by: Lanisha Porter
Success can often times begin to foster a state of resentment when there is an obvious disparity. It’s not that people aren’t happy that your ship is sailing, it’s just not easy to wave someone well when their own ship has never left shore.
“People look at you strange saying you changed. Like you worked that hard to stay the same.”
“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
-Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
I had an idea to write this blog but hesitated because it was such sensitive subject matter. However, I finally found the courage to share. For me there use to be nothing more awkward than visiting home during college breaks, and realizing how much I no longer connected with people I grew up with. I progressively learned to avoid questions about myself and down play my accomplishments. Not because I wasn’t proud of myself, but because I never wanted to make others feel uncomfortable in the face of my achievements. Nor did I want people to feel the need to surrogate false feelings of happiness for me. So when people asked me how I was doing instead of being honest and telling them my favorite highlights
—such as I reached a new benchmark of almost 500 books sold, I saw a great play on Broadway, I had the chance to sit down with Actor James Badge Dale and have lunch, spoke exclusively with Ace Hood in his green room, interviewed and met rapper Dee-1, met Political Activist Kevin Powell, went snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea, had a spiritual breakthrough, made the Deans List, or was promoted to a new position at work—I just opted for saying “I’m doing well.” And if they weren’t my Facebook friend where I shared my highlights with the world, they’d never know these things and I’ll tell you why.
I didn’t want people to resent me; and success can often times begin to foster a state of resentment when there is an obvious disparity. It’s not that people aren’t happy that your ship is sailing, it’s just not easy to wave someone well when their own ship has never left shore. I get it. In a sense it does seem unfair that one person from a group who all started out from the same neighborhoods plagued with drugs, violence, stray bullets, and a shortage of resources would go on to pursue accolades not commonly imagined for them. I mean, who am I to be born into abject-poverty, raised by a single-father, and abandoned of a mother figure to push me successfully their the canal of womanhood, and still find a way while living in a seemingly inescapable web of distractions, hopelessness, destitute, and odds? How does the great granddaughter of a domestic helper, receive invitations for a seat in the boardroom among the Board of Trustees? Given my cultural history and summary of recent bloodline, how do I embody anything that has allowed me to go on to be a best-selling author, and female empowerment ambassador, and speaker, who gets by in college on a merit-based scholarship? In that sense, it isn’t fair. It isn’t even logical. The odds were never in my favor. No one could have ever calculated that I would be the one to be blessed with opportunities. For a long time me and my friends, never having the chance to travel, assumed that the rest of the entire world was synonymous to the small radius surrounding our own neighborhoods. So for me to be able to go on to see corners of the world and even touch the ocean floor was a wild dream. To deconstruct the pictures we had painted, predicated on such a small glimpse from our own street corners, can make me feel guilty when I realize some of my friend’s truths still only extend as far as that same radius from years ago. If you’re anything like me it makes you feel more different than you care to feel when you realize your citizenship isn’t confined to state lines, and that you are a global citizen who should concern yourself with issues around the world while people closest to you aren’t concerned at all. My only claim to traveling when I was younger was visiting Louisiana to see my mother and being amazed at my panoramic view from the cold Greyhound bus window as we passed green lands with cattle. In light of that, flying on an actual airplane to a different country seemed like a luxury to me and all my friends who’ve never flown before, let alone ventured outside of the state borders. With all of these new experiences and blessings I indeed began to feel different and people never missed an opportunity to tell me either. “Girl, you are black. Stop talking like you are white try’na sound all proper and shit” my cousin would declare as I politely greeted the cashier at Rallys who was preparing to take my order. “Did that bitch just cop an attitude with me? When we pull around she can get popped in her mouth if she think she’s ‘bout it.” (Keep in mind that the lady can still hear my cousin on the intercom). It was at this moment I tried to explain to my cousin that a certain level of professionalism should always be maintained when handling business, especially when you have to trust someone else to handle your food. I then explained to her the importance of being empathic to fast food workers who often work very taxing days dealing with extremely difficult people. For some reason my cousin swore up and down that the way I handled that drive-thru experience made me completely “uppity”, “white” and “too nice.”
The thing about feeling guilty about success is that you will feel guiltier with even more success, so to avoid those moments of discomfort and alienation, one will subconsciously start to sabotage their own opportunities to advance forth. But if no one makes it out, then who exactly will come back and help the others out?
