BAG LADY. You remember that Erykah Badu hit that had us all pumping our fists and acting like we could sing? It single-handedly had women all over America putting their proverbial bags down and screaming, “Paaaaaaack liiiiiiiiiiight (yeaaaaah, yeah, yeah, yeaaaaaah)!” But, when the track ended, how many of us quietly looked around, picked our bags up, and slung them back over our shoulders? MANY. But why? How could we be so empowered one minute, and so voluntarily ladened the next? Because it’s easy for that weight to become habit. Think about it. The anxiety. The depression. The self-loathing. The self-doubt. While it all feels like too much initially, with practice and some muscle memory, the weight becomes bearable. Tolerable. And strangely comfortable. It ends up completing us; defining us. Causing us to experience a void when that weight is no longer there. So, when we put those bags down, we immediately start wondering, “This is it, huh…? Now I’m supposed to be happy and light and free? Confident and self-assured?” That’s a lot of sposed to bes - especially when it’s often so much easier to use those bags to explain, justify, and continue in our depressed, uninspired, status quo states.
I was one of those women. Wait – let me stop lying. I AM one of those women. Despite being a successful attorney for 20 years, I’ve been clutching onto my bags out of fear of not being able to live up to the hype. Why push myself to do more? Why push myself to be better? Have you SEEN MY BAGS?
And that was the case 6 months into my newest job when my boss accused me of “attacking” her. Like, literally. Attacking her. And she did so in a meeting. Of our colleagues. In between sobs. You heard me: Full room. My boss. Sobs. In that moment, despite the fact that I’d been a loyal employee and a successful manager of, not one, but two teams, every bag I owned suddenly appeared and started bursting at the seams. So, aside from the fact that I’d in no way attacked this woman – something to which everyone in that room could attest – her hollow words had rocked my self-confidence to its core. I could’ve thrown my head back and let out a “girl you tripping” guffaw. I should’ve squared my shoulders, looked her straight in the eye, and spit the Penal Law definition of “attack” like I’d just come in on the latest Crim Law collabo. But I’d done none of those things. Instead, I’d shut up, shut down, and let the hot, angry, I-can’t-believe-this-bitch-just-did-this-to-me tears flow. So, as is often the case, the question that I had to ask (once I’d removed myself from the situation, had a couple glasses of wine, and imagined myself looking at her and saying, “6 million ways to die. Choose one.”) was: WHY? Why had that been my reaction? And why is that the reaction that so many of us have so often? Of course, we’ll rarely admit the truth to ourselves, right? Ask us to tell you what happened, and we’ll regale you with tales of, “I wished a muthafucker would (insert gang-like hand gestures here)!” But, deep down, many of us know that those tears symbolized feelings of unworthiness and insecurity. So, why do so many beautiful, successful sistahs with careers and awards and accolades wind up quietly crying in bathroom stalls when people - often with much less cache - come for us? Because it’s hard to fight back when we’re weighed down. We allow these people - who often have no connection to our past hurts – to unknowingly dig them up and expose them. And when we add new wounds to vast collection of old, the pain becomes that much more raw and intense than the particular moment even warrants.
Those are the lessons that had long been crammed into my suitcases: That I wasn’t good enough; that I couldn’t trust myself to evaluate my own power and ability; that I needed others’ affirmation and appreciation to prove me worthy.
So, it came as no surprise when my boss’ words sent me into a tailspin. BUT, rather than continue down the rabbit hole, as soon as that meeting ended, I left the building and phoned a friend. And it was that sister who calmed me down and helped me to see that, in fact, despite how small I felt, I, in fact, had the upper hand. My boss had shown her cards, and, while I couldn’t erase the tears I’d allowed to fall (or hers for that matter), I had the ability to control my actions and reactions from that point on. And that I did. Taking a deep breath, I evaluated what’d happened and the potential impact it had on my career. And then I reached out to HR. And to my boss’ boss. Now, I won’t lie: I was scared to death. Every email I sent; every call I made, those voices kept whispering to me from beyond the suitcases: “You’re putting your boss on blast? With her boss? She is going to hate you. You’ll never be able to come back from this.” But, each time I allowed the self-doubt to creep in, my sister circle asked me if I thought I’d ever be able to trust this woman under any circumstances again. And the answer was a resounding NO. So, I knew what I had to do: protect my neck. Ultimately, bringing in HR and the Department Chief convinced my panicked boss to give me a tearful apology (ohhhhh, the irony) and improved working conditions for not only me, but for my colleagues.
So, in the end, I rallied and handled mine (that tiger blood coursing through my veins making my angry tears a distant memory). But, if I’d been able to contain myself in the moment; if I’d been able to keep the voices at bay while the events were unfolding, I would’ve been able to harness and exert my own power right then and there. So, how can we serve as our own power sources? Our own fire starters? How can we get our own power surges on when we need them most? We have to put the bags away.
Think about it. What else do we continuously carry around with such care and devotion? Our wallets. Our lipstick. Our children. In my scenario, I hadn’t relinquished my power to my boss; I’d relinquished it to the anxieties I’d packed in my own damn luggage! With all of the negativity in this world, why are we packing our own?! Put the damn bags down.
I’m not gonna lie. This won’t be easy. Lawd knows I have unpacked and repacked my bags at least 15 times since writing this here article. But, let’s consider this one of those “journey not a sprint” situations, shall we? Start today. Put one of your smaller bags down. Take a few items out. Then, go ahead and pick it back up. Give yourself a chance to get comfortable with its relative lightness. After some time, it’ll be easier to put that tiny tote back down and take a few more items out. Like those clothes in the backs of our closets that no longer near fit (and that there’s a whole ‘nother blog post), take ‘em out and give them away. Before long, we’ll be looking more poised, less packrat. Because I can guarantee you aint nary seen one episode of “Hoarders” and thought: “Yeah… that shit is sexxxy…”
2018, fam. Leggo, let go, and let’s go.