Years ago, author Sophia Nelson was inspired to write a book after a petty (yet relationship-ending) argument with a friend that left her puzzling over why women sometimes tear each other down. That fight became the genesis of her 2014 book “The Woman Code: 20 Keys to Unlock Your Life” — and seven years later, the pandemic has spurred her to update her "code" for how women can honor themselves while living the lives they deserve.
Nelson, whose re-release and revamp of “The Woman Code” comes out March 16, was an early U.S. Covid-19 patient: She was infected in February 2020, initially diagnosed with pneumonia and bronchitis.
“Between having it personally and losing a great-aunt and an aunt [to Covid-19] while hearing about friends’ parents dying — it was in your face, especially as it disproportionally hits people of color,” Nelson told Know Your Value in an interview.
“I’m a journalist, so I did what I do in the world: I looked at data on how [Covid-19] has impacted women professionally, financially, emotionally,” added Nelson, who has been a contributor to MSNBC and NBC, among many other outlets. “I knew I needed to revisit these concepts and get something out there to encourage women.”
The central tenet of “The Woman Code” is that every woman lives by her own code, whether or not she realizes it. Each woman’s code informs how she treats herself and others — and it’s ultimately what shapes her degree of success in living the life she desires, Nelson said. The book aims to help women identify their own code and assess whether it’s truly serving them well.
Even in “normal” times, it can be challenging for women to take that time to focus on themselves. The pandemic has exacerbated that problem, with many women literally juggling their roles as caretakers and professionals simultaneously over the last year. Nelson, for example, recalled a sorority sister (who’s a partner at Deloitte) calling her in tears about the overwhelm she felt managing her work with newly-altered family responsibilities. So, Nelson updated “The Woman Code” throughout with new insights those major economic and societal shifts.
The codes include “Be Resilient,” “Choose Your Thoughts and Words Wisely” and “Lift Other Women as You Climb.” But the most important, she said, is the first code: “Know Your Value.” That’s why she asked Know Your Value founder and “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski to write the foreword for the re-release.
“Like Mika, I know that every single thing starts with knowing your value,” Nelson said. “But Covid-19 can make it easy to forget that. Six years down the road, we are in an utterly different universe of how we’re connecting, living and feeling. I wanted to revamp every code, include a foreword and a study guide, and get this out in paperback so it’s more accessible for college students. This was as fast as we could turn it around, and I wanted it out as quickly as possible to give women a boost.”
Beyond the pandemic, Nelson said she has also been inspired by the “gamechanger” of life in her 50s.
“People talk about 40, but 50 is really the big one to me,” Nelson said. “You recognize you have less time ahead of you than you did behind you — that’s just the facts. So, you have to be more honest, more authentic, more real about the life you want to live and whether that’s what you’re getting for yourself.”
Especially as we continue to deal with the pandemic, Nelson hopes readers of “The Woman Code” take to heart one core idea.
“Everything we need as women is already inside of us,” Nelson said. “It’s there. You’ve got to dig down, find that resilience, make peace with the things that broke you and succeed anyway. If you have the courage to be brave, everything else follows.”
To take that journey, women must find the strength to set healthy boundaries with family, work and other responsibilities so they don’t run themselves ragged — especially during the pandemic.
“When we set healthy boundaries, we soar — period,” Nelson said. “I’m challenging women not to run yourselves ragged so you’re stressed, depressed, oppressed. That’s not selfish. That is knowing your value.”