Friday, April 11, 2014

Reunions

The Class of 1989 at our 25th Year Reunion
Last weekend, I attended my high school homecoming.  This was our 25th year reunion.  It seems almost unimaginable that I have been out of high school for that long, and though so much has happened since that June day in 1989 when I walked on the stage to "Pomp and Circumstance", homecoming always brings back wonderful memories of those younger, more carefree days, reminding me of who I am at my core.

The prospect of attending a high school reunion is often portrayed on television sitcoms as fraught with anxiety about several things, such as the inevitable weight gain or hair loss we have undergone, or the question of the level of success we have reached and if it is comparable to our peers' successes.  I'll be honest; even as I remembered how much I enjoyed my 20th year reunion, I still felt the same anxiety that usually transpires on those sitcoms.  While I was excited to attend the events, the Facebook event page showed that a lot of people were going who I was not close to in high school.  I imagined I'd be sitting at the bar alone, sipping a drink and watching my classmates trade fond memories and ask each other, "Who is that?" while watching me nurse my glass of Chardonnay.

I was also anxious about something else. There was a possibility that someone would be at those events who I'd told last year never to contact me again.  Since that moment seven months ago, I'd been concerned about this particular reunion.  He had broken my heart repeatedly, and while I had moved on from my past in many ways, I wasn't sure what my reaction would be if I did see him again.

It took me a long time to get ready on the night of our first event last Friday night, more so because my anxiety was making me feel physically sick than any kind of vanity.  But something made me go despite my fear of seeing him again.  I told myself that I wanted to go, that I wanted to have fun, I wanted to see my classmates even if they didn't remember me, and, somewhere deep inside, I wanted to know if I'd gotten stronger in the time since I broke off that connection completely.

He was one of the first people I saw when I walked in.  I was surprised by what I felt; a level of comfort that someone I knew was there, as opposed to the fear, or maybe even brokenness, I thought I would have felt.  But before I could even decide if I was going to walk past him or stop and at least acknowledge him, another classmate came up to me and said hello.  Then another, and another.  And little by little, almost every person in that room greeted me with a hug and a "Hi, Patty" (a nickname I don't remember earning in high school, but that's what almost everyone seemed to call me that night).  And before I could get very deep into socializing, he came up to me as well, giving me a long hug and telling me a whole lot of stuff that was just as sophomoric as if we were still in high school.

I moved on.  And I socialized, and had fun, and truly enjoyed being in this space with these people who I was not currently friends with, but who, for some reason, made me feel welcome, and even cared for. While I knew this person was there, I genuinely could not see a reason to let him, and the things he'd done to hurt me, ruin my night.  And I definitely had a great night.  (Let's just say YOLO was in full effect.)

At one point during the night, however, he came up to me and shared some news that took some of my breath away (and not in a good way).  He asked if we could get together before I left town, and I said okay.  We got together a few days later, and he shared a few more details.  As he did, I sat there, feeling like one boulder had settled into the pit of my stomach and another on my chest, so that I was not able to breathe.  He then asked if he could be a part of my life again.  We had a long conversation about what was wrong with our relationship and what the point of reuniting in any manner would be.  I was very clear that he'd had more than enough chances to do the right thing as it concerned me.  And while we both said we still love each other and still think about each other every day, I was still dubious about his true intentions for wanting to start over.

I went home and cried - I had held my emotions throughout the weekend, and with the additional information I'd been provided, I had more to be upset about.  And I cried, and cried some more.  And then I got angry. I felt a slow, long, simmering anger that continued throughout the week, threatening to manifest itself through Facebook rants and Twitter subtweets.  (Instead, I shared less emotional and more philosophical perspectives on accountability, love, and the like.) Of course, I asked myself if I could possibly start over with this person, someone who I'd felt emotionally and psychologically abused by, someone who had no empathy or compassion for anyone but himself.  Despite all of that, I did have to admit that I still felt connected to him.

During our lunch meeting, he asked me if there was anyone else that I was excited about.  If there was anyone that I loved or could imagine being with.  He asked (not for the first time) that if I loved him, how could I possibly be with someone else?  And I thought about that.  I wondered if I would be living a lie if I moved on with someone else.  Part of me wondered if he was right, and we were supposed to be together because somehow, even when things were hard or horrible between us, we still found a way to reunite.

Then I got past my emotions, and I thought about something else.  I thought about how friendly all of the men were throughout the weekend.  I thought about the men who let me know, to varying degrees, how attractive they thought I was.  I thought about those two men who checked to make sure I was okay on Friday night before I drove home.  I thought about the ones that I'd connected with after the reunion through Facebook or phone conversations, and how, in some ways, I felt more supported and more cared for after last weekend.  I'm not discounting the connections with the women - we always seem to be genuinely happy to be together - but it was what I noticed about the men made me realize something.  Those who were at our reunion events with their wives and significant others enjoyed being with them.  Showed them off in some ways.  Had fun with their partners.  Those who were there alone were attentive and enjoyable to be around.  I felt warm being around these people.  Not hurt, not anxious, not fearful.  And these men reminded me that men can be good; men can be caring and concerned about someone other than themselves.  They reminded me that I don't have to settle for someone who says he's always loved me, but was never able to demonstrate that love in any meaningful way.

