Faith… especially when it scares me.

On this day in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr., one quote that kept jumping out to me as I scrolled through my Instagram timeline was: “faith is taking the first step even when you can’t see the entire staircase”. Please understand, though, it’s not that these particular words were the most posted quote of the day, it’s just that it’s the one that stood out to me.  And as I laid my head down to finally go to sleep, I couldn’t get it out of my head…

The concept felt as though it had been an overarching theme in my life for the past few months.  Most recently, I had a very honest conversation with my cousin about what I’m starting to believe is my life’s dream and why I have taken zero steps towards accomplishing it.  Trained as a transactional lawyer, my most marketable skill-set is to contemplate every possible scenario – good or bad – from a potential decision, and to plan an appropriate safety net for if the unthinkable happens. I help my clients protect their interests before entering into any venture by preparing them for the worst, and as helpful as that is for them, it has become a serious hurdle in my own ambition. For every great idea I come up with, and every possibility my heartbeat skips for, there are twice as many red flags that go up. In the legal world it’s referred to as “the parade of terribles,” as we think of one worst case scenario after another. So in my personal life, by the time I’m done brainstorming, I’ve actually talked myself out of pursuing whatever it is that I was contemplating.

For a while I thought that it was a “millennial” thing. I’ve been heard in numerous conversations trying to lump all twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings into my own sphere of indecisiveness. My boyfriend is working on an artistic piece centered around black millennials in relationships, and I can be heard in my interview saying that we are a generation of too many options. There, I concluded that since there’s no rule book for us anymore, so many of us find ourselves trapped at crossroads between what was the norm of prior generations and what is the unchartered course of this generation. However, when I re-listened to my interview tonight a light-bulb went off as I heard my voice explaining the theory. It isn’t all millennials, it’s me.

I don’t know at what point in my life I became so scared to make a decision. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been the embodiment of that children’s book Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman. I remember that Grace wanted to play Peter Pan in her school’s play, but one of the other students told her she couldn’t because she was black and a girl – I don’t remember all of the details but the takeaway from that book that always stuck with me was Grace’s nana saying “you can do anything you set your mind to.” And for as far back as my memory serves, I have done just that. In grade school I wanted to play basketball but there was only a boys’ team, so I was one of the founders of my school’s first middle school basketball team for girls. When it came time to pick a college, certain people in my life – very important ones – told me that passing on a scholarship to a nationally ranked, predominantly white university in order to go to a historically black college (regardless of its preeminence in that sphere) would be a mistake; but, I trusted that the way I felt when I walked on Spelman’s campus was indicative of a life-changing experience that I wouldn’t ever get otherwise, and I was right. And when I decided to apply to Columbia Law School knowing that the likelihood of getting in was slim, not one bone in my body hesitated.

So why, as my 30th birthday inches closer and closer, has the overarching theme in my life as of late been to avoid any form of risk-taking? If nothing else, the last 20 years should be proof enough that “I can do anything I set my mind to.” Yet somehow every time a hard decision comes up about my career, my relationships, my dreams and desires, I let the parade of terribles reign over my mind to such an extent that I literally become paralyzed – afraid to move forward or backwards, just stuck wherever I am. Thinking about that made me recall the sermon I had listened to earlier this morning.

Yes, I was bedside-Baptist today and watched a sermon that my pastor in New York gave last week instead of going to a church here in Atlanta. So I re-watched it and, you guessed it, I got my answer.  Pastor Mike asked us: “can you let go of the life you planned for the life that’s waiting for you?” He said that when you “lean in to new beginnings it’s not about whether you can chart the course or craft the script, it’s whether you can lean into a space where the only thing you’re sure of is that this space is inhabited by God.” He went on to say:

“I know there’s a part of you who cannot handle that because you need to know, you have to understand. You wish that God had a way of telling you the story before it began… But here’s the good thing, what God gives you to get you started has nothing to do with the journey or the destination, it has to do with you trusting in God’s presence…to begin your new journey!” [See the full sermon here]

