Last year my incredible colleague Catalina Morales asked me a haunting question, “What do you need to leave behind so you can meet your future self?”. As I reflect on last year and slow-walk into this year I know one thing I’m laying down: compartmentalization.
The Oxford Languages dictionary defines compartmentalization as the division of something into sections or categories. It goes on to use this example: “fear of leaks led top officials to order the extreme compartmentalization of information.” It is a purposeful separation.
For me, compartmentalization is a coping mechanism I’ve used to manage the many roles I play. My professional life lived in one box, my role as a mother existed in its own box, my writing another. All the boxes had their respective places, they didn’t touch that much. But, like many of the symptoms of white supremacy deeply embedded in me and in our culture, compartmentalization was diminishing my impact on the world.
Living in Puerto Rico has so deeply connected me to my fluid cultural roots of wholeness. Against that background, compartmentalization feels constraining; like a skin needing to be shed. Several years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. On my journey of treatment, healing and growing I’ve realized that trying to keep all those boxes separate was stressing me out. Showing up differently in each space in a different way is exhausting. So, in 2021 I practiced being my full self, showing up as authentically as possible in more parts of my life. This meant taking off masks, worrying less about what people think about me, being more honest with myself, laughing more fully, and loving like I’ve never loved before.
As I release compartmentalization I’m seeing the fullness that comes when I break down the partitions between various parts of myself.
Last year, this instinct was rewarded in the amount of $25 million. That’s quite a lot of positive reinforcement!
Here’s the back story. A couple of years ago, Denise the Person accepted an invitation to join an experiment led by Eugene E. Kim of Faster than 20. I agreed to be part of a group of collaborative practitioners who have made a single commitment to each other: We check in every week via Slack. The purpose of the experiment has been ‘to grow our sharing muscles.’ Over time, I have grown to love and know these people most of whom I have never met in person.
In March, Author Denise was invited by a fellow woman of color from Eugene’s sharing group to speak to a national consulting firm about my book Thriving in the Fight: A Survival Manual for Latinas on the Front Lines of Change. Author Denise was invited to discuss the experience that I as a woman of color have had in my role as Professional Denise. I was able to highlight my experience over a twenty-year timeframe as the organization for which I work transformed into a racial justice organization that centers the leadership of Black and Brown women. As a result of my presentation, Professional Denise was invited to make a big ask of a philanthropist. Last June, the organization I work for received its largest grant ever — a $25 million wire transfer which required us to count up all the zeroes!
This benefited Denise the Person and Professional Denise – along with a whole lot of other people. Denise the Person breathed more deeply as our family’s breadwinner. Professional Denise asked for the help I really need at work to care for Author Denise. This included asking for additional staff, a promotion and salary increase I had been wanting. Now, Denise the Person has more room to breathe which makes Denise the Daughter, Neighbor, Wife, Cousin, Daughter-in-Law and Professional a lot more pleasant to be around.
You see, all my boxes touch.
Because they do.
I am one person, with many dimensions that feed each other.
I’m not settling for half-ass.
I deserve it all.
That’s hard to say over the screaming voice of Five Year Old Denise on repeat saying, “You have to perform to be seen!” She’s wrong, you see, it’s actually the opposite. When I show myself and I am seen, I perform exponentially. More importantly though, whether or not I perform, I deserve to be seen.
And so are you, Dear One.
I invite you to consider the boxes you might have created for yourself; and the boxes to which other people may be assigning you. I invite you to release your most joyful, irresistibly authentic self to the world and see what comes back in return.