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A strange thing happens to shoes here in Barbados. If you don’t wear them, they fall apart. Literally. If you ask someone here about it they will tell you “the shoe dry rot”.

I have experienced this first hand. I wore a pair of sneakers on a plane from Barbados to England that I hadn’t worn for a while. After going through security, I noticed my foot felt weird and I looked down to discover that the sole of the shoe had fallen off.

The only thing available to purchase was a pair of flip-flops (or “slippers” as we call them in Barbados). After landing in London, I had to take a bus to Victoria and then walk through Central London, in flip-flops. Did I mention it was 6 a.m in November?

I’ve wondered about why this happens for some time. I spent years in England and would put shoes away for a year, sometimes longer, and they’d still be wearable. But here in Barbados, if I put a pair of shoes away for 6 months, it will not be fit for purpose when I take it back down. Perhaps it’s the hot humid climate, but I have settled on a more philosophical view: shoes are meant to be worn, just as life is meant to be lived.

Some time ago, I realized I was saving life for a special occasion. I wanted to lose weight. I wanted to change career. I was wanting and waiting for changes in my life to happen before I would allow myself to truly live.

My wake-up call came when I finally realized two things. The first was that I was enough, right then. The second was the importance of representation.

As a black girl growing up in Barbados, I was empowered being surrounded by women (and men) who looked like me doing many things, in every profession.

This was my normal. I thought everyone lived like this, until I moved to England.

Living in England, I learned how influential those images and experiences had been in my life. Seeing people who looked like me leading organizations, running businesses, and families. I saw professionals in a wide variety of fields, in our classrooms, and in charge of our schools. Regardless of what I thought of them, the very fact that they were there reinforced the belief that I too could do any of those things, and more.

Representation continued to be important to me, but only recently did I realize the role that I play. Only recently did I realize that am in the peripheral vision of today’s young people. My presence is important. How I work and play and how I love my friends and family is important.

This awareness has been transformative.

Recognizing the huge difference it made for me to be immersed in positive images of people that looked like me, plus the realization that I am now a living representation for others … will I choose to hide away? Will I constantly criticize myself for not being as far along as I hoped? Will I hide because I don’t look or feel the way I want to? Or will I remain visible just as I am – a positive, contributing member of society?

The daily news is filled with lots of what is wrong in my island and the world. I have come to understand that I must remain visible, as I am, and that it’s important to tell my story of how I worked towards my dreams. Doing so helps give younger people belief in their own dreams.

My presence can provide the encouragement someone else needs to be as she is, and start before she feels ready. Each of us is part of the framework for other people’s dreams – exactly as we are, in all our various shapes, sizes, professions and walks of life. Even when I am not overjoyed with where I am, there are children everywhere dreaming big dreams and I can be a part of the reason they believe it is possible.

I am enough, right now. I matter, right now. We all do. Don’t save life for a special occasion. Wear the shoes.

Written by: Safiya Robinson, coach, safiyarobinson.com

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