And I can’t deny it, Pastor is right. I’m paralyzed because the ideas in my head and the dreams that fill my heart, are not the life I planned for myself. It’s easy to take risks when you have the world at your fingertips, but when you start to get settled into a comfortable lifestyle and start feeling the benefits of years of hard work and sweat, it’s hard to think about sacrificing it all for a plan that may not work. I did everything I said I would do, got to where I wanted to get to, and now I’m supposed to just give it all up? What if it doesn’t work? What if I lose everything I’ve worked for and can’t get it back? For some, the question might be what if I lose him? What if I end up alone? But what I realized today is the part I was forgetting to remember is that I know who I am. That no matter what comes my way, I have a strong will, a strong support system, and a strong faith in God and in myself.

They say we are born fearless and only develop apprehension over time as we experience the world. As we mature from children to adults, life’s lessons help develop our consciousness but can also cripple us if we let them. So I choose today to not only trust in God and the desires that God placed within me, but to remember to trust in myself. To trust that I can do all things I set my mind to… especially if they scare me.

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How much trust do you have in God?

This past Sunday, I was proud of myself for getting up and out bright and early to try a new church. As many of you know I moved to Atlanta a few months ago, but what you probably don’t know is that I have yet to find a space that is as fulfilling as my home church, First Corinthian Baptist Church in Harlem, NYC. So, with a new recommendation in-hand, I was excited to try out this potential church – even if it was a 45 minute drive. As I told my friend the night before (in my best southern accent): “I’ll travel for a good Word, now.” However, to make a long story short, I did not have the name of the church completely right, and I ended up being what seemed like the only American-born African-American in the room. Part of the service was even in another language! I was very uncomfortable and wanted to run out immediately after I realized the situation. But it was too late – the way the rows were set up, I’d have to make the entire row of 30 or so people get up to let me out. So I took a deep breath, and thought to myself: you’re here now, might as well give it a chance. And I kid you not, the very next song that the choir sang was one of my favorites (I’m Chasing After You) so I was up out of my seat dancing and praising just like I would back at FCBC.

Then, when the guest preacher came up, one of the first things out of his mouth was “I believe each and every one of you is here for a reason.” And when I tell you that hit my soul like a baseball bat, chile! I was no longer focused on finding the exit, and instead was focused on hearing the Word – and I was not disappointed. I failed to write down the scripture, but the message was basically if you’ve given it to God, then let God have it. There’s no point in stressing about it, dwelling in it, or talking it to death. God said, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10). And that Word was on [pause for dramatic effect] time! I had been stressing like crazy the past few days because I knew that the coming Friday would be the day that I found out whether or not I passed the Georgia bar exam. Normally I don’t stress about things like that because I try to go into them well prepared, but that was not the case this time. While studying for the test, I had been working full time while also trying to explore and enjoy life in a new city, balance the demands of being in a long-distance relationship and fit in opportunities for much-desired time with my nieces and nephews. So when I sat for the test and the very first question stumped me, I knew it would be a long road to the finish line. I kept my head up and finished as best I could, but “as best I could” was different than “my best” – so I’ve been quietly panicking inside ever since. I prayed before and after the test, but was beating myself up because to some extent the blame was on me for not making studying the priority it needed to be – and if I didn’t pass I knew I wouldn’t be able to blame anyone but myself. Still, I prayed. And prayed. And prayed some more. Because I was still stressing about it.

Then the last nail was placed in the coffin…The preacher said that what confused him the most was that we are so willing to put our trust in other people yet not willing to have any trust in God. He said “think about it, every time you step foot on an airplane you are literally and physically putting your life in the hands of another person – and it’s normally a person you don’t know and haven’t even seen.” With that, I was on my feet. Anyone who knows me knows that whenever I take a flight, I’m sleep before the flight attendants even give the safety instructions and I don’t wake up until I feel the wheels hit the ground. So how is it that I am so willing to load onto a man-made machine, walk past a closed-door cockpit without questioning who is behind the controls, settle into my seat and fall asleep (i.e., the ultimate sign of trust and relaxation) without questioning for a second that I will get safely to my destination, yet stress about what God has in store for my life? The same God who promised never to harm me but to see me prosper.

