Disclaimer: While I would love for everyone to read this, the relatability of this post will be people that belong to marginalized communities.
We all want to be successful. However, there are institutions of power at play that force us into specific roles and codify our behavior for us to achieve conventional success. For those of us that belong to marginalized communities, this comes at the expense of sacrificing our identity. Hence, we’re faced with an internal dilemma – should we be conventionally successful, thereby conforming to whatever role institutions have outlined for us, or should we be our authentic selves? If our ultimate goal is to achieve happiness, we need to reframe the definition of success to affirm our identity. Personally, I take pride in being an Indian American 31-year-old mom and make that damn well known everywhere I go.
What do I mean by “conventional success”? For those of us side-parting, legging-wearing millennials, achievements were well-defined for us by society growing up: get good grades, participate in extracurriculars and ultimately attend a prestigious university. We are then molded by society to believe that our greatest achievement in our adult life will comprise a reputable job title with the corresponding pay. We strive to attain the most highly sought-after career in order to successfully secure bragging rights and to fulfill the promise of our youth because, of course, this is the only way to attain true satisfaction with ourselves. Our equally self-involved peers are focused on the same outcome and also seem to have made it, as exemplified by their creative humblebrags (see below: created by me).
So why do we still feel ever so unfulfilled? My theory: external forces dictate both the types of jobs we should desire and the type of people we need to be to fit the job description, making this particularly constraining for disproportionately affected people. The more we forgo our subjectivity, the more we ultimately get erased. In reality, the only way to offset this is to fight for ourselves and make our identity known, regardless of the outcome this has on our careers. Huey Newton puts it much more eloquently by stating that “human existence is based upon hope without any real understanding of the odds.” I recognize the irony of an investment banker quoting a revolutionary Black Marxist, but the point remains that we feel a sense of responsibility to stop constricting ourselves into some predetermined template.
Most recently, my friend resigned from her job because her organization refused to institute the proper training and discussions in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Principally, the organization was not abiding by her core belief system and so she did not feel as if she would achieve her long-term goals by staying put. Although she may never see the fruits of her labor, she needed to take a stand in order to affirm her beliefs and agency lest she lose herself. I’ll also share a small tidbit of my story.
Several of my female mentors advised me to keep my pregnancy a secret for as long as possible, shorten my maternity leave so I can secure my place when I returned to work, and avoid discussing my child in the office. They explained how people have internalized the fact that women are genetically disposed to prefer motherhood to anything else and hence, are the primary caregivers and nurturers. Hence, taking these measures would mitigate the average person’s perception of me being a mom versus a career-oriented woman, because god forbid that I can be both.
I started understanding why Sex and the City’s Miranda felt obliged to pretend to be a lesbian so that she could expand her networking opportunities, thereby becoming “partner” in her male-dominated law firm. I, on the other hand, chose to embrace my inner-Elle Woods, happily showing off my feminine side. Like Elle, I rejected the notion of hiding who I was.
In contrast to my colleagues, my desk is occupied with sentimental memorabilia and photographs of my family. The only tombstone I display is the heart-shaped personalized one Nick gifted me for our anniversary. And no, my husband did not literally make me a tombstone for my grave as that would be quite a morbid, and frankly, creepy present. For non-bankers, a tombstone is the equivalent of a trophy received whenever an investment banker completes a deal. Bankers really, really, really need validation. I excitedly informed everyone in my life, including colleagues, on my pregnancy before my second trimester and now exclaim the importance of being present for my child’s desi bedtime of 8:30PM – which is basically midnight for most toddlers.
Reality check? This indeed impacts people’s perceptions given the aforementioned outdated views many still retain. Despite that, I can attest that there is something satisfying about staying true to my identity and revealing it in the places that mean the most to me, including my workplace, regardless of the impact. If I didn’t, I would feel much like Michael Scott would if he became best friends with Toby. Indeed, for many marginalized groups, your push towards positive change is a survival mechanism and hence, you are unable to be complacent without exercising your alterity.
I encourage fellow readers to embrace your subjectivity and inner belief systems in all of the important aspects of your life, including your workplace. Without doing so, can we really be able to look at ourselves in the mirror and feel satisfied, no matter what our resume reflects? To be satisfied with ourselves, we need to strive to merge our value systems with career goals, thus ultimately attaining “achievements” as we’ve been taught to perceive them and shape our own narratives.