Recently, I had to do something that damn near broke my heart. See, for the past couple of years, I've been someone who went to see my nail tech religiously so that I could take care of something that I got from my mother and my mother's mother. It's something that is actually one of my favorite features—my hands, including my nails. They are long, they've got a dope curve to them and, I am definitely the kind of chick who likes to rock all kinds of random color and design combos. But between this quarantine that we're all currently in and also reading the article, "Are your nails too long? A doctor explains why trimming them and removing chipped polish may help prevent the spread of coronavirus" (le sigh), I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and take my powder acrylic and gel polish off. Ugh.
Only those who have mani/pedis on their self-pampering list can truly get that, while there are certainly a billion more important things to be concerned about, that doesn't take away from the fact that not being able to get our nails done can be a real punch in the gut. It's not about being vain or frivolous; it's about making a point to do something that is just for us that makes us feel good. And, if you're used to going bi-weekly to the nail salon like I am, it's about adjusting to this new normal until…who knows when?
If you totally feel my pain and either you're well past a fill-in or your nails look straight crazy right now and you're not sure what to do about it, I've got some DIY tips that can help to get you through—until you and your own nail tech can be reunited once again.
How to Safely Remove Gel (and Acrylic and Powder-Dipped) Nails
It actually took me a while to get onto the gel manicure train. The main reason is, I didn't want to spend the extra coins. But between constantly hacking away on this laptop of mine, washing dishes and, quite frankly, simply being harder on my nails than I need to be, about a year ago, I gave up the ghost; it's one of the best decisions I've ever made. The only thing I don't like is that sometimes, removing the polish can be a beast (some drills are better than others). So, I was kinda trippin' at first when I tried to figure out how to get the polish from my last salon appointment off of my nails.
If that's your current dilemma, all you need is a bottle of 100 percent acetone (something that also works really well for me is ONYX Professional Gel and All Nail Coatings Soak Off Nail Polish Remover Coconut which I got at Walmart), a file (a 180-grit file is probably best), some cotton balls, a glass bowl and some foil.
If you're going to cut down your nails, do that with a pair of fingernail clippers first. Then, in order to remove the top coat of your gel polish, file all of your nails until the polish looks super dull. Cut a piece of foil into 10 strips (one to cover each nail). Now it's time to pour the acetone into your glass bowl and to pull out your cotton balls. I recommend cutting each cotton ball in half; that way, they won't be all bulky when you place them onto your nails. Put half a ball into the acetone first and then on each nail. Then cover the ball up with some foil. Let the foil sit on your nails for 15-20 minutes. When you remove each strip, you should notice that your gel crumbles right off. And what if you happen to have powder dipped nails? The same steps apply. Just make sure that you follow-up the removal process with some nail cuticle oil or jojoba, sweet almond, lavender, coconut or tea tree oil (every day, for about a week) so that your nails won't get dehydrated.
Note: If you plan on removing all of your acrylic too, follow the same steps. Just keep in mind that, based on how many fill-ins that you've had, getting the acrylic off will take considerably longer. Shoot, I re-watched the movie,How to Tell You're a Douchebag (DeWanda Wise, Charles Brice) and some other film before most of it was gone. Plus, I had to use an e-file in order to get the remnants off. But the patience is what prevents you from damaging your natural nails. Besides, during this quarantine, it's not like you've got anywhere to go…right? Might as well get some binge-watching in while you're soaking.
How to Give Yourself a Gel Manicure
Now that I have nothing on my nails (and they are considerably shorter), I'm actually going to let them chill for a while. I can't remember the last time my nails haven't been covered in something and sometimes breaks are good so that nails can breathe. But if you want to keep the gel polish going in your own world, I totally get it. Here are the steps that you need to follow. (By the way, remember that you'll need a cure lamp for this; there are some pretty affordable ones on the market if you don't own one already; click here to check out a selection.)
- Clip your nails to the length that you want them to be.
- With a fingernail file, file them into the shape that you desire so that they are smooth and even.
- Use a buffer to remove any natural oils that may be on the top of your nails (so that your polish will "stick" better).
- Use a cuticle stick to gently push back your cuticles.
