It was the last segment of the Proud To Be Latina 7th Annual Conference. I was moderating a panel focused on the Pillars of Leadership – one of those pillars was self-care. As we approached the end, I began to feel a low-pressure headache coming on, followed by a tickle in my throat. I excused myself for coughing. Someone gave me a mint. I attributed the feeling to being tired, blaming the previous Saturday night I had broken.
That night, still with a headache but excited about the phenomenal day, I popped two Advil and grabbed the stack of surveys we collected – my head was spinning with ideas for 2018. I was anxiously ready to get started. Instead of resting, I continued reading, fueled by the positive feedback and intrigued by the constructive criticism. The next day I woke up with a slight fever and the throat tickle had elevated to pain.
Because I had things to do, I popped another two Advil and kept moving.
The next day an uncontrollable cough and chest pain led me to urgent care. “Bronchitis,” said the doctor. “Get lots of rest, take the z-pack and use cough syrup as needed.” I did all but rest, continuing to put in 10-hour days, hosting a networking event and crashing from exhaustion each night.
Most of the days that followed my initial diagnosis are a blur – between taking too much cough syrup with codeine and not resting enough, the symptoms continued to get worse. In the midst I decided to take on a career shifting project with a short fuse. It was Tuesday, June 27th, two days before delivery. I was sitting at my desk when suddenly an uncontrollable cough, tingling in my right hand and trouble breathing shocked me. For a moment I thought I was having a stroke.
It didn’t hit me immediately to get help – I was concerned about the deliverable on my desk and concerned I hadn’t done enough to finish the project. A co-worker noticed I wasn’t well and called my old boss who pushed me to get help.
The medical visit resulted in my getting a nebulizer, coupled with a tongue lashing from the doctor, and a strong “what the hell are you thinking” look. She was disappointed that I was unnecessarily pushing myself. I left with a prescription for an inhaler and a diagnosis of walking pneumonia. I slept for nearly 20 hours after that, and missed the final preparation needed to deliver on the project.
I had failed. My opportunity for elevation was gone.
How could I have messed this up? This could have changed everything for me at work.
A friend, who knew about my being sick and the pressures I had been putting on myself, texted me with, “Self compassion please… you are human.” The day after the project failed, she texted again,
“ Human. How are you?”
I was angry, disappointed and frustrated. Yet, her text shifted my thinking: this failure wasn’t the end of anything. It certainly didn’t dismiss my accomplishments, even if I temporarily thought it was the end of the world.
Instead, it was the thing that finally stopped me in my tracks and forced me to reevaluate because I had forgotten to be human.
I had forgotten that everyone has a breaking point, a failure or a disappointment.
I had also forgotten that the human body has limits, and cannot be continuously pushed when it is fighting to heal.
Often, the bars and expectations we set for ourselves aren’t as high as they need to be.
When we hear terms like, “like a boss”, “doing it all”, and “having it all” we assume that we need to embrace those labels to fit into society’s box or to confirm (to ourselves) that we are on the right path.
If you are a working mother, it highlights more of the misconception that we need to be great moms who are on top of it all, while being perfect companions, perfect best friends, community leaders, and women who have it all together.
In the midst of this, we also need to keep clean homes, happy partners and fit bodies, as well as perfect hair and manicured hands.
If you are like me, the only Latina at my level in my area, the pressure is even greater. My success isn’t just for me – I’m responsible for the Latinos/as and POCs before me who didn’t make it, as well as those for whom I am paving the way.
What kind of role model can I possibly be if I am messing up?
That responsibility has been set by me alone, not mandated by anyone else, and I carry that responsibility every day.
I’ve consistently heard women use the term, “I f’ed up”, and men use, “I had a bad day” for the same type of failure. Or women stay in the failure wondering what more they could have done, and profusely apologize, while men attribute the failure to “it just not being the right time” and fault the other side (this is based on my experience).
In hindsight, I recognize all of this was a lot to carry. The sickness was heavy on its own, as was the project I should have postponed. I recognized that it wasn’t the project itself that was overwhelming but all that I had attached to it that made it feel so.
I had to remind myself that we are responsible for ourselves first before we can be responsible for others.
It’s taken a few days of stillness and focusing on the basics – food, rest and love – to get better.
Slowly my body is recuperating and with it, my ability to think clearly. I’ve decided to forego the self tongue lashing and the continuous torture of wondering what I had done wrong.
I’ve had to admit this was not some little cold, and I am grateful that the illness didn’t elevate to something worse. I’m also grateful for the stern doctor and my friend T, who reminded me that the cape sometimes needs to come off to be washed or hung up temporarily.
Sometimes we need no cape at all.
I share this post because I think constantly about surface success. People only see what you write on your profile, what your job title is and what your accomplishments have been.
Seldom do they ask about the working machine that sustains struggle, lack of sleep, failure, disappointment, insecurities, ailing relatives, sickness and more.
Seldom do people recognize that outside of that title and those accolades are real life problems, and that we have to be human every single day. I had to stop and recognize that about myself, and for myself.
Just as I tell the speakers who grace the Proud To Be Latina conference stage to share more about their failures and setbacks, I too need to share that success comes with sacrifice – some that just is and some which is self-created.
Yesterday, I communicated to our photographer that we had to postpone the session for the release of Latina Executive magazine so I can focus on self-care. He was understanding and replied, “Health first. You always have to take care of the future you.”
As we continue to effect change in the world and leave this place better than we found it, we have to remember to be human, because when we are, there is a healthy future for ourselves, and others.
When have you forgotten to be human?