career

The Vulnerability of Writing, Speaking, & Asking for Help

Soooooooooooooooooooooo…

I did a thing, ya’ll.

These days, I’m working on a collaborative project that’s got me thinking deeply about why I started this site, what my writing style is like, and what topics I gravitate towards. For over one year, I have written on topics such as social justice and spirituality. For over one year, I have been making sense of both my sociocultural identity and my spiritual identity through sharing those small truths and gems I find along the way. Writing is so interesting because it’s an activity that I do, mostly, in solitude & quiet. Yet, it’s easy to underestimate how your voice can carry to spaces that you never thought possible. Speaking, on the other hand, very different from this.

I’ve studied Theater and Communication Arts/Speaking; these are activities where you not only visualize your audience beforehand… but you actually see them in the room. You can see glimpses of the impact you’re having on the faces of people – Sometimes, for better. Sometimes, for worse. There is access to both your mind and your voice, embodied. For these reasons, I am unspeakably excited to share and co-facilitate a workshop on Re-Encountering Beliefs and Forging New Faith Identities at the Wild Goose Festival in Hot Springs, NC. The Wild Goose festival is a 4-day Spirit, Justice, Music and Arts Festival that is open, affirming, and “rooted in a progressive Christian tradition”.

Writing and speaking are activities that require a great deal of vulnerability, especially in this case. These are vulnerabilities that I’m quite often ready for, equipped for, and even formally trained to do. However…

I am still trying to master the vulnerabilities of asking for help.

Co-facilitating at Wild Goose allows me “to live more fully into my mission and vision”. However, to cover the costs of getting there, I’ve had to ask for help. I’m still asking for help.

I chose to do that through GoFundMe and it’s been an exciting and terrifying process… especially because of the “What will people think” minions prancing about in my mind. Their song gets a little weaker each time I ask, so I’m learning something very important on this journey. I’ve been able to ask for help from family, friends, and (what I like to call) e-cousins. [Note: E-cousins are the people I’ve met online who are not a part of my biological family, but I would be best cousins with them if they were]. Now, I’m taking one more step. I’m putting my request here. In my public writing space.

[Also, can someone get Brene Brown on the phone because all this #vulnerabilitylife liiike… Lawd!… I need a snack…]

First, I want to thank everyone that has helped me to cover these costs through my GoFundMe initiative. I also want to express my thanks to those who have left kind notes along the way! They have been such pleasant surprises and reminders that the work can continue on, with your support.

I’m almost at the halfway mark of the journey, and I’m so excited to be heading to ‘the Goose’ in one month! If you’re so inclined and able to give, I would greatly appreciate it! You can give here on GoFundMe. If you’re wondering more about the details, and how funds are being allocated, click the link to read more! Or if you’ve done anything like this before / like the writing you see here and want to leave a note of encouragement, please feel free to do so in the comments.

With Love to You All,

Jade T. Perry

Image Credit: CreateHerStock.com

Non-Traditional New Year’s Manifesto

I appreciate that for many, New Year’s Eve / Day signals a reset in some ways: new goals, fresh starts, upcoming excitement. However, it is my least favorite holiday. The hands of New Year’s Eve clock often feel heavy with promises we don’t keep, breakthroughs that may or may not come, and changes we could have made the year before. In past years, I got around this heaviness by surrounding myself with positive distractions: people at church who might be able to help me believe that THIS year was MY year, friends whose optimism might rub off on me, confetti, glitter… the works.

But this New Year’s Eve, my original plans included baking a cake and enjoying close relationships. On a deeper level, I knew that in order to progress successfully into 2016, I had to get quiet and look back… which is counter-intuitive to SO many notions we have about what a NEW year represents. On the second day of the new year, I had the chance to do just that.

Those who know me well, know that I’ve kept a journal from ages  9 to 22. In the years that followed, my journaling practice has been on and off, so I bought a new book and purposed to get back on track. However, since I was back in my hometown, I pulled my high school and college years down from the shelves and re-read. (No journals from grad school or after because… #life).

