I love a good retreat. No, I mean I REALLY LOVE retreats.
As a teenager, I was introduced to the concept of retreats when I participated in a leadership program. And these were intense retreats led by corporate alumni like lawyers and business leaders whose mission it was to foster leadership in urban teens. Retreat topics included male/female relationships, self-awareness, etc. They were brutal and beautiful at the same time, and I’m so grateful for those experiences now. These retreats were transformative experiences and helped shape my character.
And I’ve gone on other retreats since then. Retreats are a way for me to do important self work and allow me the luxury of focusing on my own self-development without distractions.
I’ve always wanted to lead personal development retreats. And two years ago, I facilitated my very first one. I rented a private villa on an all inclusive resort in the Dominican Republic and took 3 of my clients down with me for a week to heal, share, rest, relax and have some fun.
There were many memorable moments. But I want to share one moment with you that I think was especially powerful and reminds me of the power of retreat.
On the day before everyone arrived, I did my best to prepare everything. I spoke with the resort staff the previous day and that morning to make sure the check in process was to go as smoothly as possible. On the day everyone was supposed to come, I reiterated my requests and was assured that everything would be fine.
The next day, my first two ladies checked in with no problems.
However, my third lady experienced a very difficult check in process in which everything that could go wrong did.
There was a language barrier with the staff of the resort. We were waiting outside the reception building, sure that we would see her as soon as the bus arrived. I wanted our faces to be the first she saw.
But somehow we missed her and she was waiting for us inside the office. Meanwhile, management was calling our villa in front of her to tell us of her arrival. And we of course, were not there to receive the calls. By the time we met up, she was quite upset and understandably so. She had just gotten off a long international flight in a country she had never been to, and had experienced nothing but frustration.
While we apologized profusely for the confusion around her arrival, she was inconsolable and I felt horrible and looked for ways to try to make it up to her.
By the time we got back to the villa, she was still upset and not quite in the mood to chat or meet with the other ladies. Again, totally understandable.
We all kind of settled into our own rooms and prepared for the welcome dinner in a few hours.
How Retreat Transform Us
After the welcome dinner, we all returned to the villa. I had wanted everyone to have plenty of time to settle in and informally get to know each other, so I did not have any formal activities scheduled until early the next morning.
I changed into my bathing suit, took my Ipad and speakers out to the pool in the back yard and blasted some soul music.
One by one, the ladies came out to join me in the pool. And it was so much fun. We laughed and got to know each other all night. There were discussions about music, food, love, adventure. We shared our hopes with each other and named our fears. It was really magical.
The overall retreat was a success. I saw each woman bloom in her own way and it was honestly an honor to watch. Each woman had a breakthrough in her own right and left feeling better and more focused than she had when she arrived.
And it all started in that pool.
It was in the pool where we all let the stress of the day leave us and opened ourselves up to the promise of connection and self-growth. This event set the tone of the retreat.
This is the power of retreat. Allowing ourselves to withdraw from the day to day and tap into what’s important. Retreats allow us to slow down and be mindful of our thoughts and take control of our experiences.
A few months ago I rushed onto a train because I was running late to work.
I made it just in time before the doors closed. As I sat down panting to catch my breath, I became aware of an absolutely stunning woman sitting across from me.
She was very beautiful and meticulously groomed. Her makeup was flawless and expertly applied. Then I looked at her manicured nails and at how well dressed she was. Her clothes were flattering, sophisticated and she had an elegant yet edginess quality to her. Her natural hair was neat, yet fun and free. She was very refined unhurried and was typing away on her iPhone and it looked like she was sending out work emails.
I was flustered after running from my home in clothes that I had thrown on to go to a job that I did not like very much. This woman looked like she had all the time in the world and appeared to be happily doing work related tasks. We looked to be about the same age and yet we seemed to be worlds apart in that moment. I think that she felt me staring at her because she looked up from her phone and met my gaze. She smiled kindly and turned her attention back to her phone.
As I continued to think about it while I sat on the train, I realized that I was so affected by the presence of this woman because she was a living reminder of some of my most pressing goals: 1. step up my self-care and appearance, 2. cultivate an aura of calm sophistication, 3. be in a position to enjoy my full time work again. She was the living, breathing embodying of some of these goals and in that moment, all of my goals seemed so far away from me.
Jealousy comes up when you are not meeting your goals. Jealousy is a clear sign that you need to be more focused on your goals. Stop letting yourself off the hook. This woman looked the way she did because she has a desire (a goal) to look the way she did and made sure that her actions matched up with her desires. She had the dedication and standards to look for her wardrobe. This woman made sure to wake up and get herself together in enough time so that she was not a rushing mess like I was.
By the time I got off the train, I was even more inspired to recommit to my goals. I let that moment of feeling jealous inspire me and push me in the direction of my goals.
Here are 3 ways to allow the green-eyed monster of jealousy to push you in the direction of your goals:
When you are feel jealous, notice what is triggering you
I noticed how certain aspects of this woman triggered me but others didn’t. What triggers you? Is it seeing travel photos? Hearing about other people’s financial success? Seeing people in healthy happy relationships? What is it that triggers you? The triggers are the things that you want the most. You can’t achieve it if you don’t know what it is.
