Three years ago, I started the job that I envisioned would propel my career into spaces and places I couldn’t even imagine. My big girl job, a.k.a. “the fortune 500 gig that pays pretty decent money and looks well on my LinkedIn profile.” It was the job I had been praying for for almost 8 months of being unemployed and just the sheer thought of having benefits just made me want to run a full lap around church every Sunday. Side note: as a young 20 something year old, you never truly value benefits (life insurance, medical, dental) until you have that “talk” with your parents when it’s time to kick you off. I know, I know initially you think “oh it’s cool, I am healthy already. I shouldn’t need benefits right now anyway. I’m young!” Yes, I am laughing to myself as we speak, because literally 24 hours later I began having migraine headaches all of the time.

Of course, as soon as I signed my new hire papers, I track star sprinted to the nearest New York and Company for new clothes. “I need to make a great impression,” I thought. So, I bought the baddest grey suit, 4 slacks, 4 shirts, and a few cardigans to start me off, only spending $500 which I charged on my lovely credit card that I opened. I can pay that off with my first paycheck, right? Nope. Fast forward 9 months into the new position and I was STILL paying on that bill. Either way, I was ready for my new chapter. I looked good, I felt great and I was ready to get to work!

And boy did I work…like a slave! I was the first person to arrive and usually the last person to leave. I never noticed the lack of diversity in my department or initially the fact that I was being assigned more projects than the majority of the people on my team. I knew that within my field I was bound to be the only female, let alone BLACK female and after 6 years of higher education I was immune to being the minority. It honestly no longer phased me, nor did I give it much attention. I was hired because I was that deal, and so I was going to make the very best of it!

Every Monday we would have a team meeting, and each time I walked into that room I cringed and instantly became frustrated. This meeting may have been called the “team meeting” but if we are being more accurate it should be the “what else can we put on the black girl’s plate” meeting. As usual, I walked in and sat quietly in my chair next to the window, often tuning out the conversations until I heard my name come up. I learned early on that regardless what I said or input I offered, my teammates would still disregard me and treat me as if I was a fly on the wall. Or in many cases, someone would repeat the exact same thing I did, and BEHOLD it became THE most ingenious idea of the day. I remember the first time it happened, I sat there puzzled and bewildered that no one else noticed, nor acknowledged that this black girl over here already said that 10 minutes ago! **throws fit silently in my mind.

You can go ahead and say it, because I already know. Yes, a part of it is my fault because I allowed them to ignore me. I sat quietly. I felt powerless and invisible…until they needed me for something. I only dared say anything until they spoke to me and 100% of the time it was to ask if I would take on yet another project that realistically I could not commitment to. Before they’d even finished asking me, I’d immediately word vomit “YES,” which was always followed up with praise and a pat on the back. I was their “yes girl,” and a hard “yes”at that! I was so obsessed with the idea of impressing them enough to include me in their “circle” that I relinquished my voice and neglected leveraging my full value that I could bring to the department.

Let’s just charge it to my own insecurities or the role that society has given women period, in Corporate America. But truthfully, if we continue to harbor those same feelings and characteristics as we have in the past, we as women will NEVER reach our full potential! Neither will we be able to sustain a healthy work/life balance when operating solely within a “yes” capacity.

Just know that it’s okay to say no, and when you do, it better not be a soft “no” either! **in my big sister’s voice.