I smiled (laughed occasionally). I cringed (a lot). I analyzed. I empathized. But most importantly, I meditated on loving the “me” in those pages.  That was radical and life-changing for me.

I allowed the “Me” of today to grieve the heartbreaks of the “Me” of then. I got honest with the “Me” of then… there were so many things I was not willing to admit to myself. I cheered myself on when I proactively made good choices and even when I stumbled upon good choices after-the-fact.

The “Me” of today was able to discern that, in many ways, I spent a great deal of my past in fear.

Fear of messing up.
Fear of doing things ‘wrong’.
Fear of not being heard.
Fear of being unloved.
Fear of being unworthy.

So, my past coping responses were geared toward achievement. Go. Do. Prove. Learn the terms. Play by the rules.

I discerned what I needed to do in 2016 by looking back, and purposefully accepting myself & my evolution. I needed / need to embrace my own terms.

While I don’t have the details of how this will play out, I have identified a few key areas that I’d like to work on. These include:

  1. Refining, embracing, and articulating my own voice through my art & professional endeavors. I am a blend of analysis, story sharing, advocacy… and sheer, friggin, shenanigans. It’s okay to reflect all of that. Those are my terms.
  2. Communicating my terms in regards to wealth & profit from my creativity. Rihanna put it this way, “Pay me what you owe me. Don’t act like you forgot”. My terms.
  3. Making room to add or subtract relationships, projects, and professional goals. Shame and fear can keep you playing solely by other people’s terms. I’ve learned that is just not an efficient or peaceful way to live.
  4. Committing to explore what my terms are for engaging God and people, for creating art… for living.

I’ve lived rubric-style for long enough. It’s time to begin using the resources I have to create my authentic curricula.

Image Credit: Createherstock.com

Jades Faves: Get Into these Blogs & Sites

I found these blogs on my epic journey & quest to “get my life” through blogs & vlogs! I’m always looking to find fresh perspectives that also remind me of why I’ve chosen to blog: to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion!

I appreciate the work being done through each of these sites & talented bloggers. Add them to your list when you get a chance!

1. DressProfesh.com – I stumbled upon this website last week because Twitter is a magical place that gives you recommendations based on your interests. As many of you already know, navigating identity politics in higher education & in the workplace is… one…of…my… things! I talk about it. I write about it. I read about. So, when I saw what Katie Manthey was doing over at DressProfesh.com, I could hardly contain my excitement. This site exists as a photo gallery that

showcase(s) images of the various ways that people (regardless of industry) dress “professionally.” (The) goal with this gallery is to collect images that, together, will reveal that “professional” is not a monolithic idea—and that the idea of “professional dress,” like any dress code, is inherently racist, sexist, abelist, sizeist, etc.

It didn’t take long for me to submit my own photos, showing how I #dressprofesh in a myriad of different ways! Check out the site and be sure to submit a photo of your own!

2. Conditionally Accepted: A Space for Scholars on the Margins of Academia

I am always looking for materials for my mentees to read in terms of being successful in academia and in their post-grad work (if chosen). I was searching for a few readings when I found Advice on Applying to and Choosing a Graduate Program, written by Dr. Zandria F. Robinson for conditionallyaccepted.com. Her perspective on finding, applying, and accepting entry into a graduate program was refreshing and real. I found myself literally agreeing out loud as I began clicking through the site that weekend, reading post after post.

If only I had this key as an add-on when I was reading!

The purpose of this site is to serve as

a space for academics who exists at the margins of academia. We will provide news, information, personal stories, and resources for scholars who are, at best, conditionally accepted in the academy. Conditionally Accepted is an anti-racist, pro-feminist, pro-queer, anti-transphobic, anti-fatphobic, anti-ableist, anti-ageist, anti-classist, and anti-xenophobic web community. http://conditionallyaccepted.com/about/

3. The Write Girl – Whitney L. Barkley is doin’ the dang thing over at thewritegirlblog.com as she provides timely career advice for millenial women. If you’ve been following my site, then you know that I like speaking to and about millenial woman of color in the workplace: what helps, what promotes, what fosters our growth, what hinders… and what’s just plain tacky. At The Write Girl, Whitney “is taking her experiences and translating them into career advice that helps with job retention, online branding, job searching, and career advancement (http://thewritegirlblog.com/about/)”. Her posts will make you think about how generational identities change the game for millenials in empowering ways!

