Yrsa Daley-Ward has a particular talent for uncovering truths about her readers that they may not have previously been aware of – and her powerful new book The How encourages them to delve even deeper to discover and nurture their inner self in its purest form.
This isn’t, she says, the self we have built up in response to our surroundings; nor is it the one we curate to best please others. It is our most intimate self – the one we sometimes quash – who communicates with us in an instinctual way.
“Without realising it at the time, I think I wrote the book I needed in the moment,” says Daley-Ward, who worked on The How during the pandemic and its succession of lockdowns. “You really had to sit with yourself in that time and learn some new things about yourself. When you take away routine and you take away distractions, you’re left looking at yourself.”
Subtitled Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself, The How is a compilation of essays, poems, heartfelt musings and earnest advice that provides a “nudge toward” finding your voice – because, as she writes, “in a world so filled with voice, how to ever be sure of your own?” Certainly, there is no shortage of 'how-to's that we are bombarded with daily – how to lose weight, be rich, look young, grow old gracefully, not care too much but care enough, be confident but humble – and Daley-Ward offers a refreshing antidote to the constant striving for what she calls “the lie of perfection”. “This book is a call back to centre,” she explains, “to remember what you have that nobody else has. Lean into the beauty and uniqueness of yourself.”
Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Daley-Ward was raised by her grandparents in Chorley, near Manchester. Though she began her career as a model for brands including Estée Lauder and Nike, Daley-Ward has garnered a 203,000-strong Instagram following for her posts that feature lyrical lines that broach topics of identity, race, sexuality and mental health. She has written two previous books: a memoir titled The Terrible, and a poetry collection, bone. Last year, she also collaborated with Beyoncé on her visual album Black is King. “It was awesome to be able to put words to something that to me felt so beautiful, this patchwork of really rich imagery and music,” she says of the project.
But The How demanded a different approach to her other endeavours, “writing it in the order I was experiencing it,” she says, rather than with hindsight. “It really is coming from someone who doesn’t have it all worked out, but who employs certain methods that really work for me.” One of these methods, she reveals, is to ignore prescribed timelines or comparisons with others, and to embrace “what makes me me, whether that’s experiences that have been difficult, or whether it’s things I’ve been ashamed of, or idiosyncrasies that belong to me – to make peace with that and to fall in love with that.”
As she is quick to note, this requires skill and is not something that happens overnight, having gone through a certain amount of trial and error herself. She recommends writing lists of all the elements in your life you are grateful for, “especially at times when you really don’t feel like it”, as a gentle reminder of everything that is going well. It may feel uncomfortable – maybe even disingenuous – but these gratitude lists can help you tune into yourself and align with a more positive outlook, says Daley-Ward.
Tuning into yourself also involves being able to say “no” to things that we don’t want to do but somehow feel obliged to do – things that feel inauthentic to you, but that society deems normal or correct. “You are best placed to find the thing running through you that excites you and gets you up in the morning,” she says. “Although we learn manners and propriety as we get older to quiet our intuitions, the thing never leaves you.”
Sometimes, she says, we feel it is safer to “bloom under the radar, in private” – safer emotionally, and safer because at times living your most authentic life can mean putting yourself in danger of attack. And this message of laying low, of suppressing the things that make you vibrant, has been reinforced for women by the world around us in the wake of the murders of Sabina Nessa and Sarah Everard. As Daley-Ward notes, “The responsibility is placed on us yet again, when we are not the perpetrators.”
It is all the more important, therefore, for us to listen to our voices instead of hoping someone else might hear them. Write down your thoughts, turn off your phone, pause and reflect in the silence, says Daley-Ward. And, most importantly, “be a friend to yourself first”.
‘The How: Notes on the Great Work of Meeting Yourself’ by Yrsa Daley-Ward (£10.99, Penguin) is out now. SHOP NOW
You Might Also Like