Do You Know Who You Are (Really)?

Be True To Yourself

Could you love someone that you didn’t know?

My guess is that you probably could push yourself to do so. But it would be a struggle.

So since we’re creating a movement of women who are committed to loving ourselves, we must also be dedicated to knowing ourselves better. Completely. Because knowing yourself allows you to accept and love yourself.

So who are you?

No, really. Who are you?

I got some questions for you:

  • What are you into?
  • What’s your “thing”?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What’s important to you?
  • What’s not important to you?
  • When it comes down to it, what do you want your life to stand for?
  • If you knew you had 6 months to live, how would you spend your last days on earth?

Knowing who you are and what you value helps you to weed out and filter through all the “stuff” that comes your way on a daily basis.

And most importantly, knowing yourself and your values stops you from judging yourself based on the opinions of other people. It frees your mind.

For example, I know that I value freedom, simple living, fairness, and knowledge. These values guide my decision making. So when well meaning people, for example, suggest things that they think will be of use to me, if these suggestions are not in line with my values, I simply don’t do them. Plain and simple. They are not for me.  And when other people don’t live according to my values, I’m OK with that, too. They have their own life to live, just as I do.

I determine my worth. No one else gets this privilege. And the same goes for you. You determine your worth. Other people’s opinions belong to them, not you.

Listen, we each only get one life and we need to make sure that we honor it by being true to ourselves and not living the life that other people think you should live.

So here’s what I want you to do. Right now I want you to think about the three things that are most important to you. And in the comments section below, I’d like you to share your top three values with us.

Til next time.

And if you haven’t already done so, be sure to sign up for the 7-Day Self-Love Challenge here.

Self-Love Begins with A “Gifts and Gratitude” Mindset

Gifts and Gratitude

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.

This is the room where I do most of my gratitude journaling.
This is the room where I do most of my gratitude journaling.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

This is where self-love begins.

The Backlash from ‘Formation’ and What It Means for Black Women’s Mental Health

Beyonce Formation

Everyone knows how much I loves me some Beyonce.

So last week when she dropped a unexpected new single with a video, performed in front of the whole country during the superbowl half-time show, AND announced a tour that would be coming to Chicago all within a matter of 48 hours I was in awe.  It was all so… well… Beyonce.

Beyonce literally changes the game every single time she drops new music. And it is wonderful to witness.

On top of all this Beyonce magic, the song itself seems like it’s on par to become a Black girl’s national anthem. “I like my baby hair with baby hair and afros”….. ” I like my negro nose with Jackson 5 nostrils.” She said these lines surrounded by images of a drowning post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans, Black Lives Matter movement imagery, and Black cultural tradition symbolism.

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I immediately recognized “Formation” as Beyonce’s personal protest anthem: the media has not been very kind to Blue Ivy’s natural hair or Jay-Z’s wide nose and full lips. And American political systems historically have dehumanized and devalued black lives. Here was Beyonce, I admit unexpectedly, taking a stand against this hatred of her family and her community.

And to add gas to the fire of Beyonce’s protest song, the Super Bowl’s 50th anniversary happily coincided with the 5oth anniversary of one of the most revolutionary Black protest movements in recent history–The Black Panther Party. So Beyonce used her platform to pay homage to the Black Panthers by dressing up in the black leather, black berets, and afros that were the uniform of the Black Panther Party and perform her protest anthem during Black History Month at that.

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But the backlash to this celebration of self has been swift by people all too eager to ignore the demands of respect.

A politician in Canada has publicly considered banning Beyonce from entering Canada. The UK has banned her song and video from the radio and television. Rudolph Guiliani dismissed her performance as anti-police, unprofessional and disrespectful. And other’s derided it as divisive and evidence of “cultural decay,” whatever that means.

Beyonce’s response? A simple, “I wanted people to feel proud and have love for themselves.”

But how does wanting people to feel good about themselves get interpreted and vilified as a political controversy worthy of being banned?

The answer: Very easily if you’re a Black woman.

To be a Black woman is a beautiful thing. But it also means that you are constantly mocked, under-appreciated, and copied without recognition by mainstream society. You are a caricature. You are told that you are too dark, too big, too loud, too bossy, too domineering. You are told you that you should be more like other women. You are told that we should be loyal to others, but not to expect loyalty in return.