So, I’ve given you some good lunchtime reads for the week! Check them out and comment below to tell me what you think!

Navigating Exhaustion in a Culture of ‘Winning’

In the words of the prolific & poignant Rakim / Timbaland, “It’s been a long time… we shouldn’ta left you (left you) without a dope beat to step to…” (*if you don’t get the reference, pause and get your life here). SO, I haven’t written in a bit because I was attending, participating in, and decompressing from a national conference that is especially important in the work that I do full time. I’ve done reflection after reflection about what spaces like national conferences can bring to the professionals who engage. There are clear positives: the chance to engage in affinity building spaces, the exchange of knowledge through learning sessions, the ability to network with those who are in your field, the satisfaction of reconnecting with colleagues, and much more.

However, as the years have gone by, I’ve noticed a trend… there is an unspoken push for conference-goers to “win” the conference itself. You’ve probably seen it before but it’s very subtle. It shows up in the questions whispered from professional to grad student, and from colleague to colleague: “How many sessions have you gone to? Are you presenting? Who / how many people came to your presentation?” Conference #winning culture measures its success by the amount of people you’ve networked with / connected to, or even just feverishly handed your business card to. Conference #winning culture shows itself in the race of audience members who put their hands up in Q&A, in hopes of being the most poignant participant. Conference #winning might even include the measurements of selfies taken with “pillars”, the pictures of session titles, and the tweets and retweets conference goers hope to attain.

Now, before you think I’m ‘going in’ on my chosen full time profession, let me state that I see this same culture in the work that I do as a writer / blogger. It is a culture of  hashtag “winning”: the constant comparison of shares, stats, tweets & retweets, likes, dislikes, comments, and even trollage (yeah, I definitely made that word up)! How many Twitter chats have you participated in and how many times were you favorited or retweeted? How many shares did you get and how many posts are you cranking out per week?

And I get it. I get why we have this culture of hashtag winning. It is one that extends itself beyond writing or blogging and into many professional spaces. Why? Because a significant part of success (both on and offline) does come from networking, sharing information, and finding those people who are willing to believe in you and endorse you. I would not be where I am today if I had not done my due diligence in networking, building professional relationships, sharing my work, and being clear about my relevance in professional spaces. I must also state the fact that I have taught this before, influenced the culture of #winning, carefully instructing my students: “Make sure that when you’re networking you get a business card… you write down one thing you talked about… you follow up with them to nurture the network”.

However, if we are honest, we understand that most, if not all, professionals walk a tightrope: What is strategic placement / practice toward a successful career trajectory versus what is merely ‘posturing’ and ‘pretending’?

Writer Allison Vesterfelt alludes to this culture of winning in her quote:

The posturing. The self-promotion. The pretending to have it all together. The only-showing-your-good-side. Can we stop? It’s exhausting.

Posted by Allison Vesterfelt: Writer on Tuesday, March 31, 2015

So, I think that finding that balance between what we NEED to do to be successful in our endeavors and posturing or pretending requires that we ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Do I feel the need to ‘win’ in a conference space, or in an online space? If so, why? What is prompting that (i.e. new job search? career transition? looking to move upward within the field? internal / personal reasons)”? Ask these questions without judging yourself. Simply reflect, understand your answers, and adjust where and if necessary
  •  How can I show up as my authentic self while also fully engaging in strategic writing, blogging, conference going, professional networking, etc? Here is where a written reflection or a conversation with a trusted colleague would be helpful.
  • Finally, if I do not “win” these likes for my blog… or if I do not go to every networking event… how do I process that in ways that empower me as a professional”?

