Acting like a boss

My eyes pop open just as the sun peaks over the horizon. With the soft glow of morning overtaking my serene bedroom, a deep stretch is enough to toss the previous night and its warm covers aside. Death_to_stock_photography_Wake_Up_1Hopping out of bed with a smile on my face and a pep in my step, I embrace the good fortune of the day ahead. As I sit by the window to sip on green tea and read through the latest news, I’m warmed by the sun that continues to rise. Ah, next: yoga. The bright orange mat that was neatly stored beside the bookcase is now stretched across the living room floor, inviting me for daily practice. I clean, dry and put away my tea mug, then ease into several sun salutations. The calm and meditative practice takes my mind away from the stresses of the news and the to-do list that I’ll tend to later. I focus now only on my well-being and strength.

Yes, this is how a boss starts her morning – in stardust pajamas. Continue reading

And so I shall speak

I’ve been wanting to break the code on what it takes to sit with the cool kids since I was 35 (didn’t matter so much before). Countless professional development books, articles, newsletters and (free) courses point a budding entrepreneur toward networking, pitching, and generally “getting out there.” Then, tossing the essential social media into the mix, blehhhh. Networking and outreach efforts are resembling talent shows and popularity contests more each day. So as I hope for Ancestors unKnown to be noticed within a sea of noticeable work, I’ve occasionally wished for a louder voice and bolder approach. And maybe some street cred?

Short of changing my personality from introvert to extrovert, and significantly upping my coolness factor, I’ve been looking for input on how to play a better entrepreneur game.

One consistent piece of advice: be a speaker. If you give talks and host workshops, you build and share expertise, gain an audience and credibility, and (appreciated bonus!) earn some money.


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Your family tree is waiting

And it might be getting impatient. Now is the time!

Lost histories and forgotten ancestors just shouldn’t be a thing. So I’m in the business of getting family trees started. Check out the new pages of Black  Girl Gone, Seeking Ancestors, to learn about my family history research services. And once you’re ready for some answers of your own, let’s get started on your family tree.

Special offer for Black Girl Gone readers! 
Blog subscribers: receive a 10% discount if you submit a research request before August 31, 2014

Toni Morrison’s Bench by the Road
Sullivan’s Island, SC

Also, I remain committed to the powerful benefits of genealogy for young people with my nonprofit, Ancestors unKnown. (Stay tuned for an exciting reboot over there that’s coming soon.)



Ups and downs of starting up

I haven’t been doing much traveling recently. I’m pretty much staying still in my modest, rented apartment in Paramaribo, Suriname.  Having placed myself on a tight weekly budget, and with lots of work to do, I figure as little movement as possible is my best option.  Now you’re probably picturing me locked in a room, trying to turn straw into gold.  If so, you’re not far off. It’s just…where’s Rumpelstiltskin when you need him?

So I’m here working on the nonprofit startup, Ancestors unKnown.  Maybe you’ve heard about it?  Introducing young people to family history research and the commonly overlooked history of the African Diaspora.  That’s the vision.  And it’s definitely becoming a reality, beginning here in Suriname and Charleston, S.C.

comic reflections

(from facebook)

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The Quitting of the Job

I did it, folks. I quit my job. That sounds mighty dramatic and might give the impression that I burned a bridge or two in the process. But instead, it was actually quite peaceful and the higher ups were surprisingly supportive.

As you may know, this hasn’t been the smoothest year at work for me. There have been disagreements, frustrations, and various levels of disrespect going on. And more recently, the challenge has been the number of people leaving the organization. Since the beginning of summer, it seems like every couple of weeks someone has announced their departure and/or departed. It’s been blow after blow, on my team and others, leaving us feeling understaffed and overworked.

All the while I’ve been wondering how my departure would sit in this mix. I’ve been tempted to negotiate with people – “look, I know you want to leave in a few weeks. But I’ve been planning to leave for over a year now. So even though I’ll be here for another 3 months or so, can you hold off on telling people until after I do? Even if it means telling them after you’re gone?” It only seems fair. With all of these people quitting before me, it looks like I’m jumping on their ship, abandoning the sinking one we’re already on. But if they let me quit first, we’ll be going in order of decision making, rather than departure date. And in this case, I think the date of the decision to leave should matter more.

