On Power and Belonging

This is a really personal post and I almost did not post it but I think others might be able to relate. 

I've been spending a lot of time thinking about last year. One of the most notable highlights was being a part of a leadership program in my city. In the end one of the most valuable lessons was taught indirectly. For the first time since I can remember, I knew, unequivocally, that I belonged in the room. 

As a minority on at least 2 fronts: black and woman, I am sometimes affected by how I believe others see me. That has caused me to struggle to believe I can fit. I am painfully aware of my difference and I am naturally very shy.  The combination of those two things often causes me to shrink back. It became so commonplace for me that I often didn't even notice it happening. Surprisingly, what illuminated it anew for me was something that is usually viewed as inherently negative: comparison. On social media, I am inundated with strong confident beautiful versions of black and woman. I am flooded with affirmative posts on my feeds daily that celebrate confidence. I started to really contemplate how I viewed my place in the world and what I believed about what I had to offer. 

What I realized was that at some point I had not only let my power go, I stopped believing I had any at all. It simply boiled down to this: I didn't think I belonged in the room. The room is a metaphor for whatever scenario in which a person shrinks. It could be a job, a relationship, a volunteer opportunity, an athletic team, etc. Whatever it was, I had come to believe that every achievement or accolade was acquired through some divine orchestration and that I nothing I possessed was particularly special. Don't get me wrong, I think humility is a necessary and commendable quality. I think God is real and that I have been blessed beyond what I deserve. But there is also false humility and that's the kind that's dangerous. Usually it's fear with a veneer of gracious deference. For me it showed up in small ways: my constant deflection of compliments, my hatred of self-promotion, and my hyper-criticalness.

I often wonder if this is a product of nature or nurture. For example, I have a friend who has always believed her power. It’s actually quite electric to be around because she has a graceful confidence that is attractive in a way that causes others to feel empowered. A conversation with her prompted this post because we differed on our feelings about belonging. It saddened her to know that I felt stifled or like I had wasted time simply because I didn’t trust what I had to offer. I cannot pinpoint if she is that way because of something her parents did or if she is naturally hard wired with an extra dose of confidence. I’m not sure, but I know that I have encountered other people like her who seem to innately believe in their own power. They know deep down in their guts that they belong in the room. What room? Any room. And not just that they belong but that they can lead it and change it. They trust their own power and they do not shy away from it. They also do not need permission to use it. That assuredness seems to lead them to a more emboldened life earlier.

Thankfully, it all started to change for me in that leadership program. I now realize that I was accepted because I possessed a unique ability to add value to the conversations and activities that was necessary. Even typing that felt weird because it felt so braggy. However, I do not mean it in that way. I simply mean that me being there mattered just as much as everyone else. I realized that I would honor God best by embracing the full power of who I am. I now know that I belong in any room just as much as anyone else. I won't always be the leader or the most recognized but someone else's recognition does not diminish my value. And owning that value allows me to truly be humble and to exercise the full range of power in an effort to maximize my contribution to my little slice of the globe. 

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