“Own your shit.” It’s something that I’ve had to tell myself many times and I’ve become better for it. Now, before you lecture me on how inappropriate and unnecessary profanity is, save your breath. Words mean things, every word means something, and sometimes a swear is the best word to describe exactly what I mean. I find the use of profane words (what a weird concept) to be quite empowering since they encompass so much meaning, ambiguity and an amalgam of otherness in their definitions. Maybe that's why I swear so rarely, but whenever I do, it is very intentional. When I tell myself to own my shit, that is exactly what I mean. We’ve heard the phrase many times, and it’s usually used to tell someone to take responsibility for something that they’ve done wrong. Take responsibility for your mistakes. Step up and fix what you’ve broken. Apologize. Admit your wrongs.
I, like many women, became a pro at owning my own mess ups very early on. There is nothing wrong with admitting your wrongs and working to do better. That’s what people are supposed to do. And imagine if we could all do so- the world would be a very different place. But what happens when we learn to own the things that we are doing right? How does it feel to share what you do, what you believe in, what you’ve achieved, and what you’re passionate about without it being even a “humble” brag? For me, it was a major challenge to overcome, but I had to become comfortable with owning more than my faults. I had to master owning everything about myself, good and bad, in order to make sure that I was being true to myself and to others.
I was at a few networking events earlier this year with some friends, and I was asked the common question of “What do you do?” I always dreaded this question because it has never been a simple one for me to answer. As a multi-hyphenate, I used to get so anxious about what to lead with and I would inevitably forget something on the list. I got into the habit of saying “I’m a student” in hopes of no further follow-up questions. I would hope that people would assume that I was an undergrad or masters student so that they wouldn’t do the whole “Oooo, OK, doctor!” thing once they realized that I was a Ph.D. student. Sometimes, I would say “I started a website where Black women can share their original narratives online.” Even that was a crazy understatement of the Feminessaythat now exists, grows, and thrives in the world today. I could call myself a writer, abstract artist, or an adjunct professor, but nothing felt completely comfortable. I would watch my friends eloquently describe what they do (because they are all complete bosses in their own right), the impressed faces of listeners, and I would wonder why I was so comfortable with downplaying my own magic. It felt as though people who wanted to know more about me had to ask the perfect combination of questions to get to the real gems of what lies beneath my introductory surface.
The truth is that I was so stuck in the habit of shrinking myself that I neglected to grow by owning my work, my accomplishments, and naming the many talents that I possess, even when it was very necessary and appropriate to be more assertive. I’m not sure where this shrinking habit came from or when it started, but I’m sure it’s connected to how easily I can recognize when someone is bragging. There’s a time and a place for talking about yourself, confidently speaking on what you have achieved, and sharing your knowledge with others, but I find that many people do it in the wrong spaces. Then there’s me. I became accustomed to being the one studying, working, and paying my dues for so long that I took for granted that some of that work has already added up to some impressive accomplishments that I shouldn’t be ashamed to share. Yes, I’m a Ph.D. student, and there is a long, interesting, entertaining story behind that journey. It starts with a 16-year-old Interior Design hopeful who basically flunked out of school twice before finally getting it together. Yes, I started an amazing writing brand that includes a platform that centers the original narratives of Black women while allowing a global audience to take part in supporting and growing our reach. Yes, I am a writer of both narrative and editorial pieces, Google me. Yes, I am an abstract artist. My pieces hang in the rooms and halls of Cort Manor and I have exhibited at Harvard University, but most recently in my sister’s home in Washington, D.C. Yes, I am an adjunct professor who teaches a couple of college writing courses. I had to learn to own everything about myself that is awesome- take responsibility for the right things that I’m doing. Step up and continue to build what I’ve started. Be confident. Resist the temptation to belittle my accomplishments. Admit my victories.
Doors have opened because I decided to own everything that I do- that includes the “bad” stuff, too. The times when I know that I could have done better, opportunities I missed because I didn’t think that I was good enough, times when I thought that I was further along than I actually was, past mistakes and regrets that I still remember to this day- those are all important parts of my story. People tell me that I have such a positive outlook on life, but that is a choice. I choose to own the good and the bad and to allow the bad to bring hope. I choose to view the struggles and challenges as exercises to strengthen my character and resourcefulness. Likewise, I choose to acknowledge that I am proud of myself for doing some pretty cool things.
It’s May, flowers are blooming, trees are coming back to life, and there is growth all around us. I’ve read every single piece that we publish on Feminessay, and I see how we choose to own everything about ourselves from the beauty of our skin to the decisions that we’re still unsure about. Choose to own it all. Acknowledge the areas in which you’ve grown as well as the ones where you’re lacking and make some moves. Recognize that not everyone is going to agree with you or like your voice, but it’s yours to share. I had to come to the same realizations and I have to remind myself of these simple facts every day. Feminessay is your microphone, stage, podium, spotlight, and platform. Own it.
— Tiye Naeemah Cort,
Founder + Global Editor-in-Chief