I never had the nerve to ask anyone to change their timing because I’m pretty sure not many people share my skills in reasoning. So I decided to put all of the woes of the organization out of my mind and tell them the truth, choosing to give them at least three months notice. I know you might be thinking three months is way too excessive.  But considering one of the higher ups has been consistently joking in a serious way that I need to give her six months to a year to give her time to prepare, I was compromising. Yes, she was mostly joking. But her anxiety was the reason I was forced to come out with it when I did.

Last week this same higher up learned of another departure that will dramatically affect things in early 2011. And perhaps in an effort to deal with her nausea and fainting spells all at once, she actually came to my office and asked me outright: “be honest with me. Are you planning to leave at any point this (program) year?” She was referring to any time before the end of June 2011. And of course the answer is yes. So I told her the truth. “Yes. I was planning to tell you next week (which was true). But I’m moving to Amsterdam in January.” She was upset, in the eyes tearing up kind of way – not the angry kind of way. But in spite of that, we briefly chatted about my plans, as she asked a number of questions that seemed like she needed me to prove the legitimacy of it all before she would accept it. But she did, finally saying, “I understand you have to do what’s best for you.” It happened quickly. And I had basically given notice. But there was still more to the process.

I had another meeting at the beginning of this week with the first higher up, who I consider an ally, to discuss a game plan for announcing my upcoming resignation. There are two more higher ups who needed to hear it from me right away, particularly in light of some crazy crapsters she has planned and will soon announce in the next month or so. She needed people to know about me as soon as possible, mainly my direct boss and the first higher up’s boss, the CEO (who incidentally was my boss back in the day). She asked that I tell them within the next 48 hours.

My first step was to make an appointment for a 30 minute meeting with the CEO. I haven’t been in his office more than three times in 2010. So I’m sure he expected something when he saw me coming. We chit chatted for about 45 seconds before it was time to explain why I was there. I paused. Uncomfortable smile. “This is tough. And I know the timing of it couldn’t be worse. But I have an exciting opportunity to move to Amsterdam and go back to school. So this means I’ll be leaving New York and the organization before January.”

Silence and stunned face. So I continued, “it’s important that you know how thankful I am for all of the opportunities I’ve had here. And this wasn’t an easy decision for me (okay, that was a lie).” As I was coming up with various words that would hopefully ease the blow, his face moved to a calmer state. He appeared to be absorbing what I said earlier.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what he said in response, which is why I could never write the dialogue of my autobiography. But I know he asked me to clarify my expected date of departure (end of December). And he remarked on how tough the year will continue to be in light of my and the many other departures, pointing to a white board where 23 (now 24) positions to be filled are listed (granted, many of them are brand new positions). But then the conversation turned to my plans. He asked a number of questions, which led to me telling him about my program, its overlap with my genealogy interests, and even the prospect of starting my own organization – about which he seemed really interested and excited. He even said, “I’m kind of jealous.” He asked a few more questions about my thoughts on the future of the organization and whether or not I thought we could reach our goals. I was a bit more optimistic than I usually am, saying I think success will be possible as long as two or three things happen in the meantime. The conversation was so calm, it didn’t make sense for me to raise my gripes at that point. So it ended with, “thanks so much for all that you’ve done for the organization.” To which I replied, “no, thank you.” Ridiculous and cheesy, I know. But it was sincere.

Then it was time to tell my direct boss. At the end of the day, when she was no longer in meetings, I asked if she had a few minutes. From the way I seemed to build it up, she probably guessed I was either quitting or joining forces with the rest of the black people to take down all the timid white women. Obviously it was the former. She maybe made a face or something. But she didn’t seem horrified or infuriated. She took it in stride, asking a few logistical questions, which were followed by, “so, Amsterdam!”

