Updated: Oct 10, 2018
In 2014, I became selfish. Not selfish in the I won't share my toys sense of the word. I mean self(ish), which I define as putting yourself first once in a while for the sake of your own sanity; selfishness as an act of self-care. In 2014 I found myself completely unhappy with my life. I was working at a job right out of graduate school where I was miserable. One day I found myself in my supervisor’s office having a conversation with her where she was politely coaxing me towards quitting. "You could take some time off," she said. "Go back home, figure out what you really want to do." I politely told her to check her privilege; there was no going home for me. I was saddled in student loan debt with family back at home that I help support from time to time. I didn't have the luxury to "take time off." This is exactly what I told my therapist that I was seeing at the time. Her response, "You've cornered yourself. You've already made it up in your mind that you have no way out, therefore you can't see a solution." Her words changed my life. I left that job, knowing the responsibilities I had to myself and others, it was my first act of selfishness, and it wouldn't be my last.
By leaning on others I was able to leave my miserable job and snagged a better (higher paying job) back home in Connecticut; but I wasn't completely happy. The life I'd imagined for myself was full of travel and adventure; I was living in a small town with one Main Street that basically shut down by 10pm. I needed to shake things up, so in the summer of 2016 I attempted to book a trip to Cape Town. I had found the trip through Travel Noire, a travel company that plans excursions specifically to encourage black travel. I had entered my credit card number and I was ready to press submit to book the trip when a wave of fear hit me. Could I really afford this? I'm dipping into my savings for this trip, what if my car breaks down or I have a medical emergency? I couldn't go through with it, I was too responsible and this trip was a whim. To be honest it was more than a whim, it was an act of desperation. My life consisted of overworking and having little downtime to myself.
I've been working since I was 13 years old. One summer I worked two jobs that were located in the same shopping plaza. In the morning I'd have a shift at Children's Place, then I'd get off, grab a quick bite at Wendy's across the plaza, and walk over to Kohl's where I'd work until closing. My entire summer was spent confined in that tiny shopping plaza, drowning in dressing room throw-aways while my peers were sun tanning at the beach. I'm no stranger to hard work; I'm the daughter of Haitian immigrants. My father was a cab driver; he'd hit the road before my brothers and I woke up in the morning and would return after we went to sleep at night. My mother was a CNA; when I was younger I thought that was nurse adjacent, I didn't understand what back breaking labor it was. I didn't comprehend that normal people didn't work 24 hour shifts. My parents worked these laborious jobs to support the family but still it wasn't enough. There were nights I worked on homework under candle light or the times we held our breaths as the cashier rang up our groceries praying that we didn't need to leave anything behind. My first-generation story is not a unique one and those who can relate understand the path that I was going down. At my new job, I worked on a 10 month contract; meaning, I had summers off and I was still getting paid. My department looked for volunteers to work over the summer for an additional stipend; I never took the summer off. The pattern I started for myself at 13, the pattern of tirelessly working, I carried on when I was nearly 30. I worked to survive, I worked to provide, I worked so that my life as an adult wouldn't mirror my childhood. Work had started to consume and define me, eventually becoming the source of my anxiety.
Finances weren’t the only thing holding me back from the life of my dreams. I'm the youngest of 3, but a lot of people mistake me for the oldest because I'm always taking care of everyone. When my mom passed away from cancer I planned her funeral, I packed her items, and I settled all of her affairs. For years after my mom's passing my relationship with my brothers has gone through the ringer. I won't go into details but I was in the center of it all trying to be the fixer; I was everyone's Olivia Pope. Mentally, physically, emotionally, financially, I was there for friends and family more than I was there for myself. In 2018 I prioritized myself, my second act of selfishness. I let go of the guilt that if everyone else wasn't happy in their lives, I didn't deserve to be happy either. Why was everyone else's happiness worth more than my own? I couldn't live like that anymore. I had to set boundaries and found ways to be there for the people that I loved without completely sacrificing myself. I began the arduous task of self-care and self-realization. I started writing more and remembered how much writing meant to me. As corny as it sounds, I started dating myself. I would go to the bar by myself or the movies. By going out by myself, I met new people and cultivated new friendships. I also started saving with a purpose, I set a goal that I wanted to celebrate my 30th birthday abroad and put aside money with each pay check to make that happen. So on my 30th birthday I did finally make it to Cape Town. The day after my birthday, I spent four grueling hours hiking Table Mountain. When I finally made it to the top, I wandered off by myself and stood overlooking the ocean that seemed to go on forever. In that moment, my chest swelled and I burst into uncontrollable sobs. I had made it. I literally climbed my mountain; stumbling along the way, learning new things about myself in the process, and fully reaping the benefits of all my hard work. I thought of my mom whom I had lost when I was 23 years old. She had, in a sense, worked herself into the grave; she wasn't the picture of self-care and I had to learn from her or I would be looking into my own future. Now all I know is life after Cape Town, I feel as though the possibilities for me are endless and it’s because I took the time to actually do something for me for a change.
Quitting my first job after graduate school was selfish, but it made me realize my self-worth and it taught me to ask for help and to lean on the people that I help lift up. Booking my trip to Cape Town was the first time in a very long time that I prioritized myself. Everything leading up to Cape Town taught me that my happiness had to come first before anyone else's. These acts of selfishness are also self-preserving, self-realizing, but most importantly self-care. I'm all about myself these days and its addicting AF! It took me well into adulthood to make myself a priority, but now that I’ve found the secret, I plan on maintaining this energy.