A reflection on my first 90 days at August
At August, the co-founders started a tradition that asks everyone to write a letter to themselves reflecting on their first 90 days with the company. The letter is supposed to be a message to yourself giving advice on all the things you wish you would have known when you first started your career with the company. In sticking with this tradition, I began writing my reflection letter.
This is my second attempt at writing this letter and, sadly, it won’t be a letter after all. I started writing the first letter back in July; I made about 10 iterations to it. None of them felt right. During a run over the weekend, I was able to clear my mind, reflect, and dig into the root of what was holding me back. I wasn’t being honest with myself. I wasn’t being honest about my emotions and I wasn’t reflecting deeply enough to understand why I kept getting stuck on finalizing this letter. So this is version 2 from a blank page and no text.
I started my career at August on April 25, 2016 — It was the first day of a new life for me. I left my house and closed the door behind me, like I do on any other day; but on April 25th I stretched out my arms and literally yelled out, to no one listening, “So long corporate America!” I was excited to start my first day at a small business changing 21st century corporate giants one at time. I quit corporate America to revisit and change it — I was ready.
August has lived up to more than I could have expected those first 90 days: During my first week I played a major role in deciding our next hire, in week two I helped to design our business strategy and goals for 2016 and beyond, week three I took my first international business trip to the Dominican Republic to lead a weekend-long executive training with the C-suite of a digital marketing agency. Life was great! Things were going great! They still are going great. So I had to ask myself, while I was typing version 1 of this letter, “why do all these great things seem so phoney and fake when I write them then read it aloud?”
The realization came during a second lap around Central Park as I dragged my feet up the 110th street hill — Too much shit happened in America during my first 90 days. Just as I approached my 90 day milestone on July 24th, the echoes of the Black Lives Matter protest chants featuring, this time new names, including Philando Castille and Alton Sterling, lingered just in earshot and I was trying so hard to suppress them long enough to enjoy my first 90 days at August.
The reality is that each and every day, Black men and women, all over America wake up in fear, in anger, in distrust, and frustration — to name a few emotions. We live in an America where being Black automatically makes you loved or hated. America loves the Black that shoots the half-court shot at the buzzer, scores the winning play at the Superbowl, or creates the new dance craze that goes viral. America hates the Black that shouts for equality, forces the narrative to end for-profit policing and state-sponsored violence fueled by bigotry and racism, or the silent bend of the knee during the national anthem. America loves to show Black bodies being murdered, captured via cell phone, to share on cable news and social media for all to see. America hates to address Black mental health, Black self-care, and the after effect on Black bodies that have to endure each day as if everything is okay knowing nothing has changed.
I had to endure, though. We all had to endure — my August teammates, my friends and family. I had to go to work and I had to swallow my frustrations and lock them away in order to try and be productive. I often turned to social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit — during the work day to silently lose focus and follow the week’s trending hashtag. Doing this allowed me to capture a moment in time to push out the rage burning inside that had no possibility of escape other than through my fingertips on the keyboard:
Share that post, comment on this post, hashtag, like, like + sad face, Reddit rabbit hole, Shaun King, Ta’Nehisi Coates, DeRay McKesson, watch a shitty Fox News clip, WRITE A POST IN ALL CAPS, bang on the keyboard, stop. STOP! Just stop. Refocus. Return to the meeting that I should have been paying attention to. Turn off the rage again, say something intelligent, smile, nod yes, smile. Capture a note or two, smile. Everyone asks less questions when you smile! Get back to focusing on work.
As much as I wanted to learn everything, thrive at my new position, nail it with senior leaders in our client organizations, and show up and be the best, most present, version of myself, it was impossible to turn off and focus. I noticed that I was becoming more impatient with myself and others when it meant making decisions. I was getting more agitated and speaking louder when I felt my teammates or clients weren’t listening to me or ignoring me. Why couldn’t I be as fucking happy as everyone else? I was defaulting to doing as much work as possible to try gain a little control over something:
That deck could use a new graphic, maybe a new color, bolder font, bigger letters. Clean the office up a bit, organize the bookshelf. Listen to someone vent about their first world problem, make a joke in Slack, build a new deck, prep for that thing for tomorrow, organize your documents folder, turn on some passive aggressive trap music in the office sound system, remember to breathe.