- With your gel kit (check out "Love Gel Manicures but Hate the Price? Try These At-Home Gel Nail Kits" if you want some suggestions on which one to buy), apply an extremely thin layer of the base coat on one hand. Put it underneath a cure light for 20 minutes, then repeat with your other hand.
- Next, apply your first coat of gel polish to one hand. If you happen to get any of the polish onto your skin, dip a nail acrylic brush into some acetone to remove it. If you skip this step and the polish remains on your cuticles, your polish will peel a whole lot faster. Place your hand into your cure lamp for another two minutes, making sure to do this same step for every layer of polish that you apply.
- Apply your top coat and let your hand sit in the cure lamp for 2-2 ½ minutes. Lightly tap the index finger of your other hand onto a couple of your polished fingers, just to make sure that they don't feel sticky and the polish appears smooth. If you don't feel "messiness", you're dry.
- Finally, soak a cotton ball into some rubbing alcohol and rub each nail; it's what will get rid of any "tackiness" or residue that your nails may have. And you're done!
If you are someone who is more of a visual learner, some YouTube sistahs can walk you through this entire process. Check out some how-tos here, here and here. If you'd prefer to powder dip your nails instead, this video has some tips that I thought were super helpful.
How to Do Your Own Acrylic Fill-In
Yeah, this one right here, I don't have nearly enough patience to attempt on my own. But again, right now, we've really got nothing but time, so if you're down to do your own fill-in, I'll include a list of what you'll need, along with a couple of links to YouTubers who can walk you through how to do fill-in your own nails.
- Cuticle Remover
- Cuticle Pusher
- Buffing Block
- Acid-Free Primer
- Nail Dehydrator
- Dappen Dish
- Acrylic Brush
- Acrylic Powder
- Acrylic Liquid
- Top Coat
You can also stop by a local drugstore to pick up a fill-in kit like Kiss Her by Kiss Acrylic Fill Kit for Nails. Here's the video that can walk you through how to DIY this.
How to Make Press-On Nails Last
I'mma tell y'all what—these upgrades in press-on nails truly boggle the mind! One place where you can check out a variety of lengths, shapes and styles is Etsy. If you want yours to last longer than just a couple of days, make sure to apply them with nail glue (a lot of people are super fond of Mia Secret Super-Jet Strong Glue) instead of the adhesives that they typically come with. Speaking of, a YouTuber that I enjoy due to her straight-to-the-point-super-chill delivery says that using that particular glue helps your press-ons to last a whopping three weeks at a time. Her name is Korryn J and she even has her own line of press-on nails. Go here to check out her instructional video and visit Her Fave Boutique to see her signature nail section.
How to Maintain Natural Nails
Even if you decide to go without doing any of this for the time being, that doesn't mean that your nails have to be out here looking a hot and crazy mess. Here are a few things that you can do to keep your natural nails looking beautiful while you're at your crib.
Exfoliate your hands. Dead skin cells can have your hands looking drier and older than they should. A half cup of sugar (brown or white), one-fourth cup of olive oil, and five drops of your favorite essential oil will create a hand scrub that will make your hands feel and look at least a couple of years younger (no joke). Using the scrub while you're in the shower is one of the easiest ways to apply and remove it with as little mess as possible.
Moisturize your hands, nails and cuticles. Please don't be walking around your house all ashy. Remember the cuticle oil alternatives that I mentioned earlier? Apply those on a daily basis so that your hands, nails and cuticles can remain soft and smooth.
Keep your natural nail tips clean with baking soda. Do you want to rock the totally au naturale look? If so, something that will keep the tips of your nails super white is to brush them with baking soda. Just dip them into water, sprinkle some baking soda on an old toothbrush and gently scrub underneath each nail. It will get all of the gunk out while lifting your nails up a shade or two (once a week is more than enough; otherwise, you could dry your nails out).
Vicks to the rescue for (minor) nail fungus. If after you remove your polish or tips, you happen to notice some fungus, applying Vicks VapoRub will help to heal it within a matter of days. (Oregano oil and tea tree oil will too.)
Petroleum jelly can help you to "stay between the lines". Does it seem like, no matter how hard you try, you always seem to get polish on your cuticles (and everywhere else) when you polish them yourself? One way to avoid this is to dip a Q-tip into some petroleum jelly and outline your cuticles with it before applying your nail polish. That way, the polish will not get onto your actual skin.
