The Confab: Mixing Up a Batch of Balance

Thursday, September 22, 2011

We’re excited. Yes, we’re always pretty gassed about the wise minds who visit The Confab, so today really isn’t any different. Except that it is! We’ve got the fabulous Jamyla Bennu in the house.

I “met” Jamyla, well … I can’t really say. She’s part of that secret group I mentioned some time ago. Trust me, she’s the business. Proof, check out the bio she sent me:

Jamyla Bennu is a generally crafty chick and creator/mixtress of oyin handmade, a family-owned line of delicious and nutritious handmade hair and body care goodies. She likes pesto and sunshine, apples and dancing. She has two boychildren — an infant and a preschooler — and she is married to the best guy in the entire world FOR HER: artist and filmmaker Pierre Bennu. She encourages you to find your own perfect.

See? Just delightful.

Read on to get you some more Jamyla. Plus! You know our style …  there is, of course, a giveaway. Details at the end of the post.

Photo by Jamyla Bennu

Q: As a mother of two with a buzzing business, how do you find that integral balance between work + life, wife + mom, Jamyla + expectations others have of Jamyla? Maybe it’s better to ask, how do you create it?

Jamyla Bennu: This is a great question. I want to hear the answer to this question! I suppose the short answer is, “Surround yourself with people who have your back.”  For instance, I can’t answer this question without talking about Pierre because there is No. Way. I could maintain even a semblance of balance without the full and enthusiastic participation and support and planning and inspiration from my partner. He helps pull me back when I threaten to go over the edge, and is constantly watchful for me taking on too much, which is a tendency/threat for each of us.

So we have to constantly check each other. One of our affirmations is, The work is not going anywhere. After you take five minutes in the morning to sit on the porch with tea; after you take three minutes to do a quick yoga sun salutation; after you take a minute to play a turn in Words with Friends; or after a brisk walk around the block … the work will still be there, ready for you to pick up where you left off. It’s not necessary to burn yourself out EVERY minute of the day. You have to give yourself permission to be human and to answer a few needs for yourself once in a while. Even if it means taking an L in another aspect of life. Sometimes that may mean Chipotle for dinner more often than one might strictly aspire to if given a choice. Sometimes it may mean taking roughly 100 years to answer some awesomely thought-provoking interview questions. :)

Q:  In this O Magazine piece, you and your husband Pierre mentioned waiting a good decade before starting a family. How would you say that impacted your relationship with your husband? And how did it influence your perception of yourself as a mother?

JB: We were lucky enough to agree on some very vital points from the start. Firstly, that our family started the minute we committed to each other. We were having a great time, felt that being child-free was a completely valid state of being, and didn’t feel like our union was incomplete. Secondly, we were also relatively young and had that whole immortal, life spinning out in front of you feeling going for us. We really did feel, for almost ten years, that the question of children was something we could decide on later.

But during that first decade of our marriage we had been broke, learned to deal with that. Been abundant, learned to deal with that. Moved many times. Dealt with both triumph and disappointment. “Bootstrapped” a business with many long nights and a complete investment of our time and energy. We developed a shorthand and a method of working together that has served us very well in creating a stronger union, and in navigating the guerrilla minefields of early parenthood.

As far as my self-perception as a mother … i actually had never imagined myself as a mother or knew what kind of mother I’d be. If I thought of it, it was with a bit of fear that I’d be too distracted or goofy to be a good mom. Then i found myself married to a man with a stunning level of emotional intelligence and ability to nurture and challenge not only me, but almost everyone he met. I began to think, “Well, maybe with him as my partner, I might not mess this up too badly.” LOL! Basically, the ten years gave me a chance to warm up to the idea.

Q:  In that article, you spoke about not hiding your joy. And, moreover, you encouraged people to find their own, tailor-made happiness. Not as easy as it sounds. Folks tend to see what others have — or appear to have — and crave that. Why is it important to seek your own thing?

