Stop Being What Others Expect You To Be

"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."—Ralph Waldo Emerson


I unapologetically and literally love Hebrew culture. Since I strive to be the non-white evangelical version of a Bible follower (some of y'all will catch that later) and Christ was King of the Jews (a king whose family fled to Egypt at one point in his journey; I'll leave that right there—Matthew 2:13-23 and 27:11), that's a huge part of the reason why. Anyway, because of that, I have quite a bit of Hebrew art in my home. One is a picture of a baby, in the womb, with Scripture in Hebrew surrounding them. When I asked the Jewish artist what it meant before I purchased it, she said that, according to Jewish culture, it is believed that a child is perfect while inside of their mother; this includes them having all that they need to know about the Torah (which is basically the first five books of the Bible). Once the child is born, it is simply their parents' responsibility to remind them of what they are already aware of. I adore that. A child is just how they should be on the day of their birth. Parents are simply supposed to make sure they thrive with what is already within them.

Lawd. If only more parents looked at raising their children that way, right? I've shared the quote "adulthood is about surviving childhood", numerous times on this platform because, it's right. Between a lot of us having narcissistic parents or parents we had to raise, our boundaries being disrespected or even violated at a young age and then encountering people along the way who try and turn us into anything and everything but a dope ORIGINAL individual—it can be a daily struggle to avoid being what others expect/want/sometimes even demand, so that we can simply be freely—whew—ourselves.

If hearing all of that hit you somewhere in the pit of your stomach, let me first offer up a Scripture that I hold dear within this particular lane—"He fashions their hearts individually; He considers all their works." (Psalm 33:15—NKJV) Then, I'd like to share some things that I've done to make sure to unlearn how to stop being preoccupied with, on any level, what people expect me to be—so that I can be who I was meant to be.

Cue Diana Ross’s “Mahogany” Song, Please.


I don't know when it started that, whenever I think about this kind of topic, I hear Diana Ross singing my ear, "Do you know, where you're going to? Do you like the things that life is showing you? Where are you going to? Do you know?" That's the hook from the theme song from the classic film Mahogany starring Diana Ross and Billy Dee Williams. The reality is that, when it comes to discovering and then settling into the reality of who we really and truly are, it's important to ask yourself the same types of questions that Ms. Diana did in that song. See, it's been a little bit of my observation, sprinkled with some personal experience too, that when you don't have some clear desires, plans and goals for your life, it is so much easier for people to try and get you to be or do what they want or they feel is best for you.

Case in point. I grew up Seventh-Day Adventist (the same faith that Megan Good's husband, DeVon Franklin and, according to her Twitter bio, TLC's Chili is too). Right around my mid-20s, I decided that I didn't want to be a part of a religious denomination so much as I wanted to gain as much biblical knowledge as possible. There are a whole lot of Adventists who tend to think they've got all of the information that anyone needs to know (a lot of denominations and even religions think that way). And you know what? If I had listened to family members, church folks, etc., I wouldn't have come into so much of the knowledge that I have now; stuff many of them have never even considered because they believe they've got all of "the truth". Because I had a particular goal (to get as much knowledge as possible), it was easier to tune out the people who were trying to get me to think how they do, simply because that's how they were raised. I can promise you that, on the spiritual tip, my life is so much richer, fuller and even clearer because I stuck to what I knew was best and right—for me.

Someone once said that if you don't know where you're going, any path can get you there. If you know you have a struggle with living the kind of life that others expect of you vs. the life you know that you should be living, take some time out to think about what where you want to be, in virtually every category—six months, one year, three years and five years from now. The sooner you blaze a path, the easier it will be to stay on it. Even if you've gotta be on it alone.

Then Remember What Murch Said in ‘The Best Man’


If you're a fan of the movie, The Best Man, I'm willing to bet you've seen it a couple of dozen times by now. And if that is indeed the case, I'm sure you recall the scene when Murch and Candy exchanged a particular quote by Audre Lorde—"If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive."

Defining yourself. A part of the reason why I'm all for people writing personal mission statements (annually, if necessary) is because, it's important to have a self-definition; something that you can say is "definite, distinct, or clear" about yourself. Think about it. If someone were to ask you right now to define yourself physically in two sentences, what would you say? How about emotionally? Spiritually? Professionally? Relationally?

One of the reasons why a lot of people fall into the straight-up trap of conforming to others' views and perspectives is because, when you aren't self-defined, it's easy to blend into other people's thoughts and expectations. That's why the people, who are very firm in their identity, oftentimes get the most pushback from others. It can be hard for humanity to embrace those who don't simply agree with something because it's popular or "what everyone else is doing". Yet hear me when I say that when you are the kind of chameleon who becomes whatever you're around, best believe that Audre Lorde's quote will come back to haunt you, one way or another. We're not here to be someone else's fantasy definition. We're here to express the reality of our genuine nature and being. Are you doing that? Are you sure?

Why Do People’s Opinion of You Matter So Much? Really.


Opinions. While most of us know that one definition of the word is "a personal view", another definition that I really want you to sit with is, "a belief or judgment that rests on grounds insufficient to produce complete certainty". What I really like about that second definition is, it's a reminder that a lot of people who have opinions, whether it's about our personal or professional life, oftentimes, don't even have enough information/data/facts for it to even matter.

