In the second of this season’s blog-post installments, ALTIS Coach – Natasha Harvey explores some of the challenges faced by minority groups in the coaching profession, and suggests solutions to overcoming them.
In a recent interview with ALTIS’ Digital Media Lead – Ian Warner, I was asked to shed light on what it’s like to be me. Not Natasha Harvey; but the black female coach – Natasha Harvey. After commanding the knot in my stomach to subside I obliged. I realized that this was indeed an invitation: An invitation to speak on a subject that is often dimmed, distorted and diminished. While I left the interview with a sense of freedom having confronted some of my very own icebergs, I also walked away with a lingering sense of disappointment … in my inability to inspire, empower and equip the minority woman to face her challenges head on and stick with the sport.
For those of you reading this blog thinking “here goes another radical feminist using a platform to fuel her own selfish desires” – you are wrong. Well, partly. I am using this platform to build up the woman; the minority coaches in this field, and others who feel their value is often disproportionately measured. If that is you, read on. If that is not you, read between the lines and maybe you will find you, someone you know, or wisdom for a future encounter.
Steve Jobs famously said: “Your time is limited, so don’t waste it on living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma- which is living the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
With those words in mind I invite you to stick with me for the next 1000 words, whilst being mindful that this quote will serve as the foundational tenet of my blog.
Challenge #1 Dogma
What to wear? More like what not to wear. Seriously. While in the University setting this was a huge challenge for me – daily. Ladies (and gentlemen) think about how you feel when you are going on a first date. If you are interested in this individual there are typically emotions and questions coming in like a flood as you prepare for this ever so critical encounter. Do they like me? Do they find me attractive? Are jeans acceptable? Does this dress make my butt look big? Is my make-up too strong? Now imagine going on a first date everyday … in my first year as a full-time coach this was my reality walking into the office as a female.
Ladies – the truth is what you wear does matter, but you can control the messages you send and receive with your wardrobe. You don’t have to allow the results of other people’s thinking to set the tone for your self-expression, but I would caution you to use discretion. Consider this for a minute; have you observed your male counterparts in your field spandex or ab hugging dri-fit shirts? Probably not. Why? It draws attention.
My solution? Boundaries. Set boundaries for the office/track then operate rigidly within them. As my Mom would say: ‘Teach people how to treat you’.
“Teach People how to treat you”
Challenge #2 Noise
When I was named to the staff at the University of Oklahoma there was much chatter surrounding the nature of my hire. While I am not a fan of gossip, I quickly sought out the source. Fast forward 2 years, I wish I hadn’t. Some of the comments that surfaced called into question both my credentials and education. The comments that caused the most harm were rooted in discussion about Title IX and how complying may have influenced my hire.
As much as I tried to dispel the negativity in the commentary, I was convicted by the truth. I had only been a Graduate Assistant Coach for a women’s program at a small private University. Oh yeah, and I was a black female. While there is a real need for diversity in the workplace, unfortunately when change is forced upon us through laws and/or circumstance it is often met with crippling resistance and fear.
For you women reading this now thinking ‘she is speaking to me’ – be compelled to act. Not in a way that gives power to the negativity, but act in a way that gives power to you. Maybe you are currently in a position you didn’t ‘earn’ – so what. In a publication titled ‘What I Know For Sure Oprah Said’ there is a quote which reads:
“The older I get the less tolerance I have for pettiness and superficial pursuits. There is a wealth that has nothing to do with dollars, that comes from perspective and wisdom of paying attention to your life. It has everything to teach you. And what I know for sure is that the joy of learning well is the greatest reward.”
My solution? Be better. Raise your level of expertise and silence the chatter surrounding your gender, race or appointment. Being a generalist does not make you special or set you apart, but knowledge can. In a previous blog my colleague Ricky Soos stated, “As coaches we require both breadth and depth of knowledge” – I couldn’t agree more.
Challenge #3 Courage
In ‘The War of Art’ the author Steven Pressfield describes how to break through internal obstacles surrounding success, and discover your inner creativity. Pressfield says: “The professional conducts his business in the real world. Adversity, injustice, bad hops, rotten calls, even good breaks and lucky bounces all compromise the ground over which the campaign must be waged. The field is level, the professional understand, only in heaven.”
There are injustices present everywhere and in everything. Donald Trump is currently a candidate for Presidency of a country; this country. Injustice anyone? It takes courage to press on when you feel you have been wronged, judged, or overlooked. Rather than giving life and energy to the actual or perceived injustice chose to accept the playing field is not level, and – according to Pressfield will never be on Earth. If we choose to accept this what do we do with it?
My solution? Take inventory on YOU. Search your heart for what sets it on fire; search your mind for what stimulates it; search your strengths and find ways to illuminate then search your weaknesses – then figure out how to convert them.
“Take inventory on YOU”
In preparation for this blog post I listened to a TED talk by Hanna Rosin in which she reviews new data that shows women actually surpassing men in several important measures, such as college graduation rates. Speaking of a ‘new age’ in US economics, she goes on to say: “This is a special time in our country. It is a transition between a manufacturing economy to a more information and creativity driven economy where women can excel”.
I rewound this particular section about three times then it hit me – she is right. The ‘new age’ is more celebratory of information, innovation, and creativity. Romans 12: 2 says, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”. Translation: Be you – be the best version of you, but be you. The opportunity to storm ahead while being led with our hearts, minds and passions has finally trumped privilege and strength (pun intended!)
Prior to joining ALTIS I allowed what people saw, heard and said about me shape my experience. I now recognize that those people only have the power I give them. I can choose to set boundaries with my dress, I can choose to be better when the noise starts flooding in, and I can choose how I build myself up when lacking courage.
If we women decide to make it a priority to reequip ourselves we CAN climb; in this sport, and in life. That is power. Power that women from the 1920’s and 1960’s were devoid of, and should consider an honor to be able to now tap into.
So when you start doubting yourself, take comfort in this quote from Pressfield: “Self doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”