It’s OK to turn down opportunities that don’t serve you

Since co-writing Hairvolution, lots of people have reached out to myself and my co-author, asking us to do talks, go on podcasts and be on panels discussing all things Black hair. It’s the one aspect of publishing the book I’ve enjoyed the most because I get to meet so many amazing Black women, hear their hair stories and really connect with them on the one thing we all have in common.

I care about getting the book out there and in the hands of those who will appreciate its message and the voices of all the women we spoke to. There hasn’t been an opportunity that I’ve turned down so far, largely because those who have read Hairvolution share the same values as myself and my co-author about how Black hair needs liberating from the political clutches imposed on it by Western society.

However, recently, a woman reached out to me asking me if I would host a talk for a group she runs. As an editor and, I guess, a person of interest, a lot of things come my way, and even when my schedule doesn’t permit it, I always try and find ways to make it work. As open as I am to these opportunities, after speaking with the woman, I realised that our views on Black female expression and liberation were quite different, and I no longer felt comfortable continuing with her – so I told her so. This was the first time I was essentially being asked to compromise or water down my views, and although I knew I was making the right decision, it made the people pleaser in me anxious vocalising it.

It was a weird feeling, and it’s not something I did lightly, but the woman in question wanted me to adapt my views to fit with her audience, and it didn’t sit right with me. I know people say ‘no’ to things every day. And why shouldn’t they? No is a complete sentence, after all, but we are in an era of toxic hustle culture, and as a Black woman, I’m sometimes made to feel like I should be grateful for whatever comes my way. Of course, this isn’t the case, and I know I’ve earned the opportunities I get, but I still felt like I had to think twice.

I know exactly where this need to say yes to everything comes from, but at the end of the day, I value my integrity more than I do chasing the bag.

Once I’d spent about thirty minutes trying to find the right words to say, I realised I was being ridiculous. I scrapped the overexplaining and got straight to the point. I was hoping that as soon as it was sent, I’d feel instant relief, but that wasn’t the case. I was anxiously awaiting her reply, but I had no reason to panic. Her response was understanding (if not slightly condescending), but the point is that the world didn’t end. In fact, it felt like a small win. I know exactly where this need to say yes to everything comes from, but at the end of the day, I value my integrity more than I do chasing the bag, so this is something I will need to get used to.

I’m sharing this because the situation got me thinking about how we don’t discuss this much in our society. Hustle culture has got us all believing that we need to work ourselves to the bone to be considered successful. Although talks around burnout and slowing down are emerging, the energy of hustle culture is still rampant. Society has Black people thinking that they have to work 10x harder than everyone else and in unsuitable working conditions for the sake of maintaining Black excellence and that if you’re being paid for something, that’s enough of an incentive for you to take on said project. None of this is the case, so it’s important that we share our missed or rejected opportunities as much as we do our wins.

Without ignoring the fact that people aren’t always in a position to reject paid work, we must consider our priorities and remember that there will always be other opportunities for as long as you’re putting in the work. Compromise where you can, but don’t even consider it at the expense of your values, integrity or beliefs because it won’t ever be worth it.

Image credit: Study Breaks Magazine

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