The Power of No

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As a woman I am expected to be all things. Smart, sexy, a great mom, a good employee, an amazing homemaker, an adventurous lover and so many other things. For most of my life I have made it a point to be what others have expected of me. A child that didn’t cause shame to my family, a friend who was always available and later a wife who kept the house and kid clean while satisfying my husband three to four times per week all while not uttering a compliant or stating when enough was enough. Putting the needs of other people ahead of my own had become so much of who I was that I honestly was not sure what I actually wanted for myself. It wasn’t until my business faltered, marriage began to unravel and my relationship with my sister took a turn that I started to think critically about what I wanted from life and what I was willing to stand up for.

While in counseling to help me sort out the implosion of everything around me my therapist asked me one simple question “What do you want for your life? Your answer should not take into account what other people expect you to be.” I sat there dumbfounded because I could not answer her. In fact it took me about a month to formulate a coherent answer. When I say it took me a month I’m not using hyperbole here it took me a solid 30 days or two more sessions before I had an answer for what I wanted for my life. I had strained friendships and given up friendships for my marriage, I had molded myself into the business person I thought I needed to be to be successful. I later gave up my business for my marriage and contorted myself into the person my ex-husband demanded I become with no freedoms or privacy in a vain attempt to save our marriage. I tried to pray and become the type of woman that would be blessed with a restored marriage by weathering all things as the good book suggested and through all of this my soul was dying. My spirt was crying out for freedom and seeking solace and acceptance.

During this time of soul searching a friend asked me a question that has changed the course of my life. He said “Can you live the rest of your life just as it is right now? If you can then you are all set but if you can’t what are you willing to do to change it?” The answer to this was a resounding no and there was so much power and fear in that one word. Once I knew what I didn’t want I set about doing the work of determining what I did want. The first step was setting boundaries. I first had to set boundaries with myself and acknowledge my own shortcomings and the ways I had failed myself. I then had to learn to forgive myself in order to begin to heal. The next step was to set clear boundaries for other people and that meant I had to be clear about what treatment I was no longer going to tolerate. This cost me my marriage and my relationship with my sister but it strengthened my relationships with myself, my daughter and my close friends became closer.

I also began to be very clear in my intentions with people. I stopped agreeing to do things that I didn’t want to do and going places that I didn’t want to go and it was terrifying. I was scared that if I didn’t contort myself to be all things to all of the people in my life that I would lose them but what I found was that I gained so much peace of mind that I didn’t know I was missing. I realized that by embracing the power of no I was free to do the things that I really wanted to do and I was able to not be stressed about trying to fit everything in. This allowed me to be more present when I was with my daughter or be more fully engaged in the activity that I was doing because I was not stressed about where else I was expected to be.

By embracing the power of no I have given myself permission to be my authentic self without reservation. Now this transformation did not happen overnight it has taken me over two year, countless books, reflection and the stillness required to listen to my inner spirt. When an opportunity comes my way instead of immediately saying yes, I take a beat and ask myself “Do you really want to do this?”. If the answer is “maybe”, “well I could fit it in” or “I know this person would really like it if I did this.” Then I decline the invitation. I have declined more invitations than I have accepted this year and it has been freeing and low and behold I still have friends and people who care about me. Those friends even continue to invite me places.  When I do say yes, I can fully enjoy the experience because I know that I sincerely want to be there and that has been transformative for my relationships with my loved ones. Imagine how many people could lead more productive and fulfilled lives if they embraced the power of no.

It’s Time To Conquer Our Fears

Fear

“I came here to have fun and conquer my fears.” These were the words my then 5 year old said to me after being strapped into a ride at a local festival this summer. Beyond the fact that these wise words came out of the mouth of a child I was struck by the wisdom in them. How many times do we as adults stop trying new things because of fear? What dreams have I given up on because of fear of failure or even the fear of success? We are bombarded with so much fear on a daily basis that we have made being fearful a way of life. You have the fear of missing out, fear of success, fear of failure, fear of being alone, fear of not being enough, etc. A quick google search will give you a lot of quaint quotes like “Feel the fear and do it anyway” or acronyms like False Evidence Appearing Real. While I have even used these in my mind or in conversation they never really resonated with me like I’m sure they were supposed to. Webster’s dictionary defines fear as “to be afraid of: expect with alarm” and this is a more accurate assessment for me of how fear operates in my brain.  I think that I have operated most my life with the expectation of alarm and I think that many people are operating in a low level of alarm expectation every day.