When you feel jealous, recommit to your goals
And be honest about the type and amount of work that you will have to do get your goals accomplished. The work may be psychological, physical, financial, etc. Be honest about the scope and nature of the work. Then commit to it and go for it. Give yourself a fixed amount of time and accomplish one thing you one step closer to what you want.
When you feel Jealous, use Positive Self-Talk
Do not discourage yourself with negative self-talk. Commit to talking to yourself in a positive way. You are not wrong for wanting what you want. And it is absolutely possible for you to have what you want. Do not tell yourself otherwise. Just because it has not happened for you yet, does not mean that it won’t happen in the future. Tell yourself that your time is coming and that you are willing to do the work necessary to obtain your goal.
Ok, Abundance Seeker, do you have moments in which you feel jealous? Does it inspire you? Or discouraged?
And even those who don’t exactly hate their job, admit to resenting it in some way. This is so messed up because we spend so much of our lives at work. Our jobs give us money and we need money to live. I recently read a statistic that said the average person will spend about a quarter of their lifetime on this earth at their jobs. I know, bananas!
So why exactly do we hate and resent our jobs so much?
Truthfully, there are tons of reasons, more than I could ever begin to name. But here are just a few possible reasons why you hate your job.
1. You, an adult, literally have to ask for permission to take time away from the job to handle important life tasks and responsibilities.
2. You, a perfectly reasonable person, have to spend inordinate amounts of time with people who are sometimes not very reasonable, or friendly, or bright, or professional, or kind.
3. You, a person with much to offer the world, is often “supervised” by people who are not as talented or insightful as you.
4. You, a creative person, have to reign in your talents and prioritize the boring unexciting demands of your job routine instead of the all the ideas that race around your mind.
5. You, a person with relationships, hobbies, and interests, spend at least 40 non-negotiable hours of your peak productive time a week meeting the demands of your employer while your needs and desires sit on the back burner.
6. You, a person with material needs and obligations, never seem to make enough money at your job. If things arise in your life that require more cash than you have on hand, you cannot negotiate with your employer to pay you more just because you need it.
Any of that sound familiar?
After many years of working for myself and pursuing independent research in a doctoral program, I took a job with a large organization so that I could relocate back to my hometown of New York City, a move I’d been wanting to make happen for awhile. I couldn’t move my practice to NY straight away because of state licensing issues and I wanted so badly to be back in New York that I just couldn’t wait for things to sort themselves out.
So I took a job in the meantime while I figure out my next steps.
On very good days, I am thankful to have stable employment with great benefits which currently allows me to keep a roof over my head and food in my tummy while being in my most favorite city in the world. On these days, I am proud of the interesting work I do and for the opportunities and challenges that encourage my growth and development.
But on bad days, I am resentful of both the large and small indignities of my job and plot how quickly I can leave it. And I am not alone. To say that most people at my job don’t want to be there is an understatement. And while I am totally grateful and the job has its perks, it’s been a very long time since I’ve worked a full time job. There are supervisors, “chains of command,” office politics, and job hazards to deal with. And I have to admit that it has been a bit difficult readjusting. Personally, what’s been most difficult is not really owning my own time and no longer being able to do with it as I please.
In the five months that I have been working there so far, I have found a handful of coping strategies to help me maintain my sanity and stop myself from completely succumbing to negative thoughts and bitterness. And I’m sharing them with you here, just in case you are allowing your job to rob you of your happiness:
1 Bolster yourself with your morning commute
I take two different trains during my morning commute. It takes about 45 minutes on the subway followed by a 15 minute walk. So all together I have an hour between the time I leave my front door and the time I am walking through the front door of the office. In that hour I usually listen to audiobooks on self development, business, politics, and any other subject that I’m super interested in. I’m a very mental person and I love ideas. So beginning the day with a surge of ideas get my brain moving and I am reminded of how big the world is and that my job is a temporary place. Other times I listen to music to psych myself up, like my own soundtrack or theme song. I choose to listen to songs that build me up, and remind me that I am not my job.
2 Don’t seek validation from your job
I have much to offer. And so do you. But my job description calls for me to contribute only a small bit of my knowledge and gifts at work and there is little to no room for me to veer from that. Also, the higher ups do not see, nor are they interested in my full potential. Not only is this incredibly frustrating, it can be downright demoralizing. But at the end of the day, the only thing my employer owes me is pay for the work that I do. That’s it. Full stop. Expecting more only leads to disappointment. Your crappy job is your way to put food on the table and a chance for you to work out challenges and pushing yourself. It is not the source of your self-esteem or validation of your worth as a person.
3 Take ownership of your actions (wherever you go, there you are).
I know of many people who work in an office environment in which their coworkers are not very pleasant, are super competitive, and dismissive. My current work environment is one of these places. There is a deeply ingrained dysfunctional work culture that regularly takes down those at the very top and absolutely crushes those on the bottom. It is not fun. It can feel dehumanizing. But worse, it can make perfectly lovely and reasonable people begin to act like the very sour coworkers that they despise. This is how culture works and recreates itself.
