What’s in a Year?

What’s in a year? Usually more than what we remember. My way of recounting the year’s journey involves me scrolling through my photos. I chronicle my experiences through window seat, food, and selfie snaps. After all, it’s the digital age! Smartphones were a gift to photo lovers who made regular trips to the pharmacy or local camera shop to drop off film. It’s hard to believe that once upon a time I used to wait a couple days to see if my eyes were closed or the lighting was right in a picture! Sheesh…God smiled on our lives with iPhones and DSLRs! In my Tupac voice, “I ain’t mad at cha!” And I’m also not mad at myself for saying “yes” to going where I wanted to go this year and packing at the 99th hour for a few business trips. The bills don’t pay themselves!

So, what’s in a 2019 trip?

The blue bridge. 99 islands. Matcha…so much matcha. Shrines. A traditional kimono fitting (it’s layers on layers on layers). Ramen…oodles of ramen. Waterrrrrr. The largest stationery store I’ve ever been to in my entire life! I was lost in there for about 4 hours! It fulfilled ALL of my art supply dreams! Japan was my first trip of the year, and I shall never forget its natural, foodie, and penmanship wonders!

Oven grinders (think huge pizza in a bowl). Art. Colossal pancakes. Virgin Hotel hospitality with waterfall showers. And the Bean! I made it to the Bean…also known as Cloud Gate. It was raining so hard that night too. I posed anyway!

Rolling hills. Mountain tops. Fermented grapes. Clinking glasses. Did I mention fermented grapes? Sisterly love. I checked out a somewhat local winery with dusty pathways but serene views. So much for my car wash. But, grapes…fermented! 🙂

Snowballs. Po’ boys. The cutest tiny tots. Fleur de lis. Cajun catches. Another baby for TT to spoil. I surprised my Bayou sister just after giving birth. One of these days she’s going to figure it out before my arrival. Louisiana holds my heart.

Cool closet quotes. Delectable fried chicken. Community murals. Dedicated doctors. It was another successful year for our national awards committee as we learned how our medical schools are making a difference in their communities in Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

Scores of yellow erratic taxis. Late night pizza. Mellie from Scandal sitting next to me on Acela (I understand the value of peace. I saved her the selfie inquiry.) Color wheels. Paintings. History. It had been a while since I was in NYC. It’s still the city that doesn’t sleep. There’s no shortage of culture and overstimulation.

Clean air. Picturesque mountain scenery that doesn’t end. Nature photography wins. Serenity. Major flight delays (all the private jets now make sense). Mountains and money all around me. Cool conference swag. That was Aspen. The place is breathtaking. I may have been there for a conference, but what I actually remember is the equanimity every time I looked up.

Childhood friend reunions. Acai bowls. Fireworks. Family ties. The longest I’ve ever waited for shrimp and grits at OLG. Trap. Makeup and music by my godsissy. Because forever I love Atlanta!

Big bus. The needle. Distilleries. A Niagara shower. Cute and cozy towns. Yup, fermented grape tours. Food tours too. Fun house. Street art. Escape room. Extra fancy celebratory birthday dinner. Visiting Canada has been on my list for a while. This year nothing was going to stop me! The #Blackgirlglow crew hopped on a plane with me to Toronto!

Dinosaurs. Uber ride. Ocean creatures. Incredibly energetic kids. A butterfly garden. Lobster on a buttery roll for lunch. I sometimes take for granted that I live next door to a city with world-renowned museums. Thank you to the Smithsonian for the educational day.

Stacks on stacks of cha gio. THE yummiest pho made by the matriarch. Boisterous laughter. New friends. Special green drinks. Wine. Loving family. I took another local trip to the home of the woman responsible for my amazing nail designs. It was a Vietnamese immersion of love in so many ways. I treasure that invitation from her and her family.

