To you, still healing from a theology of self denial:
Maybe you over correct sometimes and give yourself everything you want.
Maybe that’s how you teach yourself the new way – that God delights in your joy.
Maybe indulgence is the cure to the venom shoved down your throat time and time again.
Maybe gluttony is how you unlearn starvation.
Maybe one day you’ll wake up and no longer see scarcity.
I wrote this from a very personal place a few months ago. I am still in recovery from all the ways a theology of self denial buried itself so deeply into my subconscious mind and shapes the way I moved through the world. I had been doing the work of unlearning for sometime and this time it just felt like I was moving to close to indulgence. Almost like I needed a season of my life where I could indulge for all the times I was deprived. That concerned me a bit so I wanted to write something to a version of myself that felt anxious at how much I was just letting myself live in freedom. In reality freedom can feel too expansive when you’ve been caged for a while. So I had to remind myself that this freedom. A normal part of the recovery process.
Grace, peace, and freedom to all of us unlearning theologies that taught us that the only currency we had to access goodness was self deprivation.
Someone asked me recently how I cultivate self love and self compassion, here are a few things I shared about my personal practice:
Seeing myself as someone deserving of tenderness and gentleness
Being honest with myself about how berating myself isn’t a productive way to bring about growth and change. All things need light, patience, and kindness to bloom, including us humans.
Going back in time and writing letters to younger versions of myself. I realized that in retrospect I was actually really proud of those versions of myself even though at those times all I could focus on were the things I didn’t like about myself. I never want to look back in 30’s and feel bad about how I treated myself in my 20’s.
I wanted to become a safe person for myself, someone I could trust with all the extremes of my emotional depth
I didn’t expect to greet 25 with the high levels of insecurity and fragility I currently feel.
And yet I find myself here.
I did not realize I was here exactly until I spent some time with one of my 13 year old cousins in Nigeria. She is so self assured. So confident. Smiles brightly. States her opinions with such passion and fearlessness. Takes up space unapologetically. Being in the same space with her took me back to a time when I was exactly that – self assured, confident, unapologetic, loud and boisterous.
I do have moments when I feel these things but it isn’t my default state of being. And I want to get back there.
It’s almost as if the 24 year old version of me knew I would need reminders of my own magic and gifted me with the insight to ring in the first few weeks of my 25th year with incredible gifts to myself – a boudoir photo shoot, brunch with my closest girls in the Bay Area, time with my mom, a complete self care package, tickets to West Africa for the holidays to spend time with my extended family, and sister friends.
Settling back into myself after all these amazing treats has been a gentle reminder that I internally need to do some work to rebuild my confidence this year. Things like professional gaslighting, rejection from romantic interests, not being set up for success in general in different spaces I have found myself, loss of friendships and a spiritual community have added up into the cumulative effect of slowly eroding my sense of confidence.
Just the general business of living life can have an eroding effect on confidence. Coupled with some very specific experiences, its no wonder that I find myself here without the self assuredness I had always hoped would be my lifelong companion. But I have a plan to build back up my confidence levels this year.
My Three Step Plan:
Reaching out when I need support: In a moment of vulnerability this week I told a few of my friends I was currently sizing up myself against a woman one of my exes is currently with, and I felt like she was more impressive than I would ever be. They stopped in that moment and reassured me of my own magic, reminded me that I was deserving of someone who really saw all the magic in me, and that his preferences had nothing to do with me. That felt really nice. So more moments of reaching out to people who love me when I needed to be reminded of why I am special. Knowing my mom and Elias, my most affectionate brother, will always be ready at any moment to express a million and one reasons why they love me.
Find spaces that allow me to showcase my skills and celebrate them: My natural tendency for improvement has meant that much of my life I have chosen to be in spaces that always require me to be better without celebrating where I currently am. And alternatively, I’ve spent less in times in spaces where I was celebrated for my natural skills. This year I want to lean more into spaces that allow me to do things that come easy for me and to be celebrated for them.
