An Opinion Article
2019 was another year of self-discovery and internal exploration. With conscious effort, I hoped to make strides in pursuit of the life purpose my heart settled on after agonizing over the misalignment between personal and professional goals. My vision board was designed to merge dreamy concepts and inspiring words with unrealized opportunities to influence remarkable social change. Perhaps I didn’t look at it enough.
I quickly learned my floating ideas being mulled to death by over-analyzing and trying to achieve perfection was not the kind of progress I expected, and it led me to get in my own way. My struggle with anxiety and depression as documented in my TEDx Talk in 2018 certainly contributed to my lack of productivity, but my inspiration meter was constantly running low and that weakened me emotionally, mentally, and physically. Then, the thought of living unlike the way I encouraged others to live made me feel shameful and unworthy of meaningful social interaction.
You see, in that TEDx, I share with others our need to be inspired by something every day in order to achieve greatness despite anxieties or unhappy thoughts. But here’s where I failed: when I didn’t take tally of the things I was grateful for daily, give praise for all the things inspiring me, or frequently reminding myself the faith required to grow, I lost my vision in all of my most vulnerable moments. And 2019 relentlessly delivered many.
I made a mid-year shift in all areas of my life. I started seeing things through an action-driven but self-forgiving lens, cried a lot, and I chose to deepen connections with perspectives meaning the most to me. After regaining next-level consciousness, I learned I am more than my body, my mind is stronger when exercised, and how we share stories with ourselves and one another can sometimes be the biggest difference in the social change we hope to see. Even more epic was discovering two irreplaceable truths about myself that might change your life too.
First, I learned I have range and it means I am priceless.For much of my life, I’ve belonged everywhere and nowhere. While becoming great and exceeding skills in a range of activities and roles without apparent correlation, I have also been great at being confused as hell. I’ve been heavily criticized in professional circles as being a lawyer with too many degrees and too many hobbies, as needing to settle on one career or one profession in order to succeed, and I’ve been described as being without drive and purpose because my desires to make impact are expansive in subject matter, geographic regions, and kinds of people. But thanks to David Epstein, author of Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World, I finally have a term for the expanded sense of belonging and I’m feeling good as hell because it means I have vision. Knowing who I am means being able to articulate to others my value in every aspect of my life, including volunteer work, entrepreneurship, and relationships. Knowing I can adapt in different environments means confidence in uncomfortable situations, which translates well in collaborative scenarios and growth opportunities.
Second, I learned my idea of social change is appropriately termed diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) and I’m excited to share the vision. Our world has begun to forge honest and meaningful conversations about how to be of better service to one another in personal and professional rhythms, but there are significant delays in actualizing ideas into results for the most engaging social environments: from for-profit businesses to secondary educational institutions, from university alumni clubs and societies to athletics, from mainstream stages featuring influential speakers to faith-based congregations, from local public schools to city government meetings, and from networking events to social giving and volunteer initiatives. When asking you to consider whether your businesses, places of employment, social networks, faith-based congregations, circles of friends, families, schools, alumni organizations, non-profit teams, etc. are diverse, equitable, and inclusive, please understand I am not asking you to simply show me your black people.
Have you ever sat in a room with a group of white people and been the only minority, or sat in a room full of black people and noticed no white people? At some point in the experience, most people silently feel one of two ways: (1) they are the only representation of diversity in the room or (2) there is only one identifier of diversity in the room and there’s a reason for it. But both thoughts are most likely untrue because there are many hidden identifiers of diversity and the color of someone’s skin will not tell you what they are.
Here’s an example: typically, I am only seen as a black woman in any given room, but half of my heritage is Asian-Pacific Islander (shout-out to my Chamorro family in Guam). I smile a lot and am often complimented on how “happy” I always am, but I have significant challenges with anxiety and depression. I am a proud mother of a child with a specialized disability diagnosis known as autism spectrum disorder. I physically carried and birthed three kids, two at once, and suffer from diastasis recti, which contributes to my body image issues and makes me think everyone can see through my clothes and notice my separated abs and loose skin. I am the loving family member of someone who has been incarcerated more times than I can count, and I have suffered through the emotional trauma of spending holidays knowing they’re drunk, missing, or in jail.
I’m also not asking you to simply show me your physically disabled person. For example, in a school filled with students yearning to be loved and led to learn, I don’t want to just see how you treat the kid in the wheelchair because the physically-abled child with behavioral issues just might be experiencing homelessness, hunger, intellectual disabilities (diagnosed and undiagnosed), trauma related mental health issues, etc.
Many people want to show they’re diverse by making obvious visual representations like photographs with disabled or “colored” people or disclaimers of equality at the end of job postings, but that’s not the representation of diversity I speak of. When we see people for the color of their skin, ethnicity, sex, and physical limitations, we are making obvious choices based on what visual depictions meet our eyes. But in 2020, we need the vision to do more by seeing visible differences and learning about the invisible ones too.
We can start by understanding diversity in the ways we gather ideas, collaborate, solve problems, lead, promote within organizations, recruit outside of organizations, serve communities, support social initiatives, share ideas in safe environments, and listen to one another. I want to see the culture behind the images, the actions of the people, and the outward expressions of acceptance, inclusivity, and opportunity.
Placing conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion at the forefront of every collaborative effort to improve society will force you to confront your limiting ideas, reveal a range of contributions waiting to be received, and promote the kind of inspiration that positively elevates individual experiences across our social environments.
There’s almost an infinite capacity for improvement based on the realities that are time and change, so let the take-aways be simple:when we expand our awareness, we influence our subconscious behavior and start a pattern of making conscious choices that achieve diversity with range. That naturally leads to the desire and achievement of inclusivity and equity.
By committing to this Vision in 2020, we will see the kind of transformation in our social environments that recognizes the value of every individual’s range of diverse contributions, adds confidence to each person’s varying dimensions of intelligence, and invites growth in every aspect of our lives so we may all just live a more meaningful one.