I love October and I get all into it. During the month of October, my birth month, I always make a point to be extra good to myself. And by being good to myself, I mean making sure that I have time for the things that I value. All the things that I find important.
In a world where everything moves so quickly and things can be overwhelming and loud, its so easy to forget the things that matter most to you. This is how I spent my glorious October honoring my values.
I Value Intellectual Stimulation
SoThe Street: A Novel is one of my favorite books in the world. If you’re into exploring complex sociological concepts through fiction, I definitely recommend it. I read it for the first time when I was about 16 years old. And though it resonated with me then, I didn’t get how deep it was until about 10 years ago when I reread it. My favorite types of books, are those that I can read over and over and learn something new each time or get a new angle. And it was so awesome to be in a room filled with people from all walks of life talking about something that I loved so much. I left the auditorium feeling really good and stimulated. Intellectual stimulation is very important to me and I have to make room for it in my life or I feel unfulfilled.
I Value Intimate Gatherings
Honestly, I am an introvert and sometimes being around tons of people exhausts me to no end. I crave time alone with my thoughts. But… I also need to connect with my loved ones because not doing so leads to isolation. And believe me, I know all about that. Since I don’t want to be isolated, intimate gatherings are how I stay connected while honoring my needs. And October was full of these gatherings! I had people over for my birthday which was sooo much fun! My cousin threw a bowling party for her birthday the very next weekend. And then I had a card party the following week. So much fun! I’m still recovering from all the laughter and drinks.
I Value Nature
If you have been reading my blog for any amount of time, then you are very much aware of my love affair with nature in general and Central Park specifically. And October was full of Central Park time.
These are just three of my values. I encourage you to know what you value and make space for them in your life. This how you stay fulfilled and feel alive. This is how you THRIVE.
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
(Please note that this is an account of a personal experience and not an endorsement or recommendation of any sort. This should not be mistaken for health care advice. And I urge everyone reading this to consult their physician or registered dietitian for nutritional advice because I am neither.)
Many in my self-love challenge community know that this year my self-love practice is focused on my physical health. I want to be healthier in general and lose a considerable amount of weight in particular.
In January and February, I focused on being more active and going to the gym.
While I knew I needed to radically change the food I put in my mouth, to some degree I felt really stuck and overwhelmed. I would make a commitment to myself to eat better and then it seemed as if my self-control would betray me almost without fail.
And I would feel really awful afterwards. And every day was a struggle– knowing I should do better, but not knowing how to make it happen.
Then I heard a neuro-psychologist talk about the addictive properties of certain foods, namely flour and sugar and the way they affect the brain. She argues that certain people are more susceptible to the addictive nature of these foods than others.
And the solution to this is total abstinence from flour and sugar.
For those in the back, I’ll say it again: She advised a lifestyle change in which people don’t eat any foods that contain processed refined sugar or flour of any kind because it’s the flour and the sugar that addict people and trick the brain into thinking that you need more and more. Some experts have even gone so far as to label sugar and flour to be drugs, or even worse, toxic poisons.
This completely changed the way I thought about food.
Now it’s not like I thought pop-tarts, cakes, cookies, brownies, pancakes, or doughnuts were good for me. I mean, I wasn’t delusional.
But I didn’t quite know how eating those types of sugary, doughy “foods” leave my brain craving more and more until I felt powerless to control the cravings.
In other words, the more of those things I ate, the more I craved those things.
The solution it seemed was to completely eliminate all of those things from my diet.
Now, I cannot express to you just what a big deal this decision was for me. I mean, virtually ALL of my favorite foods had flour or sugar in them– preferably both. And it took me a couple of days to process this information. But I eventually knew I had to at least try it.
The first thing I did was make a list of all foods I wouldn’t be able to eat, if I were to adopt this lifestyle. Including all the foods I listed above, I’d also have to eliminate- cornbread, crackers, noodles, sweet potato pie, bread of any kind, syrup of any kind, honey, virtually any kind of box cereal, any kind of boxed food in the grocery store, many salad dressings and many many more things. So really quickly, I knew that I would be cooking almost every meal I put in my mouth. Manufacturers put sugar or some type of “syrup” in dang near everything.
Since March 1, 2016, I have not had any flour or refined sugar.
I found a no flour, no sugar food plan that dictated 3-4 meals a day with no snacking in between, broken down as follows:
Breakfast: one serving of grain/or starchy vegetable, one serving of fruit, one serving of dairy, and one serving of meat or protein
Lunch: one serving of protein/or meat, one cup cooked veggies, one cup fresh veggies
Dinner: one serving of protein/or meat, one cup cooked veggies, one cup fresh veggies and one serving of a grain/or starchy vegetable
Snack (optional): one serving of dairy or meat/protein with with one serving of fruit
So here’s what my food has looked like for the past 30 days:
My usual breakfast is one cup of skim milk, 1/2 cup plain oatmeal (not the sugary instant kind), 1/2 tbsp of peanut butter, a banana, and a few chopped walnuts. But sometimes, I’ll have scrambled eggs and potatoes with yogurt and a piece of fruit.
Honestly, the first day that I had this breakfast I really missed the sugary oatmeal, so I was not in love with it. But funny enough as the weeks have gone by, my bowl of oatmeal is my favorite meal of the day.
On days that I have a lot of writing to get done I will have a cup of coffee right after breakfast or lunch as well. Since I can no longer have sugar and limit my dairy to 1-2 servings a day, I lighten my coffee with a bit of coconut milk and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It gives the coffee a creamy texture, and a nutty flavor and it is very very good.
Four hours after breakfast, I have my lunch.
Honestly, I’m still getting used to a meal with no starch or grain. This is my least favorite meal of the day because of that.
I have dinner five hours after lunch and one some days I REALLY feel the absence of a grain/starch.
Dinner is usually very filling and satisfying.
Four hours after dinner, I usually have a snack because I don’t like to go to bed with an empty stomach and depending on when I had dinner on some days, it has been as much as 6 or 7 hours.
Getting though the first 7 days was very difficult. I’m not even gonna lie. It took a whole lot of effort to eat on a particular schedule and to plan out my meals in advance simply because I wasn’t used to eat. Further I was not at all used to not snacking between meals. But by day 3, this part got easier. I just fell into a routine.
By about day 4, I started to have really intense cravings for certain sugary and doughy foods. It was kind of ridiculous, honestly. And I had a headache for like 48 hours straight. I was irritable and began to notice how advertisements for these foods were EVERYWHERE.
Almost immediately after cutting out the sugar and flour, my body started to feel better. I was able to move more. I woke up each day feeling a bit lighter. Honestly. I didn’t realize just how bloated I had been.
By day 14, I had noticeably more energy.
My vegetable variety has increased a great deal. In the past 30 days, I’ve had avocado, cabbage, carrots, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach, kale, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, red peppers, yellow peppers, habenero peppers, string beans, squash, white potatoes, cucumbers, red beans, and romaine lettuce. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten that many different vegetables in such a short period before. I don’t know why, but that felt like a big accomplishment. LOL.
And I lost 10 pounds.
So I’m planning to continue. I’m going to take it one day at a time and continue to monitor how I feel. I’m hopeful.
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.
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.