If you have a similar work work environment, be conscious of this. Fight against adopting the personal destructive habits of an unhealthy place. Because the only thing that you will have to show for it is getting further ingrained in an unhealthy work culture that drains your spirit and your humanity. This sucks, don’t do it.
Instead be mindful of your thoughts and actions. Call yourself on it when you find yourself behaving and thinking like others around you. Remember, your abundance comes from within. And sometimes you have to guard it at all costs.
4 Manage your work space well at your crappy job
Maintain a neat and orderly physical work environment to the best of your ability. Walking into a chaotic office or trying to find things under a heaping, unruly mound on your desk makes an already undesirable situation almost insufferable. So don’t do this to yourself. I have found that disorganization and overwhelm can be a very slippery slope.
Awhile ago, I read this book on work space organization and it completely changed the way I thought about how I arrange my desk and work space. Set up your space to accommodate your most redundant and essential tasks. And if you’re a visual person, like I am be sure to have inspiring pictures, desirable colors, and quotes in your view so that you can see them when you need some momentary inspiration. I for one, have a bunch of yellow accents on my desk because that is my happy color.
Part of managing you work space is paying attention to your physical presentation. Be neat and take pride in your appearance. Look good for yourself because when you look your best, you are closer to feeling your best. Maintain your work clothes. Be sure to buy cuts, colors, and accessories that flatter you and accentuate your physical assets while detracting from your problem areas.
And if you have time and want a laugh, check out the video below. Its an oldie but goodie, insanely hilarious and over the top but I think it has some takeaways that we all can use. The extremely snide narrator points out Barbara’s sloppiness, disorganization, and lack of preparedness throughout the course of a day from the moment she wakes up to the time she goes to bed. Poor Barbara. Don’t develop a reputation for being like Barbara at work!
And aside from your personal and physical appearance, be mindful to manage your relationships with others. Be purposeful about setting healthy boundaries and expectations. Show others how to treat you by exhibiting the behaviors you expect from them. Try not to let the poor behavior of others rattle you too much. Make extra efforts to be professional and courteous with such people. This is not always easy and you won’t be able to do this 100% of the time, but be purposeful and make the effort. This is super important for both your immediate mental sanity but also in the long run. You know that you are not destined to say here, so rise above those that are.
5 Perform your crappy job to the best of your ability
Your job is crappy. You are capable of so much more. Prove to yourself, your coworkers, your supervisors and the universe that you can not only meet the challenges in front of you with grace and style, but you can exceed them. Take pride in the work you have now even if it is not exactly what you want to be doing.
And once you have mastered your crappy job, be on the look out to develop new skills and be more efficient. At the very least, the more efficient you become the more room you free up in your mind for things you actually want to be thinking about.
But by all means, do not allow your crappy job to stagnate you. In nature, if you are not growing, you are dying. If water does not flow, it becomes stagnant. So move, grow, and thrive.
This is no way to live and you owe yourself more. The less developed your life is outside of work, the more you look for your crappy job to fulfill your inner needs. That will not end up well. You are a multifaceted beautiful piece of work and you deserve to shine and grow in multiple arenas.
Host dinner parties. Train for marathons. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Join a club. Play the saxophone. Sing in the choir. Learn a language. Write a novel. Start a YouTube channel. Go talk to that interesting looking person who you see every morning in the train station. Make connections.
Do interesting things that give you something to look forward to and provide you with the opportunity to channel your energy, develop new skills, and use different parts of your brain and body.
7 Make allies (or at the very least try not to make enemies) at your crappy job
I don’t care if its the receptionist, the janitor, a person who works in another department. The guy who sits in the next cubicle. The person who occupies the highest level job in the building. Whomever. Make friends and play nice with as many people as you can at your crappy job.
If this is exceedingly difficult to do, find someone with whom you can at least exchange smiles. Even if this is infrequent. A friendly face is worth its weight in gold.
Do your best to minimize hostility in your workplace. Go the extra mile to form and maintain relationships. You don’t have to be best friends with folks, but at least try to remember names and exchange greetings. Once in awhile, volunteer to do things so that others don’t have to do them. Bring in food to share with your coworkers. Give compliments. Thank them. Be helpful. Allow them to shine. Be empathetic. Treat them like human beings.
When conflict does arise, make sure to address it directly and professionally. Do not hold grudges and make sure you show that you have moved past it once the issue is resolved.
8 Take time off from your crappy job
Go on 2 week long Caribbean vacations if you can. If you can’t do that, go on week long vacations. If you can do that, go on a weekend road trip. And if you can’t do any of this stuff, take mental health days. If you can’t do that, go on walks during your lunch breaks.
9 Plot your escape from your crappy job
When I was a little kid, I was really interested in stories about escaping slaves. I would read about how they didn’t just wake up one day and run away. They did not take their freedom lightly because they knew if they escaped haphazardly, they could be captured. And being captured meant being beaten or even killed. In other words they would make their situation worse if they did not plan well. So they did things to help ensure their success and survival.
They did their best to save food for the journey and gather information. Escaped slaves were selective about who they shared their plans and waited until the time was right. They learned how to read the stars for guidance, and make connections. And perhaps most important of all, they had specific destinations in mind.
