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Protecting Your Peace In 2022: 10 Ways to Prevent Burnout

For years, some of us have been taking steps to build our careers while also taking care of our families and finding the time to pursue our passions. The journey has led to exhilarating highs and the lowest of lows. Making sure to meet and exceed expectations at work, at home, and within can lead to extreme burnout, especially when success is achieved in each area.

Burnout can leave you feeling tired, resentful, and can even paralyze your progress, causing you to fail in important areas of life. Recognizing the early signs of burnout is imperative to assessing your work/life balance and setting priorities.

Success is a double-edged sword. Most people find it difficult to practice self-care when they are riding high on success or pursuing it. Forming healthy self-care habits can help stay ahead of potential problems. Allocating time to do the things you love is one of the best things you can do to keep burnout at bay. That’s why I’ve decided to create a Protecting Your Peace in 2022 blog series. I want to remind all of us grinding and hustling for success to make ourselves the priority. Here are 10 ways to prevent burnout this year:

  • Be on the lookout for warning signs. Burnout affects people in different ways. Maybe you are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted and are lacking the energy necessary to perform your work. Or perhaps you feel sad and stressed out, unable to sleep due to worry or the inability to shut your mind down. There are also physical signs to be aware of. Some that I have personally experienced are blurred vision, headache, and sensitive eyes. This came from spending hours on end in front of the computer for an extended amount of time and neglecting breaks. Whatever negative impact you are experiencing, these are clear signals that you need to stop and assess the impact the daily grind is having on you.
  • Take regular breaks. One thing that I have let go of this year is the need to prove my value by overworking and skipping breaks. Any time I’m feeling overwhelmed, stuck or just need to take my mind off of working briefly, I just do it. A 15-20 minute break can make all the difference between being your most productive and spinning in place. When you feel burnout creeping up, take a break and rest, go for a walk, or do something you truly enjoy. Giving yourself time to clear your mind is key for your health and well-being.
  • Find a consistent sleep pattern. Studies show that people who do not get enough sleep each night are more likely to burn out. If you find yourself falling asleep at your desk, unable to focus, lacking concentration, or routinely suffering from headaches, it may be time to adjust your sleep schedule. Everyone varies in how much rest they need on a daily basis, but most experts agree that 6-8 hours is the minimum amount of sleep necessary to function in a healthy way. Going to sleep and waking up around the same time everyday creates consistency in your body and reduces the stress of having to constantly adjust to changes in your sleep pattern.
  • Make regular exercise an essential part of your life. Regular exercise reduces stress and increases energy. With many of us juggling so many things in life, working out can seem like an inconvenient chore. However, the benefits of routinely raising your heart rate and working your muscles is immeasurable. It does not have to be strenuous exercise. Whether you are taking a brisk walk, raising your desk to stand for portions of your day, or just stretching, it all counts! Since adding a brief workout to my everyday routine, I have noticed less stress equating to less exhaustion and headaches.
  • Set goals and take action. In order to get to your destination, you need direction. Establish goals and take some action in pursuit of them each day. Knowing exactly what you’re working toward makes it easier to get your day started. I set daily goals that roll into larger goals that happen over time. Once I meet the day-to-day goals I have set, I give myself permission to stop working. I intend to meet those self-imposed obligations each day, but from time to time, things come up and I can’t. In those cases, I move the goal forward to the next day, forgive myself from the miss and still prioritize my rest and rejuvenation.
  • Don’t try to do it all. Being a one-person operation can be overwhelming. I used to believe that unless I did something, it would not be done right. By changing my mindset to vetting, trusting, then verifying, I have been able to release some of the pressure I had created for myself. No one is expected to know and be everything. It is okay to delegate to coworkers, hire an assistant, find a nanny, or pay for a cleaning service. Trusting someone else to help with your workload will free up time for taking care of yourself. It will also help you think more clearly and creatively. Never feel guilty for making free time a priority. Allowing time to just be is as important to your success as hard work and discipline are.
  • Identify the problem and fix it. If you have already exhibited signs of burnout, knowing what to do about it is the logical next step. You need to take some time to reflect on what is creating the feeling. Is it your work? Do you need additional training? Is your job impossible for one person to perform? Do you need to move on? Is your family life filled with drama? Are you suffering from illness? Once you know exactly what is ailing you, the necessary solutions will begin to present themselves and you can take action to heal.
  • Go on a vacation. Fun doesn’t have to be expensive. A change of scenery may be just what you need to restart your engine. Plan a trip by yourself or with people that you enjoy being with. Go for some fresh air, shut out any responsibilities, dance, eat, sit on the beach, and return feeling refreshed. Whether you take a simple road trip or hop on an international flight, dedicate the time to being in the moment and temporarily letting your worries vanish.
  • Self-care should be ongoing. Some of us wait until burnout arises to decide on practicing self-care but recharging your battery should not only happen when it’s dead. You don’t just wait until your car has a problem before you take it in to the dealership. Preventative measures are taken to keep mechanical failures away. Think of yourself as a high-end car. You need routine maintenance to stay strong and healthy, regular analysis to detect any potential issues, and the tools on hand to fix those troubles.
  • Establish boundaries. Over the years, I have inadvertently developed a caretaker persona the extends from my personal life into my career and entrepreneurial ventures. Part of this has been giving to others when I had nothing to give to myself and allowing people to use my time and resources without consideration of the impact on me. Making people around you aware of your boundaries and enforcing them is the biggest thing you can do to protect your peace. In the workplace, let leadership and your colleagues know that you are not working around the clock. You deserve to have set expectations surrounding work/life balance. In your personal life, stop letting your family and friends come to you repeatedly with the same issues. There’s a thin line between being of service and enabling problematic behavior.

