Tuesday, October 25, 2011

40 Lessons for a Fab Life

BREAKING NEWS: I just turned forty a couple of days ago.  Hopefully my students won't read this post; those who don't know my age and have no concept of age think I'm somewhere between my late twenties and mid-thirties.  If they find out I'm older than they thought, I might not be so cool to them.  Nahhh, I'll always be cool no matter how old I am.

I'd been thinking about turning forty since my 39th birthday.  Literally every day I thought about this particular milestone.  Poor 39th year.  It never had a chance.

About a month ago, I was seriously having a mid-life crisis.  I hope I live longer than eighty, but I can't think of any other concept that matches what I was feeling more than "mid-life crisis".  I called one of my friends and told her, "I feel like nothing I'm doing means anything."  She was like, "Are you serious?"  This is because she's cool, calm, collected, and doesn't put up with my dramatics.  Truthfully, she's great at listening to my angst-ridden reflections, but she's not quite the drama queen that I can sometimes be.  (Sometimes.)  I also met up with an old (not in age) friend who'd just turned forty earlier in the year and had this same conversation.  Both of them made it clear that the crisis does not last; with phrases like, "It is what it is", and "I don't give a flying kite about anything", they made it seem like forty is when worrying lessens, life gets a bit less serious and a bit more peaceful and enjoyable.

I figured, though, that some of the lessons I've learned over time should be documented for posterity.  You know, for those who want a road map or cheat sheet on their way to forty.

1. Stop spending time worrying about how you look, because in reality, everyone else is too busy worrying about how they look to pay that much attention to you.

2. If you like someone, just tell that person.  The worst that can happen is that they laugh in your face.  I laughed in someone's face when he said he liked me, and I ended up marrying him.  We got divorced a few years later (minor details).

3. Take your foot off the gas pedal when you want to slow down.  Don't put your foot on the brake.  You'll mess your car up that way.  I don't know how exactly, but I'm pretty sure I'm right.

4. Mistakes won't kill you.  They'll make you humble.

5. Strive for excellence, not perfection.  We just can't be perfect.  Plus, no one really likes perfect people.

6. Working out really does relieve stress.  Just don't spend a lot of money on a gym that's completely out of the way of any other place you go.  Makes no sense.  Take it from me.

7. When you go work out, don't take your phone with you.  Turn it off whenever you can.  At school, at church, at the gym.  These are places where you feed your mind, spirit, and body.  No one needs to interfere with that.

8. Put your general doctor's, gynecologist's, dentist's, eye doctor's, and mechanic's numbers in your phone.  And the number to one good pizza place, and one good restaurant that makes your favorite pasta dish.  You never know.

9. DO NOT, I repeat, DO NOT break up with someone when you're experiencing PMS.  You might possibly change your mind.

10. Go to sleep when you're tired.  Your mind doesn't work when it's tired.

11. Make sure your house and work place are stocked with some form of chocolate.

12. Wine.

13. No matter how much your mother or father piss you off, for whatever reason, don't stop talking to them.  They may regret how they've acted (or not acted) towards you, but you don't want to live with regret because you left things unsaid.

14. Floss.  Plaque can kill.

15. Demand an HIV test with documentation.  You think plaque kills?  Try AIDS.

16. Carry some kind of antibacterial thing for your hands.  People do not wash their hands after they use the bathroom.

17. Just in case you're one of those people, wash your hands after using the bathroom.

18. Put your hair up or wrap it if you're going to cook for others.  I don't care if your hair is clean, I don't want to eat it.

19. Walk on the right side.  Especially when you're walking up or down NYC subway stairs.

20. Half way there...Reward yourself with a glass of wine.

21. Indulge. It puts a smile on your face, and sometimes a nice memory.

22. Don't worry about hurting a guy's feelings.  It will remind him that he has them.

23. Get up right now.  Go to the mirror.  Say, "You are just too sexy", or some variation on that, while sticking your butt out with your hand on your hip.

24. Smile when you're putting blush on.

25. Go somewhere by yourself.  The movies, Starbucks, Disney World.  It will force you to spend time with yourself and appreciate who you are.

26. No lipstick when you're kissing a man.  They do not want that taste.  They want you.

27. You don't always have to match your clothes perfectly.

28. However, you should match your wine and food.  Cupcake Red Velvet Wine and a Chocolate Merlot cupcake match perfectly.

29. If you're bored, it's because you're not requiring enough of yourself.  Raise your expectations for yourself.

30. Expectations.  You can have them for yourself, not so much for others.

31. Do what you love, even if you can't do it for a living.  Even if it's writing a blog post about once a month.

32. Encourage others to do what they love.  They will love you for it.

33. Don't compete with anyone but yourself.

34. You're smarter than you think you are.

35. You're smarter than they might think you are.

36. Open your heart so that everyone can see just how beautiful you really are.

37. Open your (spiritual) eyes and ears so that you see and hear what God wants to show and tell you.

38. Stop being so angry.  It makes you ugly.

39. Work through your pain.  It will make you a better person, and you will love yourself more.

40. LOVE.  The noun and the verb.  Life will feel so much more real and you will feel connected to everything in this universe.

And an extra for good measure:

And stop to taste the wine.

Love, Trish

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Who You Callin' A B*tch?

Appropriate for female dogs.
Not for women.
This has been an interesting week in the world of Facebook. Every once in a while certain posts catch my attention, in both positive and negative ways. Sometimes, I find empowering posts by women for women, such as this one:

This photo contained a story about a sign posted at a gym with a picture of a thin woman. The caption read, "This summer, do you want to be a mermaid or a whale?" The post went on to tell the story about how wonderful whales are; they are surrounded by friends, sing beautifully, and are dearly loved, while mermaids do not exist. At the end of the post, the writer states: "We are not fat, we are greatly cultivated." I thought the french model pictured above was beautiful, and I loved the story, so I posted it to my Facebook wall. Since it received mostly positive feedback, I thought it was empowering to women. 

On the other hand, I saw some other posts that disturbed me. Now, some of these posts were by people I'm friends with on Facebook, so I've removed their names, because I'm not attempting to debate these particular people; I just question their posts.

This week, Apple icon Steve Jobs died. He was a positive person who followed his dream, and in the process he changed technology in ways that people truly appreciated. There were several Steve Jobs quotes circulating the social networks this week, and it was obvious that many people personally felt affected by this great loss to the field of technology. Take this person's post for example:
"Im not gonna name them out but some ppl are flat out fffing stupid!!! ..... so she says.... "I'm sad that I there won't be any new ipod versions...but at least I have the latest ipod."..... Really!!! WTF!!! SMH!!!.....Rest in peace and rest assured Steve Jobs...your legacy is rock solid and yes there will [be] newer versions of the Ipod...what a stupid bitch!!!"
Obviously, this person was deeply affected by the loss of Steve Jobs, and the post, I'm sure, was meant to portray his respect and admiration for the iconic figure. However, regardless whether he was upset at the loss or just woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning, was it necessary to call the woman he refers to a "stupid bitch"? I mean, the woman who thought there would never be new versions of the Ipod obviously wasn't a brain surgeon, but I'm not quite sure what it was about her post that made her a bitch. I remember reading that and getting this feeling in the pit of my stomach that stayed with me for awhile. What made it worse is that a woman responded to the post with the always articulate, "LMAO!" (Yes, I'm being sarcastic. It doesn't take much to get me to laugh really hard; it takes a lot to get me to respond to anything with an "LMAO".)