You are not a slave and neither am I. But I do find this metaphor helpful. We can plot your escape too. Life is too short to work a crappy job for very long.
So figure out what your specific destination is and make a plan for yourself on how to get there. Learn new skills in your current job that will serve you well in your next destination. Learn how to read the signs so that you will know when it’s the right time to move on. Lay the groundwork so that you will be ready when the right time comes along. Make connections with people who are also moving in the same direction or may already be there.
Respect your earned money. Save it. Spend it on things that improve you and bring you joy. Invest in your future. Make sure you are taking advantage of any discounts that are afforded you because of your job. Some employers provide discounts on gym memberships, commuter benefits, savings club cards, access to credit unions, etc.
So those are my tips for getting through a crappy job. I hope they were helpful. In the comment section, please share what helps you get through your job. I’d love to hear from you.
Today, I am writing this post while sitting in my very own living room in New York City. This time last year, I was living in Chicago and would not have been able to predict this at all. I wanted to move but was not exactly sure how I was going to make all the pieces fit together. All I knew was that I was starting over, no matter what.
Have you ever reached a point in your life where you thought, “How did I get here?”
I have too. That’s where I languished mentally for about a year.
I did not like the mind-numbing monotony of my life. There was nothing exciting or interesting to look forward to in my immediate future. Basically, I was in a deep rut. I had allowed my world to get too small and I was suffocating in it.
What I needed was a change of pace, an adventure, and some fresh new energy. Also, I had conquered all of my immediate challenges and was in need of new challenges and fresh obstacles. And thinking the same thoughts over and over was mentally exhausting.
When my mom passed away a few years back, I had promised myself that I would not let myself languish too long in any one place, physical or mental. So I decided that I needed to shake things up. It was my life and I was the only one responsible for how I felt and my happiness.
I needed a do over. I needed to hit the reset button.
So, I decided to leave Chicago, my adopted city for more than a decade and return to my hometown, New York City. I left New York at the age of 17 to go to college and never returned. I had gone out into the world and put together a comfortable life for myself. My past accomplishments made me proud. And now I was ready to come back home and start the next phase of my life.
But moving to New York and creating a new life for myself was no easy feat. Deciding to do it was the easy part. I had to make things happen. And starting over is never easy.
Step 1–When Starting Over, Take Stock of Lessons Learned
Even though I had decided that moving back to NYC was in fact what I wanted to do, I did not want to discount or minimize the things that I accomplished in Chicago. I started a business and had some really transformative relationships. It was in Chicago that learned how to maintain a household and save money. I learned how to get jobs and leave them with connections that could help me in the future. I learned how to drive and earned a master’s degree. In Chicago, I had learned all these major life skills through trial and error. And I’m grateful because I can use these skills in New York, where the stakes are a bit higher.
Before embarking on a new phase and making dramatic changes, be sure to take stock of all the things you’ve learned in your present life phase and think about ways that you can build on this foundation in your next phase.
Step 2–When Starting Over, Honor What You are Leaving Behind
In addition to taking stock of the lessons that I learned, a part of me was really sad to leave. I love Chicago. I love the people I met. At one point, I never thought I would leave. And if I’m being honest, there was even a little part of me that tried to sabotage the move because Chicago was just so comfortable for me.
And even though Chicago no longer fit the life I wanted I was so thankful for her because at one point she was everything I needed. You will never hear me speak ill of her! But life is about growth and movement.
Step 3– Sketch It Out
But deciding to move was not enough. I was looking to do a complete life shift, so I had to imagine a new life for myself. Location was just one aspect. But I also had to think about: what type of experiences I wanted to have, what type of people I wanted to be around, how I wanted to feel. Sometimes we get so focused on what we don’t want that we don’t make enough effort imaging and naming the things that we do want. Vision board anyone?
I got busy naming and claiming the exact neighborhood I would live in and what my apartment would look like and how much my rent would be. Next, I looked up the activities that I knew I wanted to participate in. Then, I made a budget that allowed room for all the things I wanted to do. I even named the organization that I would work for.
In order to get the life I wanted, I knew that I had to design it. Because if I wasn’t purposeful, I could end up in the same old rut that I was breaking away from. So I needed to be intentional, like an artist making decisions.
Step 4– Make Small, Gradual Moves
Knowing that I was going to be moving to NYC, I knew that I would undoubtedly be moving into a smaller space. So I slowly started to get rid of things. Books, dishes, clothes, housewares.
I also sought to re-familiarize myself with my hometown. After all, I had not lived in NY for many many years and never as an adult. A few things I did: visit family more, joined email lists of organizations that held the types of events I planned on attending after the move. I also reached out to my network to see if anybody knew of any job opportunities. I started watching YouTube videos about NY culture.
Step 5– When Starting Over, Make Some Big Moves
About six months after I decided to move, I closed down my physical office space. I had not made any definite plans. I did not have a job and I certainly did not have an apartment. But somehow I knew that closing down my business would bring me dozens of steps closer to my real goal. And it was super scary. Yet I knew that it sent the right signals to myself and the universe that I meant business and there was no backing down from it.
I also spent one whole month in New York staying with family. While I was there, I really imagined how my life would look on a daily basis. I reached out to people I hadn’t seen in years. It was a lot of fun and my mind really started to see this move as a real thing.