Vinegar makes your polish last longer. If the last thing you want to think about is painting your nails again any time soon, pour some white vinegar onto a couple of cotton balls and apply them to your nails before you put on your base coat. It will remove any oils or residue, plus it will help your polish to last longer.
(Another hack: If your polish seems to have a hard time going on smoothly, try putting it into the refrigerator for 15-20 minutes. That should fix the problem.)
Ice alleviates chipping polish. One reason why I don't personally polish my fingernails often is because I am super meticulous. If I see a mere chip of polish on a nail, I'm over-obsessing. If you can totally relate, but you want to paint your nails anyway, soaking your hands into a tub of water that has several ice cubes, after you've painted your nails, will help to set the color and prevent chipping. Just make sure to let your nails dry on their own for about seven minutes before placing them in the water (making sure not to hit the ice cubes).
Whew. I know I didn't cover everything but hopefully, this will tide you over. At the very least, you don't have to hold onto polish or fill-ins until…who knows when? You now have a few hacks that can make your nails look presentable. No need to thank me. We're all in this together. I got you, sis.
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After being a regular contributor for about four years and being (eh hem) MIA in 2022, Shellie is back penning for the platform (did you miss her? LOL).
In some ways, nothing has changed and in others, everything has. For now, she'll just say that she's working on the 20th anniversary edition of her first book, she's in school to take life coaching to another level and she's putting together a platform that supports and encourages Black men because she loves them from head to toe.
Other than that, she still works with couples, she's still a doula, she's still not on social media and her email contact (firstname.lastname@example.org) still hasn't changed (neither has her request to contact her ONLY for personal reasons; pitch to the platform if you have story ideas).
Life is a funny thing but if you stay calm, moments can come full circle and this is one of them. No doubt about it.
Amber Riley Is In Her Element
Amber Riley has the type of laugh that sticks with you long after the raspy, rhythmic sounds have ceased. It punctuates her sentences sometimes, whether she’s giving a chuckle to denote the serious nature of something she just said or throwing her head back in rip-roarious laughter after a joke. She laughs as if she understands the fragility of each minute. She chooses laughter often with the understanding that future joy is not guaranteed.
Credit: Ally Green
The sound of her laughter is rivaled only by her singing voice, an emblem of the past and the future resilience of Black women stretched over a few octaves. On Fox’s Glee, her character Mercedes Jones was portrayed, perhaps unfairly, as the vocal duel to Rachel Berry (Lea Michele), offering rough, full-throated belts behind her co-star’s smooth, pristine vocals. Riley’s always been more than the singer who could deliver a finishing note, though.
Portraying Effie White, she displayed the dynamic emotions of a song such as “And I'm Telling You I'm Not Going” in Dreamgirls on London’s West End without buckling under the historic weight of her predecessors. With her instrument, John Mayer’s “Gravity” became a religious experience, a belted hymnal full of growls and churchy riffs. In her voice, Nicole Scherzinger once said she heard “the power of God.”
Credit: Ally Green
Riley’s voice has been a staple throughout pop culture for nearly 15 years now. Her tone has become so distinguishable that most viewers of Fox’s The Masked Singer recognized the multihyphenate even before it was revealed that she was Harp, the competition-winning, gold-masked figure with an actual harp strapped to her back.
Still, it wasn’t until recently that Riley began to feel like she’d found her voice. This sounds unbelievable. But she’s not referring to the one she uses on stage. She’s referencing the voice that speaks to who she is at her core. “Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind,” the 37-year-old says. “It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women. I got so comfortable in [doing so], and I really want other people, especially Black women, to get more comfortable in that space.”
“Therapy kind of gave me the training to speak my mind. It’s not something we’re taught, especially as Black women."
If you ask Riley’s manager, Myisha Brooks, she’ll tell you the foundation of who the multihyphenate is hasn’t changed much since she was a kid growing up in Compton. “She is who she is from when I met her back when she was singing in the front of the church to back when she landed major roles in film and TV,” Brooks says. Time has allowed Riley to grow more comfortable, giving fans a more intimate glimpse into her life, including her mental health journey and the ins and outs of show business.