Take one look at the headlines of any newspaper, magazine or website and you will find at least ten things to be alarmed about. According to the headlines you could lose your job at any moment, the stock market may crash, you are failing your children, you aren’t having the type of sex you could be, your body is not ideal, your food will kill you and your pets don’t like you either. It’s no wonder that even though we are living in the most advanced time in human history in one of the wealthiest countries in the world people are more despondent, disconnected, and we numb our minds with drugs and alcohol at increasing numbers. We are constantly being fed a diet of fear and scarcity that just isn’t true for most people. This is not to say that there are not people who are homeless, jobless or lack food because this isn’t accurate but it is not always as dire as the headlines would have you believe for the majority of Americans.

So how can we recapture a fraction of the adventurousness displayed by young children and the likes of Tony Robbins and Richard Branson? We need to find joy while conquering our fears. According to Webster’s Dictionary one of the definitions of conquer is “to gain mastery over or win by overcoming obstacles or opposition”. What could be more joyful then gaining mastery over something? My entire mood changes when I beat a worthy adversary in a game or when I am able to solve a problem that has been plaguing me. I do a little victory dance, pump my fist and am on cloud nine for hours and all I did was win words with friends. Imaging that victory dance if I actually start writing again and people actually enjoy my work or if I share my feelings with a romantic partner and he doesn’t run screaming as I envisioned him doing. The joy I felt doing squats with over half of my body weight without failing kept me joyous for days and had me reevaluating the image I had of myself as not being physically strong. We truly are only limited by the things we tell ourselves and that is the adventurousness that children have not yet lost. They haven’t started telling themselves that things could be dangerous or that people may not want to be their friend. They don’t limit themselves in their dreams. They will tell you that they want to be an astronaut, singer, president or a sanitation worker with conviction and the honest belief that they will succeed.

I have endeavored to counter my self-doubt with words of encouragement. When I finally decided to start this blog after talking myself out of it for the last year I countered my fear that no one would read it or that my writing was not up to snuff with the opposite thought that if at least one person reads it then that would be just fine. When I was thinking about leaving a company that I had word for all of my adult life and was afraid of that transition I countered those fears with the thought that this would be a time to try something new. I have chosen to conquer my fears by doing the very things that scare me because the alternative is to live my life in a constant state of “what if” and I am no longer willing to do that because if joy can only be found on the other side of fear then that is where you will find me.

 

 

It’s all your fault

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Have you ever had a conversation with someone and you knew without a shadow of a doubt that they were lying to you? Have their lies been so outside of the realm of reality that you could tell that they didn’t even believe themselves? I recently had a conversation with someone that was 45 minutes of them repeating the same lies in the earnest hope that I would believe them. This person was so earnest in their lies and victimhood that had my thoughts not firmly been rooted in reality I might have actually believed them. In the midst of this talk, that lead to nowhere, I had a revelation that this person was not really upset with me but instead was upset with themselves. See it’s much easier to blame other people for everything that happens in our lives than it is to take responsibility for who and where we are.

Author and motivational speaker Darren Hardy often says “you are where you are in life because of the choices you have made, both good and bad”. When I first heard this my initial reaction was “oh no, you don’t know what my ex did, you don’t know what my sister did, you don’t know what my boss did, and the list goes on. However the more I reflected on this statement and the more I studied the teachings of the Dali Lama, Bishop Desmond Tutu and Brené Brown I came to look at it differently. If I take responsibility for everything that happens to me that means that I lose the comfort of being a victim. I lose the safety of being able to sit in my chair and point at anyone else as the source of my problems. I can’t blame my father for his inability to be present in my life for my failed relationships. I have to own my failure to be my full self in those relationships. I can not blame my ex for financial issues that may arise from him not fulfilling his support obligations I have to make sure that I am making enough money to cover what he doesn’t provide.

Now I can hear someone saying “Well what if someone steals my car or attacks me for no reason? Clearly that’s not my fault.” The short answer to that is no, it’s not your fault. However how you chose to recover from those things is up to you. Will you start blaming every person who looks like your attacker for your experience? Will you distrust every new face on your block as a potential thief? While we can’t control what happens to us we have complete control over how we react to them. If I have a dog and I walk in my backyard and step in poop do I blame the dog for going to the bathroom outside or do I clean my shoe and endeavor to do a better job of paying attention to where I’m stepping and picking up after it more often? I have chosen to take the path that encourages me to clean up after the dog and watching where I step, then perhaps next time I can see the mess before I step in it.

