If we’re talking about iconic Black women leaders, Bozoma “Boz” Saint John rises to the top of the list. Never shy about being a storied marketer, she’s held C-suite positions at Spike DDB, Pepsico, Beats Music (acquired by Apple), Uber, Netflix, and Endeavor, and is now a published author with the release of her new memoir, The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival.
Saint John reminds us of her favorite Diane Ackerman quote, “I don’t want to get to the end of my life and find that I have just lived the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well.”
The Urgent Life is a reminder that personal tragedy can happen to us all, yet we can still reshape those moments. Saint John writes, “I learned to live life with urgency. To take the trip, to call a friend, to cut out the toxic person — not next week, not next year, but as soon as the thought crosses my heart. I don’t delay. I don’t count on a future that isn’t promised.”
Born to Ghanian immigrants, Saint John married Peter, a second-generation Italian American in 2003, despite her parent’s disapproval. The marriage had its troubles, including the death of their premature daughter. Her second pregnancy was successful, but the couple’s mutual grief over the loss of their first child and cultural differences “created a valley so deep” between them that they separated with a plan to divorce. Then Peter was diagnosed with a rare terminal cancer, and Saint John pledged to “no longer take anything for granted, not a love, not a moment.”
I’ve been fan of Bozoma Saint John for some time, and I was completely engulfed by this memoir. It doesn’t focus on her having been an executive for these big-name companies. The main story surrounds her husband. She opens each chapter with a vignette leading up to Peter’s death, then flashes back to earlier parts of her life. The flashbacks are out of timeline order, so the reader is always surprised by what she shares. Other than her husband, she’s lost others and has learned many lessons from the tragedies she faced. I found the book to be uplifting, despite the sad subject matter.
I had the pleasure of attending a book signing event in Los Angeles for Saint John. She spoke candidly about her wanting us to see ourselves in the book. “They are really our stories reflected through my experiences. We all have these conversations. We all have these challenges.”
Saint John knows what’s like to be the “only” in the room. As the Chief Marketing Officer at Netflix, she became the first and only Black person in the C-suite. Although I am no longer in corporate America, I could identify with being the only Black woman in other situations. It can be a lonely place.
The truth is, the cost of vulnerability for Black women is high. We’re trying to find the courage to speak out against so many things in spaces that literally hate our existence. It’s a heavy burden that Saint John carried, between both her husband and mother being ill, having a small child, and trying to be 100 percent on at work.
There’s a perception that Black women have this kind of innate superhuman strength. That perception leads to Black women feeling like they have to constantly push through when we hurt, or when we need help, or when we’re overwhelmed. We are human like everyone else. Being strong by taking care of yourself is a positive thing, and it’s necessary. In Saint John’s case, letting her guard down and being vulnerable proved to be a good thing.
Bozoma Saint John recounts numerous defining moments from her childhood and work experiences. We learn what empowered and inspired her to be her authentic self, to be vulnerable and open to new experiences, to find commonality with others, to cultivate courage and confidence, and to drive urgently toward her goals. She provides powerful frameworks and leadership insights of her own, suggesting approaches to fight against imposter syndrome and ways to positively reframe feedback. In this case, Saint John also discusses failing and its ability to create empathy and resolve.
This was probably one of the most transparent and inspirational books I’ve read in a long time. Saint John allows the reader to get up close and personal to all of her victories but also her scars, fears, and challenges. I thought I knew quite a bit about her; however, this book took me to a whole other level. Her level of integrity is unmatched, and her life proves that we can live out loud a full, meaningful, intentional and beautiful story.
I highly recommend this book with 5 out of 5 stars. I’m grateful that Saint John shared her life story in such a raw and authentic way. It would have been easy for her to discuss her rise to the top in the business world. However, her real and relatable life experiences let us know that we too can be a light to ourselves and others.
The Urgent Life: My Story of Love, Loss, and Survival is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.
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Archuleta is an author, poet, blogger, and host of the FearlessINK podcast. Archuleta's work centers Black women, mental health and wellness, and inspiring people to live their fullest potential.