It's easy to catch a major case of FOMO when following that stream of amazingly glamorous IG photos with #TravelGoals in the captions. Well-edited, eye-catching, fantasy-enticing imagery will have you booking your next trip to a beautiful resort in Greece, Jamaica, Iceland, or Brazil so you can recreate those same memories for yourself.
If you can make that luxury trek, go for it. I've enjoyed more than a few. Business trips and family vacations have spoiled me over the years, and though the flights may have been coach or business class, the accommodations were always four- or five-star. I'd not even fathomed otherwise---until this past May.
How did I---a bou-ghetto, hell-no-to-a-motel, hate-bugs-and-germs, compliments-to-the-chef kind of girl---end up in a small coastal town in Jamaica, walking barefoot through grass that chickens just tread in, sipping goat-head soup, washing my own laundry in a bucket of pipe water, and taking showers in an outhouse?
God led me on the 30-day adventure of a lifetime, to a place called Savanna-la-mar, AKA Sav, where I got to consult, write, and learn more about life in Jamaica beyond the cruise ports. My lodging was a beautiful compound that included rustic one-room cabins, free Wifi, and a communal way of life, where everyone---except for the owner----pretty much shared resources. (He and his wife lived in the larger main house with a staff and the usual luxuries.)
I welcomed the experience because my spirit needed to be reinvigorated after dealing with the challenges of rebounding from a few business and financial failures. I wanted something off the beaten path, where I could be raw and real and surround myself with people who could care less about what makeup I was wearing, how many clients I had, or what wig I was wearing. I'm so glad I did, because after the life-changing experience, I now favor a vacation off the beaten path over a frou-frou resort stay any day.
Here are 5 damn good reasons why:
I learned soul-stirring, transformative lessons about overcoming fears and anxiety.
There's something about being butt-naked in an outdoor shower among tree frogs, mosquitos, and stray dogs that will test your courage and inner strength. I was slightly a germaphobe, and I'm truly not a fan of bugs or animals. Each day, I was forced to let go of my inhibitions. (Hey, in 90-degree weather, showers are not something you want to skip due to a few fears.) My host took me to Venture River in Westmoreland, where many of the locals bathe and swim, and after while, I no longer even noticed or cared about the outdoor elements. I developed a free-thinking attitude that still helps me in facing issues of anxiety and fear in my personal and professional life.
I learned how to stretch a dollar and have fun without breaking the bank.
I once loved spending a pretty penny on an excursion, 3-course buffet, or Ledo-deck party, but, after becoming a freelancer and budding entrepreneur, I really could no longer afford these experiences. My network and loved ones chipped in to help me with the travel expenses not covered by my host for this trip, and to honor that, I made sure to buy groceries and seek free options for leisure. My host took me to beautiful free-access beaches like Negril Beach Park, where we could take fresh $2 sweet cocoabread and delicious saltfish we bought back in Sav from a seller affectionately called CocoaMan, and stop for $3 Red Stripes at local mom-and-pop shops, many owned by women. (One of my favorites was located on Archer Lane in a nearby town in Negril called Red Ground, and I loved that we were supporting women entrepreneurs.)
Bourbon Beach has free live entertainment and an amazing ambiance at night, and the water is clear, cool, and inviting. My host would cook authentic brown-stew chicken or my favorite curry shrimp with white rice on an outdoor stove, and we'd share meals under the moonlight with the sound of music coming from another local hangout I loved, the Uniqek Car Wash, Bar & Grill. That spot has plenty of Jamaica's finest white rum for a good price, a fun karaoke night where the locals are like family, and a chill vibe. We bought fresh loaves of hard-dough bread from Hammond's Pastry Place and enjoyed fruit, herbs, and veggies picked straight from trees or sold by local farmers, so there were few fears of additives in what I was eating.
I learned important lessons on discipline and flexibility.
I've had the pleasure of having a laundry machine and dryer within walking distance or in the homes I've lived in, so washing jeans, sheets and party dresses by hand can be humbling. There were monsoon-like rains and flooding for the first two weeks I was in Sav, so if I waited too long to wash my laundry, it might not get done or the clothes might get soaked and I'd have to wait another day to wear a favorite pair of shorts. I'd have to wake early to catch tea or breakfast being served, and I had to time my writing and meetings around weather delays and be prepared for power outages. When you are forced to improvise (or you lose work due to not being prepared,) you quickly learn how to take more initiative and rise earlier to get important things done.
I had the freedom to be rawly me without feeling pressure to be refined or well-behaved.
I don't know about you, but I've never been able to skinny dip in a body of water at a resort before. I've always presented an image that I felt matched the five-star status and vibe of a resort. In Sav, I could walk around braless and wear beat-down shorts and my natural curly 'fro without feeling like I was out of place or out of order. I could be barefoot, listen to the latest reggae and dancehall tunes, watch a bike show, and support black- and women-owned businesses with ease. I could relate with everyday people who may not have the degrees, the big houses, and the high-powered positions people I'm used to vacationing with have, but could be the most welcoming, genuine, giving, and authentic people to be around. They had stories that empowered and inspired me, defying odds with a smile, tenacity, and determination to enjoy the simple things in life.
