I have brought “my authentic self” to the workplace. People know who I am, they know what drives and motivates me, they know what inspires me, and when I’m having an off day and they see my openness and vulnerability as a strength. It’s so funny that I never saw this before…....even in our team morning huddles we play these “huddle games” that test how well you know your teammates– games like who said this quote and who’s bucket list item is this and whenever it comes to mine, people ACTUALLY guess it’s me because they truly know me.
In coming to terms with this award, I have struggled with the idea of “entitlement” vs “achievement” because I always thought being entitled meant that you are not allowed to deserve anything good. Although people shouldn’t be entitled, the opposite thought can lead you to believe that you are not valued or that your success is a fluke that ties into your overall worthiness which is soooo problematic and untrue. Today, I am working on accepting that my achievements are something that I have earned through hard and smart work BUT not without the love and support of my coworkers, the belief from my leadership, AND most of all the strength and identity I have in God.
Lastly, I want to say a massive THANK YOU to everyone that has helped me. My roommate and best friend Kari for talking me off many ledges, my church community made up of beautiful women – Morewa, Gloria, Lola for always checking in. My mom, the OG motivational speaker for always speaking life and biblical truths, my therapist “shout out to Vivian at Shift collab” for always breaking down these concepts, and finally my students for always inspiring me to do my BEST. This is for all of us, we did an amazing job this past year! and I can’t believe I am the “Career Coach of the Year” for 2020 WOOOOOOO!!!!! I can't wait for what next year has to offer, even in "these unprecedented times".