September 10, 2020
Listen. Like many of you I have littles at home and have now added the managing of virtual schooling of a Kindergartner to an already strained 2020. The knife edge feeling of keeping my sanity and focus each day is real. So, today’s newsletter is about the worst advice on how to manage your time and energy. 😊
“Just Say No” is my short-hand for every variety of “learn how to say No early and often”-type advice we get as junior faculty. Insert whatever version of that you’ve had drilled in and let’s go on a journey.
The problem with “Just Say No” as a strategy for women of color, especially Black women faculty in academic medicine, is that it is advice devoid of context. It is advice that completely ignores the overlying power structure that WOC faculty operate within – you know the one that has produced only 26 Black full professors of OBGYN across all academic institutions? That power structure. “Just Say No” advice also ignores the parts of us that truly do want to seize opportunities to expand and learn and grow. You know, that hungry drive and formidable resilience that is the very reason we made it our positions today. That part? “Just say No” snuffs that right out.
Some of us rebel. Saying Yes may be sacrificial to our peace and sleep, but at least we won’t miss out! We have rationalized FOMO as a legitimate decision-making strategy. Our colleagues reinforce this because they 1) see no other way and 2) may subconsciously see no end to what we could take on to keep proving our worth. This is a great strategy for about 18 months. And then you will burn out. Period.
Some of us conform. We make Saying No a badge of honor, to show our commitment, dedication, and focus on our immediate goals – the K aims, the Diversity Supplement. We abdicate the “No” to a mentor team and let *their* lens create the boundaries of our career. This is a great strategy for about 18 months. And then you will be resentful. Period.
So we bounce from one extreme to the other, taking on too much, then purging. Rinse and repeat.
Today I invite you to get out of this revolving, elementary relationship of decision making. It’s exhausting and you are not growing. Stop practicing “how to say no”, and instead learn how to set your terms.
Setting your terms means that you understand how to evaluate an opportunity on multiple levels – content, people, power, and impact. It means that your future potential is worth more to you than the discomfort of advocating for yourself in a system designed to keep you small. Setting your terms requires that you have done the work to know what your terms are.
You own your value and understand best how to unleash it.
You know best how to organize your time and energy.
You work strategically, instead of relying on willpower.
You are clear on your short-term goals and long-term career vision.
If you are a WOC faculty, especially a Black woman, you need to develop the skill of setting your terms ASAP. DAY 1. You are isolated, hyper-visible, and you will have about 10 times the number of ‘opportunities’ coming your way. You have the ability to accelerate your skill at setting terms faster than almost anyone around you (sometimes, even your mentors…).
For the next ‘ask’ that comes your way, start with these questions and don’t let anyone answer them but you:
If the answer to #2 is No – then your answer is no. If the answer is anything else…you’ve got the building blocks for your terms of engagement.
Set your terms so that your Nos become more obvious and less anxiety-inducing. Set your terms so that each No is actually a resounding YES to what you really want. Set your terms so that you create the career you want, instead of waiting on anyone or anything else to make it for you.
Set your terms because they are THE key ingredient to performing at your highest possible potential…and *enjoying* it.
Have a great week.