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Inspiring Women Share What 2020 Taught Them About Gratitude

A gentle reminder that every "L" isn't a loss.

Workin' Girl

It's a wrap, y'all. Can you believe 2020 is almost over? We have officially entered my favorite season of the year which, for many of us, between carving out more time to spend with our loved ones for the holidays, closing the company's books for business owners, and doing all sorts of things to get ready for the year ahead, can be a hectic time. It's also a time during which there's massive self-reflection going on—contemplating the months that have just passed, positive and negative events that have occurred, what has gone well and what hasn't, as well as determining the actions that we can take with the intent to make our futures better.

It's no secret that this year has been a bit...'unplanned' for lack of a better word. Unplanned in a sense where I'm sure none of us wrote down "surviving a pandemic and aggravated racism" on our goals list for 2020. But also in a sense where, despite the terrible things we had to go through and the many challenges we had to face, somehow I've seen the world express a lot of gratitude all along—if I dare to say, more than usual.

How and why is that? Well, this is a conversation I've been lucky enough to have with 4 incredibly resilient women that walked me through some of the hardest battles they fought this year, told me about what these difficult times taught them about gratitude, as well as what gratitude means to them.

Niekiha (Nikki) Duncan, 30

Courtesy of Niekiha Duncan

Graphic Designer, Creative Director, Blogger & Tattoo Shop Owner

When January 2020 rolled around, I found myself in an uncomfortable place. While vision board parties and "New Year, new me" talk surrounded me, I felt uninspired to plan anything. Buying a planner wasn't in my intentions, neither was setting any professional or personal goals. I felt lost about what I was doing and where I was going.

The main obstacles I faced this year all revolved around my own need for personal and emotional growth.

I, like many other women, have a tendency to try to control anything and everything around me. But times like these forced me to face the fact that no matter how hard we work on avoiding bad things from happening, in the end, rare are the times when we truly have the final say.

Confronting my own issues wasn't easy. I think it's fair to say that human beings have a hard time to admit that maybe the root of the problems they are facing in their lives actually lies within them. The process of holding myself accountable, dropping the excuses, and prioritizing my own journey was my biggest obstacle—but also my biggest reward.

I think that, as women, we tend to rush the "feeling like ish process" during hard times. Personally, there were times when I've navigated tough storms and found myself in a hurry to feel better.

Meanwhile, rushing into positivity often silences our ability to heal and suppresses a lot of necessary healing. Growth happens during hard times. Reflection is possible in moments where everything else is stripped away.

It wasn't until mid-March that I became more intentional about setting some personal and professional goals for myself. I remembered my wish to dive deeper into doing creative direction and graphic design for female-centric brands, and I acted on it. From there, the vision I had for my future became clearer, leading me to achieve major life goals that were previously nonexistent, such as creating and launching a physical planner plus a lifestyle brand focused on celebrating multilayered women in pursuit of self-improvement, self-love, and purpose. Today, unlike last year, I'm happy to say that I'm looking forward to 2021.

Finally, if I had to define gratitude, I would say it requires mindfulness; allowing yourself to pause from time to time and reflect on the journey. It's finding a balance between appreciating your growth, owning your past, and desiring to have more.

Follow Nikki on Instagram: @dailybynikki.

Akima Byfield, 28

Courtesy of Akima Byfield

Healthcare Operations Manager

This year challenged my mentality on a level I didn't see coming and was not prepared for at all. It took a toll on me as there were many crying and unhappy nights. All that I longed for financially happened and it turned out I was more unhappy than I was when I didn't have it.

At the end of each year, I purchase a new journal to dedicate my thoughts and goals for the upcoming year. On December 31, I spend an hour and a half before the new year to jot down any and all things I would like to see come into fruition. In 2019, I envisioned many things scaling from mental, emotional, physical, and materialistic means. I also prayed for a new position which I was able to accomplish with the help of the Most High.

I manifested a salary increase of $34,000 which placed me as the first African-American and youngest Operations Manager in the company's history.

I've learned that although it may be easier to bask in the negativity, we should put work into finding the positive just so we can be reminded that every "L" isn't a loss. Quite the contrary, most of the time, it's a lesson. That what is meant for us will be ours, at the time that is destined for us. To be happy with ourselves and our situation, we must appreciate ourselves and all that we've previously overcome.

Follow Akima on Instagram: @_akima

Robin Allison Davis, 36

Courtesy of Robin Allison Davis

Producer (Documentary/Multimedia)

What has this year taught me about gratitude, you ask? Well, I've learned that if we take the time to look around, we can see that no matter where we find ourselves in life, beauty still surrounds us and small wins do matter.

