Do you remember feeling shy as a child? How about feeling awkward as a teen? What about vulnerable as a young adult? Those memories are often some of our worst. The feelings of doubt, shame, and unworthiness are hard to forget. Often we can remember specific people and places that we associate with those awful times. I look back and feel for that younger self. Yet, I must reveal that it is how I felt not so long ago. It’s acceptable to have those experiences in our youth, but it’s not when you are the church’s Pastor and the school district’s Superintendent. Everyone expects leaders to have it all together. They expect leaders to have confidence and high self-esteem. What happens when you don’t?
My journey to living and leading my best life and becoming the star begins with me hitting rock bottom in my career. It was the day I resigned from the top position in the high-performing, financially-resourced school district. I was on top of the world! I had achieved something that most African American educators in my area would never accomplish. I had landed the job that others had only dreamed of ascending to. I was the first African American and an outsider hired to lead this prestigious district forward. I was recruited because I was intelligent, articulate, well put together, and accepted—so I thought. I had experienced success even despite barriers and had, again, broken the glass ceiling. This wasn’t the first time. I had been the first African American elementary principal, the first African American, first as a female secondary principal, and the first African American assistant superintendent in a district located in a county where white males dominated. I had persevered through threats, disrespect, and intentional sabotage. It did not dismay me. I had the fortitude and had been persistent. With God’s help and the support of my family, I had finally done it. I had finally reached the pinnacle of my career.
Upon arrival, I was welcomed and had already started to make a sustainable and significant impact on the students, staff, and community. We dealt with some challenging topics: equity and identity, and the community was in support of our collective work. As a result, I received the highest-rated evaluation I had ever had, and all was going smoothly… until IT happened!! The reality that they didn’t like me set in. The fact that this African American leader was passionate, assertive, and curious didn’t fit their single story. They thought I didn’t fit because they had a single story about how I was to act, show up, and lead.
I was shaken. I had been a sought-after educational leader for over seventeen years. I was coaching other leaders throughout the state, and suddenly I was taken back to that traumatic moment when I was in elementary school. As an only child, I was accustomed to being alone but always wondered if I would ever fit. I always felt set apart and sometimes even felt rejected. Although I had good friends, I would never be in the popular crowd. As I matriculated to high school, although I was on the basketball and track teams, the National Honor Society president, and the Drum Major in the band, I still didn’t fit in. I thought it was because of the honor classes that kept me separated. Yet, inside, I knew different. As I entered the university culture, I hoped that things would change. I was on the track team and in the marching band. I was a member of the student leadership team and joined the most outstanding sorority on the planet, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Even with my new sisterhood, I continued to feel isolated. Again, I assumed that it was something else. Time and time again, I felt set apart and alone. As the church pastor and the superintendent of schools, those feelings of rejection were right in my face again. I resigned. It was over. I had broken through the glass ceiling, and instead of soaring like an eagle, I was descending and wondered if I could get back up again.
In the beginning, I questioned my skills, abilities, and my faith. I thought that I might not need to return to the superintendency. I began to question my leadership skills altogether. I even wondered if I should continue the ministry. Although my mother, husband, children, and friends attempted to console me, it was not until I went on a fast that something changed. I had been on fasts before; however, this time was different. I wanted and needed to hear from the Lord. I was focused and sincere in my requests to Him. I knew that He said in His Word, “do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (Isaiah 41:10 NIV). I know that He promised to strengthen me and help me... I needed HELP! I held on to the promises and repeated them, even when doubt came. I said affirmations daily. “He will never leave or forsake me. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.” I would encourage myself by remembering that “In this world, I will have trouble. But take heart! He has overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV). When I needed instruction, the Word said, “I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you” (Psalm 32:8 NIV). Although these words gave me hope. I continued to wonder why I had not fit in. Then, God spoke to me. He reminded me that I am supposed to be the STAR in my life. I was not supposed to let the people and their opinions, needs, and standards drive MY Life! I am a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession. 1Peter 2:9 NIV.
I had forgotten that I have been set apart as holy to the Lord, and He has chosen me from all the nations of the earth to be His own special treasure. I had finally realized I was never supposed to fit it! I was meant to be the STAR! My light is not to be dimmed. I am not to fit in. I am to let my light shine before others. He has set me apart and chosen me to show the world His glory in me! I am in the world, but I am not of the world. I don’t live by other’s desires. My holiness, my specialness, comes from God!
Once I understood this, my heart was opened to possibilities, and although it felt like a long time, it had only been a few weeks. Another district approached me to serve as their superintendent. With hesitation, I accepted the position. It has been the best decision I have ever made. I am able to serve with an excellent board and staff in a wonderful community with talented students. Our mantra is we are “Stronger Together!” As a result of my experience, I now help others through my coaching and consulting service. AZR Leads supports leaders by providing specific strategies to develop personal positivity—FIRST, then their teams’. We are not meant to be like others; we are fearfully and marvelously made.
If you are in a similar situation, here are (3) steps to take:
Step 1: REFLECT on the learnings that you have been blessed with throughout your journey. Embrace them because they are part of your identity. Our struggles help us grow and become resilient beings. We are powerful because our Lord created us as such. We need to live a full life with gratitude, love, and compassion. We must remember that we are an extension of the Lord.
Step 2: BE DIFFERENT. This makes us all unique. We must strive to be the best we can be. We must have a growth mindset and include the phrase “not yet” in our vocabulary. We must remind ourselves of Who created us and why. We must look inside and say out loud, “I may not know everything…but I DO know I am up for the challenge. I know the Lord will help me to persevere because He has always walked with me side by side.
Step 3: BE the STAR that you were always meant to be. Remember your power. You will find energy by being courageous and compassionate. Remember that you are fearless and deserve the best life has to offer. Go show the world what they have been missing! Shine like the star that you were always meant to be.
If you are interested in support implementing these steps, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our website at AZRLeads.com; we will assist you in the journey to becoming a STAR!