I was in a roomful of people with different credentials and letters after their name. Each person in the room had a position in a field that I was hoping to enter. Each person had school behind them. All of them had more than one degree. And then there was me. There was no title. There were no letters after my name.
What the hell was I thinking?
First, I was thinking that anything I said on the matter of mental health would be dismissed. I was called a “specialist” yet this meant that I was mainly part of a project and brought in as a person with “lived” experience.
Almost everyone in the room was an expert on the subject of substance abuse and alcohol use disorders. Some of the people were high on themselves. Some of them were cool. Some were open to the ideas that although they had the clinical knowledge; the uphill battle against mental illness is more than a fight. This is a war and last I checked, war is hell.
War has no rules or boundaries.
No, war is war and as such, there was another side to this battle. There were people involved. There was collateral damage. There were the casualties and the body count, which was rising at the time, day by day; thus, there was a need to call in special troops and create special forces.
On top of this, there are people in this business who look to make a dollar and a cent on those who struggle to live their life. There are people who earn a great living on those who find challenges, who simply will not and cannot find their way out from behind their lifestyle. There is the idea called “Heads in beds” which means as long as the revolving door at treatment facilities is turning, people are earning hand over fist.
There are people with opinions and, as we all know, – everyone has an opinion. Everyone has an idea. Everyone has something to say. At the same time, everyone I met was looking to perfect their own brand as if to say “Look at me!”
I learned that many of those who adjust their strategy in the public sector are either looking for the spotlight or the paycheck.
And me, I wasn’t sure what I was looking for.
I didn’t know if who I am or what I’ve seen was enough. At the same time, who I am and what I’ve seen is exactly enough to call myself an expert. Yes, I am an expert at what I do. I am an expert because no one else can do what I do because, put simply, no one else can be me.
No one else can fill my spot. This is my title and, since this is true, I have earned my place in the circle. I have earned my right to be who I am and where I am; and more, I have earned the right to speak my mind.
This does not mean that everyone will jump on board. This does not mean I am right about everything. No, on the contrary – this means I know what I know and this also means I know what I don’t know. I don’t have to be anyone else. I don’t have to be a show-pony and wave to the camera to make someone else proud of me.
What the hell was I thinking?
I was thinking that I was going to be pushed to the side and told to sit down while the professionals handled the real business.
To some degree, this was true.
I was told that my level of involvement was only fitting through a small window.
I was told that there’s only so much room for me; and this was also true.
This is right. There’s only so much room for me in the realms of someone else’s agenda.
There’s only so much room for me in someone else’s program.
There’s only so far that I can go on someone else’s dime or in someone else’s org-chart.
I can do one of two things in this atmosphere. I can play the game. I can go along to get along.
Or I can create my own model. I can do my own research. I can begin with a grass-roots idea. In fairness, the reason I was brought in as a specialist was because there was a phenomenal response to peer-to-peer assessments and recovery.
There was a level of comfortability and a sense of disarming abilities to just being a person. No long list of credentials; no intimidating wall that’s filled with diplomas.
Just to be a person and be authentic was perfect.
What was I thinking?
I was thinking that I was intimidated which had more to do with me than it did with the other people in the room.
I was thinking that my bias was the only thing that stood in my way. I was thinking it was my uncomfortable challenges and that it was my insecurity that caused me to speak out or act a certain way because it was my insecurity that told me I needed to prove myself.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
I say this happens in more than one place in our lives.
I can say that I have seen actual evidence and proof in other rooms with other people. I can say that I have listened and heard feedback from people who’ve experienced both social, economic and educational snobbery. They have seen this firsthand and, same as me, they found themselves locked in the difficulties of social, economic and educational insecurity.
What was I thinking?
I was thinking that I needed to get my act together. I was thinking that I had to build my own resume.
I was thinking that if I am to be anything in this world or if I am to be anything in business, or more to the point, if I am to be anything to myself, then I have to be someone who decides to both grow and learn on a steady basis. But more, I have to know when to put my pride in my back pocket. I have to understand when it’s time to listen as well as when it’s time to shine.
If I am my own commodity then I am my own best investment. This means I have to invest wisely and that I have to care for myself as a valuable stock.
I cannot give in to the ideas of social, economic or educational intimidations. I cannot allow anyone else to define whether I am good enough or qualified enough to go forward or move ahead in the direction of my dreams.
I have always been told that if you love what you do for a living, you’ll never have to go to work another day in your life.
I was told that if I want to be happy or if I want to change my life then I have to take action in order for me to make the changes.
So what do I think about that room I was in at the beginning of my journey?
I’m thinking that the person I have taught myself to become is no longer intimidated by the same things. I’m thinking that my need to be heard is somewhat of a different level than what it was at the time when I was fresh into this new idea of me changing my career and making a new life for myself.
Since then, I’ve worked on mastering my personal trick which is this: I want to learn.
I want to remember who I am and where I come from because after all, this is what got me to where I am to begin with.
I have learned to choose appropriate teachers which are all people because sometimes the best teachers are the worst ones.
They are the best because they are the people who show us what not to do.
I have learned that there will always be pushback. There will always be someone looking for the spotlight and the paycheck and that to them, anyone else who steps on the stage is a threat. So, don’t be moved. Don’t be threatened. Most of all, do not give in.
You can do anything.
This doesn’t mean that you’ll have everyone in your corner.
But no one can stop you from learning or growing and improving your game.
I swear this is true.
My goals have changed and so has the picture that I see for my future.
That’s a good thing.
This means that I have evolved.
This means that I have allowed myself the chance to dare and that I continue to move forward and grow.
This means that I will not allow anyone else to neither steal my place on the stage or intimidate me into forfeiting my hopes of building my own special life
I haven’t seen or run into anyone from that room in years now. However, I was on a meeting call with video and I could see them in their little windows on my computer screen.
My name was mentioned. They sat quietly. It was interesting to see the expression on their faces.
Someone remarked, “We haven’t seen you in a long time.”
I responded, “I’m still around. I just choose to work with people and surround myself in places where I am welcomed and included.
I’m not sure if I would answer that question the same today; however, I know that the meetings I include myself in are ones where snide and arrogance are not served at the table.
Lastly, remember being told about the word “Stigma” and how everyone in the room needed to be “Stigma free”?
The irony was their biases were so abundantly clear and painfully overstated.
“You’re just a specialist.”
I don’t know if it’s possible to ever see an atmosphere or total inclusion that is stigma-free.
But I do know this …
No one else matters when it comes to the way I see myself or how I choose to proceed.
Even if there is a bias against me; or even if I am marked by stigma, the only way this affects me is if I allow it to.
So what do I think now?
I think I allowed people too much say in my life. Therefore, my thoughts are this:
It’s my job to determine my future.
No one else has the right to dictate whether I succeed or fail.
So, let me ask you . . .
Who are you?
Are you an expert at what you do?
Are you an expert in your field?
See, I would say that you are an expert at being you.
You have a list of amazing, unique talents that no one else can pull off.
The idea now is to nurture this, perfect it, shine it up, show it off and be proud of what you see.
You have to because at the end of the day – there’s only one person looking back at you when you see yourself in the mirror –
And that’s the only bias that you really need to overcome