Being successful is not about doing whatever you are asked no matter the consequences on your mental, physical and emotional health. Success is about making sure you have the time to do what is important to you and ensuring that you have a healthy and balanced life inside and outside of the workplace. Implement some of these tips into your life and see the positive changes unfold.

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Today is the First Day of Kwaanza: 7 Reasons To Celebrate

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Several years ago, a colleague walked up to me and started firing off questions about Kwaanza. As the only black person working in the office, she assumed I would have in-depth knowledge of the holiday. I didn’t know whether I should be offended by the assumption or embarrassed that I knew absolutely nothing about it. Either way, I decided to do my research to enlighten myself about the meaning of the celebration.

Kwaanza is a secular holiday that takes place annually over seven days from December 26th to January 1st. It was started in 1966 by Maulana Karenga, an African-American Studies Professor, specializing in Pan-Africanism, in response to the Watts Riots. The goal of the Kwaanza celebration, according to Karenga, was to “Give Blacks an alternative to the existing holiday and give Blacks an opportunity to celebrate themselves and their history, rather than simply imitate the practice of the dominant society.” Originally thought of as a replacement for Christmas, which Karenga deemed a “white holiday”, many now celebrate Kwaanza alongside Christmas. Karenga believed that celebrating African cultural norms that pre-dated American slavery was a natural part of our evolution a necessary tie back to our stolen history.

Pan-African Flag – Photo Cred: Shutterstock

Kwaanza is a Swahili word meaning “first fruit”. It originated from the Nguni people of South Africa and the ceremony was a sacrifice of the first fruits of the harvest to God(s), who they believed was responsible for the abundance of food. It symbolized a time of prosperity after the agricultural season. Kwaanza is represented by the Pan-African colors; red, green, and black (yellow is often incorporated as well). The rituals performed during the holiday promote African tradition and are based around Nguzo Saba, the “seven principles of African Heritage”. The seven principles are represented by the Kinara, a candleholder with seven red, black and green candles. Each day one is lit until all have been used. Whatever your personal beliefs, there is no downside to implementing this celebration for your family. Personally, I try to practice these year-round but having a focused celebration on the importance of each is an excellent way to keep your family moving in the right direction. The thought of starting something new can be daunting, so to simplify, I have listed the seven principles below, along with how my family aspires to celebrate each:

