GUEST BLOG: Death by Sparkling Boxes with Pretty Pink Bows

July 10, 2020 By: Kenya D

This blog was written by a guest of the Power Tribe, Ericka Plater.

I’ve been placed in a sparkling box with pretty pink bows and stored on a shelf with a sign that read “Do not touch. Admire only” by my ex-husband.

The bland box with no note or decoration because I was too buttoned-up, reserved, professional or bougie – is my favorite.

The box that instructed I be delivered to a therapist because I was an angry black woman, was the most ill-fitting.

My life has been littered with boxes of all shapes, sizes, and colors. Always created by someone else. Never to my unique specifications.

 These boxes are rooted in judgement.

It is natural to place judgement upon others. It is how we decide who we hire, mentor, marry, or invite into our circle of friends and family.

Judgement by others can place false limitations on how we see ourselves, our success, and our purpose.

Some of my labels have been caretaker, overachiever, hyper-dependable, team player, event planner and more. I was exhausted from all those labels, but I enjoyed many of them. After all, it is rewarding to help, to take care, to not disappoint, to succeed…

We do good work by stuffing ourselves into boxes that do not fit, right?

With so many labels and boxes, we forget who we were meant to be before others TOLD us who we were.

We make excuses because of those boxes – it’s work stress, just overwhelmed with family commitments, mercury is in retrograde.

We make choices based on those boxes.

We choose not to speak up. We apologize for interrupting or having a different opinion. We choose to work longer hours to prove we are industrious. It’s like being in a prison cell without bars or locks.

Some of you may have reached the point I did the day I decided to deconstruct the boxes and labels assigned to me by others.

Deconstructing boxes and discarding labels is work. It taps into personal areas we may already be working on regarding confidence, assertiveness, reclaiming our time, not over committing/saying “no”. It also helps define our personal value proposition and brand. Over the years, I have leaned on a few tools to help me navigate boxes and labels, especially in highly politicized situations.

  1. Which way is the wind blowing? When labels appear, I ask myself, “Is there a kernel of MY truth in this?” I know that what we intend and what others perceive can be two different experiences, so I pause and conduct a self-check.
  2. There is an elephant in the room! Confront labels directly.

 I had a micro-managing board chair that was used to running things in corporate America. He consistently tried to direct operations and staff management. I consistently pushed back. The box he had placed me in was that I was a new Executive Director – and the first black woman to be appointed to the position – and new to the area so poor little, sweet, soft spoken, laid back me needed my hand held. I set a meeting to share that I felt there was growing tension between us.  After a lengthy and uncomfortable conversation, I summarized for him that it sounded to me that he did not trust my judgement. Furthermore, a disregard for my 20+ years nonprofit experience which, if this was true, it is best we end our relationship. This box (poor, new ED who needed hand holding) was not a box I was willing to allow to exist.

  1. Name it, frame it, claim it…or not. Not every box is worth the energy it takes to deconstruct. Sometimes you just own it!

At a point in my career, I led an all-woman, all-black team so you could not miss us when we showed up at staff meetings and events. My supervisor shared with me the growing discomfort of staff. They found us to be aggressive, intimidating and too loud. After seeking to understand the facts surrounding the “concerns”, and a  discussion on the racial bias and lack of cultural understanding at play, I thanked my supervisor for the compliment on the authority and confidence my team displays in their day-to-day work. I owned the label. We were great at what we did, and our work was impeccable.

  1. Tell Your Own Story. For years I kept my personal and professional life deeply separate which only added to the boxes and labels gifted to me. Just as we need an elevator speech for what we do and our accomplishments, we need carefully crafted elevator speech that speaks to our passions and what makes us – US

No matter what tool(s) you use to deconstruct your boxes, the truth is that we are multi-dimensional and complex. Sometimes the work can be daunting and confusing. Nevertheless, if we do not dismantle the labels and boxes, who will?

“Sometimes you choose to be the hurricane, sometimes you choose to be still waters. Either way, make sure it’s what YOU choose and not what others choose for you.” – Ericka Plater

Who is Ericka Plater?

Ericka is a mission-driven nonprofit leader with over 25 years’ experience in the areas of organizational
development, business and strategic planning, diversity, equity and inclusion, leadership development,
program development, and training and conferences. Ericka has utilized her skills in the fields of public
education, healthcare, public health, philanthropy and community development. She has written
articles, spoken at and facilitated conference and program sessions related to the various areas she has
mastered throughout her career.

She is currently the Executive Director of Our Lady of Mercy Community Outreach in Charleston, South Carolina.