Rhonda Eva Harris popularly known as Iyanla Vanzant is an American inspirational speaker, lawyer, author, life coach and television personality. She is known primarily for her books, her eponymous talk show, and her appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show. She currently hosts Iyanla: Fix My Life, on OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network.
Having had 3 kids before the age of 21, survived an abusive marriage and attempted suicide twice, Iyanla’s story is one of resilience, courage and grit. Dubbed “Iyanla”, which means “great mother”, after being initiated and ordained as a priestess in the Yoruba tradition, she shares exclusively with XONICOLE on finding purpose and the distinction between being by yourself and being with yourself. Even though two years old, the interview holds so many life lessons that can help every woman in her unique season. See some excerpts we culled from the interview below.
A lot of women feel pressured to have accomplished certain societal milestones like having a husband and kids by age 30, and if they’ve chosen to focus on their careers and don’t have these things by 35 or even 40, they’re made to feel that something is missing. Can you speak to living at your pace? And when you were in your 20s, did you feel any societal pressures?
It’s so funny that women today feel they should have certain things at a certain age because I had everything very soon and I felt like I had missed out on so much of my life.
As women we grow through stages, and there’s a transition from each stage of growth and development to the next. It doesn’t matter what we’re accomplishing in the world, what is it that each of us needs to heal through, grow through and be present through within ourselves? That’s what’s going to determine how we unfold and the pace of what we’re doing is based on the choices that we make as women.
How do women learn to be okay with being by ourselves and not needing the validation of a man?
Being by yourself is very different than being with yourself. “By Yourself” is when you feel the lack, the separation, and the deprivation of something or someone else. Being “with yourself” is when you’re taking the time to get acquainted or reacquainted with who you are and the life that’s flowing within you.
How your life unfolds is determined by the choices you make. I had three kids by the time I was 21, two at 19. I didn’t want that, but I didn’t make choices that would have kept me from being in that situation. I didn’t get married because I wanted to, I got married because I grew up in a time where its bad enough to have one baby out of wedlock, how dare you have two? So let me marry the first ‘Boo Boo the Clown’ that comes through and wants me. Then I had to spend thousands of dollars to get out of that. It’s all about choices and decisions and not allowing outside pressures to push you in a direction or make decisions that don’t honour who you are. Not everyone wants to have a baby [mama] at 22 or even 28. I certainly didn’t want to have one at 16, but I didn’t make the right choices.
Culturally, one of the things that helped me when I was unfolding as a woman were my sister circles. There were four of us and we got together and talked. Two of us had kids, one of us was in college, and the other was as lost as a shoe, but we all supported each other through that. I would tell young women gather within your age group and have three or four sister friends. Come together not to pressure each other, but to share how you’re doing and how you’re feeling.
“Own your stuff” is one of your famous phrases. How do you “own” up to something that you know isn’t good for you?
“Ownership” means that you stand in your truth of what you do, what you think, what you feel and how you do it. If a woman is battling with insecurity and doesn’t think she’s beautiful, she has to own her beauty. I’ve been through that. My big brother used to tell me I was ugly and I believed it until I was about 25. Then I said you know what, I think I’m just drop dead gorgeous and that’s who I’m going to be by my own standards. I’m dark skin, I have Negroid lips, short hair, big boobs, a big butt, and I’m drop dead gorgeous, and I don’t care if you don’t like me! That’s owning your beauty, not your ugly.
But own the stuff that you do to prove to other people that you’re beautiful, that may be detrimental to you. Are you wearing revealing clothes? Do you have on three pairs of spanx instead of one? (Laughs!) Do you talk loudly in a room to draw attention to yourself? Own what you do to prove to other people that you’re beautiful when you don’t believe it; that’s what owning your stuff means.
You can read the rest of the interview here