Show up as yourself and do the work
Above all, Tracee Ellis Ross is endlessly authentic. From the red carpet to running a thriving enterprise, she is always herself—unapologetically. Her suggestion to entrepreneurs is to try to always show up as yourself, but she knows it’s easier said than done. Ross admits that getting to the point of fearless authenticity has been a marathon, not a sprint.
“Me being me, all the time, has taken a long time and a lot of courage,” Ross said. Early in her career, she had to train herself “to take one conscious breath” during an audition and that “that breath would lead me into being myself.”
Today, it’s all Tracee, all the time. “The best thing I have to offer the world is myself…my point of view. It’s the ace in my deck, but having the courage to actually show up as that person is hard earned and takes time. It’s a goal of wholeness versus perfection.”
Being authentic is core to Ross’ wellness regimen and professional success, and she balances her what-you-see-is-what-you-get approach with good old-fashioned hard work.
“Do your research,” Ross advised, “know what your promise is—what is it you want to offer and what need are you answering out in the marketplace? Next, do your homework. Know your market; educate yourself on every aspect.”
Ross is direct about needing to put in the time and warns against the instant success allure of social media. “It’s really given people a false idea of what it takes to accomplish things in life. Social media has skipped a beat for so many people and they think that it's zero to 100, and you can become an entrepreneur and a star. That's why I say ten years, people, ten years.”
Harmony feeds good health
While many influencers continue to espouse the necessity of work-life balance, panelist Kier Gaines—a therapist, mental health advocate, and internet personality—said that finding harmony is the fastest way to achieve better health and wellness.
“I don’t know if true balance really exists, especially in this context—when we’re talking about the merging of wellness and business. Balance says that these two opposite things that compete for space in my life can have some type of equity, which isn’t always possible,” explained Gaines. “I’m looking for harmony. Harmony to me says that all of these different pitches and melodies and different voices can all exist at once in a way that pleases me.”
Ross agreed; she practices self-care daily in her own quest for harmony and has phrases that help remind her to go easy on herself. “I use gentle, gentle. I say it twice, because sometimes that first one just does not land. We’re all human beings just trying to figure this thing out.”
Finding harmony also means saying no and setting boundaries—and accepting that this is okay.
“Social media conditions us to believe that we always have to pound it and go very hard,” Gaines said, “and we need to break free of that. You have limitations, and those limitations don’t make you weak; they make you a person.” Gaines suggests reaffirming that “your relationship with your business is the same as your relationship with a living breathing person, it requires boundaries.”
Nayo Carter-Gray, CEO and founder of 1st Step Accounting, recommends consciously setting boundaries. When she is smack dab in the middle of tax season, she says, it’s all about self-care and preservation of mind, body, and soul.
“I’m a big fan of boundaries. With everybody having a cell phone or access to you on social media, people believe that they have 24/7 access to you. And that is not true.” She believes it’s important to set time boundaries to maintain good health. “‘No’ is a complete sentence,” said Carter-Gray.
“A small no can be a big yes in terms of self-care,” added Ross.
Self-care is where it’s at
A recent QuickBooks small business survey shows that nearly one-third of Black respondents say that they can’t prioritize self-care as much as they would like, while almost a quarter (23%) say self-care is not important to them.
Roundtable participants encouraged the audience to change this mindset.
Eden Hagos, founder of the Canadian-based creative agency and consulting firm Black Foodie, stated: “Your business will not run without you. So take care of your health.” And for those who worry that self-care is an unaffordable luxury, Eden said, “When I was starting back in the day for me, like, I was at the bottom, I had no money. I was so broke and hustling, trying to do, you know, side jobs to pay for my business. And I could not afford therapy, I could not afford a gym membership. But I could afford a walk. And I could afford a call with my friend, or you know, just taking some time with my family like those were things that were within my access.”
Ross makes caring for herself a priority in all aspects of her life. “Instead of rushing and moving really fast thinking it's going to make everything fit in, I try to walk slowly and be where my feet are. And I try to give myself the ease in the in-between.”
Ross also suggests using HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired), which she uses when she’s feeling off. “If you're hungry, angry, lonely or tired, give yourself a halt. Just a pause.”
Hagos explained that, for her, it’s about adopting and perfecting good habits. “Self-care looks a lot like setting habits that create a life that I don't want to escape from—making sure I go to sleep at night instead of keeping my laptop open and checking my emails.”
Gaines was quick to emphasize that asking for help is a necessary habit to adopt as a business owner and as a human. “Like most people, I don’t like to ask for help, but we all need it. But I've learned that I don't lose any power. When I reach out and ask for help, I don't lose any momentum—I actually gain something back.”