I sat in a sea of tables, wedged between my date and one of many co-workers circled around our table. Our table sat next to another table surrounded by more co-workers, including my boss and his boss.
I wore a strappy periwinkle dress that fell below my knees. Cute and fun, but appropriate for the occasion. I was thinking about steak (there was one in front of me), when I heard my name. In a panic, I glanced at my date. He just smiled and gestured for me to stand up.
Applause. A proud smile from my boss. A big smile from his boss.
A swelling of the heart. A sinking of the stomach. A buckling of the knees.
Best Reporter. According to the Alabama Broadcasters Association.
I clumsily walked through the sea of tables. Trembling. Taking the heavy award. A dark gold shooting star, with my name engraved in shiny letters.
I said something quick about just being happy to be there. Just being happy to tell "these stories" and "fill this space". Then I shuffled back to my seat, getting my dress caught on my chair (of course) before finally sitting down.
I accepted my Best Reporter award about 10 minutes after receiving a merit award for a feature story I was confident I could actually win with. When that one wasn't a first place, I was sure my Best Reporter and Best News Series submissions had fallen into someone's desktop trash bin.
You see, I'd thought they were long shots to begin with. Awards like those were reserved for serious journalists. Good, serious journalists.
Not for a 21-year-old who held back tears on rural dirt roads because her GPS failed her and the turn-by-turn directions the sweet farmer gave her on the phone fell on ears numbed by a life of living in a bustling suburb. Awards like those weren't for millenials who had to Google things about federal policies and Medicare and trade issues while weeding through tough stories because high school economics doesn't actually teach you anything you need to know about the real world or its economy.
Awards like those weren't for people like me. They were for journalists, and I was not that.
A good presenter. A fun, upbeat reporter. A cheeky writer, when inspired. But I was never comfortable calling myself a journalist.
I left with three that night. One for each category I entered. Two First Place awards and one Judge's Merit. I also left with the news, buried in my chest, that a week later I would sign off of the air in Montgomery, Alabama for the last time. I left, clutching my little trophies, feeling the heaviness of their closure, knowing I was preparing to go tell stories somewhere new.
That night, on a hotel bed in Birmingham, I called myself a journalist for the first time. Out loud. I called myself a journalist, and I meant it.
The joy hit me. It was delayed, but it hit me. I let myself acknowledge that my work was good and valid. I let myself be proud of it, even.
Dirt roads, sweaty trudges to the car while lugging camera equipment and a clenched jaw while listening to the cutting comments from people who didn't like the stories I told. Thanksgiving nights spent at a desk in a newsroom with foil-covered paper plates brought from a generous co-worker's family dinner. Bathroom tears and anxious, sleepless nights spent wondering if this role and this place and this title were things I could be big and good enough for.
If I was worthy of the space I was occupying.
Those were things I thought about when I gripped my heavy hardware. The stuff boasting of the product of all of those frustrating, sweaty days. My first awards. My first tangible, physical evidence that I can do this and do it well.
And as I wrapped them in bubble wrap and carefully placed them in boxes that would soon be driven to St. Louis, I realized I would soon be the new girl again. I would soon, once again, be the one without the contacts and story ideas and geographic understanding of the city.
I'd once again be the girl frantically Googling her way to better understanding.
I looked down at my bubble-wrapped weights of accomplishment and set them in, promising myself that I would not tie my gravity to something that could be bubble-wrapped and placed in a cardboard box.
I promised myself I would not let my ability to grasp my skill and own my magnitude be determined by someone else, not even a group of people.
Hear me. You will never get enough compliments, receive enough awards or be promoted enough to make yourself believe you belong somewhere.
Affirmation is nice, but it cannot be a prerequisite for you to believe you actually belong at a table you've put in the work to sit at.
I think a lot of us, women especially, have a hard time standing up in our brilliance. We have a hard time admitting we're good at our work. We would rather cringe and shrink than admit that we're amazing. We would rather viciously attack each other with gossip and screenshots and group messages than do the hard work of admitting and working through our struggles with embracing our own value.
We play it small because small is comfortable. Small is safe. No one expects too much from someone who plays it small. Small is a cozy cafe of cruising and never letting anyone down.
No one but yourself. YOUR. SELF.
You were not created for small things. In fact, I think the thing God's called you to is going to always be something that freaks you out a little. Maybe not at first, but once you get quiet and realize the magnitude (even and inch of it) of what you've been created to do, I think it'll take your breath away. And the first reaction will be to run. Then, to talk yourself out of it. Creating a long list of the reasons you can't.
You can't write the book. You can't produce the show. You can't lose the weight. You can't inspire the kids in your classroom. You can't make the team. You can't create the thing that doesn't exist yet.
In a world of social media and screenshots, your self-talk is the only conversation you can fully guarantee won't be shared if you don't want it to be. And if it's toxic, I think that's dangerous. And if you let yourself feel safe in it, it'll keep you there.
It is a waste of time to not believe in yourself.
It is a misplacement of your power to only feel valid when someone tells you that you are.
Your self-doubt is hungry for your confidence and joy and purpose. And it will do everything it can to keep you so focused on what you "can't do" that you completely miss your own progress, magic and elevation.
I graduated with honors from a prestigious journalism school with a great job at a great television station. I got a ridiculous number of amazing compliments from co-workers, bosses and viewers. I got another good job in a big city.
And it wasn't enough, y'all. It was not enough.
The awards weren't enough.
Even after I felt the pride in Birmingham that night, the thought of "no one good must have entered this year" and "this is a fluke" floated in.
I treated my own job title like a dirty word because I didn't think I was good enough to claim it. Think about that. Crazy.
You have to pluck your self-doubt out like weeds. Wrong thought after wrong thought. Lie after lie. They have to go.
You have to decide that you deserve the good you have and that you were created for the magic you want. You know it deep down.
Even if it scares you, I think it's worth the prayer and boldness to go after the things that fill you up.
You deserve to take up space. Nothing about you is a waste, and no number of mess-ups will ruin your purpose. Not if you decide to fight for it.
Take up your space. Run your race. Stop comparing. Decide to show up, and do what you can.
On dirt roads. In humidity. When people tell you no. When you don't know the answer.
Do it, any way.
Enjoy the celebration when it comes. Lift your own head and keep on taking up the space, when it doesn't.
You are here. You matter. You are a force.
With Love and Glitter,
PS- I'm a little more than two months into being the new girl at my new job, and it's sweet. Not perfect, but sweeter than expected. And I think it has a lot to do with the promise I made to myself to be bigger and more joy-filled than the trophies I eventually unpacked and placed on my bookshelf.