My head was spinning! I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how to find the peace that God desired of me. Then, like clockwork, the preacher reminded us that God is always with us. He told us that often times when we feel like God has abandoned us, God isn’t the one who pulled away – it was us. And that made perfect sense given my personal situation. Ever since I moved to Atlanta, I haven’t been going to church, I haven’t been going to bible study, I haven’t been praying and communicating with God like I used to. I am the one who pulled away. And then I wonder why I don’t feel his protection? I haven’t been holding up my end of the bargain! To find the peace I was looking for (and that God wants for me), I needed a way to rebuild my relationship with God. I needed to commune with God again. I needed to ask God to guide my feet and learn to trust again in where the Spirit leads me. I needed to board God’s flight.

During the church announcements it was mentioned that the church was planning to fast during the coming week and to meet periodically for communal prayer. So I decided I would also fast that week, and try to figure out a way to replace food with spiritual nourishment. I hoped to rejuvenate my relationship with God, find the peace my spirit desired and perhaps learn a little bit about the path God wants me to be on. So on my 45-minute drive back into the city, I called my health-conscious, vegan sister and we figured out a game plan for my 5-day fast. I was nervous but excited at the same time!

She wasn’t quite convinced that I could do it, though. She knows that I have no self-control when it comes to food – I want what I want when I want it. She said, “plus you literally get hangry. Imagine if you can’t eat for 5 days. You have coworkers and a new puppy to think about! They are going to meet a side of you they may not want to meet.” And she wasn’t wrong. This was absolutely going to be one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, but I reminded her that fasting is about sacrifice. If I want God to move in my life, I have to be willing to sacrifice something to get there. So she wished me luck and I pulled into Target for supplies… excited to board my flight with God.

Coincidence? Nah.

I am a firm believer of divine intervention. I believe that a divine being walks with me always, and has the power to shape events and circumstances around me. Over the last few years in particular I’ve noticed things just happening (or not happening) for me when it could have just as easily gone the other way. Some might call it luck, some might say coincidence. But as philosopher, Théophile Gautier, once said, “Chance is perhaps the pseudonym of God when He does not want to sign.”

As you know, I live in New York City – the city that seems to consist of 1 million married people and 7 million singles – and a few years ago, after trying every dating app ever created, I gave up on the whole idea of finding love in this City. I relegated myself to accepting that I’ll probably be single forever. But then fast forward to this past February, when a very good friend of mine decided on a whim to celebrate her birthday by hosting a small get together at her apartment. Let me set the stage for you: I, the workaholic home-body, received a text message in the early afternoon of a Wednesday telling me to come out that night for some Hennessy and chicken (yes, she’s ratchet and I love her for it)… So as you can probably guess, my initial reaction was that there’s no way I’ll get off work in time, and then I thought that even if I did– Hennessey? On a Wednesday night? I would absolutely regret that decision in the morning. But then, by some quirk of fate (as the saying goes), I looked at the clock around 4pm and realized I had nothing else to work on. I killed another hour or so waiting to see if any work would come in, but it ended up being quiet for the rest of the day. Even to the point that I was concerned that I actually wouldn’t even have anything to work on the next day, either! So I had no excuse not to go anymore – I left work, went home to get cute, and headed to the party.

