Chile. This. Right. Here. Listen, if you're someone who is counting the days until Thanksgiving and/or Christmas because you come from a totally functional family that never disagrees and totally enjoys being up under each other 24/7, first off, let me say a big ole' kudos to you. No, really. That is absolutely beautiful—and amazing. But with articles out in cyberspace like "Why Families Fight During Holidays", "Average Couples Will Fight Seven Times Before Holiday End" and "So THAT'S Why Families Fight So Much at Christmas! Strict Schedules and Cramped Conditions Cause 'Hypercopresence'", I already know that there are others who are watching the movie Soul Food on loop, in hopes that their family will be able to sit around the dinner table in peace or, they're considering going on a prayer fast in order to maintain their sanity.
Family is a funny thing; not always in a "ha ha" kind of way either. But as they say, "You can't choose your family." You also can't make grandma not ask you for the billionth time when you're going to get married or have kids, your auntie from saying something slick about your weight or sense of style, or the men in the house from trying to hog the remote. Not to mention all of the dishes that constantly need to be washed, the limited bed space, and the folks whose personalities change more and more with every cup of eggnog. Lawd.
As you're trying to get your spirit right as you head to your parents' house or you prepare to host at your own place this year, cut yourself some slack. If there is a part of you that isn't 100 percent thrilled, that's OK. You're human (plus, studies reveal that it takes the average American only four hours before they need to take a break from extended family visits). But if, at the same time, you want to exude peace, joy and goodwill as much as possible for your sake and the sake of those who will be around you, here's hoping that the following tips can bring a few miracles into your family space this holiday season.
“Time” Your Time
I'm an ambivert which kind of breaks down into being perceived as being an extrovert when actually I am more of an introvert. And this is how much of an introvert that I am. A few years ago, Nashville got some for real, for real snow (which doesn't happen a ton). Two days in, some out of town people called to check on me and get this—I had no idea that the snowstorm even happened. Right. I hadn't even gone outside in like three days. Didn't look out of the windows either. That is how much I like my spot. And since I enjoy solitude too, the rare times when people do stay over here, I've got a five-day threshold rule. During those five days, I will cook for you, take you wherever you want to go—basically be on-call. But after those five days are up, you've got…to…go. No apologies either. I know me. This means that I know what my limits are as well.
Sometimes, folks feel like they are going to lose it around the holidays because they stay with someone longer than they can mentally or emotionally handle, or they allow others to semi-wear out their welcome. If this Thanksgiving, all you can endure is Thursday thru Saturday, hey—it is what it is. Better to know what you are able to endure and everything go smoothly than to push past your limits and all hell break loose. For real, doe.
Deactivate Your Triggers
If there is one thing that 2019 has taught me, it's how to get up close and personal with my triggers so that I can better learn how to deactivate them; especially when I'm around "trigger pushers"—or when it comes to certain family members of mine, trigger stompers. If there is a part of you that wonders why you are generally a pretty chill individual, but then, when a certain cousin walks through the door or your stepmother mumbles something under her breath, you are ready to leap over the table, they could be triggering you, perhaps without you even knowing it. And since a lot of triggers stem from our childhood, that would actually make a lot of sense. Over the holidays, sometimes we're reliving things that aren't the best memories, experiences or even people on the planet; it makes us vulnerable and that can make us irritable.
You can't change your cousin or your stepmom. All you can do is control yourself. But something that can give you a real leg up on avoiding any potential drama is if you spend some time figuring out what your triggers are, who pushes them, and things that you can do to "woosah" through them instead of poppin' off at every turn.
Avoiding “Romanticizing” Toxicity
Some people in my family are toxic. Simple as that. They are so toxic, in fact, that they inspired me to write "Why You Should Be Unapologetic About Setting Boundaries With Toxic Family Members". A particular relative who comes to mind is constantly bitter with a side of manipulative and controlling. For years, before I would see this individual, I would tell myself that this time was going to be different; that although the only thing that they had shown was how consistently negative they could be, somehow it wasn't going to be like that that year. Then, I would walk in their door, they'd immediate start whining about their life and then try and get me to do everything for them the entire visit, only for me to find myself all bent out of shape because I was disappointed. Again.