Just a few hours ago, I got on Facebook and saw the following picture:

Underneath it, a woman commented twice:

"marilyn is so beautiful. i have her picture on a poster behing my bed, and others all over my alls." (SIC)

"that other bitch..... will never be on a poster..... and damn sure never in my room."
Let me be clear: I. HATE. DUCK. LIPS. I wish I could just tell every young woman out there that she looks absolutely ridiculous poking her lips out in such an unattractive manner. And honestly, does the young woman really think that expression, along with the peace sign, make her cool? I won't assume. But the commenter felt compelled to call her a "bitch". Why? Honestly, if you look at both photos, Marilyn may be sending a message to men that she's ready and willing to cater to their every need. The young woman on the right could be sending any message, but it looks like she doesn't care what anyone thinks about her, and as far as I'm concerned, that's a bit more empowering than Marilyn's "Give me your love package" look.

Here's the thing. Not all women are necessarily going to care about their image. Not all women are conscious about their words and actions. However, whatever our mode of expression might be, be it through our words, our body image, our facial expressions, or even our attitudes, there's no reason to call us bitches.

I'm strong, I'm confident, I'm bold, and I say what I think. Some people might think I'm a bitch. I disagree. Whatever I do and whatever I say, my intention is always to do and say it with love. If that makes you uncomfortable, then it's your problem. Calling me a bitch won't resolve your issues. All it does it demonstrate your lack of ability to appreciate me for all of who I am, especially if it doesn't conform to your perceptions of who a woman should be in this society.

Don't go around calling women bitches. Unless you're okay with men being called assholes. I'm sure when men stop to think about it, it's the last thing they'd want to be called.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

The Importance of the Verb

A verb is a part of speech that conveys action.  Verbs appear alongside nouns, and without verbs a sentence is not complete; it is just a fragment.  Without a complete statement, the person hearing or reading will, in most cases, be confused, and will misunderstand the idea being communicated.

"Action" can be defined as something that is done or performed, an act or a deed.  Actions are different from feelings in that actions are demonstrable, while feelings are a state of consciousness that can be subject to interpretation.  As a counselor, I listen to my clients and attempt to identify the emotions they are conveying.  Most people don't walk into a meeting with me ready to state that they feel insecure, depressed, sad, or rejected, as these emotions convey vulnerability, which most people won't admit to.  As a counselor, my job is to lead my client on a journey of self-awareness where he or she identifies emotions and the thoughts or events that led to those particular feelings, and then takes action so that he or she can move forward.  In other words, our conscious minds produce thoughts that lead to feelings, and those feelings lead to actions.

A verb is an action.  An action is clear, demonstrable, and connotes decisiveness.  An action, while still subject to interpretation, provides more clarity than a lack of action.

I've learned the difference between a noun and a verb; a feeling and an action.  I've been told "I love you" many times by several people.  Hearing the words "I love you" makes my heart swell and makes me feel alive.  Then, I want to take action.  I want to see the person.  I want to talk.  I want to spend time with the person.  Being around the person gives love (the feeling) the opportunity to be love (the action).  When love is demonstrated, it clears away confusion and brings clarity to the relationship.

I've learned that some people can easily say "I love you" as a feeling, but can't seem to translate that feeling into action.  I've learned that, even when I want to take action, others might have guards up that prevent them from moving forward in that love they claim to feel.  For me, love without action is incomplete. Just as a sentence without both a noun and a verb is a fragment, love (the feeling) without love (the action) becomes unclear, confusing, and easily misunderstood.

I've learned that when you give your heart to someone, you have to be ready to take action.  You also have to keep in mind that, if that person doesn't take action, his or her love for you is incomplete.  True love is demonstrated.

Love as a noun is a good start.  Love as a verb is what moves us forward.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Boys Will Be Boys (Until They're Taught To Be Men)

Being the program advisor/coordinator of a women's leadership group has its benefits and its challenges.  Some of the benefits are the personal connections with young women around the college campus where I work, and the opportunities afforded to them, and to me, to meet prominent women in the community, country, and the world.  Of course, the greatest benefit is the feeling of great pride and love that fills my heart when I see confident, self-assured young women leaders around the campus who got their start with my women's group.

One of the challenges is that I am sometimes the recipient of attention and commentary that has absolutely nothing to do with who I am personally or even professionally.  I previously wrote about being labeled a feminist as if it were a negative thing in a post titled, "And Ain't I A Feminist?".  I understand that perceptions will develop out of my role as the leader of a women's empowerment group; after all, as I help empower young women, some men are bound to feel as if their power is being appropriated.  However, in the past few months I've noticed how, as a society, we have allowed gender perceptions to guide male/female interactions as if they were completely acceptable, without questions.

Specifically, during the summers as part of my counseling and advising role, our department hosts a multi-week program that assists incoming freshmen with the academic and social transition to college.  For the most part, we hire students in our program because they've gone through the experience and serve as leaders and role models for success.  A challenge came when a young woman who participated in my women's program had to get the attention of 120 of these post-high school/pre-college students who had just finished eating dinner (a formidable task only two days into the program).  I had always perceived her as soft-spoken and somewhat shy, yet she projected her voice, got their attention at once, and gave clear and concise instructions to the huge group she addressed.  As I was standing with some of the male students who were working with us as peer mentors, I stated, "Wow, look at her!  She's being so assertive!"  One of the boys, who is also a member of a similar type of men's leadership group on campus, stated, "That's because your group makes women angry."  I proceeded to correct him, letting him know there was a difference between anger and assertiveness.  Another young man, also a member of this men's group, stated, "We leave our group meetings feeling great", and made an "Ahhhh" sound.  The first boy decided to add on, "Yes, and your girls leave your meetings feeling angry and hating men."  He and his male peers proceeded to laugh together as if this was just the funniest thing anyone had ever said.  (For the record, we barely talk about men during our sessions.)

Just last week, our groups were represented at our campus student organization expo.  Of course, they were asked to set up next to each other.  As I stopped by to check on the women and how sign ups were going, that same young man came up to me to say that their group had signed up more people than our group did.  I congratulated him but reminded him that it was not a competition, and as I spoke up, I noticed that about two or three other men surrounded me, then started joking about ME, personally, imitating me as if I sounded like one of the Basketball Wives (which I do not take as a compliment).  Of course, this was hilarious to them.  Later on, back at my office, little boy number one continued with the "we're better than you, we signed up more people than you" mantra, to which I replied, "I understand that your insecurity makes you want to compete with us.  However, there's no competition."  I hoped that by this one small response, he would think about the reasons why he felt the need to continue to assert some kind of superiority.  I doubt it made a difference.

Don't get me wrong, I can joke around, and I do.  One of the reasons that two or three young men feel the need to "gang up" on me is because they all know I can take one out in about three words.  However, it made me think about what we allow boys to do, and why we do that.

