By Kawai Kaneali’i, MSN, RN, Community Health & Wellness Advocate, Valley Medical Center
I’ll be honest—I hesitated in sharing my story this month. Between my role, which takes me all over the organization, and my trademark bald noggin’, I’m an easy person to recognize at Valley. And even though I am honored to be a part of so many of the wonderful things we do here, sometimes I just want to fly under the radar and it’s rarely an easy thing for me to do. In the end, I changed my mind for two reasons. The first is because I believe in the power of vulnerability and sharing. The second was this year’s theme for Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander month: Advancing Leaders Through Opportunity.
Last year for ANHPI month, I wrote an article titled “Your Voice Matters.” In it, I talked about the challenges of growing up in a primarily white environment; never feeling white enough or Hawaiian enough to fit into either category. When I went back to read it this year, I was reminded of something I said, “Representation matters. I wish I’d had that when I was growing up, but I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to be that for someone else now.” It reminded me that even though shying away from sharing is sometimes easier, and putting yourself out there can feel scary, if it ends up making a difference for even one person, it will be worth it.
So, the reason this years’ theme caught my attention is because growing up the way I did meant I spent a lot of time trying to make myself as much like everyone around me as possible. If you’ve ever seen the movie Runaway Bride, I’m like Julia Roberts’ character when she realizes she has no idea what type of eggs she likes because it’s always changed depending on who she was with and what their preferences were. I have always been good at adapting. I’m good at finding out what people are looking for and molding myself into that out of fear, once again, that I might not be enough as just me.
I’ve spent the last couple of years trying to unlearn that behavior, but one of the biggest challenges in achieving that, especially in a professional setting, is how hard it is to find a leader and a mentor who looks like me and understands the barriers that people of color face without me having to lay my hardships out on the table for them to examine. It means I always hesitate before I share my perspective and assess how many people in the room might be able to understand without explanation, and sometimes that means I keep my thoughts to myself in an effort to self-protect. It can be difficult to trust your own voice or gut-feeling when the people around you can’t always inherently understand your experience or perspective. I know I am not alone in this feeling or behavior, and that there are likely many others who feel and do the same, so please know you’re not alone either.
That said, I have done a tremendous amount of growing since I started here at Valley, and a huge portion of that growth can be attributed to many incredible leaders that have supported and believed in me along the way. Five years ago, I was fresh out of nursing school and imposter syndrome had me in a state of disbelief that after my residency, I would somehow be trusted to help bring babies into this world. Then only two years later I left the bedside to join the Patient Care Services Education team just in time for the pandemic to turn our world upside down. I knew so little about myself back then. I hadn’t found my voice yet and it took an impressive amount of hardship to begin finding it.
On the day I’m writing this, it’s the two-year anniversary of me taking on this life-changing role in community outreach and I am indescribably grateful for all the opportunity it has afforded me. Not only have I been able to build meaningful relationships within our community and all across our organization, but I no longer question whether I belong here. We aren’t a perfect organization; we have a lot of work to do. But I do believe there are an abundance of extraordinary leaders here who care about our patients and the people who work here, and I see firsthand how much they strive to support one another and make the right decisions every single day. Many of them are the reason I am where I am today.
Advancing leaders through opportunity means giving people a chance. To try, to grow, to make mistakes, to learn, to surprise you. This theme for ANHPI month highlights the importance of doing this equitably so that our wonderfully diverse workforce can be seen at every level of our organization, so people like me no longer have to look around the room and weigh whether we feel safe enough to let our voices be heard. I don’t know where I’d be today if so many people hadn’t taken a chance on me, but I do know I’ll continue to advocate every day to help be that for others like me. So, no matter where you work, or at what level you operate, or how much imposter syndrome you’re carrying around, you are worth taking a chance on, and your voice at the table not only matters, but is crucial in helping us continue to grow, and learn, and to be the type of amazing community we all deserve.