JB: I believe that there are as many different kinds of relationships as there are possible combinations of people. I used to think I wanted a relationship with lots of space and alone time and perhaps even separate living arrangements … but am blissful in mutual hermit-ude for 13 years (and counting!), spent hip-to-hip with an optimistic/cynical black nerd. Either of those extremes might send another woman screaming for the hills, but it totally works/worked for me at different times in my life.

We learn about the way a relationship is “supposed” to look like  from our parents or other adults around us when we’re growing up, from television and movies, from cultural osmosis. But we have to be careful not to let our expectations get in the way of the uniqueness that is possible when you and another person create your own society together. You get to build your world together from scratch! Don’t squander that opportunity to create your own perfectness! Be honest about what makes you feel good, be open and communicative with each other, and the evolving shape of the relationship over time may surprise you.

Q:  My younger sister and I recently started talking about this habit too many women have: we call it shoulding all over yourself. It’s that thing we do … “I should be exercising more. I should be much further along towards my goal. I should have done what she did, etc.” What’s your take on The Shoulds?

JB: We all battle The Shoulds .. and I love your term. A play-aunt I grew up with used to say, ‘Shoulda shot a duck don’t make soup.” I love that too, although it’s focused more on the past-tense shoulds (“I should have finished my homework. I should have packed my lunch today.”) rather than the wistful, future tense, beating-up-on-yourself shoulds.

What if there was no such word? Maybe we’d have to just make concrete, affirmative statements about our future plans. “I will exercise more in the future, because it makes me feel healthy.” “If I want to achieve X, i will take the following steps!”

Q: It’s easy to complain. Life is full and busy, and often moves quicker than we’d like. How can one honestly dig through all of that grey cloud to start seeing some of the bright spots coming through?

JB: I often hear that happiness is a choice, and I do believe that, to a certain extent. The world presents you with stimuli, and how you react to those stimuli determines your happiness. There are spiritual and meditative teachings that encourage you to release yourself from expectation, to remove the judgement of good/bad from your experiences and just let them flow through you, etc.

But I think this is easier for some people than for others, and part of that, I think, has to do with how we are “wired.” A friend who works with mental health awareness and advocacy has opened my eyes to the very real struggles many people have with seeing the brighter side of life sometimes. I may just have happy chemistry, but it’s usually relatively simple for me to focus on the positive, the fun, the sunny things in my world at a given time. When I get overwhelmed or feel downtrodden or sad about a personal failure, I can generally find my way out of that funk with relative ease .. or distract myself with a game or song or dance class or call to my mom or something like that.

If it is honestly difficult to see the bright side of your life, GET. HELP. Period.

Otherwise, take a cue from (a paraphrased) Shug Avery in The Color Purple: Don’t walk past the beauty in your life without noticing and appreciating it. It pisses God off.

Q: How has motherhood/parenting influenced or changed the way you approach challenges in your business, relationships and life overall?

JB: Motherhood has been extremely humbling for me. I’m a DIY, do it all, do it all at once kind of chick, and parenting two children under three has been a rude awakening that there are simply some factors of my life that are going to be outside of my control for a while. Having to schedule your workday around the nap schedule of a screaming little tyrant who doesn’t speak your language is a humbling set of circumstances for a big/bad entrepreneur chick who is (at least in her head) taking the world by storm.

My priorities have completely shifted. Work is still vital to me, but prior to the kidlings, I would prioritize work and let myself take a beating in terms of personal health, my need for sleep, the regularity of my meals, etc. I would never dream of allowing those things slip by the wayside for my children. So in a sense, motherhood has taught me about the importance of prioritizing myself … in a roundabout way. It has returned my sense of importance to the most basic and primal.

I’ve learned a lot about maintaining flexibility, thinking on my feet and, again,  giving myself permission to do things in a different way than I may have originally planned. Lots of stuff gets done after midnight around here; lots of things get typed with one hand while nursing; a small sliver of things may not get done at all, or might get delegated.

