No life is perfect. And into every life, some rain will fall. But what do you do when you encounter more than your fair share? What do you do when you feel you’re drowning in sorrow and awash with pain? I recently caught up with Tommi A. Vincent, a chef, public speaker, podcaster and leader in the movement to end domestic violence. Whether in her writing, podcast or wellness events, Vincent offers strategies for women, families and communities for navigating life’s ups and downs. In our discussion, we covered everything from the importance of transparency to the ways in which to use food to heal. Read on to learn more about this dynamic and visionary leader.
- You are very transparent about your experience, often speaking passionately about life’s ups and downs. With the pressure of social media, many people create and project the perfect life and image. Why has it been important to you to be honest about your struggles as well as your triumphs? I believe that God can use every experience, and the very thing that people think can disqualify you qualifies you to go into rooms that others cannot enter. While no one else had a vision for me, my parents never made me feel that I couldn’t dream or couldn’t achieve great things. They helped me move forward, and I work to help others see past their current circumstance and imagine a brighter future for themselves and their families.
- Is there a spiritual component to being open with others about previous struggles? It is incredibly helpful to hear the experiences of others because that is one of the ways we learn what is possible and one of the ways we can process our own experiences. Additionally, we overcome by the words of our testimony and the testimony of others. So many people feel tethered to choices they made when they were younger because they believe their choices disqualify them – but they can be qualifiers. I don’t shy away from my life and what I have experienced. For instance, I am very open about having my daughter Desiré at 12 years old. Few people would look at a pregnant 12-year-old and see possibilities for the future. No one had a vision for me, yet here I am. I am transparent about my experience because I know what it’s like to be discounted or, worse, not even considered. I also know what it’s like to look at the people around you and feel that everyone else has it figured out except me. That is a lie, of course, but if we aren’t vulnerable, many people will not see possibilities for themselves. I use my experience to encourage others to keep going. If you just keep going, you will be exactly where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there.
- You have been an advocate for domestic violence awareness and prevention. Can you share why this topic is so important to you? I was a victim of domestic violence throughout high school. I know the fear that is associated with that experience. I also know the shame. Additionally, I know that even the people we least expect can be victims or survivors of domestic violence. When survivors share their experiences, they help destigmatize them and help themselves and others move forward. Additionally, my experience with domestic violence helped me reach a turning point where I consciously decided that I wanted more. In one instance, the guy I was dating picked me up and threatened to throw me over the bridge. I was pregnant at the time. And while I was dangling over that bridge, I decided that I didn’t want to experience that level of fear ever again. I negotiated my way down from that situation and immediately set in motion a plan to be permanently free.
- You have experienced a great deal of pain. What are some of the tools you utilized to help yourself process and heal from traumatic situations? As I was growing up, the kitchen table was always a place of togetherness. It was always a place of joy and laughter. I became a professional chef because I liked how I felt when I cooked, and I liked the satisfaction that comes from preparing and serving a good meal and the ways food could inspire others. I healed from traumatic situations by re-creating the warmth of my Nana Edie’s kitchen and pouring my heart and soul into cooking and serving others. Cooking is also a life skill, so it is something that I offer as a practical tool as well.
- You talk a lot about resilience. Can you elaborate on the importance of having a resilient mind? I coach women on the importance of having a resilient mind because we can navigate any situation if we have resilience, belief in the self and belief in God. Let me explain another way. In our culture, there is a lot of talk about having a “soft life.” I get wanting ease, and I don’t want us to forget that it is truly a gift to have a fixed posture in one’s mind that “I can do this” or “I can get through this.” We should not minimize life to bubble baths, shopping sprees and salon pampering. Doing so is a disservice to the gifts of grit, ingenuity and personal resolve. It is true that everything in life is about balance; we must know when to go hard and when to dial it back. But we need both abilities. An undisciplined gift will always harm us; but the key is to utilize the right gifts at the right time and set them aside when appropriate.
- You talk a lot about offering compassion and grace. Why is this important? Often, we can get fixated on the result and become rigid in the approach to getting to the end goal. For instance, for me to have a good quality of life, it is important that I be active. It is important that I move my body, incorporate strength training and take other steps that support my overall mobility. My goal is much broader than doing Peloton four days per week; I simply want to be active. If I allow myself to obsess on the number of times I do Peloton but discount the other ways in which I am moving my body, I may discount progress or fail to give myself the self-compassion I deserve. Movement is movement. Whether it is 5 minutes or one hour, the objective is to do something, and if I am incorporating movement, I am achieving my goal. The same theory can apply to all goal-setting endeavors. I do not want people to put themselves in a box. We can adopt goals and be flexible in how we achieve them. This is critical, because a lot of times we compare ourselves with other people, and we do not give ourselves sufficient grace. My work is about helping people – and women specifically – find success where they are at any given moment. The question becomes: What does success look like for you?
As you can see, Vincent uses her personal experience for the uplift of others. Through her experience, she offers a practical guide for healing and resilience. I hope you’ll take a moment to get to know her.
Jennifer R. Farmer is the author of “First and Only: A Black Woman’s Guide to Thriving at Work and in Life.”
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