"Boys will be boys" is one of those statements that is made with either disgust and resignation, or flippantly and blithely.  In conversations about these interactions with my male colleagues, they mentioned that some of these boys are immature, and, "you know girls mature more quickly than boys."  Although I understand there might be some kind of maturity gap between young men and women (and older ones for that matter), part of that gap exists due to a general acceptance in society not to hold boys accountable for some of their actions and comments.  The sadder aspect of the idea that "boys will be boys", for me, is that as a society, we're saying that we're not going to hold them to a higher standard, that they don't need the attention and focus we might give to girls in teaching them how to be "ladies".  We're saying that we won't hold them accountable, and in the process of letting them "be boys", we're not teaching them to be men.

Instead of writing off comments and actions as childish and immature, why don't we ask these boys, especially those who consider themselves leaders or role models, to question their reasons for making such comments?  When my students (regardless of gender) make poor decisions, I ask them why.  If their answer is, "I don't know", I don't let them get away with that.  They must sit and reflect on their decisions, their words, and their actions until they come to a new understanding of themselves.  They usually thank me for holding them accountable.  They grow from these experiences.

Let's not let boys be boys.  Let's teach them how to be men.  Not only will they be better for it, we all will benefit.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Yes, I Am C.A.T.T.Y. (and proud of it!)

I just got back home from a very energizing evening, so energizing that, even though I would be normally be getting ready for bed at this time, I feel like writing. What did I do this evening that energized me?  I spent the past four hours chatting with a woman, a sociology professor that teaches at the college where I work.  

Last Thursday, I had lunch with another woman who is the President of the Chamber of Commerce in the county where I work.  I'd met her at a luncheon for an alumna of the college, and the following semester she did a workshop on advocacy for the young women's leadership program I coordinate.  Since then, she's been a big supporter of my women's program.  

At church yesterday, a woman that I've known for the past seven years through our small group came and sat next to me.  We hugged and talked during the announcements and offering.  

What were the topics of conversation with these women?  Well, the woman at church and I were talking about the classes we would be taking this semester.  She's a mother of two with a busy husband whom she sells real estate with, while writing for a newspaper and writing lessons for the church small group curriculum, who is also pursuing a Master's degree in Social Work.  I'm not married and I don't have children, but on top of my job, I run a women's leadership program that takes up a lot of my time.  I also take time to go to New York City as often as possible to help care for my elderly mother.  I run my household by myself, try to get to the gym a few times a week, and now I am starting a doctoral program in Higher Education.  I hadn't seen this woman in over two months.  Could we have caught up on church gossip?  I'm sure.  However, we were more interested in talking about how we were planning on balancing our busy lives with the expectations of graduate classes.

The President of the Chamber of Commerce and I talked about fear.  I told her that I would be starting school in about a week, and that I was scared.  She told me that for the past eight years since she's been President, she's woken up scared, telling herself, "I'm going to my new job."  She said, "For eight years, I've been calling this my 'new' job!"  And she told me something that will stay with me for the rest of my life: "If you aren't scared, you're complacent.  It's good to be scared.  People who are scared are people who take risks."

The sociology professor and I had dinner with her son and his friends, then sat down with coffee and talked about pedagogy (a fancy word for "teaching").  We discussed a strategy I'd learned in my master's level counseling program, and talked about ways she could use it with her students.  We brainstormed a few more ideas, then talked about the process of connecting with others, and finally we talked about power and strength.  I told her about my journey toward embracing my power, and how for some people, my power could be intimidating or overwhelming.  Her words: "You are the Presence of Health (or the Divine, or God), and sick people will either be drawn to you because they want to be healed, or they will want to destroy you because you expose their illness."  Deep, right?

While the television networks are showing us images of women fighting each other and exposing either their thongs or their Spanx on so-called "reality shows", REAL women are having REAL conversations.  While society would have us believe that women are catty (as in spiteful or vindictive), I am having conversations with strong, amazing women who are supportive of my strength, as opposed to competing with me to see who's stronger.  

Women and men both say that women are catty.  They say it without thought, as though it is a given.  Every time I hear that comment, I say, "I beg to differ."  I have seen the difference that confidence and support make in my own life as well as the lives of the young women I work with.  I don't see anything catty about the women I encounter.  However, if you still think I'm catty, or that the women you work with, or go to church with, or network with are catty, then I'll agree, as long as you know that we are:

C - Confident and strong
A - Aware of who we are 
T - Tenacious and persistent
T - Tantalizing (We're women, how can we not be?)
Y - Young at heart, in mind, and in spirit

So go ahead, call me C.A.T.T.Y.  I'm proud of who I am, and of the women I know who aren't afraid to be C.A.T.T.Y. too!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The Waiting List

In May 2011, the class that entered college when I started my current job graduated.  This class inspired change on our campus; from participating in protests and rallies to becoming student leaders in residence life, student government, and cultural clubs, they literally took over the campus and turned it into a positive, more diverse environment.  However, the beginning of their senior year was fraught with emotion: elation at making it to senior year when some of their cohort didn't, sadness at the thought of leaving the place they'd called home for four years, and worry over what their future held, especially in these tough economic times.  I had grown extremely close to this class over the past four years, so I attempted to help them through the transition from college to "The Real World".

Many of these optimistic "Generation Y"-ers wanted to do something that would make a difference in the world, much as they did in college.  As college students, they raised awareness about issues affecting people around the world, studied abroad learning about healthcare and education disparities, and spent their own money donating to enterprising women in developing countries.  They applied to jobs and internships through various non-profit organizations. Throughout this process, some of them expressed their concern about not finding something right after graduation.  Some of them watched as their peers got accepted into programs or internships or got jobs.  While they attempted to support each other as a group, individually their anxiety was mounting as graduation day grew closer.

A few of these students were placed on the waiting list for positions they had interviewed for.  I received this news from them along with a mixture of hope and disappointment.  My duty as a counselor was to remain positive and tell them that they were great and would be chosen for their coveted positions.  I also attempted to convince them that, in waiting, they could rest and spend time on leisure activities or on personal growth experiences.  Of course, as they waited, I also held my breath in a figurative sense.  These students were such amazing people who brought me joy just by their mere presence and could transform the atmosphere of any room they walked into.  One by one I received emails and text messages saying, "Ms. G, I got in!"  And my response was, "Well of course you did, what did you expect?"

The "waiting list" is one of those concepts that evokes a multitude of conflicting emotions - worry and anxiety, relief and hope.  It can cause self-doubt, have us wondering why we weren't chosen first, even lead to a lowering of our standards and expectations.  The process of waiting can also be an invaluable experience.  In waiting, we can rest, recuperate, and reflect on our past experiences and what we want to take with us as we move forward in our lives.  In waiting, we are growing in the safety of a cocoon that we know, even while that very cocoon might start to become uncomfortable as we grow and transform.

I have been waiting a while for certain things in my life.  At this point, I've been "chosen" to receive some of my desires, but I'm still waiting for some to be fulfilled.  In the process of waiting, I've learned that everything I want might not be what is best for me at this particular moment.  I've learned to let go of expectations that had nothing to do with my personal values and were more learned behavior.  I've learned to accept myself for who I am while holding on to the perseverance and resilience necessary to move forward in life.  Although I still wait for some of my heart's desires, I appreciate the lessons I'm learning in the process of waiting.

