Perfectly Flawed

Keona Alford

How many of us have ever felt buried? In work, emotions, thoughts, situations, stressors, hopes and dreams or sometimes defeat…? We live in a bustling society that easily buries us in bills, emails, expectations, insecurities, demands on our time and emotional responses. Those times I felt my most buried was when I’d run further into myself and cling to my bones and silent thoughts for support.

As a child I don’t remember ever having a problem I couldn’t fix! I wanted to explore, innovate and create everything! I held more possibilities within my tiny clutches than I later found in my adult hands, but I was beginning to wilt under the external pressures of demands and projections onto my character and capabilities. Be bright and beautiful, but not too loud. Be helpful and accommodating, but don’t selfishly help yourself. I wasn’t born with a desire to conform, but as a seed planted in a garden among millions of others, I was convinced that everyone was the same. What I was told, and grew to understand subconsciously, was “keep your head down and be nice.” This sounded more like the job of an invisible servant, but coming from generations of domestic-working, un-watered seeds, I later realized this was the primary form of self-preservation that my family had to pass along.

My mother grew up the child of a southern domestic worker just as her mother and mother’s mothers had before her. Born and raised in a segregated and hopeless environment void of growth opportunities, my family lacked the vision to see how differently I’d been crafted or that my seed had already split open, allowing my stem to grow and break ground. I could always see a little more than they could see, but I kept my head down and played nice, straining my stem and hiding my beauty among the weeds.

I thought being a Black, intellectual lesbian was enough of a societally crippling dilemma; that seems more than welcoming of various discriminatory behaviors. Falling within the spectrum is never easy to explain to anyone. When I shared this with my family they overlooked my words as if I’d casually sneezed in the middle of a story. When I shared this with friends they were ever eager to tell me what I wasn’t and what I was. Everyone around me refused to believe that I’m a shy introvert because of my perceived ability to talk to anyone with ease. Without knowing who or what it is any light has the ability to illuminate the darkest of places—I’m wise enough to know I’m one of those lights. I could always feel myself wanting to blossom and shine as far as eyes can see.

Nobody acknowledged the many hurdles I constantly cleared in order to engage and interact with people; I sought to make people comfortable in my presence because I’d always felt so uncomfortable in my own shell – perceiving the comfort of other people made room for my own comfort. Because I overcame so many challenges, of which few were aware, I was perceived as a strong, extroverted light source who had everything together. Very few knew that each evening I’d retreat into my rented room where I’d hide, sometimes with the lights off, in order to avoid awkwardly draining conversations with one of my, then, five roommates. All I craved was enough quiet to sit alone with my thoughts so I could explore them freely; outsiders wanted jokes, inspirational vitamins and whatever else they could squeeze from me at the time. The older I got, the more work it took to produce.

I was a constant battle inside. Trying to fulfill the needs of everyone around me but also leave enough juice to empower myself proved taxing. Maya Angelou said, “Courage is the most important of all the virtues, because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” She’s right: I needed the courage to find and be myself and all else would flow from there! It wasn’t until I took a DiSC assessment during a work retreat that I recognized true comfort in myself; it had always been there waiting for me to claim it. I’d taken the Myers-Briggs and a few other assessments, so I was skeptical about learning anything new under the sun. Seeing the results of my test, and standing alongside people who understood me and were able to speak to me and not at me, gave me a sense of community. Knowing I wasn’t the only person with a natural inclination to shy away from loud crowds and lengthy interactions gave me a greater sense of confidence—I no longer had to fight against myself because it was, in fact, okay to truly be myself, no matter who understood me or not. Audre Lord said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.” Most people who judge us aren’t aware of their own identities, so I won’t entrust them with the power to encourage me to dismantle my own.

I sought out AANE to discover that I wasn’t alone in my tangled web of emotions and find ways to cope and further develop. I have since learned that I don’t need to cope with anything; all I must do is whatever comes most naturally to me and the world will most assuredly adjust. We were all sent to Earth just as we are to impact the planet and humanity just as we are. Adjusting to suit other people will not benefit mankind one bit, as it will only allow opportunists to easily make of us as they will. I’ve come to terms, and settled upon a satisfying realization, regarding my multiple roles in this life. I am a light shining brightly for all who dare to look and, yet, a beautifully rising flower you’d never want to pick—courageously reaching as high as I can every day despite the weather, opinions or actions of those around me. I’m a speed bump for those rushing to nowhere with destructive goals in tow. I am a vintage reprise reverberating in a world lacking appreciation for music.

I am perfect the way I am.