I remember when I first decided to go natural and get the tattoo that is on the inside of one of my forearms. While I was out discussing my plans with a few other people, one of them (who I'm cool with but am not close to) went on and on about how both decisions would affect me professionally (it was a Black woman, by the way). When I asked them why they thought that, they went on to talk about how corporate America struggles enough with "alternative looks", so why would I make things harder on myself? When I shared with them that I haven't stepped foot into an office since 2000 and didn't plan on doing it ever again, they shrugged their shoulders and nursed their drink. Yeah, you do that.

I also recall when I went into a particular church, right after getting my nose pierced and someone in leadership said that it was unbiblical to have one. "Really?" I said, "Because a lot of brides in the Bible had nose rings." (Rebekah in Genesis 24, for example) And actually, there is a passage in the Bible about God putting a ring in the nose of Jerusalem that inspired this." (Ezekiel 16) They were silent (at least to me) after that. Good.

Listen, only a really arrogant—or super insecure, which is usually one in the same—person would think that they should never care what anyone thinks (check out "Should You Really Not Care About What Other People Think?"). Yet if you constantly battle with people pleasing or having poor boundaries with folks in this particular area, the next time someone offers up an opinion, revisit the definition of the word that I share with you—does that person even have enough information to come at you with what they are going on and on about? Not only that, but is their opinion about to help or harm? Not your ego (because sometimes we need to hear something that will humble us real quick); I mean, the core of your very being. If the answer to either of these questions isn't a beneficial one, I wouldn't care too much about their opinion, if I were you. Their evidence is too limited for it really to matter in the long run.

Can You Filter Perspectives and Advice Properly?


On the heels of what I just said, what about the people whose insights you do care about? How do you handle those? Well, let me start off by saying that I've been very open on this platform about the fact that I'm about an 85 percent recovered control freak. I grew up around way too many of them and so, I've come to realize and accept that, once I put some serious distance between myself and those individuals, I was better able to ease up on those I was trying to control in return. The space has helped me to realize that when you feel like someone is suffocating you via their controlling ways, you oftentimes will turn around and take your frustration out on others by trying to control them too. Being less controlling made me much calmer. Being much calmer has helped me to have healthier filters when it comes to processing perspectives and advice, as well as giving them.

Sometimes, even those who you love and trust are gonna say things that you're not gonna agree with or perhaps even like. That doesn't mean you don't need to take what is said to heart, though. First, ask yourself if this person has a track record of having your best interest at heart. Next, ask yourself if they are intruding into your life or are they welcome in the areas they are speaking on. Third, if something they say triggers you or even flat-out pisses you off, ask yourself if it's about them or is it really about you and your stuff that you need to deal with.

Self-aware individuals know that no one is perfect and we all need accountability. And so, they are open to hearing what can help them to become better people. At the same time, they can tell the difference between hearing something that will improve them vs. what will change them. When hearing from others, make sure you know the difference between listening to what will improve you vs. what will totally change you. The first is helpful. The second? 9.5 times outta 10, it's straight trash. Real talk.

Know Your Purpose. Embrace Who Supports It.


Whew. Please Lord, make sure that this particular point resonates with all who read it. Amen. If there is one thing that I am super passionate about, it's people being extremely intentional about discovering what their purpose is. After all, your purpose is "the reason for which something exists or is done, made, used, etc." and, I don't care what your religion is, if you are a person of faith on any level, it's important to recognize that spiritual warfare is designed to keep you off of your purpose. Because if you're not out here living out the reason for why you exist, what exactly are you doing with your life?

That's why, once you are clear about your purpose on this planet, it's vital that you surround yourself with the people, places, things and ideas that embrace, support, nurture, encourage and value your purpose. On the people tip, these will be individuals who don't try and distract you from fulfilling your purpose. They won't challenge you about manifesting your purpose. And they definitely won't serve as distractors or deterrents when it comes to your purpose.

Some people spend way too much time, effort and energy caring about what people think who aren't allies of their purpose; they are actually enemies. Allies aren't going to stress you out, plant seeds of self-doubt or try and get you to live your life in a way that solely makes sense to them or makes them feel more comfortable. If these are the kinds of individuals you've got in your life, they are toxic—to you and your purpose. It's time to do some serious shifting. Not later—NOW.

Care About What God Thinks. What You Think. AND THEN ONLY OTHERS WHO TRULY MATTER.


Any of us who grew up in the Church, we oftentimes heard that it's important for us to put God and others before ourselves. Personally, I'm a huge fan of how Scripture says to "love your neighbor as yourself", and I honestly don't know how we can do that unless we love our own selves well…first (Mark 12:30-31). Either way, when it comes to breaking the habit of being who others expect you to be, it's definitely important that you put them at the bottom of your priority list when it comes to your self-identity. Care about what you creator thinks (where God is, there is peace; that's a great way to gauge). Then care what you think (being at total peace with yourself is important too). And then, when you are good with those two relationships, you'll be able to better discern who is a good fit for you and your life.

One of the most challenging things in this world is learning how to be your best self and not get caught up in what others expect, simply because they expect it. Oh, but once you master this particular skill, the sky really is the limit on oh so many levels. You won't wait for others affirmation or applause because…you've got your own.

Determine today to be what you were called to be. Not what others expect of you. Then watch, sis. Whew…just you watch!

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ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
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