Recently, I spent time with someone who I had been dating on and off for a while.  We'd both been divorced and were guarded and cautious about committing to a relationship.  I told him that, despite our strong connection, I knew we were looking for different things out of life, and I shared that I desire marriage and children.  After having time to think, he told me that, although he never considered remarrying, my desire for a family is causing him to rethink his perspective.  Of course, the process of "rethinking" for him translates into a process of waiting for me, if I so choose to.  Much like my students, the idea of waiting brings me anxiety and hope - anxiety that I might be waiting for something that might never happen, and hope that somehow, it will.

Most recently, he and I took a walk on a beautiful pier, and as I felt the breeze and listened to the waves gently rocking against the docked boats, I said to him, "This is the life I want to live."  His response: "You're living it RIGHT NOW."  Those five words put waiting into perspective for me.  I'm actually NOT waiting, I'm LIVING.  And, as all living beings do, I am growing, learning, evolving, and maturing.  So, although I might think I'm on the waiting list, in reality, I'm right where I need to be at this very moment, and I choose to enjoy it.  This moment, RIGHT NOW, was worth the wait.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011


Over the past few months, something shifted inside of me.  I thought at first that I had stopped caring, that I had given up, or maybe I went back to the comfort of not allowing myself to feel.  Not to sound cliché, but I had fallen in love, been disappointed, and attempted to move on and heal.  I threw myself into work to the point of exhaustion and made plans for my future - alone.  

I will hit a milestone birthday in three months.  Since my birthday last year, I've thought of this milestone birthday every day.  I'm not kidding.  And sometimes, I've thought about what I'd hoped I would have by this time in my life.  A husband, children, a nice home in a suburb, a stable job that I enjoyed, no financial issues.  The only thing on that list I can say I have is the stable job, which I do enjoy, although on occasion I feel like getting in my car, driving away and never coming back to work.  I've had friends whose husbands or close friends throw birthday parties in honor of this milestone.  I can say with confidence that no one is going to throw me a birthday party.  My family and closest friends are spread out in different areas of the country, and it takes about a month of planning to meet up with my friends here for a simple dinner, much less planning a party.  I'm not asking for a party; my point is that I don't have what most of my friends have at this point in their lives - a family of my own.  Which I really thought I would have.

What I do have, though, are some things I'm not sure very many of my friends or family members possess.  I have the ability to decide for myself what my life will be like going forward.  I have the ability to change my job, my living situation and my geographical location pretty much on a whim.  I have had, over the course of the eleven years that I've been separated and divorced, plenty of opportunity to reflect and grow as an individual.  I have developed self-assurance, self-sufficiency, self-esteem, and self-confidence.  I have been given the opportunity to learn how to love myself.  I am still in that process, but I recognize self-love now, and I embrace it.  

I chose to open up two years ago after being closed off to love for almost ten years.  I was emotionally unavailable and aloof.  I did not develop relationships because I didn't want people to disappoint me the way my ex-husband had.  The process of opening up was painful, and I'm still experiencing it.  Over the past two years, I have felt deep pain, but I have also felt joy and peace.  I learned that I could not expect perfection from another human being, especially if I was not perfect myself.  I learned that I could not expect someone to constantly reassure me that he would always be there, especially since I wasn't a hundred percent there myself.  I learned that in life, we don't always get what we "deserve", which could be a good or bad thing.  What we are guaranteed is a lesson that we were created to learn to help us grow and move forward in the self-actualization process.

I learned one of the most important lessons of my life over the past two years.  I learned that I had to be more accepting of people.  However, in order to be accepting of others, I learned that I had to accept myself first.  No more beating myself up or expecting perfection of myself.  I learned to accept my flaws, to work on what I needed to change, to let go of what I could not change, and to be as kind to myself as I am to others.  Self-deprecating thoughts have been replaced with self-affirmation.  I set personal goals and achieve them.  I care more about my health and personal appearance, and have actually taken the steps to do the work needed to improve in these areas.  Most importantly, I realized that the only person I had to seek approval from was myself, and only in the sense that I understand that who I am right at this moment is who God created me to be.  Because He is perfect, I know that I am no mistake.  I am exactly who I was created to be right at this moment. If that's alright with God, then it's alright with me.

I learned that I hadn't given up, or closed myself off, or stopped caring.  I merely looked at myself for who I am, and said, "I accept you."  From there, I found the freedom to accept others, and this opened up my heart to love others like never before.  And there's nothing more beautiful on this earth than to love and be loved.  

Thursday, June 2, 2011

What Is Trust?

Trust can be defined as"reliance on the integrity, strength, ability, surety, etc., of a person or thing; confidence"; "confident expectation of something; hope."  To place your trust in someone or something means to believe in that person or thing.  To believe means "to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so".  Trusting, hoping, and believing are not tangible; you cannot go to a store and buy trust.  You cannot manufacture hope or belief.  It's not possible.

If trust is not a tangible thing, where does it come from?  Whenever people are asked to name a quality they seek in the people they choose to partner with in life, one of the first responses most people give is "trust".  Why is trust so important?  How did something so immeasurable become so essential to our relationships?

I believe that I never really understood what trust was until my trust was betrayed.  I'm sure I've been disappointed by people in the past, but never really thought that I couldn't trust them anymore.  Betrayal, however, means I can never trust that person again.  At what point does disappointment become betrayal, breaking this sacred trust?  

I ask these questions because, as I continue my journey of self-discovery (which seems never-ending), I've come to realize that my definition of trust is never static.  In the past, my ability to trust has been based on my expectations - what I believed was right and true for me.  When I felt disappointed, hurt, or betrayed by someone, it's because that person didn't meet my expectations.  That person didn't do what I would have done.  In other words, that person is not me.

In my last post, I mentioned that my expectations were largely to blame for the failure of my relationships.  As soon as someone didn't meet my expectations, that relationship was irreparable for me.  I felt unsure and began to perceive the person as unreliable, therefore, unworthy of my trust.  That is a lot of pressure to put on someone.  Imagine starting a relationship telling someone: "You must prove yourself worthy of my trust."  That's arrogant, and borders on narcissistic.  But isn't that what we ask of others, when we "test" them in the various ways humans like to play games and manipulate each other?  

If trust means "confidence", "belief", "hope", and those things are intangible, how can people prove themselves worthy of trust?  How can people prove something that has no "absolute proof"?  

