Both my parents are from Mauritius and immigrated to London in the 1970’s-80s, where they raised me and my elder brother in South East London. Growing up as a British Mauritian in a predominately white area and school was relatively easy. What I mean by ‘easy’, is that I never had to deal with overt racism, my parents never made it difficult for me to integrate into western cultures and I was pretty much allowed to do what I wanted. My older brother always used to say to me ‘you’re so lucky’, as he would receive the brunt of all those stereotypical knock backs, being the eldest.
However, growing up in a liberal household as a brown girl still came with its limitations. Yes, I was allowed to go out drinking with my friends and have sleepovers, however, there were always going to be underlying expectations. The less obvious ones that you only realise 10 years later because gen-z have pointed it out via memes on Instagram. You know, the 21-year-old feminists telling you that ‘every body is a beach body’ and you’re like ‘oh sh*t yeah why didn’t I think of that?’. You know what I mean.
The ‘underlying expectations’ were never directly voiced but were almost embedded in our culture and everything around us. My parents never told me I could be ‘anything I wanted’. They never implied I could run a business one day. I wasn’t allowed to do Art GCSE as it wasn’t ‘academic’ enough. I studied Economics at university purely because my elder brother did it. I had no interest in it at all. The creative flair that I was born with was well and truly stunted for years and years that I ‘climbed the ladder’ and fit the stereotype.
The option to do anything creative was zero to none. It was just not an option. No-one around you would take it seriously and extended family members would think you were a failure. I knew it was expected of me to work for a stable, corporate job (insert engineering-accountancy-banking-finance-lawyer- role here). Making enough money to be deemed successful, but not too successful in case you came across as ‘intimidating’ or ‘too much’, to the good brown boys in suits.
So, what happened?
I won’t bore you with all the stuff that happened in the middle, but all you need to know is that after many self-reflection moments that usually happened in front of a sunset somewhere half across the world, I eventually grew the ovaries to leave the rat race. I can proudly say that at the age of 31, I now run my own career coaching business, host confidence workshops, speak publicly at events and do a pretty good job of it. I wear all the entrepreneurial hats you can imagine and my creative juices get to flow as much as the bottle of Hendrick’s does in my flat.
However, I won’t lie to you sometimes when I see other brown women pursuing creative roles at a much younger age than I did, I get so jealous. I just think of the ‘what if’ I did just go for it 10 years ago and how much more successful I would be right now. Then I have to check myself and remind me of all the lessons I learnt, that I would want impart on younger women, and hopefully one day, my future daughter. So what would I want her to know? What would I have done differently or wanted to teach her?
The first thing I would tell her would be to ‘weaponise her self- belief’. Yes, use it as a weapon. The difference between the winner and loser in a boxing ring, is that the winner would have always believed in the win, that extra 1% more. There would be zero hesitation that it wasn’t going to be a win. Confidence is key and you need to absolutely know you are going to nail it. That is the foundation of any successful business, product, team or piece of art. You need to believe in the f*ck out of it before anything else.
The second thing I would tell her is that ‘career transitions are perfectly normal’ and you don’t have to do one thing for the rest of your life. Treat your career journey like a jungle gym as opposed to a ladder. Learn from different industries, pick up new skills and make lateral moves whilst making a lot of money for the right causes. By the time you are 40 you’ll be laughing because you probably will be at that stage where you are an expert in a lot of things and people are searching for you.
Third lesson I would share is that, despite how difficult and inevitable it is, never compare yourself to anyone else. The only person you ever need to compare yourself with is, you yesterday. The greatest most unique thing about you, is that you are your own USP. And the more you try to be like other people, the more you are diluting your own special sauce. And let’s face it, you are not water, you are chilly sauce. You have oomph, fire, depth and flavour and the world needs to see that.
The last thing I would say is that to always ‘choose exceptional over good’. More than often, it is perfectly OK to be good at your job. Especially if it’s a job you have fallen into. But if you are doing something that actually aligns with who you are, then be bloody exceptional at it. Go out of your way, to show other people why you do that and why you are so good at it. Don’t settle for good enough. Be so good that people remember you, refer you, and want you to do it.
Full disclaimer, the above is not what I wish my parents said to me. I recognise and appreciate that their background, immigration and culture were crucial in the way I was brought up and it had to happen that way. But for us first generation born from immigrant parents, it is up to us to lead by example and to be the brown girl that started her own business and makes more money than any aunty could ever dream of, became a ‘founder’ of a creative agency that empowers women across the globe, pursued her dreams of being an artist and actress and made it to the big screen and the one that chose singing melodies over signing off admin.
So if you are someone today who feels like they have been held back by cultural barriers and stereotypes then my message to you is that; it’s not too late sis. If you have a burning desire to do something that aligns with who you are and is soul driven then let this by a sign of validation today. You may not believe it, or ever hear it, but there will always be people who will look at you and think ‘wow, she did something that I couldn’t.’
Nish is a career coach based in South London on a mission to help women find confidence and the right energy in their careers. She loves inspiring women to be the most authentic and apologetic versions of themselves, through her sassy online content, confidence building workshops and her talks at events. If you would like to find out more about Nish, then check her out on her website www.nishcareercoach.com or IG @nish.career.coach