This also means that I have been making a more conscious effort to pause before reacting to a situation and, while I may not always temper my reactions to things as they happen, my recovery time has gotten much shorter. A prime example of just how far I’ve come was that during this circular discussion I was able to pull myself out of the circle of yelling and blaming and point out to this person that they really weren’t angry with me but with themselves because of the way the situation has turned out. I suggested that instead of dwelling on things that were in the past or the things that were clearly not true that we instead work together to create a better solution. While my words may or may not have gotten through I am at peace with the fact that I was able to, at least in that moment, diffuse a situation and speak a bit of peace and encouragement into this person’s life. It is now up to them if they want to heed the advice to be their best self or stay in the circle of victim-hood that has become so familiar.

My final observation from this conversation was that it is possible to be compassionate and stand your ground. Compassion has been my Achilles heel in many relationships. I have found myself in friendships, familial bonds and romantic relationships with people who have used my compassion and desire to help people against me. I have stayed connected to people because I was more concerned with how they would feel if I said no and stood my ground then my own well-being. I let my fear of losing that connection overrule my own intuition and emotional health. Interestingly enough once I started to love and respect myself enough to require that the people in my life do the same, I was able to clearly see who truly cared for me and who only cared about how I was going to fit into the self serving vision of me that they had created. It has been a beautifully painful journey that I am sincerely grateful for because it has allowed me to live life as the best version of myself that I can possibly be and that is incredibly liberating. It has also allowed me to model this behavior for my daughter so that she can start her life living in the fullness of who she was created to be.

 

 

Representation Matters

representation

 

Recently my six-year-old daughter lamented to me that she was having a hard time choosing her favorite Disney princess from the variety that she has on her bedroom wall. The conversation that ensued was pretty eye opening to me.

Me: You don’t have to choose just one you can like them all for different reasons.

Her: Well who is your favorite?

Me: *thinking* Hmmm. If I have to pick a favorite I choose Princess Tiana.

Her: Why?

Me: Well…

Her: Because she is brown like you?

Me: Yes, but that’s not the only reason I also like her because she works hard and follows her dreams.  When people told her that she couldn’t open her own restaurant she worked harder to make it without waiting for the prince to fix it for her.

Her: So, you like her because she is just like you.

Me: Is that how you see me?

Her: Yes mommy. You work hard and don’t let people tell you no.

Me: Thanks sweetie. Who is your favorite?

Her: I think Princess Jasmine is my favorite.

Me: Why?

Her: Because when they tried to keep her in the castle and told her she couldn’t go she found a way to go out and do what she wanted anyway. That is how I am too. I will figure out how to do what I want. Plus, her skin is like mine.

It would be disingenuous for me to say that I didn’t get a little misty eyed at her assessment of me as a hard-working person who doesn’t quit even when the odds seem stacked against me. I had a serious proud mommy moment that helped me think that maybe, just maybe, I wasn’t totally screwing this parenting thing up. However, in that moment, it was reinforced to me that our children are always watching us. Sure, they hear what we say but they are watching closely to see if the things we say to them are the same things we are walking out daily. It is incredibly important that we are clear with ourselves and our children about who we are because they will do what we do not what we say.

I also had a clarifying moment as well that helped me to understand that she is trying to determine her place in this world as a bi-racial child. The importance of all children having characters who look like them matters. These images matter because they are images that children see over and over and they will internalize the characters and may even try to emulate them. The beauty of recent cartoons is that there are more children of color and more girls who have starring roles, in both cartoons and children’s books, than existed when I was a child. There are princesses who are not waiting for princes to save them, little girls who are doctors, cartoons who are bi-lingual and everything in between.

This summer she has begun to talk more about who she looks like, how she wears her hair and having autonomy in the clothes she wears. She has taken to wearing mismatched shoes and socks, picks out her own clothes and she wants to wear her curly hair down as often as possible to, in her words, look more like me.  I have done my best to keep her shielded from the harsh realities of race relations in the world by studiously avoiding the news when she is present and thankfully her family on both sides embrace diversity in all its forms so she has a great village. The daycare and school that she attends are diverse and celebrate all cultures equally. She has biracial cousins and friends and has a pretty good understanding of right and wrong. It is conversations like these though that remind me that she will not be a little girl forever and I am encouraged to know that she is finding her voice.  However, I am not looking forward to the day that she experiences her first race related slight but I am hopeful that the foundation of positivity that has been laid will be strong enough to hold her when that time comes.

