There is no magic formula to becoming a smart and confident woman because there are so many ways to exemplify these qualities. When admirers compliment me for being smart and confident, I think they are usually referring to my creativity and my ability to be a self-starter. I am a multimedia artist working in literary, visual, and performance fields and have authored books, directed films, and videos, held painting exhibitions, and more.
My work has appeared everywhere, from The Huffington Post to the New York Transit Museum. Other women are smart and confident in other ways, unique to their own experiences and powers.
But maybe what works for me could work for you. Here are my five tips for being a smart, confident woman—broad enough for you to apply to your own life!
1. Pump yourself up with a daily morning ritual
Waking up in this dumpster fire era of American history can be a struggle. Brighten your morning with a ritual that energizes you and fills you with gratitude. Well, at least that’s the aim. I personally take my morning coffee and reading pretty seriously. Most mornings, I journal or commit something—anything—to paper, too. For me, it’s soothing to hold a nice pen in my hand and watch the ink flow. The very gesture of writing is therapeutic. If I can bang out a journal entry, all the better. Maybe I will even write something more ambitious like I did my novelette Naomi & The Reckoning. I’m not the only author who swears by mornings.
Did you know that Toni Morrison’s early career habits included writing before dawn? If I’m just not in the mood for journal or novel writing, penning a to-do list helps me set intentions for my day. Plus, it reminds me to look forward to something. Even banal days have something good about them. Last but not least, I try to incorporate movement into my morning ritual. Stretch high, shake your buns, and get the blood flowing. Check out my friends Tiana and Brandon at Fire + Voice for help sustaining a personalized movement routine.
2. Listen and speak up
Deep listening is a skill that benefits you as much as it benefits others. But I know how easy it is to get distracted by your own thoughts or things occurring around you. I’ve found that deep listening sets me in the present and really allows me to engage with the speaker. It gives me an opportunity to learn new information, entertain myself, and consider what I might give the speaker in return. Which gets me to the second point: Ladies, we’ve got to speak up, and we’ve got to insist on being heard.
Pull a Kamala Harris when someone interrupts you. One of the reasons why I started Quail Bell Magazine was to create a platform for marginalized creative voices. We should listen, but we should also believe in the importance of our own words! One of my college professors regularly broke the silence in the classroom by saying, “Fear is the enemy.” Don’t be afraid to open your mouth. Pitch a new idea or ask a “dumb” question. There’s a good chance someone else is secretly wondering the same thing as you.
3. Invest in yourself—and don’t feel guilty about it
You are worth it, just inherently. Your worth isn’t predicated on any special breeding, connections, or achievement. Think about your goals and plan realistically. It’s a question often asked in Screenwriting instruction: What does this character want, and how are they going to get it? You are the protagonist of your story, so ask yourself: What do you want, and how are you going to get it? Every time I embark on a new artist residency, I remind myself that I am doing it for myself and for my dream of sustaining my creative practice. Artist residencies require you to give up your regular routine. Sometimes you must relocate for a residency, and the new location may not be the most fun or exciting. You may have to spend time away from your loved ones and basically self-isolate for the duration of the residency. Despite these downsides, I have always found residencies to be worthwhile. They’re an investment in my present and my future.
4. Commit yourself to lifelong education
Completing high school and some kind of post-secondary education is darn near the requirement for succeeding in our society. But education shouldn’t end with receiving a degree. I went to college and also earned my MFA. I will always value my formal education and never regret these choices. (And, yes, I realize that graduating both times debt-free makes it easier to have no regrets.) With that in mind, I still try to learn something new every day and continually challenge my thinking. This happens in a number of ways: through reading, having discussions with people who don’t necessarily think like I do, watching YouTube tutorials, practicing new skills, and more. As I see it, holding myself accountable for my education makes me a better person and a better artist.
5. Remember your community and the greater good (without losing yourself)
Most women have been socialized to give, give, give, even to our own detriment. We witness this sacrifice play out everywhere—in personal relationships, school, and the workplace. We must think about others, but that doesn’t mean making ourselves fools for others. We must maintain our identities and hold onto our dreams, too. Serving as an AmeriCorps volunteer was one of the highlights of my college experience, and I make community engagement and collaboration central parts of my creative practice.
Yet, I have not abandoned my individual vision and determination as an artist. Currently, I am working on a commission of 10 murals in a private residence. The residence was a convent that has since been converted into a beautiful group home for individuals with disabilities.
The residents will not move in until my murals are finished, so I am spending my days alone, painting in solitude. It’s the largest solitary project I’ve had since my MFA thesis, and I so welcomed it into my pandemic life. Expressing myself is another way of honoring my power.