Most importantly, this past week of reunions gave me the opportunity to assess where I am mentally, emotionally, and spiritually after having moved to a different state earlier this year.  The purpose of moving was to remove myself from a toxic environment and create opportunities for personal and professional progression.  After seeing this person, I was anxious that reuniting with him would take me back to a place I thought I'd moved past.  I thought that maybe he was supposed to always be a part of my life in some way, regardless of how much he continually hurt me.  And for a few days, I lacked the peace and contentment I'd experienced since making the decision to change various aspects of my life. But when I thought about what I've learned about myself in the past few months - specifically that I took a risk to make my life the absolute best it could possibly be, and that I AM BRAVE, and that I refuse to SETTLE and be stagnant - I realized that some reunions should not be prolonged, because they aren't meant to create new and meaningful connections.  Some reunions are meant to take you back from where you came.  And while going back to the place you once called home is usually enjoyable, going backwards never is.




Friday, March 21, 2014

Child-like Faith

Gift from former students
I am counting the months.  If you've been counting with me (which I have no idea why you would be; that's kind of weird), this week makes month three of unemployment for me.

I honestly had no idea what I was really getting myself into when I decided to pick up and leave a place I had inhabited for thirteen years, in a matter of four weeks.  I gave away tons of stuff to whomever would take it, packed up in a matter of days really, rented a U-haul, and my awesome brother and nephew drove my stuff 350 miles to its current storage place, my mother's basement. I spent a few weeks with family, a week on vacation, another week with my mother, and then I moved more stuff to my brother and sister-in-law's home in another state.  And here I am, still job searching and still trying to figure out where I'll land (see last month's post here).  I've had a few phone interviews, a few in-person interviews, and had a few really encouraging meetings with people who have authority to make hiring decisions, including one with a woman whom I have identified as a potential mentor. And yet, I find myself concerned with many things.

"Are my brother and his wife regretting their decision to allow me to stay in their home?"

"Am I not casting my net wide enough?  Should I actually be searching in other states?"

"How will I pay my bills next month, if I don't have a job by then?"

"How will I pay rent when I do get a job?  The cost of living is way higher here!"

Obviously, these are questions and concerns anyone who just decides to quit their job and move to another state would have.  There are nights when these concerns keep me up for hours.  I absolutely hate being dependent on others; I am one of the most independent people I know.  There are times when I feel like a burden, when I can't believe that I would impose myself on my family the way that I have.  And I have mentioned to some of my closest friends that I feel like I made a mistake giving up the security of a tenured job, one where I was hugged and told that I was loved on an almost daily basis.  While these feelings have been with me throughout most of this period of unemployment, I never really articulated my actions as a mistake until very recently.  But then I read a devotional email that brought me back to the reasons why I did what I did:

From Today's Word by Joel and Victoria Osteen, March 17, 2014:

"God is strategic. He has laid out an exact plan for our lives right down to the smallest details. He knows the people you need to meet in order to fulfill your destiny. He knows who is going to give you a good break and who is going to put in a good word for you. He knows when someone is going to need to be there to help you out of a difficult time. God has it all figured out. He is not vague or approximate. He is orchestrating your life right down to the very second, causing you to be at the right place at the right time so you can meet the right people that He has ordained before the foundation of the world."

As I stated earlier, I had a meeting a few weeks ago with a woman who works as an Assistant Dean at an institution I would love to work for.  Not only does this institution have a great reputation, it has a doctoral program with coursework that most closely matches the coursework I completed during the Ph.D. program I left without completing, credits that would most likely transfer. She was introduced to me by my brother's next door neighbor, who happens to be her boss.  While it was not a formal interview, we were both well aware that a position is opening up in her department, so I was prepared for an informal interview.  

While it was already amazing that my brother lives next door to her boss, what happened next could have only been divinely orchestrated.  (I learned later that she never looked at my resume, which was sent to her prior to our meeting.) When asked the requisite, "tell me about yourself" question, for some reason - I do not know why or how - one of the first things that came out of my mouth had to do with where I got my Master's degree.  I never start to answer that question in that way.  But this time I did, and she automatically responded with surprise and a certain professional level of glee: she attended the same exact Master's program! Then she asked if I had a graduate assistantship there, and when I told her I did, and where, she had the same assistantship! And she even knew someone who I'd worked with, and certainly demonstrated that she felt the same way about this person as I did.  (Long story, you had to be there.  But be glad you weren't!)

