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What validates you?

Since last week, the words of one of my favorite Peloton instructors, Alex Toussaint, have been top of mind: "Validate your greatness."

Usually, I'm thinking it during my virtual spinning classes, as Alex is shouting it, urging us to crank up the resistance and the speed, despite the protests of my almost middle-aged knees (BTW, if you're a member of the Pelo fam, you can find me @BlackStarSwag 🚴🏿‍♀️).

But this week, "validate your greatness" has come to mind every time I've thought about Nikole Hannah-Jones.

By now, you may be familiar with Hannah-Jones, an African-American investigative journalist. Described as "The Beyoncé of Journalism," among other accolades, she has won a MacArthur "genius grant," a Peabody Award, and a Pulitzer Prize. Along with her reporting on American school segregation, Hannah-Jones is perhaps best known for her conception and leadership of the New York Times's 1619 Project, a sweeping examination of US slavery and its contemporary effects.

Whether you agree with its findings on the lasting effects of slavery and contemporary inequality in America or not, the work is paradigm-shifting. It has created a new framework to engage with race in the US, which is why there has been so much opposition to it.

But even opposition can be a sign of impact. Nikole Hannah-Jones is widely regarded as a force to be reckoned with. She's made an indelible contribution to American society and has the receipts to prove it.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

This is why the decision by the University of North Carolina to rescind Hannah-Jones's tenure offer last week was such a shocker. Her credentials, and the fact that, historically, occupants of the Knight Chair in Race and Investigative Journalism, to which she has been appointed, all received tenure, made this decision suspect, to say the least.

The move is widely regarded as beyond the usual vagaries of the tenure process. It has been denounced as racist, politically motivated, and a bow to white supremacy by Hannah-Jones's supporters and detractors alike. In other words, issa mess.️

As the news broke, I found myself thinking about Hannah-Jones, who I don't know personally but whose work I appreciate and who I wouldn't mind having a long lazy brunch with someday (if you know somebody who knows somebody, thanks in advance!). I wished two things for her.

  • The first is that she has a squad that showed up (with a copious amount of wine) to mourn, strategize, and celebrate her as a person.

  • The second is that apart from any external recognition, Hannah-Jones daily validates her own greatness.

These are two things that I hope for us all: community and self-validation.

Every day, I have the privilege of working with brilliant, talented people—mainly women of color—who are trying to move to the next level professionally. That may mean getting a promotion, a well-deserved raise, or leading a high-profile project. Sometimes, they come to work with me because that "success" has eluded them, not because they're unqualified, but for reasons beyond their control.

While missing our goals is disappointing, it can become debilitating when we look to external sources to affirm and validate ourselves. Sometimes we want these accolades in the form of verbal affirmation from parents, peers who celebrate us, a workplace that raises our salary, a new title, or an industry accolade.

It can be wonderful when our work and contributions are publicly acknowledged and celebrated. Sometimes those accolades can help open doors and make things a bit easier, especially when we come from communities or have identities that are marginalized.

Those outward forms of validation can sometimes get us an audience where we wouldn't have had one before, they can serve as encouragement in moments of doubt. But they are not everything, and let's be frank: sometimes, their allocation isn't fair. Especially when your work, or your very identity, challenges norms and questions the status quo.

The truth is you can have no accolades and be passed over for your first one, or you can repeatedly be acknowledged as the most decorated journalist of your generation and still be denied.

This is why it's critical to define success for ourselves and to validate our own greatness. In the words of Maya Angelou, "Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it."

For me, this definition of success, combined with the knowledge that I'm making a difference in other women's lives, and that I have a loving supportive community that will bring wine in moments of distress, is what I strive for daily.

This is what validates my greatness.

How do you validate yours?


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