It’s in these very moments I feel guilty; guilty that I learned a certain etiquette that someone close to me did not. To a degree, I felt responsible for her moral ignorance. I’m not sure she had yet learned that the world owes her nothing; and the fact that she felt entirely entitled to quality customer service when she was being completely rude allowed me to know she hadn’t learned the qualities of empathy, kindness, patience, professionalism, or reciprocity. I quietly wondered how did, I, myself learn those things. Was it because I had the chance to travel; go to college out-of-state with a diverse student body; read about great philosophers like Aristotle; regularly shadow elite professionals, or the fact that I had a strong father figure in my life? Either or, I figured I should redeem myself so upon my guilt, I tried to show her the way things should have been handled and in return was insulted and accused of acting outside of my ethnic character. Throughout my adulthood, after hearing enough “You think too much” “You take yourself too seriously” and “You’re too much for me” I finally decided that was it. I became tired of apologizing for my growth, and tired of trying to suppress my thoughts. I became tired of being told that being reflective was a bad thing and I should aim to live in accordance with impulse. I finally decided: forget being guilty, I am going to be great.
I thought about everything I had quietly sacrificed for a chance to be successful and how a lot of people ridiculed me for it. I reflected back on the girls in high school who publicly tried to humiliate me in class and taunt me because they disliked the confidence I had that continuously made me ran for class office. I envisioned the times people would scuff and say “here she goes about to do the most” whenever it was my turn to present an assignment in front of the class. Thoughts of old guilt stormed through my mind when I reminded myself about how people actually stopped clapping for me during the senior awards ceremony because they got tired of hearing my name being called. The fact that people literally started to refuse to move again and opted for me to climb over them in order to go get my award made me self-conscious…it made me feel guilty that everyone’s time was now being spent to recognize my accomplishments. It made me feel self-conscious that I indeed was different.
But the truth is after all the experiences I’ve been afforded, I was definitely destined to change. Mr. Carter is completely right—you don’t work yourself hard to stay the same. You work yourself tired so that you may one day get to unabashedly enjoy the fruits of your labor. You don’t see the world in a new light to only continue to look at the world how you did before you were enlightened. I am analytical, I am philosophical, I am extremely reflective, I am double conscious, I am serious but can too be a goofball; I am me..I am a survivor. I survive day in and day out in a world that others courageously fought for me to live in. I am a survivor of a spirited people who were enslaved for 246 years. I am a survivor of people who were wrongfully murdered and had their human dignity stripped away with each lash whip to the flesh. My ancestors didn’t survive so that I may have a chance to. So to survive and feel guilty about it is crazy; to work hard for an award and have to cripple my posture while walking to get it will never happen again. So instead of asking me why I take myself so serious, in response to your curiosity I pose this question: why not take myself serious? My confidence will be just as loud as the scuffs I use to hear when the cool kids from high school tried to clown on me, yet always humbled with the memories of where I come from. The thing about feeling guilty about success is that you will feel guiltier with even more success, so to avoid those moments of discomfort and alienation, one will subconsciously start to sabotage their own opportunities to advance forth. But if no one makes it out, then who exactly will come back and help the others out?
In the face of newfound success, the guilt use to always be close behind. I would retreat in my own world and wonder what I did differently to had been able to achieve my goals and tap into the networks I had been privileged to when there were other people who seemed just as deserving as myself. I allowed the guilt to make me feel responsible to give back and help out even when I really couldn’t afford to. Consequently, I often found myself helping out with bills, putting expenses on my credit cards, and passing on connections that had helped me, just to make life easier for those around me. “When you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity’ Michelle Obama once said, “you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” I stand by this. And instead of feeling guilty all the time, I’ve learned to be feel powerful. If I re-energized that guilt into a sense of power and used it to afford people opportunities when I could that would contribute to the greater good. If I could show people how to tap into their personal power, this could leverage a collective strength for all those around me. Whether it’s telling someone interview tips that usually gets me the job, passing on scholarship information, personally mentoring young girls and picking them up for a girls date out when they just can’t take situations going on at home, or donating books that made me fall in love with reading to my little cousins so they don’t have too much idle time on their hands, I am learning to use my power and resources—even if it is small—for the greater good. I am walking in my self-proclaimed label of being an ambassador for empowerment and I am not feeling guilty about it…and overall this is how I overcame that guilt.
Welcome to my views from this horizon!