And all of these messages serve to make us feel less than. When little black toddlers are misaligned in the media for having “too nappy hair” and being “ugly” physical features, we know the world devalues us very early. It is psychological warfare and the toll it takes on your mental health is costly.

But if we are to love ourselves– and we absolutely must–we have to know that we are OK just as we are. We cannot alter ourselves enough to make other people appreciate us, nor should we. We know from history that this strategy simply doesn’t work. Those of us who have tried to lighten our skin, surgically alter our bodies and faces, educate ourselves into respectability know that this never compels those that devalue us to see our worth and beauty.

We cannot wait for other people to “get” us because they never will.  We must be ourselves right now.

To me this is the lesson to take away from Beyonce’s “Formation.” Name and claim your worth.  Know your worth despite what others say.  Celebrate and appreciate yourself. Even those things that you have been taught to be ashamed of.

We have to continue to create environments, cultural products and perspectives, and support systems that validate ourselves and our work.  This is how we protect and promote our mental health.We create healthy, inclusive, and affirmative spaces to protect us from the onslaught of mainstream media and values.

This is our task and no one will do it for us.

How to Face Reality (Even When You Don’t Really Want To)

How To Face RealitySometimes 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.

Ask yourself:

  1. What have you tried to do to help the situation?
  2. What more can you do?
  3. What areas seem most urgent?
  4. 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.

And if you need some help in facing our reality, please be sure to check out my Jumpstart Your Life 6 Week Coaching Program. 

Why I Became a Therapist Part 2: Rebuilding Myself

 

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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.

A therapist.

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.

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SU counseling center

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.

Connection

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.

Permission

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.

 

PhotoGrid_africa
Me in Africa with my baby locs

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

What lessons did you learn in 2015?

Ok, so it’s that time of year when everyone is making all sorts of goals and promises for 2016. People see the New Year as a fresh new start. A blank slate.

And I’m all for new beginnings. Any time you can give yourself a mental restart means you’re one step closer to moving on from the weight of the past that can hold you back.

I think a good place to start when setting new goals for the upcoming year is to recap the past year and figure out the lessons you’ve learned along the way. I’m sitting in a coffee shop right now reviewing my 2015.  I’m sharing the major lessons I’ve learned or revisited in 2015. I invite you think back on your year and do the same.

January

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The year started off really nicely. I spent most of January in New York City with my extended family. We’re planning a family reunion and when your family is as large as mine, it takes several people and several planning meetings to make it happen. It was a great way to hang out with everyone and I’m looking forward to the family reunion in July 2016. Did I mention its gonna be in the Caribbean?? Can’t wait. I have so many beautiful pictures and memories from January and I will create so many more during the upcoming family reunion.

January’s Lesson: Doing activities with loved ones is affirming and strengthens my relationships.

February

februarysnowI ‘ve always wanted to try stained glass making, so this winter while the weather looked like this,  I found a class led by the awesome Fred and decided to give it a try. You can read more about this here. I ended up making something really beautiful. I talk and think for a living, so I don’t get much experience taking separate objects and “making” something new with them with my own hands. It was more difficult than I thought it would be and the finished product was far from perfect, but it’s beautiful to me and I hang it proudly in my home office.

Various stages of the glass cutting process and tools

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February’s Lesson: Trying new experiences is a great way to think new thoughts and bring new energy into your life.

March

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Completing my dissertation has definitely been a journey and unfortunately my motivation to do so sometimes ebbs much more than it flows. In an effort to get the ball moving I went on a writing retreat with 5 other participants led by the brilliant and very helpful writing coach Michelle Boyd of Inkwell Retreats.  The retreat was held at the beautiful Goldberry Woods, a bed and breakfast and micro-farm in northwest Michigan. It was a wonderful experience.  The scenery was gorgeous and provided a nice backdrop to the intense writing. I got more work done on my dissertation in that one week during the retreat than I had in the previous 3 months all together.

March’s Lesson: Working toward a huge goal does not have to only be grueling. There can be pleasurable and peaceful moments along the way.

April

funinsun

I spent spring break in the Dominican Republic. And it was a blast! It was the perfect mix of relaxation and fun.  I spent my days sitting in the sun on the beach, drinking frozen drinks, and swimming. During that beach time I did a great deal of thinking and soul searching. I finally got the chance to listen to all the little voices inside me that I had to silence during every day life because I was too busy getting things done.  One of those decisions I came to was to bring a small group of ladies back to this destination so that they too could get away and have the opportunity and space to think new thoughts and do some introspection.  I decided I wanted to lead destination retreats. And in fact, I led my first one a few months later in that very same place.