With our meeting off to a great start, we talked about my experiences, and she asked me what I wanted to know about her, her department, and the position.  I had done my research, so I was able to answer these questions (VERY IMPORTANT LESSON - you can't go into any meeting without doing your research about the person as well as the organization).  It became clear throughout this meeting - a 30 minute appointment that went well over an hour - that not only could I relate to this woman, but she was a great model for the type of professional I could grow to become.  She began to make statements that sounded as if she were trying to sell her institution to me.  

Finally, I asked her for advice on my job search, because I wanted to demonstrate that I believed her time was valuable and that I was grateful that she spent it with me.  She encouraged me to apply for the position, stating that she saw a good fit for her department. She asked if there was some temporary work I could do in the meantime, because the position doesn't start until late spring.  I told her that I was doing temporary work and explained what the work was, and in that instance, I seemed to be teaching her something about the higher education industry.  She told me to appreciate the opportunity that I have to take some time to explore other areas of higher education and to be grateful for this time of unemployment, because it isn't something many people can do without having real concerns (because my concerns, while real, are not as pressing as I know other unemployed people's concerns are).  She said this was a blessing for me.  

Within this conversation, although I never mentioned my spiritual beliefs, or the sense of connection I felt with this woman, I did share something with her that I haven't shared with anyone.  I told her that, when people at my former institution would ask what I wanted to do in my new state, I would tell them that I wanted to work at her institution.  I told her that I didn't have a clue as to how or when that would happen, but that I said it as a little child would say that they want something to happen.

That's the kind of faith it takes to do something so utterly brave (or crazy), like quitting a tenured position and moving to a state that you're not even sure you can financially afford to live in.  Child-like faith doesn't ask for all the details.  Child-like faith expects to win.  Child-like faith believes in what is good, in what is right and true in one's heart.  

I looked at my bank account dwindling this week, and thought about that meeting that happened a few weeks ago.  I thought about the nonexistent paycheck that I thought I would be getting from my last job, because I was confused about how pay periods work. I thought about that job that doesn't start until a few months from now at the institution I want to work for.  I thought about the job I just interviewed for that maybe isn't the best fit for me.  I thought about what my family might think if I turned down a potential offer because I don't want to settle.  All of the concerns came up again, mostly financial.  And then I read this earlier this morning:

"And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from His glorious riches, which have been given to us by Christ Jesus." - Philippians 4:19

Now, I have read this Scripture many times, but reading it this morning brought me back to the last time it really came alive for me.  I had been recently separated from my husband, had started a Master's program far away from my family and everyone I knew, and had spent a semester as a graduate intern, having taken a $22,000 pay cut.  During the break after my first semester, I was thinking of quitting my Master's program and going back to teaching because I couldn't live on the very small amount of pay I was making.  I remember reading this Scripture, and soon after, I received a phone call from the director of my department saying that he wanted to promote me to a full-time position, and double my salary.  It was enough for me to finish my Master's degree and move forward in my life in a way that I was not able to while I was married.

Child-like faith understands that the answers may not be clear at first.  Child-like faith understands that you may not know everything, but you have a deep sense of knowing within you that you are taking the right step at the right time.  

Today, I went downstairs after my morning yoga, and I saw an envelope with my name on it.  I opened it, and it was a check for the work I had done last month.  A nice-sized check that I can use to pay the bills I was concerned about, for at least the next month.

Child-like faith believes that where God guides, He will provide.

I'm sharing this because, although we may not all share the same belief system, we have to know that the road map to our purpose lies within us.  We have to quiet ourselves from all of the concerns, the worries, the doubts, and the fears, so that we can hear that Inner Voice telling us what the next step is.  

Child-like faith believes that our journey to our life's purpose begins when we take a step, not knowing what the next step will be.

So I continue on this path, returning to the faith that little children have.  Because a child knows what we adults often forget: that if we believe, anything is possible.

Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” - Matthew 19:14




Thursday, February 20, 2014

Home

Courtesy of www.craftyindividuals.co.uk
I feel like I'm sitting in a confessional.  "Bless me Father, for I have sinned, it has been two months since I quit my job, and these are my feelings."  These days, I count time based on when I left my job, and the city/town/village/boonies I lived in for thirteen years.  In the first month, I moved, spent the holidays with family, went on vacation by myself, and slept A LOT.  Woke up at ungodly hours of the day (11am for me is just lazy) and spent the day in pajamas until I could motivate myself to take a shower.  For most of this time of unemployment, I have not worn make-up, used a curling iron, or even wore pants.  Leggings all-day, err-day.  I have spent more time in the house than probably the entire amount of time I spent in my last apartment.

This is not me.  I am (or was) used to getting up early to do my morning yoga, eat breakfast, run out of the house, work, go to school a few times a week, run errands after work, and trying to look my best doing all of these things.  Some days, I could barely breathe.  I spent so much time doing something, and I am in an interesting place right now.  It's not good.  It's not bad, and people tell me that I am in the best place to do things for myself right now.  But when you are used to always performing, always striving, and always trying to please others (let me keep it real), resting is not part of the vocabulary.  After a while, you (at least I feel this way) start to get paranoid that people think you're a lazy bum.  Are you searching hard enough?  Why don't you have a job yet?  Why are you still in bed?  This is what the second month looks like.  Not really knowing what to do with myself, except that I know what I should be doing.  My close friends know what I should be doing.  But somehow, all of these feelings of guilt for not working my butt off every single day begin to eclipse my purpose and my head is filled with so many doubts and fears that it isn't clear enough to do what I should be doing, which is writing my book.  Or, you know, enjoying life.