I continue to ask questions about trust, because it is an important concept to me, and because I know I do not have the answers.  However, there are some personal truths relating to the concept of trust that have begun to guide my life:
  • God is my Creator.  He is the One I must trust, for He knows my beginning, my end, and everything in between.  
  • People were not placed on this earth to meet my expectations. No one is required to prove him or herself to me. Anyone who comes into my life is there to teach me a life lesson, not to stroke my ego.  
  • Speaking of ego, I need to remember that no one is me. I AM ME. No one else.  And therefore, I cannot ask someone to think or act like me.  Just one of me is more than enough for this world!
  • I am certain that nothing is certain.  Someone in my life today could be gone tomorrow, by the mere fact that I do not hold the knowledge of what could happen tomorrow.
  • My journey is mine, and for the time others are a part of it, I must accept who they are and where they are on their personal journey.
  • Belief, hope, and confidence come through consistency.  I can only control my own consistency, no one else's.  Therefore, if I am consistent, others will begin to have confidence in me.  And I can only trust that what I put out into the universe will come back to me, even a hundredfold.
  • Sometimes, trust holds fear's hand.  This happens because we were created to question, doubt, investigate, internalize knowledge and wisdom, and then decide to trust.  This is the moment when trust can drop fear's hand and walk on confidently.
As we walk through life, our experiences teach us who to trust, and for some of us that number dwindles with  time.  However, the most important thing is to remain open to who and what God has placed in your life in that moment, to let go of fear's hand, and to know that, above all, "Trust involves letting go and knowing God will catch you." (Dr. James Dobson)

You don't have to trust me, and you don't have to believe what I'm saying. That's what is so beautiful about this journey, called life, that we are all on.  It is our own.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

I Give Up! (aka That's IT! I'm breaking up with you, Mets!)

Maxim/Getty Images
I'm watching the New York Mets get hammered by the New York Yankees, and my heart is breaking.  I've loved the Mets since I was a kid.  I have five brothers, and I have fond memories of watching Mets games with them, playing wiffleball in the park, and of them trying to teach me how to play sports despite the fact that I was a girl and deathly afraid of getting hit in the face by a ball.

My love for the Mets grew when I was a teenager.  Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling were my darlings; I thought they were so dreamy.  The 1986 World Series was an amazing experience; the Mets really were "The Amazin's" that year.  My favorite song that year was: "We've got the teamwork, to make the dream work, let's go, LET'S GO METS!"  I'd listen to baseball games on the radio while doing homework, and I'd watch whenever it was on television.

Then the abuse began.  Little by little, the players I'd known were traded or moved into coaching positions, and I broke up with them for the first time when Daryl Strawberry was traded.  Don't ask me the details, and yes I know he loved him some drugs.  But for me, he was the embodiment of the Mets' magic.  Watching him play baseball drew me in and kept me riveted.  When he was gone, the magic was gone for me.

Many years passed, and I moved on.  But a few years ago, Jose Reyes came into my life.  He became my new Daryl Strawberry, Keith Hernandez, and Ron Darling all rolled into one.  He played with the "oomph" of Daryl, was a leader like Keith, and smooth as heck like Ron.  From about 2007 to 2009, watching the Mets was exciting and reminiscent of the 80's, and I was falling in love all over again.  Then, with injuries to leaders such as Reyes and Carlos Beltran in the 2009 season, the Mets started abusing me again.  I'll start off excited about baseball season, start watching for a bit, then the Mets break my heart and I stay away.  Today's one of those days.  The Mets were up 3-1 when I turned the game on in the 3rd inning, and they kept that lead until the 7th inning. I had some hope, but somehow I knew they would let me down.  Sure enough, the Yankees scored EIGHT (8) (ocho) runs in the bottom of the 7th, and the Mets lost 9-3.

I can't.  Every season when these huge losses happen, I tell myself I can't continue loving this team.  However, I know that I'll forget, and next season I'll be excited again, I'll be nostalgic for my childhood team, and I'll want to watch.  And as long as Jose Reyes is on the team (doesn't seem like it will be much longer), I'll feel compelled to watch.

My love affair with the Mets reminds me of romantic relationships.  We get into relationships hoping that this time, we'll win the championship.  We have expectations, rules, standards, and boundaries of this new person we are allowing into our lives.  Sometimes we overlook certain negative traits because, overall, this new person is bringing some "oomph" into our lives.  He (or she) brings the magic, like Daryl or Jose did for me.  But eventually, we start to see that this new person may not meet our expectations or standards.  He may not fit into the intended outcome for our lives.  When the relationship is drawing to a close, we may feel as if our hearts are being ripped out and stomped on.  At this moment, we tell ourselves "I won't put myself through that again."

Maybe I'm just talking about myself, so I'll write in the first person.  There have been a few men in my life who have walked in, completely stomped on my heart, walked out, and tried to walk back in.  After healing from heartbreak and learning whatever needed to be learned, I've allowed them back in.  People constantly tell me that I shouldn't, mainly because they're concerned that I'll get hurt again, and God bless them for caring so much about me.  However, I think that the reason I let people back into my life after they've hurt me is because I continually learn that my expectations were a huge part of the reason the relationship didn't work out.  Truthfully, I've broken up with most of the men I've dated because they did something I didn't like, or they didn't meet my expectations.  My desire to control the outcome of the relationship led me to break up with them, then I would cry because I missed them and felt hurt and heartbroken.  Now I see them as human beings, just like me, who aren't perfect and make mistakes.  Just because we didn't live happily ever after doesn't mean they were bad people.

When it comes to relationships, we're all dealing with past hurts - ALL of us.  In the past few years, I've come to understand that men are not intentionally hurting me.  They're just not meeting my expectations.  So maybe I need to give up those expectations and learn to enjoy each relationship for what it is teaching me about myself.

The past two years are a perfect example.  My most recent deliverer of "oomph" was my first boyfriend ever at the age of 12 (who also happens to love the Mets, by the way).  We reconnected two years ago and started dating.  It didn't work out as I'd hoped; he didn't meet my expectations, had his own issues, no one thought he deserved me, and I pushed him away repeatedly.  However, I've come to realize that, primarily because of how he's challenged me in our time together, I've grown personally, creatively, emotionally, and professionally in the past two years.  I've become a much better version of myself; more open to others, less judgmental, more loving, and more expressive of that love.  I even tell my mother I love her when I see her, which is not a part of our upbringing.  So, could it be that this person played a role in my growth without meeting a single expectation of mine? "Amazin'"-ly, yes.

Right now, the Mets have broken my heart.  But I'll be nostalgic for the "Amazin's" again eventually, even if they're not so "Amazin'".

Monday, May 9, 2011

Resistance Is Futile (Get Comfortable with Change!)

By Hugh MacLeod
About two weeks ago, I bought a new laptop.  My old laptop has been hangin' tough with me for almost eight years.  It never crashed, I never lost anything I'd written, it never got a crazy virus that wiped out my hard drive, nothing.  Granted, I am pretty careful about downloading and I barely used it for more than online surfing and creating documents, but in eight years, I cannot say I'd had any major problems with it.

But I needed a new laptop.  The old one just didn't have enough memory to even watch a video.  I couldn't download new programs or update my old ones.  I asked my nephew, who is about to graduate with a master's degree in computer science, to take a look at it and help me pick out a new laptop.  He said, simply, that my old laptop just didn't have enough memory.  It wasn't that I had put so much stuff on it that slowed it down, it just wasn't capable of giving me what I needed at this time.

I gave in, and bought a new laptop.  I'm using it right now.  But this laptop...well, although my nephew assured me it was a pretty good laptop, and all of the reviews were positive, so many people who had previously bought this brand did not like it at all.  People told me stories of how quickly the battery dies, how hot the laptop gets, how it crashed within a short time after they purchased it.  There were so many opinions about this laptop that, every time I turn it on or use it for more than an hour, I get a little anxious.  I haven't truly enjoyed my new laptop.  I keep wondering when it's going to "go" on me, or what will happen if I download iTunes, or if I'm not understanding how to use it, and will it break because I don't completely understand it yet.