Meanwhile, I noticed myself not talking about the things that were on my mind that were keeping me from being fully present. Not because I couldn’t — I didn’t want to project. I didn’t want to bring the team down from a great day of stellar meetings and new client pitches to be swallowed by another Black Lives Matter rant completely led by me. So I muted myself.
What I learned during my first 90 days was how to ineffectively deal with the true meaning of intersectionality at play — Black, woman, queer, American — while trying to navigate ever obvious world around me — White, male-dominated, patriarchy, privilege.
In an interview in the March 1962 publication of the Negro Digest, James Baldwin was asked about the reconciliation of social and artistic responsibilities, and what, if any, did he find this to be true in his own writings. Baldwin responded, “Well, the first difficulty is really so simple that it’s usually overlooked: To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.” To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time. To be a NEGRO IN THIS COUNTRY AND TO BE RELATIVELY CONSCIOUS IS TO BE IN A RAGE ALMOST ALL THE TIME.
My work and my social responsibilities, too, will be forever be connected. There’s a running joke in the Black community — this idea of “turning off” at work. In other words, turn off your Blackness, mute yourself to make others more comfortable at work in the space and time you share together. Then once the day is done, you can turn your Blackness on again in designated “safe spaces.”
At August, I didn’t have to “turn off,” I have always been encouraged by my team to be exactly myself completely, but what I failed to do was to manage self-care better. The immature thing would have been to get frustrated with my colleagues, get angry that they didn’t notice the passive aggressive anger through my actions and projections:
Why weren’t they angry, too? Why weren’t they pissed off, frustrated, and ready to march in the street with me? Why was no one else talking about this? Why is everyone so silent about what the fuck is going on right now?
The truth is — This shit is hard for anyone to talk about; but that’s also a lazy excuse to avoid talking about difficult topics. If what we are trying to do at August — revolutionize the way we work together, be more diverse and more inclusive of backgrounds and cultures — then we need to lean into this shit. We need to understand that a holistic approach to our work needs to be addressed directly for ourselves and for our clients. I’m not unique in this.
So, how do we talk about this at work? Hell, I don’t know. Is it because I am afraid of white fragility; afraid of making my white colleagues feel uncomfortable? Is it easier to talk about these things in safe spaces with other colleagues of color? Is it easier to talk to them because they “get it” and I don’t have to explain my feelings to them? — They’ll agree and nod and contribute in the moment rather than ask for an explanation first.
If I had the answers, I wouldn’t have written this retrospective in this way. I also don’t have the advice for white people who want to help or contribute or be part of the conversation. I only know now how I would have taken care of myself better during those 90 days.
- Slow down, reflect, and take time off if you need to. Mental health days are ok — work isn’t going anywhere and you need special mental health attention to be a productive contributor at work.
- As much as it is tempting, turn off social media, and do not, DO NOT, watch the videos. Read special op-eds from your favorite writers, listen to that podcast that has been lingering in your queue, but avoid the internet fuckery.
- Reach to friends and allies for help from those who are suffering in similar ways. Make time to have conversations in safe spaces. In the short-term ignore the silence within work spaces and social spaces, although blaringly loud, ignore the silence. Fighting to make people talk about this with you, is not worth your energy.
- Find a routine: Write, meditate, run, sleep more, write, take the weekend to not work and do what you need to do to get through the next week, write. Figure out the routine, but stick to it as much as possible.
- Focus on you and don’t feel guilty about it. Don’t apologize for feeling moody. Focus on the work, too, but remember its not the the number one priority. You are the number one priority. You have always been and always will be a good worker and will continue to deliver stellar work, so only take on exactly what you’re capable of at any given time.
Black Lives Matter, but more importantly, I matter; you matter. Be patient, be kind to yourself first. The grander conversation about how to talk about this and bring it into our work will come after I’ve done the critical most important work on myself. My August teammates will be able to better understand and better address and adjust to my needs, your needs, our collective needs, when the self-care is done first. They’ll get it. In time, we’ll get stronger together.