Long-story-short, the next weekend I was on a date with a young fellow who was also in attendance at her party. He had great energy, held my interest, could make me laugh and just made me feel like me! Our connection was effortless. But, the crazy part is that he didn’t really meet any of my other requirements for men. If you’re curious what I’m talking about, take a quick look at my prior post, “Glitter vs Gold”). So, honestly, as much as I enjoyed being around him, I struggled with taking this thing – whatever it was becoming – seriously. If he isn’t who I would have normally gone for, and isn’t who other people would expect for me, why am I even wasting my time? We could kick it, but I refused to believe it would turn into anything worth talking about. I brushed it off to friends and even to him, so much so that everyone around me was literally confused by how misaligned my actions and my words were when it came to him.

Then a few months later I went on a pretty amazing vacation to Greece with my sister, my cousin and the same girl who had celebrated her birthday that night, and while sitting at a local Athenian restaurant eating some pretty amazing calamari and drinking a lot of free wine, they broke me. They saw right through the front of “oh we’re just friends” and the denial that I wanted anything more. By being forced to look them in the eye, a mirror was held up to my face for the first time. And to make matters worse, it happened to be only the first day of a two week vacation so there was nowhere to hide… Ultimately, they made me realize that for some unexplainable reason, I really like being around him and the way he makes me feel, and that I don’t need to justify him (or us) to anyone – including myself. So the day after I got back from Greece, I got a boyfriend.

But just because the label changes doesn’t mean that the concerns immediately go away. I still find myself periodically looking at things he does or says or situations he and I find ourselves in and thinking to myself, “this is why it will never work.” And today happened to be one of those days.  We took a quick road trip Upstate to go apple-picking. He had done a few things the night before (that I was still harping on) and then he dropped another tidbit of information on me that morning, so I was all in my feelings as we made the drive.  Plus, I had been fighting a migraine all morning, probably from stressing over the idea that just as we were starting to go public it was already falling apart. But then God…

We had been riding in silence for a little while as I tried to Zen out and let the aspirin kick in.  The only sound in the car was the music. He had no idea of the things that had been running through my mind all morning, but knew I had a headache so he, too, was quiet and just vibing to the music as he drove. My eyes were closed as I tried to will my headache to go away, so when the song came on I was forced to really listen to the words.

“Come mess with a real one;

You’re one in a million;

Don’t let a lot of people in, but you get admission;

And I don’t let my walls down, but I see us building;

And you ain’t a feeling,”

I had to open my eyes and see what song it was! The screen on the radio just said “H.E.R. Vol. 1” and showed the title of the song as “Facts.” I asked him who the singer was and he said, “no one knows! The artist just dropped a project under the name H.E.R. and no one knows who it is.” He showed me the album cover and it was simply a silhouette of woman – no picture of her face. So I closed my eyes back, and kept listening (you can listen to it on SoundCloud by clicking here):

Just the beginning;

It don’t get no better;

As long as you hold me down, I’ll be up for whatever;

And I love the way you look at me, ‘cause I see forever;

Was ready before but I want you now more than ever;

You make me want to put my phone down;

When we’re alone, I want to zone out;

Baby, with you, I ain’t got no doubts;

I’m just trying to let you know now;

Facts;

You were the one I was missing;

The opposite of fiction;

And that’s facts;

Ooh, it’s a given;

I don’t care ’bout opinions;

And that’s facts; Facts;

And that’s facts; You were the one I was missing…”

Now, some of you might say it’s coincidence. Some might even say he intentionally put that song on (which he didn’t; he was just playing the album). But regardless of why it was played, that was exactly what I needed to hear at that exact moment. It was immediately my reminder that none of that other stuff matters. A reminder that we’re building something here, even if I don’t know what exactly that is yet. And I don’t know about you, but I believe that only God could have orchestrated giving me what I needed exactly at the moment I needed it.  The very next day at church my Pastor spoke about being available for God’s grace and how so many of us are unable to see the possibilities and opportunities in our lives because we are fixated on the challenge in front of us. Staying in your comfort zone will not get you to your greatness.