The new laptop doesn't have any of my pictures, my music, or the books I've started to write.  It doesn't know anything about me.  Sometimes I have to go back to the old laptop to retrieve information.  It requires effort to plug it in, turn it on, and wait for it to start up to get what I need from it.  The new one and I are still getting to know each other, but the old one knows me, and I understand it.  But I just can't get what I need from it anymore.  Times have changed, technology has evolved, and I must change and evolve as well.

In life, as in technology, we must change; we must evolve.  In order to progress as individuals in our personal or professional lives, we have to be open to new people, ideas, circumstances, feelings, and mindsets.  Sometimes the job you've had for a long time has provided you with comfort, stability, and a good paycheck, but it's not helping you grow as a professional or providing intellectual challenges.  Sometimes the people who have been in your life the longest are easy to keep around because you know them, but they are not willing to support you, or don't listen to you, or they don't want to change or grow, much less deal with you if you're trying to change or grow.  Sometimes the thought patterns you've carried throughout your life are comfortable, but there's always an out of place thought that pops up, telling you that this isn't working, there must be something else, something more.

It's easy to remain in our comfort zones.  It's hard when people don't understand our desire to grow and to move in a different direction. It's frightening when we think we have to start all over again, that if we start a new relationship, we have to create all new memories, or if we start a new job and it doesn't work out, we've lost professional or financial stability.  We hold ourselves back when we continue to live with the fear that what's ahead of us will not work out.  But if we could understand that change is inevitable and will help us grow, we would embrace the new while appreciating the old that carried us through to our present point.  Resistance is futile.  Fighting change is like swimming against the tide, or trying to walk up the left side of a crowded New York City subway staircase.  All it does is keep you in the same place, like a hamster in a wheel, running but going nowhere.  Futile. 

This new laptop is pretty cool.  I will enjoy it for the time that I have it, and if and when I need a new one, I believe that God will make a way for me to get it, just as He made a way for me to get this one, just in time for me to start a new adventure - a doctoral program.  That's pretty much how the universe works, isn't it?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Oops, I Did It Again!

Over the past weekend, I attended the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference in Baltimore, MD for the second year in a row.  This time, I brought a group of young women from the women's leadership group I advise.  During last year's conference, the keynote speaker talked about securing our own oxygen masks before assisting others.  I promptly came home from the conference and wrote a blog post about how much that concept resonated with me and how I was going to make some changes so that I could be more effective as a counselor, beginning with learning how to care for myself. (You can read that blog post here.)

A year has passed, and in that time, I have accomplished some things that indicate that I am moving forward in my life.  I began to write more, which is not a hobby, but as much a necessity for me as breathing.  I took some time off from ministry, which had become more like something I had to do than something I got to do.  I moved, and in the process of moving I purged things from my past that no longer had any place in my life.  I stopped trying to hold on to a relationship where we were obviously both on different pages.  I helped plan a successful women's leadership conference for the third year in a row, this time with Michelle Obama's former chief of staff as our keynote speaker.  I attended a leadership institute for directors and aspiring directors of college opportunity programs.  I applied for a doctoral program and was accepted.  Just in the past week, I helped plan activities for two groups of high school students who came to visit our college on the same day.  I also completed the arrangements for the trip to Baltimore with eleven young women from the leadership group.  All of this planning occurred in the midst of my regular job duties and my plans for implementing a new student initiative.  Moving forward.  Full steam ahead.

If you're reading this, I would expect that you would be tired by now.  Or have a headache.  Or you might be thinking about all of the things you have gotten done, or need to do.  It's okay!  I have a paradigm shift for you!

First, let me acknowledge that I'm not sure I ever kept the promises I made to myself to take care of myself before trying to take care of others.  Okay, I know I didn't.  I know this because in the past year, in the midst of accomplishing so much, I cried so much.  It was never more evident than two weeks ago, when I found out I'd been accepted to a Ph.D. program in Higher Education.  I was so happy on the day I found out, then two days later, I freaked out.  I thought about how close I am to achieving this dream I've had my whole life, and how at this point in my life I thought I would have had a husband and children, and going back to school would be the icing on the cake.  In reality, I was feeling like school was going to be the cake, and might keep me from having the family I want more than anything.  Freaking out. 

As I was sitting in the workshops and listening to the panel discussion at the Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation conference, every once in awhile tears would well up in my eyes.  Every time the tears came, I stopped to ask why they were there.  And every time the answer was the same: I had done it again.  I had put everything and everyone before myself.  I had adopted the fighter's stance once again, striving to hold on to everything I had worked so hard for.

During one of those high school visits I mentioned above, I gave an impromptu testimony of my life to local high school students.  I talked about how my family lived in a shack in Puerto Rico, and my mother had never been allowed to go to school, so she couldn't read or write.  I recalled being in the first grade, walking to my home in the housing projects in Brooklyn thinking, "I am going to do well in school because I don't want to live in the projects for the rest of my life."  I knew that I had to be the best and that I had to work harder than anyone I knew in order to succeed.  I told the students that my parents were on welfare and disability, that I could not even afford college, but that I made it, and that I am starting a doctoral program in the fall.  They applauded.  Applauded.  All the while, I was thinking, "This is for them. This is so that they know they can make it too."  All of my accomplishments, especially those of the past year, have been applauded by others. Two things came out of that testimony for me: I fight because I grew up thinking I had to, and I don't do it for me, I do it for others to know that nothing is impossible.  But all of my accomplishments, while moving me forward professionally and personally, haven't brought me happiness.

Then I heard the words I needed to hear at the conference.  Right before lunch, a short documentary about successful African-American relationships called "Black Love Lives" was screened.  Although I didn't have the opportunity to watch the entire documentary, I heard a phrase from the film repeated several times by the visionary director of Heal a Woman to Heal a Nation, Inc.:  "Before you find your soulmate, you must find your own soul." 

In the last six words of that phrase, I had found the cause of my discontent.  I need to find my own soul.  Not my purpose; my purpose gets lived out every day.  Not my spirit; my spirit has been revived and shines brightly in me as a reflection of my relationship with God.  Not my heart; my heart has been opened up and I've learned to genuinely, unconditionally love others.  My soul has been lost.  My soul is that place within me that is only mine.  The place where only one or two others speak the same language.  The place where I celebrate myself, and know that I am not my accomplishments.  I'm not my failures.  I'm just me. 

Last fall, when I made the decision to cut back on ministry, I automatically looked for something to take its place.  I looked at the books I'd started to write but hadn't finished.  I asked my writer friend for advice, because I wasn't sure that I even wanted to go back to those books I'd started.  He said that I needed to do nothing for awhile so that I could hear from my soul.  I asked him, "Do you mean my spirit?  Because I hear from God all the time in my spirit."  He said something to the effect of, "No. Your soul. Your spirit is where God speaks to you.  Your soul is where you speak to yourself."

Here's the paradigm shift: I propose that we are not our accomplishments, though they make us feel better about ourselves.  We are not even our purpose, although that is how we are used by God to impact others.  I propose that we stop to listen to our own souls, because if we don't, we are ignoring the very place God created for us to become our authentic selves; the true place of happiness.