I don't really want to get to the third month of unemployment, but it will be here in about four weeks. While I am starting to feel a shift - it could be the well-paying temporary work I got, it could be the weather, it could be the email inviting me for a phone interview - I am so ambivalent about what I'm feeling, who I am right now, what my purpose is, and where I will land.  I am meeting new people, catching up with old friends, and spending more time with family than I'm sure they really want.  But I am also missing people so much.  I spent about one month with my mother, with whom I had not spent so much time in the past ten years.  And at the age of 42, I feel as attached to her as I did when I was five.  While I have no children of my own, I had hundreds of students who called me Mama G, Mom, or Mommy.  Leaving them feels like I ripped out pieces of my heart and scattered them in so many places.  (For Harry Potter fans, it's like leaving little horcruxes everywhere!)  And there are some people I miss who I didn't even think I would miss so much.  We take so many things for granted - the every day conversations, the meals eaten together, even just passing each other in the hallway - that when those things don't happen anymore, it's like someone pulled the rug out from under you.

Someone told me yesterday, "You turned your life upside down."  I never thought of it that way until my feelings started to betray me.  When I decided to leave my job and the area I'd lived in since graduate school, I was so happy to do so.  I knew it had gotten stale, and that really, there were NO men for me to meet and fall in love and get married and have babies and live happily ever after with (I haven't given up on this dream yet!).  I knew that there was nowhere for me to go in my current job.  I knew that if I stayed, my spirit would have been crushed.  So all I felt was peace and happiness.  In the last couple of weeks, I was slapped with reality.  I don't have a job.  I actually don't have a permanent address.  I am staying with family, but ME, I'm HOMELESS.  Me.  The person who valued her space and her independence.  The person who valued being strong and secure.  I did turn my life upside down, and while so many people have said that what I did was brave, I don't feel so brave right now.

I told my sister I was afraid that I'd made a big mistake.  She said that I did what I needed to do at the time, that of course I would have some regrets.  Maybe this happens to everyone; actually, I'm sure it does, but I am usually so sure of myself that it's strange to feel so discombobulated.  The easiest thing I could do is go back.  I was job searching yesterday and found a position open at my old job, and for about half a millisecond I considered applying for it.  I had to talk myself out of it.  I thought about how I have an approved leave of absence from my doctoral program, and looked up a department I'd interviewed with at that institution to see if there were any openings.  I thought about going back.  And again, I had to tell myself that I never even wanted to live there in the first place and that when I interviewed for that job, I was so nervous that I would get it and have to live in that godforsaken place, but I interviewed anyway.  (Thank God, I didn't get that job.) 

So why am I sharing this?  Because, as with all things in life, there is a lesson.  I think I'm still learning this, but today, when I told one of my dearest former students "I don't know where I will land", she said, "Somewhere they are going to want you; no doubt you'll definitely be somewhere, because somebody needs you!"  And just like that, I remembered.  I remembered that I left because I was no longer needed where I was.  I left because my assignment was up.  My most vulnerable students, my first semester freshmen, were almost all doing well academically.  My sophomores and I had developed great relationships, but they actually needed me to leave so that they could grow up - several of them have told me that my leaving has forced them to do so.  My juniors and seniors, for the most part, were comfortable with advocating for themselves and planning for their futures.  And my women's leadership group has an amazing team of young women who understand the mission and goals of the organization and are more than capable of carrying the vision forward.  My friends had either left, or had other pursuits that were taking up their time, and I no longer felt supported, personally or at work.  It was time to go.  

Moving forward is hard.  Yes, in the beginning, you might feel some peace.  That is what God gives you so that you have the strength to take the risk.  But in the transition time, you will feel doubt.  That's when I keep reminding myself that God brought me here, and He will not leave me.  I'm not always going to be in this state of emotional purgatory; and yet this is where I need to be right now - to be cleansed of old thoughts and habits that related to an old lifestyle, and to start again, pure and ready to embrace the new assignment God has for me.  

The feeling of homelessness happens when your soul and spirit are unsettled.  That feeling of not knowing where you will land will go away when you land in your new purpose.  And wherever your spiritual feet touch the ground, that will be home.  It's not always where your friends and family are, or where you have job security, but where your spirit says, "I am home.  I am where I need to be for this time in my life."  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Advice I Would Give My Past Self (in Work & in Life)

Courtesy of www.jeffalytics.com
I find myself in a position I have not been in for a very long time.  Most people would be afraid to say that they currently are unemployed, but for some reason, I do not feel any fear.

