1: Know Yourself
We fear our full selves.
We are afraid of who we are, in all our glory (and grit). We’re constantly “searching” for that person. Or forgetting that person. Or repressing that person. Instead of standing strong in who that person is.
Being FULLY ourselves is necessary for us because it serves as a grounding force. I find that it’s the case for me. There is a lot to be afraid of in this world, because in general, things can be a wreck out there. And none of us needs to be afraid of who we are in our whole personhood, because who has the time?
This standing in your full self isn’t about being an immovable person, whose beliefs are stuck in a rock. It’s not that can’t nobody tell you shit, or you not being able to admit when you’re wrong. Instead, it’s about having a strong sense of identity. It’s about knowing you belong in this world just as much as anyone else. It’s about taking up the space you earned simply by being born.
One of my favorite poems is the Desiderata, written by Max Ehrmann. My favorite part is: “You are a child of the universe / no less than the trees and the stars; you have a right to be here /And whether or not it is clear to you / no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.”
“YOU HAVE A RIGHT TO BE HERE.” You sure in the hell do.
Oddly enough, knowing this fullness of who you are doesn’t make you more stubborn. Instead, it makes you more likely to grow, since you know you have a solid foundation that doesn’t change even as you’ve learned new things and new perspectives. This is a step you need to be a professional troublemaker. Because you will GET IN TROUBLE. Guaranteed. What makes you realize it’s worth it? This process of knowing the fullness of who you are.
A lot of fear fighting and professional troublemaking is confronting things that will knock us off our square. Things that will slap us into dizziness and make us forget everything we know is real. We need solid feet, rooted in something strong to continue to stand. Knowing ourselves is important because it provides that foundation for us. It doesn’t allow anyone or anything to tell us who we are. Because when people tell us how amazing we are, that’s good to absorb. But what about when someone tells us we aren’t worthy? Or we don’t have value? Or we don’t deserve kindness and love? Or that we deserve papercuts? To know thyself is to not take all the praise to head or take all the shaming to heart.
To know thyself is to know your core, and for me, to know your core is to feel rooted in something outside of myself. It is to know, not only who I am but whose I am.
Whose We Are
Whose I am is not about belonging to someone or being beholden to people. It is about the community you are tied to that holds you accountable. It is about knowing you are part of a tribe that is greater than yourself. It is about feeling deeply connected to someone, and that no matter where you go, you have a base. If we’re phones, knowing whose we are is our charging station.
I learned the importance of WHOSE you are growing up. As a Yoruba girl, I am a part of a tribe that prioritizes your people sometimes as much as it prioritizes an individual. Collectivism comes alive for us through the traditional ORÍKÌ (oh-ree-kee).
What’s an ORIKI? It is a Yoruba word that combines two words to mean “praising your head/mind.” Ori is “head” and Ki is “to greet or praise.” An Oriki is a greeting that praises you through praising your kinship and speaking life to your destiny. It is your personal hype mantra, and can be spoken or sung.
The original attempts to tell you who you are make up your oriki. It's used to remind you of your roots and your history. It might include the city your father’s from, and where his father is from. It might include the things that make your family name special. It brags on your people. It lets people know who you WERE, who you ARE, who you WILL BE. It reminds you of those who came before you and blesses those who will come after. It might even include some shade.
Orikis are often sung at your birthday or celebrations. They also sing them to see you off to the next life. An oriki connects you to your ancestors, and it will move even the most stoic to cry because you feel it in your chest. Your tear ducts just give up the ghost and let the water go.
I am the granddaughter of a woman named Olufunmilayo Juliana Faloyin, and she’s the one who serves as my compass. When Grandma would say her name, she’d always say it with a smile. Which makes sense, because her name literally means “God gave me joy.” It was like her very self and presence brought her joy. When they sang my grandmother’s oriki at her funeral, I got emotional because it was a poetic affirmation of her presence on this earth and a send off. It was a standing ovation for her spirit.
This is part of my Grandma’s oriki:
Ọmọ Ògbóni Modù lorè, mẹ̀rẹ̀ ní àkún.
Ọmọ Fulani Ùjẹ̀ṣà a múni má parò oko ọni.
Ọmọ a fi ọṣẹ fọ aṣọ kí ọ́mọ Ẹlòmíràn fi eérú fọ ti ẹ̀.
Ọmọ arúgbìnrin owó bọ̀dìdẹ̀
What it loosely means (because there are some Yoruba words that don’t exist in English) is:
The child of the Ìjẹ̀ṣà Fulani who acquires one without killing the birds in one’s farm.
The child who brings out soap to wash his/her own clothes while someone else’s child brings out ashes to wash his/hers.
The child that springs up money (wealth) in multiples.
It ties her back to those who came before her and gasses her up.
I don’t know my oriki. Many of us don’t. Like a lot of traditions, orikis have been de-prioritized as generations pass. I’m out here oriki-less AF. But it’s okay. I’m fine, really. I’m not mad at all that by the time I came along, folks were more blasé about it (clearly I’m lowkey salty but I’ll deal with that with my therapist).
However, a lot of what we already do are derivatives of orikis and we don’t even realize it. The tradition of the ORIKI isn’t just in Yorubaland; it’s gone on through the diaspora. You can see it in the way people rap about themselves. It’s in the way people praise God. It’s in the way we say who we are in the moments we feel most proud.
When Christians praise God, we say: King of kings. Lord of Lords. Alpha and Omega. The beginning and the end. The I am. The Waymaker. That’s an oriki if I ever heard one.