Q: What’s the best advice you’ve heard about finding balance and getting closer to living your best life?

JB: A mentor once encouraged me to keep a paper To-Do list, and when you do something that’s not on your list, write it on there and cross it off.

Invariably, things come up that aren’t on your list. There are fires to put out and every day has its tiny emergencies. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself responding to these daily emergencies and feeling ridiculous and unaccomplished at the end of the day when the things you thought you’d be doing with your day haven’t gone as planned. But a chronicle of what you’ve actually done can be a sanity-saver (and an ego-saver!). This little tip has saved my sanity more than once when my unintentional flexibility rears its head.

For more on Jamyla Bennu, check out oyin handmade. You many also follow her on Twitter.

Giveaway time! The Bennus are graciously offer up some honey money (oyin handmade’s online gift voucher program). One lucky reader will nab $30 worth of honey money to spend on oyin’s wonderful products online. Full disclosure: I use several oyin hair products. Every morning it’s a struggle not to eat them joints. The smell … delicious.

All you have to do? Leave a comment below. Add your valuable two cents to this conversation: Talk about the secret sauce to your happiness or how you’re moving closer to finding some balance. Or share the best advice you’ve heard on upgraded to joyful living. We just want to hear what you have to say!

  • 1
    Kristin says:

    Great interview! I love “The Shoulds” part especially. Unfortunately, I’ve lost that battle. Now it’s “The Didn’ts” around here.

    I totally agree that happiness is a choice, but for some it’s a more difficult journey. It’s perspective and action, but also the hard-wiring (or chemical-wiring) we all have.

    After moving to the suburbs (not quite kicking and screaming), I was in a funk despite being in a pretty great place and meeting lots of pretty great people. I started my website for me, as a way to remind myself that I see wonderful things around me all the time. And that’s where the “Glad I Saw It” series came from. Whether it was the site, creating a purpose, or just picking myself up the right way this time, I’m a much happier person now than I was a year ago. Is that special sauce? :)

    • 1.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      It was around the time that I moved to the NJ suburbs from Brooklyn that I started to view and appreciate happiness as a decision. There were a mix of reasons for my feeling off-balanced with that move, many of which I wrote about on the blog. I know what you mean about being in a funk despite being surrounded by (and recognizing) these wonderful and good things in your life. But I made the decision, the choice to return to happiness. I really like what Jamyla said about “releasing yourself from expectation.” (Like I said, she’s a wise one.) And she’s the right: it’s the first step towards getting to a happier place.

      The starting of your web site, especially the Glad I Saw It series is an excellent example of secret sauce, Kristin. Thanks for the comment!

  • 2
    Nailah says:

    This is a superb interview! I love her outlook on life and the fresh perspective she brings to everything in her life. I like what she said about creating the family/life that works best for you. This is such an important thing to remember in all aspects of life. Going to check out her website now!

    • 2.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      I know! I like when she said that “the work isn’t going anywhere.” You can take three minutes to sit on the porch for some tea. Just leaking smarts, that one.

  • 3
    Laurie says:

    Fantastic, thought-provoking interview! I love that it wasn’t the same old questions! She gave such thought and care to those questions in the same way their company gives care and consideration to each and every product. They list ‘love’ as an ingredient and there is no doubt that it is exactly what you’re putting into your hair! My favorite line has to be the Color Purple paraphrase “Don’t walk past the beauty in your life without noticing and appreciating it. It pisses God off.” That philosophy is something we ALL need to live by.

    • 3.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment, Laurie. There so many golden pebbles in this interview. Very happy I got the chance to chat with Jamyla. (And, agreed! Listing “love” as an ingreedy in the oyin products is what makes that company and the Bennus so special.)

  • 4
    Marlena says:

    I don’t know if it’s the secret sauce of happiness, I did a “friend detox” a little less than a year ago. Once I let those negative people leave, I had a lot more energy to dedicate towards myself and being healthy.

