From a very young age, my parents made it a habit to speak life into me. They celebrated my skin, my hair, my curiosity, my “spunky” personality and everything in between that made me who I was as a person. They were supportive of the many (and trust me, there were many) endeavours I had as a child and they still are supportive to this day.
That being said, my parents weren’t the type of individuals to sugar coat things, especially when it pertained to my blackness. Growing up, I got the “you have to work twice as hard in order to be considered equal” speech, as I’m sure many other black children have heard throughout their life. As a child, I couldn’t quite grasp the concept – why would I have to work harder than my white peers? Why couldn’t I just be me and still be able to thrive in spaces that I had a right to be in?
Things seemed a bit more hopeful when “Black Excellence” started to trend. Seeing folks in my community finally being recognized and celebrated for their contributions and achievements was inspiring. I wanted to work even harder so I could have Black Excellence of my own. To feel that validation that I’ve been seeking in spaces I felt ignored in.
For a while, I felt motivated enough to keep pushing myself beyond my capacity. I wanted to be recognized for my hard work ethic, so I would be taken seriously & respected. But it didn’t take long for burnout to creep up on me. The validation I received did not make me feel full, but instead, I felt hollow. From time to time the question I had back when I was a child would pop into my head – why couldn’t I just be me and still thrive in spaces I had a right to be in?
One day, something clicked in me. The idea of having to be excellent in order to be seen no longer sat well with my spirit. The idea that I had to do double the amount of work, just for empty validation no longer appealed to me. My body was fatigued. My mind could no longer keep up with the mental demand of exerting myself. I decided then, to let go of the idea that I had to excel in order to be seen. I would let my brilliant light shine in other ways that would not demand more than I could give.
The idea of letting go wasn’t easy. In fact, there are times when I still struggle with feeling like I’m not doing enough, and self-doubt rears its ugly head. But I refocus and remind myself that in order for me to be my best self, I need to detach from the idea that overworking myself is Black Excellence, and allow rest to take precedence.