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The Lessons A Year Of Reflection Taught Me

Inspiration

For the majority of last year, I've journaled almost daily—sometimes two, three, ten times a day. I'm talking poems, affirmations, tear-stained pages of frustrated rants and emotional pleas; detailed accounts of my biggest goals and worst fears. Last year, I found solace and sanctuary in writing, and yet somehow the task of reflecting on the year in its entirety feels daunting.


2017 was about stripping things away.

Some change was extremely reluctant, some was exciting. I had to come to terms with a lot of unhealthy behaviors and hold myself accountable to a standard higher than I previously felt capable of living. I also had to embrace myself fully, and learn that I can be imperfect and amazing, anxious and ambitious, hurt and whole at the same time. This is honestly the first time I've felt a real emotional connection to the year that has gone, and a true expectation and exhilaration for the year to come.

2017 was transformative for me. It broke everything down to be built back up on more solid ground. I feel it would be negligent to let such a pivotal year pass without serious reflection and extracting the lessons that I have learned. That extraction may be painful, but the year also taught me a lot about my ability to handle pain. Below are other lessons I learned over the course of a year.

Pain Is A Wonderful Motivator, But She Burns Out Quickly.

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It's the kind of food that fuels you but leaves you starving at the same time. Pain forced me to claw my way out of a dark place, but when I emerged, I realized that it alone would never keep me going. Once pain has served its purpose—to awaken you, to kick you into action—let it go, and choose to operate from faith instead. I'd rather be running toward something good than away from something bad. Love-based over fear-based actions, always.

Don't Get Over It - Get Through It.

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If you were on a track running laps and came to a hurdle, naturally, you'd want to jump over it. But when you lap around, there it is again, waiting to trip you up. Every time you jump that hurdle, you make it over and you smile…but every time you come back around, your body is more tired and your mind more exhausted than before.

What if instead of jumping over, you ran right through the hurdle? It would shatter and splinter. You'd fall and scrape your knees, get injured, and probably lose the race. But when you got back up and ran another lap, that hurdle would be gone—demolished—nothing standing in your way.

The track is your journey and the hurdles are the obstacles. Whatever those obstacles may be—rejection, loss, sickness, unemployment, etc.—don't try to get over them, work through them.

It was about confronting my pain, looking it in the eye, getting to know it intimately. That meant a lot of writing it out, even and especially when it felt messy, ugly, or embarrassing. Initially it hurt more than anything, but slowly I discovered root causes of my problems and now I believe they have significantly less power to trip me up because I can see them coming.

You Are Not Your Mind.

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This was a big one for me. Struggling with anxiety and (at one point) depression, I've battled with the notion that I was defective because I just couldn't think like other people: Why can't I just be positive? Why is this so hard for me and so simple for others? Why am I so afraid of things? What's wrong with me?

Nothing is wrong with me.

I realized that just because I have "bad" thoughts doesn't mean I'm a "bad" person.

I am not my mind or my thoughts, but rather the observer of those thoughts. I've learned the distinction between being defective and harboring a defective mindset. As the observer of my mind, I can choose new, productive thoughts, remain vigilant against unhealthy habits, and build a new experience of life. It is a slow process and I'm still working on it every damn day (can't stress that enough), but it is possible. My first step was realizing that I am not a negative person. I am simply a person who has been practicing negativity for far too long.

Hobbies Are Vital.

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When all your ducks aren't in a row, it can feel trivial and even irresponsible to indulge in "free" time. We think we don't deserve to enjoy ourselves because we haven't achieved enough. Bullsh*t. Enjoying your life should be a MUST, especially when you're healing.

For me, that meant dancing, writing, and for the first time, exercising for enjoyment. Make sure you confront your pain but don't make your ENTIRE life about whatever's hurting you. Go dance, read, sing, whatever. Blow off some steam. Why constantly strive to build a life you won't even allow yourself to enjoy?

I Thrive In Purposeful Isolation.

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I discovered that I have to get really still to hear God's signals. That meant not only clearing the clutter of my mind by free-writing stream of consciousness into my journals, but also clearing social clutter. I skipped out on social events I didn't absolutely need to attend; my phone was often on airplane mode or turned off altogether.

I did way more things solo and discovered that my time alone should be a sanctuary, not a sentence.

In spending more time on my own (in vital combination with addressing my issues, working through my pain, and taking action toward improvement), I felt more at ease with myself and less concerned with where I was in comparison to others. A few strategic hiatuses from social media now and again also don't hurt! Now, I love being alone not to hide from the world, but to reenergize in the midst of my own being.

It's OK Not To Know The "How" Of Life.

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I'm still working on everything on this list, but this one in particular is really challenging for me. On a rational level, I recognize that lots of people, especially people my age, have no idea what the hell they're doing. However, my anxiety tries to convince me they've all got it figured out and I just didn't get the memo. It is a work in progress, but I'm letting go of the "how" and focusing more on the "what" and the "why."

There Are Upsides To My Anxiety.

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Before last year, I never, ever thought I would look upon my anxiety with anything other than resentment. But last year, I made a purposeful shift in perspective. Yes, it brings me really low, but in another way, it has allowed me to build up the best parts of myself. When you know what it feels like to feel controlled by your mind, you're more empathetic toward others and the struggles they might be going through. I'm an imperfect person who still judges and misreads, but I am proud to say, I have become much more aware of the words I speak and the power they hold to either affirm or cut someone deeply. My anxiety makes me more compassionate, more understanding.

It has also pointed me in the direction of my purpose. Even if all the details may not be planned out yet, I know that in whatever I do, I want to help others not to feel the way I have felt for so much of my life. I want to support people and lift them up; empower them to reclaim their lives from an overactive and often over-negative imagination. While I can't say I love my anxiety, I love that it has shown me the purpose in my pain.

You Are Not Your Circumstances.

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I have been seeking full-time employment since 2014. Anyone who knows that struggle knows the havoc it can wreak on your mind. Though things are in a better place, this is something I struggle with on the daily and remains one of the biggest triggers for my anxiety. Still, in the midst of my year of healing, I have gradually come to accept (stubbornly) that where I am is not who I am.

Before you had a career or "likes" or relationships, you had a soul; therein lies your worth, not in any title or status. I have to remind myself time and time again that I am a good-hearted person, I am trying, and I am more than enough—right where I am.

There are probably a million other things the year has taught me, but I have to end this somewhere. On April 25, 2017, I turned 25, which made it my "golden year". Admittedly, at the start, it felt anything but golden. But now that I sit here re-reading my journals and writing this all out, I am nothing but grateful for the way this year has molded me. It set the foundation so that I can build on more secure ground in 2018 and beyond.

For anyone also coming off a difficult year, I urge you to reflect. Indulge in your transformation, in your strength for making it through. Celebrate all of your tiny victories because sometimes, that's the momentum you need in order to keep going.

Don't stop now. You are never alone.

*Originally published on Medium

Featured image by Eye for Ebony on Unsplash

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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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