    I’m finding that setting down roots somewhere also helped me gain some balance. My 30th birthday present to myself was a small condo. Being able to have a place that was out -and-out mine has been such a relief. As a result, I’m a lot more calmer now than I was five years ago.

    • 4.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Oooh… a friend detox. Yes! That is definitely some secret sauce, Marlena! It’s hard to do — like any purge/cleanse — but you come out feeling lighter and brighter.

      And go ‘head with the top-notch birthday gift to yourself. :) Thanks for the comment.

  • 5
    Samantha says:

    The best way that I’ve found to achieve balance is to make time for myself. I am a wife, mom and full-time employee, but I think that I excel at all those roles when I do things that make me feel great on the inside.

    • 5.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      It’s so true, yet many of us (moms, wives, busy women on missions) find it hard to make time for ourselves. Worse, often we feel guilty about getting that time. We need to finally get on board with it. Whether we’re taking 20 minutes to do a crossword or bawl-out-laugh with a friend on the phone, it’s imperative that we make and take that time for ourselves. Thanks for stopping by, Samantha!

  • 6
    Luana says:

    Be authentic to who you are and honor that every single day. “To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

  • 7
    Kerry says:

    Something I used to do all the time is compare myself to others. Even now sometimes I find myself in that trap. And so for me comparing me now and me then (using myself as the benchmark) has been refreshing! Where am I now with respect to my goals? What do I need to do to get closer to where I want to be? This has brought me much peace and brought me to a place of gratitude in who I am and what I am striving to be! We have achieved much and we must periodically stop and acknowledge these milestones as we continue on our journeys!

    • 7.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Oh, man. The “comparing” thing. It’s such an awful trap. I like your idea of “well, if I’m gonna compare myself to someone, might as well be me from, like, 5 years ago.” Sounds like a better way to see your growth and all of the lessons you’ve learned along the way, yes? Thanks, Kerry!

  • 8
    Chia says:

    Great interview!! I just love Jamyla’s spirit. I can appreciate a women who has come into her own. My “secret sauce” to my happiness is learning to love and accept myself and everything that comes along with it, the good and the bad. This includes loving and appreciating my family and friends and knowing that no matter what I have happiness, not because I have possesions (a home, a car, money), but because I have people who love me and would miss me if I were gone. You have to appreciate the little things. I’ve learned in my short time on this earth that you have to love yourself before anyone else can and before you can love someone. This starts with acceptance, for me it was accepting my dark chocolate skin, my thick figure and my kinky hair. Accepting and appreciating the uniqueness I possess has opened so many doors for me. I can truly say I love myself, I AM wonderfully made. I know that when the time comes I will be a wonderful wife and mother, because I will be able to pass this mindset to my childern and love and be love unconditionally! I’m so looking forward to that day!!

    • 8.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Thanks for this lovely comment, Chia. You are, indeed, wonderfully made.

  • 9
    LaShayla says:

    I really, really, REALLY loved this interview! And I totally feel you on trying not to eat the oyin products every morning. I posted on oyin handmade’s facebook page (a few times!) that every time I smell the burnt sugar pomade, I want to straight lick it! :)

    A wonderful quote that I read recently, which is really helping me with balance in my life is: “Start each day like you meant to.”

    Sometimes, my day will go by in a blur because I’m so busy and I’m just trying to get everything done. I forget to take the time to slow down and appreciate where I am in that moment. The quote, to me, says be purposeful and deliberate in your actions. Don’t get so caught up in the whirlwind of the day that you forget to be grateful FOR the day.

