What does it mean to “deserve” something?

In my recent accolades and good news, many praised me with comments, like “Well deserved!”

What is the purpose of awards? Is it to bring attention to the underdog? Is it to show us what we already know? Is it to send a political, hierarchal message?

I know plenty of people doing great work who never win anything! (And I used to know plenty of bootleg people who won all the time… shhhhh).

So what does it mean to deserve something?

When it comes to success, I consistently get 2 conflicting pieces of advice.

1. Be modest, humble, and let your work speak for itself.

2. Accept that it’s okay to brag and share your success. People of marginalized identities (and in my case, Womyn of Color) are not always acknowledged at the level that they “deserve” so we often have to toot our own horn to be recognized.

Here’s the thing: If I’m humble, no one know what I’m doing (which makes moving up very difficult). If I share, I’m braggy and unlikeable. There may be awards, but there’s no winning in this situation. 

Yesterday, I won the NASPA Jim Rhatigan Fellowship and will be honored on stage at the NASPA Foundation Pillar of the Profession Award Ceremony in New Orleans. I submitted a video project because of the support of Dr. Sumi Pendakur, and the video included the narratives from Dr. Khristian Kemp-Delisser from Colgate University, Tomás Sanchez from the University of Vermont, and Daren Mooko from Pomona College. Their insights truly made the video, and I am proud of the result.

I struggled with whether to post my news about winning this award.

I had already shared the news about winning two awards with ACPA and NASPA, among other good things in my life. Social media, especially Facebook, is conditioned to be a bragging station for everything from engagements, job promotions, and babies… so many babies…

At what point will people start to resent me for being successful? Do I have to pick and choose when to share my victories recognizing that not everyone can be happy for me? Am I being cocky or is this all gendered bullshit? The fact that I even have to worry about this is bullshit.

As a trusted mentor told me, “You shouldn’t feel guilty for being successful.” 

But I did. I felt guilty.

Guilty because I didn’t think I deserved it? Guilty because I was making others feel bad? Guilty because… I’ve internalized other people’s insecurities? I don’t know.

And on the other end, if I don’t share my good news, I feel that I am doing a disservice to my community. I recognize what it means for someone who looks like me to be a “winner,” especially within my Pilipin@ American community.

Growing up, it was rare to see Pilipin@s in the media, government, news… anywhere really, yet alone as winners. Maybe this is why we are so proud of Manny Pacquiao, lightweight boxing champion from the Philippines. I think boxing is awful and violent… BUT if Pacquiao is fighting, I’m standing right by the TV shouting “ISA PA!” (“ONE MORE!”).

Anything good that comes from me is not from me alone– it takes a village. For one of my last class assignments, I revisited my professional philosophy statement. In reading this, I realized that much of my career success is much like the image of bahaniyan, a word that means “spirit of community” in Tagalog.

As you may see in the image, it’s a village of people carrying a house. It’s clear that this house could not be moved by one person alone. In the same way this house is carried by the community, I know that my success is shared by those who have helped me along the way. 

I am positively influenced by so many people– mentors, leaders, teachers. I am sustained by the friends who pick up my 1am FaceTime calls when I am tired and ready to give up. I am someone people have invested in… from paying for my professional development to participating in creative projects, such as the video I created for the Rhatigan award.

But I also possess the grit and drive to make shit happen. 

And so, with this still so fresh on my mind on the eve of the TPE and NASPA conference, I will move forward with two quotes on my mind and heart.

1. “To whom much is given, much is expected.” – Luke 12:48 

2. “…when you’ve worked hard, and done well, and walked through that doorway of opportunity, you do not slam it shut behind you. You reach back and you give other folks the same chances that helped you succeed.” – First Lady Michelle Obama at the 2012 Democratic National Convention 

So much of my success is because of people who have believed in me, used their privilege to level the playing field, and carried me when I was shattered. I learned how to mentor others, because I have incredible elders showing me the way. And for as long as I can sustain myself, I am committed to my responsibility… to hold doors opento not be afraid to show my face as that of a winner, and to celebrate other womyn of color (especially those who have the courage to celebrate their own successes).