Home My Journey To Hell With Leaning In… I’m Looking Up

To Hell With Leaning In… I’m Looking Up

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Monday night, I felt overwrought with grief. My face felt so long that I’d wind up picking gravel off my chin, with the way it dragged as I walked.

I lost the PTA election. Next year, I won’t be president.

Before you laugh – and don’t feel bad if you did, I certainly won’t deny that I’m giggling right now – you have to understand something about me.

I had Mini-me when I was young. So young, in fact, that I was quite terrified to be a parent up until the point where I first looked into her deep brown, pitch black eyes. She was my baby, and I was aware of the statistics of what happened to little girls born in situations like this. Unsustainable, shaky, unstable family situations. I was afraid. Scared for her, and scared for me.

I re-engineered my entire life around her. I changed the trajectory of my college degree so that I could take classes that’d allow for me to sneak an infant in the room and finish my degree. I created my business so that I could take classes and work from home without having to pay for day care – an expense that I knew I couldn’t afford. Everything I did, I engineered it to make sure that she was never without my guidance, love, support, and care.

As she got older, I’d become able to take on more work. I started writing for other publications, I started doing speaking engagements, I started taking the occasional client. I was still missing something, though. I missed my baby, and to rectify that, I got hyper-involved in her school community. So involved, that I became her PTA President.

The job was overwhelming, the challenges were great, but the opportunities to spend time with my daughter were invaluable. Contributing to her school environment was meaningful and purposeful work. I felt fulfilled…

…but my work suffered. My blog suffered. My ability to contribute to the thing that made me happiest outside of my family. My community suffered.

Opportunities started to pour in. Television appearances, book deals, hell – even my own branded fat burner pill (and, really, wtf bro?) and I became terrified. Literally, afraid. The fearless person I felt I once had to become in order for my daughter and I to sustainably survive? I have no idea where she went. All I know is that instead of diving into the pool of plenty that living in the city provided me, I retreated back into what was most comfortable: being Mommy, and “Miss Erika, the PTA lady” to the other 150 kids that I lovingly called my own.

Months passed, and opportunity after opportunity sprung up – you know, the kind where, if you don’t respond in 5 minutes you’re screwed? yeah, that kind – and I kept getting scared. The opportunity to write for Uptown… I started at the computer screen for hours. I was frozen – frozen – by my fear. You know how I eventually got over it and wrote the essay? I got up from my desk, practiced yoga for a few moments, sat back down, and audibly said “YOLO.” I wrote it all in one night.

And that was a turning point for me.

Instead of turning down opportunities, I slowly started trying to embrace them. I traveled, did presentations and hosted discussions, even taught a few people how to work out. I gave tips, shared stories of my life, and even shared a few tears with some. It was work that was meaningful, just as meaningful as what I’d been doing at Mini-me’s school, but was I ready to throw myself full steam ahead into this work and let go of being so involved in her life?

Elections came. And, even though it feels like I’m making this super dramatic, it truly wasn’t. I didn’t campaign. I didn’t post flyers. I didn’t even really alert parents to the fact that elections were that night. Votes came down, and I was beaten by a worthy opponent. And, after the stages of disappointment – not just of myself but of the parents who showed out to support me – I began to feel relief. The writing was on the wall, and – quite frankly – I needed to quit bullshitting.

A few weeks prior to the election, I had the pleasure of visiting the United Community Center in East New York, home of the East New York Farms. A local, sustainable farm that took abandoned lots in Brooklyn and turned them into gardens run by teens in the community. They learn agriculture, economics – because, yes, they run a farmer’s market with their goods – and nutrition. They wanted me to come out, so they could show me what kinds of dopeness they were putting together, and they wanted me to speak to their families about healthy living. This was the work I wanted to do. And, after I spoke, I was overwhelmed by a sense of excitement. How could I help them? What could I bring? What could I do? How much could I learn?

With this blog, I have a real chance. So many – so, so many… y’all have no idea – people read what I write here, and it really makes a difference. Vulnerability doesn’t just mean baring your soul and hoping for the best – it means being willing to make mistakes, and being unafraid to be called out on those mistakes by the hundreds of thousands of people who are watching your every digital move. Vulnerability also means being open to using those critiques – no matter how many people are watching – as tools to enlighten yourself, to grow, to change, to be better, and to be a more effective conduit for information. It means not hiding from your power – yes, I have to own that, this is powerful – in an elementary school. It means being unafraid to look up, see all of the amazing things that await you, shooting for them, and not being afraid to miss.

a shot of Union Square, from my instagram @bgg2wl

a shot of Union Square, from my instagram @bgg2wl… tell me you don’t dream a little bit bigger when you look out and look up and see this?

