When it comes to Valentine’s Day, most of us think about the love we’re extending. We make an effort to show our partners, friends, and children the love we feel for them. But with her new book, author, poet and artist Morgan Harper Nichols invites us to focus on the most important love of all: self love.
More than bubble baths, manicures and a glass of wine, the type of self love she encourages is speaking to ourselves with the same kindness we would readily extend to others. The title of her new book sets the tone and serves as a reminder: You Are Only Just Beginning: Lessons for the Journey Ahead.
Speaking to ourselves with kindness includes showing ourselves grace as we grapple with feelings of insecurity and inferiority. It’s also remembering that each bit of progress is significant to the larger picture of our lives and legacy. Nichols, who often takes inspiration from nature to illustrate life’s principles, found an example in the migration of monarch butterflies from Mexico to Canada.
“There’s never a butterfly that sees the beginning and end of the journey,” Nichols explains. “There’s generations, one butterfly leads to the next butterfly carrying on the next step of the journey. But they don’t live long enough to see the cycle complete.”
Nichols likens that experience to the story of being Black in America. “When I think about what my own great grandparents didn’t live to see– I might not live to see what the next chapter is but I’m still a part of the larger story,” Nichols says.
The story of the butterflies let Nichols know that not only could she write this book, she could also offer something hopeful.
“It was very important for me to talk about this idea of looking ahead because I know in my own life how hard that can be,” Nichols said. “Trying to sustain hope, even glimmers of hope can feel impossible at times.”
Nichols recognizes that feelings of defeat and hopelessness arise when we forget the things we know to be true.
“In my own life what loving and taking care of myself has looked like is oftentimes reminding myself of things I already know but tend to forget,” Nichols says.
While she considers her empathy a gift, it can often result in her forsaking her own wants and needs. One of the things she says to herself is, “Hey, you are worthy of being heard. You are worthy of being loved. You are worthy of being supported.’”
Nichols lists these small reminders at the end of each chapter in You Are Only Just Beginning. She also writes about the importance of forgiving ourselves.
“[I write] about how clay is forgiving in the way that it allows you to mold things,” Nichols says. “I love the poetry of that but how can I bring it to the practical? So the list at the end says, ‘Forgiveness is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do and yet one of the most rewarding things too. You’re not stuck where you were. You’re free to make mistakes.’ I think that is a way you can love and take care of yourself.”
The need for self care became even more crucial for Nichols as she began writing this book. She was exhausted by the last two years dealing with the pandemic and the drastic life shift that accompanies becoming a new mother. To balance all of this, she decided to move with her husband and son from Arizona back to her home state of Georgia.
“I didn’t feel like doing a big move again but I knew that that was going to create some room to breathe,” Nichols shares. “It was a way to kind of start over. I have this other person now. I’ve got to have energy. I have to have the capacity for him. So what does that look like to start again?”
In addition to motherhood, Nichols also needed space to breathe as she learned to work more effectively with her new autism diagnosis.
“I’ve always struggled with ‘ok here’s my one job, this thing that I do. I maintain it. And it gradually progresses.’ I’ve never had that,” Nichols says. “That’s actually something a lot of autistic adults struggle with: employment. I can definitely trick myself into thinking, ‘I got it. I can do these 400 things.’”
But her therapist and specialist insisted that she scale back. “She told me, ‘Your life has got to change. You’re doing way too much. We’ve got to figure something out. We’ve got to figure out how much money to save so you don’t keep going like this because your physical body won’t be able to take it. Your mental health won’t be able to take it. You have to be more mindful of that.’”
Nichols was grateful for the honesty. “A lot of artists can relate to that, having to do a lot of work not even to thrive but to just get by,” Nichols says. “You’re just juggling so many things. Before 2020, I thought I was going to be doing a lot more things. I thought I was going to be traveling. I thought I was going to be speaking at events. The list went on and on. That’s what other people were doing. But now, I’m like, I’m going to do what I can do and then I’m going to rest.”
For Nichols, resting can look like sleeping in because she and her three-year-old son stayed up too late playing video games the night before.
“I know that’s not the way you’re supposed to do it, but that’s what happened and be at peace with that. It’s just recognizing that life’s going to look a little different,” Nichols says.
These truths are simple. And maybe things we already know. But Nichols hopes that You Are Only Just Beginning can serve as a much-needed reminder.