Step 6– Be Singularly Focused About Starting Over
When you are committed to starting your life over, you have to be singularly focused. I for one am very susceptible to succumbing to multiple attractive projects at the same time. But to undertake something as big as relocating and changing your lifestyle, you have to concentrate on the monumental task at hand only, even if other things fall by the wayside. I admit that this is why I was away from the blog for so long. I was getting my ducks in a row and brainstorming and figuring everything out. Some days, it was all I could think of. That meant that other things had to fall by the wayside. But the goal of starting over was more important that anything else at the time so it was given priority over everything else.
Step 7– When Starting Over, Do Not Give Up
Starting your life over takes a great deal of perseverance. And I was firm on two non-negotiable parameters: I had to have a job and an apartment before I moved. Even though I had tons of friends and family in NYC, it was very important for me to be self-reliant. That meant that I wasn’t going to put anybody out or be a burden or inconvenience.
Finding jobs and apartments in Chicago had been relatively easy, but finding them in NYC appeared impossible. I had begun sending my resume off to several jobs in late 2014 and did not land a job until late 2016.
And there were some pretty bleak times. Like the time I had managed to get a phone interview through a college acquaintance. I was interviewed by 2 women and the interview lasted about an hour. I felt pretty good about the interview when I hung up the phone. In the 90 seconds it took me to walk to my kitchen, pour myself a glass of water and walk back to my living room, I had already received an email from them notifying me that I was not selected for the job. Damn, that’s how y’all feel?
Or going apartment hunting and seeing super expensive teeny tiny walk up apartments with no light and that reminded me of elevators or cells. Or finally finding an apartment that I thought was perfect for me only to be rejected because the landlady preferred another couple.
But I kept at it.
In the end I got a better paying job with a better organization than the one that rejected me in 10 seconds. And I also ended up finding and securing a rent stabilized apartment in a better location, for a better price with all the amenities I wanted. It was almost spooky how much my job and apartment matched the original sketch I imagined when I first made the decision to move.
The moral of the story is not to give up. Just focus on putting yourself out there and moving toward what you want with steadfast determination. The rest is not up to you.
Step 8– When Starting Over, Build the Life You Want
Life does not simply unroll in front of us like a plush red carpet. We have to actively pursue the things we want.
A major reason I moved back was so that I could spend time with family. And huge part of my vision included long leisurely walks in Central Park and all around Harlem. So I got busy making sure I was doing those things.
I moved 6 months ago and I am still adjusting. Driving a car here still scares the daylights out of me. And the non-stop pulse of the city is both exhilarating and exhausting. I’ve set up some of my life rituals- my Sunday walk in Central Park with a cup of coffee and an audible book. Exploring fancy neighborhoods where celebrities live. I found a hair salon through trial and error. I’ve made a few new friends. But there is still much that still needs to be done. And I am excited about all of my new challenges.
I, for one, have been a little under the weather this past week. (Actually I’ve been A LOT under the weather. I know my poor neighbors probably think I have hacked up both my lungs). But I’m getting better day by day.
Now, I don’t get sick very often but when I do it always seems to be around the time the seasons change. Ever since I was a little girl. And I hear a lot of people do, too. Maybe that’s the origin of the phrase “under the weather.” Or maybe it’s my body’s very own built in spring-cleaning system.
Anyway, seasons are powerful things.
Seasons help us understand time periods in our life better. Yes, I’m talking about seasons of the year—winter, spring, summer, and fall- but I’m also talking about big seasons in our lives too. Like those seasons that are marked by specific people or events. Or those seasons when we are learn specific life lessons.
When seasons change they invite new energy into our lives and can get us out of our ruts by changing things up and forcing us to adapt. We have new things to look forward to. We have new problems to solve. All of a sudden we have new things to think about.
Today I want to urge you to use the power of this season change to your advantage. Here’s the challenge:
Plan out your next 90 days and be sure to
Include new things and new opportunities that you’ve never done before
Get rid of things that are no longer working for you
It’s the place in the home where you can put any and everything that doesn’t seem to really have a place of its own. Things like extra condiment packets, old batteries, tape, pencils, scissors, take out menus, tools, etc.
And because the junk drawer is so great at storing things, you can kind of forget all the stuff that’s in there. And the irony is when you actually need something that’s in it, you can’t find it. Years can go by without clearing it out and before you know it, you have all this useless little stuff that you never use, just taking up space in your home and being an eyesore.
But do you also notice that sometimes, we behave like we are junk drawers?
We hold onto useless baggage from the past that other people left in our lives just for the sake of holding onto it. And all this useless stuff weighs on our emotions, self-worth, and relationships.
Here are some examples:
An ex-lover was unfaithful and treated you badly which made you feel unworthy, so now you hold on to that “junk belief” just because a temporary person came and dropped it in your mind.
You got fired or let go from a job, so now you hold onto the “junk belief” that you are disposable and have little value.
You made a mistake for which you were embarrassed and now you carry around a great deal of shame around this mistake, even many years later.
But you are not a junk drawer.
