Welcome to Vibe Check, Unbothered’s wellness column aimed at revolutionizing how Black folx think about self-care.
“Self-care” is not always synonymous with Black existence. For example, in addition to navigating trauma resulting from racism, classism, sexism, anti-trans violence and more, Black women are expected — through socialization — to be caretakers, to be strong, and often to our detriment. Queer folx and the particular needs of the LGBTQ+ community are often excluded from conversations about wellness. Additionally, the wellness industry sells us the idea that wellness can be bought, and through that, it prices out the communities that need access to healing resources the most.
Vibe Check explores how Black folx are reclaiming their time, reconnecting with their power, and practicing self-care in their day-to-day lives.
Living a life of one’s own creation is perhaps the purest definition of success and luxury. Or rather that’s how I’ve chosen to define it, particularly over the last three years. Arriving at and internalizing this definition in 2019 required daily, diligent self-reflection and recalibration. It allowed me to untangle the gnarly bits of girl boss and grind culture so deeply embedded in my millennial psyche.
Trying to define success and luxury void of a particular job title or salary was extremely challenging, particularly for me as a Black woman. This society never intended for us to have agency over our lives, to intentionally make decisions about our futures. Instead, it has deemed only our basic survival acceptable, and it does not care that we thrive and succeed, on our own terms. However, I decided it was worth trying — owning my joy and living a bountiful life.
By the time I celebrated my thirtieth birthday, I was exhausted. Totally and utterly depleted after spending nearly a decade in New York City and working just as many jobs — from hostess to magazine editor — as years lived in the city that never sleeps. While fun, at times, I lacked the type of satisfaction, from work and my life, that made me feel like I was living out my life’s purpose. Instead, I often felt restless and unsettled and constantly using the jobs, titles, and things of those around me to be my definition and barometer of success. The gap between where I wanted to be (a life where I felt free) and where I was (trapped in a job and life I didn’t like) felt insurmountable. The answer as to how to close it was murky, at best.
So I made a declaration. I knew the burden of burnout and dissatisfaction from life weighed heavy not only on me but nearly everyone around me, and that if we didn’t — if I didn’t — begin to prioritize our needs and desires it was never going to change. So, I decided to take the first step to creating the life I desperately wanted to live; the one I knew I deserved. Thankfully, starting was relatively easy, and only required the activation of imagination, something any and everyone can do, no matter where you might be.
Before exploring how to start investing in your joy, it’s important to understand what it’s not. It’s not a temporary fix or a quick hit of happiness — like a new job with a higher salary or the latest bag. It can’t be boiled down to a singular type of lifestyle. The goal is to orient your life so fulfillment sits at the center, the guiding rubric of your decision making. Doing this can’t happen overnight because it requires work that’s oftentimes uncomfortable and is the culmination of small baby steps taken each day.
We each have a personal and individual definition of joy, which is why the life we choose to live should look different from our friends’ and partners’. For some, that may mean exotic vacations and facials several times per year, while for others it could mean quiet moments alone reading and being in nature. When I made the decision to finally live life on my own terms in my twenties, to define success by how I spent each day, it began with visualizing what my ideal life looked like.
Creating a life that centers joy, especially over the long-term, doesn’t mean every moment will be fun or feel particularly good; it’s often those moments of uncomfortability that lead to the type of growth from which joy grows.
Close your eyes; slow down your breathing; think back to the three happiest and most freeing times in your life. Where were you? Who were you with? What about those moments made you feel so happy and free? Write those answers down, and then revisit them over the next few days, weeks, and even months. For me, creating and living a life that felt free and unbound started with dreaming about it. I had to bring into focus the vision I had for myself. In addition to reflecting on those moments in my life that felt happiest and most free, I also visualized what my ideal day, week and month looked like. How did I feel, and even look, as I moved through each of those experiences? What did I spend my days doing, and most importantly how did I support myself financially? I not only wrote down the answers to these questions in many notebooks and iPhone notes, but also created digital vision boards and word dumps containing the verbs and adjectives I wanted to embody.
Visualizing this ideal life not only helped me put to paper those things that’d been knocking around in my head for years but also helped to make it all feel more tangible. It creates an insatiable desire to turn the saved and pinned images into reality. Taking the time to slow down, get quiet and reflect crystalized for me, that flexibility, my own creativity, and ease were paramount for my life to feel fullinging and enriching. But like with any goal thinking about it is only part of the equation. It takes grit and determination to turn dreams into a reality — it’s where the real work begins. Ultimately, determining who lives their dream life, and who settles.
Converting my dream of a life filled with flexibility, rooted in my own creativity, and centered in joy into a reality required I develop an actionable plan. One that moved me forward, substantially, but still felt attainable. So, I took what at the time felt like my wildest dream — becoming a full-time creative consultant — and broke it down into manageable monthly goals that were easily trackable. It also required me to come to terms with the concept of tradeoffs — doing one thing came at the cost of not doing something else. If I wanted to gain the skills and clientbase needed to eventually consult full-time, it meant taking on freelance work alongside my 9-5 and sacrificing free time on the weekends. Being honest about those things I was willing to sacrifice, for the time being, and those that were non-negotiables ensured I was planning realistically and acting accordingly. Creating a life that centers joy, especially over the long-term, doesn’t mean every moment will be fun or feel particularly good; it’s often those moments of uncomfortability that lead to the type of growth from which joy grows.
The last, and most crucial, step is turning those plans into action that can be maintained over long periods of time. When it comes down to it, achieving a goal or dream is simply the culmination of consistent actions taken day in and day out. The most surefire way to ensure that happens, even when things become tough, is accountability. Once I visualized my definition of joy, created a plan to bring to fruition the things I believed would help me live that life, I started sharing it with those closest to me.
There’s often the temptation to keep our dreams close, locked away in our own heads. Resist that temptation. While there is value in incubating your plans in solitude, it’s only in community that they can germinate, and flourish. Articulating your wants and desires, outloud to trusted confidants, not only makes them feel real but also holds you accountable, at least it did for me.
Over the last few years, I’ve learned a lot, had several setbacks, but can say for certain that I’m currently living a life of my own creation. While many of the images and words I placed on those early vision boards and wrote in my notes have become a part of my reality, it’s also true that some lost relevancy and fell to the wayside. I’ve had to make and continue to make trade offs, but overall joy permeates and oozes out of life. Deciding it was time to prioritize myself, and taking those first steps to make it come to life is something I want. Black women, it’s finally time for us to prioritize our needs and desires.