This Couple Says That True Love Means Not Expecting Your Partner To Fill Your Empty Cup
In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.
I hate to break it to you, sis, but whoever told you finding love would make you happy was not keeping it 100 with you. While we can rely on our partners for emotional and spiritual support, finding your happy place is something you have to do for yourself, playa and after their first two years of marriage, Cory and Leah Dixon have learned that this statement is big facts.
In 2016, Cory Dixon slid into his now-wife, Leah's DMs for a zucchini noodle recipe, and shortly after their first phone call, the love connection was secured. Later, the couple would meet one another at the altar and make a lifelong commitment to do life together. Today, Cory and Leah are more in love than ever before and all I have to say is, Lord, I've seen what you've done for others and my DMs are too, ready to receive a blessing.
The couple recently sat down with xoNecole and shared the secret to surviving their first year of marriage and according to them, it starts with not expecting your partner to fill your empty cup. Leah told xoNecole, "I struggled with anxiety and depression at the beginning of our marriage. It was a major challenge for us. Towards the end of our first year of marriage, I started going to a Christian counselor and it helped me so much! I didn't know how much the trauma of my past had impacted me."
"Focusing on healing myself helped take some of the pressure off of the marriage. I learned that my day-to-day happiness is my responsibility," Leah continued. "I have to invest time into myself so I can bring the best version of me to the marriage. It is not fair to expect somebody else to fill up my empty cup. I re-learned what my interests are, and decided to make an effort to feed my interests."
We sat down with Leah and Cory to talk more about adjusting to life after a long-distance relationship, how to cope when you and your partner speak different love languages, and staying celibate before marriage.
Scroll below to read more!
How They Met
Leah: We met through Instagram! It's crazy because I definitely made up in my mind that I would most likely meet my husband at the grocery store, but God had other plans (laughs). It was in 2016, and I was really focused on eating clean and not "letting myself go" after college. I made zucchini noodles and posted a picture of it on my Instagram page. Cory commented something along the lines of, "I've been meaning to try zoodles" and I replied, "You definitely should!". He DMed me not too long afterward and I recommended where he could get the pasta sauce I used. A few days later he sent me a picture of the zucchini noodles he made and I thought it was cute. He was friendly, and not creepy. Because who wants to talk to a creep on Instagram? (Laughs)
When I looked at his page, I assumed he would not be cute because he basically only posted quotes and scriptures so I figured he would be hard on the eyes (laughs). When I scrolled down his page, I saw he was really handsome! He also mentioned in his bio that he attended Morehouse College and my sister is a Spelman alumna so I asked if she knew who he was. She said he was a really nice guy! It's crazy because I really did not want to meet a guy from Instagram but Cory was just different than anybody else I had met before. We began talking in June and met in person in August. I went to visit him in Alabama for a weekend. I stayed in a hotel, near where he lived, and we went out for dinner and just spent time together. He asked me to be his girlfriend that weekend and obviously I said yes!
Cory: Leah and I met via Instagram. I am unsure of how Leah's profile came across my platform, however, it did and we began following each other. I liked her posts before I ever "liked" her posts. She carried herself with modesty and confidence. That was attractive to me and I thought she was beautiful. One day, after she posted about trying zucchini noodles, I commented that I would be interested to know how her meal turned out. I was on a health kick at the time and was genuinely interested. She replied to my comment and encouraged me to try the recipe myself. A few weeks later I did that and tried the dish. I took that opportunity to hit a right-foot-up, left-foot slide into her DMs. This was purely to tell her I tried the recipe and thank her for the plug. However, that message then turned into a series of conversations that eventually turned into a marriage.
Leah: I knew Cory was the one during our first phone call. It's kind of hard to explain, but I just knew. His voice was very calming to me and it seemed as if I had known him forever. We were compatible in so many ways. I am pretty high-strung, and Cory's presence and demeanor bring about peace. We definitely balance each other out. I knew I wanted to get married, but I wasn't necessarily in a rush to be married. I wanted to be in a relationship that would ultimately lead to marriage though. Since Cory and I share the same values and Christian outlook, we definitely wanted the relationship to progress towards marriage.
