Persevering through difficulty, discrimination, sexism and inequality.
By Abena Asomaning
I was asked to write an article about my success in Hamilton. Initially, I felt so excited and grateful. Recent events in my work life and within the community at large have me reflecting on what success looks like for different people, what success looks like for me, and what it means to write this article. However, the more I thought about it, the more difficult it became to narrate this tale of being “successful” in Hamilton. Here I sit with my laptop contemplating whether or not to disclose the truth about my experiences or to cover up my set-backs and only focus on the good.
The truth is, my professional journey has not been easy. In part because nothing in life is easy, but also because I’ve faced many obstacles, challenges and constraints. I’ve had to show up early and be the last to leave and I’ve worked my fingers to the very bone – only to be ignored and overlooked. I’ve had to insert myself in conversations where I felt unwelcome, and I’ve had to prove myself again, and again, and again. I’ve been scrutinized and excluded. And so many times I just wanted to give up.
But somehow, I’m here! I’m still here and I’m improving each and every day. I used to think that success was this instance of perfection. This moment somewhere in the future where you had your dream body and your dream job, a time and place where everyone respects you, with each day unfolding into this seamless montage of looking and feeling important and being rewarded for doing great work. I used to think success was the measure of all these outside things; a job, a salary, recognition, the way you look.
When I sat down to write this I had to ask myself to think about all the times in my life where I felt the most successful; graduation, a new job, a promotion. When I thought of these examples I realized that they were not instances of perfection. Rather, they were all moments where I persevered through difficulty, and even discrimination, sexism, inequality and favouritism. Moments where my personal values, work ethic, integrity and savvy made me the victor in a tough situation. These are all big words and even bigger issues that I have often had to face in my daily work life through the cumulative impact of microaggressions and sometimes plain old bad luck. It’s been hard.
But there is a silver lining! These experiences have forced me to redefine what success means for me. When I think about it, I’m so grateful that I’ve gone after and worked for the things I want in my life and within my career. I’ve pushed myself through degrees and diplomas, bootcamps, workshops and night classes to get the education and skills to advance myself. I didn’t allow anyone to stop me.
Success for me is also being able to give back to your community. I’ve had many rewards and have met some of the most inspirational people along the way (through groups like HiveX and Hamilton Fempreneurs). People who have encouraged me, showed up for me and held me accountable to my goals. I’ve been volunteering for over ten years and have spent the past three years working with the Ladies Learning Code. It has been such a positive and influential part of my life.
I’m not a type A personality, and I don’t always see a lot of women who look like me in the places I want to go. This used to discourage me. But over time, and with the support of the arts and tech community, my family, and the comradery of women entrepreneurs here in Hamilton I’ve learned to give myself permission. Permission to succeed, to go after what I want and be exactly who I am. If you are shy, be shy but don’t let it stop you from being heard. If you are nice, be nice but don’t let it stop you from asserting yourself.
There will always be obstacles. But, you don’t have to change the core of who you are, give yourself room to make mistakes and start again. If you have a passion and you work hard, and you find happiness in the quality of your work, you will be happy always.
This is what success looks like for me.