I was finishing my master’s degree in Communication Studies. I had plans to eventually teach in a community college, buy a small house, and live happily ever after. It was the “happily” that was the problem. Sitting squarely in my comfort zone, my plans seemed logical, easily attainable, and safe. “Safe” was another problem. Sure, I’d accomplished a great deal. I’d moved to Detroit with nothing but some furniture, a used car, and $1,500. I’d gotten a job at a great university that paid for most of my college education. I was a minister at a church where the people loved and appreciated me. I just looked over the fact that the pastor of the church was intimidated by me. That intimidation and fear caused him to treat me like a second-class citizen, but I was “happily safe” because, as an incest survivor, I was accustomed to looking at life through the lens of trauma and living it bound by low self worth. I had a measure of faith. Of course I did! I was a minister, pastor’s daughter, and child of the Baptist church. I always tried to do right and be better, especially because I was never quite good enough, let alone great. I never expected to be content with what I did and who I was until one day I was presented with a proposition. It was my graduate adviser and mentor that said these words: “Why stop at a master’s degree? You have so much to offer. You’re intelligent, you’re gifted and you’re already doing doctoral-level work. Why not get your doctorate and teach in a 4-year institution? You can get a tenure-track position. It’s a great career and you’re a natural!”
A natural? A natural mess! Yeah, on the outside I looked like I had it all together. I’d lost over 100 pounds. I wore great, fashionable clothes. I owned two cars. I lived in a suburban townhouse. I had my own ministry. I was a natural!? I was constantly gripped with the fear that I just couldn’t quite ever measure up. I felt ugly, fat, and unattractive. I always thought if I could preach better, teach better, sing better, be better, that life would get better and God would like me a whole lot more. There was just one problem: I was paralyzed by my “happily safe” life. How could I take a step beyond those barriers and boundaries to be, do, and see something different for myself?
As if the gate to a locked staircase had finally been opened, I was facing an open door. The problem was that in my condition, I could see the door, but I couldn’t see the whole staircase! I could see the first step: allowing my graduate adviser to help me through a change of status from being a master’s level student to a doctoral level student. But, how would I pay for graduate studies? I couldn’t work at my “happily safe” job being an administrative assistant and go to school full time. I couldn’t live in my “happily safe” townhouse and afford the life of being a full time student. I couldn’t be my “happily safe” self and simultaneous play in the NFL of life when I was so good at navigating the terrain of the pee wee league.
As an exSuperwoman, I now realize I was at the crossroad of Dr. King’s quote. I could either “live like a King” or languish in the abyss of comfortable discontent, numbed pain, and silent frustration. However, there was something in me that had grown to trust my graduate adviser. She’d always treated me with the utmost respect. She always encouraged the greatness within me. She always acted as if I was a gift to her and the world. In the seven years that we’d known each other, we’d become intensely close. I trusted her although I rarely trusted anyone else. She knew me, faults, flaws and all; however, she saw something in my I couldn’t see in myself: she saw the greatness in me that would be a gift to the world. I just needed to be a gift to myself!
When you take that step Dr. King exhorts us to pursue, we ignite the fire of destiny in our lives. We open the door to possibility. We break through the barricade that keeps us living a limited existence. Taking that step gives us the passion to persevere in spite of our past and embody the determination needed to draw near to our destination: our destiny!
I earned that degree in 3 years. I was awarded a fellowship and a graduate teaching assistantship. I made more money than I had earned as an administrative assistant. I lived in a larger apartment than the one in which I live now; that’s life in New Orleans! LOL! I bought a new car. I never paid a dime for my doctoral degree. I’m now a tenured professor at an HBCU. I own a consulting company, my ministry is thriving, I attend a church where I’m loved and am living a life I could never have imagined. I’m healed from the pain of my past and using my experiences as a vehicle for showing others the way to healing, freedom and liberation. I’m still moving up that staircase I once could not see. With each step, I’m getting stronger and gaining more endurance. I’m enjoying the journey of my life one step at a time!
As we celebrate the commitment, perseverance, resilience and dogged determination Dr. King displayed in order to overcome the insurmountable obstacles of hate, fear and violence, know that you already embody all of his qualities in your DNA. You could not be who you are, where you are, and what you are without them. You’ve come so far already. Now, when you take that step without seeing the staircase in front of you, it is these qualities that help you lift your leg of faith and move from “happily safe” to joyfully jubilant! Take that step! The staircase is there. No need to see it….just believe it!
PEACE! – Dr. Kim
copyright 2015 by Dr. Kimberly J. Chandler