 

Who Holds Space For You?

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No man is an island and we all need other people to navigate life. Once you accept that you can’t do this thing called life on your own you must determine who your tribe is going to be. Who will hold space for you? I first became familiar with this phrase in 2015 while reading a book by Brene Brown titled Rising Strong: The Reckoning, The Rumble, The Revolution. I was newly divorced and trying to determine who I was going to be now that the image I had for my life was gone. This book, and many of her other books, has helped me give a name to what my soul was searching for. At the heart of my pain was the sense that I would never have a partner who I could lean on in times of trouble, share my joys and my fears, raise my child and grow old with. That fear was crippling and caused me to subsume who I was and what was best for me in a misguided attempt to maintain the illusion of a life that really didn’t exist. Ultimately what we all want is someone who will hold space for us. Unfortunately, many times we go about obtaining that connection in many ways that may not always be what’s best for us.

There are several different definitions of holding space but at its core it means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we open our hearts, offer unconditional support and let go of judgement and control we are holding space and letting that person truly be themselves in a safe environment.  Once I embraced this idea I started looking at my life and realized that I have often held space for other people but that I didn’t have very many people who held space for me. It wasn’t that there weren’t people who were willing to do it was that I was too afraid to really let anyone completely close to me, including my ex-husband. In order to have someone who can hold my space I have to first give it to them which requires trust and trust at its most basic level is nothing but vulnerability. Growing up as the youngest child of a divorcee with an older sister who was often in trouble or causing stress I made it my life’s mission to not ruffle feathers, not make too much noise, get good grades and be what everyone else wanted me to be. It seems that this caused me to also not allow myself to be vulnerable with my thoughts and emotions. I internalized much of it in order to not make waves. Sure, I am friendly and can talk to anyone about anything but I have always held something back out of fear of not being accepted for who I am. I can only imagine how difficult it can be for someone to care for me if they sense that I am holding back. I know how I have felt when I was trying to care for someone who wouldn’t let me in so it is really no wonder that many of my friendships have felt hollow or that many of my romantic relationships have ended with the other person feeling confused.

Once I started on this vulnerability journey a couple of years ago I realized that if I want to have a more fulfilling relationship with myself and other people I needed to be willing to be hurt. Well as one can imagine that didn’t seem like such a good idea, in fact it seemed like the opposite of progress. However, the more I opened myself up to my own thoughts, fears and truths no matter how ugly they may be, I was able to find a level of peace that I have never experienced. I have become a much better parent because I am able to show my daughter how to rumble with her emotions and to walk them out. I have deepened my connections with my inner circle because I have trusted them to care for my wounded sprit. By bestowing that trust upon them they have surprised me by not only accepting my feelings but embracing me and helping me become my best self. I have been able to be my authentic self when I meet potential suiters or go on dates. I have found that I have been able to weed out people who would not be a good fit quickly in the dating process because I have found that many people don’t really know what they want and it seems that my clarity about who I am and what I am looking for has kept me from wasting my time with people who are not a good fit for me. Lastly, I have been able to function more effectively on my job by being clear with my manager and co-workers about my goals and having the courage to walk them out.

If we really want to live our best lives, we need to be willing to be vulnerable because without risk of disappointment we are not living out best lives we are just existing. I am a work in progress and I have moments of fear of not being accepted or fear of being hurt but I have found that by allowing people to really see me and taking that leap of faith to see who is worthy of holding space for me I have been able to be my best self every day.

The Commoditization of the Female Body

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Over the last month, I have come across several articles and have engaged in many Facebook conversations about sugar daddies or “sponsors” as some people call them. These conversations seem to start with someone saying “if we are dating then he should help me with my bills otherwise what is the point”. I am not judging women (or men) for holding these beliefs if it works for you and your partner then more power to you. It has gotten me thinking though about the price that seems to be affixed to the female body and her affections. Personally, I’m of the mind that if a man asks me out he will pay for the date. If I were to ask a man out I would, and have, pay for the date. To me that is just normal dating behavior. The part that always confounds me is how do you go from this was a fun movie to “I need money for my car payment”? I commend people who can have these discussions and get their needs met it just seems a bit too clinical for me.