In a few days will be the one month anniversary of my last day at the job I'd held for so long, a job that yielded many relationships with students and colleagues, and that helped me to grow and learn a lot about myself personally and professionally.  I was able to develop a women's leadership program, what I call the "dream I never knew I had".  I started working there in my mid-thirties and I am now two years into my forties.  When I started that job, I was a completely different person from who I am today.  Like I said, I learned a lot about myself professionally and personally, and now that I am "free", I can share some of the things I've learned.

Here are some of the things I've learned in the past seven years:

1. Learn your own job first.

I'm sure I'm not the only one, but when I first started my job, I wanted to learn everything that everyone did at my job, not just my own job.  I was so excited about obtaining my "dream" job at the time that I wanted to understand everything about the department and the programs that we were executing.  I joined committees (of course with my supervisor's blessing and consent), I tried to meet and get to know everyone regardless of whether I worked with them or not (which is not a bad thing), and I said yes to almost everything that was thrown my way.  While none of this sounds negative, it did place unrealistic expectations on me, from myself and everyone else, which led to pressure that was difficult to handle at times, as well as some serious people-pleasing behavior.  Additionally, some of the people who worked there when I started were used to getting the attention that I was unknowingly seeking.  In other words, I was trying to be the star when there were already a few divas who didn't like the idea of sharing the spotlight.  That did not help me build positive relationships with my colleagues.

If I could advise my past self, I would tell myself to learn my own job first.  There is nothing wrong with meeting people and taking on responsibilities outside of your job description, but you get evaluated on what is on your performance program in black and white.  There are opportunities to exceed expectations once one has met the necessary expectations of the job.  This may take some people three months, six months, or even a year, but it is so important to be able to say that you have mastered the basic expectations of your job, and then grow to add other things that will improve your performance and reputation.

2. Be an observer.

I tried to do, do, do when I first started my job, and that is the opposite of what I usually advise people to do when beginning a career.  I can look back now and see where I made mistakes and told people the wrong information because I didn't take the time to read and listen to others who had a lot more experience than I did.  I also didn't trust people very much, personally or professionally, and I often found myself in competition with others (mostly unspoken).  Therefore, if someone shared information with me, I didn't often take that person's word for it, which is smart in many ways, but also didn't allow me to develop mentoring relationships in which I was the person being mentored.  And if you aren't mentored, you don't develop the skills necessary to mentor others.  You can learn a lot by shutting your mouth, sitting down, and observing the people and events around you, especially because you need take the time to find the right mentor.  I learned this lesson in the third year of my tenure, which gave me an ample amount of time to stop trying to impress everyone I worked with and to find the right mentors.

3. Ask for what you want, when the time is right.

During the second semester of my first year there, the person in charge of coordinating our summer orientation program for incoming first year students resigned abruptly, and I asked to take on the opportunity.  I had observed the previous year's summer program, and I had an idea of how it worked and what went wrong, so I thought it was a good time to ask.  It took my supervisor a while to give me the opportunity.  I'm not sure why it took so long, but maybe he hadn't come to know me well enough to know if I was capable.  When he finally told me I could be the coordinator, there were a little less than three months left to learn what I needed to do and to develop a staff training program for the staff that was hired (that I had very little say in hiring, since I was not officially coordinating).  I had a new intern working with me, and we had to learn what to do together, rather than me knowing what to do so that I could properly supervise her.  Needless to say, there were a lot of mishaps that occurred that summer, and my leadership skills were in question.

Later, I asked for other opportunities that I was ready for, and didn't get them, which got to be really frustrating and made me question my value to the department.  Additionally, while one person was usually the summer program coordinator, when I got the chance to volunteer again, my supervisor decided that year would be the one in which we would work with a colleague to coordinate the summer program.  I knew that he didn't trust me based on the mistakes of my first attempt; I realized that when he told me I couldn't be as "high-strung" as I was the first time.  (And yes, I know that he was wrong in saying that, but that was the perception I gave.)  So here's what I would have advised my past self: even if you THINK you are ready for a new opportunity, you might not have gained the trust and confidence of your leader, and you may not get it. But don't stop asking, because in asking you are developing your confidence and assertiveness muscles.  Just trust that, if you've applied the first two lessons outlined here, you will be given the opportunity when the time is right.

4. Ego will get you nowhere.

I would say that the previous three lessons taught me this one.  Trying to be a star, competing with colleagues, and trying to take on tasks you aren't ready for are absolute signs of an ego problem.  I definitely have been known to walk around proclaiming my virtues (hello, I have a "What Makes Me Awesome" list!), and while confidence is great and necessary for success, I know that some of the people I worked with may have felt suffocated by my ego whenever it arose to suck all of the air out of the room.  I observed others' egos in how they took credit for or refused to acknowledge others' work, or in how they were proprietary about their ideas or programs (myself included).  Whenever I saw ego rise up in others, I had to remind myself how much I disliked it, and that it wasn't any different when my ego rose up.

