One secret to success is the willingness to start again. It is being willing to continually move forward, even when everything inside compels one to stop. If Black women are to continue to progress, we must always be willing to start again. If allies are to support our growth and sustainability, they must continually make space for us to start again. Fresh starts must always be granted.
I have always marveled at how some people are able to make a mistake or suffer a humiliating defeat yet move through the ensuing days as though nothing at all has happened. You have seen these people; their public fall from grace makes everyone cringe but themselves. I am not talking about sociopaths who are disconnected from their adverse impact on others. I am talking about people who can quickly process and rebound from mistakes. I am talking about people who give themselves grace, who ignore the crowd or dominant narratives and commit to move forward, no matter what.
Yet when one looks under the hood, the people who can move forward often have a deep sense of self-efficacy and a supportive crowd around them that compels them to progress.
Unfortunately, I have met several women and people of color for whom the temptation to crumble after a mistake is too great to resist. I have counseled them to think like a politician. I have urged them to be contemplative, but also to do everything in their power to not get stuck. It means modeling the healthiest aspects of politicians who refuse to give up. These leaders can experience a challenge today and issue a new policy platform tomorrow. While some of that is offered in the interest of distracting their constituents from unpleasant situations, some leaders are simply too preoccupied with their goal to be waylaid by a challenge, even if it’s a personal failing. So often I tell the Black women I counsel to take on, for a while, the persona of a privileged leader who would never consider giving up.
Embedded in this advice is one directive for Black women and another for our allies. When we refuse to give up, we find eventual success. When our allies support us and help us move forward, they too help ensure our eventual success. In some cases, redemption is only possible when one moves forward.
This topic can be difficult for Black women and other women of color who have been counseled to appear perfect. When imperfections leak out, as they always will, pain ensues. For so long, we have been asked to live by an unfair rulebook, with guidance such as “Don’t show emotion,” “Don’t let others know they have harmed you,” “Be like white leaders,” etc. For this reason, leaders must view everything, including failure, through lenses of race, class, and gender. What are the messages a leader has received about the people in their employ? In what ways does society disadvantage one group while simultaneously advantaging another? What are a person’s intersecting identities? Are they working-class, poor, Black, Indigenous, a person of color, LGBTQIA, neurodiverse, or a person with a disability? Are they several of these identities at once? When a person has several of these identities, their plight is even more difficult. Leaders must see and account for this.
In a world that minimizes the triumphs of Black women and magnifies our mistakes, rebounding from a bad decision or wrong choice can feel utterly impractical. Yet, survival is often about resistance. Survival is also about who is afforded grace, humanity, and the ability to move forward.
As such, when I counsel readers of my new book First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life to start again, I am urging them to resist the tendency to fall by the wayside. I am urging them to push past the expectations of critics who neither see nor appreciate nuance, who neither see nor appreciate all that they must contend with. I am urging allies of Black women and people of color to do their work so they can indeed become even better allies.
The truth is this: Each of us will suffer losses that seem impossible to overcome. Yet refusing to give up is the only path to longevity and success. Granting grace to others is the path to prolonged progress. In fact, success is only possible when one disregards the insinuation that failure is permanent.
Starting again may require professional assistance such as therapy, counseling, or pastoral support. Depression can make one think that tomorrow will be just like today—that there are no days absent of the pain of today and the agony of yesterday. Proper perspective, self-compassion, and honesty will enable one to continue to move forward and will ensure that others can do the same.
Learn more about First and Only by Jennifer R. Farmer.