April’s Lesson: Sometimes its good to take a break. Moments of inspiration can come when my mind is not singularly focused on a problem.

May

My beautiful little niece walking around my mom's garden.

This was my first mother’s day after my mom passed. You can read more about that here. I had to take a break from social media and all the constant reminders that other people were spending the day with their mothers or at least got to talk to them. But my brother sent me a pic of my niece in my mom’s blooming spring garden. It is a nice reminder that life goes on. This pic connects my mom’s life to present and the future. Both my niece and those beautiful flowers growing on their own were evidence that my mom cared for and nurtured things while she was here.

May’s Lesson: Life goes on. And even though people are no longer with us, the things they nurtured still continue to flourish.

June

swallowcliff

Some time in 2014, a client told me about the old toboggan stairs at Swallow Cliff in Palos Hills, IL and what a great workout climbing the stairs is. Ever since then I had been meaning to tackle them. I finally did in June of this year.  I didn’t take any pics. I was too busy remembering to breathe! The above pic is a pic I stole from google, just so that you get a general idea of what they look like.  I climbed up and down them 3 times. If I wasn’t so dogged tired I would have done the “Rocky” dance at the top of the stairs. It was not pretty and my legs and backside hurt for days. But I felt really good for finally crossing it off my “to-do” list.

June’s Lesson: Crossing things off my mental “to-do” list makes me feel triumphant.

July

July was the first anniversary of my mom’s passing. So my siblings and I decided to spend that week together. We had barbecues, went swimming and supported each other. It was nice. I won’t lie and say there weren’t some really really low moments. For instance, my 12 year old nephew found me on the side of the house sobbing once, but it was nice to go through that with people who understood exactly what I was going through. We also took the opportunity to plant a flower bush on the actual date of her passing. She would be tickled pink by that. You can read more about my grief process here.

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July’s Lesson: I don’t have to be deal with my grief alone when there are people around me ready to be supportive. I just have to ask for help.

August

orchards

August was all about the outdoors. Summer in Chicago is a beautiful thing. And I forget how glorious summer can feel during Chicago January and February. So every day I wasn’t in the office in August, I was spending long days at Lake Michigan. I also got a chance to visit the fruit orchards at Pick Farms. You can read more about this trip in a previous blog post.

August Lesson: Stop and enjoy the moment.

September

emptyoffice

I spent more time traveling and spending time with family this year than I had in the previous 6 years combined. It was  a commitment I made to myself following my mom’s passing. Because of this, I realized that in some important ways having a physical office no longer suited me. So when it was time to renew the lease, I decided that it was simply not worth it to be bound to a physical office for another year.  I decided not to renew. But as much as I knew this was the right decision, I still struggled with it. Thank goodness for Synoria, who arranged the movers and organized the packing because I was a mess. Be on the lookout for a whole separate post on this topic.

September’s Lesson: Sometimes life forces you to make tough decisions. Staying committed to your values helps make those tough decisions easier.

October

October, which is my absolute favorite month, was all about  business growth and development. It was definitely a highlight of the year. I led Abundant Life Practice’s very first retreat. I took 3 beautiful ladies with me back to the Dominican Republic and it was really amazing. (Be on the lookout for a separate blog post about the retreat really soon.) In the mean time, this is the villa where the retreat was held.

I left the Abundant Life Practice retreat and headed straight to The Happy Black Woman Blogging School Live 3-day event in Washington D.C.  I connected with so many entrepreneurial minded and inspiring ladies, including Ms. Rosetta herself. I also got to visit Washington D.C. for the very first time and it was a blast!

October’s Lesson: Sometimes you have to put yourself “out there” and connect with people in order to see yourself grow and reach goals.

November

November was more family time. My brother bought us tickets to see Stevie Wonder down where he lives.  I am a die-hard Stevie fan and so is my brother. This is the fourth time I’ve seen Stevie live in concert and hopefully it won’t be the last. And each time I am amazed that people of all ages fill huge sports arenas (I’ve seen him in both the United Center and Madison Square Garden) to hear songs written before I was even born. It is pure inspiration watching someone live in their purpose. That’s what watching Stevie is like. Here’s a clip from the concert:

stevie wonder nov. 2015 from jennifer hall on Vimeo.