So I ask myself now, "When will I commit to finding my own soul?"  Because as long as I don't, I will strive and fight for everything I have and everything that I want.  And I will cry, because the tears are my soul's message to me that it longs to be found.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

And Ain't I A Feminist?

Let me begin with a disclaimer.  I don't claim to know anything about feminist theory.  However, it's starting to feel like I'd better learn.

It all began with a few incidents.  A few months ago, I'd heard that a male student was talking about me, and among the negative things he said, he mentioned that I was a "feminist".  Of course, no one would tell me the worst things he said, but the underlying idea was that calling me a feminist was a really, really bad thing.

Then one morning a colleague mentioned that, regardless of her planning ahead and packing the night before, his wife will repack her bags the morning of a trip.  I responded that he just needs to accept that women will plan, but think about what they might need or forgot throughout the night, so they need to repack in the morning.  He said, "Wait, I thought you said you were all for gender equality and no gender roles and all that."  I asked, "When did I ever say that?"  He didn't know; he just assumed that was how I thought because I'm the advisor for the women's leadership group on campus.

Then, just a few weeks ago, I got a phone call from someone who claims to love me.  He called me a nickname, which I asked him to repeat because it was a new one.  I remarked that people are always giving me nicknames, and he flippantly asked, "What about bitch?"  I replied, "No one calls me that", to which he responded, "Not to your face."

All of those incidents, especially the last one, kept replaying in my mind.  All night in my sleep, I could literally hear him calling me "Bitch" (Bitch...Bitch...Bitch).  (Okay, sometimes I think my life is a television show.) Granted, my friend's humor is usually pretty crude and tasteless, but I don't allow anyone to call me that word, even as a joke.  I just can't comprehend how any man who says he loves a woman would call her anything with such a negative connotation.  We could debate the word bitch, and how some women have redefined it to mean something positive, but this is my blog, and for me, it's completely unacceptable.

I recall an incident years ago with a male student who worked for me.  We were discussing something I was knowledgeable about, and I spoke with confidence in my knowledge on the subject.  He asked me why I was becoming so aggressive.  I never raised my voice, but I wasn't tentative and I wasn't giggling or smiling as I spoke.  (If you know me, you know I'm prone to laughing and smiling A LOT.)  I told him I wasn't being aggressive, I was just stating my opinion, and he continued to accuse me of being aggressive and getting angry.  Nothing about my tone or affect changed; but his face was turning red and he was obviously offended.  By my confidence, knowledge, and serious demeanor.  Hmmm.

I have been described as a strong, assertive woman. I wasn't always that way, but I've always been fascinated with learning, and as I grew older I gained the ability to learn quickly and apply whatever I learned successfully.  With knowledge and experience, I have become the kind of woman I never really knew I could be when I was a child.  Why wouldn't I be confident?  After working so hard all of my life to achieve many of my goals, why wouldn't I be strong?  After dealing with the adversity that comes with the territory of being a Puerto Rican woman, growing up in the projects of New York City, subsisting on food stamps and getting the ugly eyeglasses that Medicaid paid for, why wouldn't I become assertive enough to go out and get what I want?

I struggle with calling myself a feminist because of the negative stereotypes that have come along with the term.  However, I find myself reaching for whatever feminism means, because I've been feeling slapped in the face by sexism and chauvinistic assumptions about who I am, what I think, and what I'm supposed to accept. If a feminist is someone who is confident, I'm a feminist.  If a feminist is someone who believes she should have the right to be called what she wants to be called, then I'm a feminist.  If a feminist is someone whose life has given her no option but to be strong, then I'm a feminist.  If a feminist is someone who is proud of her achievements, then I'm a feminist.  If a feminist is someone who doesn't wait for anyone to give her anything, but goes out and gets it for herself, then damn it, I'm a feminist.

Sojourner Truth, the black abolitionist and women's rights activist, in her 1851 address at the Ohio Women's Rights Convention, said,
"That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud-puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain't I a woman? Look at me! Look at my arm! I have ploughed and planted, and gathered into barns, and no man could head me! And ain't I a woman? I could work as much and eat as much as a man - when I could get it - and bear the lash as well! And ain't I a woman? I have borne thirteen children, and seen most all sold off to slavery, and when I cried out with my mother's grief, none but Jesus heard me! And ain't I a woman?"

Then she stated,

"If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again! And now they is asking to do it, the men better let them."

I truly believe that my purpose is that which I was created to do on this earth, though I assist my Creator in designing how I carry it out.  I believe that my purpose is to empower myself and those who come behind me to turn this world upside down and get it right side up again.  As I watch the young women I work with burn with the passion and the compassion to change the world, I ask myself the very thing I am accused of being. "Am I a feminist?"

Well, ain't I?

*"Ain't I A Woman?" address by Sojourner Truth to the Ohio Women's Rights Convention borrowed from the Modern History Sourcebook of Fordham University. http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/sojtruth-woman.html

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Choosing to Live

Yesterday, I had the closest thing to a near death experience I've ever had.  I was driving to work in a snowstorm, and the roads were getting progressively worse.  Living in Western New York, snow is a common occurrence, so a winter weather advisory doesn't stop anyone from driving.  Cars on the side of the highway in ditches are normal.  Now I understand that what looks normal to an outside observer means so much more from a personal perspective.

When I saw my coworker in a ditch, I was concerned and a little afraid, but I continued on to work.  I spoke to him and asked if he needed my help, but he was okay and the only thing he could do was wait for a tow.  As I drove on, realizing the cars on the road ahead of me were becoming more scarce, something told me I should turn around and go home.  I didn't have a lot of gas, and decided to get off at the exit I take to get to work, wondering if should continue on to work since I was already almost there.  There was no visibility once I got to the exit, and the roads were slick.  I got some gas, called my boss and told him I couldn't make it any farther and that I was going home.

About ten minutes later, I felt my car slide over to the right, and tried turning the steering wheel left.  My tires completely lost traction, and eventually I just let the inevitable happen.  I went over the right shoulder of the highway and down a few feet from the highway.  Have you ever had a nightmare that your car hit a tree or the woods?  I have, and it felt like my nightmare was coming true.  However, because I had slowed down so much, I put my foot on the brake right before it hit the small patch of woods ahead of me. 

Hands shaking, I called for a tow, and was told I would have to wait sixty to ninety minutes.  About three state troopers stopped to make sure I was okay and had the heat on, then left.  A little over two hours later, the tow truck came and pulled me out and back onto the road.  If you think going over the side of the highway was scary, try having to drive almost the whole way home in a worsening storm after you've already slid into a ditch once.  I felt my car slide at least once, but this time there were cars and trucks near me, and I was afraid I would get into a serious collision.  I got off the highway as soon as I knew I could get home using local roads, and got home a little while later. When I got home, I felt relieved, but I had been so afraid for the past three hours that I went to bed and curled up in the fetal position for about two more hours.  I was cold and hungry, but I couldn't move because I was so scared. 