I did a quick google search to figure out how involved this culture is because people seem to have no real problem saying it or thinking it. I discovered that there are entire dating sites devoted to “sugar babies” meeting “sugar daddies”. There is no pretense here. The men on these sites state how much they are willing to provide as an “allowance” and women who sign up on this site set their “monthly allowance” requests. Then the rest flows like a regular dating site except the expectation has been set up front so if there is a connection both parties already know what is expected. While this may all seem cold and calculating I can actually appreciate the thought behind it. It seems to eliminate what I would assume would be an awkward conversation about money and then people can focus more on the getting to know you portion. Now one thing that didn’t miss my notice was that most of the men on these sites listed themselves as married or involved so this adds another layer to this type of relationship. There were plenty of people who listed themselves as single however I have doubts about their actual relationship status.

What seemed to come up regularly in the conversations I had with people was that if the man (or woman) in question was married then the expectation goes up exponentially that they would provide financially for their partner. Is it compensation for being a mistress? Is it a way to assuage the guilt the person feels for being engaged in a romantic relationship with a married man? Is it hush money to keep you from speaking about your arrangement? Or is it just that this person has disposable income and wants to shower his mistress with gifts? While it would be great to receive financial assistance from a romantic partner I personally can’t bring myself to ask no matter how dire the situation may be. In fact, I’ve only ever asked a boyfriend for money once in my life and I felt horrible about it for the entire 31 days until I could pay it back. I did have a non-romantic friend offer to give/loan me money and I turned it down. I think it is just that I don’t like owing anyone. The only person I don’t feel too bad about asking for money is my mom and even then, I am usually at my wits end and have tried everything else known to man.

Lastly there is the sex factor. While I have heard that there are people who will give their partner money just for the joy of having someone to spend time with,  I’m sure those scenarios are outside of the norm. I would assume that if someone is shelling out hundreds or thousands of dollars they will be expecting more than witty conversation. Would one wait until after starting the sexual part of the relationship before bringing up money or before? Is it more expected if the sugar daddy is older or married? When does the money change hands? For me I am not able to have sex with someone I don’t have a connection with and part of that connection would have to be physical attraction.  After perusing a couple of sites and even a few “how to meet a sugar daddy” type of tutorial blogs I realized that this type of arrangement just isn’t for me. I will just have to deal with the late fees or work overtime if needed but it is fascinating to me that there are scores of people who find these types of relationships mutually beneficial and as long as both parties know what they are getting in to then more power to them.

Disappointment 

 

When a friend sent me this quote it was like a kick to the gut and my mind immediately went to thoughts of my ex-husband and the person he has become leading up to the divorce through current day. However, upon further reflection I have found that this message resonated with me so much because I could see so much of myself in this statement as well. There were things that I never thought I would be when I was younger and imagining what my future would hold. I imagined a husband, 2-3 children, a house with a yard with a dog and a cat. I saw my future life with a husband who made enough money that I could work or stay home with our children if I chose, children skipping around without a care in the world knowing that their parents loved them and each other without exception. I also imagined that I would feel fulfilled in my marriage and my partner would be like one of my best friends and while we may have some disagreements or major falling outs we would always fight fair and come back to each other.

My reality is so much more complex, nuanced and disappointing than my imagination could ever conceive. While I did have the marriage and the house with a yard that was the only thing that matched my vision for the future. Instead of 2-3 children I struggled through a near fatal ectopic rupture, a miscarriage and a preterm labor followed by three months of bedrest which blessed us with one amazing daughter. There were no other pregnancies. Adversity did not strengthen our marriage it destroyed it. There was lack of clear communication, emotional immaturity, adultery, financial mismanagement, lies, threats, fear, and finally divorce. We were going through the motions of what we thought a marriage and life should look like without doing the real work that both of us needed to do as both individuals and as two parts of a whole.

Now that the second anniversary of my divorce has come and gone I find myself reflecting on how I can be the change I want to see in my future relationships. I have spent the last two years building a better me. I have found depths of strength, courage and an iron will that I’ve always been told others see in me. I am now able to see it myself and it really is something to behold. I don’t hold any bitterness towards my ex-husband. I have even released the sadness that I once held when I would think of “what could have been” because I now understand that it was never there in the first place. We both failed in that marriage and unfortunately, we were not able to grow together to fix it. My sincere hope is that he is one day able to find the comfort in his own skin and peace within himself to be the person I know he is capable of being because despite all the drama I love him and truly want the best for him.

So, while there is disappointment there is also hope, love, joy, growth and peace for both us both.