Don't get me wrong, it is a good thing to know what you're good at.  You should never sell yourself short. The many humbling experiences I'd had led me to sell myself short on many occasions.  However, depending on ego rather than a good work ethic can only take you so far.  It took me a long time to learn this lesson, but once I realized my ego was in the way of truly enjoying my work, I chucked it and became a real person who could relate to others genuinely and authentically.

It was the abandonment of my ego that helped me know that it was time to leave my job.  Once I got through all of the blunders I'd made, I had many successes.  Ego can make you think that things won't be successful without you.  The last summer program I co-coordinated went phenomenally.  The women's leadership program is having one of the best years since its inception in 2007.  Ego would have kept me right there, thinking that I was the reason for so much success.  But if I had bought into that misconception, I would still be in the same place, living the same life, and not growing into the person I am supposed to be.

5. Let go.

Relationships, both personal and professional, are very important to us. We think that if we move on from people the way that we change jobs or cities, we are being heartless.  But I learned that some relationships aren't meant to last a lifetime.  Personally, I have had to let certain people go because they were holding me back in some way or another.  Either they were using me, manipulating me into believing I didn't deserve better treatment, or they were focused on the negative and continually blamed me for things that had happened in the past.  These are people who place the responsibility for their growth (or lack thereof) on other people. I know that relationships are testing grounds for our personal growth, but I cannot be responsible for others learning the lessons they need to for their growth.  I am only responsible for my own growth.

Professionally, I learned that a place or a position can only teach me so much.  It teaches you what you are open to learning until it is time to move to another place or position.  And, once you move on, let go.  Let go of any frustration or negativity that held you down in that old place.  Move on from relationships that don't uplift you.  Let go of what made you hurt, and move forward, armed with the lessons you've learned, into the new place where you will learn new lessons, and continue to grow.  Let go, and be grateful for who you have become as a result of those relationships, whether positive or negative.

6. Be open.

There is so much that we don't do because we say, "I can't" or "I don't know how".  Every opportunity may not be the opportunity for you, but for those that are, you will only gain from them when you are open to them with a spirit of "I can" and "I will learn".  Take that openness into the next adventure.  And it's all an adventure when you approach everything in life with an open spirit.

Over and over again, we are given the chance to learn what we need to in order to become the person we were born to be.  I am glad that I was able to learn in a place with so many great people and experiences, and so I don't fear what's next, because where I am going can only be greater than where I have come from.






Sunday, November 10, 2013

Brave

for the young women who make my day, every day

She said I was brave.
She didn't know that two days ago
I was contemplating walking away forever
because I was so afraid of what I would face
tomorrow.

She said I was awesome.
She didn't know that, behind closed doors,
someone was saying I was mean, insecure,
and that I was the problem.

She said I was strong.
She didn't know about all the times I walked into my office
and cried, and cried, and cried,
because my feelings were hurt
yet again.

She said I was beautiful.
She didn't know about the times
a man said I wasn't good enough,
not attractive enough,
just a little too soft in the wrong places
and refused to look at my inner beauty.

She said I was phenomenal.
She didn't know that all I saw within myself
was a woman living, just making it day by day
only by the grace of God.

She said I was her friend.
She said I was her friend.
She said I was her friend.

And everything else besides that
no longer mattered.



Why I Won't Change for You

Courtesy of  www.ynaija.com
I seem to find myself in some kind of conflict with someone more often than I think most people do. I'm just putting it out there. Typically, if one finds oneself in the amount of tense situations that I have found myself in, people will be prone to think, and ask, "What are you doing to cause this?" or "If this is happening so much to you, don't you think you're the problem?" And, of course, I'm the first person to ask myself, "What am I doing wrong?" But when I reflect on the situations that have caused conflict, I can't think of anything wrong that I am doing, especially because I am being my genuine self.  When I ask for a specific answer to the question, "What am I doing wrong?" (and yes, I have asked this), I never get a specific answer.

The other day, I had a very unnecessary clash with someone who has access to my work calendar.  Every time I am unavailable, I block the time off in red so that no one schedules anything for me. I noticed that, even as I was moving meetings out of that time, more meetings were being scheduled, despite the fact that I had left a note within that time frame that said, "PLEASE DO NOT SCHEDULE APPOINTMENTS". I approached the person and asked, "Did you see the red area that said, 'Please do not schedule appointments'?" And the response was, "No, I didn't see it. I didn't know you didn't want me to schedule appointments."  And my response was, "It says 'Please do not schedule appointments'", in the same tone of voice I use all the time, except for when I am presenting or making a joke, which is really the only time I raise my voice.  Well, from that point on, I was accused of "arguing" and was told that I was not clear enough, although every time I block something in red, everyone knows that means "hands off" that time on my schedule, and again, I had written on my calendar a specific note not to schedule anything. This continued, and could have continued all day, because this person believed that they were being victimized and attacked by me and interrupted me every time I tried to express myself, so I left the room.