The actress/singer has been in therapy since 2019, although she suffered from depression and anxiety way before that. In a recent interview with Jason Lee, she recalls having suicidal ideation as a kid. By the time she started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants in her thirties, her body had become jittery, a physical reminder of the trauma stacked high inside her. “I was shaking in [my therapist’s] office,” she tells xoNecole. “My fight or flight was on such a high level. I was constantly in survival mode. My heart was beating fast all the time. All I did was sweat.”
There wasn’t just childhood trauma to account for. After auditioning for American Idol and being turned away by producers, Riley began working for Ikea and nearly missed her Glee audition because her car broke down on the highway while en route. Thankfully, Riley had been cast to play Mercedes Jones. American Idol had temporarily convinced her she wasn’t cut out for the entertainment industry, but this was validation that she was right where she belonged. Glee launched in 2009 with the promise of becoming Riley’s big break.
In some ways, it was. The show introduced Riley to millions of fans and catapulted her into major Hollywood circles. But in other ways, it became a reminder of the types of roles Black women, especially those who are plus-sized, are relegated to. Behind the scenes, Riley says she fought for her character "to have a voice" but eventually realized her efforts were useless. "It finally got to a point where I was like, this is not my moment. I'm not who they're choosing, and this is just going to have to be a job for me for now," she says. "And, that's okay because it pays my bills, I still get to be on television, I'm doing more than any other Black plus-sized women that I'm seeing right now on screen."
The actress can recognize now that she was navigating issues associated with trauma and low self-esteem at the time. She now knows that she's long had anxiety and depression and can recognize the ways in which she was triggered by how the cult-like following of the show conflicted with her individual, isolated experiences behind the scenes. But she was in her early '20s back then. She didn't yet have the language or the tools to process how she was feeling.
Riley says she eventually sought out medical intervention. "When you're in Hollywood, and you go to a doctor, they give you pills," she says, sharing a part of her story that she'd never revealed publicly before now. "[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that's not fixing my problem. If anything, it's making it worse."
“[I was] on medication and developing a habit of medicating to numb, not understanding I was developing an addiction to something that’s not fixing my problem. If anything it’s making it worse.”
Credit: Ally Green
At one point, while in her dressing room on set, she rested her arm on a curling iron without realizing it. It wasn't until her makeup artist alerted her that she even realized her skin was burning. Once she noticed, she says she was "so zonked out on pills" that she barely reacted. Speaking today, she holds up her arm and motions towards a scar that remains from the incident. She sought help for her reliance on the pills, but it would still be years before she finally attended therapy.
This stress was only compounded by the trauma of growing up in poverty and the realities of being a "contract worker." "Imagine going from literally one week having to borrow a car to get to set to the next week being on a private jet to New York City," she says. After Glee ended, so did the rides on private planes. The fury of opportunities she expected to follow her appearance on the show failed to materialize. She wasn't even 30 yet, and she was already forced to consider if she'd hit her career peak.
. . .
We’re only four minutes into our Zoom call before Riley delivers her new adage to me. “My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway,” she says.
On this Thursday afternoon in April, the LA-based entertainer is seated inside her closet/dressing room wearing a cerulean blue tank top with matching shorts and eating hot wings. This current phase of healing hinges on balance. It’s about having discipline and consistency, but not at the risk of inflexibility. She was planning to head to the gym, for instance, but she’s still tired from the “exhausting” day before. Instead, she’s spent her day receiving a massage, eating some chicken wings, and planning to spend quality time with friends. “I’m not going to beat myself up for it. I’m not going to talk down to myself. I’m going to eat my chicken wings, and then tomorrow I’m [back] in the gym,” she says.
“My new mantra is ‘humility does not serve me.’ Humility does not serve Black women. The world works so hard to humble us anyway."
This is the balance with which she's been approaching much of her life these days. It's why she's worried less about whether or not people see her as someone who is humble. She'd rather be respected. "I think you should be a person that's easy to work with, but in the moments where I have to ruffle feathers and make waves, I'm not shying away from that anymore. You can do it in love, you don't have to be nasty about it, but I had to finally be comfortable with the fact that setting boundaries around my life – in whatever aspect, whether that's personal or business – people are not going to like it. Some people are not going to have nice things to say about you, and you gotta be okay with it," she says.