November’s Lesson: When you create something and share it with the world, you have no idea of the impact it will have and how greatly it can affect people’s lives for the better or for how long.

December

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This month has been very low key. After the heavy traveling and being away from home for the past 2 months straight, I decided to spend this month resting and planning. Aside from enjoying the holidays and seeing clients online, I’ve been doing a great deal of writing and planning out the schedule for 2016.

December’s Lesson: It’s ok to rest after a long period of busy-ness.

Whew! So that was my 2015 in a nutshell. I’m looking forward to putting all this wisdom into practice in the upcoming year.

Now I’d like to hear from you. What was one major lesson you learned over the course of the past year?

And as always, if you liked this post, please join our mailing list.

You are free, so BE free!

Freedom

I recently spent a few hours in a courtroom and watched  a judge hand down a guilty verdict.

The crime committed was severe and the defendants will be going to prison for many many years.

I’ve known one of these men for years as a close family friend. So when the sentence was handed down,  I was overcome with emotion. I thought “What a waste of a life. He has so much potential.” Now he will be in prison for longer than he has been alive.

He will sit in a cold, hard prison cell  isolated from the world, which will go on without him. His 5 children will grow up and become adults, all while their father sits behind bars in a prison hundreds of miles away from them.  In prison, this full grown adult man will be told when he can eat, shower, exercise and sleep. He will be told when and if he can speak to loved ones on the outside.

Humanizing experiences like tenderness and empathy will be rare and maybe even non-existent for him.

In short, my friend will no longer have the precious gift of freedom.  Unfortunately and very sadly, he squandered it.

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And I’m sure that I don’t have to tell you that this is true for many many other people.

Aside from the difficult emotions I feel about a good friend going through a tremendous ordeal, this whole incident makes me very thankful and mindful about my own freedom. But it also made me question the ways in which I too am squandering my gift.

  • Whenever I impose limitations on myself and my possibilities, I am wasting my freedom.
  • Whenever I let fear alone run my life and decision making, I am squandering my freedom.
  • Whenever I allow negative thinking to control my actions, I squander my freedom.
  • Whenever I allow the opinions and beliefs of others define my opinions and beliefs, I waste my freedom.

Freedom is usually one of those things that many people don’t appreciate until it is gone. And I made a commitment at that moment to make sure I am always aware of my freedom and its power.

Freedom is a powerful thing. It is transforming. Freedom, and specifically, an “ethical” freedom allows you to literally do whatever you want as long as you are not harming yourself or others.

You too are free, Lovebug, and that is a wonderful thing!

But here’s my question to you: What are you doing with your freedom?

What does freedom mean to you?

Think about things you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t. Why haven’t you done them?

I hear from so many women who are waiting to do things because for some reason or another “now” is not the right time. They say “I can’t do such and such because….” or “I could never because….”

Maybe all of those thoughts are true…. Everybody knows their own situation best.

But maybe, just maybe, when you begin to acknowledge the freedom that you have, you begin to realize that some if not all of these types of thoughts are self-imposed limiting thoughts. And you begin to realize that you, in fact, can do anything you set your mind to. You might need support. You might need guidance. And you might need additional resources, but you are not a slave and your situation is not hopeless.

Freedom means there are always possibilities.

Your life is too short and too precious to put yourself in a box. When you do that, you might as well live in prison.

Let yourself out and be free!

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In the comments below, tell me how you plan to honor your freedom?

The End of the Road?: How to know when to walk away

This poster hangs in my home office and serves as a constant reminder that each moment in my life is precious. And because each moment is precious, I try my best to only do the things that bring satisfaction, joy, and add to the fullness of my life. To do anything less, is to sell my self short.

At some point, each one of us thinks about walking away from something. Maybe a job. A partner. A friend. Maybe even an opportunity or a way of life. And we struggle with the decision because it’s hard to know if the benefits outweigh all of the problems and frustrations that make us want to leave in the first place. And sometimes, if we are really honest with ourselves, we know that the only thing that keeps us in situations that we’ve grown tired of is the fear of change and the unknown. But the truth is that, you will have to walk away from some things eventually because if you are committed to your growth and evolution, you will undoubtedly outgrow situations and people. Things that once felt good, will no longer serve your needs in the way they used to. And sometimes we cling so tightly to the idea of something that we deny the reality of what’s right in front of us staring us in the face. 0d8f323adb048a3365e216d4b5376994 Knowing when to leave is never easy, but this is what I want to you to know: Getting the life you want takes effort and attention.  You must be dedicated to making that life happen and not sit idly by or stew in frustration when things happen in your life.  In other words, no more blaming your unhappiness on bad bosses, or bad relationships, or bad friendships that go on for years and years. Instead, work on getting the friends, the partner and employment that you want. Here’s what to do when you’re not sure whether you should walk away:

