Love Letter on Self Doubt

Rahima Gambo?Hadiza Maiduguri 2016

IMAGE: Hadiza, Maiduguri 2016. Rahima Gambo.

What do you do? We’re asked this four-worded question daily. In certain circles of power--hello New York--the exchange is almost transactional. Something we don’t think about, except as an opportunity to pitch our cleverly branded lives of deep purpose. I’ve come to understand What Do You do as the American stand-in for How Are You--as only an African can ask, How are you? Meaning, tell me about your right shoulder, your mother-in-law, your last good prayer, how your business is coming and isn’t it a just shame these politicians have no shame?

I’m making my peace with What Do You Do. But I have to tell you, the price of peace ain’t cheap. For years, I bristled at the cost of admission for cocktails among sauve suits and strong teeth. I even came up with a clever response I never had the chutzpah to use. Oh, me? My superego would dramatically demur, I’m a stay at home girlfriend!

Better yet, I thought about borrowing a real-life response from my mother, who, standing at the end of a receiving line for a very important person being introduced hand to hand around a very fancy room, turned to said big man with her slim hand stretched out for a shake and with her megawatt smile ready to sweep up any doubt. I’m a pickpocket, she said, And I have to tell you, it’s quite a lucrative trade.

Yes, my mother said this. In. Real. Life. And yes, she still says the most outrageous gangsta things of anyone I know. But jokes aside, why does the simple question, What Do You Do, make me so uncomfortable? Is it the naked status check the question usually implies? Could be. Like the recent exchange I had here in Cape Town. I’m a writer, I said, which was followed-up by, What does your husband do? Or is it the inhumane bargain our purpose driven generation seems so eager to accept--our collective conflation of what and who we are as humans with what we do for work? Our confusing the inherent value of human life and worth with “finding a purpose” and “living our values.” Maybe. All these are good reasons. But the truth is complicated. Isn’t it always. I’ve become honest enough to accept the deep self-doubt that question invokes in me.

Especially before I understood my calling as a writer, being asked And What Do You Do, made me quiver. Still does. Because it means centering my biggest insecurity--my entrepreneurship--before strangers who have no idea they’re delving into open-heart surgery. Because for me, entrepreneurship is about anything but certainty and declarative answers to simple questions. What Do I Do? Oh, well. I fail. Everyday. And then I pretend it’s all under control. That hardly seems like a fair response to toss at an innocent suit.

So why am I throwing it at you, dear Boss Lady reader? And why would I make the thing that rankles me most the headline story of my very first love letter to a beloved community?

It’s very simple. KYNDRED Company is my fuck you to self-doubt. It is my loud proclamation that This Is What I Do. That I have no idea if any of this company for creativity and community or feminist future sisterhood featuring brown queer and black and white chicks will work, but I’ll be damned if I’m not outchere’s trying. And even with that self-smug declaration, This Is What I Do, Please understand (note to self), I know I’ll fail. And that that, for maybe the first time in my life, is fine by me.

Because what I do is not what I AM. It is not even who I AM. And the four-worded monster, What Do You Do, is merely an invitation to a much more interesting question. How are you? What’s good? What’s giving you life?

Please write. I’d love to know.