Cory: I am not sure if I experienced a moment where I inadvertently "knew" Leah was the one. I believe at some point, a man decides that a woman he is interested in is the one. I made that decision during our first phone call. I don't know if Leah used magic on me or something but I decided to love her that day. She was captivating in every sense; smart, funny, faith-filled, beautiful, mature…the full package of what I wanted. With that in mind, I approached our courtship as if marriage was going to be the next natural step. At that time, I spurned the idea of being in a 'situationship' that had no goal or purpose. Leah and I made it clear that we were going to be intentional with every step of our budding relationship.
"I believe at some point, a man decides that a woman he is interested in is the one. I made that decision during our first phone call. I don't know if Leah used magic on me or something but I decided to love her that day. She was captivating in every sense; smart, funny, faith-filled, beautiful, mature…the full package of what I wanted. With that in mind, I approached our courtship as if marriage was going to be the next natural step."
Leah: Initially, I would not say I had any fears because I was not 100% tuned-in to my subconscious thoughts and beliefs about marriage. Since being married and being in counseling, I can think back to that time and know that my biggest fear was being cheated on and facing infidelity. Although Cory showed me no signs of being unfaithful, that fear was dormant in me due to my childhood pain. Since being in counseling post-marriage, I've chosen to let go of my past beliefs. I cannot project the pain I felt onto Cory for things he has not done to me. Doing so has helped me be more confident in my marriage and my husband. I have learned that my life should be governed by faith, not fear. It is easier said than done sometimes, but it is definitely worth working towards. Nobody should have to live by false belief systems.
Cory: I think my biggest fear walking into marriage was to losing it. I hold marriage in high regard and take it seriously. To me, marriage is a life-covenant. I respect and love marriage and my wife. So, the spiritual and emotional repercussions in addition to the natural logistics of losing a marriage to either tragedy or divorce were my biggest concerns coming into marriage.
Leah: It definitely has taken time to learn to speak Cory's love language. He craves acts of service and I thrive off of affirmation. I can't affirm him and expect that to fill up his love cup. I have to love him in the way he needs to be loved. It takes effort because it is not the way I like to be loved, but it is important that I give him what he needs.
Cory: I would say this is difficult because Leah has 48 love languages that all operate simultaneously. It's like having quintuplets and they all are crying for food but you only have two bottles and one arm. But on a more serious note, Leah mainly receives love through words of affirmation. For me, this was a challenge because conveying emotions through words was a natural weakness of mine. I am still learning and growing in that area but progress has been made.
"He craves acts of service and I thrive off of affirmation. I can't affirm him and expect that to fill up his love cup. I have to love him in the way he needs to be loved. It takes effort because it is not the way I like to be loved, but it is important that I give him what he needs."
Leah: True love takes time. It takes patience. True love is forgiving and resilient. I have learned that I will be disappointed by my husband at times, and I will be challenged to forgive. I've learned that I am capable of loving him and growing with him. I have to continually seek growth and vulnerability. I have learned that no love story is perfect and hardships will come, but God is greater than any adversity and He has the final say. Any obstacle can be overcome through faith and reliance on God.
Cory: The most important lesson that I learned through loving Leah is that love truly is a verb. Love is an action and a choice. Daily, I have to choose to love Leah. And to love someone, to truly love someone, you have to die to yourself daily as well. I don't want that to sound like love is one-sided because it isn't. However, the secret ingredient of love is sacrifice. And if you are not sacrificing in some way, I wouldn't consider it true love.
Leah: One of our initial challenges was determining the roles we would play within the household. It wasn't a huge challenge, but we could have benefited from discussing these things earlier. At the beginning of our marriage, we both lived in Alabama and I was working full-time while he was a Ph.D. student full-time. I did not have the energy to clean and cook, so that put a strain on the relationship. Dishes could easily pile up (as well as laundry) and I was not used to having so much responsibility. We ate a lot of fast food, which led to weight gain and general unhappiness. If I had a plan and structure going into marriage, I probably would have been more successful with my time management.