  • Umoja (Unity)—To strive for and maintain unity in the family, community, nation, and race. On Day One, December 26th, my family takes part in a game day where we play games that require us to work together. In addition, we talk about struggles and either listen or offer suggestions to overcome them.
  • Kujichagulia (Self-determination)—To define ourselves, name ourselves, create for ourselves, and speak for ourselves. On this day, December 27th, we take the time to write down words that represent who we are and how we want the world to see us. This includes listing what is important to us, what he have learned and done in the current year and what we would like to achieve in the upcoming year.
  • Ujima (Collective work and responsibility)—To build and maintain our community together and make our brother’s and sister’s problems our problems and to solve them together. Day Three is a continuation of Day Two; today we review the the self-determination items and collectively come up with ideas to help one another. We brainstorm ways that we can help each other reach the goals for the upcoming years.
  • Ujamaa (Cooperative economics)—To build and maintain our own stores, shops, and other businesses and to profit from them together. My household family is full of creatives; I write and create/sell products, my husband is a filmmaker/producer and videographer, my twelve-year-old is a YouTuber and my 10-year-old is a avid TikToker. In addition to their regular jobs, my grown children make music. On Day Four of Kwaanza, we spend time generating ideas, timelines and even working on projects for our collective businesses. The goal is to spend at least an hour focused on each individual’s ventures. In addition, we go over topics like, building credit, financial responsibility, wealthbuilding, equity, and provide funding for everyone to make a small stock purchase.
  • Nia (Purpose)—To make our collective vocation the building and development of our community in order to restore our people to their traditional greatness. Day Five is all about learning. With our goals and business ideas fresh in our minds, we focus on books, videos, and any other learning materials that can be beneficial in our success. Even whe nothing directly correlates, we spend the day reading, writing or watching movies related to our history or of eductional value.
  • Kuumba (Creativity)—To do always as much as we can, in the way we can, in order to leave our community more beautiful and beneficial than we inherited it. Day Six, the last day of December and of the year, we focus on giving back. We either go clean up an area in need or prepare and hand out post-holiday meals to those in need.
  • Imani (faith)—To believe with all our heart in our people, our parents, our teachers, our leaders, and the righteousness and victory of our struggle. My family likes to start Day Seven, the final day of Kwaanza and the first day of the new year, by either listening to positive affirmations or reciting our own. We believe that faith and the Law of Attraction go hand-in-hand. What we believe, we will achieve. We end this day with gratitude by delivering gifts to our parents and elders who have been supportive and influential in our lives.

Food, of course is a staple throughout the entire celebration especially on the final day of celebration. On January 1st, we prepare a meal consisting of traditional soul food such as ox tails, greens, dressing, jambalaya, and cornbread, combined with some of our favorite Ethiopian recipes such as lamb dishes, veggie platter, including Shiro Wot and Misir Wot. Each year, we plan to add a new African recipe to our feast. These meals are included in our New Year’s Day gift deliveries.

With a global pandemic in full swing, violence at an all-time high, and mental health issues becoming more commonplace, any reason to keep family close, build together and support one another is a welcome reprieve. Whether you take some of my ideas or come up with your own unique ways of celebrating, incorporating these tenets can be the start of an epic 2022. Start small with just you and your household. From there, you can start to include more family members and create meaningful and beneficial experiences for all. Happy Kwaanza and a blessed and fruitful New Year to you and yours!

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Thoughts, Theories and Theatrics Blog

The Inclusion Illusion: Black Women Are Opting Out of Corporate America

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Last night I dreamed that my teeth were falling out. The dream was so vivid that when I woke up, I ran to the bathroom fully expecting to see nothing but gums when I opened my mouth. This prompted me to search do a quick Google search for the interpretation of this dream. I came across a post by Delta Dental. To summarize, this dream is associated with starting anew and insecurities surrounding embarking on an unfamiliar path. The dream analysis seemed to represent exactly where I am in life.

I always felt smart. I read early, got good grades, and when I finally took my first job in Payroll and Human Resources, I expected to work hard and climb the ranks to the top of my field where I could really make an impact. I did my part; I worked hard, learned something new when I identified an area where I was lacking, and always worked well above my title and pay to prove I had what it took to be promoted. In my naivety, I believed that the playing field was even and that everyone that worked hard would be rewarded. The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.

I first became aware that I was held to a different standard than my colleagues in my early twenties. I was working a hybrid role as a Human Resources and Payroll Specialist. I caught on quickly and was “rewarded” with more work but my title and pay remained the same. The company grew and decided they needed a manager in my department. Although doing the exact work for over a year and receiving accolades, I applied for the role. I was overlooked and someone with less experience was hired into the role. After it was decided that they could not keep up with the workload, the organization came back to ask if I was interested. I wasn’t so I moved on.

That was not a unique situation. My career progression has come at a staggering cost. Many times, the only way I could be promoted was to apply for a new job. I always hoped that new leadership would see my value and give me the opportunities I worked so hard for. I cannot think of a time where that was the case. My leveling up has always been a hard-fought battle, leaving a bad taste in both mine and my employer’s mouths. They believed I should just be grateful to work for them while I believed I should not have to work two times as hard as my peers in order to be valued.