    • 9.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Oh, I like that: be purposeful. It’s too easy to, as you said, get caught up in all of it. You look up one day to catch your breath and six months have slipped right through your fingers. And too many of us are on this ridiculous treadmill, on high-speed. One of my favorite singers (I like to say I discovered her… uh, but I so did NOT) is Ledisi, and she has this song called “Take Time” that talks all about doing just that — taking a moment to just breathe it in. The chorus goes:
      Take time, to get away
      Free your mind, and fly away

      And the eating of the products thing? Guess we just have to stay strong, LaShayla. :)

  • 10
    Alisha says:

    The secret sauce to my happiness, besides my total faith in God, can be summed up in a few words: Press on, and don’t sweat the little things.

    These help me keep my head when I want to quit or feel myself getting unnecessarily stressed. I’m a recent college grad preparing to enter grad school to pursue a doctorate in Clinical Psychology; and the road to success is one filled with a few bumps & potholes. However, I’m maintaining beautifully; and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so.

    • 10.1
      Ms. Mary Mack says:

      Press on, Alisha! And all best wishes to you on the road to your doctorate.

  • 11
    Amber says:

    My secret to happiness is my faith in Jesus Christ, diligently having “me time”, and saying no. My friends always kid me that “I come from a place of no”, but it is just that I am protective of my time. I am active in causes I believe in, but refuse to get pulled into things that do not interest me. Do the things you are passionate about, and cut the rest loose. Unfortunately, women are made to feel guilty all the time for saying no. But give it a shot. I go out and have fun, but I definitely keep my happiness and sanity by not overbooking my schedule.

    Oh, and bubble baths are one of the keys to my joy, too. :)

    • 11.1
      Amber says:

      I totally forgot to mention that I am in love with Oyin products! Super moisturizing, and great creators. My hair is always soft and shiny.

      • 11.1.1
        Ms. Mary Mack says:

        Oh, you are preaching to the choir, Amber. I was almost mad at myself for getting on the oyin train so late! Thanks for your comments.

  • 12
    Jojo says:

    This interview was amazing! Not only did I get to meet Jamyla last weekend at their Ice Cream Social, but I am a HUGE fan of OyinHandmade products and I have to say her great personality shows even in writing!

    I found this interview to be inspiring on so many levels, from relationship to entrepreneurship; I took a lot from it. I am definitely a “busy body” and I do keep a paper “To-Do List”, but as Jamyla said we often take on the impromtu tasks over the planned tasks and then feel unaccomplished at the end of the day; that’s me. But I took notes, and I will be adding the impromtu tasks to my list and checking them off, and hopefully I can sleep a little better at night :)

    As far as happiness goes, I would say find an outlet. For me its writing or making a video to myself or crocheting. Any of these allow me to reflect on what’s troubling me, in some cases just saying it out loud to Photo Booth on my Mac helps tremendously, and then calmly coming to an actionable solution. Having an outlet is definitely something I would recommend to find sanity in this rapid world we live in.

    Thanks for the great post!

  • 13
    RIKESHA says:

    Love this article and Jamyla’s spirit! This summer, a dear friend of mine passed away from a brief illness. Dealing with death is always hard, but it was extremely difficult in this situation because things happened so suddenly; without warning. Throughout the ordeal, I kept thinking of how short life is and how he had so much life left to live. I, of course, have my sad days, but I also found a sense of peace and happiness knowing that he lived a fulfilled life and that, if he was here, he would want nothing less for his family and friends. I have decided to do things I was once scared to do ( like go on cruise), and to even think outside the box more. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I want to live life to the fullest and trust that things will work out exactly as they are supposed to. True happiness is having no regrets in life.

  • 14
    Michelle G says:

    I love this article so much. I like her thoughts on life and how work will still be there even after you take time for yourself. I have heard nothing but good things about her products and look forward to investing in some of them as soon as possible.

    I try and make sure I enjoy life and live it the way God intended us to do. I try not to rush through things unless absolutely necessary. I draw a lot of inspiration for the thing that Jamyla wrote of. Life is too short not to enjoy it while you can, I do know how blessed I am with the family and friends that are in my life.