Happy International Women’s Day! As we celebrate the women in our lives, on this special day, during Women’s history month, I found myself pondering how best to honor the many amazingly magical ladies who I am and have been privileged to know. Needless to say it is an impossible task. Exactly how do you adequately pay tribute to those who birth life, nurture, teach, console, protect, marry, make a house a home, etc., etc., etc.? They are our mothers, sisters, sages, muses, lovers, friends, teachers, wives, advocates, and the list can go on an on until eternity.

Yet, as I racked my brain hoping to conjure that special salutation, it occurred to me that the best tribute I could offer to those who fill so many roles in our lives, is an urgent plea toward self-care. I think back to a conversation I had with a sister-friend of mine recently. She like so many women carries the burden of her family. Every member and their needs, even if they themselves are unaware, are etched in the very recesses of her consciousness. During this particular conversation, I could literally hear the stress of her circumstances. So much so, I became concerned. My sister-friend is also a cancer survivor and like many survivors, she has a regime of sorts to keep the cancer at bay. Obviously, the pains of family life are of no help to her. Yet, like so many women if you saw her, you’d think she had the world on a string with not a care in the world. My sister-friend, like so many of my sister-friends is accomplished in business and as a performer. She presents herself impeccably. Always dressed to the nines with a radiant smile. I marvel at how she moves so easily in her stilettos. Yet, one would never know she’s still in the throes of the aftermath of a very contentious divorce. One would never know how distressed she is over her adult children’s neglect, and even disrespect of her or the scores of other familial matters that weigh on her daily, in addition to financial burdens and her health.

I am utterly humbled that she feels at ease unburdening her self with me. I am grateful our paths have crossed and ours is a relationship where she feels safe and un-judged enough to exhale. I suggest that those of us, who call ourselves friends, boyfriends, husbands, etc., learn to tune in and be an ear to our partners and friends. As her friend I made clear my concerns for her and advised her to do something that is virtually an anathema to so many women like her: Forget about everyone else and take care of yourself. I made it clear to her that for all her concern and energy, which she pours out, without reciprocation it is doing her no good. There was some resistance, but I persisted and reminded her she is only as good to others as she is to herself. She understood and I could hear a sense of relief in her voice, as if she felt she was finally permitted to care for herself.

The modern American woman with all her liberties and opportunities is as overstressed, overmedicated, and more ill than she’s ever been. The fact that the number one killer of American women is heart disease ought to alert us of the stress so many women find themselves under. I believe our society has failed in creating a culture of self-care, as it has failed in cultivating one of self-love, self-esteem, self-awareness, etc. (Men haven’t escaped the ravages of this neglect by far either). What we do to girls, in particular is take advantage of their matriarchal tendencies. They tend to be our “little helpers.” They learn not only by what we allow for them, but via the example generally set by their mothers to be somewhat omnipresent. Yet, we fail to teach them how to balance this out by instructing them on self-care and its critical purpose in their lives. We encourage them to be busy for everyone and every activity set before them, hardly do we teach them to tend to themselves apart from their appearance.

Somehow, someway women have been made to believe there’s some kind of honor in depleting themselves perpetually for the sake of others or things (career, etc.). In fact, as was the case with my sister-friend the idea that you matter first or that you cannot give what you do not have is a seemingly foreign idea. Yet, few recognize how unnatural such a thing it is. Bears hibernate even Superman had a Fortress of Solitude. Yet, solitude or hibernation is hardly enough. It is critical that we learn to fortify ourselves. So many women are operating on empty and are dangerously unaware of it. They’ve allowed the cares of this world and the illusion that if we don’t do it, it’ll never get done…the world will fall a part,” to manipulate them into lives of unnecessary stress and even discord.

If it falls a part, let it! Believe it or not the world will continue to spin with or without you, but ladies, you do a grave disservice to yourselves by neglecting your self-care. Don’t put it off any longer. It is high time many of you create your own tradition of pampering your spirit, mind, and body, then, pass it on to your children. You don’t need a spa you need better time management. You’d be surprised what 10, 5, even a 1 minute a day of simple affirmation can do for you. Find your sacred space – your closet, your bathroom, your car, the dinner table, under your bed, wherever. Love on yourself! Be your greatest cheerleader.

Fewer things are more tragic than to see and know someone who is blessed with beauty and wondrous gifts yet is incapable of believing it. They hear the praise, but the lie they’ve told themselves is so prevalent that it stops their ears and congest their consciousness. Following a lecture I gave to middle school students, I made the acquaintance of such a young lady. She told me how very hard it was for her. How other girls demeaned her. This young lady was stunning and I could tell she was very intelligent. I was nearly taken aback that someone like her lacked such confidence, but alas, words have power. The influence and impression of others is a kind of sorcery, for better or worse, especially for young people in their adolescence grappling with their identity. This is why the best gift we can give our children from the womb, is a sense of identity and self worth. This is so very critical for girls who are flooded with narratives of what and who they ought to be, especially what they should look like from the second they are born. It is imperative that we as a society, especially parents, over indulge our children in this matter. It is equally as critical that we teach them to love themselves independent of our influence. You can never fill that well enough. That middle school aged young lady at the time of my meeting her was endemic of the spiritual and emotional abandonment that is far too common, because she was not yet educated on the necessity of self-care to fortify her sense of identity and self esteem.

If the future is Woman, then it would be to the benefit of all to cultivate a society of women who thrive, not only as our heroines and matriarchs, but within their own skin.