Dear Sista Friend,
Growing up I was always told that you should learn to “take care of yourself.” As I started on my journey to becoming a woman and learning about who I was actually meant to be, I realized that I did not know what that entailed. I always assumed that taking care of myself meant making sure my clothes were ironed, my hair was done, and my face was made up before leaving the house. But after graduating, starting a full time job, getting married and starting a family, I realized that there was a lot more to that statement!
Now that I am close to 40, I have discovered what taking care of myself really means to me. It will look different for every sista friend but there are a few things that I think are key to this discovery. I often try to imagine what I will tell my daughter as she grows into who she will one day become. This not only helps me to sometimes realign myself with my own beliefs but it helps me prioritize what is most important. All too often we, as women, get caught up in what society tells us is the best thing for us and we fail to realize that only we know what is best for us! This creates disorder, chaos and an unrealistic reality therefore causing a ripple of unhealthy behaviors and overwhelming feelings!
There are days when I think I am losing my mind! My kids are asking me fifty questions, my husband is silently running around doing “random” things and my house looks like a tornado has come and gone. THIS is the story of my life in two short sentences! However, amidst this chaos, there is some peace and solitude, as crazy as that may sound. I am a 38 year old woman who is a wife, a mother and a working professional and the closer I get to a new chapter in my life – the big 40 – I am learning more and more about myself. In this stage of life I find myself asking more questions about what it means to be all of these things. There are days when I think I have it figured out and days that I am pretty sure that I’m going to need a box of tissue to make it through whatever the impending crisis is in that moment. Regardless of what is happening, there are things that I have learned and that I am certain of and things that I am waiting to be answered.
Here’s what I’ve learned about me and what I do to take care of me on regular basis:
- Spirituality and Finding Your Center
I find that the older I get the more I need to feel closer to God (or whoever you choose to worship/acknowledge). For me, having time to quietly sit, reflect and listen is something that I need in order to function. With many competing priorities it can sometimes be hard to do this but the beauty of spirituality and finding your center is that you can do this at any time of the day or night. It may come in the form of a deep breath or closing your eyes; whatever the case, it is important to stop in the moment and really listen to what your spirit is telling you. What you will find is that amidst the chaos, there is peace. We just have to be willing to seek it out, even if it’s just for a moment.
- Daily Exercise
I start my days with exercise. It’s the cheapest form of therapy and there are so many benefits. Whether you like to run, walk, lift weights or are a member of a gym, your body deserves to be taken care of and nurtured. It is, after all, your temple! We all have the ability to do something – even those of us with disabilities. It is possible. For a long time, I chose to ignore the inevitable. I was obese. I allowed food to be my comfort and refuge. I lost control. It was not until I was finally fed up and simply disgusted with myself that I took the advice of my doctor and found a program that worked for me and lost the weight. It took almost a year of hard work and the dedication to lose over 65 pounds to recognize that I had placed myself in a really dangerous predicament. Had I not lost the weight I would have more than likely had diabetes, high blood pressure and a list of other health problems that afflict our communities due to obesity. The good news is that we can control this area of our lives and it starts with a commitment to yourself. I always tell myself that today is a new day and an opportunity to do better than the day before!
- The Power of Saying No
The word NO used to be missing from my vocabulary and it is honestly a word I still struggle with; however, I am getting better at using it more frequently. The worst thing we can do to ourselves is say YES when we really need to say NO! There is a great power in the word NO because it allows us to be in charge of our own fate. When I think about all the times that I should have said NO instead of YES, I am always left feeling depleted, regretful, angry and exhausted. The sad part of it all was that I had the opportunity to determine that destiny. So these days I weigh the outcome. I determine if the YES is worth it over the NO and if it isn’t I make peace with that decision and move on. I don’t allow myself to dwell in the “what ifs” or even consider why I should have said YES. I stand firm in the decision to say NO because it was the best thing for ME!
We hear it all the time – choose your attitude. There are hundreds of quotes that speak to attitude and what we need to do to change it or make it better. One of the quotes I found and like the best is, “Your attitude is like a price tag, it shows how valuable you are! (Anonymous)” This resonated with me because I view myself as a valuable asset to the organization I work for, my family, my friend groups and my own self. I can decide how I am going to respond to a situation and in what manner. Life is a lot harder when you choose to have a bad attitude. Every situation has an outcome and we are given many tests throughout the day. If I look at each test and determine beforehand that I am simply over it, I’ve already failed.
- Looking Good and Believing It
Every morning, after I am dressed and ready to leave, I look at myself in the mirror and I smile. When I think about this small action, I sometimes laugh at myself or even say out loud, “you are ridiculous Renee’!” But, in all honesty, this gesture, me smiling at myself every morning, sets the tone for my day! I can visually see what the rest of the world is seeing and I am reminded of the beauty that is ME. No one wants to approach or interact with someone who is frowning, has a scowl or is portraying negativity. People are attracted to those who are warm, inviting and friendly. I am all too often the butt of many jokes because my friends think that I know not one stranger. I’ve started to believe them after countless encounters with random people who tend to be attracted to me because I look nice. I carry myself with confidence – even when that bucket has just a drop of water and needs to be filled. I believe that I can make someone’s day better by saying hello or by smiling and looking them in their eyes – even when it might be me who needs the affirmation.
