No one is immune to negative experiences. They’re part of life. As the saying goes, “it’s not what happens to you, it’s how you react.” That’s a phrase I find to be especially true in the context of navigating challenging experiences that come up in the workplace.
While it’s not easy to know how to cope with an obstacle and take care of yourself, it helps to know that you are not alone. I was reminded of this when I spent the evening with more than 50 other professionals of color this winter at a Lemons 2 Lemonade networking event hosted by Brittney Oliver at Jopwell’s New York City headquarters. The panel featured five industry leaders who shared their self-care tips for those moments when we face negative experiences in the workplace.
There was a salient theme in the conversation: the challenge of being a minority in corporate America. I listened as the panelists relived moments of frustration, including times when they were underestimated or downright insulted for being who they are (and looking the way they do). We’re led to believe this struggle ends when we get a big job offer or start our own business, but as it turns out, it only transforms and resurfaces in the form of microaggressions. Entrepreneur Minda Harts told us about a time when a woman at her job insinuated that she was invited to a conference simply because she would be the only black person there. Rev. Kyndra, the director of the HOPE Center and associate pastor at FCBC, recalled being called a “thug” once because of what she wore.
It was comforting and therapeutic to be in a space where we could safely vent. Plus, I took home some great self-care tips, which I share with you below. Negative experiences may be inevitable, but when we focus on what we can control – i.e. our reaction – we set ourselves up for real growth.
1. Say “no” more.
It’s tempting to take on a lot of work in the name of helping others, but when doing so starts to come at the expense of your well-being, getting comfortable saying “no” is key. It frees up your schedule and gives you time to focus on what’s important to you and your wellness – whether that’s hanging out with your loved ones, reading a book, going to yoga, or getting a good night’s sleep.
“People are not worried about you like you are about them,” said panelist and ESSENCE senior editor Charli Penn. “I had to reflect and ask myself, ‘Who’s the ‘me’ in my life?’ It’s okay to say ‘no’. Your friends, your family, your husband will still love you.” The work it takes to be physically, emotionally, and mentally healthy should never take a backseat.
2. Get away when you can.
A change of scenery can inspire you to recharge and get back into a productive groove. When you stay in one place for too long, you can easily lose interest in everything and feel like giving up. Seek out opportunities to go somewhere new. Even if it’s for a few days, visiting a different environment can help you restore your energy. “Get away whenever you can,” advised Penn. “You’re not running – you’re living.”
3. Be assertive.
This especially applies to your attitude in the workplace. Even if there are only a few people who look like you, you deserve a seat at the table. Remain authentic in all of your interactions. If people doubt your potential, keep calm, do your job incredibly well, and let your output speak for itself.
4. Keep your eyes on the big picture.
Remember to keep a balanced perspective and stay positive. If something goes wrong, it’s not a catastrophe until you make it one. “I’ll ask myself, ‘Is this going to matter in the long run?’ And if the answer is ‘no,’ I’ll brush it off and keep pushing,” said BuzzFeed software engineer Greg Thompson, Jr. “I’m very disciplined in that way.”
Rev. Kyndra Frazier echoed this sentiment, reminding us that we cannot make everyone happy all the time. “If you get caught up in trying to appease people, you will lose yourself.” Try to view things holistically rather than holding onto every minor grievance or concern.
This particular piece of advice hit home for me. I tend to let minor setbacks paralyze me when, in the grand scheme of things, they become insignificant. I realized that it’s not about ignoring problems, but rather, acknowledging them and then learning from your mistakes. When you focus on the big picture, you learn how to view challenges as opportunities to grow and move closer to your goals.
5. Seek out community.
“I try to meet up with my dad at least once a month,” shared Percell Dugger, brand trainer for NIKE & Jordan Brands. “If I miss him, I’ll call him or run over and see him. Small actions can be huge when everyone is sending DMs on Twitter.”
It’s important to remember to prioritize loved ones in the chaos of day to day life. Remember your support system. They are the ones who hold you together. Don’t just go to them when something is wrong. Make it a point to initiate contact as often as you can. Carve out time to ask them about their day and see how you can help them as well. Being with family and close friends can remind you to focus on your roots and your goals instead of getting lost in negativity.