Though my cousin tries to make light of it, the weariness in her voice comes through the phone loud and clear. She sighs heavily as she describes how overworked she is, both at the office and at home, and how underappreciated she feels. Her stress level is so high, she says, that her hair has started to fall out and her beautiful brown skin has developed an irritating rash. When I ask her what she’s going to do about it, she says she doesn’t know. She can’t take a vacation. There’s too much to do at work, in her community, and with her husband and children, and not enough time or money to do it all.
I can certainly empathize. As Black women, we have a tendency to take on the world. Isn’t that what we were taught to do? We step up when no one else will, suffering in silence with an invisible superwoman cape draped across our shoulders. We volunteer for church committees because the pastor asked us to; we host the PTA event so school gossips won’t whisper that we’re bad mothers; we join community boards to tackle the ills of our neighborhoods. While all these things are worth our time, at some point we have to face the truth: It isn’t humanly possible to do it all, especially if you’re always doing for others and never for yourself. I threw down my superwoman cape a long time ago. I had to. It was choking me.
That’s not to say the superwoman complex doesn’t still rear its ugly head from time to time. I get caught up just like everyone else. Overscheduled at work and trying to “have it all,” I have to remind myself that I can be happy with just having enough. Does the house have to be spotless? No—just shut the door. Do my boys have to be perfectly groomed? No, they’re kids, and within five seconds of being outside they’ll be dirty again, anyway. Will the church/PTA/community board cease to exist if I don’t chair the committee? It was there before I came along, and it will be there long after I’m gone. Can I get an amen?
Like the song by Heather Headley says, Black women need some “Me Time.” Taking time for ourselves is not selfish; it’s necessary self-preservation.
So when my cousin shares that she’s packing for her next business trip, I suggest that she schedule a massage for one evening and a mani–pedi for another. It may not be a total break, but it is something just for her. This month I hope you too will schedule some time when you’re responsible for no one else but you. Take a day off from work or carve out a few hours over the weekend to do something nice for yourself. For even more inspiration, read Good Morning America coanchor Robin Roberts’s story, “Lessons From the Heart” (page 192), and find out how to tune in to the voice within. Then E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know why you’re throwing off the cape and what you’re going to do with your “me time” this month. After all, you deserve it!