To My 2015 Self (aka The Only Black Guy On The Sales Floor),
Hey, you. Or, rather, me. Listen up. I’m writing to you during one of the most upside-down moments in modern American history and, arguably, our lifetime. A few 2020 spoilers: A reality star with small hands and a combover is running the country into the ground, a pandemic has literally put the entire world on pause, I’ve developed a love/hate relationship with WFH, and we’re in the midst of a racial reckoning that’s about to get ugly. TL;DR: This year’s trash. Zero stars, would not recommend.
This letter isn’t meant to scare you, though. It’s to empower you — because even though 2020 is a shit show, this is the most clear-eyed I’ve ever been. I write this from a space of self-reflection; you know, the kind that comes after quarantining in my apartment for five months straight. I’ve had plenty of time to think about who I was before life as The Only Black Guy in the Office.
If my memory is correct, five New Year’s Days ago, you made a resolution that 2015 would be the year you “do things differently.” Little did you know that 2015 would not only become a turning point in your career, but also set the bar for the half decade to follow. Not gonna lie, I wish I was more prepared for it. So before you move into your thirties and trade retail life for greener, more corporate pastures, consider these helpful tidbits from the future.
Trust the damn process. Draft your plan and stick to it. This doesn’t mean clocking how your peers are moving. Everyone has a path that’s unique to them, just like you have one that’s unique to you. Stay in your lane, mind your Black business, and you’ll do fine.
When you focus only on the solution, you get so obsessed with the end result that you don’t realize the process is just as important. Relax. Earth is still going to do its thing. Let some of those internal pressures go, and you’ll get those answers.
Get real cozy with the terms “diversity,” “equity,” and “inclusion.” Especially when grouped together as if they’re all for one, and one for all on some Three Musketeers shit. I’m sure you didn’t think these buzzwords would be in your vocabulary since your president is Black, but from 2016 to infinity, they’ll be the topic of every meeting, hiring application, and interview. Get ready to live and breathe this phrase, occasionally hate it, but ultimately fight like hell for it.
It’s not the end of the world if you don’t have all the answers. If nothing else, you’re almost aggressively solution-oriented. Almost to the point where you’ll stay stagnant if you don’t have the answer to something right away. When you focus only on the solution, you get so obsessed with the end result that you don’t realize the process is just as important. Relax. Earth is still going to do its thing. Let some of those internal pressures go, and you’ll get those answers.
Get used to jumping through strange hoops to get what you want. You already know this, but the career path you’re treading into has some of the lowest Black representation among all professional sectors. We’re not quite at the top of the food chain… yet. Getting your foot in the door and then ultimately getting what you want will take patience, strategy, and some alligator-thick skin. Yeah, at times you might have to whip out your White voice to ace interviews and steer meetings in your favor, unclench your jaw to appear less combative, and let petty-ass Reply All emails roll off your back, but as you play the game, think about your end goals and be persistent in your pursuit of them.
Take more breaks. Remember when grandma told you how God rested on the seventh day after putting in all that work? Absorb that wisdom, and take a damn break every now and then. You don’t get rewarded for running yourself ragged and deprioritizing downtime. You just get sick. Get your rest. Cook the meals that you’ve been wanting to cook. Request more days off. Attend more concerts. Kick it with your friends and family more. Start to feed into your creative outlets (A sweet side-gig will pick up in summer ‘16). Do you.
Your legacy as “The Only Black Guy” will continue… and it will bear more fruit. Unfortunately, your reign as that “Only Black Guy On The Sales Floor” will end, but you’ll pick up the baton — and all the growing pains that come with it — once you hit that cubicle. And who knows, maybe publicizing your 9-to-5 experiences will help start conversations that need to be had. Maybe other “Only” Black professionals, who will also endure the ire of tokenization, microagressions from Chads and Karens, or uncomfortable job review discussions with the White Patriarchal Senior Leadership Posse, will feel seen.
Continue taking up space. Lastly, just know that by taking this next step on your career path, you’re kicking through the walls of your comfort zone and starting to forge something new and unique to your vision on the road ahead. You’ll hit some bumps and learning curves, but you’ll also learn how to morph those into bridges that will only lead you forward. Showing up in spaces that weren’t originally designed for a Black weirdo like you is probably one of the best skills that you’ve accumulated over the years. If anything, I should be thanking you for doing what you did back then. You have no idea how much that 2015 resolution will change your life — and ultimately for the better.
Here’s to doing things differently. For real, for real.
My 2020 Self (aka The Only Black Guy In The Office)