A couple of weeks ago I went to an open mic night and performed one of my poems (that was rejected from a publication I really wanted to see it in), the reception of it was so deeply moving to me. People loved it. People responded to my words in real time, and that was powerful for me to take in. Folks came up to me afterwards to talk about it. It felt like redemption particularly because the rejection of my pitches over the past year had finally made me internalize that maybe I just wasn’t a good writer. I am a taking a break from always having to choose the hard thing.
Stop giving away my power: As much as external validation feels good, I have realized that it is a form of outsourcing my power to rely on other people to be the building blocks of my confidence. I suppose the ground zero of rebuilding my confidence is a great place to train my brain to place my voice as the primary voice of validation I need. I would like the foundation of my confidence to be rooted in the fact that I am worthy. That at the end of the day even if no one sees me or tells me I did a good job, or celebrates me, I want the fact that I saw myself, and celebrated myself to be enough to sustain me. To seek the support of the people who have proven themselves loyal and caring to be the secondary source of validation. And slowly detach from a pattern of seeking the validation and approval of those committed to misunderstanding me, dishonoring me, dismissing me, or ignoring me.
So that’s my plan!
I am excited about where I will be by my 26th birthday.
Any additional things that have helped you in rebuilding back your confidence levels?
(A testament of the ways our bodies move through space simultaneously hypervisibile and invisible).
Children are seen not heard. You tuck yourself into a corner. Trying to make yourself a wallflower. No one pays any meaningful attention to you. Until you are 6. At your grandma’s house. That older uncle pulls you into the closet. Takes off your shirt. Rubs on your growing breast. You are confused. You yell. You are surprised by how loud you sound. No one comes running at the sound of your yell. He apologizes. Tells you to not tell anyone. That no one will believe you. He never comes around again. You never tell anyone.
You’re in school now.
You’ve started bringing home report cards.
You are learning a kind of worthiness
measured by letters of the alphabet.
A is good. F is bad.
You will be left to your peace with an A.
There will be yelling with an F.
You get A’s as an insurance policy for peace.
You are an A student.
You’ve worked very hard on your grades.
Your friends dare you
to sneak out to a house party.
You decide to do it!
You're wearing a dress that hugs your body
It makes you feel good.
You are dancing.
You notice hungry eyes on you the entire time.
It’s the first time you feel real power.
You also feel unsafe.
You leave early to come back home.
You meet your mom at the door
Wearing a mix of worry and anger on her face
She is more upset about what you wore
than the sneaking out.
She calls you a bad girl.
She slaps you.
You are afraid of this side of her.
You wish you could talk to her about
feeling both powerful and unsafe.
You tell yourself you can never trust her.
You will later find out she was raped
the first time she snuck away from home.
You are now in a professional program
At a prestigious University.
You can't finding mentors within your program.
Professors don’t offer support.
You are always requested when pictures are taken.
Their token of diversity.
You finally decide to take this up with the Dean.
How you feel used and unsupported.
He says you are overreacting.
You need to stop being so sensitive.
To consider it a privilege to even be there.
“Our ancestors weren’t allowed to be here”
he says. He is biracial.
You think "we don’t have the same ancestors."
You are angry at his gaslighting.
You swallow your words.
You internalize powerlessness.
You’re the only Black Woman at your organization.
Your colleagues notice when your hair changes.
They don’t notice when your face wears exhaustion.
Or maybe they do and just don't check in.
You’ve worked there for 10 years.
You still have to show your ID to security.
Tom has been at the organization for 2 years
Everyone at security knows him.
He is being groomed for the promotion
you've had your eyes on for years.
It’s your 33rd birthday.
Life hasn’t shaped up how you wanted it to be.
And yet. Life is good.
You have more than a few “happy birthday” wishes.
Lots of people proclaiming their "love."
Including the love of your life.
Who broke up with you because
he wasn’t ready for a serious commitment.
