“First Generation: Conquering Unforeseen Challenges That Arise When Breaking Generational Curses”: D’Janae Robinson with RHJ Consulting (Video + Transcript)

May 29, 2024

D’Janae Robinson (Chief of Staff at RHJ Consulting) defines what being the first means as a framework, helping identify how it shows up in lived experiences. She shares how the challenges impacting lived experienced (e.g. workplace, family, society), and helps you conduct an inspiring self-analysis of ways to conquer challenges.


In this ELEVATE session, D’Janae Robinson (Chief of Staff at RHJ Consulting) defines what being the first means as a framework, helping identify how it shows up in lived experiences. She shares how the challenges impacting lived experienced (e.g. workplace, family, society), and helps you conduct an inspiring self-analysis of ways to conquer challenges.

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DJanae Robinson ELEVATE Getting massages eliminates stress within the body so how does stress attack your body healing

Transcript of ELEVATE Session:

D’Janae Robinson:

Good afternoon everyone, and thank you so much, Angie, for that introduction. Happy International Women’s Day. Let’s engage in the chat and tell me one word that describes how you’re feeling today on this Friday. Maybe even three words just to describe how you’re feeling on this amazing day, being a first generation and conquering the unforeseen challenges that arise when breaking generational curses.

For this topic, I want to not just focus on being a first gen in the aspect of academia. I also want to bring in those who are trailblazers. You are the first in your family to navigate a specific occupational space.

Maybe you’re the first entrepreneur, maybe you’re the first in your family to navigate a tech space, or based off of how you choose to identify in all your intersections, you’re the first in your family to say, you know what? I’m picking my career first.

I made the decision. I don’t want children. And that is such a foreign concept, right? As the woman is how I identify, and especially in my community to pick career. Why would you want to do that? Why would you not want to have kids? It’s just a personal choice.

As I navigate through this presentation, I want you to also consider, I am talking about yourself as well. Even though the focus will come from my lived experience, from the small perspective of being a first generation, a two-time, first generation college graduate, before I move forward, I want us to ensure as a diversity equity inclusion specialist that we create a psychologically safe space.

I am here not to change how you were raised, not to change how you believe or not to change your lived experience, but I encourage you to approach this conversation from a different lens and perspective and understand that everyone that’s sitting at this equitable table that we keep talking about has a different lived experience than you.

As I navigate through this conversation and we’re all engaging in the chat to understand that your perspective is valid and so is someone else’s, here are three ways that I conquered and navigated my challenges. We glorify and glamorize being the first. Being a trailblazer. We glorify and glamorize promotions.

Whether you’re the first woman in a specific role, the first non-binary in a specific role, the first outwardly, whatever the case may be, we praise them, we cheer you on. You even have cake sometimes, or a nice fancy plaque.

We do not talk about what comes with the weight, the baggage, the expectations that come with creating this pathway, being the first, being the trailblazer. You are the blueprint.

For me, as a two-time, first generation graduate, my mental health was impacted. I don’t know what it is about getting a secondary degree or being the first, but here I was in a university in a school after already experienced corporate America and came back and I felt inadequate.

I felt like I wasn’t qualified because when I looked around this table, I was the only one who looked like me. I was the blueprint, but yet I was looking for my mentor. I couldn’t call my big mama. In my family, being the first, I couldn’t call my auntie. I couldn’t call my uncle and say, big mama. When you were 25 navigating your secondary degree, what did it do? What did it feel like? What steps did you take and how did you take care of your mental health?

This is what I was able to do. I was able to get monthly massages. One, getting massages, eliminates stress within the body. I was so tense. I was also dealing with weight fluctuation. My hair also was falling out. I did this on purpose. But way back then, in 2020, I believe my hair started falling out.

That is how stress attacked my body. Engage in the chat. How does stress attack your body? How have you navigated your challenges in the endeavor that you embarked in? Monthly massages was one, an accountability partner. I needed a safe space to go to. I needed a friend. I needed a person to call and say the things we ought not dare to say, we should be proud to be the first.

We should be proud for that promotion. But they don’t talk about what comes with being the first. And I was calling her and saying, friend, I want to quit. Today’s the day I want to give up. I can’t do this anymore because I’m searching and I’m searching and I’m looking for someone to tell me I’ve been there. D, just keep pushing.

An accountability partner, they weren’t there to problem solve. They were just there to say, close your laptop, go take a walk, go get your massage, schedule another massage. I love the good cry out method, so just cry it out the other way that it impacts me. Being a first generation of trailblazer, imposter syndrome and me were like, peanut butter and jelly, salt and pepper, green eggs and ham imposter showed up in the work.

