Digital Sisterhood Network (DSN) recently had a chance to conduct a “Live Your Best” interview with Sylvia Wong Lewis (SWL), CEO and Founder of Narrative Network, a boutique PR business in New York City. Lewis serves as a Commissioner for the New York State Department of State and the New York Ethnic Community Examiner for Examiner.com. Her Narrative Network blog discuss art, culture, food, genealogy, gardening, lifestyle, music, and New York City neighborhoods. Her beautiful photography illustrates many of her blogs and posts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Twitter. This year, the proud Smith College alumna received a Telly Bronze Award for creative excellence for her documentary production of “From Shanghai to Harlem,” an American migration and immigration story that portrays her mixed Chinese and Black family by exploring slavery, freedom, music, love, identity, and diversity. She also received the AVA Digital Award’s Gold Award for creativity and video editing in documentary production.
DSN’s interview features a discussion about Lewis’ participation in AARP’s Decide. Create. Share. Initiative’s 40 Day Pledge campaign. The Initiative is designed to help women do three things: 1) Decide what kind of future they want for themselves. 2) Create a long-term plan that will help them address their health, financial, legal, and home issues and achieve their goals. 3) Share their long-term plan with the important people in their lives. The 40 Day Pledge offers women an opportunity to make a commitment to complete a Living Longer, Living Smarter plan for their future. It covers four critical areas of women’s lives— home and community, health, finances, and wishes. For more information, follow AARP Decide.Create.Share. on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.
DSN: What does living your best life mean to you?
SWL: Safeguarding my mind-body-soul connections. Also, it means focusing on five elements: 1) emotional health; 2) social health and friendships; 3) physical health – exercise; 4) career – doing/discovering fulfilling creative work; and 5) financial – managing investments and generating income. These elements are connected to “My Soul-Caribbean Rules” (Ways to Live Your Best Life).
- Be self-sufficient: Be healthy, exercise, and get fresh air and sunshine. Know how to cook rice and beans. Know how to fish, catch, and prepare a chicken. Be able to entertain yourself — play a musical instrument, sing, write poetry, tell stories, dance, or act. Keep a survival kit including a jug of water, cash, flashlight, matches etc. Be prepared for a blackout, flood, or earthquake. Don’t run out of food—it’s bad luck. Be spiritual and inspired—which means in-spirit.
- Hone People Skills: Don’t look at or answer your cell phone during meetings or with friends. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. Be neat. Develop conversation skills, small talk, eye contact, and body language. Don’t gossip or tattle. Don’t say anything if it’s not nice. Save personal questions for later. Always be early—never late for appointments.
- Keep Your Wits About Yourself (environment/location, sense of direction): Get the lay of the land, so you don’t get lost! Be happy and have fun. Laugh out loud. Cry. Be passionate.
- Finances: Don’t go on welfare or be a welfare witch! Be thrifty. Do without until you can afford it. Never borrow or loan money to your relatives. If you can spare money, give it freely. Don’t hire your friends or relatives or rent to them either. Be kind. Be generous. Practice hospitality. If you can put up someone or provide a warm meal, do it. Always have three jobs or multiple sources of income — journalist, consultant, chef, gardener, tour guide and executive assistant—are among my jobs. Always keep a money stash that no one knows about! Surround yourself with people who are smarter, more successful than you; and be with people who share the same or similar values.
DSN: How did you give yourself permission to live your best life?
SWL: When something bad happens, then we realize that we need to re-focus. I believe that happened to me at key points in my life (career changes, death of parents and a sibling, child’s illness, divorce, homelessness, domestic violence, job changes, working too many jobs, getting a raise/promotions, moving to five different cities, fame. and fortune, etc.).
At 60 plus years old, I have re-calibrated my life many times–my relationships, my health regimen, and lifestyle, how I spend my free time, and finances. But change was not easy. I was not always ready to listen or act on my inner voice’s urgings or intuition. I experienced everything–much joy and happiness and heartaches and disappointments too in my life. I resisted my inner voice in regard to safeguarding my mind, body, and soul connection for years. Then one day, I stopped! Maybe that’s the Pisces in me—capable of extremes!!!
Once I uncluttered my life, I was able to tap into my own true wisdom, talents, values, and culture. I began to reclaim my voice and find my way to living my best life—the life that everyone is destined and entitled to live. Self,care was my first priority. Several years ago, I knew that I had been neglecting myself especially emotionally, spiritually, physically, and financially. I was on speed-dial, automatic pilot and a treadmill.
Clarity came to me aboard an airplane. The flight attendant demonstrated how to put the oxygen on myself first, and then to attend to others. Then Suze Orman and Oprah segments re-played in my head: “No, don’t take your hard-earned money to buy that family member another car…Don’t allow that person to talk to you like that or mistreat you like that anymore.”
Reality checks: I realized that some of my so-called loved ones and beloved colleagues did not have my best interest at heart—only their own self-interest! I had to own up to being an enabler in some cases, causing my own problems in other cases and even sabotaging myself.
So remember, if anyone calls you selfish or tries to make you feel bad about your self-care practices, pulling yourself out of debt, getting your health checked, eating health food, dancing, singing, or chanting – DELETE them, immediately!
I went back and forth inside my head for years before making changes that I knew I should make. Actually, when I decided to change my life, my timing and circumstance were totally wrong. But, I was finally ready. Among the best things I did for myself was seek counseling about changing my life. My college roommate, Karen, who is a therapist, advised me to do just that. At first, I was resistant: “Black people don’t do therapy,” I thought to myself. But, I trusted my friend’s judgment. I lucked up and found a feminist therapist who combined grief and empowerment therapy.
I had a lot to do: manage my deceased parent’s affairs, finalize a divorce, arrange custody and visitation for my special needs child, find a new job, and a place to live. I was starting a new life all over again. It was an exciting and scary time. I made these changes and many more when I was about 40 years old. So, if you are near 40—watch out!
Almost immediately, my life became better and happier in every way possible. My new uncluttered life attracted positive people, activities, and opportunities. I started a new business, a new job, and purchased a new home. I was beginning to live my best life. I found my new husband when and where I least expected. By then, I was on my road to recovery—recovering my life back!
Today, I find happiness in very simple ways like sharing a cup of tea with a new friend, sitting in the sunshine, the aroma of freshly cut grass, hearing laughter, eating a peach, looking at art, or walking in the rain. Checking my small garden and cooking a family recipe has its own moments of joy.
So, my advice about living one’s best life has to do with safeguarding your mind, body, and soul; honoring your cultural traditions; and listening to your inner voice. If you take care of those areas, you will notice a new level of satisfaction. Your affairs will simply fall into place with ease.
DSN: What inspired you to do the AARP 40-day pledge?
SWL: I was interested in AARP’s Decide. Create. Share initiative because I wanted to see if I had all of my bases covered. Together with my husband, we completed all of the checklists. We still must work on the ”Last Wishes” item. But, we were pleased to learn that we have taken all the steps plus some, to plan our future.
Disclaimer: This blog post was written in support of Digital Sisterhood Network’s Leadership, Lifestyle and Living Well initiative and participation in AARP’s Decide. Create. Share. Initiative.