Amy DuBois Barnett, “Take care of your own damn self.”

8th October 2013

Amy DuBois Barnett, editor of Ebony magazine gave a great speech at Blogalicious, and made a point about independence that rocked me back in my chair.

She was going through a rough patch in her early twenties when her mother died, and she had a revelation that no one was coming to save her.

Whether we admit it or not, so many of us are waiting for someone to come along and fix our problems. No one can climb in your skin and live your life for you. My happiness and success are up to me alone. I own my life.

Barnett said she had a psychological 180, that she stopped doubting herself and worrying about what others thought of her life.

Create a life for yourself and then love and protect it as your most valuable asset. Don’t let anyone come in and change it, especially under the guise of taking care of you.

Whoa. I did some hard thinking.

Letting go of the notion that someone will come along to shoulder your burdens is a big part of maturing. Do you think you’re there yet? And if so, how did you get there? Or, alternately, do you think it’s okay to hope for support in that way?

Photo from Black Enterprise.

19 thoughts on “Amy DuBois Barnett, “Take care of your own damn self.”

  1. maile

    I love this so much. It reminds me of Cheryl Strayed’s book, Letters to Sugar. There’s a part where she was working with horribly abused teens. After months and months of trying to help them, she told one of the girls that no one was coming. It was so unfair and awful. But there is a freedom in accepting that fact. That, even though sometimes we are legitimately the victim, it’s up to us to create a life we like living in. That being said, I think it’s also a sign of maturity to practice asking for help. Awesome post, wish I could’ve heard her.

  2. Megan

    Yes! I first thought it after my divorce, living on my own for the first time. After several days of not wanting to get out of bed, a scrap of awareness emerged: there is no one coming. No one can experience this difficult time for me. I have to do it myself. And then I got out of bed.

    That experience didn’t permanently usher me into a fixed state of feeling complete ownership of my life, however. I’m in an ‘owning’ phase now, but sometimes I’m still waiting for someone to come.

  3. Kat

    While I recognize there is some truth in this – that we are each ultimately responsible for our lives – it doesn’t entirely settle well with me. Perhaps it’s my somewhat more Canadian approach, but I believe we are all responsible for ourselves AND each other.

    I work at a non-profit that provides support to marginalized individuals and every day I am reminded that the deck is stacked against many people. That many people don’t have the same cognitive, emotional or physical abilities and that “pulling yourselves up by your boot straps” is a privilege reserved for those of us who have boots, so to speak.

    This is a thought that I’d like to add into the conversation: That when we stop waiting for someone to throw us a life raft, we don’t inadvertently stop offering them to others.

  4. sugarleg

    all of us could write the country song of our lives. mine has refrains of death, divorce and financial devastation to name a few. while those hard times definitely sobered me up that I better get back in charge of myself, I also know that I could not have done that without the community of family and friends. what I have loved about adulthood though is that I am in charge, and that I decide how I want to feel and what actions to take. and that has made all the difference.

  5. Maggeh Post author

    Kat, great point. Especially this, “When we stop waiting for someone to throw us a life raft, we don’t inadvertently stop offering them to others.”

    I think two things:

    1. We have a distinct responsibility to offer a shoulder to those who don’t have boots, so to speak.

    2. For those who do find themselves with resources, it’s tough to strike the balance between self-sufficient stoicism and the kind of vulnerability you need to forge connections with those around you.

    There’s a fine line between taking responsibility for yourself and pushing others away. It’s a life’s work to find the best spot on the continuum.

  6. michelle k

    At 14, I knew. I knew deep within my being, that no matter what lives throws us, we are each on our own.

    Good, bad, indifferent, at the end of the day…life is what you decide to make it. Resources or not.

  7. Elle

    I grew up with a bad family situation, an abusive dad and a mom who spent a long time too entrenched in community standards to help us. She eventually did divorce him but it was with virtually no support and a lot of negative feedback. So yes, I’ve felt that self dependence since approximately the sixth grade and Im grateful for the kind of person that made me.
    Now I work for women’s rights in the non profit sector, and I (somewhat ironically) married a Rabbi. What I love most about my positions are the ways I get to prevent my story from happening again. Everyone has problems, and 99% of the time we deal with them alone when we shouldn’t have to. Support is love and love is never frivolous. Taking care of yourself is made possible by acknowledging the love that you have for yourself. It is also what makes us capable of giving and accepting love from others.

