The ability to advocate for oneself can be one of the greatest tools in our arsenal of personal and professional growth. For Black women in the corporate world, specifically, this is a unique rite of passage earned through speaking up on your behalf for promotions, negotiating salaries, or even overcoming workplace bias and discrimination. This process, though challenging, can reveal to us the inner voice that will serve as both a guide and champion for our upward mobility. Thankfully, women like Watchen Nyanue, founder and CEO of I Choose the Ladder, are creating space for Black women to find their voice in the workplace to climb the ladder of success on their own terms.
Watchen grew up in Liberia during a time of civil war and national unrest. From the ages of six to eight, she watched as her country was tugged between war and peace, exposing her to the worst of what the world could be, and ultimately reshaping her views on fear. "I think living through that trauma gave me an appreciation for life, but it took fear away from me. Life can be very fleeting, so I always tell myself, 'Why not just try it?'"
After her family emigrated to the US, music and television served as a guide for who Watchen saw herself becoming. Unlike most traditional immigrant households where becoming a doctor or lawyer is revered, Watchen's parents gave her the license to discover her passions and explore her skills outside of these trades. "My dad is an engineer, and because he understood what it took to become that, he would say, 'Go find what you want to do and be the best at that.'"
Courtesy of Watchen Nyanue
This freedom to explore granted Watchen the space to gain clarity on the purpose of her work and the legacy she would shape in the long run to impact women like her. Because of her tenacity and the relationships she built along the way, Watchen has a resume that extends from companies like Comedy Central, Johnson Publishing Company, and now serves as the Senior Vice President of the WNBA, Chicago Sky; one of the youngest Black women to hold that position.
Today, Watchen applies the wisdom she's gained in her professional career to her work as the founder of the career summit, The Climb, and career consulting company, I Choose The Ladder, which bridge the gap between ambitious Black women and the corporate elevation that awaits them.
"I love us for real. If you get us in position to win, we're always going to make sure that we all win."
On reshaping the Women’s Empowerment/Conference space and launching the Climb Summit.
"For me, I tend to create what I need. If I need it, there are probably other people who need it too. There was a level of frustration that came with conferences. I'd receive all this information, but I don't know what the first step was to do with it. At the I Climb Summit, we take away all the fluff. We make sure we're intentional about the women who are leading and teaching and make sure they identify as Black women and feel comfortable talking about their journey as Black women because the challenges that we face are very unique to us. We don't need to see the highlight reel, we need to pull back the curtain a bit to show what it's really going to take to succeed."
Courtesy of Watchen Nyanue
"We don't need to see the highlight reel, we need to pull back the curtain a bit to show what it's really going to take to succeed."
On giving Black women the tools to advocate for themselves in the workplace.
"We launched our latest product, The Review Planner, because I feel like our annual reviews don't always get maximized. For me, it's always been about keeping receipts and having clarity around how my success is being measured. The planner helps you track your progress all year long so when it's time for your performance review, it's not your manager telling you what they think you did or you telling them what you remember, it's actual data that backs you up. It's your job to bring to their attention how much of a boss you are and what you bring to the table. If you don't find ways to infuse that into conversation with your managers, they may never know."
On how to navigate spaces when you’re the “only” in the room.
"My goal with I Choose the Ladder isn't to convince Black women to leave corporate, it's to make sure that once you do, you leave with as much as you gave. There's a price we pay to be in these spaces, so we need to make sure we're getting the benefits, which can't just be our title or salary because those things can be easily taken away.
"If you plan to be senior in any industry, most of the time, you're going to be the 'only'. But perspective matters: what do you want to get from the people in these rooms? Yes, it's going to be tough, but what reward do you want to receive for having to pay that price? Be very strategic about how you spend your time in these spaces."
"There's a price we pay to be in these spaces, so we need to make sure we're getting the benefits, which can't just be our title or salary because those things can be easily taken away."
On strategic networking and the power of building organic relationships.