1. Think about the situation honestly. Make the proverbial list of pros and cons. And ask yourself some tough questions:

  • What do I want to get out of this situation? (e.g. affection, money, sex, adventure, comfort, skill, challenge, love, etc.)
  • What am I ACTUALLY getting out of this situation? (e.g. companionship, frustration, anger, sex, money, etc.)
  • What am I investing into this/what is this situation costing me? (e.g. time, love, brain power, energy, money, sanity, self-esteem,etc.)
  • What will happen if I keep investing these things into this situation?
  • What will happen if I stay? (best and worst case scenarios)
  • What will happen if I leave? (best and worst case scenarios)

This list gets you started. There are other important questions that you might ask yourself that are specific to your situation. Maybe it will take you a few days to think all of this through. But you owe it to yourself to be honest and look at the situation as it is head-on. You are exchanging your life for this situation. Is it worth it? Only you can decide.  And remember to make a plan, regardless of your decision. If you decide to stay, what plan can you implement to try to make the situation better for you. And if you decide to leave, what do you need to get in order before you do so? Taking ownership of your life means you are responsible for thinking all of this through.

2. Do you have any evidence that things can change for the better? Sometimes things really do get better. Many years ago, I worked as a social worker on the trauma unit at a hospital and it was absolutely unbearable for me. I did not like the work I was doing, it was super stressful and I honestly wasn’t well suited for the position. Everyday I left that job dreading walking back in the next morning. When I was away from the job, I constantly thought about it. I felt stuck. I wanted to “stick it out and prove myself” but everyday I was miserable and did not think that I would prevail. But you know what happened? It got better. One of my coworkers resigned and I immediately asked to be switched to her unit–the mother/baby unit. And I absolutely LOVED that work and was well suited to that position. The position had its own stressors and challenges, but the difference was that I was good at it and each challenge seemed like an opportunity to learn more and get even better at my job. What a difference a few months made. The point is that things did get better eventually. Exponentially better. And if you had asked me just a month before they did, I probably would not have seen the possibility.  Somebody had to leave and my job description completely changed for my job situation to be better. And both of those things were altogether out of my control. So I am asking you, do you have any evidence that the situation you are considering walking away from will get better?  What would have to happen for things to get better? Do you have any control of those things? Is the perpetual hope that things will get better enough for you to stay? Why or why not?

3. Do your best right now Before you walk away from anything, ask yourself if you have honestly given it your best try.  If it’s a relationship, for example, you might ask yourself whether you have openly and honestly communicated your needs to your partner.  Are you doing everything you can to meet your partner’s needs? You might try couple’s counseling, if your partner is willing. If it’s a job, you might ask yourself whether you are taking responsibility for your job performance and are seeking all available assistance and resources. In all situations, you want to know that you have given it your best effort and explored every possible option to make it work. This is important for two reasons. First, maybe you just have to put in some elbow grease to get all that you need and want from the situation. Perhaps you will try something that you hadn’t before and that’s the thing that ends up making all the difference. And second, if you walk away and haven’t explored all the possibilities, you might end up looking back with regret and wondering if you had “only tried ….” perhaps things would have been different. Once you can honestly say that you have given a situation your best and done all that was in your power to make it work, you can walk away with the peace of mind knowing that it just wasn’t meant to be. You can close the door and move on. “Doing you best” in a situation can also be kind of tricky, especially if you find the same patterns constantly repeating over and over. If you find yourself walking away from situations only to find that the next situation yields the exact same results, perhaps some further introspection is warranted.  Remember that your reality is  result of both things within and without of your control. But if certain patterns constantly create themselves in your life, perhaps you have more control over them than you think you do. And perhaps it’s time for you to talk to someone  who can help provide some insight into why the same patterns occur in your life. This is your responsibility too.  It’s up to you to figure this is out.

Now as always, I’d like to hear from you. In the comments below, I would love to hear about times when you’ve decided to walk away from something. How’d you know it was time? And if you’re not already on our mailing list, don’t forget to sign up!