  8. Jen

    Holy, holy, holy. This rocked me, too. Or rather, is still rocking me. I read it earlier today and then had to come back to it; it was too much. It still is, but I’m trying to sit with it.

    Totally agree with both Kat and Maggie’s comments. While I certainly see real value in the connections we make with others, for me anyway, I can’t do that without comparing myself to that other person. Not in a competitive way, but in a, yeah, I’m like that, too, way. But I think, maybe, there’s some false comfort in that. Maybe, instead, I have to find my own way. Even though (because?) it’s extra scary, but also maybe (hopefully) extra worth it.

  9. Angela

    Being responsible for one’s life and one’s happiness and asking for help are not mutually exclusive. The act of asking for help is just that – an action. You aren’t waiting for someone to say “I see you need some help.” You are going out and seeking it. I don’t see Ms. Barnett’s comments as being a call for total self-sufficiency, but instead a call to be an active participant in our own lives. When we wait passively for others to fulfill our needs, we are bound to be disappointed.

  10. Jenny

    As a follow-on thought to Kat’s, I am concerned that the corollary to “My happiness and success are up to me alone” is “My unhappiness and failure (or illness or financial devastation or divorce or infertility or whatever) are my own fault, under my control.”

    While of course we are responsible for our own actions and responses to others, we are also not in control of so much: where we were born, our privilege, the way our bodies behave, the way others (including governments and corporations) act towards us. It’s so easy, if you think your happiness and success is all your own work, to think that’s true for everyone; and to think that if you’re unhappy you must have done something terribly wrong, to have deserved it. Sometimes, yeah. But sometimes, nope.

  11. Amber Marlow, theAmberShow

    Oh, I’m there, but I’m worried: I want to get remarried one day, but I’ve gotten SO independent that I have a hard time imagining sharing my struggles and joys with someone else. But yes, realizing that I’m in charge of my own destiny was amazing, and then the follow up of reaching for higher and higher goals and actually obtaining them with hard work was mind-boggling.

  12. Toni

    This made me think of one of my favorite quotes:
    “Caring for myself is not self indulgence, it is self preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Audre Lorde

    It certainly takes some radical thinking in order to throw away the script that patriarchy + corporate capitalism has written for us and live an independent life.

  13. Anastasia

    It’s always a good reminder that you are in charge of yourself and your choices, but I think it’s always nice to at least pretend that you have someone that will support you.

  14. Stacey

    I had this revelation a couple of years ago; I’d just read Alice Sebold’s Lucky, which is the memoir she wrote about being raped when she was in college. There is a line that says, “Save yourself, or you remain unsaved.” It really knocked me back – at the most devastating moment in her life, she had this epiphany that it was up to her to stay alive and sane. At the time I had been living on my own for two years, had been “taking time off” from school for more semesters than I cared to remember, and was working a dead end job that made me dread every single day. Reading that line was like taking a punch to the gut. That was the first time that I realized that it was entirely up to me to move forward and make something awesome out of my life – no one was going to do it for me, no one was going to tell me how, and no one was going to make it any easier for me. I had to do it myself or it wasn’t going to happen. I really had to make the decision that my life and my happiness were worth the effort.

  15. Cindy

    I remember the moment I realized this. I was up in the middle of the night with my newborn son and could not get him to sleep. I was tired, tired beyond imagination and logic. All I could think about was sleep. I had just relieved my husband, who — also exhausted — was now taking his turn to sleep. I looked around at our dark house and my wide-awake son and thought, “We’re it. There is no B team. No substitutes are on the way.”

    It’s not that we didn’t have community; we did. It’s not that help had not been offered; it had. It’s not that we weren’t willing to ask for more help; we were. It’s just that we suddenly realized that the *ultimate* responsibility rested with us. It was a stunning revelation. Like you said, Maggie, it’s a part of growing up.

  16. Franca Bollo

    Ditto Marguerite. Love the post and the thought-provoking comments that follow. You really do have to start with trusting and loving yourself first. Everything else, positive, rises from there.

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