And you simply have to let all this stuff go. Stop holding onto old useless resentments, shame, heartaches,etc. Let it go! Forgive people. Forgive yourself. Try things again. Try new things. Live in the present. Because life is happening now.
Junk is stagnant and still, but life is always moving, growing, developing, and changing. Since you are alive, you must do these things too.
Because the more you hold onto all that junk, the more it weighs you down and gets in the way of living. You will remain stuck and stagnant too.
The more you hold onto these useless unnecessary junk, the less free you are.
And I don’t know about you, but I want to be free!
So here’s what I want you to do right now:
In the comments section below, please tell me what junk beliefs have been hanging out in your mental junk drawer for far too long that you are finally deciding to let go of.
Do you spend a lot of time thinking about how you wish your life was better?
The truth is that most people do.
They think that people have it so much better than they do.
I know I can personally attest to this. Many years ago, I closed my Facebook account and shut the world out because I was so consumed with looking at other people’s lives and comparing myself to them. I saw so many people I grew up with were getting married, having beautiful children, and looking glamorous, but I wasn’t. I wanted all of those things in my life too, but they weren’t happening for me. The end result was that I felt really bad about myself. I felt like there must be something wrong with me. After many years feeling like crap every time I logged in, I decided the best decision was for me to completely walk away.
And it was years before I felt good enough about myself to log back on.
So what happened in the interim years?
I developed a Four Part Self-Love Practice that I will be sharing with you in the next few blog posts.
The first part of this practice was with shifting my focus towards a “Gifts and Gratitude” mindset.
Here’s what I learned:
A BIG reason for why I felt so bad before was because I was so caught up in what I thought my life SHOULD be, that I couldn’t see and appreciate my life for what it actually was. And I spent so much mental energy in the gap between what I had and what I thought I should have that I was miserable.
But in hindsight, I know that at least 2 things are true that I hadn’t realized before:
EVERYBODY has their own particular challenges, so just because things look so great on the outside doesn’t mean everything is perfect on the inside.
There is always someone looking at your situation right now and feeling envious about something in your life.
These 2 things let me know that instead of getting stuck in a never-ending cycle of feeling sorry for myself and drowning in comparison, I needed to shift my focus to identifying the talents, gifts, strengths that I do have and showing my gratitude for them regularly.
Because, here’s the thing: if I am always focused on what I don’t have, I never get to appreciate all the wonderful things that I do have. And not appreciating my gifts is a surefire recipe for feeling bad about myself.
So here’s what I want you to do right now:
I want you to publicly name your gifts and talents. In the comment section three things about yourself that you are grateful for right now in this very moment.
We need to start a movement of beautiful women who are proud of their strengths and talents and not focused on what they do not have.
Sometimes life is scary. And we don’t want to face reality.
Maybe it’s your finances, or your health, your relationships, your children, or your financial situation. Maybe it’s all of these things wrapped up into one great big ole overwhelming package.
So what do we tend to do?
Avoid and ignore it. We don’t go to the doctor or balance our check books. Allow ourselves to stay in relationships even when we know we shouldn’t. We won’t face our emotional issues even as we self-sabotage.
We just close our eyes like we’re on a scary ride at an amusement park.
Instead, we pour our precious life energy into–hours in front of the TV or Facebook, food, sex, gossiping, seeking out drama, temporary relationships, daydreaming without action– anything that will take our attention and time away from confronting and dealing with what is happening right in front of us. We let our power slip right through our fingers hoping to feel better momentarily. And we do feel better. At least for awhile.
Meanwhile our problems just keep getting bigger and scarier. Because when you ignore something it does not simply go away, it usually tends to get worse.
Eventually the problems get so big that a crisis happens and ignoring them is no longer an option. We are forced to deal with them all at once whether we want to or not. Except now we are in crisis mode, only able to manage the emergency: An illness. A foreclosure, repossession, or bankruptcy. A job loss. A family crisis.
But if we made a habit of facing reality regularly, we might have been able to mitigate the damage. We may have even been able to prevent the crisis in the first place. Or at the very least we could have had a better plan in place for when the shit finally hit the fan.
It is your duty to face reality. Love yourself enough to face reality square in the face.
Here are my tips on how to face reality (even when you don’t want to):
Take an honest assessment of your life
Have a day (or four) of reckoning. Brace yourself. Play some relaxing music. Get some alone time. Take out a notebook and a pen and think about each of the main areas of life- health (emotional and physical), wealth, social, family, work. In your notebook, create a separate page for each of these areas. Now write down the reality of your current situation in each of them. In each of these areas, reflect on what’s working for you and what’s not. Think about the things that are going really well. And think about why they are going well. What have you done consistently to grow these areas so well? Then think about what’s not going too well.
What have you tried to do to help the situation?
What more can you do?
What areas seem most urgent?
What have you been “meaning” to do, but never quite done?
And remember that this is not about perfection. No part of your life will ever be perfect. This is about being aware and doing what’s in your power to improve and/or make plans so that nothing catches by surprise later. This is about being proactive about your life.
