Where Balance Becomes Wholeness
The name of Kelley Black’s company, Balancing the Executive Life, is apropos to her whole being. She is an elegant tightrope walker who balances her mixed-race identity, her heart and her intellect, and her masculine and feminine aspects (which we all have, she notes). She negotiates the fine lines of daily existence: Where her New England stiff upper lip crosses over into emotional shutdown. Where healthy expression devolves into a fixation on one’s experiences.
As a change management consultant, Black’s unique brand of coaching involves Naam yoga and honest self-questioning. “Why are you here?” she asks clients who take her classes. “What do you want to contribute?” After this simple exercise in authenticity, she then deftly turns a room full of Type A personalities into a relaxed and willing band of consciousness-seekers.
“Take a deep breath and check in with yourself,” she tells them.
Black learned balance at a young age and turned it into an art. Growing up as a biracial child in the homogeneous college town of Northampton, Massachusetts, she felt nurtured by the feel of the earth and the heady academic culture. Her parents read to her constantly. She attended a Montessori school, a “fun and empowering” place where, at the age of four, she says she “felt like a queen amidst a bunch of other happy kids.”
Black’s parents made sure she had joys of a stable childhood, but they also steeled her against the racial tension that crept in around the edges of their lives. They pushed her to dream and to be stoic at the same time — to be a Viking, not a victim. “I think they conditioned me to be a fighter at a young age, in the sense of not being afraid to go for what I wanted, whatever that was.”
And while that resilience eventually carried her far — she became an advertising executive at the top of her field — she says it also had a fragmenting effect. She developed a habit of putting pieces of herself away in tidy little corners. She tried not to emote.
A health crisis and a divorce changed that. “I realized I can’t be a compartmentalized person anymore,” she recalls. “I became much more comfortable in who I was. This is me. If you ask me what I think, I won’t sugarcoat it.”
Compartmentalizing blocks our intuition, Black says, if we so neatly organize our beings that we cannot reach our internal selves. In contrast, intuitive people know how to flow. “As you move through the space of your day, you’re connected to yourself enough that you follow your gut or your sixth sense when it comes to you. In a meeting, you pick up on the energy in the room. You pivot, you adjust. You don’t just look at everything linearly.”
For Black, balance is not about juggling two diametrically opposed forces, but joining them. She talks of being in a state of Light, “moving through the world from the heart with the intellect serving the heart — the two of them linked.” Her wisdom is self-liberating: Rather than driving a point home, elevate the conversation. Rise above the level of the problem. Tell the truth and don’t spin it. Feel whatever you’re feeling, but don’t get stuck in it.
She encourages both men and women to be more feminine, more receptive and collaborative. “No soul comes to the earth without a woman,” she says, emphasizing that women especially should not suppress their femininity. “Being a woman is not about wearing a pink dress. It’s about the creative force that’s within you. If you shut that down inside of yourself, you become so disembodied.”
Black’s higher purpose, the one that takes her beyond the everyday tasks of her job, is to bring wholeness to others.
As she was writing her memoir, The Luscious Life, she made this wish: “May it be a healing thing, may it help people feel like all of their experiences are worthwhile — not just the achievements, but the totality, the pain, and the joy.” Her readers have been exuberant with gratitude for the way she shared herself with them on every page.
Black shared with courage. Life is messy, she says, but it’s also kind of amazing — all of it.