How to be Superwoman
A little over a year ago, every inch of space in my life was taken up with something to do, somewhere to be, someone to meet. I was pushing myself to impossible limits, believing that was what it meant to be a superwoman. But I was burned out, a robot joylessly going through the motions. I knew I had to change, so I sat down and wrote a song about a new kind of superwoman, one who doesn’t have to hide her vulnerability or humanity or womanliness in order to make it in a hard world.
The “Superwoman” lyrics were intended for my own uplifting, but judging by all of the responses, I think I was onto something. Many women wanted to know how I’ve made it to where I am without cracking under the pressure. The answer, of course, is that although I’ve stumbled, with each wrong step and each sure one I have learned lessons worth singing about and worth sharing. So, with much humility and gratitude, I would like to pass along a few.
Give yourself a pep talk
“Each time before I step onstage, I say, ‘You’re fantastic. Go out there and knock them out.’ And some of the most amazing women I know believe in pep talks too. They say, ‘When I’m…,’ instead of ‘If I’m….’ And you rarely hear them using words like won’t, can’t and shouldn’t. I think that’s a key secret to a great life.”
Rise Above It
I grew up in Hell’s Kitchen, an area of New York City that’s nicer now but used to feel desperate, with boarded-up buildings, hookers, pimps and drug dealers everywhere. Men would call out, “Come work for me,” as I passed by. I was nine years old and hated it so much that I’d often be loud-mouthed and confrontational right back. It kept those men away, but I felt bad coming down to their level. One day I realized I didn’t have to—I could just keep walking. Think of it as an exercise in human spirit: Each time you’re tested, try to be a larger person than you knew you could be.
Do What Scares You
When I was 19 and putting together my first album, which I’d dropped out of college to make, the record company told me they wanted something more commercial. I didn’t know how to be anyone else, so I told them it would be my record or no record. They said, “Fine, no record.” For the next few months, as I waited for my lawyers to win back the rights to the music I’d already recorded, all I could do was keep faith in my decision. In between crying, I harnessed that feeling of being held back and not able to fly—like the caged bird in Maya Angelou’s autobiography—and wrote a lot of songs. Eventually I got my songs back, signed with a new label and made the record I believed in. Most important, though, was learning always to walk the path my gut led me to. To be your best self you have to try stuff out, make mistakes, and let go of your fear of looking like an idiot.
During that burnout time not too long ago, I was getting my hair and makeup done for the umpteenth time in an impossibly packed day. I didn’t even realize it, but I had a single tear running down my cheek. My friend Erika noticed it, though, and then without giving me any choice, she announced, “That’s it, I’m canceling everything. You’re going to bed. They can all hate me, I don’t care.” That’s what a great friend is: someone who looks out for you when you’ve forgotten how to look out for yourself. Find these superwomen, love them—and let them love you.
Expand Your “Family”
Do you notice how people will come into your life exactly when you need them to? Recently I was in Africa with the charity Keep a Child Alive and was introduced to Dr. Pasquine Ogunsanya. She has turned her home into an AIDS clinic. When I met her, I was feeling alone and without roots. Then I saw how she welcomed so many into her home and heart, and I realized that if you look outside your circle of “people who matter,” you can find family anywhere.
Alicia Keys is starring in the film The Secret Life of Bees and traveling the world on her As I Am tour.
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