Meet Them Where They Are

meet in the middle

There have been times in my life when I have been hurt by someone that I care about. I am talking about small hurts like they don’t call when they say they will and large hurts like a broken friendship, a destroyed romantic relationship and broken familial ties. Over time these injuries add up and can make us timid in our relationships, overly cautious in romantic relationships and generally living in fear of pain.

Last year I read Self Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind To Yourself by Kristin Neff and in it she asked the question “What if instead of being disappointed in people for not living up to the potential that we believe them to have we treat them as if they are already doing the best that they can?” She said that she conducted a group therapy session with Pastors who do a lot of community outreach with people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol and they were expressing their frustration with people who keep having the same issues over and over again. They felt anger towards the people they were helping and were on the verge of giving up on them. When she posed this question to them by framing it as “If God told you that these people were doing the best that they could how would that change the way you continue your outreach?” She said that when they thought about it this way many of them broke down in tears because it changed their whole perspective of these people and they could no longer feel anger towards them because they were doing their best.

So, I started thinking of people who have harmed me emotionally and asked myself “What if this really is the best that they can do? What if they have reached their capacity for caring?” I must admit that I was also brought to tears because I could no longer hold on to my “righteous” anger. I could no longer hold them to standards that I had built for them in my mind that they, clearly, were not living up to. I thought about watching my child learn to walk and not getting angry with her because she constantly fell. Instead I treated her with compassion and encouraged her to keep trying and sure enough she learned to walk and has been running ever since.

I am not suggesting that we stand idly by and take emotional abuse from our family, friends or romantic partners but I am suggesting that we remove the burdens of our expectations for another person’s behavior. For example, if I know that my friend is not very good at initiating communication with me I shouldn’t be offended when I go months without hearing from her. She has demonstrated that this is not how she is wired. This doesn’t mean that she doesn’t care about me or our friendship is simply means that if I desire more frequent communication then I will need to reach out to her. If this is an untenable arrangement then it may be time to sever the relationship.  If my romantic partner prefers to do everything as a couple and this is not something that is comfortable to me I can either constantly argue with this person and deal with them feeling unloved when I want to be alone or I can find a new partner who doesn’t require constant connection to reaffirm the relationship.

If you find yourself constantly frustrated and/or disappointed in someone because you are expecting them to parent, communicate, love or strive in a direction that they are not currently going perhaps it is because you are seeing them as you wish they were instead of seeing them for who they are. It can be difficult to start treating them with compassion instead of disdain but it is not impossible if we change the way we think about their actions. I am no longer interacting with people as I hope, wish or pray they would be, instead I am interacting with them based on their actual behavior because that is who they really are. Now they are free to be themselves without my added pressure and I am free from constant disappointment and judgement.

Discovering Your Purpose

purpose

The most difficult question you will ever be asked or that you will ask yourself is “what do you want from life”? I know that I have struggled with this question for many years and I know that many of my friends and associates have as well. We often answer this question with what we think others want to hear, what is socially acceptable or what we know we can achieve without too much effort. The truth of the matter is that we will never find true contentment and joy in our comfort zones. The reason many of us shy away from our true desires is because they often lie in unknown territory surrounded by obstacles and the possibility of failure. No great achievement has ever been made from within our comfort zones. We don’t pump our fists and shout with glee when we complete a task that didn’t require much effort. I still remember the insane rush I felt when I finally solved a rubix cube and that was about 30 years ago. I can still vividly remember the elation I felt when I went up and then back down the Templo Del Sol in Mexico July 4, 1999 because I am terrified of heights but I climbed that pyramid and basically crawled back down because I wanted to step outside of my comfort zone and I’m so glad that I did.

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about how I can fulfill my purpose in this life and the thoughts that kept coming back to me were all of the negative things that others have said to me over the years. Instead of dreams of helping women achieve their goals and become their best selves I was hearing the words of my ex-husband telling me that I was a failure, the words of well-meaning friends who tried to discourage me from stepping out and trying new things or I was imagining what other people would think of me if I tried something new. Our minds are wired to protect us at all times and at any cost from danger both real and imagined. This is great if you are trying to avoid being eaten by mountain lions but not so great if you are trying to figure out how to use your gifts and talents in ways foreign to you.

Many times we get bogged down by the idea that our purpose has to be something over the top or grandiose in order to be a worthwhile endeavor.  That is the kind of thinking that has held me back from pursuing my goal of building women. So many time we look at the super successful people that we admire and think to ourselves “Wow I’d love to have that type of success but I’m not as talented, pretty, well-spoken, connected, etc. as that person.” We also talk ourselves out of our purpose because we may have failed or had setbacks in our lives. Maybe we have failed at previous attempts to start a business, go back to school or maintain a romantic relationship and because of these perceived failures we deem our goals as unworthy of our efforts.

For me the switch flipped when I removed myself from the equation and instead thought about how much I could help others then my focus became clear and my fear began to recede. I began to focus more on how I could best be of service to others and that is when the path became clearer. I dipped my toe into my purpose by starting this blog to help readers learn from my life experiences as well as to, hopefully, inspire people to grow beyond their pain and see beauty in all of the things that happen to us. The positive feedback and encouragement from both friends and strangers reignited the flame of my purpose.