When Amber talks about the constant humbling of Black women in Hollywood, I think of the entertainers before her who have suffered from this. The brilliant, consistent, overqualified Black women who have spoken of having to fight for opportunities and fair pay. Aretha Franklin. Viola Davis. Tracee Ellis Ross. There's a long list of stars whose success hasn't mirrored their experiences behind the scenes.
Credit: Ally Green
If Black women outside of Hollywood are struggling to decrease the pay gap, so, too, are their wealthier, more famous peers.
Riley says there’s been progress in recent years, but only in small ways and for a limited group of people. “This business is exhausting. The goalpost is constantly moving, and sometimes it’s unfair,” she says. But, I have to say it’s the love that keeps you going.”
“There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman,” she continues. “We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
"There’s no way you can continue to be in this business and not love it, especially being a plus-sized Black woman. We’re still niche. We’re still not main characters.”
Last year, Riley starred alongside Raven Goodwin in the Lifetime thriller Single Black Female (a modern, diversified take on 1992’s Single White Female). It was more than a leading role for the actress, it also served as proof that someone who looks like her can front a successful project without it hinging on her identity. It showcased that the characters she portrays don’t “have to be about being a big girl. It can just be a regular story.”
Riley sees her work in music as an extension of her efforts to push past the rigid stereotypes in entertainment. Take her appearance on The Masked Singer, for instance. Riley said she decided to perform Mayer’s “Gravity” after being told she couldn’t sing it years earlier. “I wanted to do ‘Gravity’ on Glee. [I] was told no, because that’s not a song that Mercedes would do,” she says. “That was a full circle moment for me, doing that on that show and to hear what it is they had to say.”
As Scherzinger praised the “anointed” performance, a masked Riley began to cry, her chest heaving as she stood on stage, her eyes shielded from view. “You have to understand, I have really big names – casting directors, producers, show creators – that constantly tell me ‘I’m such a big fan. Your talent is unmatched.’ Hire me, then,” she says, reflecting on the moment.
Recently, she’s been in the studio working on original music, the follow-up to her independently-released debut EP, 2020’s Riley. The sequel to songs such as the anthemic “Big Girl Energy” and the reflective ballad “A Moment” on Riley, this new project hones in on the singer’s R&B roots with sensual grooves such as the tentatively titled “All Night.” “You said I wasn’t shit, turns out that I’m the shit. Then you called me a bitch, turns out that I’m that bitch. You said no one would want me, well you should call your homies,” she sings on the tentatively titled “Lately,” a cut about reflecting on a past relationship. From the forthcoming project, xoNecole received five potential tracks. Fans likely already know the strengths and contours of Riley’s vocals, but these new songs are her strongest, most confident offerings as an artist.
“I am so much more comfortable as a writer, and I know who I am as an artist now. I’m evolving as a human being, in general, so I’m way more vulnerable in my music. I’m way more willing to talk about whatever is on my mind. I don’t stop myself from saying what it is I want to say,” she says.
Credit: Ally Green
“Every era and alliteration of Amber, the baseline is ‘Big Girl Energy.’ That’s the name of her company,” her manager Brooks says, referencing the imprint through which Riley releases her music after getting out of a label deal several years ago. “It’s just what she stands for. She’s not just talking about size, it’s in all things. Whether it’s putting your big girl pants on and having to face a boardroom full of executives or sell yourself in front of a casting agent. It’s her trying to achieve the things she wants to do in life.”
Riley says she has big dreams beyond releasing this new music, too. She’d love to star in a rom-com with Winston Duke. She hasn't starred in a biopic yet, but she’d revel in the opportunity to portray Rosetta Tharpe on screen. She’s determined that her previous setbacks won’t stop her from dreaming big.
“I think one of my superpowers is resilience because, at the end of the day, I’m going to kick, scream, cry, cuss, be mad and disappointed, but I’m going to get up and risk having to deal with it all again. It’s worth it for the happy moments,” she says.
If Riley seems more comfortable and confident professionally, it’s because of the work she’s been doing in her personal life.