Every so often, I tweet pictures of different buildings in NYC. It’s weird – because, y’know… food and fitness blogger, not tourist – but its cathartic. People always told me, once I got here, that “real New Yorkers don’t look up; we’re in too much of a rush to stop and stare at buildings all day.” And, on any given day, I’m usually with that. But sometimes, I can’t help it. When I walk through Tribeca, and I look up at these historic-looking landmarks… when I walk through the Flatiron, or SoHo, and see all these offices and studios and lofts… hell, when I walk through Prospect Heights and Carroll Gardens and see these giant brownstones… I’m reminded of just why I look up. It reminds me that the possibilities are endless. In any of those rooms is another opportunity waiting for me. Why hide from it in a PTA office room?

broadway and warren, Tribeca, from my instagram @bgg2wl

broadway and warren, Tribeca, from my instagram @bgg2wl

It didn’t matter, anyway – even when I tried to hide by running for re-election, I lost. As my big sister Lisa says, “what’s meant for you will be for you… whether you have to go kicking and screaming, or not.”

Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In, talks of encouraging women to maximize their opportunities for advancement in a way that speaks to me. Problems with the book – and there are plenty – aside, I’m in need of a polite reminder that doubt can be the most formidable opponent of success. I’m in need of someone to give me ‘permission’ to say to myself “Yes, that 4,000 sq ft loft fitness studio in the Flatiron is waiting for you, you sexy mf’er, as long as you work your ass off for it.” And, honestly, I’m in need of a reminder that no, it won’t be a walk in the park getting there, that people will stand in my way, and that I may have to perform a few roundhouse kicks – in other words, fight – to get past them. Even if the person standing in my way is, to put it bluntly, myself.

The language of “Leaning in,” however, doesn’t speak to me. Instead of looking down at a bunch of first graders who attach themselves – lovingly, might I add – to my legs all at one time, I’m going to look up – up to those bright skies, up to those skyscrapers, up to those possibilities, and up to my future. As afraid as I am, I can safely admit that it is, in fact, here, with you girls. Wherever that takes us, as a community, I’m fully committed to making it the best it can be.

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Annette June 8, 2013 - 1:30 PM

Oh Erika love you no matter what. If it was simplier than you think it is would it scare you? Do we create battles to help alleviate the fear that we can create anything we want? So how do we get comfortable with the feeling that this is for us that we deserve it?

Will you be more scared about the missed opportunities? I know I will love and support you no matter what? Everyone makes mistakes doing their very best. Please make it fun for you enjoy it it is your dream, dream about the best possibilities, focus and visualize yourself doing well.

Yoga and Meditation to keep the negativity in check or the what if’s of the mind that can drive you crazy. But you know what when I put my mind to it and start working on it or focusing on just doing it all goes away.

Action is the best way, to start I usually pick music to jump start the process. Enjoy you deserve it!!

T.R. June 8, 2013 - 3:57 PM

*Clap, clap, clap*!!! This is something I really needed to hear and say for myself in achieving my own goals. Thank you and I’m looking forward to the ride. For all of us. :O)

Cassandre June 9, 2013 - 6:23 PM

When i saw the headline of this post, i had to read it. i was recently reading the “Lean In” book by Sheryl Sandberg and had such negative feelings about it. i found it to be a bit elitist and really didn’t relate to my reality. I know you have probably heard this but it’s probably a blessing that you didn’t win. God has a bigger purpose for you. I live in Brooklyn and I’m actually from East New York/Brownsville, i love the urban gardens that are popping up in areas like East New York and other parts of BK, (Bed-stuy has a few as well). You should check out the Brooklyn Food Coalition. I recently joined them. they do a lot of work supporting local gardens/farms in BK and so much more.

I love the dedication you have in being the best parent possible. it’s hard but necessary work for our kids. i have a 2 year old and completely understand where you’re coming from.. keep doing what you’re doing

Erika Nicole Kendall June 9, 2013 - 6:45 PM

Yep – I’m a member of the coalition.

Maybe I really should be blogging more about this stuff. Feels like I’m leaving a ton of stuff out.

evelyn April 9, 2014 - 8:20 AM

I’ve been following you for years, Erika, and you continue to inspire me. Interestingly enough, I’m reading Lean In right now, and have generally avoided blogs that discuss the book just so that I can make up my own mind about it. I’m happy to have stumbled across this one 🙂

All the best to all of us as we continue to look up!

Annette April 9, 2014 - 11:06 AM

Wow very well said. Question what type of phone do you have. You have a great eye for composing pictures.

As someone who has tried to fight myself to get out of the way, the best way for me was to ask myself the tough questions. Why am I trying to accomplish? Am I following my dreams? What am I scared of? What is my intention? Questions save be from going cray cray cause then I went within to calm the doubt monster.

Erika Nicole Kendall April 10, 2014 - 2:22 PM

I currently use either my Nokia Lumia 1520 or my regular ol’ iPhone! I can’t remember which one I used to take that shot. LOL

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