I’ve been an overachiever for as long as I can remember. When I was three, I told my parents that I was going to go to college. During fifth grade promotion, I won fifteen out sixteen awards awarded to students that afternoon. To this day, I am disappointed that I did not take home the science award, the one that I wanted the most. Do me a favor. Take a deep breath when you read this next part, and see if you can make it to the end of the paragraph before you need to exhale. You ready?
I was on the honor roll from fourth grade to senior year, I maintained an A grade point average in high school, I ran for student council president, every college I applied to accepted my application. In college I was the vice president of my residence hall, president of the Black Student Union, founded the Diversity Coalition (a collaboration of underrepresented groups on campus), rewrote the college’s first year diversity event for orientation, was accepted into an honor society, won several awards in leadership, outstanding teacher candidacy, and civil rights, took 18 credits nearly every semester, did my internships and student teaching, and worked four jobs to fund my last two years of college: as a baker, an orientation assistant, a student worker at the admissions office, and a phonathon caller.
Exhale. Did you make it?
Take this next paragraph slow. Rest. That’s exactly what I needed to do, but never did. I thought that I was undefeatable accomplishing all of those tasks. I was a hero. I was impressive. I was the woman who could do it all and then some. I was superwoman. But superwoman doesn’t get a break. She doesn’t get help. She doesn’t get rescued. I’m tired of being superwoman. I bet you’re tired too. That’s why I am writing this. Everyday I see Black women accomplishing incredible feats. Everyday we keep this world turning with our strength, resilience, power, voice—our everything. We’re amazing, but we’re not superhuman.
Let me ask you something:
what does superwoman do to relax? No, wait. Better question: how long does superwoman get to relax before it’s time to put out the next fire, stop the next crime, save the next person?
One of my four jobs in college was as a baker. I awoke every morning at 2:00 AM to get to work by 3:00 AM and end my shift at 11:30 AM before I took a nap, went to classes, went to another job, then to sleep, and then repeat. The summer before my senior year of college, the most influential person in my life, my grandma, died. I was at my family home, two hundred miles away from work when my boss called. She told me that someone called out, and I was the only person who she could put on the shift– which I knew was not true–but I took the shift. I ended up crying alone in a grocery store bakery at 4:00 AM trying not to get my tears in the frosting I was using to dip the donuts. I was exhausted, grief-stricken, but I was forgoing my pain to come to someone else’s rescue.
When we label ourselves as superwoman, people expect us to be superwoman. They don’t respond to trouble or pick up the slack. They don’t help because we’ve told them that they don’t have to. And in the end it’s superwoman who gets burnt in that fire, injured stopping that crime, and no appreciation from that person we saved. Superwoman gets exhausted and used.
Let me clarify something: not wanting to be superwoman anymore is not a surrender of greatness, but a journey of self-love. How powerful are we when we’re exhausted? How powerful are we when we are dependent on someone else to make us feel powerful? Many of those accomplishments I listed at the start of this piece do not feel like my accomplishments because I did not do them for me. I was seeking praise and accolades. I wanted to be a hero in others’ eyes– the person to save the day, the person they could depend on: superwoman. I was so busy pleasing and doing for everyone that I did not do much for me.
When we love ourselves, we learn to preserve our energy. Saying no is a superpower.
I wish I could write that I learned my lesson, that I say no and preserve my energy. But I can’t. This is a process, and I am human. Sometimes I continue to act like the superwoman I know I am not, which is why I am currently balancing being a wife, mother to an awesome two year old, being a graduate student, being an educator, running my business Winsults, and having memberships in a slew of other committees and organizations. But I can write that I feel as though my accomplishments are my own. I feel empowered to say no. I feel like I am finally starting to save myself.
So I don’t know about you all, but I am tired of being superwoman. I can’t wait for the day that I can finally hang up my cape, and be just like any other citizen.