Fluorescent lights hung low overhead, dimly illuminating the hollow staircase Olyvia had come to know so well. An exasperated sigh escaped her lips as she peered up through a curtain of curls to set eyes on the number three. Dropping her head in defeat, she sucked in a deep breath before ascending the remaining three floors, each making her question her attempts at healthy choices.
At first, committing to climb six flights of stairs each day was easy, dare she say inspirational. It was the perfect way to tally her steps and get her blood pumping. What was once considered a hearty ritual had now transformed into another reason to detest going into the office.
A gust of wind cooled her prickly, sweaty forehead as she rounded the corner of the sixth floor. Her ragged breath began to slow as she walked down the wooden hallway that stretched into the Art Department. Olyvia tossed her bag onto her desk and took another deep breath. She listened for sounds of life in the office – the shrieking espresso machine revitalizing a decaffeinated creative or the faint melody of Sharon Van Etten Spotify radio to soothe her coworker Devon’s biting anxiety – but she heard nothing except the dull hum of the HVAC.
Early mornings at work were Olyvia’s secret pleasure. She’d never admit she found comfort in the stillness the office provided long before her coworkers began to file in, stirring up the peaceful air. The time gave her the freedom to ground herself and mentally prepare for the day. She thought back to how she used to shrink herself to try and fit in. Masking was a habit, as it usually was for most Black women in the workplace.
Olyvia was familiar with toggling between a selection of personalities equipped to delight even the grimmest of execs. She would morph into whatever version of herself was necessary to survive. She lost track of the number of times she fried her hair in the hopes of achieving the cleanest headshot photo or the corporate jargon she integrated into her vocabulary as a surefire way to blend in. Olyvia tensed at the thought of how distant she became from herself during this severely draining, constant act.
She thought back to how she used to shrink herself to try and fit in. Masking was a habit, as it usually was for most Black women in the workplace.
It was impossible to ignore the density of her hair that changed shape with the seasons or hide the scrutiny in her eyebrows that scrunched at every performative diversity, equity, and inclusion initiative a middle-aged white executive thought was “out of the box.” Some days it felt like her body was wanted in the room, but not her voice. Like she was a walking statistic instead of a real human being. It was exhausting, and Olyvia had finally decided to revolt.
She rejected the notion that she couldn’t show up to work as her authentic self. She promised herself that no matter the job title she possessed, the work environment she navigated, or which nuanced office politics were thrown at her, she’d release all expectations of who she thought she should be and focus on living in her truth. She embraced her curls, her fierce opinions, and took pride in her boldness. It was as if her personal acceptance unlocked the floodgates of her creativity.
Olyvia figured if an employer only liked the idea of turning her into someone that made them money, then the opportunity was not for her. She wasn’t responsible for making people comfortable with who she was. In fact, she enjoyed disrupting spaces with her booming laugh and inquisitive perspective. She believed moving through the world this way made her a force to be reckoned with.
She rejected the notion that she couldn’t show up to work as her authentic self… It was as if her personal acceptance unlocked the floodgates of her creativity.
She felt better at work when she embraced all parts of herself. She wore color and flaunted the tapestry inked in her skin that told stories of where she had been. She harnessed her personal outlook that was grounded in the lived experience of all of her identities as fuel. Her differences were an asset, not a liability.
She reached into her purse to grab her holy grail lipgloss, Fenty Heat. Convinced this over-priced shiny goo supercharged her girl-boss energy, she never left home without it. Forget about a furry friend. This gloss bomb provided all the emotional support she needed.
Olyvia broke into a wide, toothy grin. Today is going to be a good day, she thought. She winked at her glowing reflection mirrored through the monitor screen, basking in the confidence that radiated within her. Her lips curled into a smirk at the thought of how far she’d come.
She bounced up from her chair with newfound energy and a steady heartbeat. Just then, Devon strolled past her desk. “Looking good, Liv!” Her smile grew wider as she danced to the kitchen for a cup of cold brew. She hadn’t even taken a sip of caffeine and already felt jittery with excitement to get a jump start on a new project. Certain her sole approach would enlighten the piece, she felt confident to tackle the work ahead.
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