Self-care is like a living thing—it changes. One day it might be a YouTube yoga class; the next day it might be attending a protest. In the midst of a movement as important as this one, “you should try to find self-care wherever you can find it,” says Meena Harris, founder and CEO of Phenomenal and author of Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea. “But I’ve never been super good at that.”
Harris, like the other women in her family, is a doer. “What is stressing me out the most right now is not having enough hours in the day,” she says. “Self-care” in the way we traditionally think about it—a bath, a home-cooked meal, a run—isn’t always at the top of her priorities list. “We have shit to get done,” she says. “I just feel like I can't not be doing stuff in this moment. My work is myself. That's what makes me feel like I have purpose. It makes me happy and inspired and hopeful—as hard as it may be sometimes. But that's the challenge of this work.”
Self-care, she points out, is inherently privileged in some ways—the time, the means, and the underlying sense of safety required to take time out of your day to read a good book or do a face mask isn’t available to everyone. “I think about people like my mom, you know, seeing the teenage single mom, like she's not trying to fucking meditate or do yoga. You don't have time for that stuff,” Harris says. “It's a privilege to be able to take care of yourself and not have to be constantly on the treadmill.”
Preventing burnout is real, though—especially when your personal and professional life is consumed with activism. The daughter of public policy advocate Maya Harris and niece of Senator Kamala Harris, she became a lawyer before founding the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, whose Instagram-ready apparel helps fund social justice organizations including the Essie Justice Group, Black Futures Lab, Higher Heights for America, Justice for Migrant Women, and the TGI Justice Project. “As Audre Lorde said, self-care is warfare, right? You have to take care of yourself to stay at it and to sustain it,” Harris says. “So I’ve learned that creating that space, whether it's putting my phone down to use my Peloton or actually going on a vacation [is important]. But you know, right now I'm just really trying to get to Friday.”
We asked Harris about what helps her step away and what’s keeping her motivated to keep fighting for change.
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Glamour: We tend to think of self-care as yoga or meditation or some kind of “break.” But I think it can also be about what makes you feel like you can go to bed at night and actually rest based on how you spent your day. How do you think about that?
Meena Harris: I will rest when I'm able to. I’m going to wake up and be 50 and be like, Oh my God, you still haven't taken that really good vacation. But the nature of this work is that it is nonstop. It’s easy to be like, All right, I got to get to Friday. And then it's like we're turning to the next thing, so: Okay, I got to get to the end of August. And then you're like, Okay, now I just have to get to the end of the election. And then before you know it, it's been 10 years. So I try to remind myself to not let that happen because I've seen it happen. We've been going, going, going.
I guess maybe my method is to take self-care where you can—even if it is something sort of small and it's not a whole routine. It’s this idea of resetting, shutting down, stepping away. I think that it's about keeping the perspective that you're doing this for the long game. So therefore when you feel like you're about to go off the cliff and are totally burned out, take a day, or a nap, or step away from your computer. There are so many times when supportive friends are like, “Just get the fuck off Twitter right now.” Taking a beat is pretty restorative.
So what does self-care look like for you right now?
I mean, I've been kind of bad at self-care. I struggle with tying my self-care to being more effective and more productive. Especially as an entrepreneur, it's hard not to. I’ve been pushing myself to do Peloton and the reason I've been trying to push myself to do it is not because I'm trying to get in better physical shape; it's more so because I see that it helps my mindset and it helps me to come up with creative ideas. It helps me to be better at what I do. And I think that's the key, right? Even getting a quick 30-minute ride multiple times a week is actually really good for me. Just in terms of mental health.
I've always been big on having a skin-care routine. This is so insignificant, but I took the opportunity to get on a Retin-A regimen, which I hadn't done before, because of all the peeling and having your face look bright red from all of the cream. So that's been something that has made me feel like I accomplished something.
Cooking has been a huge, huge de-stressor for me. When you’re cooking, your mind is focused on reading through a recipe and figuring out what the next steps are and then doing something with your hands so that you're not on your phone, you're not on your laptop.
Also listening to music. It's extremely restorative and uplifting for me to blast my music, sing, and dance around my house. Music used to be a huge part of my life before I had kids—it was the first thing I turned on in the morning. But now with kids I have to limit that a bit—lyrics, not blasting out their eardrums, nap time. Before it was second nature, but now I really have to remind myself how good it makes me feel and to make sure I take advantage in moments when the kids are out of the house.
How are you dealing with all the uncertainty in the world both on a personal level and as an entrepreneur?
There were two things that came up in conversation recently that really struck me. One was the perfect analogy to being at the airport and your flight gets delayed for an hour and then it's two hours, three hours. And then you get kicked off the plane—it just fucks with you. The second thing was somebody on Twitter who was talking about this idea that we're living in an infinite present. There's no future plans, no anticipation of travel or events or celebrations—nothing is guaranteed. And it's endless. You're like, "Holy shit. Where am I? Who am I?"
When it comes to activism, as well as being an entrepreneur, it's mentally exhausting, it's emotionally exhausting, and you can't survive if you're not taking the time to work on yourself and to get rest when you need it. You have to build yourself up so that you can do the work. And if you're exhausted, if you're burnt out, you simply can't and you're not able to do it well.
I have less uncertainties now because my focus has shifted to very concrete things around the protest and supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. I think if this moment passes—which I hope it doesn't, I hope that people stay loud, I hope that people stay in the streets—if there's a lull for whatever reason, then I might start to feel the stress of uncertainty again.
What’s your response to people who are wishing things would just go back to “normal” so they won’t be so stressed?
I think for me that will never be my perspective. It's a privilege to be able to say, “Oh, I wish life would go back to normal.” The fact is a lot of what we thought was normal should not have been normal—people not having health insurance or a social safety net, police killing people. We cannot go back to that. I understand that people are exhausted, but that is a very privileged thing to say.
We need to seize this moment when people are paying attention, when people are engaged, when you have a call to action. There are folks who have been doing prison abolition, anti-police-brutality advocacy, and criminal justice reform for decades. And I think many of them could have never imagined that we would be having a national conversation about defunding the police. This is the moment. This is the window. Put your foot on the gas and just go, go, go, go, go.
One of the many causes Phenomenal partners with is Black Futures Lab. Why is that an important cause people should know about?
Black-female-led organizations are woefully underfunded. One of my goals is to draw attention to organizations that are doing incredible work but don't benefit from some of the same funding as others. The founder of Black Futures Lab is one of the three women who cofounded Black Lives Matter. She's one of those people who have been doing this work for decades. It’s really important to me to support the work of Black activists who have been in this fight and are really the real experts and leaders. Black Futures Lab is committed to building Black political power and creating power in Black communities.
Another one who's also been a longtime partner of ours is Essie Justice Group, which was also founded by a Black woman. Their work focuses specifically on prisons and the impact on women with loved ones incarcerated. We need to keep funding these activists. We need to keep supporting their work. We need to keep raising awareness, which ultimately is about building power in marginalized communities.
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$35.00, Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign
$55.00, Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign
Activism takes a lot of mental and emotional stamina to keep going. Why is it important to prioritize whatever you consider self-care?
I know what burnout feels like. I realize how important it is to really listen to myself and to check in with myself to see if I am getting to that point and, if I am, to pull back. Sometimes you have to pass on things and just be okay with that, and not feel like you didn't meet whatever standard of performance or success.
That's definitely been part of my journey to realize that it's a marathon, right? And you have got to be able to stick with it.
Originally Appeared on Glamour