Be Yourself – GSWNY Influencer Series 05 – Dr. Tonja M. Williams

I serve as the Superintendent of Schools for the Buffalo Public School District; which is the second largest school district in New York State.  At this stage in my life, both personal and professional it is important to me that I truly live each day as my authentic self, which means that who I am at my core is reflected in what I say and do. 

It has not always been this way for me, rather it has taken a lot of spiritual and emotional  growth, development of confidence and lived experiences which have included great gains and significant losses to be completely being who I have grown to be.  Losing my husband, unexpectedly made me conscious of the importance of taking time to enjoy journeys and to not be so focused on getting to a destination that I not stop and take time to smell and appreciate the roses that are before me.   

Some of the ways that I am able to be myself include, happily giving of myself and helping others, finding reasons to smile, spending time alone in prayer and meditation, and journaling. Being your authentic self means not trying to present a picture that the world expects for you to present, but to cultivate a life that brings you comfort and enjoyment at the end of the day… that is not easy. 

The world has these, sometimes unrealistic expectations of you and it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to please others by living up to what they expect and want from you.  For me… there’s one challenge that I will likely continue to struggle with. It is the ability to simply say NO when it needs to be said, and to walk away being okay with that decision.  I’m more comfortable  saying NO now than I’ve ever been, but it is not always easy, because my nature is that I am a giver which entails many years of me saying yes… when I wanted to say No. 

The more I do it, the more comfortable I am becoming with it.  It is empowering.  I have never really been a follower, and was raised to have a high level of integrity, so facing adversities is something that I’ve always dealt with… and as long I am doing what I believe is right I am comfortable standing on that premise… even in times when I’ve had to stand alone because I know that, at the end of the day we’re never really alone.  God is always by my side.

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