Many of us professional women are aware of the need for self-care. We do our best to schedule time to indulge in special “treat yourself” moments, and we count on that “me time” to carry us through the endless cycle of booms and busts that are an inevitable aspect of running a business. As a mental health professional and business owner herself, Dr. Tammy Lewis Wilborn knows some things about self-care that go beyond (but also include!) spa days and dinner delivery nights. In her interview with us, Dr. Wilborn shared some tips to help us all live happier, healthier lives, Read on for some techniques, tools, and thought exercises that you can apply in your own journey.
What’s Your P.O.W.E.R. Move?
“My power move is internal and external. It starts first with me taking care of me, and engaging in self care. The days I feel most powerful are those that start with prayer and a morning workout. I notice an extra pep in my step when those two things happen. I also feel good when I look good on the outside. I am totally that woman into fashion and beauty! I have always been that person known for what I wear, my hair, etc. A little known fact is that fashion was my first love. I actually went to modeling school for a brief period as a teenager but eventually it became too expensive for my mom to continue. Plus, I was terrible at posing. I still am actually! I will say like it or not our appearance and how we present ourselves matter. But when I step out and look good, I am clear that I am doing it for me.
What’s Your P.O.W.E.R.ful Advice?
“You are the author of your life. You get to create the life that you want to have. An authentic and well life is the one you create. 2020 is the year of vision. Start to think about what you want to accomplish in the next year and write it down. Get clear because it’s time to level up!”
Dr. Wilborn’s wisdom comes from a powerful combination of academic training, 20 years of practicing in her field, and her own lived experiences.
She earned her PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. Both her M.S. in Counseling and her B.S. in Psychology were earned at Loyola University here in New Orleans, where she now owns and operates Wilborn Clinical Services. However, despite her undeniable expertise, Dr. Wilborn is not inoculated against the questioning and feelings of doubt that are familiar to all of us who have found ourselves at an unexpected crossroads in our careers. Reflecting on her own path to entrepreneurship, she recalls “it became clear to me that while I enjoyed teaching— that’s what I had gone to school do and UNCC prepared me to do it well— I didn’t love it.”
So now what? Fortunately, Dr. Wilborn had the expertise required to dig and explore what it was exactly that she didn’t love. “I love teaching and it wasn’t that I didn’t love being in the classroom with my students; I love my students, I love that space. I didn’t love not having the freedom that is sort of promised in an academic space… I started to feel that I wasn’t exactly free…there was freedom in my assignments and the way I taught my classes. But there was certainly an expectation that I’d show up in a certain kind of way. So I felt constrained.”
Dr. Wilborn began to feel physical symptoms of her dissatisfaction, noticing a pattern of headaches and disturbed sleep, which is not uncommon for people in a place of turmoil or frustration: according to the research, “usually our bodies are communicating to us first about whether or not we’re in alignment.”
Accordingly, Dr. Wilborn’s first suggestion for our P.O.W.E.R. blog readers is to listen to your bodies. Notice what it’s telling you. Mental and physical health are connected in both the long and short terms, and work is often a major source of the chronic stress— specifically for women— that can lead to serious health complications like high blood pressure.
This brings us to the core issues Dr. Wilborn helps her clients work though every day. Whether or not we’re experiencing physical symptoms of stress, as human beings we’re most comfortable when our lives feel authentic and aligned with our values. “When folks say ‘what do you do?’” notes Dr. Wilborn, “I say ‘I teach people how to be authentic and live well.’ For me, authenticity is about making sure that the things that you believe line up with your ‘why’, which then reflects how you move.”
To find their “why” Dr. Wilborn helps clients identify and understand what she refers to as the “3 Ms” of authentic living © : mindset, motivation, and movement. “Mindset is about values,” Dr. Wilborn explains, “what do you believe, what are your principles? What do you stand on? Because that’s the foundation for everything else. So the first thing for authentic living is mindset.” Your motivation really gets at your why: why do you do what you do? The final M, movement, is about behavior. “What you do in the world, how you show up in the world, should flow from your ‘why’.”
Reader, do you know what your 3 Ms are?
Dr. Wilborn did; she used that knowledge to guide her toward a new path. “I said to my husband, ‘I cannot do this.’ Of course, he was baffled because we had made the move to Charlotte for me to go to school, sacrificed with kids, and so on and so forth. And I said, I understand what you’re saying. I understand your concern. I cannot do this. I know that there’s more for me to do, and I need your support because I’m leaving academia.”
Dr. Wilborn got that support, and went full-time in her practice in August 2019 three years after she established it, noting that “there was a freedom that I felt in making that move that I’ve never felt, and I have not looked back. My practice is full so now I am looking to start a group practice and hire more therapists.”
Looking at Dr. Wilborn’s path to full-time entrepreneurship, we can see how her expertise in mental health and overall wellness informed her decision-making in times of transition. However, this expertise is also evident in the wellness routines and practices of her every-day life, which she’s developed to help her stay happy, healthy, and focused on what matters. What does Dr. Wilborn, with all her expertise, prioritize?
Basics, Gratitude, and Finding the Right Support
“I’m able to show up in this space and still be purposeful, still serve ethically with a sense of integrity because I take care of me. I do that by starting with the basics. I have to get at least six hours of sleep. I have to get to the gym two or three times a week, not to lose weight but because I need a good release of Dopamine to keep my mental health intact. I get massages twice a month because they are calming and relaxing. I make sure to take care of me because if I’m not able to do that, it’s much harder for me to show up in this space and facilitate wellness in somebody else. Professional women have to remember that self-care is necessary to anything we do professionally and personally, and we’re not in a space where we can afford to not do it.”
Daily prayers of gratitude are also part of her wellness routine. There’s no “right way” to practice gratitude, but Dr. Wilborn wanted to share her practice to model for anyone who might be looking for a place to start: “I wake up very early, and my prayer is simply ‘I am grateful to do the work that I’m doing, thank you for allowing me to show up in this way.’ I’m a spiritual person…and because my father was killed, it serves me to have a spiritual father where I say to him ‘thank you God for allowing me to have work that is meaningful and purposeful. Thank you for the people you send to me.’…I think any time that we create moments of solitude for ourselves where we are intentionally engaging in just being present, just being mindful and reflective can be adapted to include somebody just speaking out and saying that they’re thankful. They don’t necessarily have to have a conversation with anyone but themselves.”
Getting to a place where you feel confident in your 3 Ms, and have routine of basics that works for you can require some resources and for those of us who have not been raised to think of ourselves as capable of navigating life as an entrepreneur, mentorship and support can be extra valuable. Dr. Wilborn believes that business coaches can be extremely helpful generally, and also be good to have “on tap” when it’s crunch time.
Community programs are also a great source of connections but also education and skill-building.
Locally Dr. Wilborn herself, has benefited from the Fidelity Bank P.O.W.E.R. program, the ABWA, and the Urban League’s Women’s Business Resource Center. In order to put her research into practice, she’s founded the Black Women’s Wellness Conference of New Orleans, which promotes mental health and wellbeing in Black women which interested folks can learn more about here. (For our non-New Orleans based readers, ABWA is a national organization and there may be other women in business focused groups or events in your area!)
As for recommended reading?
“One of the books that was really instrumental in my professional development was Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg. I had issues with some of the things that she wrote about, but I think what was really helpful for me, to read that book in 2013 was this idea that as women, having a professional identity that you could be proud of, and grateful for, and one that you prioritize, was okay. Women aren’t usually socialized to put their careers first so prioritizing our careers often leads to feelings of guilt.”