“Motolani mi!” my mom said in greeting on the phone. “My Motolani,” she translated; Motolani, my name.
“Motolani. Do you know what that means?” she asked. I said I didn’t though I was sure she’d told me once before, I just forgot.
“Write this down.” I grabbed a pen and a post-it note.
Me and my mother chat like this almost every day: I’d come home from work or work and class tired and sit in my office nook in my Jamaica Plain apartment; she, in our Long Island home, would be sprawled on the couch, barely gripping the cordless phone but listening as I went on breathlessly in 10 minute increments about how Motolani always has to be the one to wait for good things.
And it was always hard to make people understand what I saw an obvious and enduring pattern: in a group, I would often turn up the have-not. Not “one of” or “a” but “the” and it was becoming harder to ignore. When I needed someone to talk to or craved a surprise bouquet of flowers — sue me, I’m a romantic — I was reminded how amongst my immediate family, I was the one without the romantic partner. Once I went out with a group of girlfriends, I was the one without a dancing partner. I stood in the middle, awkwardly, dancing by myself not knowing what to do. And this is the pattern I’ve come to know, dancing in middle by myself as others, often with whom I started, grabbed a partner when a slow song came on. I could stand off to the sides to save face but how would I ever get what I wanted there? If these are things so ubiquitous, so seemingly effortlessly attained, why can’t I participate?
At the end of the night, my girlfriends asked me whether I had fun and I lied and said I did but then thought the rest of the weekend, Didn’t they see?
Then I got this internship, a coveted paid internship, and thought, Me? Seriously? It didn’t take long for me to realize, well… you don’t have to stop at an internship. In fact, the group of interns I started with were actively pursuing permanent positions there so why feel any shame in doing so myself? And so I worked harder than I ever had before at networking, making connections, saying yes to what I could and all the while maintaining an open mind. Among the many jobs I applied that were denied me, I heard the same thing from HR: “It was between you and someone else.” I took that as a compliment always. I eventually landed a temporary job, albeit challenging and good.
Like the many choices I’d been presented previously — keep your retail job because this internship is only 10 weeks or quit it and hope for a real job, and keep your unpaid spring internship or go for the gold and stay with a paid position in the field that you’re paying loads for a masters’ degree in — I’d gone for the riskier choice: The junior level temp job over the entry level permanent one. I figured I’m young and single, why not make the decision that could potentially have a bigger pay off? But taking the temp job meant forgoing security, benefits (which included tuition reimbursement) — oh, and peace of mind.
Soon, I noticed interns getting hired and I, still applying to jobs, was not; all the while, the temp period was coming to a close. And then the questions begging for answers began to loom. You’re turning 26 in April and you were JUST put on medication, you’re going to need health insurance, right? What about that summer class you’re supposed to take? You’re out of grant money, what are you going to do? What about all those bills you put on auto-pay? What about your rent? Oh and, is the plan still to save $10,000 before you have to start paying your student loans again? And then the biggie: Everyone else got jobs, why didn’t you? What’s wrong with you? And the last question, What’s Wrong With You?, began to take on a different tone; not one of self-deprecation but of confusion. Why are you once again, the only one, Motolani? What makes you so undeserving?
These questions haunted me for several weeks. And then Mom called.
“Write this down,” she said and so I grabbed a pen and a post-it note.
“Motolani: I am worthy of blessings.” She said it like this, emphasizing the word worthy. “Ola means wealth.” Wealth, be it love, be it money, be it relevance, be it peace; my name tells me I’m worthy of all that.
How very interesting, I thought, that it’s the thing I struggle with most. Not why I seem to have such bad luck but if I’m worthy of good luck. This pattern of second best, of almost there has somehow convinced me that I’m not. I’d come to wonder why this was the trend in my life and then it was apparent because I didn’t believe that otherwise was possible. I’d sold myself short in so many ways. When I dreamed about writing in my favorite magazines I thought, “meh, maybe not.” When I told a friend I’d one day like to be interviewed by Oprah, I immediately thought, “For what?” When someone told me I was pretty I’d think, “Do you see how big my nose is?”
I took a dry-erase marker and wrote on my mirror “KNOW YOUR NAME. Motolani = I am worthy of blessings.” This is what I saw every day when I looked at myself in the mirror.
In the weeks that followed, I reassessed my skills and saw my worth with clarity for the first time in a long time. I could do all these things with confidence—editing, writing, accounting, HTML and CSS! I could build an e-book! I’m HILARIOUS. I’m charming. I’m fashionable. I’m loyal. I’m smart. I’m kind. I’m gonna be all right.