I used to call myself an athlete. I prided myself on being a scholar-athlete in high school on the basketball and track teams. I balanced my learning and my athleticism with great care. Being on a team, sport was fun. I appreciated the discipline because it created structure. It also created camaraderie. When I trained, I considered it preparation for said season. The exercise, drills, the suicides, strength training, cardio, practice – it was all an attempt to make me better, stronger, faster on the court (basketball) and on the track (shotput & discus). I can definitely say I experienced this process as a means to an end, but perhaps not a part of a lifestyle I wanted to create for the long term. I mean, sure, I had thoughts about the future, but continuing as an athlete – the rigor, the discipline, I cannot say this was my long term strategy, but it has created a mindset that I admire in the most accomplished professionals.
At a point I knew my body was a temple, just as my Mommy would paraphrase 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 “19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” Mommy also wanted the temple preservation to remain pure as the virgin snow…but I digress. Taking care of the temple in this sense was also a part of my responsibility to myself. I had to preserve it. Maintain it. Be able to honor that my physical temple is a vessel from the Most High, and I must protect it to the best of my ability.
The idea of being better, stronger, faster as an athlete was not just an approach I embraced for athleticism, but in life. I was conditioned to do my best in everything – school and sport, but eventually that would translate to life, career and relationships. Still, I needed to protect it. I was trying to trace back to that moment where that conditioning for working hard, and doing my best, translated in my subconscious to perfection. The only thing that broadly crystalized is the notion that my success was intrinsically tied to my survival. And this survivalist mentality shaped me to push hard on all cylinders because failure was never an option. I pushed hard because I feared failure because I believed I could not afford to fail.
To be clear, perfection as a young person was good grades in school that were later rewarded with great gifts from Mom & Dad. I never wanted for anything, and I knew that being smart unlocked further opportunities and experiences. And I was here for all the goodness. Doing well in elementary school provided the opportunity to attend a smaller specialized junior high school in Manhattan versus my zone school. Doing well in junior high created opportunity for me to be accepted into Oliver Scholars and attend a prestigious independent high school. In between there was clarinet, ballet, African and jazz dance, as well as acting class at Harlem School of the Arts. At each juncture, there was a test or performance, some culminating moment where the effort of my work translated into presenting my best efforts. This was how I survived – doing exceptionally well. It became the fabric of my DNA. It’s how I continued to preserve the temple.
In my mind, there were always kids who were “better” than I was, so therefore I had to set goals to stretch toward. I was by no means “perfect,” but definitely striving to be the best, pushed me into the stratosphere of navigating all situations with my best efforts to succeed. And at some point, I realized my best was better than many, yet, there was still more work to do, and thus began the cycle. So I learned to continue to work harder at achieving goals. Sometimes I learned to work smarter (versus harder). Goals were good grades in school. During college, goals were grades plus planning for the next phase of life – a job. During my 20s, goals became a good job in order to survive. In my 30s, goals not only included a job (and there were a few), but building a family. Now in my 40s, my goals are more refined to prioritize family, in addition to having a successful career. I will say at each stage there were challenges that positioned me to worker harder and smarter for the next opportunity I wanted to create. And so I continued to do what I always knew how to do – work harder to reach the goal. Work better, faster and stronger in order to survive as a Black woman in America. Strive to for my best version of perfection because failing, dropping the proverbial ball, was never an option.
Now in this current space in my life – dare I say maintaining beyond survival to setting the stage for thriving, I have come to realize that perfection is an elusive construct. Perhaps all along, my path toward success was anchored in progressing forward to reach milestones and accomplish the goals I had set forth. I mean there isn’t really a playbook that we all study from to get this thing called life right. We take risks and many times we are rewarded for the work and effort. And sometimes we don’t get it right. We suffer loss – great loss. For me, I’ve been considering the physical training that I’ve done in my past may have been a gateway to the mental and spiritual anchoring I needed to thrive in my current spaces in life. The irony is that the conditioning of my athletic youth has been reintroduced to my current lifestyle. No longer a team sport, I compete with myself, but the definitive rigor and discipline of my body, mind and spirit is required to support myself and efforts.
As a woman, wife, mother, sister, friend, executive – I’ve often stumbled through what I would identify as the inability to do it all. When I used to pride myself on being better, faster and stronger, what initially made me perfect in my parents eyes, has shifted. Or perhaps it is the pressure to juggle all the balls simultaneously yet still feeling un-successful. There is still that lingering fear of failure as being a negative versus a lesson to learn from that comes from the effort. I’ve begun the process of shifting my perspective to take a moment to take it all in. In being action and goal orientated, I’ve spent a lot of my time and life pushing forward in so many areas, that perhaps I haven’t taken a second to appreciate what I’ve accomplished and the progress I’ve made to get there. The lessons I’ve actually learned along the way. Considering that perhaps it was never about perfection, but the progress I feared I was not making. The discipline I am now re-employing to support my health helps support how I manage all the other areas of my world. And the fear of not making progress needs to be reframed. I am not stagnant and never have been.
This shift at this phase of the journey has encouraged me to take a step forward and reconfigure how I approach goal setting and accomplishments. There are still people who do things better than I, but perhaps reimagining my level of comfortability in stretching toward the progress of my own accomplishments, not out of fear, but in sheer faith is indeed the path forward. I am an overcomer by God’s grace. I’ve seen it in action time and time again, yet never consistently acknowledged it to myself. There is power in the progress, not necessarily the perfection. Or perhaps this reframing of my mindset removes the pressure I’ve subconsciously placed upon myself to be better, faster and stronger in everything.
Now, I’ve come to see the value in steady progress and taking a beat to work toward accomplishing the goal. To acknowledge the progress made. And maybe it does take longer than it used to. Not maybe, it definitely does not move at the same rate of change I am used to capturing the wins. That in itself takes some getting used to, yet I’m working on giving myself the space to accept it and navigate it further. Seeing yourself differently is something that takes time. But what I know for sure is that I’m steadily making progress.
KK is an energetic storyteller, creative marketer and servant leader with a kaleidoscope of professional pathways in music, print publishing and television. Currently, KK is a marketing executive at a major media company. Faith and family anchor KK’s ambitions, and she believes Luke 12:48 hold true, “from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” KK leverages her gifts, talents and abilities in support of advancing others, particularly in motivating her 9 year old son CMK.
Passionate about education and inclusion, KK is a graduate of New York University with a MS, Integrated Marketing and she supports her undergrad alma-mater Wesleyan University with dual, alumni volunteer leadership roles. As a Trustee on the Oliver Scholars board, preparing high-achieving African-American and Latino students for academic success is a priority. Through her writing and in her relationships, KK continues to unpack and explore life transformations the only way she knows how – with unconditional love, raw honesty and a touch of humor.