He is currently engaged to a white woman
He met her 3 months after your breakup.
It's been a year.
Your bed is still empty.
You haven't stopped hoping
he will come back.
“Just because you can handle something doesn’t mean you are ready for it.”
This is a philosophy I’ve been pondering lately.
The connection to imposter syndrome, which is best described as the feeling that you don’t belong and are one step away from being discovered as a fraud.
Does our willingness to forgo that intuitive pause which may actually be our own knowing telling us that we are not ready actually set us up to feel imposter syndrome?
People these days expect too much from 20 somethings. We are supposed to know all the things without anyone mentoring us. We allegedly have lots of energy and passion and folks feel entitled to our passion being in service of them. We care about justice and equity which somehow means it’s up to us to fix messes we didn’t create. That is a lot to hold and for our own sanity, we have to know what feels too much and walk away from it until we feel ready.
I’ve been thinking a lot about interiority; what it means to nurture and pay the most attention to the internal space within us without any need to draw attention to it. Especially for those of us whose mere existence raises political questions (women, immigrants, Indigenous people, queer folks, black people, differently abled people, fat people).
I’m a little more than halfway through my 24th year!
For my half birthday I went out for some ice cream, hung out with my family, and packed my bags to go on a solo travel adventure to Barbados. I typically don’t recognize or celebrate a half birthday but this year there’s been a need and desire to mark everything, to collate the pieces of this 24th year like precious jewels, an almost sacred collection of the last shreds of childhood, before I venture into the very adult age of 25.
I don’t fully understand my own obsession with 25. Except that maybe I’ve wanted to be here for so long and it always felt like that friend that’s too cool to hang out with you. Except now I’m closer to 25. And I am grasping. Because soon I will have to bear witness and give account to some “cool” 25 year old version of myself that I fear will be disappointed in me. Disappointed at what/who she has to work with.
In anticipation of 25 I’ve been faced with this sudden urge to fit a lot of things into this year:
I thought I would have a book published by now, I’ve been writing for over a decade and even though I can clearly see that a decade of writing has made me significantly better at crafting words, I still feel a sense of disappointment and loss that I have not been able to add my collection of words into the world in a tangible form. I feel myself trying to overcompensate in other ways. Pushing myself to establish a more consistent external writing practice so I can prove that I am a writer. Nevermind all the internal ways I have learnt to validate myself as a writer.
Another big goal I had for myself was that I would be in a quality romantic relationship by now. While I have significant relationships that fill me with so much care and joy, not having romantic love in my life as I look towards 25 does feel like a bit like I have failed myself in some way. Nevermind all the times I have opened myself up to love, walked away when the variety of love I was given didn’t match what I needed, stiched my heart, learnt the lessons, and ventured back in again.
There are a few more of these very wonderful goals I have for myself, but without giving myself space to be a beginner in achieving my goals, I unknowingly placed a timeline of year 25 as the sweet spot of achieving them. As I am faced with that impeding date, I feel a huge sense of urgency to try to settle for some variation of those goals to make myself feel somewhat okay. Rather than admitting to myself that I am not there yet.
What is the urgency?
This is a question I’ve been asking myself as I unpack the space between my expectations of myself and the reality of my life. The reality of my life is good. Most days, I like where I’m at. I am growing at a pace that feels uniquely like me and this year has been about doing a lot of work to secure my foundation. I feel present. Happy. More embodied than I have ever felt. I am going to doctors appointments, dressing in a way that makes my body feel good. Learning myself. Loving on my friends. Being vulnerable. Naming my needs. Working through my triggers. Learning the world. Finding my place in it.
These are all things that for me actually feel really good.
And yet the pressure comes when I look at the space between my “best life” and my current life. And have no idea how to get to where I want to go.
Why rush to a some finish line when this is also good? What is the urgency to get to a better place when you are in a good place?