Identify your regular escape mechanisms
Now listen. I love escapism just like anybody else. It feels really good. But unfortunately I also know what happens when I spend too much time in escape mode and finally wake up one day and have to figure out how to get out of the hole I created for myself while trying to escape. Escapism, like all things, is best in some form of moderation. Sure, have that cupcake. But you probably shouldn’t have 10, because you will have to face the consequences of that sooner or later. Sure, check in on social media. But you probably shouldn’t spend 20 hours a day, 7 days a week mindlessly hanging out there because that’s time that you could be investing in other things that can grow your life.
And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy things. I’m simply saying excessively seeking out pleasure while not handling your duties and obligations is a form of escape which ends up backfiring in the end.
What are your escape mechanisms? What are you avoiding? Keep track of how many times during the day you seek to “escape.” This can be an eye-opening practice in and of itself. How many times, you know you “should” be doing something else, but just can’t bear to face it.
Sketch out a new reality (your new destination)
Part of the reason that we don’t want to face reality reality is because doing so makes us feel helpless and overwhelmed.
But that’s just the beginning. You don’t have to stay in that state of overwhelm.
The next step is figuring out what to do next. Perhaps you need to change some of your behaviors, or use your time more effectively. Try to do those things. If you are not able to them on your own, don’t give up! Figure out out how you can make such changes more likely. Maybe it means hiring a coach or therapist to help you figure out your next steps. Or, maybe it means putting some things on autopilot. Perhaps it means finding an accountability partner. . Love your life enough to at least try to make things different. No one else will. This is your job.
And you can’t get there without knowing where you want to go.
Now, I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below please share something that you were trying to escape from in the past but finally faced. Or what your favorite forms of escapism are.
In Part 1, I shared how I was far away from home and felt really alone during my first semester at college. There were thousands of young people around me yet I felt isolated and ignored. I was very confused and my whole world was turned upside down.
After many many days of feeling really really bad, I decided that I just could not go on that way. Something had to change.
So I took all the courage I could muster and went to see a student health counselor.
Now perhaps you, like me, grew up in a community in which people did not see therapists. And if they did, they certainly didn’t talk about it. Seeing a counselor or therapist was essentially an admission that you were crazy or even worse weak.
That’s why I didn’t make the decision to go see a counselor lightly.
But unfortunately the experience did not make me feel any better. In fact it made me feel worse. The therapist that was assigned to me was not very empathetic and I never really felt like she cared. Perhaps it was unfair to compare her to the adults who nurtured me and made me feel like things would be OK. I never warmed up to her. There was always something missing and we were never able to build a working rapport. We just couldn’t relate to each other and I felt even more alone.
I went to two sessions and never went back.
Introspection and Self Work
Since therapy didn’t work for me at the time, I knew I had to figure it out myself. The first thing I did was buy a journal. And I wrote in it every single day. Because I didn’t have much of a social life, I had a lot of time to reflect. My first task was to think of things that made me laugh or put me in a good mood. I wrote a master list for myself so that when I was having a really bad day I would flip to that page and try several things until I was in a better mood. This was the beginning of my coping tool kit. I learned how to self-soothe as an adult. Next, I wrote out all my frustrations, hurts, and hopes for the future. Since I didn’t have anyone to talk to, I expressed myself to my journal and that helped a great deal. It was very therapeutic. And I began to look forward to it.
Once I realized that I needed to find a new center of focus, I sought out people to connect to. I knew I couldn’t get through the next four years without any friends. I thought to myself that in a place of thousands of people, surely I could find one person to be my friend. And I did. I found more than a handful of like-minded folks. People who had similar interests. Some were a little older than me who were able to show me around and invite me to events, and others were right in my dorm. I began volunteering at a few youth centers off campus. It was nice to have people look forward to see me coming. And I joined a student organization and met even more people. It still wasn’t like home but it was so much better than feeling like crap in my dorm room.
Sooner or later it hit me that I was out on my own in the world. After I grieved for the loss of my old reality, I began to see all the amazing opportunities in front of me. And I gave myself the permission to take advantage of it by doing things I . I cut off all of my permed hair and went natural, something I had been wanting to do for a long time but wasn’t allowed to do when I lived at home. And this was like 15 years ago before it was as common as it is today. In fact, I remember one of my new found friends crying as I did it because she thought I was crazy. I majored in African-American Studies, even though my dad wanted me to be an accountant. I formed relationships with some very wonderful professors in the department who helped me so much more than the student counseling office. They invited me into their offices and homes. And because of their influence I studied abroad in Zimbabwe.
I lived in Africa for a year and it was really life changing. And not in a gross “Oh look at the poor black people, I’m so fortunate” kind of way. But it was life changing because of 4 main reasons
It really drove the point home to me that people live differently. And the things that matter to me don’t necessarily mean anything to anybody else. And that’s OK. They have their own issues to worry about. And that means that everything ain’t about me. Nobody cares (in a good way). Though I saw that when I first went away to college, I had taken it personally and experienced it as rejection. When I got to live in another country with a completely different culture, I realized that the world was a big place. Bigger than I had ever imagined and it was silly of me to expect to be treated the same way in all environments.
But people are essentially the same all over. For example, people argue in Shona language about the same things that people argue about in English.