Now you may be saying “Well that’s all well and good for you Morena I have no idea how to get started discovering my purpose.” Here are some helpful tips that have worked for me.

Instead of thinking of it as a purpose think of it as your Why.

Why do you want to start that business? Why do you want that promotion? Why do you want to be a better husband? Why do you want to be a better mother?  Then grab a piece of paper and write down all of the reasons and you have found your purpose.

For example if you want a promotion your List of Why might look like this: To have more money =>To be more comfortable financially=>To be able to save for retirement=>To be able to travel more=>To have a good savings cushion. Once you have made your List of Why then you will have the fuel you need for the next step.

What are you willing to do to walk out this purpose?

Sure having more money sounds great but what are you willing to do to get it? Will it include lots of overtime? Will you need to talk to your boss about a raise? Will you need to find a new job? Will you need to go back to school? Write these things down as well.

Connect to a support system

Finally you will need a support system. Who in your circle can you talk to who is supportive and willing to brainstorm with you? Talk to that person and have them be your accountability partner. If you don’t have people in your life who are supportive of your efforts then now is a good time to find some like minded people. The internet has made it easier to find minded people via social media or by searching for local groups who are interested in the same things as you. Reach out to them and build your circle and start living your best life ever.

If you have found yourself struggling with your purpose or have been feeling unfulfilled in certain areas of your life I encourage you to sit down and follow these steps to help clarify your purpose. Don’t think that this exercise can only work for professional goals. I have found this process to be very helpful in both my professional as well as personal life. If you try this exercise I would love to hear how it has helped you. Feel free to leave feedback in the comments.

Happy Discovery!

Hustling for Worthiness

 

worthiness

 

On a recent trip I was staying in a fairly opulent hotel surrounded by business people who were innovators in their respective fields and I found myself hustling for my worthiness. Now I like to think that I have a healthy sense of self however it seemed that in this environment where Hermès is one of the many high end shopping options in the lobby I was conversing with people who own very lucrative businesses and multiple vacation homes I found myself comparing my accomplishments to theirs and in my head I came up lacking.

The author and qualitative psychologist Brené Brown defines worthiness as “an as is, here and now proposition.” By this definition, in order for us to feel worthy in our lives we must first accept and love ourselves “as is”. That can be a daunting task when we have our own internal mix tape of failures and missteps playing in the background constantly.  When you add external pressures from society as well as our family and friends then it is no wonder that many of us live shallow unfulfilled lives. Many of us wander through life with the appearance of having it all together but internally we are a mess. This is what began to happen in my head during this trip. I began to feel ashamed that I wasn’t further along in my career.  Hell I wasn’t even sure what exactly I wanted to do professionally. I was also feeling shame about being a single mom who was barely holding it together financially and being surrounded by opulence was a reminder of that feeling.

When I feel shame I begin to hustle for my worthiness which leads to more shame which is a vicious endless cycle. This time around, however, I was able to name the feelings I was having and shed light on them.  Naming the feelings allowed me to acknowledge that I was not less than but I was in fact worthy of love, belonging and success in all of its iterations. That I had, in fact, come a very long way in the last two and a half years. I was able to acknowledge that I would find my path and I would one day have a stable relationship that would not just appear to be successful but would actually be fulfilling for both myself and my partner on our own terms.  For me shame can also manifest itself in other ways that are not very productive like ignoring important tasks like the dishes or budgeting. Fatigue, loss of appetite, short temper and sadness.  Therapy and reading books like authors like Brené Brown, Desmond Tutu, the Dali Lama and others have really helped me to shorten the time it takes for me to rumble with these feelings. Now, instead of falling into a days or months long depression I am able to parse these feelings out, name them within hours and fully process them within a few days. For me that is tremendous progress.

Women of color are often taught to hold it together at all costs. To be strong and never show weakness. Phrases like “Never let them see you sweat” and fake it to you make it” are pervasive. The problem with this approach is that this forces us to wear the mask of strength but never take the time to fully embrace our weaknesses. Failing to acknowledge our weaknesses gives them strength and power over our thoughts and actions and that is the true danger of this worthiness hustle. If we are constantly fighting ourselves we will never be able to actually be our best selves in any of our relationships, personal or professional. I want to not just have the appearance of strength but I want to feel strong and capable.

Now before you start thinking that I didn’t enjoy this trip because I was in my head the whole time rumbling with myself you can rest assured that this was not the case. I had a great time meeting new people, trying new things and dancing into the wee hours. I returned home with a new fire to narrow down what path I wanted to take in my professional life and set my feet on the path towards my newly realized professional goals. To that end I have made new professional connections via a networking group in my field and began exploring other paths that I was interesting in pursuing in my current job. When I had a hard time visualizing my accomplishments my trusted circle enumerated the many ways I have overcome obstacles that, in their words, many people would not have been able to overcome in such a short amount of time. Being able to see myself though the eyes of people whom I love and respect was an eye opener for me that gave me the courage to truly believe that I am worthy.  Right where I am. These days I am walking with my head held higher with a renewed sense of purpose and for the first time in a long time I am excited.

The Power of No

NO

 

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.