There are so many times in life when people will say to you that who you are is not the right “fit” for them. The “fit” (or perceived lack thereof) may be related to a job, a friendship, an intimate relationship or any number of other things. This is especially the case when you are a person of an under-represented group working, living or occupying space that is not traditionally populated by people who look like you. For me it was being a Black woman in academic medicine where according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) less than 4% of all faculty in U.S. medical schools are Black/African American with an even lower percentage of us who are researchers.
Often, these environments are not designed to support, empower and uplift you, this is by design. Remember, these environments were never created with you in mind because when most of them were created, under-represented people were not considered worthy of our own humanity let alone positions in these spaces. From the pictures hanging on the walls, to the textbooks from whence our learning comes, historically speaking, nothing has been designed to reflect us and our richly diverse experiences.
Literally, we are left to fend for ourselves. Sometimes, people will say it is because we don’t work hard enough to engage and join the team, others will say that we need to make better career choices and still others will say nothing and just continue to exclude with impunity. All of this is real and none of it is ok. My point in reflecting on all of this is to do something my younger brother tells me all the time… to shine a light.
So today, I am shining a light for you. A light to break through the clouds hovering over your experiences of isolation in the work settings, in educational spaces, heck in the time of COVID, even these electronic spaces. My goal is to tell you it’s not you, it’s them (and the environment they created). An environment that was never built with you in mind, yet one that demands your adaptation so that it can remain as is.
My wish for you and your mental health is that you resist. Resist the urge to blame yourself, resist the urge to conform in ways that break you down, resist the urge to isolate and conform. Instead, I ask you to grow, grow into the person you are meant to be, grow through their attempts to pin you down with stereotypes and lack of understanding, grow through even those limitations you have internalized and grow into your true self. Don’t shrink; rise, so your mental health can rise with you and so you can demonstrate what it means to be a fully realized human being achieving at your highest potential. Rise because you know that at the end of the day, your shining a light (on the systemic traps that seek to hold you back) frees not only you, but all those around you watching and waiting for a path to their own freedom.
I hope that any time you feel frustrated, tired or down, you will remember that by naming and recognizing the systems designed to hold you back and make you shrink, you become living proof that sunshine is the best disinfectant (and you rise).