I could connect spiritually with myself and God, and the creative juices were on steroids.
At a resort, there's a lot of noise: the activities, the cocktails, the tourists. In Sav, I'd listen to the croaking of the tree frogs, or sit silently during a storm that caused the power to go off. My mind could connect with God in a way that wasn't possible for me during other travel experiences. Sometimes the AC would go out, and I'd be forced to focus on everything but the heat. I began writing poetry---something I hadn't done in 20 years---and I gained inspiration from being forced to be quiet, forced to look at the bigger picture, forced to endure and embrace things I had not before. As cliche as it may sound, I began to connect with the person I was before the deadlines, the pressures of career climbs, and the anxiety that can come with adulting. I could tap into the child in me---someone who was hopeful, fearless, and optimistic; someone who didn't fear bugs, being barefoot, or being naked.
I can't wait for my next adventure off the beaten path. I now love challenging myself and pushing my boundaries. Savannah-la-Mar has a special place in my heart that no five-star resort experience could compete with.
I'd encourage any woman who is trying to find freedom, authentic connection and spiritual growth to seek out travel experiences that force her out of her comfort zone and challenge her norms. Doing so saved my life and sparked a renewed self that I'm proud to continue nurturing. I was able to get back to the authentic Janell, rawly accepting who I am and embracing the journey to who I am to become.
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Feature image by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images
What would you do if you just got laid off from your corporate job and you had a serendipitous encounter with someone who gave you the opportunity of a lifetime? Tamara Taylor was faced with that decision in 2013 after she was let go from her sales profit and operations coach job in the restaurant industry and met a then-up-and-coming stylist, Law Roach, on a flight to L.A. She and Roach struck up a conversation, and he shared how he was looking for someone to run his business and was impressed by her skills. While she took his business card, she was unsure if it would lead to anything. But, boy, was she wrong. Two weeks later, after packing up her home to move back to her hometown of Chicago, she called Roach; he asked if they could meet the following day, and the rest is herstory.
Taylor founded Mastermind MGMT, an agency that represents some of Hollywood’s best “image architects” like Roach, Kellon Deryck, and Kollin Carter, who are responsible for creating unforgettable style and beauty moments for celebrities like Zendaya, Megan Thee Stallion, Taraji P. Henson, and more. Taylor and her company possess an array of functions, but her biggest role is to be her client’s advocate. We hear endless stories about how creatives aren’t paid or underpaid in the entertainment industry, but Taylor ensures that her clients get their piece of the pie. The entrepreneur opened up about her company and her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, in an exclusive interview with xoNecole.
“I always say that I'm an artist advocate first, deal closer second. So my primary focus is to just make sure that the artist is getting everything that they deserve, whether it's compensation or, you know, certain accommodations, but just making sure that they have everything that they need to be able to show up and provide the best service that they're hired for,” she explained.
“So you know, in the beginning, it was hard because I didn't have any experience, and the artists who I was working with at the time–we were learning together, meaning neither of us had assisted anyone. We didn't have mentors in our specific fields. So every deal was like a new learning experience for us from the styling side and also from the business side, and so it took, you know, doing some research, using some very creative tactics, to find out information in the industry and just starting to request accommodations that I knew other artists were granted, who maybe didn't look like my artists.”
Photo by Christopher Marrs
Ten years later, there’s still not many people who are doing what Taylor is doing. However, things have gotten easier thanks to the research and connections she made in the beginning. During Mastermind MGMT’s ten-year anniversary celebration, she announced her non-profit, Mastermind Matters, which is a 501(c)(3) non-profit that focuses on helping young entrepreneurs through a 12-week program. The program is divided into “two routes.” The first route is for aspiring creative artists who want to start a business from their talent and all the things they need to learn about business, such as taxes, life insurance, etc. The second route is for practicing creative artists who are already in the industry but need resources such as how to plan for retirement or how to sustain themselves if they can’t work for a short amount of time, i.e., the pandemic.
“I just feel that I'm able to have a business and be successful because of their art as well. And so there are things that I know, I tried to teach it to them but understanding that I can only do so much because I'm not a subject matter expert in those fields,” she said. “So I at least want to be able to provide the resources, and then if they make their grown decision not to do it, then that's on them. But you know, I could be guilt-free and taking advantage of the resources that I'm also providing to them.”
Taylor continues to be an innovator in her industry by always pushing the boundaries of creativity and thinking one step ahead of everyone else. The Chicago-bred businesswoman is moving into the tech space thanks to a new invention created with her clients in mind, and she is looking forward to bigger collaborations in the future. Follow Mastermind MGMT on Instagram @mastermind_mgmt for more information.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Feature image by Christopher Marrs