- Surround Yourself with Likeminded People
I cannot afford to surround myself with people who do not value the same things that I value and who are not willing to give of themselves as much as I give to them. Surrounding myself with people who ultimately view the world in the same way that I view the world gives me what I need when I need it. I know you are probably saying, what about diversity? Well, that comes with the territory. Even though we are likeminded, we all have opinions and we are all different but at the core we are very similar. I like to think that I have a lot of friends who fall into a wide spectrum of colors, affiliations, backgrounds, religions, politics, etc. and like I said earlier, no one is a stranger, but I truly believe that God gives you certain friends and relationships when you need them most. There are friends that I confide in who help me understand my marriage better; friends that help me be a better mother; friends that help me be a better professional and friends that help me when I struggle with figuring out what it means to be an adult. Each group plays a big part in helping me figure out different aspects of my life. There is no competition, no resentment, no petty, high school drama because we all agreed that those things are not important. What is important is that we are all a part of each other’s lives to make them better. When life is confusing and hands you a puzzle that is impossible to solve alone, these groups help me put the pieces together and suddenly it’s not so hard anymore.
- Acknowledging your Reality
My kids are fine, my husband is great and at the end of the day we have everything that we need in this moment in time to live a wonderful life. The sad truth about this is that society places pressures on us as women that are simply unfair. Whether you are a stay at home mom or a working professional the “ideal” is less than ideal. There is no perfect when it comes to kids; however, what I do know about my own kids is that they are smart, socially able to adapt to almost any situation, polite, fun, curious and self-assured. There is no perfect marriage and mine is far from perfect most days but what I do know and acknowledge is that I have a man who loves me for who I am, believes in me and my dreams, even when he thinks that I am a bit crazy and who supports and lifts me up when I am down. We are a team and together we have made it this far. We have managed to build a solid foundation for our children and despite the obstacles we are committed to making our reality the best reality it can be through hard work and dedication to our family. Even though we don’t have the fanciest cars, the biggest house or the most money in the bank, we operate through love and in knowing that God will carry us through the toughest storms and we will come out on the other side even better than where we started!
God gave us tears so that we can cry. I cry A LOT! I am deeply moved by people’s stories. I cry at happy events; I cry at sad events; I cry when I think about my children growing up; I cry when I think that one day my husband will die and that I will die. I cry. Crying allows me to feel human and vulnerable. It’s when I feel closest to God. I used to hold in my tears until I felt that it was absolutely necessary to let them go and when I would do that I would cry for hours at a time. These days I cry when I feel the need to cry and I embrace each tear and understand that by releasing these emotions, I am being built back up stronger and more equipped to handle whatever comes my way. Whether your tears are for joyous occasions or simply because you needed to empty your cup, it’s important to be vulnerable and embrace your emotions.
- Have Fun and Laugh at Yourself
I LOVE to laugh and have a good time! There’s no greater feeling than sitting around with family and friends and laughing. I never miss an opportunity to have fun or enjoy life. I take time to seek out the fun in everything I do. Laughing and sometimes allowing myself to “not act my age” is refreshing and reminds me that we can all take things way too serious when it’s really not that serious. The people that I spend the most time with have the ability to make me laugh and that is an important factor when I am deciding who gets to be in my inner circle. I can make fun out of nothing. I will break out in dance, song and put on a full out production by myself because it’s funny and I hope that I am never too full of myself to stop doing it!
- Care about what YOU think about yourself and not what OTHERS think of you
It’s not up to you to decide what others think of you; however, it is up to you to decide what you think of yourself. Once I stopped worrying about what others thought of me I actually became more aware of myself. I started living up to my own standards and not the standards that I thought other people thought I should be living up to. I started analyzing my own values and ethics and I started role modeling my own beliefs. Making the decision to stop thinking about other people and to start thinking about myself allowed me to put myself before others and gave me a confidence that wasn’t there before. I began to believe in me and in my ability to be great!
I could probably go on and on about all of the things that I have done over the years to learn how to take care of myself but these are the things that I fall back on most often. They are my truths and the things that are most important to me and my overall well-being. They make me who I am and when things are unbalanced, I can always fall back on one of these to regain control. I hope that there is something here that sparks a little flame! Recognize that you know what you need to do to feel good about YOU. Mental and physical heath are important aspects of life and they should be nurtured and given attention. Take some time to think about what taking care of YOU means. Write down your own truths, put them in a place where you can see them and start making yourself a priority!
Your sista friend,
Renee’ M. Gibson
Renee’ M. Gibson is an Assistant Director for Residence Life and Student Housing at Southern Methodist University. She has been working at the University for 10 years and has served in many roles including Hall Director and Assistant Director of Orientation. Renee’ is married to Shannon and has two children, Dylan (10) and Camille (7) who keep her very busy outside of her professional career! Outside of work, Renee’ is very active and enjoys running, shopping and spending time supporting her children in their activities. She has a passion for working with young adults and believes that it is extremely important to live out your values, make the most with what you are given and to never forget where you have come from!