By Randye Kaye
Want to be a better spouse, parent, sibling, leader, citizen, neighbor? Award-winning author and journalist Sophia A. Nelson tells us the essential first step: protect the landscape of your own soul. In other words: self-care.
She shares how she learned to live this step in her most recent book, Be the One You Need: 21 Life Lessons I Learned While Taking Care of Everyone But Me (2022). This is also one of her most popular speaking topics in her corporate diversity and leadership work.
Nelson’s credentials are impressive. Besides her recent memoir and three other inspiring books (Black Woman Redefined, The Woman Code, ePluribus One) the journalist is also a CNN legal analyst and political commentator, and opinion contributor to The Washington Post.
Oh, and did I mention she’s a self-described “attorney by profession, recovering attorney by choice”? Also a Jane Austen fan, “hopeless romantic”, ardent lover of autumn, who thinks Little Women is the best book ever written. Well - maybe. There’s another huge favorite, The Great Gatsby.
Nelson herself writes because of her deep belief that speaking your truth, sharing your experiences (in her case, particularly as a woman, and woman of color), is how we grow and how we heal. And that, through the power of your example, you can help others to do the same — in business, and in life in general. The meaning of life? “Show up to the best of your ability, and leave something behind that matters. That”, she adds, “is why writers write.”
Is her message only for women, though? No. Nelson’s attitude is that we need to focus less on our diversity and more on being inclusive. She explains, “By that I mean that although we can all agree diversity is important, we do better when we focus on including all of our life experiences, wisdom, and perspectives.”
Nelson says people are drawn to others who have what she defines as light. She explains: “We are drawn to the soul. Covid-19 isolated us in so many important ways for too long, and if that taught us anything, it’s that we need each other. We need to share, in meaningful ways. Our time here is shorter than we think.”
So Sophia Nelson writes. And she teaches. And speaks her truth: on the air, on the stage, and on the page.
She strives to model, especially for the younger generations, how important it is to “show up to the best of your ability, as your true authentic self.”
It isn’t easy to shine your light sometimes. Nelson says, “The United States is facing deep divisions right now. Social media. All of it. It bombards us daily with stress and distress. American suicide rates hit an all time high in 2023. We are literally fighting one another in the streets. This causes deep trauma. And people withdraw. They retract. So — we have to go beyond the surface. We have to dig deeper. Because taking care of yourself is really taking care of your soul.”
You may be thinking, Okay, sounds great…but where do I begin?
You begin inside — by finding your passions, knowing your boundaries, your own needs. You find your light and nurture it, so it is free to shine.
Nelson's advice? Begin by asking yourself three really crucial questions:
What do I want?
What do I need?
How am I feeling?
This can be challenging, especially as we fill our minds and calendars with our roles in life: partner, spouse, employee, responsible parent, dutiful child. But if we don’t ask what we want, need and feel — and make ourselves a priority — how can we ever have the strength and love to be of true service to others?
In Nelson’s words, “We do all of the surface things that society requires of us. We check boxes. We do what we are told to do, or what we feel we have to do, instead of running after what we want to do. Who we want to be.”
And what kind of example do we set for those we love, if we don’t learn to care for ourselves?
So, with self-care, we gain the courage to journey through what Nelson calls the “brave quest into you.” We learn and grow with more certainty, self-love, and resilience.
This process may also reveal that not everyone in your life will support you, or be in your corner. Lessons come in many forms, some painful, but self-care can guide you through.
One of Nelson’s favorite quotes reflects that: “You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” — Anne LaMott
Nelson adds, “I love this quote—because saying what you need to say and telling the truth about your life, your family, your experiences takes courage. And bravery. Never let anyone silence your voice. It is yours. If they have something to say, let them write their story. They do not get to edit, rewrite or silence yours.”
What happens next? You can share your story; you can help others and embrace community.
If Sophia could cure one disease in the world, it would be this: the disease of “cancel culture”. She calls it “the world’s most deadly disease,” and would love to see the snap judgments we often make, replaced with grace and forgiveness for one another.
To that, I say, Amen. And it begins with grace and forgiveness for ourselves, so we can open our hearts. Ah, if we could all resonate with this line from the song Nelson’s paternal grandmother used to play for her “Nature Boy, sung by Nat King Cole”
“The greatest thing you'll ever learn is just to love and be loved in return".
That just might start with extending love to yourself first, so you can spread love and wisdom to others. Be the one you need. That’s what Sophia A. Nelson strives to do, every day.
About Sophia A. Nelson
Sophia A. Nelson is an award-winning American author and journalist. She is a frequent on-air Commentator for CNN and is an OPINION columnist for USA TODAY, a contributing editor at theGrio.com and writes freelance for The Washington Post About Us Section. Nelson is an award-winning corporate trainer, global women’s conference speaker. She is the 2011 Best-Non Fiction AA Literary Book Award prize-winner for her debut book Black Woman Redefined. Just a year later, she won the prestigious Bernardine Stoneham Smith Bailey Journalism award for her groundbreaking feature Essence magazine article in 2013 on the lives of mega-church Pastor’s wives. Nelson is the award-winning author of three nonfiction books: Black Woman Redefined: Dispelling Myths and Discovering Fulfillment in the Age of Michelle Obama (2011), The Woman Code: 20 Powerful Keys to Unlock Your Life (2014), and E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders’ Vision for a United America (2017). Nelson’s second book, The Woman Code, is a global bestseller and was named in 2016 as one of the top 40 inspirational books for women of all time by Woman’s Day magazine. It is being re-released in March 2021 to help women use the CODE to cope with COVID. Sophia is presently a frequent CNN legal analyst and political commentator. She was formerly with MSNBC and NBC News as a contributor. Sophia has appeared on every major network, media platform, and cable news platform in the world. From Canada’s The Leon Show, to the BBC, SkyNews, to Australia’s ABC News Australia. Sophia’s work and advice are routinely endorsed and shared by top writers, journalists, celebrities, and business leaders. In 2018, Sophia was named by UK’s The Guardian Magazine, as one of the most influential women leaders in the world. Sophia counts her service as JET Magazine’s first White House Correspondent covering the historic Obama administration from 2010-2012, as her most cherished professional achievement. She also serves as a corporate coach to the senior leadership of Fortune 100 companies, nonprofits, and major universities. Sophia is a corporate diversity champion award winner (2012), and a Pulitzer Prize-nominated author in letters (2011). She regularly nurtures and grows her strong female base of supporters across racial, religious, and socio-economic lines with events, live streaming, social media posts, and on her popular "One America Podcast" on Apple Podcasts.
To learn more about Sophia A. Nelson visit: https://iamsophianelson.com/
A special thank you to Randye Kaye for writing this article. Randye Kaye's two bestselling books, Happier Made Simple and Ben Behind His Voices, are tied into her work as motivational speaker, radio and podcast host, actress, singer, voice talent and mental health advocate. She is also the voice introducing Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino on The Best Ever You Show podcast!