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The year of choosing me

Today is my 22nd birthday, and oh, what a year it’s been. 

People always say the years we spend in college are some of the most formative of our lives. I can remember a time when I heard that and rolled my eyes. 

But y’all were right. 

I’m the kind of person who likes to know what’s coming down the pipeline. Every “I” must be dotted and every “T” must be crossed in order for me to function properly. 

Making sure I knew as much as possible about everything I was going to encounter helped me deal with the anxiety that comes with the unknown. 

Anyone having the slightest idea that I may not have it all together was the most terrifying thing I could imagine. I think it stems from my existence as a Black woman in predominantly white spaces and my deep rooted need to be perfect. 

Somehow, I made it until last summer before this lifestyle proved itself unstable. 

With COVID, the idea of predictability didn’t exist. I mean, how could we predict something that was changing every day? 

Yet, even in the midst of the pandemic, I tried to be perfect. Despite everyone in the world going through the same thing, I didn’t want anyone to know that I didn’t have it all figured out.

I overworked myself until my body ached from stress and seldom asked for help. I overthought every social interaction and questioned myself over things that may or may not have even been real. 

For the longest time, my first instinct was to question myself and my role in the spaces I found myself in. Imposter syndrome doesn’t only exist in the workforce – it’s alive in our day-to-day lives. 

Growing up, I always had to work twice as hard to prove my worth in spaces I had more than a right to be in. I aimed to be the best, not because I wanted to, but because I had to. 

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I was often the lone Black girl. I became the representative for anyone and everyone who looked like me. 

I’m not saying this to look for anyone’s pity or sympathy. I just want it to be known that this was a hard cross to bear. I couldn’t mess up because I felt like the people around me expected it. 

My successes were praised with an undertone of shock and my intelligence was recognized as if it were an anomaly. 

Unfortunately, this is an experience that many Black women, like myself, have all the time. 

But this summer, I found freedom in understanding that perfection doesn’t have to be my reality. 

It was the second week of my internship at The Cincinnati Enquirer when my editor called me about one of my assignments. 

This editor is someone I admire greatly. His impact on me and my career will be long-lasting. 

I was on a tight deadline and was dealing with a difficult source. My editor had messaged me multiple times asking for my progress on the story and rather than being upfront about the issue I’d run into, I tried to handle the situation on my own. 

I can’t remember the entire conversation word for word, but my editor quickly caught on and called me out. 

“You don’t have to be perfect, Briah.” he said. 

It may not seem like a big thing to say, but for me, that statement was paramount.

For my entire life, I would strive for perfection while simultaneously making sure no one saw the toll it took on me. 

No one saw the capsules of Excedrin I’d swallow to ease the pain of my aching migraines. 

No one saw the talking points that I’d write in my notes so I could never be caught off guard in meetings. 

No one felt the warmth of the heating pad on my neck when it became stiff from stress. 

I had gone to one therapy session in early May but hadn’t made an intentional return until after this incident. 

I’ve always known that I was generally an anxious person, but going to a therapy session and hearing that I do indeed have a minor level of anxiety was a lot to handle. 

I initially viewed it as a flaw.

They say acknowledgment is the first step to recovery, but I didn’t want to do that either. I spent my entire life trying to be perfect to the point that it became second nature. Why would I want to admit that my method of survival was really holding me underwater? 

But as much as I was afraid of being found out, I found so much relief in hearing from someone I respected that my struggles didn’t have to define me. 

I had robbed myself of so many moments because I was concerned about other people’s perceptions of me. 

I’m done with that. 

I won’t get into the nitty-gritty, but in therapy I learned about self-love, changing my perspective, and in some cases, letting go. 

It’s not that I stopped caring by any means. But I realized that some things are not as deep as they seem. It’s about finding peace in knowing I’m doing the best that I can. And that in itself is enough. 

I am enough.  

During the course of my internship, I worked on some of my hardest assignments to date. Before therapy, I would have had a complete and utter meltdown with the number of twists and turns I encountered. 

But with the help of my therapist (shout out to my girl Dr. Johnson!) I gained a newfound confidence to ask for help and to give myself grace. 

For those who know me well, they’ve seen how this summer has impacted me. I hold my head higher and I glow from the release of negative energy. 

As I turn 22 I have such a new perspective on life. 

I don’t have it all figured out. I don’t have a clue what my life will look like in seven months. But there are a few things I’ve learned that will stay constant until I get there. 

I’ve learned to choose me and what makes me happy. 

I’m letting go of situations that do not serve me, and I’m prioritizing my mental health. 

I’ve learned not to shrink myself for the acceptance of others. 

I’ve gained a better handle on my anxiety and learned how to rule it and not allow it to rule me. 

When I look at where I am now compared to when I first stepped on this campus four years ago, I don’t recognize that girl anymore. 

I know I have so much more work to do, but I’m proud to say that every day I’m making strides toward becoming the woman I’ve always known I could be. 

I fell absolutely in love with myself this year. 

I’m still learning. I’m still growing, but I’m damn proud of how far I’ve come. 

So, happy birthday to me. Let’s keep going.