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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

Inspiration

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.

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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’

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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