Who Do You Think You Are?

Mona Khalil
6 min readMar 4, 2024

My Guyanese great-grandfather believed your religion is the last thing someone should know about you. Your character speaks volumes.

There was always someone, personally or professionally, trying to convince me I was not important enough to be valued. But I used my voice even when it trembled. I walked away from abusive environments even when I had nowhere else to go. I examined how to honor my needs. I had to be brave in the face of fear and adversity. I figured out how to be resourceful. I understood I needed to trust my decisions. Investing in myself is how I created options. Life’s seasons taught me how to build the internal world I have come to rely on.

Sometimes the lesson is reminding yourself you’ve been here before.

Years ago a dear friend texted me, “How do you stay strong when you feel like the world is against you? You are the only person I know that can do it.” I had to be resourceful to survive from a young age. After my parents’ divorce, my mom financially struggled. I did my best to not ask her, or anyone, for money or attention. I worked and volunteered throughout my education and career. I worked as soon as I could to have money in my pocket. I volunteered because I wanted to give back to kids who may not have had direction, support, or resources. Maybe there were other kids like me I could embrace. I took out loans to attend college. I had no other option. Upon graduating, I joined the Peace Corps, recognizing it as an opportunity and a risk. I did not realize I was changing the trajectory of my life. When I returned to the United States, I struggled to integrate back into society. I put myself in therapy. I had a life-changing experience in Morocco I didn’t talk about and couldn’t explain. I took out loans again to put myself through multiple advanced degree programs. I inherently knew companies wouldn’t invest in me by paying for my education on their dime.

I made sacrifices for a hopeful future — a life with options.

I had to dig deep to have faith in my decisions. I knew I had to question the systemic and structural systems that were designing my life on autopilot as a number going through the system– a statistic. As a child with no voice or control over my fate, it was difficult to take in not knowing month after month if the rent would be paid. I dreamt of having a world with options, to make my own choices, that would impact my life. My socio-economic status dictated my access to social circles that either welcomed me or weren’t on my radar. Social circles come with a level of identity for entry. Professional social circles are measured based on the image you can portray or what you can contribute, not who you are.

To survive, my identity used to be attached to my relationships.

Heart work is the work you do, with the resources you have, to become the person you want to be. Heart work is hard work. Many times I looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize my reflection. I know when I become someone I am not: I am numb. I make decisions to keep the peace but completely abandon my needs. I desert my voice. I neglect my body. I eat and do not feel full. Heart work is finding my way back into my body through reflection — prayer, meditation, and journaling. Heart work is reaching out to experts in their field to advise me. Heart work is movement, realigning my heart, body, and soul.

My life’s journey has been about pouring into myself and growing with others.

I found out the hard way not to trust others with my fate. I used to follow the crowd until I saw it was leading me to places that made me feel disconnected from my body. I was a person who didn’t want to be an inconvenience to people or ask for much. I wanted to blend in as much as I could because standing out came with consequences.

When people can’t relate to you, they discard you. They ask, Who do you think you are? However, as I invested in my healing, growth, and development, I could show up authentically. I no longer cared about integrating into social circles and being accepted. I cared more about loving the parts of me that people couldn’t relate to. I understood I needed to trust my decisions. I can’t have freedom without authenticity. I thank God for keeping my heart pure and my lessons deep. My authenticity is an outcome of my growth and sacrifices.

What people think of me is none of my business.

I had to examine how to honor my needs. I was trained young to love people who harmed me. I now know my authenticity is connected to my vulnerability. In business, I came to understand my innocent mistakes had consequences that applied to me and not my colleagues. Using my voice or not following unwritten rules had consequences. Speaking up puts a target on your back. Vulnerability is talking about difficult things and suffering the consequences. I name the elephant in the room, speak up for myself, and create spaces where people can voice concerns impacting their well-being. By using my voice, I gain a portion of my freedom. By not using my voice, I suffer physically and mentally. The faster I remove myself, I can re-align with what comes next.

People want to experience my vulnerability. I allow my vulnerability to be seen and felt. And welcome others to share theirs as well.

I had to be brave in the face of fear and adversity. Using my voice has cost me every time I use it, to tell the truth. People who harm you are known to isolate you and threaten you if you choose to tell the truth. I am honest about who I am and my experiences. I’ve had to walk away from people and companies. I kept hoping it would get better when in fact it would get worse. I was being asked to stay and confide in the people who were harming me. They had my personal development and career in their hands. I couldn’t depend on the matrix I was in. I bet on myself, every time. I walked away. I learned to bank on the unknown being better than what I was presently experiencing. It cost me my health. It cost me a salary. It cost me taking multiple steps back in my career before moving forward, over and over. It cost me not creating a family.

My voice comes at a cost. I am not free. I am pursuing my freedom.

People know when you are being authentic or not. When someone is real it stands out, especially in a room full of unspoken rules. Silence and acceptance can often be the standard. By speaking up, you are challenging a system that is enabling someone to get away with something at the cost of your humanity and well-being.

A male colleague and dear friend at Tesla wrote me a beautiful handwritten letter that I kept.

Who do I think I am?

I am becoming. I want to connect with people from the most honest parts of who I am. I am not out to hurt anyone. I have moved through my career without throwing anyone under the bus. It’s getting to know someone’s character that taught me about the environments I needed to leave and the boundaries I needed to have. It’s the character of others that taught me to bet on myself. Our character speaks volumes.

Are you proud of who you are becoming?

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Mona Khalil

Name dipped in mango | منى خليل |EMBA|Ex Peace Corps, Tesla and LinkedIn |Author of #iwritelettersinmythoughts |Views My Own 📍 | www.monakhalil.com