I recently was invited to speak at two primary schools for their career day. The National Theme was, “Expanding Horizons for Vision 2010.” There was never a concern in my mind about what I would speak about. That part would be rather easy.
The work that Habitat for Humanity, the International Non-Governmental Organisation for which I work, is doing in three vulnerable communities in Portmore, St. Catherine, with regards to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), was enough to give me material to share with the students, teachers, parents and other stakeholders. Plus, I am extremely passionate about my job and about our sanitation project.
On the contrary, my preoccupation was about what I look like: What should I wear? How should I wear my hair? Would my long, bleached hair (as a male) offend them in that context? Should I show up with my earrings? Is it professional for me to show up there looking the way that I do?
You see, about a year ago, I made a conscious, deliberate and almost defiant decision to show up as my authentic self, wherever I go. I had all my life been told that I was not quite good enough – that I would be a lot more acceptable if I did this or that. Under that tutelage, I had believed that I was not worthy. And even though in more recent times, part of my mandate has been to affirm worth and build esteem through my #IAMworthy self development programme, I had not yet accepted parts of me as worthy to be presented to my audience. That struck me as me being a hypocrite. Here I was preaching a message of self worth and teaching others the importance of identity and finding clarity in their personal and professional lives but there were areas in my own life where I was not quite measuring up in.
I started, by choosing to show up to work, church, speaking engagements in my earrings and long hair (later on, I bleached the ends). My boss, at the time, looked everyday to see what my hairstyle or hair colour would be and sometimes, it became a conversation starter at many of my speaking engagements. The answers to the questions “How come?” and “why?” always seem to resonate at some level with those individuals and lead to a greater level of self-acceptance and affirmation of WORTH. Suddenly, people feel like they can open up to and share with me.
There have been the flip side too. Me showing up as my authentic self has rewarded me with some unflattering labels. In church, where I was a leader, I have “offended” some, who felt that I was not setting a “good” example, as a leader, to the youth. I certainly understood their location of their perceptions and biases and empathised with them. However, I refused to conform! I reasoned that if for any reason, that you cannot receive my message because of what I look like, then you were NOT my audience to begin with.
Very often, we assume that it is important to fit in. Could it be that where we do not fit is precisely because we should not fit. Could it be that the people we are trying to speak to is not our audience. Could it be that not fitting in is for the greater purpose of drawing those you must reach to you and in so doing live out your purpose? We are so concerned about not interrupting the status quo that we live unfulfilled, purposeless lives.
Needless to say, I showed up as ME – Damien Marcus Williams. My message was received and to my amazement, one conservative looking, elderly lady said to me. I am loving your hair and your personality. In that moment, she blessed me. I had confirmation in my own heart that being a misfit does not mean I do not fit, if I fit comfortably within my own skin.