I’m relieved. The truth is finally out. And they took it well. Perhaps it was easier for them to take because it’s so extreme. Not like, “you suck…and I want to see if there’s another similar organization that would hire me and suck a little less.” More like, “you might suck…but nothing except leaving the country and starting my life over will satisfy me now.” I’m taking a major step that they mostly don’t understand. Celebrating just makes more sense than questioning or fighting.

Never More than a Shark

I took swimming lessons every year as a child. My mom was quite serious when it came to our extracurriculars, particularly swimming and dance. Each year my sister and I took our respective classes (she was always older and far more advanced than I in everything), progressing to different levels as we mastered the lessons from the year before.

Swimming lessons were at the YMCA indoor pool. They had the typical levels: Tadpole, Minnow, Fish, Flying Fish etc. The highest level was Porpoise. Before you could be a Porpoise, you not only had to master all of the strokes, including freestyle, breast, and butterfly. But as a Fish, you also had to pass the water survival test, which I only remember as treading water for what felt like hours (it was probably only ten minutes of treading water and involving many more activities). And most importantly, as a Shark, you had to pass a test of endurance.

Shark was the level preceding porpoise. I was a Shark for two years. And I never became a Porpoise. And to this day, I resent the failure and maintain the weakness. As if it is a reflex, when I’m asked how far I can walk or run, I say “I don’t have any endurance.” Even though it’s been years and years.

After being promoted from Fish, the status of Shark was a pretty big deal. At least I felt like a big deal, in the upper ranks, hanging with the pros (of the Lansdowne YMCA). Each class we would swim laps and laps the length of the pool, changing strokes every 2 or 3 laps. I usually would allow my head to get the best of me on the very first one, worrying about conserving energy to last me the whole class. Lap one: “okay, that wasn’t too bad. I can do 9 more. one at a time.” Lap 4: “there’s no way I can take much more of this. just go slower and take one lap at a time.” I would reach the wall between laps and not want to let go. Taking off each time into the incredibly long distance of the pool I was weaker and weaker, and embarrassingly slow. Without the wall or anything else to hold me up, I was forced to rely on wobbly limbs, a racing heart, and a self-doubting mind. And trust me, you wouldn’t want to be lost at sea with those qualities. By the time I was setting out for my last lap, I’m sure most of the students were finished and moving on to other tasks. I, on the other hand, typically required a teacher’s assistance on the way back the final time, gasping for air, abandoning all stroke technique, and sometimes crying (and yes, I’m slightly ashamed to admit all of this). I remember vividly how far away that wall would seem. Almost unreachable, as if I was actually moving backwards. Each time I finished the laps, I felt physically weak and a bit more traumatized than I was in the previous swim class.

This scene played out many times. The more times I failed, the more I knew I couldn’t do it. After I was unable to pass out of shark the second time, I asked my mom just to allow me not to be a porpoise. Our conversation probably went something like, “Mom, could you love me even if I’m never more than a shark?” She accepted me as I was: her no-endurance-having child.

Fast forward to the present day. I’m beginning to think this issue with endurance has been rearing its ugly head in more creative ways in my adult life (probably because I tend to avoid activities requiring physical endurance). As I was walking to work this morning, I was feeling really slow and weighed down. I was conscious of every step I took, as each one felt like a chore. I didn’t want to go to work today. But that isn’t the real issue. The issue is that my eventual last day of work should be close, maybe six months from now (if all goes according to plan). And now that I have a sense of how many more laps I have to do, I have begun to shut down and feel incapable of making it through these final laps/days/months. And sadly, this has happened before. A great job turns to mush and I revert to counting down to when it will be over – no longer enjoying the experience or practicing my strokes, instead reverting back to mere survival, self-doubt, and yeah, some tears too.

So I had a revelation today. Turns out I may be lacking both physical and professional endurance. Only in the professional world, I don’t have a teacher to help me make it back to that wall safely. I’m flailing out here on my own -and it is scary as hell!