What should I do with my life?

career

I had an epiphany this morning while thinking about the ways in which people choose careers.

Every vocation answers some human need. Doctors answer people’s health needs. Architects address problems of community and shelter. Media people share information and facilitate communication between large networks of people. Engineers create solutions to various kinds of design problems. I could go on. But you get the point.

I think therefore, people choose fields that answer the questions that matter most to them. So for me, the questions that fascinate me most are problems of design, aesthetics, space and community. Because of this I’m in Architecture. My boyfriend recently went into Economics, because he voraciously devours information regarding politics, markets and wealth distribution. Environmental designers and researchers are consumed by the need to discover more sustainable ways for us to live. Picking a career therefore is kind of like an individual quest for answers to the questions that are most meaningful to us.

Of course this only relates to certain kinds of professions. There are other types of work that attract people who want to perform a certain kind of service or use a particular skill. Others still, do not have the luxury of choosing an occupation. In a very real way, the answer to what should I do with my life is primarily a ‘first world problem’. I’m also sure that there are many people out there who give much less of a damn than I do about what their career is.

I think this approach applies though, to the people who are virtually haunted by questions. Other people like me, who need to do yoga and aggressively manage their anxiety levels about the state of this world.

Credit where it’s due: Anne-Marie Slaughter

Critical, us? Yes. Absolutely. All the time.

Case in point: we flagged this piece in the Atlantic by Anne-Marie Slaughter on what Obama doesn’t get about gender inequality with no small degree of snark:

And then we were completely taken aback (positively so) when Slaughter replied to and engaged with us:

And then she updated the Atlantic piece to reflect the conversation. Examples in bold:

Equal pay for equal work certainly remains an issue for women, particularly women of color, but white women who do not have children earn the same or more than men.

One step at a time.

‘I felt like I either didn’t know the rules, or I was breaking them’

In this episode of The Broad Experience, Ashley Milne-Tyte interviews one of the Colourful Collective about her experience of being a brown-skinned woman at a very white, male-dominated company. Ashley also talks to a white man who’s been through – and actually enjoyed – diversity training, and discuss how it changed his attitude to the workplace.

Corporate dreadlocs and other stories

This post first appeared at the Liming House

Back in 2008, I wrote a piece that argued thus, on the subject of my preferred “hairstyle”:

I am my hair. I am challenging, I am defiant, I do not apologize.

And the next time some Wall Street multimillionaire or Oxbridge-educated middle-aged perpetually entitled white British editor encounters a twenty-something <insertracehere> woman from the Caribbean, or someone with locs, he will pause.

He will pause because he will remember someone else who was more than the stereotype.

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Mind if I play my music?

This is a question that I have never asked at the office.

(Context: I work in an amazing, open-plan space with tremendous colleagues who have excellent and varied musical tastes. I know this because said office is equipped with an AirPlay setup that allows us to pipe our Spotify, iTunes, Pandora and turntable.fm playlists to a speaker system for shared rocking out)

But my music? I’ve never asked to stream my (incredibly extensive) Damian Marley playlist, or my (even more extensive) collection of non-soca music made by Caribbean artists.

If my fear is that Damian and Mangoseed are somehow not “office appropriate” (what does that even mean? And what about the recent all-day Wailers-fest we enjoyed, courtesy a colleague who’d watched the Marley documentary over the weekend?), why then don’t I even cue up the Mumford & Sons or the Florence and The Machine playlists?

There are a few things going on here.

One, I have an uneasy relationship with “Caribbean” me, at least and especially when I am in decidedly non-Caribbean contexts. I’ve already got the hair, the head wraps, the WTF accent and that whole being-brown thing. Do I also need to highlight my predilection for soca, dub, dancehall and related musical forms? For one of the reasons why this is even a thing: see reactions to Rihanna in Carnival costume, and add a hefty dose of my must-bust-stereotypes syndrome.

Two, my relationship with music is intensely personal, and I am averse to (indeed, tending toward incapable of) intermingling the personal and the professional.

I regularly listen to Damian at work – safe, secure and inviolate in the castle of my headphones.

And that’s ok.

‘You mad, bro?’

tweeted once that there was no upside to being a non-white female under 40. Put another way, white men over 40 are unlikely to have had to deal with any of the following situations:

– “Of course they hired you! You’re a poster-child for diversity!
– “Excuse me, when is the tea being served?”
– “I hear you on this, but…”
– “So when next are you going back to [insert name of Caribbean island that is not actually person’s country of birth or domicile here; if in doubt, default to Jamaica]”
– “You should be grateful that…”

Etc.

Yet the most frustrating/soul-destroying part of the non-white female under 40 triumvirate is contending with the angryblackwoman stereotype. A stereotype that means any opinion, any dissenting viewpoint, any suggestion, any email, any comment, any expression at all – no matter how innocuous – by members of this cadre risks being interpreted as “disrespectful”, “rude”, “cold”, “combative”, “non-cooperative” or the ever-popular, “hostile”.

This in addition to the adjectives commonly applied to women who lead or manage – all of which may be summed up in another word: “bitch”.

And in addition to bodies of research that show, definitively, that women are penalized for speaking up or appearing to be ambitious, for asking for salary increases.

(Then, of course, there’s the other end of the gaslighting spectrum: “You’re so sensitive. You’re so emotional. You’re defensive.” Further excellent reading, featuring the oft-forgotten observation that ‘privilege is revealed more clearly to those who don’t have it’ from Hugo Schwyzer, here)

To quote a  commenter at the Atlantic (in the context of a particularly infuriating piece on Michelle Obama):

Imagine if every time you said anything, someone said “you mad, bro?” I imagine being a powerful black woman involves pretty continuous trolling of that sort.

Because, yes, exactly.


A version of this piece first appeared in the Galavant Times.