How I Turned My Pain Into Power

by Denise Renee  - March 12, 2024

I toyed around with the idea of making the following the title of this story:

Personal Identity ➗ Corporate Culture = The Birth of My Brand

But I didn’t think you would click on it! 😂 

I do believe, however, that this subtitle sums up the moral of my story nicely. So I’ll let the idea linger as a bit of foreshadowing and will revisit the concept towards the end.

So now, let’s get started understanding the pain I have been experiencing all my life which I managed, by the grace of God, to turn into my power.

MY ORIGIN STORY

As a 1st generation child of a working-class Black Caribbean immigrant family who received a private school education (for all but four years at a public magnet high school), I have been a square peg trying to fit into round holes all my life.

I accept the designation of “Black” because it connects me to a wide diaspora of experiences. But I reluctantly check the “African American” box on job applications and surveys because while I can definitely “pass” culturally, I am not African American. No one’s ever fought to make Afro-Caribbean-American a box to check. 

My “born here“ status, coupled with my American accent (along with my necessity to obtain a belonger status card in my parents’ native islands so I can inherit any land they pass down to me) makes me feel like an illegal alien in the culture, praying desperately not to get my “Caribbean card” revoked.

So SURELY, my education – which is supposed to be the great equalizer – would help me find my place in the world. I thought my “mini Ivy league” degree from Bates College would give me carte blanche access to any corporate position I wanted, no questions asked,

Alas, I live in America. The American dream is not mine for the taking. How delu-lu of me to forget that my dark skin means I have to be twice as good to get half of what they have. (Thank you for the daddy lessons, Olivia Pope; it’s a poignant reminder!

Put me on the phone in any corporate environment and you can’t tell me my name isn’t Emily Sue! Because I make sure that you would never think my name is Shaniqua. 

Nothing wrong with my good sis, but I’m just saying.

With a neutral-sounding first name (Denise Renee) that has a hint of Parisian allure, I sound white over the phone when I am in my professional, code-switched voice.

But after 20 years as a big-backed, Black, female, square peg cosplaying in the round holes of white corporate American environments, I got tired.

A PIVOTAL REALIZATION

The incident that clearly defined how I was perceived happened in the middle of a performance review given by the company’s vice president, who had flown from California to Atlanta to deliver it to me. According to her, despite the professional demeanor I always presented at work, I had a “big personality” that did not fit in with the company’s culture.

I quit that job.

Not right away, though. I stupidly allowed that environment to chip away at my soul for two more years before I decided to flee into the welcoming arms of entrepreneurship and personal branding. I just knew that would be the place I could be myself and finally feel as though I was enough.

But recently, a friend’s comments challenged me to rethink whether entrepreneurship is the space I fit into. They asked me if my image and branding were a mismatch or if I was targeting the right people. The disconnect for them was that I looked unapologetically Black while sounding white.

Even in 2024, my personal brand is still being questioned as too much or not enough.

Because I have always valued their opinion, I gave my friend’s feedback serious consideration.

For about 2 minutes. 

Then I quickly reaffirmed to myself the reason I quit my job back in 2017.

I quit so I could be the biggest or smallest, most colorful or muted version of myself I wanted while doing work I loved. I intended to let who I am be my calling card to attract the tribe I’m meant to serve.

Today, I show up to my content and to my contracted obligations bringing all of who I am: a human being who: 

  • Loves God.
  • Happens to be female.
  • Happens to have beautiful brown skin.
  • Happens to have grown up in culturally diverse areas of The Bronx, New York in the late 1970s and 80s.
  • Happens to have fallen in love with creative writing at the age of eight.
  • Happens to have an elite education.
  • Happens to float in and out of several cultural communities with ease.
  • Happens to have an extensive collection of professional writing experiences.
  • Happens to have a highly developed musical ear and has led worship teams in churches for most of her adult life.
  • Happens to be a former public school educator.
  • Happens to have 15 years of experience in digital marketing and copywriting.
  • Happens to be a former B2B magazine editor and business book ghostwriter.
  • Happens to love coaching people through their book writing and content creation journeys.
  • Happens to be a mom to an almost 13-year-old boy (and God help me because the hormones are already hormoning!!
  • Happens to cut this list off here because I could go on!

