For years, Brittney Oliver, founder of the networking organization Lemons 2 Lemonade, believed that success could be defined by a certain title or salary – until she was forced to re-evaluate everything. In honor of Black History Month, Oliver shares why rest is so important for the Black community and how refocusing her attention on wellness changed her life.
When I graduated from Howard University in 2011, my personal anthem was Wale’s “No Days Off.” I listened to it on my commute to my public relations internship in New York City. I played it while applying to countless entry-level roles. I thought about the lyrics, “No days off!/ Takin’ breaks will leave you broken/ And we can’t fall,” as I lined up interview after interview—and received rejection after rejection.
At the time, the cultural mindset had Black Twitter and Instagram sharing pictures and videos of themselves “grinding.” It was cool to be busy and it was vital to document your grind on social media for credibility. You weren’t securing the bag if you didn’t share receipts.
Here’s what was happening to me behind the scenes: To get a job in public relations, I went to 100 job interviews in eight months, all while working as an office manager to make ends meet. Even after I secured the job I fought so hard for, I never felt like it was good enough, cool enough or paid enough. I spent years working hard to climb the corporate ladder, only to have my position eliminated. But then, I launched my own professional networking business, Lemons 2 Lemonade, while working as a freelance writer. Lemons 2 Lemonade gave me an opportunity to do something I was passionate about: help recent graduates and those who lost their jobs. I loved what I was doing, but I was exhausted, and studies show I wasn’t alone.
Lack of rest can negatively impact anyone’s mental health, but Black people are disproportionately affected. According to Calm’s data, Black respondents were 15% more likely to say they have difficulty staying asleep versus the general population, and 11% more likely to say they wake up too early. What’s more, Black respondents were 27% more likely to say their mental health is in distress. This Black History Month, it’s time to dispel the notion that rest somehow equates to laziness.
At the start of 2020, my career as a full-time founder and creative was going well. I was working on multiple editorial projects at once, all while planning a sponsored Nashville event series and a tour for Lemons 2 Lemonade. Then the global COVID-19 pandemic hit. My sponsors pulled out of the events and my articles were put on hold. Life presented tremendous loss, but we all were trying to push through. For me, the motivation to pivot and continue to create was limited. I felt depleted, and trying to find steady income while figuring out a way to run Lemons 2 Lemonade virtually kept me up at night. As the months went by, my health began to suffer.
So, I made the heartbreaking decision to step away from the company and the freedom I had as a full-time creative. Instead, I took on a less all-consuming job in branded content for a healthcare system. I have not hosted an in-person networking event since October 2019. I have not produced a virtual experience since last May.
Walking away from being a full-time entrepreneur as I knew it was difficult, but I also realized I couldn’t be any good to my community if I wasn’t good to myself. Deciding to take a break from my business has allowed me to pour myself into the things I have neglected over the years, like wellness, love and personal growth. Burnout from having multiple jobs to afford to live in a major city—New York City and then Nashville—made my life feel stagnant for a long time. I’ve reclaimed my power.
My ambition didn’t die with rest; in fact, renewed clarity has made the work that I produce even better. There are so many goals that I have the confidence to manifest because of the break I’ve decided to give myself.
Black rest is power. For years, Black people, particularly Black women, have been admired for strength and our labor. Being strong and working hard can no longer be what we rely on to get through the day. It’s time to start inviting and welcoming more rest, joy and ease into our lives.
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