I remember sitting in the back seat of my mom’s minivan with my older brother. He had told me he wanted to be a teacher when he grew up, and it was my turn. I took a deep breath because I was the kind of kid that committed not to top careers but in reciting a list of thirty.
Yes, thirty vocational goals.
From classics to probable alternatives
I generously kicked off the first ten with classics like doctor, lawyer, and other prestigious jobs. The middle tier was for the ‘fun’ jobs like artist, singer, and event planner. Then I would trickle in at the end with unexciting but at least mildly probable alternatives–tennis player, park ranger, etc.
In addition to the list of top thirty occupations I knew I would have; they were all filtered by one requirement.
I didn’t want to be the boss.
Don’t get me wrong.
Did I want power? Yes!
But to be the ‘boss’ was simply not my ministry.
The best assistant
As a teen I would explain to my mom, “I want to be, like, the best assistant. To know basically as much and able to run everything but have someone else who is in charge. Like I don’t want to be a doctor, I want to be a PA (physician’s assistant).” She would respond, “But PAs do the same amount of work.” “Yes, mom” she wasn’t getting the issue, “but I don’t want to be the boss. I just want to help!”
I thought this was one of the quirks of being a Yadenee. Longing to serve, yet apprehensive to go solo or worse be the CEO, Director, President, etc. That is until I was a young adult working in a large organization.
Being Black and Behind the Scenes
I sat stunned as a colleague casually remarked, “I just like to stay behind the scenes and make sure it goes well. I don’t have to be out there.” Wow, someone else feels like this! Serendipitously within a week another co-workers off-handedly mentioned their hesitancy to change careers. “I like knowing what my part is. How would I know if I was doing a good job?”
My stomach dropped. They sounded just like me and… they were both black women. I did the math.
The desire to be a ‘dope-sidekick’ was not just how my serving heart ‘happened’ to manifest. It was the product of desiring approval and stability within myself and in society.
I didn’t have visible examples of black women in charge or as the ‘protagonist’. I subconsciously knew since I was a kid, the best role a black girl in American society could aim for was (drumroll)—the likable friend. And I was perpetuating the limited aspiration.
Maybe hoping to be second, was the poison poured for black women all over America. Maybe I needed to drop the erasure masked as humility and be willing to fill any position I could best serve in—including being the boss.
Ideally, we all lead from our various positions in an organization, but I shouldn’t be limited to the seat I had been primed for by a cis-patriarchal, white supremacist, ableist, heteronormative society. Yo, that’s literally the last place I want to look to for ethical standards.
Looking back to the conversation with my brother, the first ten jobs I wanted proved I both longed to make a meaningful difference in society and believed I could. The second round revealed that below my commitment to ‘do what mattered’ I wanted to have fun. I wanted to create and express (and at that point wasn’t sure I could do both). The final tier were my aspirations.
I thought tennis was possible because I knew faintly in my 6-year-old mind that Serena Williams existed and was powerful. So, girls like me could play sports, maybe not all but at least tennis. And I hoped to work in a forest because maybe it would help speed the spiritual reunion I longed for with the Earth.
Bringing my full self
What I know now is not only that I can express myself in ‘meaningful’ careers–but that I make them meaningful and truly a service to me and society when I bring my full self.
I haven’t played tennis yet but have a much healthier relationship with exercise and follow Serena Williams on Instagram. Also, as a young adult I reconnected with nature between solo camping trips, lots of hiking, and helping (watching) my friend as she built master-level bonfires.
We make way for aspirations by facing them and soaking in new narratives of where and what people like us go and can do. The different seats we can lead from.
I am powerful, needed, and lovable
I also know I am powerful, I am needed in this societal stew, and I am lovable. Not despite being a black woman, or only because I am a black woman. I’m valuable and divine neither for being broken or a token. I am because I am, it’s the essence of me. Of each of us. It’s in the beauty of giving and receiving. And it’s potent when we lean into our particularities and heal the limited role we were casted in.
I don’t only get to aspire to be a strong second. I get to heal, serve, heal some more, serve some more, on and on … my goal is at least thirty times.
Yadenee Hailu is a contributor to The F Word series and the current Intern Minister at Hope Unitarian Church and MDiv graduate of Phillips Theological Seminary. Yadenee is a first generation Ethiopian American who has is currently grateful to call Tulsa her home base. She has a Instagram video blog project titled be.love.ED where she posts short videos about lessons she learns on how to be love in the world. Follow her on Instagram to learn more about be.love.ED, poetry, or other projects she hopes invite deeper liberation, healing, and community.
by Yadenee Hailu
y’all comin for my soul
tryin to cut out my heart
denying i’m somebody
lying from the start
stealin the voice from my mouth
robbin the name from my face
got me thinkin it’s approval
i gotta chase
ahh but i’m onto you
and your plan is flawed
wind carries melodies
which remind me i’m loved
cheers! to the madness
no longer dictating my heart
i’m vital, beloved
and favored from the very start
At All Souls, we are devoting a year-long series in 2019: The F Word:Perspectives on Feminism in the Year of the Woman. The intention is to talk about issues women and girls face, to hear women’s voices and ideas, to get to know each other through individual and collective experiences and storytelling, to hear from men and their roles in supporting women, and to create a space for women to support each other. The series is intended to be inclusive, honest, and intersectional. Read February’s post by Sallie Godwin, Feminism & Me: Bartlesville Women Stood Strong
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