So although I am still bothered by the things I’m bothered by (which I ultimately did speak to him about), the difference now is that I am not drastically equating it with being the end-all-be-all of our relationship. My faith in God, and the fact that He walks with me always, brought me back to what’s important—it put me back on the path I believe I’m supposed to be on.

And this was just one example. I could probably write a book with how often this happens to me! Whether it’s clearing my schedule so I can be at the right place at the right time, trapping me in a foreign country so I can work through my issues undistracted, or even as simple as playing a song that says just the right words, I know that there’s something bigger than me at play. And evidence that God will intercede on my behalf is all the reassurance I need to go after the things I want in life.

Give and Take

Bundled on the couch under a cover,

As the sounds of a classic black film hover.

 

“I’m a giver,” he explains.

Comforting her with his good-guy ways.

And all she could think is, “I’m the taker.

This will never work; he’ll get fed up sooner or later.”

 

But haven’t I earned it, though?

The right to think of me and me alone?

 

For once, this late-twenty-something is doing things her way.

The rule book is gone, and she’s calling the plays.

She wants what she wants when she wants it,

With neither apology nor a care for consequences.

 

So what does that mean for mystery man?

All she can do is be honest and hope he’ll understand.

 

Understand that he found her half way down a path of discovery,

And she owes it to herself to finish the journey.

Right now the priority is finding her voice, her passion.

Sitting on Her Lenox Stoop is her idea of perfection.

 

She has to enjoy this period of being in the selfish club,

Especially since the blink of an eye is what they’ve all warned her of.

 

So she smiles, and takes…

And hopes that he’s guarded himself against any possible heartache.

 

 

The World is Her Oyster

About two weeks ago I was on a pretty epic and much needed vacay. First stop was Miami. Some girlfriends and I spent 5 gloriously drunken days in one of my favorite U.S. cities.  Point of the trip?  Just because.  Our days were filled with pool parties, brunches and South Beach lounging while our nights had a life of their own, consisting of bottle service at the iconic LIV on Sundays where we found ourselves in the midst of a spontaneous Lil’ Wayne concert, watching the sun come up while eating steak and eggs, an interesting-to-say-the-least night at King of Diamonds and a surprisingly lit bar hopping experience in the Art-Deco district.  Even when we spent one morning on a boat riding around Star Island recovering from hangovers, somehow mimosas and Beyoncé twerk sessions were still involved.  I felt like I was 21 again, partying all night and relaxing all day – not a care in the world.

The next stop was Atlanta for a bachelorette weekend… And rumor has it that the first night ended with me letting an armed police officer at Waffle House know that I was an officer of the court, so you already know that there was an extremely high level of intoxication involved and an equally high sense of feeling carefree (maybe even too much of both).  And even though I was completely exhausted when I returned to New York, I also felt thoroughly rejuvenated.  I was inspired to pick up some hobbies that I had let fall to the wayside, and I decided to bite the bullet and splurge on a trip out to LA to celebrate a friend’s “flirty thirty” weekend that is scheduled to take place in a few weeks.  I had had such a great time during my travels that I wanted it all to just keep on going.

But then that first week back to work was a complete 180-degree turn. It was back to the life of conference calls and meetings, reports and deadlines. I was up bright and early to mix and mingle with clients at a breakfast panel one morning and stayed late to finish reviewing a draft joint venture agreement.  The only remnants left of my glorious days of freedom were my hairstyle and skin tone: Senegalese twists flowing down my back and milk chocolate skin freshly sun-kissed with the tan lines to prove it.

Luckily, my firm is great in that I didn’t have to deal with weird looks or sly innuendos about the new look, and even the few co-workers who follow me on social media praised me for having what they could tell was an amazing time off.  I obviously didn’t give all of the juicy details to my bosses but had no shame in letting them know that I was largely drunk the entire time I was away, and most of them just laughed and told me they were glad I had fun.  So albeit a different environment and not as carefree, I was still me; not hiding or trying to conform to what I thought people expected of me – and it was OK.

