It feels like 2020 has been a never-ending loop of emotions, each one persistently vying for my attention as a constant reminder that as much as I try to will it into being, these are not normal times. It seems we all had high hopes for 2020. The next decade was poised to be the best year yet with vows of clarity and purpose and shareable social media content declaring “2020 Vision.”
Well, the Universe delivered. In possibly the most masterful plot twist known to mankind, this year has quite literally made us “have several seats,” as my mother would say, and reconsider so much of who we are as individuals and as a collective. News flash: The Universe is calling, and it’s time to wake up. And, this is not fake news.
Yes, I too wanted this year to be different. But never in a million years could I have imagined it would challenge me to my very core. But, this is exactly what it means to awaken. It’s as if the Universe said, “You haven’t been listening to those small whispers. It’s time I yell a little louder.” So much of this year has been a reckoning forcing us all to acknowledge that we’ve all been living quite comfortably in our bubbles while ignoring what’s been happening all around us this entire time. The privilege, the disregard of Black lives, the inequalities — it’s all been laid out in the open to bare.
It would be easy to only see this year as a time of tremendous tragedy, and no doubt there has been no shortage of deaths, disappointment, and loss. But, I also see this year as an opportunity for tremendous growth — albeit hard, challenging growth. Lately, I’ve been thinking about the legendary phoenix in ancient mythology that gloriously rises from the ashes after its death. One of my favorite quotes is by Pema Chodran from her book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times. She writes, “To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. To live fully is to be always in no-man’s-land, to experience each moment as completely new and fresh. To live is to be willing to die over and over again.”
Friends, we are IN no-man’s-land and we’re being kicked out of the nest.
Just like fruit trees that need to be pruned to bear fruit, this year has forced me to reckon with some hard truths about my self-worth and its connection to my work and subsequent habit of burning out. If you’re a workaholic like me, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about.
From a very early age, I was taught that because I’m a Black woman, I had to “work twice as hard to be just as good” as my white counterparts. And, if we were to be really real with each other … it’s true. (This is another story, for another Tuesday.) In so many phases of my life, this idea served me well and often gave me the extra push to outperform and overachieve. I’ve dedicated years to fulfilling my own dreams, and the dreams of others. I’ve risen to every professional challenge with fire and vigor. I have achieved with excellence. But sis, I’m tired.
Now in adulthood, that mantra has often left me debilitated and exhausted from over-working with the constant reminder that no matter how hard I try, how smart I am, the world does not value Black lives or Black women in the workplace or in the world. I hear it. I see it. I live it.
This realization about myself and my existence shook me to my core. I had held onto the idea that my hard work could change the hundreds years of oppression Black people have faced in this country. It was like a warm blanket there to reassure my worth when the rest of the world seemed so cold and bleak. If burned this protective armour, what did that mean about my experience as a Black person and as a mentor to so many other women of color? What microaggressions would it expose me to at work? If I “opt-outed” and refused to work “twice as hard,” would I be doing a disservice to my many ancestors who came before me?
Every day that I wake up, these questions still linger like sediment from a burning fire. Like unpacking Dutch nesting dolls, I continue to grapple with these thoughts and my perspective of my place in the world and, most importantly, where these beliefs and patterns are fundamentally flawed. Ancestral and familial ties and beliefs can be tricky like that. We can often find ourselves doubling-down on something that has been passed from generation to generation (or social circles), only to realize it’s no longer relevant and that it causes harm to ourselves and others. We stand there exposed unsure of who we are, what we’ve been taught, and how we might have been complicit in an oppressive system all along. The protective cover has long been burned. The heat is right there next to our skin. And if there’s one thing I do know, awakenings rarely allow you to escape unscathed.
We are in unprecedented times and it’s no longer acceptable to hide behind unconscious (or conscious) belief systems that do not benefit us or the broader collective. And trust and believe, if humanity is suffering, so are we.
So, what beliefs have you been holding onto that no longer serve your higher self or the greater good of humanity? Do you know what they are? Are they yours or an antiquated social construct?
I’ll start here. Maybe the American dream is a lie. I can’t help but think of the separated families at the border, the many Black lives that have been lost and the state of our political system. It actually doesn’t sound very dreamy to me. It is so easy to turn a blind eye to all of these things, but undoubtedly the impact of our indecision has a ripple effect across time and generations. It’s exactly the reason we’re experiencing what we are today.
- We can still appreciate the joys and freedoms of being Americans, but acknowledge that it’s not equitable.
- We can still be Americans, but acknowledge that we are ALL immigrants and colonialism is a thing.
- We can still respect the flag, but kneel as a form of silent protest.
- We can love one another and still protest in the streets to demand justice for George Floyd, Ahmaud Aubrey, Breonna Taylor and the many others.
- We can see the value in everyone’s lives, but still chant Black Lives Matter.
This country’s history has never been black and white. Separateness will not save us and it’s time we redefine our beliefs and values as a community.
I know you likely came here to find some words of inspiration and to be “rah-rah-ed” through the rest of the week. Consider me riding the wave of 2020 to make you a little bit uncomfortable this evening. The Universe is calling, and we all have to pick up the phone. Racism, unconscious bias, disregard for each other — it’s not reserved for any one group.
It’s time we burn it all down, so that we can rise like the phoenix — together.
– Toni Carey
Toni Carey is a guest contributor to the Fellow Flowers blog.
After finding running in 2008, Toni Carey co-founded Black Girls RUN!, a nationwide movement to empower and encourage African-American women to live a healthy lifestyle. She left behind her career in public relations and marketing, where she worked for a top agency in the Southeast, before venturing into corporate communications at a Fortune 500 company.