When we think about how people are introduced in something as made up as the TV show Game of Thrones, it tracks. “Daenerys Stormborn of the House Targaryen. First of Her Name. The Unburnt. Queen of the Andals and the First Men. Khaleesi of the Great Grass Sea. Breaker of Chains. Mother of Dragons.” THAT IS SUCH AN ORIKI! Didn’t you feel gassed up on her behalf anytime they introduced her? I know I did. That’s what it is for!
I tend to write ones for people I admire to gas them up as I please. I’ve done a few in the past.
For Michelle Obama: Michelle LaVaughn of House Obama. First of her name. Dame of Dignity. Melanin Magnificence. Chic Chicagoan. Boss Lady of Brilliance. Owner of the Arms of Your Envy. Forever First Lady.
For President Barack Obama: Barack Hussein of House Obama. Second of his name. Swagnificence in the West Wing. He Who Speaks in Complete Sentences. Shea Butter Skinned Leader of the World. Michelle's boo. 44 of Life.
For Beyoncé: Beyoncé Giselle of House Knowles. First of her name. Snatcher of Edges. Killer of Stages. Citizen of Creole Wonderland.
For Oprah: Oprah Gail of House Winfrey. First of her name. First of her name. Change of the world. Protector of the Realm of Noirpublic. Creator of Paths. Breaker of Chains and Limits.
For Toni Morrison: Toni of House Morrison. First of Her Name. Architect of Words. Acclaimed Author. Shifter of Culture. Netter of Nobel Prize. Writing Domino. Legendary Laureate.
For Aretha Franklin: Aretha Louise of House Franklin. First of Her Name. Dame of Detroit. Empress of Elevated Sound. Reverberation Royalty. Vocal Victor. Sovereign of Soul. Aural Authority.
For Janelle Monae: Janelle of House Monae. First of her name. Citizen of the Future. Walker of Tight Ropes. Sprinkler of #NoirPixieDust. Rocker of the Baddest Suits. Giver of No Intergalactic Fucks. Head Android of Wondaland.
For Issa Rae: Issa Rae of House Diop. First of her name. Slayer of Content. Opener of Doors. Creator of Best Life. Producer of Dreams.
For Yara Shahidi: Yara of House Shahidi. First of her name. Builder of Generational Bridges. Teller of Truths. Thoughtful Activist.
So, how do you write a simple Game of Thrones style original for yourself? Here’s the formula, and how I come up with the intros.
First Name and Middle Name of House Last Name. Number of Her/His/Their Name.
That’s the easy part.
The next part, throw humility away. The point of this is to give yourself all the credit. I want you to acknowledge the things that make you proud and the things you have accomplished. They don’t have to just be professional, but they can be things that feel like your superpower. Feel free to use royal titles for yourself (Queen, King, Earl, Duchess), because why not? (If anyone from The Monarchy is reading this, sorry but not sorry for the appropriation.) Get creative with your descriptors if you want. I am also a fan of throwing in some alliteration in there for extra pizzazz.
Noun (occupation or descriptor) of noun (thing).
Luvvie Ajayi of House Jones (because married AF). First of Her Name. Assassin of the Alphabet. Bestseller of Books. Conqueror of Copy. Dame of Diction. Critic of Culture. Sorceress of Side-eyes. Eater of Jollof Rice. Rocker of Fierce Shoes. Queen of the Jones Kingdom. Taker of Stages. Nigerian Noble and Chitown Creator.
I could keep going, but I’ll stop here. You need one of your own and I want you to write it. Now, if you have the time. If not, come back to it.
I know you might be thinking “But those people Luvvie mentioned above are famous and extraordinary and hugely dope. I can’t even measure up to that.” And to that, I say “slap yourself.” Right now, slap yourself. I want you to leave that kinda talk behind. Because yes, those are some AMAZING people, and they have achieved a lot.
But so have you. By being here on this Earth, you have done enough. (We’ll deal with imposter syndrome in a few chapters).
What if you have a complicated relationship with your family members? Or you don’t have any familial ties? Or you were adopted so you don’t know your family history?
For those who might not have blood ties to the people they love most, you are still a part of a people who cherish you, adore you, and are glad that you are here on this Earth in this space and time. To you, I send love. Not knowing the binds that tie you by blood does not preclude you from belonging to a people or a community or a tribe.
If you are someone who can truly say you don’t have an answer to WHOSE you are, and this book has made it to you and these words are being heard or read by you, then you are truly someone who should laugh at fear. Cackle at it, even. Having no one is not a cause of shame here but one of pride because it means you have moved through the world, dropkicking these obstacles in the teeth by yourself. You are a warrior. Your oriki can start with ARMY OF ONE. You have battled life by yourself, and even though it might have bruised you and maybe almost drowned you, YOU MADE IT TO LAND! You are still here. High five yourself. Army of one. Solo soldier. Rock of Gibraltar has nothing on you.
You might be reading this saying “I’m a stay at home mom. I don’t have professional things to put in my oriki.” Well, being a mom is a whole job that you don’t ever retire from and you are constantly working overtime without pay. TRUST, there’s a lot of accomplishments there.
Raiser of Future Leaders. Keeper of Everyone’s Shit Together. Master of Calendar. Expert of Efficiency. Queen of the Last Name Dynasty.
Everybody needs an oriki.
 Olufunmilayo is pronounced Oh-loo-foon-me-la-yaw. Faloyin: Fa-low-yeen.
Copyright © 2021 by Luvvie Àjàyí Jones. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.