I think something we as millennials struggle with is the idea of having to “have it all” in our 20s. We need to have the fully fleshed out career, we need to be married, we need to have started having kids, we need have bought our first house, etc. We’re essentially holding ourselves to the same standards as our parents without really thinking about how times and society itself have REALLY changed. It’s just not feasible to hold ourselves to the standards and accomplishments of our parent’s era and, yet, so many of us torture ourselves to do so.. Myself included.
I work on this blog and I have aspirations toward becoming a personal trainer, both online and in person, but right now I’m currently employed as a software developer. I believe I did that because I felt like it was the only thing I could do when I started college. Deep down inside, I really had no idea of what I wanted to do from a career standpoint and who I wanted to be. Honestly, at age 28, I feel like 18 is extremely early to be making that type of decision.. and yet. We’re expected to know by then…
I WAS LIVING FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS
Most of my life, I let others decide for me. My interest in web design and graphic design originated from an elementary school friend. My interest in fashion design and business originated from a high school friend and teacher. My interest in computer science originated from both my parents and someone I was dating at the time. I really just had no idea of what I wanted to do, so I sat back and let other people make those decisions for me.
Honestly, deep down inside, I didn’t think that that was a bad thing. I felt like, this is life and you’re meant to get your hands a little dirty doing things you don’t like. I believed in pursuing the dreams people impressed upon me. I never really had the chance to ask myself what it is that I truly wanted to do? (I think, I avoided it for so long, too, because I was little scared of the answer as well. Either I truly had no passion, or whatever it was, it had no merit..) Whenever someone asked me that question, I’d just rack my brain for an answer I believed would make me seem the “smartest” or “most acceptable” to the person I had been talking to. My answers spanned from lawyer, to doctor, to business administrator, to entrepreneur, to writer, and finally landed and stayed on what I thought was permanent on computer scientist.
I ACTED IN ORDER TO “SURVIVE”
I motivated myself to complete that degree purely on the idea that it “looks” good for an African American female to be studying something in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. I fully embraced and accepted the stereotype that black girls just aren’t perceived as smart and I wanted to be the exception. People also reacted most “positively” to me telling them that I was a computer scientist. It became my identity. It became my “armor.”
I thrived on the idea of being “not like those other girls” as people would often say to me throughout my college career. It was my way of surviving in the predominately white/non-black world I was living in. My self-confidence and self-esteem were so low that I had always felt that I had to compensate in some way at all times. I had to seem smarter than everyone else and I felt like if I put myself in places where I could be seen as “smart”, I would overcome this notion that I don’t belong based on my skin color and gender. In essence, I believed that I could overcome my low confidence by taking up room in places I didn’t even really want to be.
I joined band and played clarinet because I believed that was the “smart” extracurricular. Ironically, though, I had no motivation or passion toward getting better, so at the end of the day I was terrible at it and everyone knew. In trying to “seem smart” I actually did something that looked extremely dumb. I created the very environment for judgement in which I was seeking to avoid. Also, the anxiety of being in a group in which I was super conscious of the fact that I just wasn’t good, kept my self-esteem from rising indefinitely. As an adult, I see how that severely stunted my capacity for growth at a young age. And my goal in the first place was to avoid these situations…
I HAD TO LEARN TO LET GO
I think studying computer science had the same effect. I pushed myself to study something I wasn’t interested in and I had no passion for. I lied to myself over and over again to persevere. I improved purely on the basis of willpower alone. I think maybe this is the first year that I’ve decided to stop lying to myself and I can finally admit that I don’t particularly enjoy computer science from a scientific standpoint. Obviously, I appreciate all it’s done for me and the world, but career-wise, it’s not for me.
For a really long time I had a hard time admitting that. I was scared to think that I had “wasted” so much time on something that wasn’t going to make me happy for the sake of others. I didn’t want to admit that I had made a mistake. I didn’t want to lose this part of my identity that I felt made me seem “smart” in the first place. If I had only known who I wanted to be when I was younger, I wouldn’t be in this situation.
Life, however, is full of little hiccups and mistakes. Those are the things that teach you why life is worth living and why a divergent course of action is all the more meaningful. This year I let go of the last vestiges of my career as a computer scientist. I pushed myself to apply for a large tech firm, thinking that it would prove to me that I “made the right choice” and that I “belonged” where I am. I totally bombed the interview because pretty much right at the beginning I realized that getting this job and getting the recognition from having this job were not endeavors I was pursuing for my own sake. It was, once again, for the sake of pleasing others, for fitting in, and for seeming “smart.” It was for the sake of fitting into a box that someone else defined for me, but it also taught me the most valuable lesson as well.
IF YOU’RE SOME PLACE YOU DON’T WANT TO BE, THEN YOU ARE AN “IMPOSTER”
I’ve always been scared of people judging my performance and intelligence based on the color of my skin or my gender. I’ve always been scared that people will see people who look like me “misbehaving” or whatever and think that I’m not up to the task in which I’m applying for. I was always scared of that happening, so I lived my life simply for the sake of becoming “exceptional.” The funny thing was that by being in a space in which I didn’t want to be or I had no passion to be in, I was actually creating that negative perception for those who actually loved what I was doing and strived for and achieved perfection.
I know that there’s such a thing as “imposter syndrome”, but I was truly an “imposter” because I didn’t want to be in any of the places I kept putting myself into. I was potentially feeding into the negative mentality that I felt like was being applied to myself by being in a field I don’t really care about and causing people to take me seriously as if I did.
Knowing that now has kind of made my choice clear. I have to leave the tech field to those women who are passionate about it. I don’t know when my personal training business will take over so much to the point where I have to quit my tech career, but I know that I wake up every morning excited for a potential career that I only discovered in my late 20s. As this blog title says, “our 30s are our new 20s.” We can’t expect to be where our parents were in their 20s in our 20s. It’s too different of a world now.
I was scared of losing some part of my identify for so long based on my not being in these places were I could be perceived as being smart. I thought if I lost those things, then I would just be another “dumb black girl” to most people. I didn’t realize that no one expects you to be good at things you aren’t interested in. I know a lot and I have a lot to say about what I’m passionate about: fitness, diet, nutrition, and mental health. That’s my calling. That’s where my intelligence and confidence lie.
Know that you are not alone in these types of realizations. Instead of digging deeper into who you think the world thinks you should be, choose yourself for once. The more you do it, the easier it gets.