Emmys and Cosmo.

I feel like I’m still very new to winning. I would imagine there are many people who’d disagree with me, but that’s because they’re observing from the other side of the glass. “Winning” is relative; everything is. And, of course, only we can determine the units by which we measure it.

I rarely feel like I’m winning when I’m expecting to reap a material benefit as a result. The rate of pay is never high enough, the terms of a contract never secure enough. And it rarely feels like a legitimate win just to accomplish a new feat. Sure, I was published somewhere. But how prestigious is the publication? Is it digital or print? How difficult is it to be published there? Am I proud of the work that made to print? Did I take pains with the wording or rush it through? Would the publication have taken an essay from anyone who could turn one around, just because they needed quick copy? It’s still not a book. It’s still not The New Yorker. It’s still not a full-time job.

It’s not whatever smoke or mirror I’ve convinced myself I should be chasing.

It’s hard for me to maintain a healthy perspective, is what I’m saying. While I was watching the Emmys Sunday night, I saw a few shining examples of health, examples of women — black women — clearly embracing their wins. And I had no idea how desperately I needed to see that until I was bearing witness to it.

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I’ve been watching Regina King on screens since 1985, when I was six and she first appeared on 227. Exactly 30 years later, she’s nominated for and winning her very first Emmy, despite having put in masterful performance after masterful performance for decades. It was never about an Emmy for Regina King. She just worked. From age 14 until now, in her mid-forties, she’s just worked. She’s acted, directed, raised a son post-divorce, kept a pristine reputation among her peers. She’s been winning. So when she accepted the Emmy, it was with pleasant surprise, deep gratitude, and admirable groundedness. She leaned right into that mic and told us all that it was particularly special because her homegirl and colleague, Taraji, presented it to her. She told us it meant more because her son, who escorted her to the awards, was present to witness it. And it was easy to believe her, easy to understand that the Emmy itself was mere icing. She’d long held all the ingredients she’d needed for personal fulfillment.

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And then I saw Uzo Aduba hear her name called as a winner. It wasn’t her first time, but she was as shocked and thrilled as if it were. She did not rush to the podium; she didn’t need to. She understood what it meant for her to win. For her, it meant leaning over to her sister, talking to her for a moment, ignoring the audience and the camera and the expectation that she hurry. That bond, that moment of privacy in the one of the most public possible venues in all of Hollywood: that was winning. “I love you mostly because you let me be me,” she said to her professional team during her speech. Maintaining your core identity in a profession where everyone’s job is to change you — role to role, set to set, carpet to carpet — is the truest success of all.

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Of course there was Viola, whose relationship with winning has always been public and candid and complex. Viola, who wears her insecurities on her sleeve, who gives voice to every ancient feeling of inadequacy she’s managed to silence, who trusts us all enough somehow to confide that there are still uncertainties she has yet to vanquish. Viola is always winning, because, with every Hollywood validation, she deepens her advocacy for the women who’ve been cast aside, passed over, and ignored. Viola is always winning because a lifetime of feeling loss has taught her to consume accomplishment without an aftertaste of bitterness.

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But it was Taraji who exemplified winning best of all last night, Taraji who took home nothing but her joy (and a lead role of one of the hottest series on television these days). It’s one thing to know how to remain fully present in the midst of a win, to understand its magnitude before the moment passes, rather than growing to appreciate it in retrospect. It’s quite another not to win, in the conventional sense, and to fully commit to celebrate everyone else who does, anyway. I’ve been there. And each time, I like to believe I’ve been genuine in my celebration of others. But I don’t think I’ve ever managed to fete someone quite as unabashedly for receiving something I really wanted as Taraji managed to do last night.

This moment was everything: crowd applause died down long before Regina made it to the microphone. Taraji yelled out a "Yay!" and hyped them back up, literally from the shadows of the a spotlight.

This moment was everything: crowd applause died down long before Regina made it to the microphone. Taraji yelled out a “Yay!” and hyped them back up, literally from the shadows of a spotlight.

There was no shortage of inspiration during these awards, and days later, I’m still thinking of how long it can take to experience a moment, how many years of dues-paying could be necessary before you get your due. I’m still thinking of everyone’s tenderness, of how intrinsic that is to the experience of winning. Kindness, uncomplicated delight for someone else, groundedness,  pride in oneself, gratitude, an ability to feel happiness unsurpassed for someone other than yourself: those are the surest gauges of success and contentment.

