I grew up in an environment where a child was expected to obey, without questions, directives from their parents. As a child I did obey… the alternatives was not a viable option for me. Not when my mama was a teacher and could think up many ways to make you comply without necessarily raising her hands or voice.
I recall a particular evening in my teens. My mum had just come home and asked for some rice to eat. I obviously let my annoyance at being bothered show on my face and she simply told me she had changed her mind and wanted to eat beans porridge instead. Beans in the evening!?That was unusual as she was prone to indigestion and avoided certain meals after 6pm. Plus it takes thrice the time to cook beans than rice and she said she was hungry. To avoid being punished further, I obediently went to the kitchen and prepared a delicious pot of beans. Being careful not to let the pots or lids clang lest she interprets that as an act of defiance. 90 minutes later, I humbly walked into the living room to tell my mum that her dinner was ready and the response I got was “It’s too late to eat beans, I’ll have indigestion Let me just have bread and tea”.
How I wished she had just smacked me or something for my naughtiness instead of making me spend 90 minutes in the kitchen! Anyway, the lesson was well learnt. I never made that mistake again. It’s “always a pleasure” to serve my mama especially after she had spent the whole day serving my siblings and I.
Now that’s the world I grew up in and had come to understand and love. I turned out pretty ok too. Great actually if I could say so myself!! But times have changed. And so have I. I no longer live in the same world/ culture I grew up in. What worked for my mum back then may give me a fragment of the success she experienced. So I have a choice – hold on to the “good old days” or trusting my innate ability to transform, craft a new path.
So sometimes, I struggle to learn the new way of doing things….. different from that ingrained in my subconscious. Translate that to the work place and everyday life in general, I find myself questioning my approach as I seek to remain authentic, inclusive as well as promote a growth mindset in every situation. I frequently catch me questioning my ‘DNA’ responses to situations and asking myself “how can I better couch this sentence to portray my intent and goal”?
I am getting more comfortable with the uncomfortable feeling of encouraging my kids to question me and perhaps even challenge my directives. I recall having a conversation with my 13 year old where I literally said ” I need you to question why I am asking you to do …(whatever it was at that time)”. You see, having spent his first 10 years back in Nigeria, like me, he also is more familiar with the culture of accepting directives from those in leadership or older than him. Not so my 10 and 7 year olds, with whom I have to remind myself to pause, breathe and say to myself “it’s ok for them to question”.
These 3 quotes keep me grounded and I’ll share them with you. The first has been my compass for as long as I can remember and the other two I added more recently.
1. “To thyself be true” – Shakespeare. These words from Shakespeare shape me journey in authenticity and adaptation. We each have our story, as unique and personal as the fit of our favourite pair of shoes. As such, there is no better mirror for an authentic me than me.
2. “I am not a figment of my imagination” – Cheryl Tjok-A-Tam. Authenticity requires that you see yourself as a whole person. Not in fragments or bits but whole, head to feet. And seeing yourself, accept that you are complete, enough, whole! This quote is especially dear to me. Being a first generation immigrant, I sometimes feel a part of me is missing. The community that knows my “giant slaying stories”, who understand the half smile that speaks to a shared history and gets my mum’s beans and rice story without thinking “child abuse”. So sometimes I feel homesick and lost and begin to forget who I am. But I AM NOT a figment of my imagination! I AM …… whoever/whatever I choose to be
3. “I am MORE than the sum of my experiences” – B.J. Neblett. Now this is a modification from the actual quote. I personally believe that I am MORE than the sum of my experiences. Because I am able to take what I go through – every beautiful, ugly, painful, joyful, exhilarating, disgusting bit of it – and make it into something absolutely phenomenal, beyond any frame of reference, all me. I have a choice on the person I am becoming.
I believe authenticity is a journey hence the correlation with adaptation. Each day I get to decide the magic that is ME!