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Courtesy of DeVynne Starks

This Publicist Shares How Mothering Her Son Has Helped Her Mother Herself

"The unconditional love and patience I give to my son is a constant reminder to love and be patient with myself."

Finding Balance

In xoNecole's Finding Balance, we profile boss women making boss moves in the world and in their respective industries. We talk to them about their business, their life, and most of all, what they do to find balance in their busy lives.

There has been a lot of talk lately in our women circles about learning how to not overextend ourselves. The narrative of being "Black Superwoman'' has been ingrained in us for as long as we can remember. But I have to admit, WE ARE POPPIN' out here. Black women have been killing the game with being the most educated demographic, breaking the glass ceiling in corporate america, dominating body positivity in media/entertainment, running our own businesses, leading organizations to social justice change, and being amazing mothers to beautiful children. I mean the list goes on and on. While we have been proving for generations the resilience black women have, we still have to recognize when it is time to focus on ourselves instead of the world.

DeVynne Starks, 26, is a full-time Biomedical Targeted Marketing Program Manager for one of the world's largest humanitarian organizations and runs her own boutique PR agency, Cultiv8 PR. DeVynne understands what it feels like to work hard towards her career, while also being a full-time mom to her son. When DeVynne became a mother, she noticed that women, especially black women, experienced 'Mommy Burnout' but very few people were having the conversation. DeVynne has been very intentional and passionate about helping other moms recognize the signs of 'Mommy Burnout' and how to master balance. DeVynne believes "it's time that moms learn to take time for themselves without feeling guilty."

Courtesy of DeVynne Starks

In 2018, DeVynne Starks launched a digital platform called DeVynne Intervention. This blog was a way to build community with other moms where they discuss the good, the bad, and the ugly of motherhood. "As a black woman, you feel pushed or obligated to be successful and leave your mark in this world. Whether that means you are looking to be the first at something or the best at something. But when you are a mother, you have to figure out how to not become so distant from your child that the child ends up feeling like they are not a priority."

For this installment of "Finding Balance", xoNecole had the chance to speak with entrepreneur DeVynne about motherhood, prioritizing self-care, and the importance of keeping your faith.

xoNecole: At what point in your life did you understand the importance of pressing pause and finding balance in both your personal and professional life?

DeVynne Starks: Pressing pause has been new for me. Four years ago, after the birth of my son, if you would ask me what balance was, I would look back and ask, "What is that?" But when I realized I was doing so many things and not carving out time for myself, that was when I needed to take a moment and reassess. I have learned that balance is about happiness that comes from within. Happiness doesn't come from other people, a new job, or from becoming a mother. You have to make that conscious decision to find that inner peace to get to the stage of feeling balanced.

What are your mornings like?

With my mornings, I start with prayer and giving myself time to talk to God. Then I practice stillness, to be intentional about listening to God and hearing what He has to say. After that, I try to give myself 30 minutes of work out time. Whether that's jogging or walking around the neighborhood.

How do you wind down at night?

I love to give myself a good facial and read a good book. I also like to wind down with my son. We will watch his favorite cartoon or play with action figures. Any moment where I can dedicate one on one time with him, he really appreciates it.

"I have learned that balance is about happiness that comes from within. Happiness doesn't come from other people, a new job, or from becoming a mother. You have to make that conscious decision to find that inner peace to get to the stage of feeling balanced."

Courtesy of DeVynne Starks

When you have a busy week, what's the most hectic part of it?

The most hectic part of the day is honestly sifting through emails. It took me a really long time to not allow my inbox to negatively affect my day. I have been learning to just say "no". Saying "no" is definitely a skill you learn over time as a business owner. With practice, it gets easier and easier.

Do you practice any types of self-care? What does that look like for you?

Giving my mind and eyes a break has really been helping me. There are days when I am on the grind! So stepping away from my computer and doing something peaceful is big for me. Daily facials are definitely my me-time.

What advice do you have for busy women who feel like they don’t have time for self-care?

Even though it may seem like being busy is the right thing to do, it can really physically drain you and stress your body out. To start off, what has helped me is incorporating micro self-care techniques. One technique I use is journaling. I used to write a lot before having my son, so now I squeeze in time at the end of day to self-reflect and write it all down. This is my way to take care of myself while still being busy. I also suggest making time to just be by yourself with no shame or interruption. I had to learn how to utilize the village around me.

When I first became a mom I would tell myself, I got this! But while you do have this, you still deserve to book a hotel for the weekend, even if you stay in the room the whole time (laughs).

Courtesy of DeVynne Starks

How do you find balance with:

Friends?

With my friends, we check in on each other every week. A lot of my friends are entrepreneurs and business owners. So it can get tricky to talk to each other often. But having that line of open communication has helped us keep that balance in staying connected.

Love/Relationships?

So what I have noticed is that, the areas that you give intentional energy to, those are the areas that thrive. Granted, finding balance in dating can be difficult, but it's about being available to be intimate with someone and share quality time with them. This has helped me personally to separate from being a parent to a woman who is currently dating. Finding balance within relationships also means knowing who you are outside of them.

Health?

I have been thinking about different ways on how I can be more healthy. Last year, I was able to lose 50 pounds in less than five months. What I do now are daily tea detoxes in conjunction with the keto diet. I have been feeling so much better and I have way more energy. Setting my healthcare goals and sticking to them has really set me up for success across the board.

When you are going through a bout of uncertainty, or feeling stuck, how do you handle it?

I really pay attention to my thoughts. I honestly believe that the way you think about yourself and the world around you, creates your own reality. So changing your thoughts to what you want in life allows you to connect to your intuition. So when I do have those moments of negativity, I remind myself that these are temporary feelings. I am aware that I have to make that shift to be more positive in order to change things around me.

"I honestly believe that the way you think about yourself and the world around you, creates your own reality. When I do have those moments of negativity, I remind myself that these are temporary feelings. I am aware that I have to make that shift to be more positive in order to change things around me."

And honestly, what does success and happiness mean to you?

Success means that you understand that you are going to fail at some part in your journey. But you are resilient enough that those failures are minor and they don't become huge obstacles for you. Before I became a mother, success to me meant just getting through the day. But now success for me is striving to be the best version of myself in order to be a better mother for my son. As far as happiness, I would say, I am still navigating that.

Every day I am learning what truly makes me happy and I try to be grateful for all the good things that are happening in my life.

To learn more about DeVynne, follow her on Instagram here. Read more about how career women find balance in xoNecole's "Finding Balance" series here.

Featured image courtesy of DeVynne Starks

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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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