She’d previously spoken to xoNecole about becoming engaged to a man she discovered in a post on the site, but she called things off last year. For Valentine’s Day, she revealed her new boyfriend publicly. “I decided to post him on Valentine’s Day, partially because I was in the dog house. I got in trouble with him,” she says, half-joking before turning serious. “The breakup was never going to stop me from finding love. Or at least trying. I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness, and you enjoy it and work through it.”
Credit: Ally Green
"I don’t owe anybody a happily ever after. People break up. It happens. When it was good, it was good. When it was bad, it was terrible, hunny. I had to get the fuck up out of there. You find happiness and you enjoy it and work through it.”
With her ex, Riley was pretty outspoken about her relationship, even appearing in content for Netflix with him. This time around is different. She’s not hiding her boyfriend of eight months, but she’s more protective of him, especially because he’s a father and isn’t interested in becoming a public figure.
She’s traveling more, too. It’s a deliberate effort on her part to enjoy her money and reject the trauma she’s developed after experiencing poverty in her childhood. “I live in constant fear of being broke. I don’t think you ever don’t remember that trauma or move past that. Now I travel and I’m like, listen, if it goes, it goes. I’m not saying [to] be reckless, but I deserve to enjoy my hard work.”
After everything she’s been through, she certainly deserves to finally let loose a bit. “I have to have a life to live,” she says. “I’ve got to have a life worth fighting for.”
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How Black Women Can Get Out Of Survival Mode At Work
We've heard this same song replayed over and over again: Women are stressed and overworked, underpaid, and overlooked in the workplace. Research and everyday experiences back up this claim. And Black women face the added stress of discrimination, even lower pay, and being head of household for a large percentage of homes.
So, how can we get out of survival mode? How can we take deliberate steps to thrive? I'm a huge fan of looking at things from a balanced point of view. I refuse to wear those woe-is-me-it's-hard-being-a-Black-woman tinted glasses often sold to us by propaganda and fear mongers. Here are a few tips that helped me to finally step out of survival mode and into thrive mode:
1. Own your career choices with a mindset shift from lack to optimistic focus and discipline.
It can seem tough to radically approach your career moves as a journey filled with empowering choices, especially when bills have to be paid, and there's stress related to finances. Oftentimes, when I feel the pressure of financial responsibilities, what empowers me is a change in my outlook. I dislike feeling boxed in or forced into anything, including a job or professional role, simply out of financial need. So my mindset has to shift.
I've had to take jobs that I didn't necessarily like. I've also been underemployed before. The key was to think about the goal and focus solely on that. Whether it was to pay off a debt, tide me over while I was in a time of self-employment slump, or save up for a large purchase, focusing on the goal vs. my dislike of the actual job, helped me push through and be more strategic about my career moves.
Once I was able to meet certain goals, I found the freedom to be a bit more picky with the organizations I work with, the companies I work for, and the salary I was willing to accept. It might take a bit of time, but you can set yourself up for this freedom with strategy and focus.
The optimistic piece is key here because it's easy to fall into a cycle of thinking about the negatives of a job or career. It's also easy to fall into shame about mistakes made or about what you perceive you lack, but when you shift focus to what you can control, what you can change, what you do have, and your end goal, you're better able to really be strategic about going for the professional life and quality of work you'd like to have.
JLco - Julia Amaral/Getty Images
2. Get to know what really motivates your fulfillment or happiness at work.
Do you just generally like helping people? Do you like challenging yourself intellectually? Do you love working with children or being a person of authority? Do you like being outdoors or doing work activities in nature? Do you enjoy solo work where you really don't have to interact with too many people all the time? Is your work purpose-driven or more about making lots of money? (It's totally fine to be motivated by the pursuit of financial freedom and wealth, but you must keep it real with yourself in this regard. We all play various roles in this world, and the money-makers among us are vital as well, so there's no shame in that.)
Sit down and think about these things. Write them down. If your current job or career doesn't align with what motivates you to get up and take action every day or it doesn't involve tasks that will guide you to your ultimate goal in life, consider looking for other work, going back to school to get training in something else you might be interested in doing for a living, volunteering, or taking on other projects at your current job in order to really tap into what you enjoy doing.