Working in two of the top tech companies and being the only one, sometimes that looks like me on my team, I felt inadequate because when you don’t see people who look like you in spaces that you aspire to be in, it can be hard to believe that you’re qualified and equipped to be in a specific role, to be in a specific academia space, as well as my family being the first, I was looking around at my family and saying, nobody else has navigated this path. So maybe I’m weird, maybe I’m different. Maybe I shouldn’t pursue a different path because I’ve never seen anybody else done it.

What did I do internally in the corporate space, I found support groups. I found internal ERGs, employee research groups that I can relate to with other first generation graduates who I was able to identify with and ask them how did they navigate their path as well as therapy. Within the family space, I don’t know about your family, I just can talk about mine.

Going to therapy was still foreign, it’s still taboo. And I’m 30 years old now, going to therapy to seek psychological help, to help me remove whatever that imposter syndrome was in my body. I had to go back to my childhood. Why did I feel inadequate? Why did I feel like I had to work so hard to obtain something to where I was still the only one in the room? And last but not least, my faith as a unapologetic God-fearing woman.

Let me tell y’all what, my faith was tested in a way that had never been tested before. Why? Because I no longer had the environment to look at folks that I wanted to be like. This was all self, this was all about me. I was the blueprint.

I had to call capital GOD, and I said, look, man, this is crazy. You want to pick me? But it’s never been done before. So my prayer life had to increase. Now, if you are not a believer of capital GOD, that is absolutely okay. If you are a believer in energy, in crystals, a higher power, a higher source, I encourage you to tap into that in the moments where you want to give up and the moments where you feel like you shouldn’t be here. And the last thing that I was able to do was I had to trust.

I had to trust that God put me in this place for a reason to be a light in rooms full of darkness. I was called and I had to trust him that I was here to help other women, other non-binary individuals, and to look back and to be the representation I never had. When the younger version of myself comes and says, DJ, I need your help. How did you do it? I can help them.

I understand the power of visual representation and seeing yourself in spaces that you’ve never been in is the motivator. If you look at the top left on my screen in the blue chair, that was the first photo of me working at a Fortune 500 company and being the first in my family to work at a tech company, the photo right below it with me crying in my graduation camp, hugging my aunt, the first of my family to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, the top center photo.

I am chief of staff of RHJ, consulting industry, excuse me, consulting company, and I got this position at the age of 29, so I’m also navigating ageism. I am the youngest person in this role, leading a team of folks who are older than me, but the first in my family to hold such a C-suite level position. The middle bottom one is HBCU. I’m a proud HBCU graduate. Shout out to the HBCU graduates that are on the call. Drop what school you’re representing. I’m representing Houston Tillison University based in Austin, Texas. It is the oldest institution of higher learning in Austin, Texas, and the only HBCU in Austin, Texas. Last but not least, the last picture on my right hand side with President Collette. She was the first black female president of the illustrious Houston Tillison University, and I took a picture along with her as I was the first in my family to obtain my master’s degree.

Now you can see that you’ve become the blueprint. Find people in your community, people not in your community, to be allies. To let you know I’ve done it too. I’ve been a trailblazer. I’ve been the blueprint. And in closing, key takeaways be the representation.

You are the mother you never had. You are the auntie, the brother, the sister, the niece, the nephew. You are the representation you never had. And then instead of thinking, why me, I encourage you to change that perspective and say, why not me?

Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit of my story, my testimony, my lived experience on breaking generational curses and navigating the challenges that occur when you are operating a new path and you’ve become the new stigma, the new representation of your unapologetic self.

Lastly, please connect with me on LinkedIn. If you take your phone and scan the QR code, I would love to connect with everybody. Happy Women’s History Month and Happy International Women’s Day.

What opportunities and challenges have you seen hiring a tenured woman leader where Gen X candidates compete with a younger pool, millennials or Generation Z that might not understand their first, how to align differences?

Yeah, I’m going to share my lived experience as being the youngest in leadership roles. The opportunities that come with that. One is experience and finding allies, an ally.

An ally also doesn’t mean someone that looks like you, but it also could mean someone within your community, so I encourage you, Anna, and please let me know if I’m answering this correctly – Find folks who are willing to drop your name in rooms in which you otherwise wouldn’t have been in.

The reason why also along with my faith that I’m able to be a chief of staff in this position is because myself and a male ally shout out to male allies, he saw that I had a large amount of transferable skills.

I was just missing key variables that I otherwise wouldn’t have access to unless I was at the table, so those are the opportunities, the challenges, and I’m going to be so blunt and transparent, the challenges that occur by being the youngest is people not taking you seriously.

People thinking that you are inadequate or you do not have the knowledge because of your age. Ageism is a spectrum. Whether you are on the, I call ’em wisdom, folks of wisdom, or you are growing in your career, you may have different experiences.

For me, the challenges were I wasn’t taken seriously and I received questioning of my knowledge and expertise in a way that I haven’t seen other individuals on my same team who align in the same age experience.

Angie Chang:

Thank you so much for that talk. That was very inspiring.

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