In those hours waiting for that tow, praying that no other vehicles would slide in the same spot and hit my car (which one "kind" officer reminded me was a possibility, thanks), crying and texting family and friends to pray for me, I thought about why I was there in that spot.  When I talked to my coworker shortly after he slid, he said he was going to go home once he was towed, and I said that I was going to try to go in and at least pick up my computer and some work to take back home with me.  After spending the entire morning in my car, I thought about how incongruent my priorities are with my philosophy.  I say that God, people and love are most important to me, yet I risked my life trying to get to my computer and the tasks that were waiting for me yesterday.  Throughout the morning, there were indications that maybe I should not have tried to drive in, or at least I should have asked my coworker to carpool.  As I was driving, the nagging thought that I just couldn't drive in that weather one more time this winter persisted, yet I chalked it off to being exhausted and negative.  I didn't listen to my intuition yesterday.  I didn't listen to myself or God's still, small voice.  I chose work, deadlines, and tasks over people, including myself.

After that experience, I received a few texts and calls asking if I was okay.  Then I received texts and calls about work.  Then more texts about work.  More texts and calls about work this morning.  (I did get one call this morning checking on me, but not from anyone at work.) I understand that life goes on, but I question how I want my life to go on. 

At least once in our lives, we have that "near-death" type of experience, the one that requires us to slow down and reevaluate our lives.  After yesterday, I realize that what I love about my job has nothing to do with the events I attend, the financial aid forms I help students complete, the advisement I provide at registration time, or the "important" people who support the work that I do.  What I love about my job are the souls I encounter; the young people excited about life and the future, who want to change the world, who motivate me to want to change the world. 

I appreciate the experience I had yesterday, because the fear of losing my life and the prayers of "Lord, allow me to live for the purpose You created me for" are motivating me to figure out how I want to live the rest of my life. I believe that I am living my purpose when I see the light in the eyes of my students, but there are things clouding my view.  There are things preventing me from letting my own light shine.  The things will always be there; my endeavor from this day forward is to determine their priority in my life.  Things didn't sustain me yesterday, God and people did. 

One of the dictionary definitions of the word "live" (verb), is "to have a life rich in experience".  I want my life from this day forward to be rich.  I want each moment to be a meaningful, purposeful experience.  I want to learn not to be drained by things, but to be revitalized by each moment of my life.  Because we never know when our last moment will be, I'm choosing to live from now on. 

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I'm Coming Out! (I Want The World To Know...)

Since I've started this blog, I've been careful not to reveal too much about my identity because of the sensitive nature of my job.  This past week, however, I've realized that my pride for my students far outweighs the boundaries of disclosure.

As a counselor for Access Opportunity Programs and the faculty coordinator and advisor of the Women's Leadership Institute at SUNY Geneseo, I have the pleasure of working with some of the brightest students who are not only academically astute, they are also leaders and community activists.  When adversity strikes, such as the earthquake in Haiti last year, the suicides of several young males who were bullied because of their sexual orientation, the passing of a child from leukemia, or the death of a baby, only 9 days old, from congenital heart disease, these students pour their hearts, time and efforts into creating awareness and making change. 

Today, I want to share some of those efforts, especially those that were shared with the world via YouTube this week.  I am proud to say that I know these students, and for this reason, I'm coming out.  Kind of.  Just to let you know that I am proud of the students in the Access Opportunity Programs and the Women's Leadership Institute for being the catalysts for change this world needs.

The videos below speak for themselves!

Hearts for Sammy:

SUNY Geneseo - It Gets Better

Please watch, enjoy, and come out in support of the change our young people are making in the world!


Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Benefits of Being Stuck

Recently, a student asked if she could come talk to me privately in my office.  I asked her to schedule an appointment, and she got on my schedule for the following afternoon. The students have just returned from their winter break, and a new semester has begun. This young woman began by telling me that, after a semester in college, she went back home and it seemed as if nothing had changed with her parents, but many things had changed with her friends.  As I listened to her, I thought about my first break after being in college for one semester.  I thought I was GROWN, and my parents couldn't tell me what to do.  I remembered how different things were with my high school friends, and how eventually we weren't as close as I became with my college friends.  As a counselor with a knowledge of college student development theory, I knew her experience wasn't unique.  I could relate, and she felt understood, but I had to keep listening.

What was unique about this session was, of course, the individual.  Since she's not a student I've ever interacted with on an individual level, I sensed she was there for more than the normal angst of the transitioning first year college student.  We talked for awhile, and I got the sense that she was in limbo - her relationships were in conflict, she wasn't sure she was in the right environment, and she made the statement that people in limbo often say: "I just want to be happy."  So I said to her, "You feel stuck."  The lights went on, and I heard the "YES" that often comes when person feels understood.

I knew "Stuck".  I've lived with Stuck for a very long time.  Stuck likes to come along when we've lost something or someone dear to us and can't get over it.  Stuck stays when we decide it's easier to put up our guards than to risk our hearts being broken.  Stuck takes over when we become isolated and believe that life is happening to us, rather than allowing ourselves to live life fully.  I KNOW Stuck.  Stuck sucks.

However, speaking from the experience of a person who's been stuck, I also know that Stuck means something else is coming.  That Stuck won't be around forever, especially if we're hating being stuck.  And there are some great things that can happen when we're stuck.  For example:
  • When you're stuck, you begin to identify emotions that you may have been avoiding.
  • Being stuck allows you to take a break from the work it takes to maintain relationships so that you can work on yourself.
  • When you're stuck, it's the best time to take an inventory of what YOU believe is important, as opposed to what others have told you is important.
  • Being stuck shows you who and what needs to go and who and what needs to stay in your life.
  • The time spent being stuck shows you what you like and dislike about yourself, how to appreciate what you like, and that you need to change what you don't like.
All of us, at one point or another in life, have been stuck.  I was stuck when I was married.  I remember how painful it was.  I even told my husband he was killing my spirit (I understand now that my spirit was dying, but he wasn't responsible for that.).  Then we separated, and I did something I had been wanting to do for a long time: I went to graduate school.   I became passionate as I went through the counseling courses for my program, and in the process I was healing and becoming who I am today.

I was stuck in my relationship with God.  I was stuck in ministry for the sake of showing people how spiritual I am.  I was stuck in religion.  When I was hurt by several people in my church, I realized how human we ALL are.  That propelled me to not try to appear spiritual or seek the approval of those at church, and to seek an authentic, intimate relationship with God, where I could trust Him with all aspects of my life. 

I was stuck in my own rules.  I believed that I had to do things a certain way, that I had to be a certain person so that my life could go the way I wanted to.  Then I reconnected with an old friend, the one who has broken my heart a few times in the past couple of years.  He didn't fit any of my rules or standards, but he saw me for who I really am, and held a mirror up to me so that I could see myself for who I really am.  Through his blatant disregard for rules (something that irked me to no end), I learned to get past my own rules and not to stay stuck.  Yes, my heart was broken, but sometimes you need to be broken so that the beauty that is inside can pour out.  I am experiencing the beauty inside of me and learning to LIVE my life as an active participant.  For that, I am eternally grateful.

When you're stuck, good things can still happen.  They may come in packages you don't recognize, and may even cause pain, but they motivate you to leave Stuck and move forward to new and exciting adventures.