3. Find other fulfilling activities that fill in the gaps of dissatisfaction.
Some of us can't afford to just quit a job or give up on the years we've dedicated to a company. That's fine. If there are things about your job that are stressors or that are simply just a norm in the work you do, find other activities outside of work that allows you to have some sense of release and balance. It could be sports, spa dates, exercise, church, family time, or solo do-nothing days.
It could be starting a side business, a nonprofit, or a group for other people who have similar interests. It could be therapy or other spiritual practices. If you find you've made your job your whole life, it's a good idea to figure out a better balance so that you aren't consumed by it.
It's great to be an achiever and to do well at work, but there are other human needs that are important, too. Deliberately schedule other activities on your calendar and make them a priority so that you can start to really enjoy your career by having a balanced outlook on your role in it.
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4. Use your voice---especially if you're in a leadership position---and ask for help.
Oftentimes, it can be hard for us to simply as for the help we need. We don't want to seem inadequate, inexperienced, or, dare I say, weak. We want to seem strong, powerful, and resilient all the time. And that desire is a valid one, especially due to the discrimination and toxic systemic issues we face in the workplace.
I challenge you, though, to ask for help, anyway. If you need an assistant, ask for one. If you need time off, ask for it. If you need more time to complete a task, ask for it. Build your tribe at work and get support. Even if you feel your manager or supervisor will say no, speak up anyway.
We have to get into a practice of speaking up because the more all of us do this, the more we empower ourselves and help to shift company cultures. It's really annoying and sometimes insulting to have to justify a reasonable request for assistance, but sometimes, it must be done.
I once had to create a whole pitch just to get an intern to help with the work I had in managing projects that probably should have been split between three people, not one. I ended up getting the intern, but just having to create this whole pitch for something a leader could have used common sense to approve was a lesson in humility for sure. It was as if I had to prove I deserved an intern or help at all.
If you're a manager, delegate. Trust others to do tasks. Empower them by giving them the tools they need to fulfill certain obligations that are really distracting you from the more vital deadlines that you need to meet. Being a superwoman is just not realistic, and to be honest, it's a farce. A true leader serves and is able to give others a chance to be leaders within their own right. You can let someone else shine without dimming your own light.
And managers, speak up for more efficient work processes, better ways to communicate, equal pay, and better protocols that put workers who offer amazing talent and time first. If you have to take baby steps to do this, do it, even if you must align yourself with a privileged ally or seek legal counsel. Again, change in terms of the fight to survive in a career or thrive in one can be sparked with one action from many of us.
5. Quit. Yes, just let that job go.
Burnout is nothing to play with, and it can literally affect your physical health. If you find that you're always mentally exhausted, are oftentimes depressed or angry, or you're coping with work-related stress through overeating or over-indulging in other ways, it's time to take a full stop. If you're literally at your wit's end and you have the family or other support to resign, do it. Talk to your family, a counselor, or a mentor, and take the steps to prep for an exit.
I'd had a point in my life where professional burnout literally led to a mental breakdown. I was in my early 30s at the time. I was overweight, drinking a lot, angry all the time, and wasn't sleeping well. I was working all the time as well, and I was not enjoying my life anymore. I called my mom. "There's something wrong. I cannot function. Ma, it's getting bad. I cannot do this anymore." She simply replied, "Come home."
I felt ashamed and like a failure, but looking back, several years later, it was the best decision of my life. My mom, stepfather, and grandmother really helped me during a tough time. I cashed out my 401K, got on unemployment, and rebuilt. I found love, bought a car (in cash, sis!), went to therapy, moved into my dream home, traveled, and made more money than I had when I was at that previous job where I'd experienced burnout. (I found balance again, both emotionally and mentally, and I felt like myself again.)
If you have the support, tap into it. Use all resources afforded to you to be able to take some time off to get out of survival mode. Change your environment.
And maybe your "letting go" doesn't even include quitting outright. Focusing on the positive outcomes, explain to your HR department or manager, and ask to take a sabbatical. During the break---where your job would still be waiting for you upon your return---map out what you want out of your career, what gives you joy, and what it will take to get your finances in order. Let go of the shame and get the help you need.
As Black women, we deserve all the best life has to offer, and while we must work hard and continue to challenge ourselves, we must also find fulfillment and joy within our career journeys. I hope these tips will help many of you take back your life and thrive.
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