By Pauly Denetclaw:

Tears slowly built up behind my lashes as I explained to the group how I had almost wrecked that week’s radio show. The eyes of disappointment looked back at me while I explained my side of the story and it was hard to keep the tears from falling. I hate the feeling of failing, especially failing the people I’ve come to care about and respect. They were all counting on me and I let them down.

It was all my fault and I knew I messed up. Letting people see me truly vulnerable is difficult for me. I hide behind layers and layers to protect my shaky self-esteem. I overcompensate for skills I don’t have, to prove I’m good enough, and that was the problem.  

I didn’t call Kamaria for help. I didn’t tell Jason I was losing control. I didn’t call Roberta and tell her I wasn’t prepared for this—I just kept going even though I knew I couldn’t pull the show together. Audition wasn’t working correctly, the bed music didn’t sound right, the timing was off and I was too guarded to admit I couldn’t handle it.

I’ve always had problems with asking for help, but it never hurt anyone except for me. This time I needed to ask for help because others would be impacted by my actions. There’s a reason I didn’t play team sports or like working in groups for school projects. Having people count on me hasn’t always ended well.

During this radio production, all the bad aspects of my personality came out and now it was time to confront them. Roberta, the director for Generation Justice, looked at me and asked why I didn’t ask for help. I didn’t have an answer. I just looked to the ground and said “I don’t know.”

She continued to talk with me about the barriers I create with people when I’m asked about my abilities. Roberta was referencing my nature of abruptly ending conversations that were about my skill set.  After hearing this I took a moment to think about why I created a barrier between other people and myself.

It was because I felt like I still needed to prove myself in everything I did. It was the voice of internal oppression telling me “you’re not good enough to be here,” “you’re worthless,” and “you need to work harder.” I was trapped in a box created by historical trauma and I carry that in me.

Roberta reminded me that I need to be aware of it but not let it hinder me. For so long it has controlled my every move. I almost didn’t apply for the Generation Justice fellowship because I didn’t think I would compete with the other candidates. I didn’t ask for help because that meant I wasn’t smart enough to figure it out. I had this voice telling me that I had to continually assert my competence.

Then Roberta said something I’ll never forget. She looked me in the eyes and with an open heart said “you don’t have anything to prove.” Suddenly I had this immense sense of relief. I really didn’t have anything to prove.

Having to ask questions and for help doesn’t mean I’m incompetent. It means I care about the quality of my work and doing it right the first time. Being able to communicate openly with people makes my job and their job easier.

Before this difficult conversation with Roberta I didn’t feel comfortable with the vulnerability that comes with asking for help or a question.  Now every time I have those moments where I want to push people away because I “can” handle it, I remember what she said to me.