In 2009, Ursula Burns became the first African American woman CEO of a Fortune 500 company when she was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of the Xerox Corporation. In her memoir, Where You Are Is Not Who You Are, Ursula chronicles her story of growing up in poverty, being an outsider most of her life, her career trajectory, and the lessons learned leading a Fortune 500 company as a black woman.
One of Ursula Burns mother favourite saying was “Where you are is not who you are”, she constantly reminded her kids that their present position was not who they were. Nothing last forever, life is a season and it is impermanent.
Ursula writes in her memoir:
“Poverty has a color—or, more accurately, an absence of color. Everything seems to be sepia when you’re poor. Poverty has a persistent odor too, from the mounds of garbage the city rarely picks up, to the urine in the stairwells and elevators, to the decay in the century-old buildings. Our tenement apartment at Third Street and Avenue D in New York had all those trappings of poverty.
My mother refused to have her children be defined by it. “Where you are is not who you are,” she told us time and again. I didn’t know what she was talking about.”
“I had no idea as a kid that we were poor. Neither did my brother or sister. We had food to eat, bought by food stamps. We had a roof over our heads, however dingy, subsidized by welfare. We went to school and we had clean clothes to wear, though I don’t remember ever going to a store to buy them. Perhaps the clothes were from thrift shops. My mother’s clothes certainly were. Now they would be called “vintage” and be cool, but when I was growing up, vintage clothing was a necessity, not a choice. But mostly, she wore a cotton housedress.”
“She shielded us from her day-to-day reality like any responsible parent would, but we realized as we grew older what a fundamental battle it was for her to make it through another week, another month, with no relief in sight. Our job was to go to school, to study hard, to not get caught up in the neighborhood, to move on in life to a better place. She was fierce about it, almost maniacal.”
You are not your present position
Ursula Burns story is a testament to weathering the storm and understanding that you are not your present position. We live in a world where we equate what we do for a living for who we are – You are not your job description. No matter what you are going through tight now: losing a job, marital separation, health scare, getting a divorce, depression, financial issues etc. They have not come to stay but to teach you some lessons. For most of us, we lose ourself because of our situation or status. Ursula Burns grew up in poverty but her mother constantly reminded her and her siblings that they should never forget who they truly are no matter their position in life.
Entrepreneur and best-selling author Daniel Priestley observed in his book, Entrepreneur Revolution: How to Develop Your Entrepreneurial Mindset and Start a Business that Works
“The factory owners of the Industrial Revolution wanted their staff to be clear on one thing: ‘working in my factory keeps you alive, I give you your living’. They wanted us to fear leaving the factory so they could pay people just enough to survive. Work for a crust, be worth your salt and earn your living.”
We over identify with our present situation, our jobs, our problems, fears and anxiety. Life happens to us all but always remember that where and what you are presently going through is not who you are. You are royalty, a spiritual being experiencing having a human experience. In distinguishing between an amateur and a professional, author Steve Pressfield writes in his book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles about the perils of over identifying with your job description. He observed:
“We may take pride in our work, we may stay late and come in on weekends, but we recognize that we are not our job descriptions. The amateur, on the other hand, over identifies with his avocation, his artistic aspiration. He defines himself by it. He is a musician, a painter, a playwright. Resistance loves this. Resistance knows that the amateur composer will never write his symphony because he is overly invested in its success and over terrified of its failure. The amateur takes it so seriously it paralyzes him.”
Daily Calm with Tamara Levitt – Burnout
- Burnout (Exhaustion): Taking more than you can handle. When we fail to balance obligation with self-care, we risk being drained and losing joy.
- Elevate the importance of self-care: Place it in your calendar alongside tasks and responsibilities. Make time for the things that you love, cuddle up with a good book, go for a hike in the woods, take a nap in the sunlight, allow yourself to restore and recharge through rest and play.
- Daily Jay with Jay Shetty – Self View
- Self-Perception: Turning your focus to the world in front of you. For most of us, when we are in a virtual meeting and we see our own image on the screen, we instantly become insecure and self-conscious, and we worry about how we look. We are in our heads instead of the moment and it prevents us from concentrating on the conversation.
- We obsess about how we are being perceived; we are wrapped up in what others think of us and what we think others think of us. We spend so much time tracking our reflection that we miss what is happening in front of us.
- Daily Trip with Jeff Warren – The Elements
- Meditation is often about getting quiet and letting the world be what it is. It is a kind of training in neutrality that gives us more space to respond, live, and be.
- Tapping the heat beneath your feet with Kathy Hannun of Dandelion Energy | How I Built This with Guy Raz
All the best in your quest to get better. Don’t Settle: Live with Passion.