Entrepreneurship is the ONLY place I’ve found where being me works for me and is helpful to others. 

POWER PLAYS

I have finally come to a place of accepting myself as a kaleidoscope because no matter the lens people view me through, everyone is going to see something different. Those on my frequency will see themselves reflected in me and will choose to work with me. Those I’m not a match for will keep spinning to find what they are looking for. 

I know I am uniquely qualified to serve a different type of person, brand, and business.

I am convinced that there are individuals and companies actively looking to work with someone like me: a Black woman who can speak and write corporate and street. Someone who can speak and write American and international (while intentionally leaving sentence fragments and run on sentences in the final edit for dramatic effect).

They are actively looking for a professional branding partner who is comfortable submerging themselves in different cultures, listening for nuances and nuggets, and can interpret them into compelling stories that grow authentic community and sustainable long-term revenue.

I am convinced they are looking for ME! My job is to stay on my path and continue attracting my tribe. Because I am perfectly suited for them.

And here’s how my unofficial subtitle for this article comes into play. 

Remember that formula? 

Personal Identity ➗ Corporate Culture = The Birth of My Brand

The very thing that was considered a liability in my former company became the cornerstone asset of my personal and business brand, Writing With Denise Renee. Everything I do and every way in which I help others in their book writing and content creation journeys comes from everything I am. What started out as a pain has become a source of my power.

As I stuck a final pin in the reaffirmation conversation in my head, a fellow Black woman creator floated into my YouTube feed at the right moment. I was initially introduced to her content a few months ago. But when she popped up on my feed this past Friday and I participated in her live, it dawned on me; she is the embodiment of my friend’s commentary to me. 

And while I appreciate my friend, they were wrong because here she was! I promise you, I thought she had a halo and pixie dust floating around her! Her presence was so magical because I thought I was looking at a version of myself.

I was so thrilled to see someone who looked like me, speaking professionally, while unapologetically flavoring her talk as only a Black woman could. Best of all, she delivered so much value to her audience because she’s living what she teaches and she is crushing it in her business as she does so on her terms.

Seeing her let me know I have been right about me all along. She was such a beautiful reminder that as messed up as things still are from a race and opportunity standpoint today in American culture, there is still so much beauty to be found in it. I love that we are in a day and age where, thanks to technology, uniqueness can find a place, breathe, and live life on its own terms.

Representation is important. Seeing other people being and doing similar things that you are striving for is reaffirming and keeps you in the fight.

Well, at least it keeps me in my fight.

But I know that I’m not alone in my feelings. 

No matter your ethnicity, gender identity, faith practices, etcetera, in some way, shape or form, we ALL experience feeling out of place in some area of our lives. There’s always at least one area where we don’t feel like we fit in 100%. Our options, then, are to either negotiate for our space in the sandbox or go build our own. 

My hope in sharing this is to be an encouragement to you and a reminder to myself that we are enough exactly the way we are. There is a space uniquely designed for exactly who you are and for exactly who I am.

I’m busy creating my space and I invite you to join me for the journey!

You can do so by scrolling below this post, and joining my newsletter so that I can email you weekly content updates from me.

Thanks for reading and if this resonates with you, share your journey in the comments.

RESOURCES

5 Steps to Building a Personal Brand You Feel Good About

https://youtu.be/ozMCb0wOnMU

How To Build a Powerful Personal Brand On Social Media 2022 Strategy

https://youtu.be/smDzK_DMCgk

Why is NO ONE talking about this? Here’s a BETTER social media strategy for 2024.

https://youtu.be/mJ9Uhs0EMUo

The Secret to Building a Personal Brand—Reduce Your Market Size & Create Clear Messaging

https://youtu.be/81bLdOJwteA

Secrets to Monetizing Your Message

https://youtu.be/MVikbMQEfXo?si=nZcdU4YEl2VtlPOc

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