We also had difficulty communicating during conflict. Something we struggled with is fighting fair. In my life previous to marriage, if somebody made me upset I would just cut them off or distance myself from them. I was not accustomed to working through issues healthily. That was probably the biggest challenge for us. We had difficulty getting on one accord. I wish we would have done premarital counseling because I believe a lot of our challenges could have been lessened. That is my advice to anybody who is engaged or looking to get married at some point… do pre-marital counseling! Individual counseling is great too because you can start working through your challenges before they surface in marriage.
Cory: Starting long-distance created a culture in which any time we got to see each other (about once a month) it was like a mini-vacation or an extended date night. So once we got to be in one space together long-term, we struggled to find a lifestyle that was balanced and productive. We were so excited to be together that we "lived it up" with dietary, financial, and productivity habits that weren't conducive to the lifestyle we desired. Ultimately, that caused friction between us and strained our communication and general satisfaction with life in general. For example, Leah eats small frequent meals. I like one or two bigger meals a day. We ended up eating big frequent meals more often. Let's just say our scale started to lose count.
Leah: Cory and I had many challenges and hardships in the beginning. We faced financial difficulties, job loss, and relational difficulties. We overcame them by learning to truly rely on one another. I personally have learned that there can be no intimacy and true love without vulnerability. Before I was with Cory, I really had to take care of my own needs and get things done by myself, so when we got married I had to learn to share my vulnerabilities with him.
Cory: I needed to learn how to deal with stress. Stress is a word I never really was able to use to articulate how I felt. However, my built-up stress manifested itself in other ways such as frustration or a general sense of discontent. So now, I found that just expressing my emotions can help relieve my stress. Once I do, Leah and I can work together to figure out how it can be relieved. Being open and honest with my emotions has helped me feel more fulfilled and stable. In turn, I am better equipped to support Leah though her emotional struggles. There is more empathy and understanding there.
The Best Part
Leah: My favorite part about being married is knowing I have a partner I can do life with and grow old with. When I look into my future, he is there. It's comforting to know we will go through life together and experience many firsts with each other.
Cory: I enjoy the oneness of marriage. Becoming one with someone is a fascinating experience. Spiritually speaking, we get the opportunity and privilege of being a natural representation of God's love for His people. From a more natural perspective, going "all-in" with someone gives you a chance to learn about yourself on a level that I don't believe happens outside of marriage. Two people go from complete strangers to the deepest form of a love affair that two humans can experience. 100% vulnerability and connectedness. I get to do that with Leah. That's my favorite part of marriage.
"From a more natural perspective, going 'all-in' with someone gives you a chance to learn about yourself on a level that I don't believe happens outside of marriage. Two people go from complete strangers to the deepest form of a love affair that two humans can experience. 100% vulnerability and connectedness. I get to do that with Leah."
Leah: The best advice I received in the first year of marriage is to pick your battles wisely. It is not feasible to argue about every little thing, and frankly, it is a waste of time! it's important to let things go and to do so quickly. Harboring and dwelling yield no positive results.
Cory:*Insert WHOLE Bible here* Aside from pure Biblical truth, "Women are thermometers, they read the temperature of the home. As a man, you are to be the thermostat. You set the temperature." - Dr. Jared Russell
For me, that piece of advice has never left my mind. It alludes to how a man should be cool, calm, and collected in tough times but also have the ability to be warm to his wife. It demands that I take accountability for the "temperature" of my home. If my wife is "trippin", it can most likely be traced to a temperature I set at some point. It's the same for her pleasantness. This isn't scripture and I am sure that individuals that are way smarter than I [am] can poke 1,000 holes in that metaphor, however, it has helped me a lot.
Leah: To be honest, I think this is something we are still figuring out. Cory and I both want to lead others to Christ and encourage people to seek Him. Our faith has always rooted us. I believe my spiritual gift is encouragement. I share my experiences and perspective through my social media to encourage others. I know God has so much more in store for us though. I am excited to grow in our purpose together.
Cory: We are still allowing our specific purpose as a couple to materialize. Today, we strive to be in the best physical, financial, and spiritual shape of our lives so that we can exemplify God's love through our marriage. We always seek to be a light and to allow ourselves to be used for whatever God's ultimate purpose for us is. Our individual goals always help us as a whole. Like I mentioned before, we are one flesh. If it benefits apart, it benefits the whole.