I found an old post from about 3 years ago, where I described myself as a chameleon, writing:

“I’m blessed to be able to blend well in many settings. But, I am so busy changing red, and blue, and purple that sometimes I feel like I don’t even know what my true color is…”

And as I thought about writing this, that post just kept popping into my mind. Was I the real me when I was inappropriately intoxicated at Waffle House?  Or am I the real me when I’m going back and forth with opposing counsel about the sunset provision of an environmental indemnity agreement?  Is the real Marissa the person who spends her weekends binge watching trashy TV, or the person who volunteers at the local community center on Saturdays to host economic empowerment workshops?  Is she meant to be a lawyer, or is she the hat maker? I thought she was a writer? No, she’s a photographer, right?

Despite my chameleon complex, I am learning that I am all of those things wrapped up in one. The serious, intelligent lawyer can also be the idiotic drunken girl sometimes, or the creative writer. I can be the lazy girl who sits in her pajamas all day or I can museum-hop around New York City for fun.  This Marissa does not like to be boxed into certain stereotypes or categories; I am everything you expect me to be and everything you don’t.  So whenever someone thinks they have me pegged, I just laugh and sharpen my oyster knife…

Finding My Magic

I’ve always thought “Black Girls Rock” and “Black Girl Magic” were cute phrases and catchy hashtags, but never really took them seriously. Don’t get me wrong, I do think Black women are freaking rock stars and that we have an unexplainable magic when we put our minds to something; however, I didn’t and don’t necessarily expect them to invoke any meaningful change. Rather I see them more as an ode to ourselves – our way of supporting ourselves and the people who look like us because no one else is going to. But something about sitting and watching the entire Black Girls Rock award show the other night actually did remind me of my own spark to do better – to be better.

I’ve been struggling with finding my passion for a few years now.  First, I wanted to learn to play guitar and write music, then I was convinced I should be a milliner and change the world one big-headed hat at a time.  I had a stint in economic empowerment where I brought in financial experts to offer trainings to low- and middle-class black folks in Harlem, I’ve helped promote black owned businesses by creating an Instagram page focused on just that and I’ve dabbled in photography. And now, as you can see, my passion project is blogging to work through my own personal stuff (and hopefully help someone else along the way).  But really, if I’m honest with myself, I’ve been struggling with this my entire life.

The earliest career goal of mine that I can remember was to be a teacher. I was all about it and at the age of about 8 or 9 I even started tutoring younger kids. I prepared lesson plans and made worksheets for them to practice their writing and simple math problems – you couldn’t tell me I wasn’t already “Ms. Coleman, kindergarten teacher.” But that eventually morphed into wanting to be a writer, then a doctor, then a sports agent and eventually I settled on being an attorney.

One thing you’ve probably noticed about my back-story is that none of my supposed “interests” have anything in common!  Hence, my enrollment in a liberal arts college… I think I knew, at least subconsciously, that I needed time to figure it out. I started college as a political science major, but I quickly ruled that out when I realized I have no patience for politics.  I was required to take courses in the sciences, humanities, in the arts and in business. Having no idea what my major should be, I appreciated the diversity of courses.

My advisor/mentor at Spelman, Dean Baxter, had also been my English 101 professor and suggested that I switch my major to English. I had always loved reading and writing (remember, at one point I even wanted to be a writer) so I made the switch, and the rest is history. Not only did we explore Shakespeare, Dickens and Wharton, but I was exposed to Hurston, Baldwin, Toomer and Ellison. I fell in love with reading again and learned so much about myself in the process. But even then, my heart didn’t skip a beat at the thought of pursuing writing creatively on my own. I had made up my mind to be an attorney at that point so that was my passion — or so I thought.

See, I envy people who wake up every morning and chase after dreams of acting or singing or becoming a doctor or teacher. People who know what their calling is and have no choice but to follow it. They remind me of that chant you sing in church when you feel the spirit moving: “I, I’ve got a praise, I’ve got a praise and I’ve gotta get out! I’ve got a praaaaaaaise!!” Like it’s a compulsion and you have no control — all you know is that that thing is what you want to do; is what you have to do.