Y'all, this is what I call "romanticizing toxicity". Did you know that one definition of romantic is "fanciful; impractical; unrealistic"? And yes, when you're around people who are constantly showing how toxic they are, it's impractical and unrealistic to think that after years of them being this way, they are supernaturally going to be any different.
For toxic people, it has to be an act of God for anything to change. Until that happens, don't set yourself up for being let down by putting your heart in harm's way of toxic individuals. Set boundaries. Stand firmly in them. That should help you to navigate through their slick words and strange energy.
If There’s Not Enough Room…Get a Room
I've got a girlfriend whose husband's side of the family is cray-cray. So crazy that she and I discuss often that if she had really understood the depths of the dysfunction of his bloodline, it probably would've resulted in them remaining friends instead of getting married at all. And who is she gearing up to host this holiday season? Yep…you guessed it. Not for 48 hours either. It's for an entire week and some change. When I asked her how she was going to maintain her composure with all of that traffic, she said, "Girl, this wouldn't be happening at our other house. Luckily, we've got enough room at this one."
Her in-law dynamic is actually what inspired this particular tip because it reminded me that sometimes the holidays are hard simply because we need more space—both physically as well as emotionally. Space to catch our breath and our thoughts. A place to go where we won't have little people constantly crawling all over us or our great-uncle telling us the same five tired jokes for the tenth year in a row.
If you're headed to a relative's place and, when you ask about the sleeping arrangements they say something along the lines of, "Girl, there are enough couches and plenty of floor space", if that makes you already hyperventilate, it's OK if you want to get a hotel room or rent an Airbnb. I'm willing to bet that your family won't agree with me but, that's another thing that you've got to remember about going home for the holidays—you're not in high school or college anymore. You're an adult so, it's not about what they won't let you do; it's about you doing what you know is best. And sometimes, the best way to "respect your elders" is to give everyone some space. Starting with yourself.
Don’t Constantly Be at Home
Speaking of space, if you're going to your parents' place for the holidays and that happens to be where you grew up, this means that you know how to get around, right? No one said that going home meant that you had to sit in the kitchen and shuck peas or clean collards the entire time. Go to a movie. Meet up with some old friends. Plan ahead to be out of the house a little bit while you're there.
And what if you are the one who is hosting? My advice is to not feel the least bit guilty about scheduling a mani/pedi one day or "conveniently forgetting" some stuff at the grocery store that you need to run out and get a couple of times (several if necessary). Sometimes, just an hour of being in your car alone and listening to Donny Hathaway's "This Christmas" or strolling a couple of laps in a mall can rejuvenate you in ways you wouldn't even imagine.
If It’s Your House, Remember IT IS YOUR HOUSE
Something else that I think can be a challenge when it comes to dealing with relatives is everyone learning what it means to respect each other. In fact, something that I referenced in the toxic family article that I mentioned earlier is while a lot of our elders are quick to want to recite "Honor your father and mother" (Exodus 20:12), they somehow seem to have really selective memory when it comes to two Scriptures that say children shouldn't be provoked to wrath (Ephesians 6:4) or provoked to the point of becoming discouraged (Colossians 3:21).
Three points here. One, you are no longer a child. Therefore, you are well within your rights to expect to not be treated like one. Wanting to be treated like an adult is not "disrespectful"; elders trying to treat you like you're not one is. Point two—provoke means "to anger, enrage, exasperate, or vex". If someone is doing that to you, feel free to share the chapter and verse in the Good Book where all are instructed not to do this. And three, if you're hosting—your house, your rules.
