Throughout my life, I’ve spent A LOT of time trying to please other people. My focus, for so long, was making sure I was the perfect employee, friend, daughter, manager, and citizen. I spent countless hours becoming who and what other people expected. If my job needed a compliant and quiet employee, that’s who I became. If my friends needed someone to run errands with them, that’s what I did; regardless of what I had on my to-do list. If my dad needed the perfect daughter to parade around and brag on, that’s who I became. It was exhausting and, I didn’t think I had a choice.
And don’t get me started on what I did for relationships!!! Let me be clear, I LOVE men (clearly I mean my husband). I think they are God’s gift to us in many ways. Having said that, I also think a lot of them are problematic AF, and we fall for mediocre far too often (again, clearly that was pre-married Christy...y’all love the disclaimers...gotta keep a happy home). Now, this isn’t a blog about relationships (that’s coming soon), but I could not pass up the moment to call out one of the ways we change who we are to fit the wants and wishes of other people.
I think that’s what many of us do. We change, we adjust, and we ignore our authentic selves in order to become who we think we need to be for others. Why do we do this? I think we do it so other people will accept us and like us. So they won’t call us unworthy, emotional, angry, or any of the other words that get assigned to Black Women when we aren’t who they expect.
I recently saw a post on social media that said: “I’ve learned to be the quiet Black girl so I’m not identified as the angry Black woman.” That statement resonated with me so deeply that I had to step away from my computer and go for a walk (one of my many coping techniques). The post made me ask myself, “Why do we have to do this? Why do we choose to change who we are in order to be accepted? I don’t like everyone so why would I expect everyone to like me?” I immediately answered my own questions. I decided it’s not just about being liked, it’s also about being respected and treated fairly, and not complicating life. That thought led me to the realization that every Black Woman I know is multi-lingual. We code-switch so effortlessly, and often, that we’re not always aware when we switch. On one hand, this skill is a testimony to our knowledge, brilliance, and resourcefulness. But on the other hand, this skill is one of the many sources of our exhaustion and frustration.
I decided I wanted just one day a week, when I could be 100 percent, unapologetically, and completely me. I wanted to move about without caring what others think or say or feel. So that’s where I started, one day a week. But what would that look like? I think it’s different for everyone but, for me it meant speaking my mind, posting my real and true thoughts on social media, and saying no to some things while saying yes to other things. It meant dressing in the clothes I loved; which for me meant no heels and wearing shirts that show off my cleavage — because I love my cleavage — and fashionably ripped jeans. After I got really good at doing it one day a week I expanded. I practiced this ritual on weekends. The entire weekend. Then, I threw in a weekday or two and, I felt great! Eventually, I bought a t-shirt that said, “Too tired to code switch,” and then it was on!
Disclaimer: This doesn’t mean that I stopped being situationally appropriate (because I don’t want anyone saying, “Christy told me to be who I am and do what I want and now I am unemployed and friendless!”). If I had a client meeting, I dressed appropriately for the meeting, venue, and client but, my attire still had a touch of “Christy flavor.” If my mom wanted to go to the plant nursery, I would go because she is my mom, and seeing her happy makes me happy but, when I got tired, I would sit in the car and let her shop to her little green thumb was content.
What I definitely stopped doing, and maybe you can too, was biting my tongue, to the point of almost drawing blood, just to please others. I stopped changing myself so dramatically that I felt the need to fact check my own conversations. Once I did that, people remarked that I seemed happier. More importantly, I was happier. Another benefit was, and it was one that I didn’t anticipate, the relationships that really mattered felt deeper, closer, and were easier to maintain. The people who were in my life for the wrong reasons dropped off, and I was OK with that.
Out of all the lessons, my biggest take away was, I may not be everyone’s cup of tea; but for those who appreciate “authentic Christy”, I’m there Teavana, Lipton, and Arizona all in the same cup and, that feels amazing!
Author and Our Truths founder, Christy Pruitt-Haynes combined her 20 years of leadership in organizations including The Memphis Grizzlies, MTV Networks and Infiniti with an education in Human Resources and Organizational Development to create Christy Pruitt-Haynes Consulting and change the professional landscape for women and people of color while helping organizations achieve excellence. This TEDx talk giving executive, wife, mother, aunt, daughter, sister and friend loves travel, laughing uncontrollably and losing herself in great music.
Theme song: I was here by Beyoncé
Proudest moments: The births of my daughter Christiana, niece Nia and organization Our Truths