Find your voice, whatever it may be

By Adobe Life Team

Posted on 08-26-2020

Employee storytelling at Adobe is a powerful way to build empathy and inclusion. When employees share their life experiences in an honest and vulnerable way, other employees gain a greater appreciation and empathy for people different from them. This year, we will again showcase compelling and fascinating stories from our diverse employees at our annual internal Adobe For All event in September. In the lead-up, we are highlighting last year’s storytellers that inspired many across the company.

Where are you from?

It’s a seemingly simple question you might use to start a conversation with someone you’ve just met. Most people can answer with a quick “I’m from London” or “I’m from Tokyo” or “I’m from San Francisco.”

For Youmanli Faboumy, who was born in Switzerland, grew up in Benin and France, was educated at an international school, has traveled the world, and now lives in London, it’s not so straightforward. “Where am I from?” she asked. “I don’t know. I’m a citizen of the world.”

Lost in translation

At 18 years old, Youmanli fell in love with the city of London while visiting on summer holiday. Ready to leave home in Benin and strike out on her own, she convinced her parents to help her move there and start a new life. It did not go as she had planned.

To Youmanli’s surprise, she discovered after moving to the United Kingdom that she’s an introvert. “When you come to Africa, you learn our customs. You learn our language. You eat like us. You speak like us,” she said. “What was my identity? I didn’t know until I moved to London and I had to create new relationships.”

That was complicated by another factor that added difficulty to communication and meeting new people: “I was struggling with learning English, as French is my first language,” she explained. “Although I really believe in the power of relationships and creating great things together, I found it really hard to connect.”

When you combine those factors with a tendency for strangers to start conversations with a question that has a complex answer, Youmanli found that she was often not speaking the same language as those around her, both literally and figuratively.

“I stayed in my bubble, and I couldn’t be bothered to go out and network,” she recalled. “I knew they would label me as the foreigner, the black girl.”

The hidden language

Youmanli began searching for a way to express her identity. She experimented with answers to the question that everyone seemed to ask, trying to find ways to connect.

“I’d tell them I’m from Paris, because Paris is cool, right?” she said. “Sometimes I would answer that I’m from Africa or Benin, but people didn’t know where Benin is.” No answer felt right.

One day, “the best thing happened” when Youmanli met a woman named Nichole, who invited her to a showcase put on by a dance production team that was part of University College London Dance Society. When Youmanli saw the group perform, something clicked, and she knew she had found a connection. Appropriately, the team called itself Synergy.

Having loved dancing all her life, Youmanli auditioned and quickly become one of the leading choreographers for Synergy. She had suddenly discovered a somewhat unconventional but very powerful means to communicate with others. “Dance helped me to step out of my comfort zone,” she said. “Dance was the hidden language of my soul.”

She also soon realized that dance was a way to give other people a glimpse into her culture and her unique point of view. “They want to know where I’m from?” she said mischievously. “Well, I’m going to show them what I am about.”

What’s your voice?

Youmanli put together a challenging piece that introduced the group to Afrobeat and fused styles from all over the world, with dancers from hip hop, classical, contemporary, and every other genre imaginable. The performance debuted to an audience of more than 500 people, and the response was amazing.

For the first time since moving to London, Youmanli felt both fully seen and heard. “I didn’t know how to do traditional networking,” she explained. “So I used what I know best: I used body language. I used my voice.”

She realized that her differences were a valuable asset, not a disadvantage, and that she could connect instantly and deeply with others without saying a single word.

She now advocates for others to go out and find their own unconventional way of speaking.

“Your differences are what make you unique in a way that you can inspire others,” Youmanli said. “No matter how different you feel from the crowd, just find your own way. You don’t have to fit the mold — who cares?! Once you find what’s so unique about you, you have found your voice.”

Topics: Diversity & Inclusion, Adobe Culture, Employee Impact, Adobe Life, Celebrating the Black Community, Brand, #AdobeForAll