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This CEO slammed down the Superwoman complex (and she’s succeeding anyway)

This Black female founder explains how trying to be Superwoman caused severe anxiety that came at a high cost. Here’s how she came through it.

This CEO slammed down the Superwoman complex (and she’s succeeding anyway)
[Photo: Miguel Bruna/Unsplash]

The Superwoman complex creates the false narrative that you must have it all–career, family, relationships, friendships–and do it all exceedingly well. This can lead to severe anxiety, sleep deprivation, feeling overwhelmed, anger bursts, and can sometimes cause high-functioning depression. We’re surrounded by Black women (many in their 30s) whose ability to hold it together is the biggest detriment to their mental health. Then we ponder why Black women have an alarmingly high suicide rate as headlines splashed across newspapers coincide with whispers of “She looked like she had it all.”

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These are stories I wish I didn’t relate to so well.

I am a Black woman struggling with mental health and overcoming the Superwoman complex. I am also the founder and CEO of the home fragrance brand Cali Meets NYC. Growing up, my mother seemingly had it all together. It wasn’t until recently that she disclosed how she cried herself to sleep many nights. We are taught to be strong and nurturing, the ultimate best friend, an emotional shoulder, and a listening ear. I was really good at it until I wasn’t. We boast about being strong Black women and don’t realize how suffocating that title is. It is nearly impossible to be everything to everybody. 

Before committing full-time to Cali Meets NYC, I was consumed by and undervalued in my full-time job. My plate was piled so high, that I could barely see the next step in front of me. From the conversation at a recent nail salon appointment, I knew my experience wasn’t singular as we traded stories about our former corporate life with each other. 

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After learning it wasn’t just me, I wondered how many other women feel undervalued at their corporate jobs. Even though I was working three times as hard as my counterparts, I knew I wouldn’t ever move up the corporate ladder. I started to understand this wasn’t just my experience, but that of so many other women.

Severe anxiety began to rear its ugly head, again. And it came at a high cost: my job, a trip to the emergency psych ward, a grieving process, suicidal ideations, and feeling lost. And when these feelings came around again during the pandemic, I sat on them until I began to suffocate. Growing up in a Black household, we turn to prayer to solve just about every issue, but prayer alone isn’t enough. Sometimes, you need more than that to cope with these stressors. 

Was I placing the Superwoman complex on myself? Was it the depiction of quintessential TV moms? Even TV moms aren’t perfect. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air‘s aunt Viv was a distinguished college professor who reflected that she let her dreams of becoming a dancer slip away because she took the “easy” route. That wasn’t true. Could she have been a dancer? Aunt Viv joked, “Yeah, 20 years ago!” The lesson is to smash the impossible narrative and create the one that is worth living. 

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A change was needed, but I was so lost. Take things off my plate? Leave my job? Find a therapist? Yes, to all the above. Besides therapy, I needed a positive coping mechanism, and burning candles was mine. This childhood pastime was literally the fuel I needed to start my candle business. Here are five things I did to help dismantle my Superwoman complex.

Put your feelings first

After placing myself on the back burner for so long, I had to think of my feelings first. It’s okay to say, no. Take the time to heal. We’re in a society where we feel guilty about taking paid time off, but we shouldn’t. It’s much needed to reset your mood. 

Ask for help

Take things off your plate. Simple, right? Notoriously independent with an I-can-do-it-myself attitude, I needed to put my pride aside and ask for help. Just because you can do it all doesn’t mean you should. Know your wheelhouse and ask for help, even if the task is simple. 

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Build a support system

I couldn’t navigate this alone, so I proceeded to therapy. My therapist gave me tools to navigate my feelings, toxic corporate work environment, everyday stressors, and life events, and it made me cope with being okay not being Superwoman to everyone. Find someone you can confide in, but not unload on. Many times, this person is a therapist who can give you the tools to cope with your stressors.

Develop a positive coping mechanism

Outside of my daily self-care habits, there needed to be a pastime I enjoyed and did for myself. I found positive coping mechanisms in making candles, journaling, and meditating. Pick up a hobby, even if you are not good at it. Choose something that brings you joy whether it is taking a walk, crocheting, or even baking.

Take time for self-reflection

The biggest stressor in my life was my toxic work environment. I thought it was my dream job and I struggled with the idea of failure. It wasn’t a failure, it was leading me to where I was truly meant to be. Reflect on your biggest stressors, and take steps to change them or remove them from your life.

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Find what works for you. Every now and then, I still have to remind myself and others that I am not your Superwoman because I am too busy trying to be my own.


Melissa Davis is the founder of Cali Meets NYC.


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