Alicia Keys Opens Up About Mental Health and Work-Life Balance: ‘I Value Myself Now’

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys

Djeneba Aduayom / Fast Company Alicia Keys

Alicia Keys is all about taking care of her mental health.

In a new cover story for Fast Company magazine’s summer issue published Monday, the 41-year-old musician and entrepreneur opened up about learning to balance her personal life with her many business ventures, including skincare line Keys Soulcare and ongoing partnership with Athleta.

“I value myself now, and I think for a lot of years, I didn’t,” Keys told the outlet. “I learned that in order for me to be the most productive, I have to be well. I prioritize myself in a way that I just didn’t [before].”

Reflecting on her decades-long career in the entertainment industry, she spoke about learning to strive for perfection — no matter how negatively it may have affected her.

“I think we all deal with this idea that we’re supposed to be perfect in some way. The same thing happened to me when I was 20. You don’t even know who you are at 20,” said the “Fallin'” singer-songwriter. “You’re a little bit of what your mama told you. You’re a little bit of what the world told you. And then you’re supposed to go off into the world.”

Alicia Keys
Alicia Keys

Djeneba Aduayom / Fast Company Alicia Keys

“[Early in my career] people watched [me] intently. I’m a New Yorker. I didn’t want people to violate me. I immediately put up a wall, but I put up the worst kind of wall: the one that you pretend is not there. You think you’re protecting yourself but you’re actually hurting yourself,” continued Keys. “All I knew to do was just to fake it till you make it. Once I stopped doing that — which I have to remind myself to do every day — I started to feel much more honest, because I didn’t have to pretend.”

Growing up, the musician looked to her mother as a role model and adapted her tireless work ethic. “She had to work these long hours, and so I saw her and I said, ‘Okay, that’s what you do. You work hard,'” she recalled. “Because if you don’t work or don’t go for what you want, you won’t get it.”

While working nonstop has earned Keys four Billboard Hot 100 chart-topping singles and 15 Grammy awards, she’s shifted her perspective as an entrepreneur and strives to create a comfortable working environment. “Coming from the music [industry], it’s kind of expected that you start early, and you’ll end late, and you’re never going to have weekends off,” she said. “I have to work extra hard to create the proper culture.”

“If you have a weekly meeting, or a weekly or monthly video call — much of my company works remotely — or a big board meeting, whatever the case is,” she detailed, “you can set the stage and say, ‘It’s important to me that we are not only doing well in our business, but we’re well in our lives and that our families are well.'”

In addition, Keys spoke about her passion for making mental health assistance more accessible. “The fact that mental wellness is a privilege is horrible. The fact that’s how we deal with it, and it’s like, ‘If you could pay for it, you can have it,’ is horrendous,” she exclaimed. “We don’t invest in the whole being. We invest in the physical. But we don’t invest in the mental.”

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