Shawna Renee is a woman who wears a number of hats in her personal and professional lives: radio personality, blogger, activist, mom, and cancer survivor to name a few. She sat down with New Beginnings recently to share her inspirational story and advice for everyone who questions who they are and what they are doing with their lives. Read on to learn how this powerful woman is making a mark and the questions you should be asking to uncover your own life path...
Tell us a bit about yourself. What is missing from the list of roles I used to describe you?
It is important that I identify myself as a teacher, friend, and sister because a good portion of what I do and a lot of what I share starts within my small group - my village - my tribe. All that I am is because I have been able to find a safe place that allows me to grow, and experiment, and fail, and succeed.
You are in the process of adding a new title to your list. What can you tell us about what is on the horizon?
For the last 20 years I have been working as a broadcaster, which is something I have always wanted to do. Actually, my undying dream was (and is) to be a Broadway actress or backup dancer for Madonna, but when I was around 17 or 18 years old my mother told me that she would support me in anything I wanted to do, but told me the name "starving artist" exists for a reason. So I began to think about a career in radio.
I started in music radio, then talk radio, then international broadcasting. It is very much a part of who I am, and I love it, but I took a break from radio six years ago to focus on healing myself. At the time I was out of work, I had just had a baby, and I was going through a divorce - I was completely overwhelmed.
During this break I decided to take my yoga practice more seriously and become a teacher. From there I started to study holistic health and became certified holistic health counselor. I wasn't sure why I was so interested in learning these things, but I held onto them. In late 2014, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. It was an "aha" moment.
As I learned, I felt it was my responsibility to share. And as I shared, I started hearing from people who wanted to know more. I received emails and phone calls and messages on social media. I would tell them I was not a doctor and couldn't advise them on treatment but would say the first thing they needed to do was get their head on straight and get their mind right.
I realized people really needed this, so I began working to develop workshops and webinars and marketing them under the "Urban Bushwoman" tag, because that is what I consider myself. I enjoy what it means to be a 21st century woman in urban America, but I realize when the situation calls for it, we need to reach back to the past for those traditional healing modalities that our ancestors used. This work is in the very beginning stages but it feels good. As I get older and my priorities change, this is a wonderful space for me to move into. I believe I am finally being of service in a real and profound way.
Was there one key moment when you knew this was the path you needed to follow?
I received a message on Instagram from a complete stranger. I still have no idea how she found me. She messaged me and said she had been diagnosed with stomach cancer the day before and felt like she was losing her mind. She said she knew I had breast cancer and thought I seemed sane, and she asked for my help. I took a chance and gave her my telephone number, and she called me. I realized in that moment that while I didn't have any medical advice to offer, I was able to help.
She called again 2-3 weeks later when was ready to begin her medical treatment to say thank you. She said she didn't know how she would have survived these past two weeks without my guidance. It was simple things - try some meditation, eat a salad every day - but they were manageable things she could do that helped her feel she had some control in the situation. This was when I realized that people were paying attention and I had a responsibility beyond being cute on Instagram and sharing the latest Justin Bieber news.
Who or what inspires you?
My father had prostate cancer. He was also in broadcasting, and he went public with his diagnosis and treatment. I saw how helpful that was, and it gave me the inspiration to share my story.
Right now I can't point to one person. It really depends on what I am going through that day. I have talked with my son from an early age about internal power, and I can see it in him - he believes good things will happen, and they do. Whenever I am feeling like I can't get a handle on life I remember what it is to be young and believe in the goodness and abundance of the world and that you deserve a piece of it.
I also have hard working friends who know what they are here to do and hustle and grind and are focused and disciplined. On days I think I am too tired to get out of bed, they inspire me.
Because of my work I spend a fair amount of time on social media. I see folks whose pages overflow with positivity. I love it when I see people who are going through terrible things but are still able to put a positive spin on it.
What is the best piece of advice you have received?
I don't remember who said it, but I recall sitting around my dining room table with women I met with weekly as part of my Feminine Art of Balance group. One of them said, "You have to speak the truth and it shall be." This was very powerful for me as a woman who talks for a living.
She went on to explain that if you tell the truth your life will be as it should - good or bad. In the good, you will realize that being honest is the way to go. In the bad, you will realize there are things within you that need to shift so you can get to a place where you experience love.
This has motivated me to always try to speak truth - as I see it or as I want to see it manifest. I speak truth into my son, into my relationships, into my students, my co-workers. When I was diagnosed, I told myself, "I'm fine. I'll be healed. This doctor is wonderful. This surgery will be fine." And it was true.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self?
Be patient. You don't have to have it right now. In fact you probably don't even need it. I don't live with regrets, but in my past I forced things that I wish would allowed to come about in their own time.
What encouragement can you offer someone who wants to make a change but is apprehensive?
You have to be clear. This goes back to being patient. Sometimes you need to convince yourself to wait, meditate, pray - whatever you do to get clarity. You need to be clear not only about what you want but also why having it is important to you. When you get very clear about why it is important, one of two things will happen: the thing you want will come about because you are ready or you will realize the thing you want is not the best thing to fulfill your need.
What book(s) have provided guidance or inspiration for your New Beginning?
The book that inspired Feminine Art of Balance is called Sisters of the Yam. It is about healing among African American women. The author is Bell Hooks, who is a well-respected black feminist writer. I admire a number of writers, but I think it is important to hear from someone who understands the experience of what it means to be a woman of color. Sisters of the Yam is a powerful book that gave me permission to declare that self care and self love were not only okay but they are my right. It was a form of revolution to declare as a black woman that I was going to put myself first.
I also love Women Who Run with the Wolves, which is a collection of ancient stories about powerful women and the different archetypes of women. As a woman to be able to see yourself as a healer/lover/visionary/temptress is empowering because you never feel lost.
What parting words do you have for our readers?
The one thing I want to leave your readers with is the reminder that we each are here for a reason. It sounds cliche, but it's true. I believe we are all here to serve. Some of us are here to serve on a large scale - the Oprahs of the world, and some of us are called to serve like the really nice lady at the checkout counter at the grocery store who always makes your day by asking about your child. Instead of insisting you can only serve on a large scale, open yourself up to being of service on a smaller scale and see how beautiful life can be. When you find that sweet spot for you, the questions of Who am I? Why am I here? and What am I supposed to do? will be answered.