Young children are told to work hard academically, and success will naturally come to you. A more in-depth look into this is in communities of color where you are told: “You have to work twice as hard to even be in consideration for an opportunity.” However, working smarter needs to be a part of the discussion as well.
I understand why overworking is alluring- especially if you feel like you have to continually prove your capabilities in rooms where you are the unrepresented voice. The reality is that maybe it is time to move on and or change careers, yet it isn’t always easy to make the transition.
A 2015 survey found that among working adults who wanted to change careers, 94% of them said they face barriers that prevent them from making a change.
The stress of trying to overcome barriers and achieve perfection in the process is an ideal rarely accomplished without side effects. There can be a struggle to identify how to market your capabilities when deciding you want to move on from a job if you aren’t comfortable advocating for yourself. There is another barrier in this situation, locating the best job references when your current supervisor may speak of you unfavorably.
Earlier in my career, a friend of mine at the age of 25 was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Before the diagnosis, my friend is facing the challenges of anxiety and feeling devalued while working harder to reach a moving target for success. I remember going to the hospital with her a few months before she passed away and thinking to myself, “How much did anxiety and stress play a part in the illness?”
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Generalized Anxiety Disorder(GAD) affects 6.8 million adults or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment.
I have come to grips with my anxieties and the impact of stress on my well-being. I recognize life is not all work, especially if you are committed to being an advocate. You have to draw a fine line on when to say no, even if it means losing some friends or associates in the process.
I decided to become an advocate supporting STEM/STEAM education after pressing forward after being both laid off and fired as a mid-career engineering professional. As an African American woman and executive, I have to embrace failure and being the only person who looks like me seated at tables of influence. I also know the impact of the systematic and unconscious bias you can face daily and share stories of how to overcome these obstacles as well. The advent of social media has taken biased public opinions to 24/7 access, and you have to filter it all and decide what to take in as feedback. You also have to know when to let go of other people’s expectations of you.
“The reality is- not everyone is built for non-stop public-facing activism/advocacy work. It doesn’t mean they’re not doing the work. There are different levels of risk, consequences, and sacrifices for people in speaking out, but there are also various ways we can spark change in our own spheres of influence.”
Stephanie’s words are a breath of fresh air. I have for months been trying to write this blog post and telling her I would. Today, I realize my hesitation in finishing this blog is trying to find the perfect words for something that isn’t.
Below are the words that flow naturally to express the emotions of someone who is in activism/advocacy work and continuously questioning the path:
“Like an eagle with broken wings
I fly in uncertainty
Like an image in a faded picture
I am only half of what I see
I’m discouraged and bombarded by fear
I want to cry, but I haven’t been able to shed a tear
I want what is best for me
I struggle to find the path to my destiny
I try to pretend and find passion in things that my heart isn’t in
I ponder and ponder so much that my mind starts to wander
I’m troubled because I don’t know which way to go
I cannot travel two roads.”
There is a price of success; it is up to you to find a sense of balance within your scope of influence.
Alicia M. Morgan is an award-winning executive leader, engineer, and engaged advocate responsible for successful outcomes in program management, career development, mentoring, and cross-functional leadership in multigenerational teams. She is a TEDx Speaker, Dallas Business Journal Women in Technology Honoree, Society of Women Engineers K-12 Advocate, and J Rêve International Emerging Leader in STEAM Honoree. She is a 2018 Op-Ed Project Fellow featured in various online and print publications.