Being flexible is so important. Electric power rationing was a way of life. Whole areas would be without power, sometimes advance notice would be given and other times not. People just dealt with it. I remember one night I was sitting in a popular cafe where there was a live band playing. All of a sudden all the power went out. Everybody started laughing and clapping. The band went on playing and the waitresses came around and placed lit candles on each table. It was a very sweet moment. And I think about it often as a reminder to be flexible and not to get stuck on Plan A if it doesn’t work out. Sometimes Plan B is kinda fun even when it wasn’t really expected.
I saw that I could survive far away from home on the other side of the planet. It was confirmation that I could do anything that I wanted to do.
Now, stay tuned for the third and final installment of journey to be a therapist.
After I have worked with a client for awhile, I usually get asked one question sooner or later: Have you always had such a positive disposition?
The answer to that question is a resounding NO!
I developed coping skills to deal with life’s challenges as I became an adult. Coping mechanisms that I still use to this day.
In this series of posts, I will share the life experiences that forced me to develop these skills and how I went about building them for myself.
Here’s the first part of my story:
Around the way girl in Harlem
I went to pre-school with a group of kids from my neighborhood. Most of whom later went to the same Catholic school which was 5 blocks away from my house. Or the public school which was only 2 blocks away. I went to the Catholic school from 1st through 8th grade. My friends usually had an older sibling or two who was friends with my older brother. Similarly, their younger siblings were friends with my younger sister. I also went to an all-girls Catholic high school in the Bronx with some of the same girls.
So if you’re paying attention there are some people with whom I was schoolmates from the time I was 2 years old through 18 years old. And our families knew each other. We all went to church together. Teachers knew me before I even got to their classrooms because they had worked with my brother and he was terribly smart, so they assumed I was smart too. And thankfully, I lived up to those expectations. On top of that, I joined the choir and was really fortunate to belong to community organizations in which I got even more friends and excelled. Even though I had ups and downs just like everyone does, my over all childhood and adolescence experience was overwhelmingly positive.
I’m telling you all of this because I want you to get a picture of all the support in my childhood and adolescence. I was a well adjusted kid who was smarter than average in my community. I succeeded without even trying. I had friends. I had boyfriends. Adults put me in charge of things. My peers respected me. It was kind of plush. And I had no reason to suspect that my life would not just keep getting better. By this time, my brother had already gone off to college and he was having the time of his life. To this day, we tease him about how great his time in school was.
So when it was my turn, I was super excited because I knew there was no where to go but up.
So I went off to school…
But college was really really hard.
Hard emotionally. Hard academically. And hard socially. And I floundered in all those areas. Some more than others.
Like many young people who grew up in somewhat sheltered communities, I was largely unprepared for the world when I went out on my own. I know that sounds funny given the fact that I grew up in the South Bronx and Harlem in the 1980s. In some ways I had a lot of worldly experience. I learned important street smarts like how to assess danger in people and situations really quickly and how to get myself out of a sticky situation.
But in some other important ways I was in entirely new territory. I was very similar to almost everyone whom I had ever known.
I went to a huge school (Go Orange!) And now instead of the close knit community that I came from, there were literally thousands upon thousands of other smart and talented young people. Young people who had their own belief systems and who came from all over the country. It was a very isolating experience for me with many low points.
like that time my roommate just stopped talking to me out of nowhere and never spoke to me again
or that time a football jock, who later went on to play in the NFL, called me ugly when he didn’t think I overheard him while I was minding my business in class.
or when I got two D’s my very first semester even though I had never gotten anything but A’s in high school
And these were just some of the many occurrences during my very first semester. It shook my confidence. At that point I had formed an identity solely based on being successful and liked by others. But when the environment changed and I didn’t get the feedback that I had always gotten all my life, I felt like shit. Who was I if I wasn’t excelling and well-liked? What could I possibly have to offer?
And in hindsight, each of these experiences was clearly not the end of the world. By any means.
They simply bruised my ego. And I didn’t have the coping skills to deal with them. These experiences made me doubt who I was. I had no frame of reference. I felt like a loser and I was deeply ashamed. I honestly felt like I had nothing to offer the world.
And even worse, I felt like I didn’t have anyone who I could talk to about it. The people back home were rooting for me. They were excited that I had a chance that many would never have and they were deeply vested in my success. Not only could I not let them down, I couldn’t even let them know I was struggling. Or at least that’s what I told myself.
My mom was very supportive in her own way. But she didn’t really have a frame of reference either. And we didn’t have a language to communicate with each other about it. I didn’t know how to be vulnerable enough to share just how emotionally hard the experience was for me. And my mom was real old school. She came from the “just suck it up” school. In other words, “You got problems? Well so what. So do I and everybody else. You got food, a place to live, and family. So whatever you’re going through can’t be that bad. Get over it.”
To be fair, my mom was trying to teach me resilience. A very valuable skill. A tool I also use to this day.
But in that moment I needed a little bit more. I could get it together enough to go through the motions, but I couldn’t stop feeling like shit. I felt so bad about myself every single day. And it was painful.
So since I couldn’t talk to anyone, as a very last resort, I decided to go to the student counseling center and the experience was absolutely awful.
Stay tuned for part 2 where I talk about why I didn’t go back to counseling for 15 years later and how I finally got through this tough time.