I’m really starting to wonder what my coworkers see when they look at me.
For a long time, I tried to look and act the part at work. I relaxed my hair. I wore smooth, slick buns and blazers, and was a regular contributor to meaningless corporate small talk about the weather and other notions of nothingness. I was always masking absolute irritation. I scoffed incessantly in my own mind and mastered the art of rolling my eyes without being detected. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: “Corporate Kasey”. I was dry, stoic, unsure, bored and lonely. I was the worst version of myself, and it was all a carefully orchestrated secret that I worked very hard to keep contained. Apparently, I was very good at keeping this little secret, because I received rave reviews from my superiors about my work performance and admirable morale. Morale! Sigh. I’m not proud of it, but I was that good at the lie. None of my coworkers knew how miserable I really was.
“Weekend Kasey”, on the other hand, was an absolute delight. I was witty, clever, whimsical, confident, talented and intelligent. I was the best version of myself on the weekends. I wore adorable clothes that made me look and feel incredible. I wore my hair loose and free, and I laughed loud and hard – right from my belly. My husband loved this girl! This is who he fell in love with, but she only showed up two days a week. For the other five days (otherwise known as most-of-the-time) we had to contend with “Corporate Kasey”. And If I wasn’t careful, she might start to slither in on Sunday evenings in painful, inadvertent anticipation to the start of the work week. This unhealthy dance of mine wasn’t working, but I continued to dance and dance and dance for years.
I not only hated my job, I hated myself; but not all of me – just that mean ole “Corporate Kasey”.
In 2009, I lost my mother to a brief, but valiant fight with breast cancer. The incomprehensible pain her death brought also snuck in a profound degree of clarity. I realized the harm in simply being bitter and unhappy. It’s hard to admit it, but my mom wasn’t a happy person. In fact, she hadn’t been truly happy years before her passing. She allowed the painful woes of life to steal her happiness. Don’t get me wrong, she went through some pretty terrible things; extremely terrible, actually – but everything can be overcome. Instead of choosing to overcome, she let it eat her alive. Ugly feelings like anger, bitterness, and unhappiness are the breeding ground for all manner of disease. There are always other factors at play, of course, but I learned a major life lesson: the way you view life is directly proportionate to your degree of health and happiness. Your thoughts can kill you, or they can keep you alive.
I knew I needed to make some changes in the way I was thinking. I needed to figure out a way to let go of the irritation and agitation I felt toward Corporate America, but more importantly towards “Corporate Kasey”. I slowly began to realize that the bondage I was in Monday through Friday was self-imposed. I had the key to the prison cell. I had locked myself inside. I had created “Corporate Kasey”, and I needed to be the one to kill her. “Weekend Kasey” needed to be the only Kasey. I took small, yet deliberate steps toward living an authentic, happy life. Even though I was unsure of whether or not it would be accepted, I decided to grow-out my relaxed hair and sport my natural, God-given curls. I started speaking-up for myself more at work, and having more meaningful conversations with my co-workers. Then eventually, when the time was right, and finances allowed, I quit my job and became “Weekend Kasey” full-time.
This was a glorious time. I was free… and I looked and felt the part. By this time, my natural hair had grown into a full head of beautiful kinky, coily gorgeousness. I wore gigantic, free-flowing curly afros most of the time and got complimented on my coif regularly. After much deliberation, I decided to take another step toward absolute authenticity and finally get the nose ring I’d wanted for decades. I had been really afraid to do that while I was working. I then went a step further, and started the process of locking my hair; something I would have never done while employed. As the strands of my hair began to bond together and become stronger, so did my self-confidence and peace. As I patiently waited for my locks to tangle and take form, I delighted more and more in the freedom I felt, and the beauty I felt radiating from me – inside and out. I finally felt that my appearance was the beautiful, individualistic nod to my ancestry I’d always felt called to embody. I spent my time enjoying my husband, family and friends. I prepared elaborate, tasty home-cooked meals and kept the house immaculately clean – just like I like it. I didn’t get that aching, sinking feeling on Sunday evenings. I smiled a lot, and surrounded myself with people who wanted to help me grow. “Corporate Kasey” was dead, and I felt 100% me, 100% of the time.
After more than a year away from Corporate America, my husband and I decided that I might need to return. Our financial circumstances had changed, and we needed to generate more income. I decided it made the most sense for me to return to Corporate America simply because it was where I was likely to earn the most money. Might as well dust-off that degree and put it back to use, right? But I had some major concerns. Would I be able to land a job in Corporate America with nappy hair and a nose ring? The quick answer: Yes. Not only did I land a job, I landed a good job. One with good pay, even better benefits and a relaxed work environment.
That brings us to present day. Getting the job was only half the battle. Now, it is time for me to boldly navigate through corporate America without falling prey to the slippery pitfalls that made me believe it was necessary to create “Corporate Kasey” in the first place. I’ll admit, it was easy to be “Weekend Kasey” full-time when I wasn’t working! Now, it’s time to show and prove! This won’t be an easy road. I’ve only been with my new company for a few months, and I have already experienced a few professional slights. The threat of “Corporate Kasey” is present, but I can’t allow those experiences to define my existence in Corporate America. I have to hold on to the essence of “Weekend Kasey”, while thriving in the corporate arena.
What do my coworkers see when they look at me? I don’t know, but this is my opportunity to demonstrate who I am. I will no longer try to stuff myself into some imagined corporate mold. I have to be a walking, breathing example of a competent, vibrant, pleasant young black professional who is true to self. I don’t have to deny my culture, my heritage or even my quirky, sarcastic personality to succeed in this realm. There is room for all of me, because this time – that’s all I’m willing to give.