I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, and in 7th grade, my mom had me transfer schools because at the other school I was attending, I actually experienced bullying. When I was younger, I didn’t understand why I was experiencing bullying. I knew that I was made different, but I didn’t understand why things were happening. She transferred me, and at first, I was scared because it was new territory.
A month in a half into being there, we had to go to the library one day. The librarian said,
“For this project, I want you to write about someone who inspires you.”
I wrote about my mom, and then, out of nowhere - my classmates wrote about me. I was like - “Me??? How do I inspire you?” I didn’t see myself as different, but in that moment, I realized that I was different. Because I always saw myself as an individual rather than someone who had a limb difference, I couldn’t comprehend why people saw me as different until I got older. At the time, I did experience low self-esteem because I felt so much confusion around how people viewed me. However, in order to get past this feeling, I had to realize that I’m different for a purpose. My mom always told me this.
When my mom was pregnant with me, she had an amazing pregnancy all the way up to the day I was delivered. When I was delivered, the nurses saw that I had one arm, and they were afraid to give me to my mom. But when they did, my mom just smiled and said - “She’ll be okay.” So, knowing that my mom had such confidence directly instilled a sense of pride within me. She allowed me to go through life without feeling as if I had a defect. I remember how I used to wear a prosthetic arm for a little while when I was a girl, and one day I told her -
“Mommy, I don’t want to wear this…”
She said, “Okay, you don’t have to.”
She allowed me to see that I had an individuality. She deeply rooted me in the ways of God, and as I grew older, I became a very spiritual being. I started learning more in-depth about how my identity has the power to make difference. Once I got to college, something told me - “Okay, Janessa. You’re different, and you need to discover why.”
Years later, I started a brand called Janessa’s Way. Janessa’s Way is a brand that encompasses four areas that mean the most to me: music, motivation, ministry, and education. The brand helps me express myself through content creation. It helps me understand who I am and share my story which is something I’ve never done until last year. Last year during the pandemic, I started creating motivational content and sharing my story with other people.
My mission statement is to share encouragement throughout my community and the world. I haven’t always felt encouraged though, and it’s been a long journey. I’ve come to learn that just because I don’t look like someone else, doesn’t mean that I can’t make an impact on the world. I live by a bible verse that says - “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This verse has really empowered me not to settle in life.
I used to only see myself as a teacher or a singer, but in college, I realized that there was more to life than these two things. I realized that I was capable of other things as well. College was my turning point. That’s when I started believing in who I was and when I began to form a different perspective on life. I began thinking to myself:
“Janessa, never put limitations on who you are or on what you want to accomplish in life.”
And suddenly, I refused to settle even when it came to relationships. Before, I didn’t know if people would like me because I was different, and I encountered a lot of people who wanted to feed off of my energy or be my friend just because they felt sorry for me. I had to deal with all of those things, but as I was going through college, I had to become more confident in my identity in order to achieve my ambitions. Yes, I’ve put myself in a vulnerable and disempowered seat before, but when I took my limitations off, and I began to see myself in a different light, I changed my mindset.
I often tell my friends now, and this goes for anyone: “You have to see yourself better than how others see you. To have confidence, you have to know who you are. You can’t see yourself through the eyes of others.” So, I’ve made it my business to be totally in love with myself through God. I took my limitations off so I could live the life that I knew I deserved.
To release my inhibitions, I’ve also had to set boundaries with people. I’m such a giver, but sometimes that’s not reciprocated to me. I’ve had to set boundaries because I get burned out when I pour into people but never receive. I literally had someone who I called a friend try to tear me down because I chose to set boundaries. I was willing to continue to be friends, but I ended up having to just cut the relationship off. Because I chose to no longer go out of my way, I got a message with so many profane words. They used very pointed words to try and tear down my identity. After that, I knew I couldn't be connected to someone like that. But, in that moment, I was very hurt. However, I had to see that I was becoming someone powerful. And in turn, not everyone liked where I was headed. I learned that everyone is not going to be proud of me. Everyone is not happy for me.
So, as you grow older, you will grow apart from some people, and that’s okay. You can’t be as accessible as you once were to some people. As you ascend, everyone can’t make the journey with you. It’s like an elevator. As you get to the top floor, people will choose to get off, but you won’t. If it were up to me, everyone would come with me, but everyone is not in that mindset to where they want to be elevated.
So, when someone doesn’t want you to be the best that you can be, but still expects you to solve their problems, that can definitely be draining. I’m very passionate about helping people, but I had to take a step back. I had to ask myself - “how can you still make time for others but make sure Janessa’s okay?” That’s how I set boundaries. I also have a mental therapist that I talk to now.