When I was about 7 or 8 (probably younger) my family had already began serious conversations with me regarding which college I would attend. Both of my parents were college educated and held Master degrees and my mother and Aunt were both teachers. I grew up with the idea that school wasn't over until I received a Master degree. I remember all of the excitement of high school graduation that I didn't share with my peers. In my mind, I was thinking, "Don't they know this isn't over? This is like graduating from kindergarten. Not. A. Big. Deal. Why are they crying?" Prior to high school graduation, I thought everyone was raised the same way. Don't get me wrong, I was happy at graduation because I never liked school, much less high school, and I couldn't wait to leave. However, when I saw their glee in contrast to my internal reality, I realized something was different.
This continued when I got to college. I went to a very prestigious HBCU, a school that I planned on attending at the age of 9. When I arrived on its glorious campus, although I knew I was where I was supposed to be, I couldn't help but notice something wasn't quite right. Essentially, there were young women wearing "business casual" attire like it was the most comfortable clothing ever invented. They spoke of lawyer, doctor, and corporate dreams that I truly didn't understand. I was there as an Art major. The majority of my classes were probably very different from most, because it was all about me exploring my creativity. I didn't get tested on how well I knew the history of lines or color. I was graded on how much I pushed my creativity and developed my skill. I even found a women's studies class like that. As the years went by, I realized that my peers were in college to have a career and make money. Call me slow, but it never really clicked within me that THAT was what a college education was for. This carried on to grad school which I entered because I wanted to develop my art work and after undergrad, I truly didn't know what else to do. I liked the stories all of my professors had of their grad school experience so I knew that getting my Masters in Fine Art was how I would get my final degree. The world didn't make sense but I loved learning and creating... and I was a filial daughter.
In the so-called real world, I never liked working for someone else, I didn't like wearing specific clothes, and I wasn't interested in moving up the ladder. To me, the only boss I have ever had was myself and I have always found a way to make that clear at any place I have worked at. You can imagine I didn't work at many places for too long. I never really looked up to anyone and there wasn't anyone that I wanted to be like. My mother raised me to like myself. Even as much as I admire, love, and respect my mother, I never wanted to be like her. I wanted to be like me. This notion proved problematic for me in a society where people tend like being in groups, cliques, organizations, sisterhoods, systems. So over the years, I had to really begin to know myself in order to understand what was really best for me.
What I found is that I didn't know my worth. I wanted to do things that I felt the people around me didn't see value in. I didn't know how to value what I had to give to the world. You see whether people acknowledge it or not we have allowed external things and people to determine our worth, our level of education, certificates, salaries, grades, evaluations, your "boss", your teachers, your parents, your environment, etc. We rarely truly take the time to know ourselves to truly know our worth. I often use the metaphor of slavery to drive my point. When a male slave stood on an auction block his worth was determined by his body structure, age, how shiny his muscles glistened, obedience level, and skill set. Isn't that about the same formula now? I am not saying go quit your job, but I am saying maybe you should think about it a little. I have never seen slavery as a race based institution because in almost every work environment I have been in, I have seen happy slaves in every shade. In fact, I think the only reason it was talked about so much in school was to trick everyone into thinking that it was over. Is slavery a horrible institution? I don't know. Answer that for yourself. I don't waste my time judging it. I do know it doesn't work for me.
Let's get back to knowing your worth. I am doing everything I am doing now because I love to do it. I always wanted to be a healer. I love writing and telling stories. I love creating. I love connecting with people (especially children) all over the world. I love to help people see greater possibilities for themselves. I love to laugh. I love to travel. After being unemployed for a long period, I started to look at my life and examine my talents, my interests, my dreams, and then I entered a system one more time. When I rebelled against "the system" for the final time(and it was quite a show), I realized that it was time for me to truly be me. I had to do my own thing. I did use that time in the system wisely to lay out my plan. I immersed myself deeply in my quest to truly know myself and love myself. It was and continues to be an all out love fest. From there I started creating, telling stories, connecting with people, loving people... Essentially, I was being myself.
Doing all of that was the easy part (sort of- as I said before, "It takes ovaries to be the boss!"). The hard part was understanding what it was all worth. What was I worth? The question that helped me answer that question was "Who am I?" I knew my purpose even when I thought I didn't. Our purpose is to share who we are with the world, but who are you? What are you? When I was able to answer this question, I realized that the only person who had the responsibility of determining my worth was me. All of those years, that was the part of the world that I didn't understand. I didn't understand how anyone else could determine what I was worth through salaries, education, social status, job positions, etc. And since I know who I am, I know my worth. I know that when I honestly share who I am, I will be compensated and that compensation will reflect my worth. Well what is my worth? Don't worry about it, just KNOW yours. It is solely your responsibility. When you look outside of yourself to know these things, you have given away your power. At that point, you might as well strip down, break out the vaseline, and find the nearest auction block.
My beloved drawing and sculpture Professor, Mr. Martin had a wonderful way of grading. At the end of the semester, you would have an individual meeting with him, show all of your work, and then give him YOUR grade. I can tell you now that my worth goes beyond any rubric, grading scale, money scale, or any limitation, that I have ever known. Who are you? What is your worth?