I don’t have that. I don’t feel like that when it comes to my legal practice. I do like what I do and I think it’s important and impactful in different respects — I just don’t feel like it’s my calling. And what’s worse is that I have no clue what my calling actually is.  But what I do know is that, if nothing else, I’m compelled to keep looking.  I cannot be one of those people who settles into a career she doesn’t love just because it’s what she knows and is good at it.

I watched a TED Talk the other day from Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist who studies “originals”, and he argued that one of the reasons why original thinkers are successful is because they don’t get deterred by bad ideas.  He said that “you need a few bad ideas before you can get to the good ones.”  Those who stop trying after a few failures will never see their full potential… So I’ll keep my day job for now. But I can guaranty that my list of interests/hobbies/passion projects will continue to get longer and more diverse in the interim.

A Different World

By the time they were my age my dad had taken a job with the city of Buffalo and my mom with a local bank, they were married with two children, had two cars and had already bought their first home.  By comparison, right now I am renting an apartment that’s too expensive to be so small and require me to walk up four flights of stairs (but is in a really great Harlem location and has a washer and dryer in the unit, amen), and I’ve been single with little to no prospects for longer than I’m willing to admit in public, and I either walk or rely on the subway, buses and Uber to get me wherever I need to go – but I also brunch frequently, have way too many clothes, and I make it a point to leave the continental U.S. at least once a year.

So what’s the difference? My parents were toddlers as the Jim Crow era came to an end and teenagers when MLK prophesied of his trip to the mountaintop.  They are from a generation where the sting of segregation and institutionalized racism still permeated every aspect of their lives.  I, on the other hand, came into this world in the late ‘80s when all the hard work of prior generations was beginning to show some impact.  Also, by that time my parents were established in their careers and, although not wealthy in any sense of the word, were comfortable in the life they had built.  I had the privilege and pleasure of growing up in the house my father built with his own hands in a middle class neighborhood, went to a magnet high school that was ranked #4 in the nation at the time, and at the age of 20 I saw a Black family move into the White House.  And although I was (and continue to be) very aware of the struggles of being Black and a woman in this country, I was never made to feel inhibited by those labels.  As my favorite author once said, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all” (Zora Neale Hurston, How It Feels to Be Colored Me).

Don’t misunderstand, my parents had strong role models as they grew up and they truly believed that they could do anything that they set their mind to, but they were also taught that they’d have to work twice as hard just to get half as much.  They put themselves through college, and because they had big responsibilities at relatively young ages they weren’t able to take advantage of what they would call the more lavish lifestyle choices I’ve made for myself.  My father was 1 of only 3 Black students in his class at Cornell and my mother ultimately had to switch to night school so she could balance her time working and raising young children. Further, they were raised in a time where the Black “family unit” was an important symbol – it represented stability, civility and, in some ways, protection.  As a result, their focus at my age was doing whatever they had to do in order to build a strong foundation for their family and to give their children the best opportunities for survival.  My primary focus at this point in my life, however, is simply building a strong me

My generation seems, more than any before us, to have moved away from our parents and our hometowns without looking back, and we are instead taking up residence in some of the busiest metropolitan centers of the world. We stand ready to take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself to us as we figure out what exactly we want our lives to ultimately look like – even taking destiny into our own hands at times to create the opportunities we want without concern for how we might be perceived by others.  There are many of us who are indeed buying homes, getting married and settling into the stereotypical “adult life”, but it seems like most late-twenty-somethings these days are still weighing their options, thinking 3 moves ahead before deciding when and where to put down roots.  Even those who maybe never left their hometowns remain hesitant to simply accept the lives their parents had because they can’t seem to shake an internal yearning for more.  We are still exploring ourselves emotionally, creatively, financially, religiously, and professionally.  We are unapologetically selfish and resolved to immerse ourselves in any and every single thing that we so desire without any feeling of shame, remorse or inadequacy.

