Inviting yourself to the table

May 7, 2016

This is a very abbreviated version [largely the insights] of the talk I gave at 99U, Thursday May 5th, 2016.  Please read the footnotes and follow the links in order to gain context when given.

I want to talk to you today about …this idea of inviting yourself to the table.

By show of hands, who here has either had an idea they wanted to execute or wanted to be a part of someone else’s idea and for whatever reason things just work out for you?

Keep your hands up if you’d feel that this has been defining sentiment in your creative work?

Like some of you, I definitely felt like I was destined to always be on the outside looking in. Never having a seat at the table.

As a Black American female designer working in predominantly white male environments, it started to become quite clear to me early on that in order to get a chance at certain opportunities, more importantly to create the level of impact that I know I could, it meant that I had to start butting into places I might never get invited to.

You may be asking yourself, well, what does it mean to invite yourself to the table?

“Inviting yourself to the table” is a decision…

It’s the moment you decide to create opportunities you desire without asking for permission or waiting on an invitation.

It’s the moment where you decide not to sit by and allow opportunities pass by your or even worse let life happen to you.

Throughout my career I’ve found myself sitting at all kinds of tables that were never designed for me to sit at [1]. Places where it was totally unexpected for a black girl like me to show up, but assuredly places where I had something to say, unique to my perspective, and often unbeknownst to those already at the table–that it was something they needed to hear.

I originally spent a lot of time avoiding this idea.

First, there’s something very seductive and alluring about being invited. It’s a form of validation we seek from others. Who doesn’t want to be sought after? And for all the other reasons you might imagine: fear of rejection: Was I competitive enough?, Was I good enough?, Could I survive much less thrive in these spaces? Would I even be accepted?

My perspective is largely shaped by race gender, but self doubt is a universal phenomenon that most thinking, feeling, creative, people can relate to. And we humans are largely shaped by past experiences, and lifetime of messaging told me that I simply didn’t belong at certain tables.

Now I could have continued to believe that, but I decided I wanted to reframe that problem…And the question for me then became “how might I begin to make my own opportunities?”

So I decided to just start inviting myself.

Here are some insights I’ve gained along the way that I’d like to share with you: