Gathering Up the Pieces I Left Behind
I wrote this post in response to the Day 5 challenge of a program I participated in called “Creating Your Irresistible Presence”. The program was created by the irresistible Sarah Robinson of Escaping-Mediocrity.com. Today’s challenge was issued by Reese Spykerman of Design by Reese. It’s a long one (1200+words) and one that took me 23 days to post.
As always, I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Today, day 5 of the program I’m supposed to look back on my life.
To rediscover me before the world told me “to take it down a notch or be quiet or stop chattering away so much or get your nose out of so many books or stop being so sensitive.”
The me I was before “society decided to suffocate the light within”.
I didn’t know what to do to move forward with this exercise.
So when in doubt, blog.
The disturbing thing for me as I read the post was this: Society decided to suffocate me before I got here.
Society decided I was inferior, sub-human, weak, fragile, unwanted, illegitimate, and “less than” before I drew my first breath.
You see, I was born black (more honestly, bi-racial)
To a 15 year old Mexican migrant worker.
And..I was a girl.
In 1965, those traits weren’t setting you up for a fabulous welcoming party.
Thankfully, I was adopted by a wonderful family, who wanted a girl.
A working-class black family who saw the civil rights movement as the doorway to their children having a better life.
But they knew it wouldn’t be easy.
So to prepare us and keep us strong, we were told, “You’ll have to work twice as hard to be considered half as good.”
Because you are black.
From as far back as I can remember, I knew that to the rest of the world, being black meant I wasn’t as good.
As a toddler and pre-schooler, I listened to my brothers tell mom and dad that their academic achievements were dismissed as “flukes” and their college hopes were being “poo-poo’d” because they needed to “…consider a trade. College is not for you.”
I listened as my brothers’ athletic talents were being downplayed because, “well you know, you people are just naturally better at such things.”
And of course, I’ve already told you about hearing the word “nigger” hurled at the oldest one whenever he got the ball.
Being black was not a good thing.
I didn’t know that being a girl was not so cool.
My brothers and father worshiped me and my sisters. Doted over us every chance they could.
Thanks to the boys (who are 12 & 13 years older) by the time I started kindergarten, I was reading the newspaper and could tell time (not on a digital clock, thank you).
They didn’t force me to learn. It was our little game so they could show off their cute and smart baby sister in front of their friends.
I thought being a smart little girl was totally cool.
Not so fast, Lisa.
While my brothers were proudly putting their little sister on display, at school, it was a different story.
Year after year, my mother would hear, “She is such a bright little girl. But when she knows all the answers, the other kids feel stupid. Have her tone it down.”
I have to play dumb so the little white kids don’t feel inferior to me?
But since I wanted the teacher to like me and I wanted to “fit” it, I would try to pretend, I didn’t know. But it was hard.
And I was confused.
At home: Work twice as hard to be half as good.
At school: Don’t be a know-it-all. Try to be less obvious.
I didn’t know what I was supposed to do.
If I worked hard, I was too serious.
If I slacked off, I was doing just enough to get by.
If I won at something, I was not allowed to celebrate as that was being “insensitive”
If I didn’t win and cried, I was too sensitive.
The message taken away as a child was that I was never good enough.
Although I continued to perform well academically and be recognized for it, I would often hear, “the only reason she got this, that, or the other thing is because she is black.”
I got into Harvard and the Univ of Michigan “because I was black.” (Not because I graduated 1st in my class with a 3.9 GPA – which was pretty good in the olden days)
The only reason I got an extremely competitive Army ROTC scholarship because they were trying to fill a quota. *sigh*
It didn’t change once I got to corporate America, either.
The only reason I ever got promoted in my job was because I was black or because I was a woman. (I actually had an employee tell me that to my face my first day as his new supervisor—very funny story). I remember the day someone told me that my back-to- back promotions were a result of me being on my knees sucking you-know-what.
Very few achievements were ever evaluated on the merits of the work I did or was capable of. I only “succeeded” because of affirmative action or sexual prowess.
So, if I was born into a world that saw no value in me and I was shaped by a world that saw no value in me, where am I supposed to find those parts of me that are “valuable” in this quest for my irresistible presence?
I decided that I could not look for those pieces in my past. Not because it’s painful but because there is nothing of me to find.
But that’s not true.
I could go back and look at all those situations and turn them around to uncover what they were trying to squash in me.
But as my favorite character Edna in the movie The Incredibles says, “I never look back, darling, it distracts from the NOW.”
So I decided if I am gong to find my irresistible presence, I had to look at my now.
“Gathering up the pieces” means honoring everything..and I mean EVERYTHING about me that shows up NOW.
My desire to write.
My willingness to be vulnerable.
My hopes, dreams, and fears.
And give all of it a voice. A stage. A chance to be heard, acknowledged and most of all, valued.
My irresistible presence is found when I am present for myself without judgment. When I open my mouth and speak my truth or write without shame for my thoughts and feelings.
My irresistible presence, my light within, is found in every moment I decide that I am truly irresistible…to me.
So where is YOUR irresistible presence found? What do you need to do to ensure that your light is shining and remains bright?