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I have this thing where sometimes I get so excited and passionate about a new idea or project and I use that passion and excitement to launch, but a few weeks, months, or years later I’d be like, “Whatever happened to that thing I said I wanted to do?!”

That was me three summers ago when I decided I wanted to go back to school. I started the research; took a couple of GRE classes (turns out I didn’t need to); wrote a brief draft of my personal statement (didn’t use that either); and listened to some pretty awful advice. Eventually, I became so busy with work that the idea of grad school fell to a wayside. Or rather, I let it.

Last week I had my first grad classes at Columbia U and I was nervous, excited, scared, and anxious all at once. I felt the same way when I applied in the fall and the same way three summer ago when I decided I'd go back to school. The only difference between “last fall” and “three summers” was that I decided not to let those feelings weigh me down. I shared them with nine people I trust and know would push me, love me, support me, and hold me accountable through the process. I made a plan on how I would do it, and, well, I did it! I was able to see that I wasn’t struggling with a failure to launch. I was struggling with fears on how to land.

I’ve been learning that landing doesn’t have to be so difficult or scary. Learning to land takes practice. It takes a vision AND a plan, which provides focus and clarity (you can’t just land anywhere!). It also requires self discipline (not self flagellation), clear steps (aka smart goals), the right resources, and lil bit of audacity, urgency, and resiliency (don’t rush the landing, but don’t stall it either).

Also, no pilot lands alone. I can't stress this enough: Lean into your community (seek out mentors) for support and accountability. I attribute so much of my success to the contributions of my community. So, share your dreams and fears with people you love and trust, and open yourself to the resources they can offer you.

And remember, it’s never, ever too late to land.

"You just gotta love yourself” is one the most ineffective things you can tell someone struggling with low self-esteem/self-worth. It comes from a well-meaning place, but self-love requires work.

I like to imagine it’s like having someone who keeps setting your house on fire and somehow you manage to put out the flames, but they keep coming back.

I spent many years “fireproofing” myself to protect my self-esteem. I plastered my walls with visions boards of beautiful, successful Black role models. I filled closets with tons of expensive, respectable clothes. I brought home incompatible yet successful partners I thought would be the “Barack” to my “Michelle”. I found religion, denied my authentic self, and lied to avoid conflict or hurt other people’s feelings.

All of that and I still felt unworthy and unloved. All of that until I was ready to admit a hard truth: The problem wasn’t my inability to be “fireproof”. My problem was not addressing the jerk arsonists who kept coming back with matches. And sometimes that jerk was me.

I needed to be honest with myself about where I acquired beliefs of unworthiness that shaped my sense of self. Part of that honesty was admitting that I live in a society that requires me to be in a constant state of lack, always working/hustling to prove my worth. It’s the precise function of anti-Blackness, racism, capitalism, patriarchy, sexism, transphobia, fatphobia. So, instead of asking, “Am I good enough?”, I now ask, “Who/what benefits or profits from low worth we assign ourselves and others?”

Yes, we are responsible for how much we love ourselves, but we can’t love ourselves and hate/exploit/oppress others. And we can't love ourselves fully in a world that hates us. That's why love is activism. Love is a combination of trust, commitment, care, respect, and responsibility for ourselves and for each other. Self-love requires us to practice and develop these qualities within and with others.

Love y’all.

I used to be one of those people who bragged about being a perfectionist: "What's your greatest strength?" "Oh, I'm basically a perfectionist!" (Pro-tip: Don't use that reply in an interview!)

That was before I learned that "perfect" is the enemy of progress. I thought I'd mastered performing "perfect" with my hair, my makeup, my body, my work, my words. But performing is both physically & emotionally exhausting and simply self-destructive.

Perfectionism steals joy, encourages dishonesty, and cultivates shame. It denies compassion for others and ourselves. It also maintains systemic oppression & distracts us from the critical work needed to heal & liberate all people from tyranny and suffering. If we're all pretending we/things are "perfect", we shield & deny the ways that things aren't. We accept & cause harm to ourselves and others instead of connecting & learning in meaningful, honest ways.

Perfectionism and compassion can't coexist. Instead of perfect, how about we practice compassion, set boundaries, believe in our worthiness despite mistakes, and be vulnerable with ourselves & each other when we're afraid or insecure?

I can't pinpoint how I learned perfectionism but I know it's a defense mechanism for pain. I was raised being praised for my achievements & performance, which made me believe that "I am what I accomplish & how well I accomplish it". Since I tied my worth to perfectionism, any mistake meant I wasn't good enough. Growing up as a poor, dark-skinned Black girl, I thought being perfect could protect me from disposability (racism, capitalism, sexism & poverty make us disposable). It's human, but perfectionism didn't make my life any less painful or safe.

So, if you're also a recovering perfectionist, I encourage you to 1) Show compassion: We're all worthy of life & love even when we make mistakes. 2) Release shame: Trade "What will they think?" for "How can I use this experience to improve/build resilience?" 3) Be vulnerable: Recognize when shame and unworthiness are triggered for you. Pay attention to your body & the words you use: "I messed up" not "I'm a mess".

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