"I have a solid squad of mentors and sponsors and everyone that I have, I found doing work -- whether on a committee or volunteering my time. So when they say 'be organic', don't put yourself in spaces because you have an ulterior motive. When you are engaged in the things that you care about, you tend to work harder, people see you as your best self, and you naturally gravitate towards each other.
"Another thing is, I have a natural curiosity about people; people are interesting. Ask folks about themselves, the books they're reading, the art in their office. It doesn't always have to be career advice. Figuring out your intercepting points of interest can take a lot of the pressure off and be a jumping-off point for a conversation that can lead to a relationship."
"When you are engaged in the things that you care about, you tend to work harder, people see you as your best self, and you naturally gravitate towards each other."
On denouncing shame around unemployment and how to pivot during a pandemic.
"If you're in this economy and find yourself unemployed, underemployed or just doing what you need to do to pay your bills, there's no shame in that. Give yourself some grace; it takes time to pivot. You can't control that you got laid off or if a company hires you. What you can control is how prepared you are for your interviews, how intentional you are about growing your network, and how much work you're putting into yourself to develop new skills for when, not if, that new role comes."
On the one piece of advice that shaped her the most in your career.
"Most of the things we fear never happen. And sometimes we don't try things because of fear of the unknown. Whenever I'm feeling uncertain about a decision, I do an exercise called, 'What if? What is?' I write out all my 'what if's' and in the 'what is' column, I balance it out with what's true. By the time you reach the end, you'll see that you've already handled a version of what you're afraid of. I tell people all the time that you have all that you need right now to do what you need, right now. Just trust the process."
To connect with Watchen, follow her endeavors on Instagram @ichoosetheladder, and tune into her podcast, I Choose the Ladder.
Featured image courtesy of Watchen Nyanue
Aley Arion is a writer and digital storyteller from the South, currently living in sunny Los Angeles. Her site, yagirlaley.com, serves as a digital diary to document personal essays, cultural commentary, and her insights into the Black Millennial experience. Follow her at @yagirlaley on all platforms!
This article is in partnership with Sensodyne.
Our teeth are connected to so many things - our nutrition, our confidence, and our overall mood. We often take for granted how important healthy teeth are, until issues like tooth sensitivity or gum recession come to remind us. Like most things related to our bodies, prevention is the best medicine. Here are five things you can do immediately to improve your oral hygiene, prevent tooth sensitivity, and avoid dental issues down the road.
1) Go Easy On the Rough Brushing: Brushing your teeth is and always will be priority number one in the oral hygiene department. No surprises there! However, there is such a thing as applying too much pressure when brushing…and that can lead to problems over time. Use a toothbrush with soft bristles and brush in smooth, circular motions. It may seem counterintuitive, but a gentle approach to brushing is the most effective way to clean those pearly whites without wearing away enamel and exposing sensitive areas of the teeth.
2) Use A Desensitizing Toothpaste: As everyone knows, mouth pain can be highly uncomfortable; but tooth sensitivity is a whole different beast. Hot weather favorites like ice cream and popsicles have the ability to trigger tooth sensitivity, which might make you want to stay away from icy foods altogether. But as always, prevention is the best medicine here. Switching to a toothpaste like Sensodyne’s Sensitivity & Gum toothpaste specifically designed for sensitive teeth will help build a protective layer over sensitive areas of the tooth. Over time, those sharp sensations that occur with extremely cold foods will subside, and you’ll be back to treating yourself to your icy faves like this one!
3) Floss, Rinse, Brush. (And In That Order!): Have you ever heard the saying, “It’s not what you do, but how you do it”? Well, the same thing applies to taking care of your teeth. Even if you are flossing and brushing religiously, you could be missing out on some of the benefits simply because you aren’t doing so in the right order. Flossing is best to do before brushing because it removes food particles and plaque from places your toothbrush can’t reach. After a proper flossing sesh, it is important to rinse out your mouth with water after. Finally, you can whip out your toothbrush and get to brushing. Though many of us commonly rinse with water after brushing to remove excess toothpaste, it may not be the best thing for our teeth. That’s because fluoride, the active ingredient in toothpaste that protects your enamel, works best when it gets to sit on the teeth and continue working its magic. Rinsing with water after brushing doesn’t let the toothpaste go to work like it really can. Changing up your order may take some getting used to, but over time, you’ll see the difference.