For more Cory and Leah, follow them on Instagram!
Featured image by Instagram/@leahessence.
Taylor "Pretty" Honore is a spiritually centered and equally provocative rapper from Baton Rouge, Louisiana with a love for people and storytelling. You can probably find me planting herbs in your local community garden, blasting "Back That Thang Up" from my mini speaker. Let's get to know each other: @prettyhonore.
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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Introducing Chief Mom Officer: Where Working Moms Come First
xoNecole's Chief Mom Officer explores the 18-month post-pregnancy journey through the lens of our very own Chief Mom Officer, Shakyna Bolden. The series will serve as an inspirational and resourceful guide to help get through the early days of new motherhood as working moms knowing they are not alone in the hardships.
“I want to build my work around my life, and not my life around my work.”
I typed these words in my iPhone Notes as I fed my newborn daughter one morning during the first few weeks of having her earthside. I didn’t have much time for page-filled journal entries as my days were filled with nonstop feedings, soothing, and recovery…but I knew I needed to give those words space and life.
Prior to my maternity leave, I, like most working moms, was burning fumes juggling work and life. Since 2019, I’ve been running revenue operations here at this really cool company you may have heard of called xoNecole (hehe). I’ve been behind the scenes building our brand partnerships and negotiating deals with companies such as Ulta Beauty, Toyota, Target, Spotify, SheaMoisture, etc.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
I’ve co-produced our signature events like ElevateHER and Pajamas & Lipstick while conceptualizing, selling, building, and distributing our original video and podcast content and podcast. The list goes on and on. I’ve helped build this small but brilliant company into what it is today, all while running my own small family. And that is not an easy feat.
In all truth, trying to be the best mom and partner I can be while also leading in my job has felt at times like a whirlwind where the rest of my life is passing me by. I don’t quite know where or when it happened, but I swear somebody pushed the fast-forward button in life, and I’m losing my edges trying to keep up.
My mind and body get so preoccupied with the management of life that my soul sits on the sidelines, waiting to take the reins and intentionally live it.
So many facets of my life, from my health and well-being to my hobbies and passions, have been placed on the back burner while tending to my young family and growing in my career has taken center stage. And for the longest time, I’ve wanted to flip the switch, but the pace of life just hasn’t let me restack my priorities.
That is, until now.
Courtesy of Shakyna Bolden
When I found out I was pregnant with my daughter last year, I couldn’t imagine adding more to my already full plate. Simultaneously, I was also relieved to know that my upcoming maternity leave would force me to press pause and catch my breath. Her birth in January 2023 was a much-needed reset, to say the least.
My maternity leave was the first time since 2019 that I had a second for dreams that were buried in the back of my heart to bubble up to the surface of my reality. I got a taste of what it was like to solely focus on my well-being and my home life. And I liked it a lot. My healing. My recovery. Sitting and really taking quiet time with God to search the unattended areas in the garden of my life.
I was cooking homemade meals on the regular and actually sitting down with my family at the table to eat. As grueling as those first newborn weeks can be, I was enjoying the long-awaited shift in my priorities; and I wanted that shift to stick. I didn’t want it to fade away after my maternity leave.
I want to build my work around my life and not my life around my work.
As a leader of an organization that speaks to millions of women every day about their well-being (and also in leading a team of majority women), I feel it’s my responsibility to carry this shift forward boldly. This is why I’m launching a new column here at xoNecole: Chief Mom Officer!
As I return to work full-time this month from my maternity leave, I want to regularly share my experience of trying to harmonize work and life. As an audience, you all share your raw, unfiltered journeys with us. For years, they’ve undoubtedly inspired me. I want to show up and do the same because I know this shift in my life will be quite the journey.
So for all my Chief Mom Officers—those of us who are constantly merging the imperfect and chaotic worlds of leadership in the office and wearing our crowns at home—I invite you to come on this journey with me and celebrate the ebbs and flows in how we show up for each.
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Featured image courtesy of Shakyna Bolden