I am fortunate to be part of a book club that meets monthly to discuss interesting and inspirational authors from a variety of genres, backgrounds and experiences. This month’s book is a compilation of stories collected in America Ferrera’s American Like Me: Reflections on Life Between Cultures. There are thirty-one short stories from Ferrera’s friends and peers who share their experiences of finding a sense of self and belonging while juggling many identities. As a leadership and organizational development practitioner, I have a keen interest in understanding what makes people and organizations thrive and become the best versions of themselves. Fortunately, there are numerous hints throughout the book, woven through the captivating personal narratives.
One story that stood out for me was Bambadjan Bamba’s story of moving to the South Bronx from Cote d’Ivoire when he was ten years old. (You might know Bambadjan from The Good Place and Black Panther). On page 35, he describes his internal struggle with assimilating to become what he thought was American while admitting he was ashamed of being African. His ‘aha’ moment came as a young adult when he wrote: “It is said, ‘When you submit your will to other people’s opinion, a part of you dies.’ Well, I was dying inside, because I was a people pleaser. I spent most of my time trying to be something I wasn’t just so I could survive and fit in with my peers. I was trying to be my idea of cool…Telling people what they wanted to hear was disempowering.” In Bamba’s journey to become the best version of himself, he had to let go of others defining who he should become. He found his distinct voice which he describes as his greatest asset. It was a similar theme echoed in all of the stories of people who struggled to find their way but when they found their distinct voice, they emerged on the other side stronger, more grounded and more successful in their personal and professional lives. And, it is in that courageous personal journey, that we transcend labels and become the creative, talented and vibrant people we aspire to be. Fortunately, from this place of power, we can create and build communities and organizations that reflect the best versions of ourselves.