The Privilege of Dreaming Big
This is the third and final installment in a series of articles about building strong and supportive communities for professional women of color. Read the first part, The Distorted Mirror of Personality Tests. Read the second part, Rugged Individualism: Alone and Afraid of More.
It’s the new year, so many of us have set goals, made intentions, and listed our dreams. This year, in particular, seems heavy with “dream big” campaigns. Calls to not just be ambitious or daring or bold, but to somehow go beyond our dreams.
Because we all have imaginations, we assume that dreaming big is an equal opportunity endeavor. But what could your individual dreams possibly look like when your ancestors’ dreams of freedom and equality remain unfulfilled?
I realize what a privileged position it is to dream big. How lucky to not be so busy surviving and coping that you have the capacity to dream big. Women of color certainly can dream. But having the support, time, and capacity for the survival of a big dream is a privilege.
My Dream for 2019
My work is deeply tied to women’s dreams—the meaningful careers they imagine, the idea of receiving the compensation they deserve, the access to opportunities, the freedom over their time, and the credibility to show up fully.
One of my goals this year is to work with more women who can out dream me. It’s an ambitious goal because it involves overcoming deep and long legacies that haven’t just diminished our dreams, but our belief that we can dream.
You can learn to dream big. Having a dream for yourself is not an act of fantasy, it merely needs a shred of real belief that your vision is possible.
I see professional women who are stagnant and stuck, killing themselves for whatever someone else decides they’re worth. I want them to be audacious in their careers. But building audacity requires an investment in yourself—your talents, perspective, and options. It requires women to invite people to be members of their team, to let others advocate for them, believe in them, and support them. Most importantly, they have trust that others can see a bit of the road ahead of them.
I know, lifelong trailblazers can find it hard to follow a guide.
Working Harder, Working Alone
Women, especially women of color, are reluctant to invest in themselves. Partly because we have always believed we’re alone. In many ways, we are. Teachers, colleagues, mentors, and bosses have left us out. And if we have someone who does care for us, they don’t always have the resources to help. What we know how to do is survive and work hard. We know how to make it on our own, and we pay our dues in blood, sweat, and tears.
What we don’t see is that no one else is doing it alone. That generations of people inherit their opportunities, are handed support systems, and have never once fathomed having to succeed alone. Political families know this—their children see from birth how a person can rise.
Privilege is knowing from the start that help is available to you. Privilege is a platform for big dreams.
We settle for bootstrap success. And when we achieve it, it’s neither relief nor a joy. It becomes a burden - a hustle - because we believe it is precarious. We are afraid of how quickly it can be lost. We get so busy being grateful for any measure of success that we don’t dare dream of or ask for more. If we do peep at the possibility of more, we instantly wonder who am I to dream for that.
Real Success Takes Investment in You
My clients at Leverage to Lead have taught me more than I could have imagined. I continue to be awed by their advancements and gains, which almost always exceeds what we both thought possible or available. One client went from trying to negotiate a new work contract after coming back from maternity leave to managing a $4 million book of business. She works to build the freedom and independence to work her way. Another client is in negotiations to have the platform she needs for her work to flourish which includes a higher salary to invest in her own development.
These women are coming to understand that they don’t owe it to anyone to work harder for less or maintain other people’s comfort by sacrificing their authenticity. Instead, they see their value. They decided to design their dream career, invest in their vision, and begin working on their own terms. We worked together to hone the skill of leveraging their difference so others could see it too. The value of their difference helps other people see them, believe in them, and invest their credibility to support them.
This is what audacity is all about: building a way for you to do the work you want with the respect, compensation, freedom, and credibility you deserve. And audacity means doing it without killing yourself or reflexively sacrificing your family, autonomy, or integrity.
Dreaming is not Magic
What audacity is not about: some kind of magic. When no one has walked your path before, it’s tempting to think that dreams are created out of some secret potion, when what you really need is pretty concrete. In fact, I wince at the term “black girl magic” because it perpetuates this myth that black women conjure success not plan, work, and invest in it. It is a message of magical bootstrapping and that keeps black women from finding and investing in support. Often the “magic” is learning how to leverage the support of others.
Resist Your Own Resistance
You have to learn how to dream big and understand that big dreams have even bigger support. I get that building a team to support your dreams seems daunting and I know how vulnerable it can feel to trust your dreams to other people. The old mindset says, don’t look to others, just work twice as hard and do it yourself.
Resist the urge to go it alone, using only the strength of your will to advance your career. That will burn you out and limit what you see as possible. Careers are built from the opportunities that come through other people. Success takes a village.
Big dreams are scaffolded by understanding the experiences and seeing the opportunities of other people, they are created by having the capacity to look up and see what else is possible. You won't look up if your plan is to work hard and keep your head down.
Build a big dream by investing in people, add them as crucial team members that teach you how to ask for the help you need. When you learn to do this you will go beyond what you ever thought possible.
Who is on your team?
If you’re not sure where to start? Join me for the Building Audacity Ally Program. Follow this link to learn more about the program or reply to this email to schedule a time to talk about building big dreams together.
Jennifer McClanahan-Flint is an Executive Career Strategist and the founder and CEO of Leverage to Lead. She helps women and people of color build careers with audacity and authenticity. You can subscribe to her newsletter here.