Last week, gymnastics star, Simone Biles, shocked the world when she decided to withdraw from the team final at the Olympics to focus on her mental health. It was a brave decision and one that I fully support. I applaud her for putting herself first, especially after all that she has endured being a top Black women athlete. We can learn so much from Simone, who, at 24 years old, has figured out how to make self-care a priority in her life.
Like Simone, I worked hard to prove myself in my field and to be the best. I entered corporate America and was on a mission to climb that proverbial ladder. There were days that I thoroughly enjoyed the work, and there were days that I felt lost. I was the only Black person in the room most of the time and usually the only female. That was an immense amount of pressure for a barely 30-year-old who was the first in her family to graduate college. I made it into exclusive spaces very early, but my well-being suffered as a result. I knew that the sacrifices I was making were not the best for me emotionally.
Honestly, all of that stress was not good for me professionally either. I knew what the problem was but didn’t know how to change it. You see, I didn’t have anyone to mentor me. I didn’t have safe spaces to speak candidly about the pressures I was feeling. I was dealing with a lot, including being the “strong Black woman” who rarely gets rewarded in our society. It wasn’t until I was married and my husband, nine years my senior, suggested I speak to a therapist about all of the pressures surrounding my life. It was the first time I had even considered my mental health as a priority. My company paid for these services, but up until that point, I had never actually used the services. Even though resources were available, I was unaware that my mental health truly mattered. Overlooking our mental health has been a familiar experience for Black women. Instead of shaming Black women for this, we need to ask why they are not making their mental health a priority? We have so much to do, and the world expects us to be so strong. We don’t get celebrated for being vulnerable and soft. It’s a wonder we have not collapsed from the pressure. If you look at health data, though, this pressure and stress is a not so invisible killer of Black women. When we finally share our pains, our physicians and health practitioners do not believe us. Times are changing, though, thanks to people like Naomi Osaka, Nikole Hannah Jones, and so many others who are lifting up just how much mental energy Black women are using to fight the battles we face daily. If you are a Black women executive who finds yourself coming to this realization now, especially after Simone’s announcement, know that you are not alone. Noticing is the first, most crucial step to doing things differently.
Fast forward almost 20 years- I am much wiser and more focused on my mental health. Every single day, I am taking time to check in with myself. I constantly take time out to breathe and am not ashamed to talk with my therapist about everything going on in my life. I often brag about how she helps me and am on a mission to normalize therapy for everyone around me. During the pandemic, it’s been a blessing to dive deeper into my self-care and mental health with a colleague and friend who has studied under Deepak Chopra, Kandice Cole. Kandice, who helps busy women reimagine self-care practices, taught me that it is ok for self-care to be fun and carefree, like when I have random five-minute singing and dance parties. She reminded me that turning off your camera during a Zoom call is a form of self-care, which has become one of my favorite self-care practices. I have also learned how to shift my schedule and take small breaks throughout my day. All these self-care routines keep me sane and prevent burnout from becoming my reality. As a Black woman, I need self-care every single day. No matter what position you find yourself in, it is so important to practice self-care.
In my work, I have seen Black female executives put themselves last on the to-do list. There is no one in their corner encouraging them to slow down and make time for their self-care. It is time that we change that. I decided to do my part and make self-care more accessible to Black female executives, who often face discrimination and bias at other executive retreats that do not center their experiences as Black women. With The HER Way Retreat, I have created a space for Black women to decompress, practice self-care, and engage in meaningful professional development. Being the best requires that, like Simone, we are honest about what we need, even if that means disappointing some people. As I share about the retreat, I constantly find women who still need convincing that they are worth the time and effort required to take care of themselves.
If you find yourself in this position, know that you are worth being cared for. You are special. You deserve to be nurtured, even if that means that you must take a step back. Simone says it best: “It’s OK sometimes to even sit out the big competitions to focus on yourself, because it shows how strong of a competitor and person that you really are, rather than just battle through it.”
We know that as Black women that we are exceptional. We have accomplished so much, but the next frontier must be focusing on our wellness and mental health. So let’s start now and encourage other Black women to do the same.
How will you begin to practice self-care more in your life?