The beginning of the end of my Payroll and Human resources career came this year. I came into an organization because I believed the CEO was a true ally. This time would be different; he understood the plight of black women in the workplace and was doing something about the inequality, or so I thought. After a year and a half of working at a Director level while being paid and titled as a Manager, I left the company. Right after leaving, I heard the CEO discussing issues such as mine on a podcast and decided to reach out on LinkedIn. I believed that by sharing my experience, I could help to make the company a better place for those that came after me. I thought he cared and would appreciate my insight. Instead of simply thanking me for my feedback, I was given first-hand experience with performative allyship. Although proclaiming his support publicly, this leader became defensive, even going as far as to blame me for the experience (more on this in my upcoming book, The Inclusion Illusion). The experience was so shocking and traumatic that I spoke with the company’s legal team but opted to end discussions as I wanted to maintain my right to speak out about what happened to me. Far too often, people that look like me are offered severance pay in exchange for their silence allowing these problematic employers to continue inflicting damage on others while sucking the lifeblood out of them.

Since leaving that organization early this year, I have been involved in a plethora of job interview loops. I have sat in many Zoom interviews, explaining to people that did not look like me or relate to me why I am a good fit for their organizations. There have been times that I made it to the end, but another candidate was selected. In those situations, I have asked for feedback and been told repeatedly how great I was and that the only issue was location although each role I applied for was remote. Other times, I have discovered red flags about companies that have led me to drop out of the process. The thought of getting into another role where I am overworked and overlooked creates extreme anxiety in me and I am no longer sacrificing my mental health for financial gain.

Then yesterday it hit me. On a plane ride home from my grandmother-in-law’s funeral, I had the epiphany life is too short to be unhappy. I already knew that, but told myself that I had put so much into my career and could not just throw it away. It was familiar and stable but it was not my dream. I realized that although I had left one workplace, I was still constantly interviewing for roles that would put me right back into the position that I had so desperately wanted out of. I accepted that Corporate America was not set up for black women and that it would be a long time, if ever before we found ourselves on equal footing. With that, I went home and canceled all of my upcoming interviews. I immediately felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and a true sense of freedom.

The decision to walk away from something I have dedicated my whole life to was not an easy one. It takes financial preparation, a clear sense of direction and self-worth, confidence, support from family and friends, and most importantly a sense of exhaustion with the status quo. My dream about losing my teeth represented all of those things and came right after I made the life-changing decision to let something that I have worked so hard for die in order to give life to my true calling. I am not alone in this. Black women are leaving Corporate America in droves. We are tired of working twice as hard, proving ourselves repeatedly, and going unrecognized. We are exhausted with ignoring microaggressions, silencing ourselves to keep the peace, and being overlooked. We are opening our eyes to the possibility of successfully launching our own ventures when we stop asking for a seat at the table and decide to take a seat at our own.

Black women are starting businesses at breakneck speed. With organizations refusing to do something tangible about the lack of equality in the workplace, the economic landscape will change drastically over the next decade and that is not necessarily a bad thing. We will do what we do best; survive, overcome and thrive. But the absence of black women in the workplace will have a negative impact on companies for many years to come.

Life of a Writer Blog

The Problem with Being Strong, Black & Woman

Stressed out black woman
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For as long as I can remember, I have been groomed to be the strong black woman I was intended to be. After all, my parents had survived poverty as children in Arkansas and started a family of six kids together as teens; all while raising my mother’s six siblings. They were the epitome of strength and endurance.

I was eleven years old the first time I remember being fully aware that the expectations of me were completely different from those of my five brothers. I was in the middle with two older siblings and three younger ones. My maternal grandmother has passed away and my parents were driving two hours away for the funeral. None of us kids had ever witnessed death, so they decided to just take me since I was the one that “could handle this kind of situation.” I did.

After that day, I began to notice that I was treated as a responsible adult while my siblings were allowed to make mistakes, have failures and be irresponsible at times. I was proud, though; I relished the idea that my parents believed that I could handle anything that life threw my way because I was smart, mature and strong. I was trusted to be where I was supposed to be and do exactly what I was supposed to do. When my brothers left the house, my mom was concerned over all of the possibilities of what could happen to them. When I departed our home, everyone assumed I would make the right choices and avoid any real trouble. They were wrong.