I began my year undergoing my last reconstructive surgery after a 1.5 year battle with breast cancer. I didn't have too many goals for 2020, to be honest; my main plan was to get back on my feet after a trying and difficult two years. However, life threw me a curveball during the summer. To be honest, I believed nothing could be as bad as what I already went through.

It's hard to explain the roller coaster that 2020 has been. I'd had a very tough two years going through my cancer journey virtually alone considering I'm a single American expat living in Paris, France.

Shortly after my reconstructive surgery, France went into its first round of lockdown due to COVID-19. Knowing that I was vulnerable because of my medical history, I strictly adhered to the rules and never left my small studio apartment for the entire eight weeks during which we were required to stay home. It was a joy to be healthy and have my own space to keep myself safe. But when I visited my doctors for my follow-up appointments after they lifted the lockdown, after multiple tests and yet another surgery, I was told that my cancer returned—more aggressively. I'm currently going through chemotherapy as I'm writing this—not quite the end of the year I had imagined.

It's shocking to find out that you'll be battling cancer twice in two years. It's even worse when the reality hits you that due to the pandemic, you have to go through your treatment alone, without family or friends able to fly over to help you recover.

Mentally and emotionally, I felt broken. Yes, I'd done this before but never had I had to go through it in a time where I'm not allowed to reach out to a friend for a hug. Breast cancer can be an extremely isolating experience and the COVID-19 made it even worse.

I don't think I'm well-placed to give advice on how to maintain a state of gratitude. I'm still on my journey and it's even more difficult than I expected it would be. But maintaining a positive attitude is one of the most important things I can do to win my battle and aid in my recovery. One thing that I try to remember is to be kind to myself. If I'm not where I need to be mentally, I may be the next day or the day after.

With all of that being said, even with everything that has happened this year in the world and to me personally, I'm not willing to say that 2020 is the worst year ever.

It's not an answer you would expect from someone going through cancer treatment, but what I'm most grateful for are my health and my body. I've gone through multiple surgeries, rounds of chemotherapy and so much more, but I'm still here. My body is still fighting and in most moments, I feel completely fine—although exhausted. I made the conscious effort to not hate my body for my situation, but to encourage it to continue the fight.

Follow Robin on Instagram: @robinista

Chantel King, 29

Courtesy of Chantel King

Content Creator

From the beginning, 2020 was getting the best of me and weighing me down, both on a mental and emotional level. It felt as though everything that I worked for was being taken away from me one by one.

First, it was my 10-year relationship. Although the breakup occurred a few months before we entered this new decade, I was still trying to find my way back to myself and heal my heart when the year started. Then, during the summer, there was that one week that completely K.O.'d me and turned my life upside down: My best friend and I parted ways because of a meaningless argument, my other best friend, my 15-year-old dog Tigger, passed away the next day, and the day after, I got laid off from my 9-5 which left me with a brand new car note to pay off with zero income. Oh, and did I mention that not even a month after getting my brand new car, I got into a car accident that could've easily taken my life?

Until recently, that's what 2020 consisted of for me: Falling into depression, not having much to brag about whereas I pictured myself engaged, moved out with a new car, and working my dream career by this time. But I had nothing. And yet, I was still being grateful.

Gratitude plays a huge role in my life. It's what keeps me motivated. Not long ago, I started a concept called 365 days of gratitude. Every day, I make a list of the things I'm grateful for to help me get through my darkest days. Doing this taught me to find the simplest blessings in my daily life. Some days are tough, some others are sad, but if we find something to be thankful for, then the way we view our reality changes. It also taught me that, more than anything, life happens for a reason.

We cannot stress over what we cannot control; instead, we should find a way to fix things. Stressing does nothing but make us miserable. One of my favorite quotes is: "Do not dig up in doubt what you planted in faith." In other words, just because things are bad now doesn't mean they will stay that way.

The proof is, when I got laid off, I took advantage of my free time to hone my creative skills which include writing, all while networking during virtual events. That later led me to land a Social Media Manager gig with a renowned brand. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be in the position I am in today.

By pushing through. By changing your perspective, learning to accept, and letting go of things you cannot control. That's how you create and maintain a state of gratitude. Instead of saying, "Damn, I wish I could stay in bed," when your alarm goes off in the morning, say, "I'm so thankful to see another day."

Find the little blessings in life; they are there to remind you that you are doing just fine.

Follow Chantel on Instagram: @chantel.ciera

Featured image courtesy of Niekiha Duncan

Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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