Designing Multi-Faceted Lives
I often forget that this is an unprecedented time to be alive.
By Kashara Johnson
Our world seems to be an increasingly scary place to live. There’s so much fear and anger bubbling up from deep below the surface. Thich Nhat Hahn says that fear and anger stem from a lack of understanding. That idea has been on my mind for a couple of months now and has been reshaping the way that I interact with others as I navigate through this world.
With all of the natural disasters, political turmoil, and social injustices against marginalized individuals and communities, I often forget that this is an unprecedented time to be alive. As a collective group that for so long has been left out of conversations and blocked from seats at the table, we have entered into an era where we have the opportunity to build our own tables and seats. People are watching and listening. Our influence and stories are being more widely acknowledged and embraced. And while we don’t need the gaze of the dominant culture to validate our existence or our stories, I have to admit that it is still encouraging to witness.
Many times I think about opportunities - both the kinds given and the kinds created by oneself. To be honest, I frequently take both for granted. Speaking as a woman of color, feeling empowered to revel in my Blackness is a privilege that was not, and for many is still not afforded. It’s a privilege to be able to leverage and share our stories and experiences, and it’s also a privilege to have a sense agency over our lives given what many who came before us had to sacrifice to make this possible in the first place.
With that being said, I think it’s an important reminder that there’s no time to be shy about our strengths, gifts, and abilities. There’s a time to be humble, but not self-deprecating. Imposter syndrome and shame can be easily disguised or mistaken as humility. We have to learn to distinguish. Even still, I regularly feel uncomfortable acknowledging my talents and abilities. I’m sure some of you reading this struggle, too. It feels like I’m constantly walking on a tight rope calculating the exact balance between being proud, but not too proud and yet never so proud that I make another person uncomfortable. It’s quite frankly exhausting and I’ve come to wonder if maybe there is no balance at all. Maybe it’s just you and me and us - simply existing while allowing ourselves to be proud of how far we’ve journeyed to get to this exact moment in time.
With our society’s ever-growing emphasis on self-care and self-improvement, maybe what we could all use is a whole-hearted commitment to designing multi-faceted lives for ourselves. Lives that encompass and integrate more of who we are in all areas. Lives that are not pieced and boxed according to societal pressures, but that are fluid, intentional, and fully ours. It’s cool in theory, but how exactly do we do that?
Let Yourself Off the Hook
Following a series of therapy sessions, I’ve come to realize that it begins with letting ourselves off the hook. Growing up as a little Black girl living in the Deep South, I quickly came to understand the meaning of “working twice as hard to get half as much”. It’s a phrase that many of us from a variety of marginalized community groups have heard. And I think that for a while, I truly believed that living out that notion was helpful and would compel me to try my best in everything that I did. But that was only true up to a certain point.
It wasn’t until recently that I began to see the long-term ramifications of such a phrase and how a lack of grace and no room for error leads to creative paralysis. I couldn’t be vulnerable with myself about my strengths and weaknesses because of my intense fear of failure and unwillingness to forgive myself. To be completely honest, I still struggle with this - hence the reason I faithfully attend weekly therapy sessions.
So while I’m still working to grasp more concrete answers to my never-ending list of questions, one thing I have come to understand is that on the other side of letting ourselves off the hook is freedom. Yet we oftentimes don’t know what to do with freedom. With freedom comes choices and with choices comes a need for grace when we stumble. However, if we don’t have space for grace or room for error, then how can we move forward in freedom? The “not knowing” is scary and the path of least resistance is forever tempting us to stay with what we’ve always known for comfort’s sake. And so for those reasons - comfort and fear - we keep ourselves on our hooks and we accept less than what we deserve, and we do less than we are capable of doing.
But in spite of our fears, we have to do it. We have to let ourselves off the hook. To help me move forward, I had to create a language that encompassed grace and margin of error. Maybe it will also help you.
“I did the best that I could with what I knew and with the tools that I had at the time. I cannot hold my past self to the standards that I now have because I didn’t know any better at the time. If I am free to revel in my abilities and knowledge at this moment, then I am also able to forgive myself for the mistakes that I have made in the past.”
Be Willing to Challenge Your Beliefs
In addition to letting ourselves off the hook, we also need a willingness to re-evaluate our beliefs. Stay with me here. If we took the time to consider what we believe and why we believe it, we’d probably find that many of those beliefs are simply narratives that we’ve created to explain our own cultural experiences. Beliefs, aside from ones that uphold human rights and those rooted in scientific evidence, are not necessarily fact, and a belief that may be true when applied to one culture may certainly not be true when applied to another. If this is the case, then what would happen if we traded our ethics, beliefs, and ways of viewing the world for another’s? How might communities and spaces exist? How would this serve our greater purpose in this life?
Designing a multi-faceted life requires the flexibility, willingness, and courage to change. But change, in my opinion, can only really happen when we’re willing to challenge our beliefs. Our beliefs shape our lives. They dictate how we will treat others and ourselves. They inform our views of the world and the imprints that we place on our Earth. Our future depends on our awareness of our connection to one another. And for that reason we must continually question our narratives. Determine which hold true and which should be discarded. Our capacity to build integrated, multi-faceted lives for ourselves is directly proportionate to our capacity to use empathy in order to challenge our beliefs.
This truly is an unprecedented time to be alive. Being intentional about designing multi-faceted lives for ourselves means that we can create space for impact and change and healing. Our gifts, abilities, stories and ideas are not given merely for our individual benefit. They are meant to be shared freely. The turmoil we see brewing in our world shows us the places where healing and emotional justice needs to take place. It’s our responsibility to bring a little bit of healing to our lives. And with healing comes this desire to no longer compartmentalize pieces of ourselves, but to show up and integrate. We are all connected and that means that our healing doesn’t just impact us, but it impacts those around us.