Til next time

Me Myself and I: How to be more Self-Aware

 

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What do you think other people see when they see you? Do they see the same thing you see when you look in the mirror?

  • Do you often find it hard to connect with other people especially in certain situations?
  • Do you feel like other people don’t really “get” you?
  • Or do you find yourself feeling like no one really knows the “real” you?

Well perhaps you, like all of us, can stand to become more self-aware. Self- Awareness is the process of knowing who we are in relation to other people. It’s helpful to be self aware because it gives us a framework to interpret and understand all the feedback we get from others.

Here are three ways you can increase your level of self-awareness:

1. Listen to what other people say about you

What do other people say about you? Are there any major themes you’ve heard repeatedly over the years?

I was very fortunate to learn the benefits of being self aware relatively early in life. When I was about 15 years old I was involved in a very dynamic youth leadership program with a small group of other smart young people.  During one of our early skill building retreats, the facilitators had us participate in a self awareness exercise in which each person was given a stack of 15 pre-printed index cards with words on them and a roll of tape. Each index card had one word on it such as – sincere, apathetic, loud, smart, honest, funny, considerate, etc. Each person was instructed to tape the index card with the word they felt best described the individual group members on each person’s back.

I was expecting a ton of sincere and smart cards taped to my back because I thought those were the words that best described me. But to my surprise and sadness, out of the 15 cards I received, 10 were “loud,” 3 were “funny” and the remaining 2 were “sincere.”

At first I was confused and shocked. I asked myself, ” How could this be? That doesn’t even begin to describe me.” Then I got angry.  “How dare these people act like they know me?!” I thought.  But after the initial shock and anger, I got introspective and thought about what was happening. If 10 out of 15 people each independently thought that “loud” was the best way to describe me, was there some truth to that?  I thought about my behavior in the previous 2 weeks, which was as long as they knew me. When I was honest with myself, I realized I was being louder than I normally was. Not because I was obnoxious or naturally loud, but because I didn’t want to get lost in the crowd, so I thought if I turned up my personality people would notice me and I would make friends quicker. But instead, I just came off as loud and alienating and it hurt. And I think what hurt most was that I wasn’t even being me. At that moment, I wished that I could get a “do over” and present myself as I really was.That was a life changing moment for me. From that moment on, I wanted to make sure that the way I was perceived by other people was as close to the way I saw myself as possible and I became much more aware of my actions.

Important note: Part of considering what other people say about you is to first reflect on the person and the circumstance. Not all feedback provided by others will be useful or valid. But listening to trusted people who provide constructive supportive feedback is an invaluable way to become more self-aware.

2. Be purposeful about what you say and do

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How does this painting make you feel? Does it energize and excite you or does it make you feel tranquil and at peace?

Most people would probably say that this painting makes them feel calm and introspective. How does the artist evoke feelings from you? Well this artist made specific choices such as the chosen color palette and the subject of a setting sun on the horizon just beyond the end of a dock.

Whether we realize it or not, we are similar to the artist because we elicit certain feelings and behavior from others when we choose what we do, say, and wear for example. Those are our materials. What choices do you make that other people see and interpret?

For example:

  • What tone of voice do you use and how does it sound to others?
  • What type of words do you choose?
  • What do you usually talk about?
  • How do you dress your body? What colors do you wear?
  • How do you enter a room?

I encourage you to think deeply about your choices and decide how well they line up with what you want to project to others. When we choose how we want to make people feel and act accordingly, we are more likely to act in a way that is more in line with how we view ourselves. If you want people to trust you, be trustworthy with your actions. If you want people to be at comfortable around you, think about ways you might make them comfortable around you.

3. Reflect on your interactions with people

Think about how your interactions with other people tend to go. Both first time interactions with strangers and those with people you interact with over a long period of time. How do you feel before, during, and after talking with certain people?

Do you get the feeling that people shy away from you or are they drawn to you?

How can you tell?

If you are not getting the types of responses from people that you would like, it may be time to go inside yourself and really think about your actions. Part of being self aware is to try to understand other people better.

As human beings, we are wired to be social. In order to have a full and engaging life, interacting with other people is required to some degree. Because of this, it is helpful to have a basic ability to present yourself in a way that does not offend other people and will encourage other people to want to be around you.

Being self-aware helps facilitate easier relationships with both strangers and loved ones.

So in the comments below, I’d like to hear about how you can be more self-aware in your own life.