If you are reading this blog and asking that last question, you’re in luck… because that is the only question I have a concrete answer for. 😉 In order to process in ways that empower you as a professional a) talk to your mentors / colleagues because they really can help you get your life sometimes, and b) understand that it is essential to remember why you are doing the work in the first place(I got that one from Shannon Kaiser over at Mind Body Green… check out her work when you get the chance).

I don’t necessarily blog for likes or shares (although if you do share and like I will be on my side of the computer grinning it up and throwing imaginary confetti). Likes and shares are helpful and even necessary for the success of my blog, but that is not the core reason that I engage in an online space. The core reason evidences itself in my mission, “to offer information, ideas, & counter-cultural narratives that will empower readers to thrive and to lovingly & creatively challenge secular and sacred systems toward greater levels of inclusion”. 

So, as I decompress and debrief from conference season, I’m asking myself the same question, “Why am I doing this“? I am doing this for those who will benefit from my experience, expertise, authenticity, and accountability in higher education and academia. I am doing this with confident hope that my presence and representation, along with my savvy and innovation, will assist marginalized students in their academic and post-college success journey. I am doing this because I like to! I am doing this because as I do good work, the networking connections will flow easily to me, and strategic career moves will also become clear to me… sans pretending.

So as you reflect on the work that you do, either online or offline, share with me… Why are you doing this work?

Practicing authentic networking (in addition to stylin’) at the conference. (Shout out to A. H. who had my updo lookin’ oh so right).

Creative Commons License
Navigating Exhaustion in a Culture of ‘Winning’? by Jade T. Perry is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Hair Stylin’ & Profilin’ – Making Identity Conscious Decisions at Work

It has been a busy week and weekend, filled with writing deadlines, but I’m excited about the opportunities! I talked about navigating microaggressions in the workplace over at Black Career Women’s Network, reflected on the difference between vulnerability and overshare in blogging over at BrownGirlBloggers.com, and worked with the amazing staff at NACE.org to publish a piece on natural hair & identity politics in the workplace!

On the topic of identity politics and natural hair in the workplace, I noted:

In my professional life, I have chosen to wear my hair naturally… Though the options are endless, these styles include anything that allows me to least amount of manipulation to the way my hair naturally grows…

I cannot count the times that my students, particularly women of color, have asked in hushed tones, “So….I’m meeting a recruiter/employer tomorrow and I’m hoping to get a job. I wear my hair naturally. So, what do you do—what should I do—about my hair?

It is one of my favorite questions, but it is always a loaded one. The trained ear will notice that these students are not just asking for fashion advice. They are trying to figure out how to navigate identity politics. They are looking for understanding on how they might “assert or reclaim ways of understanding their distinctiveness that challenge dominant oppressive characterizations…” as Heyes asserts. They are looking for ways to be authentic in spaces that may be largely homogenous, and in professions that may be largely male. Questions about hair are typically never just about hair…

In the article, I talked about how I walk students through these important decisions, including encouragements to a) acknowledge the validity of their experiences, b) research the company & its culture, and more. However, I did not include any pictures of the various ways that I have decided to wear my own natural hair during various occasions in my work life. Some of the examples you will see below reflect what I was doing at the moment; as someone who has been working in student affairs, we have weekly hours in office in addition to supervising or hosting events that might be formal and / or more casual in nature. Thus, you will see that my hair reflects a range of these kinds of styles, from formal to casual:

Style: Yarn braids inside a wrap. I have dressed that outfit up or down, depending on the circumstance. In the workplace, I would choose a more subtle pair of earrings, but I wanted you to get a good idea of the hairstyle itself.

Style: Loose twist out

Style: Updo (supervising a student group’s formal event)

Style: Simple bun. This style is actually pretty clutch for interviews as well, as it sits off your face but also allows you to manipulate your curls without heat. I simply used a bit of Ecostyler Gel for the edges and rolled the hair up.

Style: Headwrap

Style: Salon straightened (low heat, flat iron)

Style: Loose updo

If you have natural hair in the workplace, what are some of the styles that you love? Does your style vary, according to the professional occasion? If so, how?