We, Black and Brown Millennials, have the audacity to throw on blinders as we consider that job promotion, career move or new business idea such that the issues of whether we want to be in a serious relationship, get married or have kids become secondary (and sometimes tertiary) concerns.  We are too busy dropping a few thousand on that trip to Phuket or Dubai to think about if it’s the right time to own rather than rent our homes. We aren’t spending time researching which are the best school districts to live in because we are researching best brunch spots instead.  Some may call it naïveté or recklessness, but I choose to see it as the freedom to find my happiness. And not my happiness as a “Black woman,” but rather my happiness as Marissa Coleman.

And while my maternal clock does often cause me to compare my life to what my parents had at this same age, what I’ve realized is that I have something my parents didn’t: the luxury of time and the autonomy it fosters.  Today, people are living longer and having kids later in life so I can take this time to leisurely weigh career goals, travel prospects and ideal proximity to family and friends.  I don’t have any major responsibilities or external pressures influencing what I do with my life or when I should do it, and that’s a freedom that I am now learning to appreciate.

So although I envy what my parents had and continue to have (they’ve been married for 42 years, talk about pressure!), I really wouldn’t change a single aspect of my life so far.  I’ve been blessed with opportunities that my parents and grandparents prayed I’d one day have, and I am going to do everything in my power not to let their sacrifices be in vain. Besides, they love being able to come visit me in “the big city”, and they view it as their opportunity to try restaurants they’ve seen on TV, visit the Schomburg and shop for vintage furniture in Brooklyn.  Between NYC and visiting my brothers in Atlanta, they now have places to go and things to do.  And my brothers have already given them grandchildren so they seem content to let me be for now…

Promised Land

On a cold Sunday evening in January I was walking home from a meeting with a fellow board member of the NY chapter of Spelman’s alumnae association and we were casually chatting, catching each other up on life since we last spoke. We talked about family and love lives and had the inevitable “state-of-the-career” conversation.

As a late twenty-something woman, one theme that seems to be recurring most amongst myself and my peers is a yearning to figure out what we’re going to do with the rest of our lives.  But I don’t mean that in a panicked, soon to be college graduate kind of way which breeds anxiety and uncharted stress levels about the first move in a chess game – we’ve been there, done that already. Rather, our existentialism is in an “I’ve done everything I said I would do, I’ve made it but it doesn’t feel right” kind of way.

We’ve gone to medical school and business school, we’ve worked elbow-to-elbow with top executives and industry big shots, we’ve earned M.A.’s, J.D.’s and D.D.S’s, we are in residencies, at top firms and Fortune 500 companies – yet something feels off. Something is missing.

At this age we had expected to be like those cool older cousins who at family reunions would awe us with their life experiences, fly clothes and deep conversation. We hoped we would feel like Carrie Bradshaw living a fabulous life of partying with celebs and having an epic love story.  We thought making good money and driving nice cars was the end-all and be-all.  Yet, for many of us, the grass doesn’t seem much greener on this side of things.  We’ve taken to finding hobbies, starting businesses, traveling the world, and writing blogs as our outlet, our last ditch effort to figure out what is that thing that makes us tick.

And I don’t know about you, but I see my friends getting married, having kids and settling in their “real” lives, and although I am so happy for them the thought of it happening to me comes with mixed feelings. I think to myself, “hurry, quick, figure out what will make you happy because when you have a husband and kids you won’t have time to play this guessing game. Playing Russian roulette with your life is one thing but playing it with theirs will have much bigger consequences.” The pressure of figuring this thing out ASAP is nerve-wrecking.

So what’s my advice to my fellow late twenty-somethings who are yearning for more but not sure how to get to the Promised Land? I’ll let you know when I find out.