The following day, we had the obligatory meeting to make sure that we were all okay and would be able to work together.  In that meeting, I explained that I was merely asking a question and trying to clarify the situation. The person took the opportunity to tell me that I was being rude and mean.  I said, "In what way? I was asking a question." Well, the person didn't like my tone of voice. I explained that this is the way that I speak. And, in addition to several personal judgments about me and all of the things "on my plate", I was told: "WELL, YOU NEED TO CHANGE!" 

I once had an exchange with a student I was supervising who also didn't like my tone of voice. Whatever we were talking about, I was being serious, not laughing or joking. He said I was being aggressive and getting angry. And I said, "I'm actually not angry at all. I'm just not laughing or joking because this is a serious conversation." He said I was being aggressive, and I said, "No, I'm being assertive and you are uncomfortable with that. You're the one whose face is turning red, and who is starting to raise your voice. I have not changed my tone in this entire conversation."  I don't know if that student ever learned anything from that conversation, but I learned that, if you are a woman, and especially a woman of color, your very voice can be a source of discomfort for those with privilege.

A few months ago, I had an exchange with someone with whom I try to have as very little contact as possible. The person said, "You don't let me be a man". While he didn't offer any explanation for this, I continue to ask myself what he meant. Since I purposely avoid contact with him as much as humanly possible, I am left to believe that my mere presence threatens his masculinity.  

My voice is not high-pitched.  There's no "lilt" at the end that makes it sound as if I'm unsure of what I'm speaking about. I also try to communicate as directly as possible. Nowhere in these situations did I judge anyone, tell anyone what they were doing was wrong, or accuse anyone of being or doing something to harm me. I am careful in my communication with others to stay away from accusations. I learned about "I-statements" a long time ago, and I use them as often as possible, or I ask questions to make sure we are on the same page. However, in all of these situations, I was accused of attacking, being aggressive or combative.  

The truth is, I am very aware of my tendency to persist in seeking clarification and truth. I am also very aware that my questions cause discomfort because people have to reflect on their actions. While I am the first person to ask myself and others for feedback on what I am doing wrong, I notice that others would rather take the easy road and place blame on everyone else but themselves. And on many occasions when I have been passive-aggressively disregarded or disrespected and decided to directly confront people about it, the very act of telling someone how I feel causes the person to say I'm being mean, or victimizing them in some way. Then, instead of being the one who is hurt, I have suddenly been labeled the aggressor.

There is a perception that I am strong.  Often, I think this gives people license to push and prod at me in passive aggressive ways (because they're too scared to be direct). It's as if I don't have feelings, that I don't hurt. However, I am just as sensitive, if not more sensitive, than anyone I know.  

Being in charge of a women's leadership group gives me direct contact to many young women who are learning to find their voice. It puts me in a position to demonstrate direct communication, rather than the indirect or passive communication style that has placed women in subordinate positions in society. Even men will say, "I can't read your mind", to a woman, but when she speaks her mind, he thinks she's too aggressive, or - here comes the F-word....FEMINIST (oh, the horror!). The point is, we can't please everyone all of the time, but we can speak our minds and express ourselves so that we can move forward without constantly wondering if we were clear in communicating our intentions and desires.

There are young people, men and women, who are coming to me with their pain. It is stuck within them, deep in crevices they didn't even know they had, holding them back from all that they could potentially be. And because I use my voice, my authenticity, my confidence and strength, and yes, my vulnerability, to show them that IT IS OKAY to speak their minds, and to STOP APOLOGIZING for their presence in the spaces they occupy, they are learning to dig deep into those crevices and unearth that pain, so that they can move freely in this world, and BE WHO THEY WERE CREATED TO BE.

So, if you like me or don't, I WON'T CHANGE FOR YOU. If my mere presence makes you uncomfortable or makes you feel like less than, THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM. If you can't relate to my voice - that voice that is the amalgam of Brooklyn, Nuyorican, Spanglish, Brown, Activism, and LOVE - I will not apologize.  I am just sorry that you refuse to relate, because you are the one who is missing out.  

I am always changing, always reflecting, always growing, always learning.  But I do so on my own terms, not to satisfy someone else's comfort level or help them maintain their privilege.  To the young people I love with my whole heart - when you find your voice, don't let anyone try to take it away from you. Don't change for anyone but YOU.








Saturday, September 14, 2013

Issues (We ALL Have Them)

Courtesy of goodmenproject.com
There's a lot that I do really well.  The people I interact with on a daily basis see it, point it out, and sometimes get sick of it.  The energy and passion with which I live practically every aspect of my life wears me out sometimes.  I'm happy with who I am and how I live my life, for the most part. 

