Can You Stay Vulnerable & Emotionally Strong on the Public Stage?

An interview with Kim McLarin

Building a Portfolio of Professional Interests

“I’m triaging so many things. It feels like my days are filled with ‘Yes, No, Maybe, Next,’” said Kim McLarin, accomplished journalist, author, professor and activist. I laughed and asked if she planned it this way. She nodded, “Yes, I wanted each component but, I’m doing a lot.”

Kim, like most, vacillates between feeling she’s doing too much or too little. Many of us want a portfolio of professional interests. Diversifying income can lead to better security and satisfaction. However, building the different work streams requires more than just adding a side-hustle. It’s transitioning from worker-bee to Empress. It’s showcasing your expertise as a speaker and content creator. It means stepping into the limelight while juggling plates that are already full. Many Moms, whose schedules are hostage to the illness-and-childcare gods, are wary of ambitious projects.

It’s common to face obstacles while pursuing our dreams. However, with intention and persistence, there’s a path to personal fulfillment. Kim has built an impressive suite of high-impact roles she’s passionate about and shows up authentically in each setting.

Vulnerability is Strength

Privacy creates a sense of safety, but achievement, comes with visibility. Can we be vulnerable and successful? After reading Kim’s latest book, Womanish, I asked how giving unvarnished access to her personal life affects her. “I write that way, I can’t ‘not’ write that way. I’m not conscious of (the audience) while I’m writing.” Beautiful and admirable. She’s set the bar at authenticity, as an artist and in her life’s choices. How has she managed the rise to prominence without wearing the ‘armor’ we develop in communities of color? She sighed, “We’re taught to be tough but they think we’re inhuman in a way. Although our armor is not our fault, we step into it out of self-protection, we perpetuate that.” Yes! She added, “We should insist on our vulnerability in these places. They get away with damaging us because of this idea that black women are impenetrable. I feel like it’s my job to let them see the damage they’re doing, I want them to see the blood, because I’m human. I put it in their face so the women coming behind me don’t have to put up with this nonsense.” Bravo! Beautifully stated.

Opening up to others with our real feelings and fears is terrifying. If vulnerable moments aren’t met with kindness it’s traumatic. We don’t have room to process these feelings in busy, blurry Mom-life. So, we routinely edit vulnerability out of our daily discussions. However, the freedom of being true to ourselves, even when faced with criticism is another type of self-care.

Tuning Into Emotional & Mental Health

Kim said, “I now know to pay attention to the signs of depression. I warn others, ‘you may not be around to be able to do all of the things you’re doing if you don’t.’” I met Kim after she read excerpts from Womanish, including an essay about how she contemplated suicide during a bleak time. Kim added, “No career, nothing, is worth that.” Having survived the experience, she understands self-care is vital and is vigilant about emotional and mental health. An important reminder, depression is more prevalent in women and caregivers. “I also make time for yoga and I love my dog. She forces me to get outside every day. There’s no replacement for looking at the sky!”

Learning to Model & Live Self-Care

Limited discretionary time and guilt affect Moms’ ability to prioritize self-care. Kim admitted it was tougher when her kids were young, “I wrote my third novel when I was in the thick of it and struggled with this issue. To be a writer, particularly a novelist, demands this selfishness and time alone. It’s the exact opposite of motherhood.” So true! She said, “I was trying to parent and write another novel while doing that. Then I realized, ‘what good am I doing my daughter if I don’t teach her to navigate these spaces?’ To teach her to love her family and give to her children, but also protect and prioritize herself.” Brilliant! Modeling self-care is an enduring gift to our kids.

No More Waiting for Approval

 “I define success differently now than I did 20 years ago. I’m not writing to get a best seller, I would love to have a best seller, but that’s not why I write,” Kim said. She’s a sought-after speaker and commentator. She’s successfully navigated two of the most traditional and male-dominated industries, media and academia. Kim admitted, working within those structures wasn’t always easy. “I’ve learned not to get dragged down into the well by the politics. There was a time when I would go right down that path, but now I know better!” She measures her creative accomplishments against her own bar. “I write for me,” Kim said.  I nodded in agreement. She added, “Success means my writing is getting better and I am satisfied with it. I love myself.”

Society still celebrates a narrow definition of success.  One that few fit into. We can apply much needed context and develop a more modern framework that suits us. We can choose wisely and value our experiences differently.

Thank you to the amazing Kim McLarin!

About Kim

Kim McLarin is the author of the critically-acclaimed novels Taming It Down (1999), Meeting of the Waters (2001), and Jump at the Sun (2006) and of the memoir Divorce Dog: Motherhood, Men, & Midlife. McLarin is also co-author of the memoir Growing Up X with Ilyasah Shabazz. Her most recent book is Womanish: A Grown Black Woman Speaks on Life and Love.

McLarin’s nonfiction writing has appeared in The New York Times, Glamour, The Washington Post, Slate, The Root and other publications. She is a former staff writer for The New York Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Greensboro News & Record, and The Associated Press.

She is an associate professor in the Department of Writing, Literature and Publishing at Emerson College.

To keep up with Kim’s adventure and learn more about her work, check out her website and follow her on Twitter and Instagram.

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