At fifteen years old, I lived out my parent’s worst nightmare and became a teen parent. To make matters worse, due to several health issues, no one was aware that I was pregnant until I gave birth, sending my entire family into a tailspin. My baby was perfectly healthy and went home with my parents two days later, while I remained in the hospital for several weeks. Concern overcame my parents’ initial disappointment in me. They knew that black women were two to six times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than their white counterparts. Although worried, they knew I would be okay because I was “strong”. Even when everyone began to suspect I was going through postpartum depression, they told me to shake it off and keep moving. I did. I worked, finished school avoided any extracurricular activities and became a full-fledged single parent at fifteen. When I decided to press my son’s father for help, my mother told me not to beg (he had been undependable) and to buckle down and figure things out on my own. I did.

The biggest display of my ability to stay strong, even in the worst of situations came at seventeen. My brother who was just eleven months older than me was shot and killed at my high school. My entire family was devastated and fell apart. Empathetic to my parents’ loss of a child, I did what I had become know for doing best; I met with funeral directors and insurance agents and planned my closest sibling’s funeral. There was no time for me to fall apart because I had to be the person that made sure everything went as planned. That had long been accepted as my job. After my brother was laid to rest, I took a moment and allowed myself to collapse in a heap of tears and screams on our kitchen floor. Confused by my sudden display of weakness, everyone assured me that I would be okay and I pulled myself together.

Since then, my life has been a constant exhibit of strength and resilience. I have taken pride in exceeding expectations, having the answers and keeping it together any time my world came tumbling down. I have always felt a responsibility to stand up when I feel someone is being mistreated. I have been called “brave” and “courageous”. This image is something I have cultivated and taken on as my identity. It has been good to me; helping me to make it through the best and worst of times and to bounce back from rock bottom. But being a “strong black woman” has been a double-edged sword.

People calling to check on me is a rarity. Most of the calls I receive are based in a need; money, advice, resources. Everyone assumes that my life is going well and never asks me how I am doing. When I am mistreated, empathy is hard to come by. The belief that I can get past anything has created a scenario where my pain is not taken seriously or even acknowledged. I observe as the most toxic and dysfunctional people in my orbit are handled gently and given multiple chances to make mistakes without repercussions. I don’t get that luxury. I am expected to be empathetic, forgiving, loving, concerned, engaged and responsible in every aspect of life while avoiding making anyone feel uncomfortable by sharing my emotions. I am expected to be strong without being intimidating or perceived as “angry”. I am not alone in this. Black women all around me have the same experience and we are tired.

There have been multiple studies on the societal treatment of black women; disproportionate treatment by the school system (especially dark-skinned black girls), a misconception and we require less protection and nurturing and are insensitive to pain and a disregard of us when we are victimized, murdered or missing. We are sexualized and perceived as adults early on, robbing us of the innocence of childhood. Even when we ask for help our pleas fall on deaf ears. Over the past several years, hashtags like #protectblackwomen #believeblackwomen and #sayhername have cropped up to highlight the indifference to the plight of women that look like me. The added stress of the pandemic, the economy and the impact on families has created a need for black women in particular to be cognizant of our mental health, practice self-care and set healthy boundaries.

Over the past couple of years, I have often analyzed how I am treated in both professional and personal settings. I have taken note of the dismissal of my concerns and feelings. In addition, I have taken care to understand the intent behind all communications I receive. Nowadays, I express my disappointment when friends, family and coworkers only reach out to me only when it benefits them. I am cutting people that have a negative impact out of my life and setting rules of engagement with those that will remain. All of us should do these things religiously. Black women are strong, but we are also vulnerable, scared at times and most importantly, human. We don’t have to be the backbone in every situation. We, too, should be given the benefit of the doubt. We need a break.

I was recently on a flight and during the pre-takeoff instructions, the flight attendant advised that parents should put their oxygen masks on before attempting to assist their children. That has become a metaphor for my life. Without first taking care of ourselves we cannot take care of others. Because black women were forced to care for others during and after slavery, the expectation has never died and has worked to our detriment. But, gone are the days where black women place the needs of any and everybody above our own. We are putting our oxygen masks on first, then looking around and deciding who actually deserves our love, strength and protection. We embrace situations and people that make us feel loved, respected and protected and say no unapologetically to circumstances that no longer serve us.