To win is to understand when to silence your questions and simply  accept every good thing that you attract. If we are only in competition with ourselves and not with our peers, if our goal is only to top our last highest peak, we still need to know when to rest and to bask and to cherish. Every good thing must be good enough, even as we look ahead and work toward something more. It could all end here and we would find ourselves the opposite of empty-handed: heavy-laden with moments, relationships, accomplishments, and triumphs over our more despondent, disappointed natures. Each in our own way, we are constantly winning.

I got my first byline at Cosmopolitan.com yesterday. My mission is simply to be pleased with that today.

I was on MSNBC — and I feel loved.

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My friend, Aulelei, sent this screenshot after watching live yesterday. Thanks to everyone who took snapshots and DVR’d. I was more touched and humbled by this than I can adequately express.

There are few greater feelings in all the world than being certain that someone is happy for you. Because I know well what that feels like, I try to impart that feeling to others as often as I can. Fortunately for me, I know a lot of people who are near-constantly celebrating something wonderful: a publication, a new gig, a marriage. And in expressing unabashed joy for them, I feel joy myself. Ann Friedman and Aminatou Sow call this Shine Theory, and it’s awesome.

To be real, though — and I talk to my friend Joshunda about this fairly often — sometimes being happy for others is concurrent with working through more complicated feels. She and I don’t pretend we don’t experience twinges, pangs, and on occasion, even full tides of jealousy.

Sometimes, you’ll see someone’s sudden great news in a social media feed and something plummets. It’s a hasty, involuntary reaction and, if you’re not careful, it can take root, bearing shriveled, bitter fruit.

Everyone handles jealousy differently. I’ve gotten fairly practiced at it (Like I said: I know some amazing people). I’ve a formula that’s become almost fail-proof: suppress, interrogate, eradicate. That’s another post for another day.

I’ve taken this long digression to say: you can’t fully enjoy a success if you haven’t developed healthy responses to other people’s success. If you haven’t done that work, your every achievement is comparative. You’re stuck in a miserable loop of: This is good, but it’s not as good as X’s. I’m thrilled but it would be even better if it was more like Y’s. I feel like I’m getting somewhere but not as quickly as Z.

This is me being as real as I can. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that I don’t wish for experiences similar to the ones that people I love and admire have had. It doesn’t do any good to be a writer of autobiographical content and edit out the baser, uglier parts of myself.

Ultimately, what’s important — at the moment of a friend’s highest achievement or deepest bliss — is that she understands your happiness for her, not your internal conflict. That’s something for you to work through privately and, while you do, your friend shouldn’t have to wait for you to feel ready to celebrate.

I don’t know if this is common or if it’s just me. I’ve talked to people who insist that they’re always happy for others in uncomplicated ways; that they never want what anyone else has; that they have mastery over envy or covetousness; that what God has for them, it is for them (and they’re cool with not getting anything they’ve wanted — and equally cool with watching someone else attain and enjoy that thing — because they’re secure in that affirmation). Let me tell you: I find that to be amazing. I am jealous of that.

Yesterday, I had a big moment. I’ve had a lot of big moments this year. I’m learning a lot about those, too, and about how fleeting they are. I’m learning that it’s important to absorb the success on the day of, because in the days that follow, the world moves quickly on. You will either have other big moments or you won’t; but once one has passed, it’s beyond others’ memory. You cannot pitch a tent there. The caravan has carried on.

This makes the celebration all the more significant. The people who decide to join it — and it’s very much a decision — are to be cherished. You do not know what, if anything, they’ve had to work through to be so present and happy for you.

As someone who routinely downplays big moments, so as not to feel like I’m “bragging,” it means a lot to be lauded without reservation. We all need that, but we’re told we should behave as though we don’t.

I’m rambling. The point is: I really felt loved yesterday. I feel loved every day. But yesterday, when I found out I’d be making a television appearance for the first time, and I tweeted about it and posted a status on Facebook, I felt especially loved. Announcing good news has always seemed like a calculated risk for me. You hope it will be received in the non-braggadocious way you intended. But it may not be. You hope it’ll be greeted with the same confetti-swirling, pom-pom-shaking ebullience you try to give to others. But there are no guarantees.

Yesterday’s risk paid off. You were all awesome. There was no tension, no complaint, no side-eyes, no backhanded compliments, no measured or grudging kudos. Everyone I love and everyone I celebrate loved and celebrated me — and that’s exponentially more exciting than being on TV.

That was my day. Today or tomorrow will be yours. And trust: I’ll be losing my voice in the stadium, cheering for you.

 

If you missed News Nation with Tamron Hall and want to watch the segment on which I appeared, it’s here. If you want to read the essay that got me on air, it’s here. If you need to know more about Avonte Oquendo’s disappearance, read Amy Davidson’s piece in The New Yorker. And if you want to know how you can support the parents of children with autism, visit Autism Speaks.