First. Only. Different. – FOD
Shonda Rhimes creator of all of your favorite Thursday night shows on ABC brought this concept to my attention while I was reading her book “Year of Yes”. Shonda is the first woman to create three hit shows with more than 100 episodes each and certainly she’s the first African American woman to do so.
First. Only. Different.
I say “introduced” but really she just put into words what had become my life’s path.
I’ve been living a life of First.Only.Different for the past almost 35 years. My birthday is on April 3rd (hint hint). Here are a few examples…
I’m a first generation college student.
I’m the first African-American honor initiate of Delta Delta Delta Fraternity.
I was the only woman who lived in Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity House for 2 years in graduate school.
I was the only African American woman who lived on my first-year hall in college.
Oh, and I’m the first African American president of the Junior League of Nashville.
First. Only. Different. I’m a FOD just like Shonda and that my friends is great company to keep.
Now, often being first is something to celebrate. We celebrate FIRSTS in truly spectacular ways and TIME Magazine even published an incredible visual platform of women FIRSTS in 2017. Being the FIRST is thrilling.
Being the FIRST. Being the Only. Being Different. Is also hard. It comes with an enormous amount of assumed and real pressure and stress.
F.O.D quote on screen…
“I am what I have come to call a F.O.D. – a First. Only. Different. We are a very select club, but there are more of us out there than you think. We know one another on sight. We all have that same weary look in our eyes. The one that wishes people would stop thinking it remarkable that we can be great at what we do while being black, while Asian, while a woman, while Latino, while gay, while a paraplegic, and while deaf. But when you’re a F.O.D., you are saddled with that burden of extra responsibility whether you like it or not.”
Because here is what happens when you’re a FIRST. You realize that what you’ve accomplished isn’t really just about you. It’s about the group of people that you represent.
Shonda later goes on to state, “…”I was not about to make a mistake now. You don’t get second chances. Not when you’re a F.O.D. Second chances are for future generations. That is what you are building when you are an F.O.D. Second chances for the ones who come behind you.”
My job as a FIRST is to work hard to guarantee that there will be a SECOND. If I mess up, I don’t just mess it up for me. I mess it up for ALL of US.
Try carrying that around on your back day in and day out!
The same dynamic often does not exist for straight white males. Madeline Albright makes the point that
“There is plenty of room in the world for mediocre men, but there is not room for mediocre women.”
As a minority in many areas of social identity, I was given the message very early on in life that I had to work harder and be better to get half as far in life as my majority counterparts. Unfortunately, this is still the case. I must be exceptional to excel. I don’t have the privilege of being mediocre.
I knew that when I took on this role of serving as President of the Junior League of Nashville that I could not be terrible at this job. One, I don’t ever want to be terrible at anything I do. I’m an Achiever through and through BUT that if I was terrible that the repercussions could be damaging not only for me but for those like me. This role is very PUBLIC. I no longer have anonymity – people come up to me in Kroger while I’m buying oranges and most recently while waiting to catch a flight in BNA. There is pressure is being so visible. On one hand, I chose to be very visible in this role and took on a great deal of PR opportunities that plastered my face and my “first” status all over town. I felt I had a responsibility to do that for myself, for current and prospective members, for our community, and for JLN. On the other hand, I don’t have a choice but to be visible. I know that if I’m going to be the FIRST, I gotta do this at the best level I can ALL the TIME and, that my friends, has added some extra baggage under my eyes, tears of anxiety, and days of rampant imposter syndrome.
How do I fit in to this role as the FIRST? I don’t get to blend in. I stand out just by existing as the way God made me. Do I start shopping at Talbots? Is it okay for me to wear my hair in braids or in an afro? How does one speak Belle Meade? I don’t have a large house, a husband, or 3.5 kids. I’m not from Nashville, I didn’t go to Harpeth Hall, I’m not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination, and I can’t quit my job or take a sabbatical to be President of this organization.
These were the things that crossed my mind when I was encouraged to put my name in the hat for this role. My enoughness meter was incredibly low. On top of that, I knew that I’d be making history in a way that I hoped would be welcomed but to be honest, I wasn’t exactly sure.
My mother who like all mothers has a doctorate in worrying about her children, was incredible supportive and encouraging. However, she was also super fearful. This is the woman who prayed for President Obama like he was her son because she knew that his Presidency –being the First African American President—had crossed a line for some people in our country. He’d dared to enter a place that people feel as if he didn’t belong. She prayed every day that someone didn’t harm him or kill him. And though this isn’t on the same level, by any means, my mother who doesn’t know Nashville, was afraid that someone would harm me by verbally assaulting me or even physically assaulting me. That might sound crazy to you but when TV is littered with images of black men and women, children getting gunned down –most recently for having a cell phone in your grandmother’s backyard, fears like this are legitimate. The only thing that calmed her down was when my aunt, brother, and cousin who attended my gavel pass let her know that people in JLN were really nice and that unless they are really great actors, they are super supportive of Krystal and actually seem to genuinely like her and want her to do well.