The area where I find myself not as successful is in romantic relationships. I don't seem to be able to connect well with men romantically, though I do connect very well with men as a friend. There are a few men in my life who I would consider to be very good friends, men with whom I have no problem communicating, and who seem to be open to communicating with me. One of these men holds the title of "Best Guy Friend", and he and I have a very easy, open, loving, funny and sarcastic communication style. I don't have to hide anything from him, and I don't feel judged by him, and I would dare to say he feels the same way. When I have one on one time with the male students where I work, it is the same - easy, open, nonjudgmental - and they seem to have no problem opening up to me and being vulnerable and even crying at times. I have held many a young man in my arms as he's cried and just let out his pain. (These are the times when I'm most grateful for my assignment.) I have a communication style that is very direct and straightforward, which often works well with the other gender in platonic relationships.

I can easily point out my flaws when it comes to developing a romantic relationship. I am so afraid of getting hurt that I often put up this protective shield that can push men away. I have a sharp tongue, and I'm not afraid to use it. Additionally, whereas I am warm in most of my interactions with others, I can be distant with potential mates. And let's not even talk about trust. I try to be trusting, but I've been lied to and betrayed enough to know that trust really does have to be built. But honestly, most of these flaws do not present themselves without some kind of action that sends up red flags in my mind. The point is, I know that I am not perfect, so I cannot expect perfection, and I know what kinds of "issues" I bring to the table and where they come from.

There was a three-week period last month where I was told by two different men, "You have deep-seated issues with men." The first time I heard it, I could understand why that person mentioned it. We were in a situation where he had done something so wrong to me that I could have pursued actions that would have led to life-changing consequences for him. He was in a position to lose a lot, but was trying to hold on for dear life by telling me what he thought was wrong with me to deflect what he had done. He had previously heard about some of my romantic relationship concerns, and thought this could be a good time to bring up an area where I was most vulnerable, because he was very vulnerable.

The second time I heard it, though, I started to wonder. Do I have "deep-seated" issues with men? Having heard this twice in three weeks, I had to ask myself if I was the reason why I was having issues with these two men. However, the second time I heard it, it was from someone with whom I'd been in a romantic relationship. We had just had a conversation where I made it clear that I was moving on, and that included dating again. After receiving that information, he spent a lot of time telling me where my future relationships with men would fail, and that my "deep-seated issues" wouldn't allow me to have a healthy, long-term relationship with another man. At first, I was scared that he was right. But then I realized that this is what someone says when they are afraid of losing you. Just like an emotional abuser will tell you that no one will love you the way he or she does, he was telling me that any of my future relationships would fail because of ME. 

I'm divorced. I already know what one failed relationship looks like. And yes, it is part of the reason why I'm afraid to fully open up, because I don't want to fail again. But this guy, this one who told me my issues were the reason my relationships would fail, has issues that would take years upon years of psychotherapy, or a miracle from God, to heal. His way of dealing with emotions is to ignore them. His way of dealing with me is to hurt me and push me away. So, while I'm fully aware that we all do have issues, I realized that some people are willing to be honest and up front about what theirs are, while others are far too happy to project theirs on to me.

The first man was angry with me and blamed me for "not letting him be a man", when in reality he had put himself in a position to lose his personality to a woman he chose to be with, someone who did not want him to have any other "single, beautiful women" in his life (quotes are his words). The second man was angry at me and blamed me for our unhealthy relationship, when in reality his lack of self-love and his own unwillingness to grow and face his personal demons had caused him to reject the love of the very person he's claimed to love since we met thirty years ago.  

In the days following those two incidents when I was told that I have "deep-seated issues" with men, I reflected and came to the realization that I don't have deep-seated issues with men. I have issues with men who have issues. And the main issue that I have with men who have issues is that they choose not to deal with them. While I have taken the time to seek help regarding my issues stemming from the death of my father and my divorce, these men have not even admitted their issues (the first did when he realized his livelihood was being threatened; the second, who knows if he ever will).  Not only have they not come to terms with their issues, but they blamed me for what was missing in their lives. They made me the recipient of their feelings of loss or rejection, and proceeded to take actions that would cause me to feel rejected. For a minute I did feel that way.  However, since there is absolutely nothing I could do to change their lives and the way they choose to live them, I have removed myself from those situations and removed those people from my life, and I've come to the realization that I lack nothing. I am whole and complete as I am, and I am not responsible for the way others choose to live.  

As a society, we haven't provided a space for men to come to terms with the feelings of loss and rejection they may be living with. We haven't said to men that it's okay to talk, to cry, to express emotions, or to even identify the myriad of emotions there are to experience.  We have told little boys that "boys don't cry", and that when they are hurt, they need to "suck it up". We even have derogatory names for boys and men that cry and share their emotions. How many times have you heard a little boy called a sissy if he cried, or told that he "hits like a girl" if he's not good at sports? Boys and men walk around carrying within themselves pain that turns into anger; anger that lashes out in violent ways sometimes. Anger that stems from a loss of a sense of power that then leads some of them to seek that power by violating a woman's body, or by ending the lives of innocent people. Without a space to express every aspect of themselves, men will continue to have deep-seated issues. You'll just never know it until you are the recipient of their pain.