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How to Unapologetically Center Yourself in Your Career

On my various social media accounts, including this blog, I stress the importance of black women professionals centering themselves in their career. While I’ve been saying this, I realized I should provide more guidance as to HOW to do this.

In my years working in corporate America, I held roles ranging from customer service, to project management to, of course, human resources with a variety of managers ranging from those I deeply respect to those I would never want to see again in this life or the next (let’s be honest here). Even though I’ve come to see all my experiences; the good, the bad, and the ugly as necessary for my professional growth, I’ve now appreciated that to survive as a black woman in corporate America, I have to put myself FIRST in my career.

Yes, my philosophy evolved as I developed in my career and it was hard to shake off the old-school ways of thought my parents instilled in me when it came to work. For them, work was just that, work. It was a foreign language to them when it came to such things as aligning your work to your passions, requiring feedback and growth opportunities, or expecting your company to adhere to a moral code. In fact, when I talked to my parents about my revelation, they looked at me bewildered as if I told them I was going to live on the moon.

For them, I embodied what they couldn’t achieve themselves. I’m a first-generation college student with an advanced degree, a good paying job, and access to opportunities that. as a black woman, dealing with dual burdens of racism and patriarchy has created unique barriers other women especially white women have no clue about. So, to them, me talking about not finding passion in my work, wanting to explore other opportunities, and my disregard toward employer loyalty (aka “job hopping”) came across as me being ungrateful, pretentious, and out of touch.

This generational conflict between myself, my parents, and grandparents is a fact many black professionals can relate to and it’s not an easy subject to talk about. While our parents want us to do well, it's still important for black women in the corporate work to not assume we need to be grateful simply because our professional and education success result from “luck.” We aren’t lucky, we worked our asses off. This line of thinking undermines our hard work and the sacrifices we made to achieve our success by chalking it up to dumb luck, or worst, Affirmative Action. Unfortunately, it’s an assumption many black women deal, in and outside the workplace. As a result, these internalized ideas lead about one’s self-worth leads to many black women frustrated and confused about how to successfully build and advance their careers.

Until a few years ago, I found myself having these same concerns until I respected that it was okay to put yourself first.

Here is my step-by-step guide to unapologetically center yourself in your career:

1. Know Thy Self: Find time to ask yourself: who are you? This is important to ask repeatedly over time because change is constant. You may find that who you are now is totally different than who you were two years ago. Having a keen sense of self can center and protect you as you navigate your career and your overall life.

2. Have a Plan: I am always asking myself: “Where do I want to be? “What do I want out of life?” and “How do I get there?” From there I sit down and start planning. I create daily, weekly, and monthly goals and I get to work on them ASAP because as they say, “a goal without a plan is just a dream.”

3. Don’t Compromise!: Sometimes plans have to be tweaked. Some goals need to be either pushed back or adjusted because life happens. But, adjustment isn’t compromise. For example, if a job isn’t working out either because your manager isn’t keeping their end of the deal or the job simply doesn’t align with your interests...don’t make excuses! Either talk with your manager about your concerns or, if you must, start looking for another job. Too often we get caught up in the image of a job or the paycheck and we lose sight of our goals as a result. You can walk away from anything that isn’t moving you forward.

4. Stay Grinding!: Grind. Grind. Grind! Never stop grinding. Of course, don’t grind to the point of mental and physical exhausting. BUT understand that to get anywhere, you are going to have to work hard or as I like to call it,,,,grind!

5. Make Your Moves in Silence: I never understand why people overshare their plans on social media. You know the types who share literally EVERYTHING about what they’re PLANNING to do? Instead of what they’ve ACTUALLY done? In short, hustle in secret and let success be the noise.

6. Keep One Foot Out of The Door: Even if you have a good job or feel “safe” in your job, always look for other opportunities. No job is really safe, and you always want to be proactive instead of reactive. Trust me I know.

So, start centering yourself first and don’t apologize. Because at the end of the day, no one is going to do it for you.

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