Learning Not To Downplay Myself Is My Most Important Inside Job
I love to sing “I woke up like this” with Beyoncé, but trying to blend in used to be my mantra
I may have been born during the fiercest season of the lunar year, but this Leo took years to find my roar. In fact, she’s still learning!
I’ve been a journalist/editor for 16 years now, and it’s hard for me sometimes to acknowledge all I’ve accomplished. There’s so much more I want to do with my career, like becoming the go-to brown author of the romance-novel-to-the-big-screen world. Watch out, Nicholas Sparks.
But in all honesty, I was never taught to love on my accomplishments. And I learned never to boast beauty, so I have downplayed my physical being for three decades now. When someone would say, “Wow, she’s such a beautiful little girl!” my dad would shoot back, “She’s smart, too!” From his reaction, I quickly picked up at four years old that it was not good to say you were beautiful. So I thought feeling that way about myself must have been sinful. So when I got a compliment, I would also yell back, “I’m smart, too!” It was a great gateway into my straight-A run as a student, but not the best for my self-confidence and inner sense of worth.
But what does 24/7 politeness do to the giver? It makes them blend into the walls.
Adult Jada will compliment you in a heartbeat. And that’s something that’s here to stay. I feel joy making others feel good about themselves, and that’s probably because I know what it feels like to be extremely hard on yourself. It’s one of the qualities I can fully own and say I genuinely love about me. But I still struggle with any compliments given to me, especially if they are about beauty. My hair has always been my shield. In Dawson’s Creek Joey Potter fashion, I’ll shyly swing my hair into my face to accept your nicety. But what does 24/7 politeness do to the giver? It makes them blend into the walls.
And my, how I wanted to blend in. Being mixed-race, I’ve always been hard to “place,” even standing alongside my own family. As a kid, people had a hard time believing I belonged to my dark-skinned mom when she’d pick me up from the playground. Even as an adult, my Italian cousin is often mistaken as my father’s child. I’d always have to explain that no, I belong with them, the people who, you know, created me, which always led to a breakdown explanation of my identity and how I came to be in the first place.
Since I always have to answer so many questions and table set my existence, I prefer to fly under the radar. Before accepting myself fully, I wanted to be like everyone else.
Until I learned that I’m not like everyone else, and that's pretty awesome.
Through photos (stop reading here if millennial culture gives you the eye rolls), I’ve found a way to embrace my uniqueness and (squirms) beauty in front of the camera. It’s my way to be the full me —the fierceness and the softness — without having to say a word. Selfies have helped me survive the days when I felt utterly worthless, whether from anxiety, heartbreak, or a global pandemic causing uncertainty. It’s a way where the girl who never wanted to call attention to herself could leave a mark.
I’ve always wanted to open the door for those coming behind me when it comes to my career. I want to make the next generation’s ascent a little easier than my path. And as I speak with mentees, I’m learning to take a minute to celebrate my achievements as I lift them.
The world doesn’t deserve me playing small. To quote the King herself: I did wake up like this, and I been on.