As a black child, you grow up being told not to speak when adults are speaking and that children are to be seen and not heard. This is all good and well, and you get this lesson down until you find yourself being asked a question in the classroom or in the workplace. As people we operate through our inner child, all the lessons and experiences influence how we react to situations to as adults. So where is your voice supposed to come from if you’ve never felt comfortable expressing yourself as a child? For me, I am an introvert and I went through my high school and university careers not really asking questions or investigating what was told to me. I got to the workplace and I was completely thrown out of my comfort one. I needed to have a voice and express myself but I had never been allowed to be comfortable with saying what is on my mind.
I am a Leo and the stereotype of a Leo is over-the-top, confident and arrogant but I am not that way. I keep to myself a lot, it takes a long time for me to warm up to people and even then I won’t just say whatever is on my mind. I remember having to have a few uncomfortable conversations with my mentor at my previous job and I always felt unsure of myself. It took some time for me to feel confident in what I was saying. I find it odd to say ‘finding our voice’ because you always have the voice, it’s about the vulnerability of feeling safe and empowered with the humans that you share your voice with. It’s about eliminating those walls between your mind and your mouth. I do not want to make it seem like I am a timid wallflower because I am the furthest from that. I am a fiery feminist who is always pushing the female agenda. I have always known that I am a feminist because I never understood why I needed to learn to cook when my brothers did not and I have always wanted equality between me and my male counterparts.
Young black professionals struggle with how to address their higher-up black colleagues because we are taught how to approach adults as children but that does not really work in the world of work. An example I can think of is whether to address them as ‘baba’ or “bhuthi’ and for me I personally do not believe in that. I was taught to never call an adult by their name but I prefer being on a first name basis in the work place. I feel as though these titles kind of set up a barrier between colleagues. I believe that everyone should treat each other with respect and know that they are team members working towards a common goal. Unlocking your voice is that journey of honesty and vulnerability that every person must walk. I find that women have the hardest time unlocking their voices because as Meghan Markle said “women do not need to find their voice, they have a voice. They need to feel empowered to use that voice”. Women in our society are not encouraged or empowered to be vocal.
A lot of people struggle with this because it requires vulnerability and emotional exposure. I know of a quote that says “if you are afraid to be vulnerable, you are surrounded by the wrong people” and that means that if the work environment you are in does not celebrate and accept you as you are then you are not in the right place. You should be able to be the person you are at work and if not celebrated then respected for it. Unlocking your voice is having that uncomfortable conversation with your boss about what your expectations are, its saying no to something you don’t want to do, it’s not allowing yourself to be undermined because you are a woman, and it is taking up as much space as you can. As women, we tend to shrink ourselves to be the perfect box that everyone loves and relies on but the world is big so spread your arms and legs as wide as you can, speak as loudly as you want and laugh for the heavens to hear.
It is about seizing every opportunity available to you for your expansion. It is about reaching for your goals and putting your insecurities aside. For me, I started listening to podcasts on how to build confidence and overcoming fears but then one day I realized it is not about changing who I am. It is about enhancing my personality to align myself with my goals. It is about feeling the fear and doing it anyway. The thing with fear is that it does not last but regret lasts a lifetime. Therefore take the time to sit with your emotions and figure out what your thought patterns are, what your behaviour is like, what your reactions are and from that you can align to what you want to be. Unlocking your voice is creating the person who gets things done for you. Beyonce has Sasha Fierce, Hannah Bronfman created a fake assistant to get invoices paid and you can create whatever version of yourself necessary to get what you want. I like the idea of having an alter ego at work because it allows you to get the job done without attaching anything to who you are. As Toni Morrison says “you are not the work you do, you are the person you are. Your real life is with us, your family.” and to me that means that at work you can create whatever persona you want because the core of you lies with your family who know you.
So my advice to you is to unlock your voice and fail forward always.
–With love, Asanda.