On a recent trip I was staying in a fairly opulent hotel surrounded by business people who were innovators in their respective fields and I found myself hustling for my worthiness. Now I like to think that I have a healthy sense of self however it seemed that in this environment where Hermès is one of the many high end shopping options in the lobby I was conversing with people who own very lucrative businesses and multiple vacation homes I found myself comparing my accomplishments to theirs and in my head I came up lacking.
The author and qualitative psychologist Brené Brown defines worthiness as “an as is, here and now proposition.” By this definition, in order for us to feel worthy in our lives we must first accept and love ourselves “as is”. That can be a daunting task when we have our own internal mix tape of failures and missteps playing in the background constantly. When you add external pressures from society as well as our family and friends then it is no wonder that many of us live shallow unfulfilled lives. Many of us wander through life with the appearance of having it all together but internally we are a mess. This is what began to happen in my head during this trip. I began to feel ashamed that I wasn’t further along in my career. Hell I wasn’t even sure what exactly I wanted to do professionally. I was also feeling shame about being a divorced single mom who was barely holding it together financially and being surrounded by opulence was a reminder of that feeling.
When I feel shame I begin to hustle for my worthiness which leads to more shame which is a vicious endless cycle. This time around, however, I was able to name the feelings I was having and shed light on them. Naming the feelings allowed me to acknowledge that I was not less than but I was in fact worthy of love, belonging and success in all of its iterations. That I had, in fact, come a very long way in the last two and a half years. I was able to acknowledge that I would find my path and I would one day have a stable relationship that would not just appear to be successful but would actually be fulfilling for both myself and my partner on our own terms. For me shame can also manifest itself in other ways that are not very productive like ignoring important tasks like the dishes or budgeting, fatigue, loss of appetite, short temper and sadness. Therapy and reading books by authors like Brené Brown, Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama and others have really helped me to shorten the time it takes for me to rumble with these feelings. Now, instead of falling into a days or months long depression I am able to parse these feelings out, name them within hours and fully process them within a few days. For me that is tremendous progress.
Women of color are often taught to hold it together at all costs. To be strong and never show weakness. Phrases like “Never let them see you sweat” and fake it to you make it” are pervasive. The problem with this approach is that it forces us to wear the mask of strength but never take the time to fully embrace our weaknesses. Failing to acknowledge our weaknesses gives them strength and power over our thoughts and actions and that is the true danger of this worthiness hustle. If we are constantly fighting ourselves we will never be able to actually be our best selves in any of our relationships, personal or professional. I want to not just have the appearance of strength but I want to feel strong and capable.
Now before you start thinking that I didn’t enjoy this trip because I was in my head the whole time rumbling with myself you can rest assured that this was not the case. I had a great time meeting new people, trying new things and dancing into the wee hours. I returned home with a new fire to narrow down what path I wanted to take in my professional life and set my feet on the path towards my newly realized professional goals. To that end I have made new professional connections via a networking group in my field and began exploring other paths that I was interesting in pursuing in my current job. When I had a hard time visualizing my accomplishments my trusted circle enumerated the many ways I have overcome obstacles that, in their words, many people would not have been able to overcome in such a short amount of time. Being able to see myself though the eyes of people whom I love and respect was an eye opener for me that gave me the courage to truly believe that I am worthy. Right where I am. These days I am walking with my head held higher with a renewed sense of purpose and for the first time in a long time I am excited.