The Art of Talking About Yourself
After graduation, I found myself without a full-time job and in a transient living situation. Well, crashing on couches to be more accurate. This isn’t an uncommon story for many post grads, so I’ll refrain from claiming to be unique. But, this also was not the first time that I’d been homeless.
At the beginning of the eighth grade, financial circumstances forced my family and I to move into a shelter. The experience was jarring. Applying for assistance took my family from Brooklyn to far ends of the Bronx to fill out an infinite number of applications in crowded rooms. We spent some nights riding the trains when we had nowhere to sleep. There were days I’d have to miss school because, apparently, the City needed to see the suffering of my entire family in person to believe that we were truly in need. Eventually, we were placed in a shelter, and after a year, permanent housing.
I never thought I’d have to experience an unstable living situation for a second time. Luckily, I had double the support of great friends, dedicated mentors, and generous strangers as I did the first time around. I was also armed with the gift of hindsight.
See once you’ve lost everything, including your home, something really shifts – you realize that your dreams are not confined or limited by location. This is perhaps the most powerful lesson my experiences have taught me.
Yet still, I was racked with so many fears as I continued to apply for jobs.
As a Black woman, I’ve been bookended by others’ assumptions of my past and expectations of my future for my entire life. I’ve had the history of my people written by individuals who don’t look like me, while others feverishly write, what they think should be, my future.
At the height of what I like to call my post-grad crisis, I began to think that no one would see my present potential.
It was then my mentor pointed out that I needed to get over my fear of talking about myself. I didn’t understand what she meant. I considered myself to be a great public speaker and confident in my abilities. How could I possibly not know how to talk about myself?
I was missing her point, she said. “When I talk about you to other people…I hype you up.” She went down a list. “New York Times Scholar, interned and wrote for The Times, interned on Capitol Hill for her Congressman,” she checked off a finger for each accomplishment. I knew them well. I’d written them on my many resume versions. The same resume I believed would pale in comparison to my peers’.
It was then that I had an epiphany. I was comparing myself to my peers when I really shouldn’t be. They did not have the same lived experiences as I did, nor were they going in the same professional direction. I had to stop living on the same frequency as others for this very reason. It wouldn’t get me where I needed to go.
Aside from that, I knew my mentor was right. I hadn’t mastered the art of talking about myself to other people. To potential employers, in particular. I was humble to a fault.
My mother’s take was that I was holding something back. Such a simple observation, but absolutely accurate. My fear of leaving New York and my support system was paralyzing me. In fact, I’d only been applying to limited job types – all in the City.
Counter to what life’s lessons taught me, I was allowing my fears to limit my dreams to one location.
I began to branch out. Almost as if it were in answer to my revelation, an amazing recruiter I’d met in D.C. messaged me with an internship opportunity. I shook off my own, restrictive expectations of a full-time offer from NYC’s Department of Health and applied.
Almost four months later I can proudly say that I’ve relocated and am now an intern turned full-time employee at a company that truly cares about increasing access to health for underserved patient populations as much as I do.
Written with the hopes of inspiring those who dedicate their degrees to their communities; those who have experienced the disenfranchisement of their people and now fight for fair and equitable systems to change this reality; those who have been on both sides of policy, living its effect as well as considering ways to shape them; those who aspire to and are currently pursuing health professions to help the underrepresented; the people who believe in the fabric of community even when it’s torn; my fellow low income/HEOP folks; and of course, to thank the many people and organizations who believed in and supported me when I didn’t quite believe in myself.