Be Yourself – GSWNY Influencer Series 06 – Sharon Sanford

What was your journey to being your authentic self?

My journey to be my authentic self began when I was a little girl and has evolved over the years. I grew up on the east side of Buffalo, New York and attended a private school in Snyder, New York. I was one of very few black children at the school and none of the teachers or staff looked like me. Many of the other children lived in fancy homes and lived lavished lifestyles. I realized early on that I was different. Not worse, not better, just different. I was not a rich kid from money and privilege. I didn’t have some of the same experiences as my friends. I was, however, a rich kid from love and strong family values. My riches came in different ways yet the impact was just as meaningful. I did not try to fit in nor be just like them. My parents taught me to embrace my blackness with confidence and to cultivate the gifts that I had as an individual. I learned from my friends at school and they learned from me. My experiences at school did exposed me to the possibilities of life beyond the east side of Buffalo.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but attending that private school in Snyder, New York prepared me for college and for what I would face in the work force.  Throughout my career, I have been one of a select few of African American women in leadership roles in the departments that I’ve worked at the University at Buffalo.  While challenging at times, I maintain my sense of self by working to be the best version of myself and striving for excellence in all that I do.

What are some ways to be yourself?

To truly be yourself you must understand who you are and what you value.  Parts of who you are can evolve as you grow and have new and different experiences and perspectives.  I have learned that the two things that I value most are faith and love. In order for me to be my authentic self, faith and love have to be infused in everything that I do. I stand firm on my values and try my best not to compromise. My values are manifested in my family, friends and the work that I do to help others. I also maintain my sense of self by surrounding myself with like-minded people who, themselves, are authentic and allow me to just be me. When you align yourself with people who share your value system, it helps you to stay true to who you are and what you believe.

What are some challenges someone may face by being their authentic self?

One of the greatest challenges that someone may face being their authentic self is the fear of being accepted and fitting in. Fear holds the best of us back at times.  Going along with the crowd to fit in and to be accepted may seem like the easier route, but in the long run compromising who you are to make someone else comfortable or feel good about themselves is draining. You will never be satisfied being something or someone you are not. 

How were you able to be yourself in the face of adversity? Being your authentic self as you face adversity takes faith, love, courage and a positive outlook.  One of the greatest challenges that I have faced came in 2017 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was faced with a painful situation that I could not control. During my healing journey, I leaned on my faith and believed that God would heal me.  I had to trust in my doctors and medical professionals to provide a treatment plan to help save my life. It was important for me to stay positive.  I would wake up early each morning and listen to gospel music, pray and meditate.  I would speak positive affirmations to myself and try to keep a smile on my face even when I didn’t feel like smiling. I received cards, gifts and words of encouragement that helped me make it through each day. The love that I had been giving so freely to others returned to me when I needed it most. Facing my health challenge revealed a level of courage and strength that I did not realize I had. I was inspired to turn my pain into purpose and on the one-year anniversary of my diagnosis, I started Sadie Strong, a charitable nonprofit breast cancer support organization that promotes the early detection of breast cancer and inspires healthy lifestyles to women in the Buffalo Niagara region. I learned that your authentic self and purpose can be revealed in times of adversity. 

Be Yourself and walk in your purpose!

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