So, in all of this tug of war from prior to saying “yes” to this role of a lifetime to the day to day struggles I deal with when carrying out the duties of my office, I had to tap into the truth that always guides me in FOD Situations.
“I can only do the best I can with what I have.” (Always do your best. Read the 4 agreements.)
“My goal in life should be to belong as I am and not fit in as someone else.” Therefore I belong in every room I inhabit. I don’t need to become someone I’m not. I am me and I have everything I need to be successful just as I am.
Never ask the question, “why me?” instead live my life answering the question, “why NOT me?” –know your worth. I’m pretty much #blackgirlmagic personified. Why shouldn’t I be at the table, in the room, on the frontlines?
Say “yes” and figure it out later. And remember that “everything is figureoutable”. -Tina Fey & Marie Forleo
Practice Confidence. “Act like you’ve been there before.”
Never forget the mountains I’ve already climbed. I’ve done hard things before and I can do them again. I’ve survived 100% of my worst days. This will NOT be the thing that breaks me.
“Use your presence as an invitation.” Be the FIRST but not the LAST. Open doors for others. Create spaces. This is why I’m so passionate about diversity & inclusion in JLN. I want women who feel like this place isn’t for them because of their social identities to be able to benefit from all of the value that JLN can add to your life. Also, JLN could greatly benefit from those women and we’re losing out on fantastically talented humans. There were women in this organization, who are completely different from me who recognized me and said “YOU CAN DO THIS.” “YOU SHOULD SO THIS.” “WE NEED YOU TO DO THIS.” – I have a responsibility to do that for others. I hope that you own that responsibility too.
Always check in with the stories I’m telling myself. Where are the facts? Don’t limit myself by buying into false narratives. A lot of us are walking around creating our own fake news. Stop it.
Lead and Live from a place of Strengths. (If I don’t know, I don’t know. My job isn’t to know EVERYTHING or do EVERTHING WELL—there are 1600 of you people). Tap into my talents and my Strengths—bring those to the table and invite others to do the same. Together, we can accomplish so much in this organization and in this world.
My difference makes a difference. So, I own it. Because I know someone gets it and it might change your mind the next time you see someone like me in your workplace, in your place of worship, in your family, in your neighborhood, or on your committee in a nonprofit.
If you’re a FOD. Maybe you’re the FIRST or ONLY woman, maybe a single mother, maybe a working mother whether in the home or outside of your home (you’re all working), maybe you’re the first person with a disability, the first women who identifies as lesbian, perhaps you’re the first person to take on a job with a different educational background than those currently at the company, maybe you’re the first person under 30 or over 40 or perhaps you hold a different set of beliefs than the other people in the room,
I’d encourage you to adopt or create a philosophy that will help you persist through FODness. You’re welcome to use any of the items that I’ve offered today.
When that inadequacy starts to creep up. I give it fierce sideye and I shut it down. I’m the FIRST for a reason. In fact, I now fully embrace my ability to cause disruption in a space simply by showing up. I like it. I make it my mission to be in places where people don’t expect me to be. It’s served me well and it’s served the spaces I’ve inhabited well.
My hope is that, if you’re able, you can also take on this challenge. Recognize that it comes with additional pressure but realize the deeper meaning behind your presence. We need people in our society who step into being a FOD to create positive change in this world and break all of the ceilings that still exist for so many.
I know that we’ve come so far as a society. I’d love that if during my lifetime, we didn’t see so many celebration of FIRSTs. Instead we’d create diverse and inclusive paths where minorities or minoritized people being present is the norm and not the exception.
This year, has been incredible. I have felt every emotion possible. I have found myself saying “YES” to many challenges in JLN and outside of JLN because of the confidence that I’ve gained in myself by serving in this role. I am not a perfect JLN President because, well, perfect doesn’t exist BUT I’ve done the best I can with what I have and the building is still standing. I have two more months and then I’m going to exit the stage while the audience is still applauding.
If you’re a FOD or if you encounter another FOD. Reach out, offer your support, and take into account what they may be experiencing.
FIRST. ONLY. DIFFERENT. –It’s who I am and I’m pretty sure it’s who I’m meant to be.