4) Stay Hydrated: Upping your water supply is a no-fail way to level up your health overall, and your teeth are no exception to this rule. Drinking water not only helps maintain a healthy pH balance in your mouth, but it also washes away residue and acids that can cause enamel erosion. It also helps you steer clear of dry mouth, which is a gateway to bad breath. And who needs that?
5) Show Your Gums Some Love: When it comes to improving your smile, you may be laser-focused on getting your teeth whiter, straighter, and overall healthier. Rightfully so, as these are all attributes of a megawatt smile; but you certainly don’t want to leave gum health out of the equation. If you neglect your gums, you’ll start to notice the effects of plaque buildup, which can irritate the gums and cause gingivitis, the earliest stage of gum disease. Seeing blood while brushing and flossing is a tell-tale sign that your gums are suffering. You may also experience gum recession — a condition where the gum tissue surrounding your teeth pulls back, exposing more of your tooth. Brushing at least twice a day with a gum-protecting toothpaste like Sensodyne Sensitivity and Gum, coupled with regular dentist visits, will keep your gums shining as bright as those pearly whites.
There’s nothing quite as humbling as navigating adulthood with no instruction manual. Since the turn of the decade, it seems like everything in our society that could go wrong has, inevitably, gone wrong. From the global pandemic, our crippling student debt problem, the loneliness crisis, layoffs, global warming, recession, and not to mention figuring out what to eat for dinner every night. This constant state of uncertainty has many of us wondering, when are the grown-ups coming to fix all of this?
But the catch is, we are the new grown-ups.
As if it happened without our permission, we became the new adults. We are the members of society who are paying taxes, having children, getting married, and keeping our communities afloat, one iced latte at a time. Still, there’s something about doing all these grown-up duties that feel unnaturally grown-up. Enter the #teenagegirlinher20s.
If there’s one hashtag to give you the state of the next cohort of adults, it’s this one. Of the videos that have garnered over 3.9M views, you’ll find a collection of users who are overwhelmed by life’s pressing existential responsibilities, clung to nostalgia, and reminiscent of the days when their mom and dad took care of their insurance plans.
no like i cant explain to her why i had to buy multiple tank air dupes from aritzia #teenagegirlinher20s #fyp
The concept of being a 20-something or 30-something teenager is linked to the sentiment of not feeling “grown up enough” to do grown-up things while feeling underprepared and even nihilistic about whether that preparation even matters.
It’s our generation’s version of when we ask our grandmothers how old they are and they simply reply with, “I still feel 45,” all while being every bit of 76 years old. In this, we share a warped concept of time while clinging to a desire for infantilization.
Granted, the pandemic did a number on our concept of time. Many of us who started the pandemic in our early or mid-20s missed out on three fundamental years of socialization, career development, and personal milestones that traditionally help to mark our growth.
Our time to figure out and plan our next steps through fumbling yet active participation was put on pause indefinitely and then resumed provisionally. This in turn has left many of us hanging in the balance of uncertainty as we try to make sense of the disconnect between our minds and bodies in this missing gap of time.
Because we’re all still figuring out what the ramifications of being locked away and frozen in time by a global pandemic will have on us as a society, there really is no “right” way of making up for lost time. Feeling unprepared for any new chapter of life is a natural rite of passage, pandemic or not. However, it’s important to not stay stuck in the last age or period of life that made sense to us because self-growth is the truest evidence of personal progress.
So whether you’re leaning on your inner child, teenager, or 20-something for guidance as you fill the gap between your real age and pandemic age, know that it’s okay to grieve the person you thought you would be and the milestones you thought you’d hit before you ever knew what a pandemic was. If there’s anything that the pandemic taught us, it’s that we have the power to reimagine a better world and life for ourselves. And if we tap into our inner teenager as a compass, we can piece together our next chapter with a fresh outlook.
Sure, we’ve lost a couple of years, but there are still some really amazing ones ahead.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Stephen Zeigler/Getty Images