Electric Lady at Work (aka How Janelle Monae Helped Me Get My Life)

Two things that I really miss about South Carolina are the open roads and the 70 mph speed limits. It creates the perfect landscape for one of my favorite past-times: riding down the roads with my music as a soundtrack. During my time in South Carolina, I did anti-bias, diversity, & inclusion work as the only staff member of color in our division. The lessons that I learned during my time of anti-bias work in the South were incredible. However, as a young professional woman of color advocating for underrepresented students, I was not immune to bias & microaggression. In many respects, the world that my students inhabited and the struggles they faced was my world, too.

Janelle Monae’s project, Electric Lady, came out right before I started that work. However it didn’t mean much to me until I actually began.
Until I, as a Northern transplant, saw & experienced the ways in which women of color moved through academia in a Southern setting.
Until I needed something that would sustain me in the work while the rural landscape provided ample space for reflection and little space for socialization.
That “something” became Janelle Monae’s Electric Lady.

It is undeniable that the project “jams”. It’s one that you can dance to, clean to, and essentially “get your life” to. Yet under the jam is a fresh message of empowerment & uplift. In a Billboard interview, Monae unpacks her inspiration for the album, stating that it came from a series of paintings she did & was trying to make sense of. Throughout the process, she identified the figure she kept painting as The Electric Lady. Through these paintings and this album, Janelle Monae created, “a world where these electric ladies were realizing their super powers and doing self-realization into self-actualization and nurturing the community through their gifts and their unique perspectives on life.”

The Electric Lady, as described in the titled track, is a woman who,

“Whether in Savannah, K-Kansas or in Atlanta,
She’ll walk in any room have you raising up your antennas.
She can fly you straight to the moon or to the ghettos
Wearing tennis shoes or in flats or in stilettos
Illuminating all that she touches
Eye on the sparrow
A modern day Joan of a Arc or Mia Farrow
Classy, Sassy, put you in a razzle-dazzy
Her magnetic energy will have you coming home like Lassie
Saying “ooh shock it, break it, baby”
Electro, sofista, funky, -cated”

So, one evening as I was “shockin’ it” & “breakin’ it”, I decided that this work by Janelle Monae would become my strategy for empowerment and self-care. I decided that as long as I was doing the work, I would own my vitality, buzz, & worth as a professional woman of color. I would not wait for it to come externally. I was finally taking ownership of my inner Electric Lady. I hoped that by doing this, others would be encouraged to do the same.

Why claim this motif as a self-care strategy?

The Electric Lady is vital. The Electric Lady can transition through various environments. The Electric Lady has a keen sense of style politics, how she shows up in the world, & navigates through them creatively. The Electric Lady understands the power of oppositional gaze, is not afraid to look at the world around her, and require better. The Electric Lady is courageous in her love for others, fully realized. The Electric Lady has grit & finesse. The Electric Lady “illuminates all that she touches. She sparks something in other people that they did not know they had. She lights a path for those within her reach through knowledge and the audacity to simply be herself. This is what I wished to model for my students. I realized that in those moments of driving down stretches of highway, facilitating learning experiences, creating opportunities for underrepresented students, sharing written work, and having the audacity to show up as myself in the world… I am an Electric Lady.

When I was in graduate school, my professors required us to create a personal statement that would outline our professional philosophy. In that statement I talked about ” assessing your performance, receiving feedback, and adapting to the changing needs of students, cultivating relationships outside of work…” and so forth. Though these things still detail my professional values, I’ve since distilled it down to something I remember each day. It motivates me to do the work through education, writing, and student affairs. And that philosophy is… “Be an Electric Lady.”

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Janelle_Mon%C3%A1e_19.jpg

Lyrics written by Janelle Monae, cited from Google Play

Resource Links:
http://thefeministwire.com/2012/08/you-betta-werk-professors-talk-style-politics/

bell hooks (1992). In Black Looks: Race & Representation. pp. 115 -131. http://www.umass.edu/afroam/downloads/reading14.pdf