As you probably know if you are part of my digital community, I ended 2018 and began 2019 back in The Continent. My non-black American friends sometimes look confused when we, the diaspora, say The Continent. I guess that’s a black diaspora thing. So, to clarify Africa is The Continent/The Motherland.
I was part of the Magic and Melanin trip led by my friend Dossé-Via. And it was every bit as magical as I hoped.
Nigerians tend to be the “white people” of the Continent and we tend to assume ourselves and our collective way of being as default for Africans. I mean we are the largest economy in the continent and the largest movie industry so makes sense, but I’ve been cautiously wanting to get out of that head space and experience parts of the continent where my identity is not a default. Just to be clear, even in Nigeria, I belong to 2 minority cultures (Ibibio and Annang) so my identity has never felt really central, but there is something to your country as a default that I still felt the need to break to out of. Its why when this opportunity to travel around West Africa sans Nigeria on a trip led by another black African identified woman, I jumped on it as quick as I could.
It has been hard to summarize what those weeks in the Motherland did for my soul and its been even harder to wrap the experience up, place a bow on it, and put it away mentally. It was a vacation, but it wasn’t. It was more like a reminder. It was equal parts centering, grounding, and disrupting in ways I look forward to unraveling more of over the next few months.
I created new community with some amazing black women who I was privileged to experience that time with, and got to be part of the Accra nightlife scene with the most risqué outfits I own. I reconnected to the Ocean. The Atlantic feels different from the Pacific. I taught Yoga and reconnected with the joy of doing embodied and body based work.
And most importantly, for the first time in a really long time I didn’t really have to work hard for my peace.
I think it was important for me to experience ease and to finally internalize that feeling ease doesn’t diminish the celebration. I’ve always celebrated myself for doing hard things. I’ve always been celebrated for doing hard things. Accomplishing things others wouldn’t dream of. Creating things to solve problems others don’t want to touch with a ten foot pole and I think my internalization of that as a way to be has showed up in the opportunities I pursue and the ones I gloss over.
As I unwind, untangle, and keep processing what the trip meant to me, especially that parts where I channeled all my energy the first few days in the New Year into being a beach bum, chasing frivolous things, and only doing exactly what I wanted to be doing, it is changing things about the way I see myself in the world. I am choosing to allow myself to just be. And in a society that is increasingly rewarding of constant busy-ness as a measure of worth, that feels revolutionary enough.
The 10 year challenge hype over the past few weeks have triggered a deeper sense of reflection in me…or maybe its the fact that I turn 25 this year which is reminding me that I am already on a path, I am actually living life, not rehearsing it, but actually right in the middle of it. That all the choices I made up to this point have led me here; and the choices I make here will be heavily reflected in the way my future plays out.
Maybe its a combination of all the above, – but I am here, contemplate the idea of changing selves. I keep thinking about my evolving self. How in some ways my 15 year old self may not have ever been expansive or creative enough to dream me up and as a reminder that whatever I dream up now about my 35 year old self in 2029 is probably going to fall short of the full magic she will embody. Maybe that is the point of life; a constant tension of dreaming and surrendering. Maybe this ability to live and let live is what sustains us through moments of doubts and anxieties.
One of the big changes I’ve noticed in my reflection on my changing self is that I am less sure of things and less sure of people. The smarter I’ve become, the more I’ve borne witness to things/people/events that didn’t fit my narrow interpretation of the world, the more I’ve been forced to expand and leave room for all the “I don’t know’s” of the world. I am learning to remove shame from that answer. I am choosing to let the world, to let life, to let the Divine, reveal itself to me at its own pace.
I’m also learning to accept my changing and evolving self;
Stretch marks across my hips, breast, and arms remind me that my body is expanding.
The few grays I found on my hair recently remind me that I am aging.
The sheer amount of information in my brain remind me that I have accumulated enough information to fill several treaties.
My anxieties remind me that I have things to lose.
My biological clock reminds me that I could be a mom many times over now if I wanted to.
Slowly and certainly change is happening all around me and I am giving myself space to accept all of those changes.