Now, I'm not saying that if you've got no problem chillin' with a blunt and some bourbon that you need to puff-puff-pass in front of granddad or if you know your father lives for football that he should be made to watch The Best Man Holiday on loop. But what I am saying is you are the one who is paying the mortgage (or rent), so if anyone shouldn't feel like they need to walk on eggshells, that should be you. If there are house rules, share them. If folks are breaking them—even if it comes to disrespecting you and your feelings—enforce them. They would do it at their place. Trust me.
Choose Your Battles
A wise person once said, "You only have so much emotional energy each day. Don't fight battles that don't matter." Amen and amen. The relative who always has to have to have the last word? Maybe let them. The relative who always likes to tell the embarrassing story of what you did when you were 10? The sooner they tell it and laugh like they never said it before, the sooner everyone can move on. If your mom has a billion questions about the new guy you're seeing and you already know she's going to be hyper-critical—decide what to share, what to keep to yourself and leave it at that. Out of all of the stuff that I shared, I personally believe that family time can be stressful over the holiday season because we don't master the art of choosing our battles before we see everyone.
Abuse is one thing. Never tolerate that. But when it comes to the basically inconsequential stuff? Remember, even if it feels like a year, the visit is only going to be a few days. Accept folks for who they are, focus on making as many great memories as possible, and pre-plan a way to pamper yourself when it's all over. If you do these things, you should survive this holiday season, even when it comes to dealing with the relatives who always seem to want to tap dance on your very last nerve. In short, Mazel Tov. It's Hebrew for "good destiny". I'm sending plenty of that your way, so that you'll get through the holidays with tranquility and a smile. Happy Holidays, sis.
Want more stories like this? Sign up for our newsletter here and check out the related reads below:
How To Navigate Meeting Bae's Family For The First Time
How To Deal With Being The Successful One Of The Family
The Relationships In Your Life That Are Desperately In Need Of Boundaries
What My 45-Year-Old Self Would Tell My 25-Year-Old Self
Did you know that xoNecole has a new podcast? Join founder Necole Kane, and co-hosts Sheriden Chanel and Amer Woods, for conversations over cocktails each and every week by subscribing to xoNecole Happy Hour podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Feature image by Shutterstock
- Someone Treats You Like A Child - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- Navigate Family Dynamics During The Holidays - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- What To Wear To Meet The Parents - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- How To Set Boundaries With Yourself - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- Teri from 'Soul Food' Is Owed an Apology - xoNecole: Women's Interest, Love, Wellness, Beauty ›
- Avoiding Family Drama - YouTube ›
- Avoiding family drama during the holidays | Family Institute ›
- How to Avoid Family Drama for the Holidays ›
- Ten Ways to Keep Family Members From Ruining Your Holidays ... ›
- Tips To Avoid Family Drama This Holiday Season – CBS New York ›
- 6 Tips for Avoiding Family Drama | Psychology Today ›
- How to Avoid Holiday Drama With Your Family ›
- Gabby Bernstein's Tips for Avoiding Family Drama During the Holidays ›
- How to Avoid Holiday Family Fights - Real Simple ›
- No Drama Holiday: 10 Tips for Avoiding Emotional Family Traps ... ›
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 (email@example.com) 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.”
Director of Content: Jasmine Grant
Campaign Manager: Chantal Gainous
Managing Editor: Sheriden Garrett
Creative Director/Executive Producer: Tracey Woods
Cover Designer: Tierra Taylor
Photographer: Ally Green
Photo Assistant: Avery Mulally
Digital Tech: Kim Tran
Video by Third and Sunset
DP & Editor: Sam Akinyele
2nd Camera: Skylar Smith
Camera Assistant: Charles Belcher
Stylist: Casey Billingsley
Hairstylist: DaVonte Blanton
Makeup Artist: Drini Marie
Production Assistants: Gade De Santana, Apu Gomes
Powered by: European Wax Center
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.
Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
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.
Let’s make things inbox official! Sign up for the xoNecole newsletter for daily love, wellness, career, and exclusive content delivered straight to your inbox.
Featured image by Katleho Seisa/Getty Images