Lily pads. Affirmations. Coffee chats. Lake views. Fermented grapes yet again…for some of us! Priceless memories. Highway overlooks. A road trip accompanied by a miracle baby. Frederick, Maryland. It represents love. And that’s why it made for the perfect day.

Cacti. Car snacks. Red rocks. PJ Morton. Medical education excellence. Dream catchers. Indigenous beauty. The vastness of God. Family dinners. The GRAND Canyon. Wrong trail directions. Naps. I worked an unknown amount of hours at our largest convening of the year in the name of tomorrow’s doctors, and then took a 6 a.m. road trip with friends through the peaks and valleys of Arizona. Beautiful! That state doesn’t owe me anything except sleep!

Baby giggles. Cranberry crostinis. “iPack” viewings as declared by my god baby. Meche’s. Surprise birthday cookouts. A Creole Thanksgiving. Cypress trees and leaps. Daiquiris. UL apparel updates. Presence. Po’ boys…always! I capped off my 2019 SkyMiles back in the Bayou. I didn’t plan it that way, but it’s really no surprise. It’s my happy. It was the fitting travel wrap-up for this decade.

My life motto, “Joie de vivre,” is a nod to my Acadiana affection. It means “celebrate the joy of living.” And I surely did just that with my 2019 treks. So, I ask again, “what’s in a year?” Might I suggest it’s wherever you have the heart to go.

Physically Fit…Exercise Not Included.

It never fails. I’m headed into the office, and I have this moment of energetic glee as I begin thinking of what I’ll accomplish for the day. It’s typically a combination of work and personal projects, because I like a good balance. Most recently, I’ve found myself on the bus when this happens while taking in the lyrics of my R&B, gospel, or ratchet tunes (because we all know it can vary). I get incredibly excited about the goodness that will come from the productive use of brainpower on the horizon. I’m trying to discern whether this sudden elation is the result of the perfectly ground coffee beans in my purple travel mug or if I really love doing work. I may or may not be easily convinced that it’s the coffee since it does make me happy. But, for the purposes of you reading this, we’ll go with the work!

As I was pondering about this odd yet joyful experience, it occurred to me that by the time I get to my office, that impromptu spark of enthusiasm to do work has a tendency to fade. Somewhere between the bus depot and the always lit Chinatown, that cheerful feeling about the day’s forthcoming success is commandeered by some unknown force that doesn’t want me to be great. As the analytical overthinker that I am, I took my morning mental acrobatics a step further to try to figure out why.

My office isn’t a place that I dislike. The people that I work with to support our mission and constituents are the reason I get out of bed and embark on the sometimes adventurous commute. I consider myself blessed to be a part of the fabric of a mission-oriented organization. I do what I do in medicine and public health because I believe in the power of potential and the necessary exposure to the possibilities for young people everywhere. But, then it hit me…the incredibly basic aha moment about my struggle to maintain merry momentum. It’s about as basic as Rice Crispies with no sugar. It’s summed up in two words…physical environment!

I’ve always been aware of my preferred working style and motivational requirements, but I’ve become more cognizant about the effects of the space around me and what I need to maintain my coffee-infused happiness without the extra cups. Here’s what I’ve recognized and how I’ve made small changes to reclaim and extend my workday thrill:

  • No matter how many bells and whistles are put in an office building, it’s still a building. This means most things look identical and 95% of the walls around you are white.
    • So, what did I do? I became a plant mom! Seeing green things around me makes me feel alive. I also feel like a superb human because I’m able to keep temperamental species thriving in a stoic environment. I have several plants, but there’s a particular one on my desk that sleeps at night and looks like it’s waving at me every morning since the leaves expand. It’s the wildest sight, but it always amazes me! Have a look!Happy morning!
  • One of the best office perks is human interaction. Some might disagree with that, and I totally understand as I’m 97% introvert and love quiet. But, the other 3% must be devoted to the relationship management that’s necessary for my recurring paycheck. Yes, money matters! Occasionally, we all want someone to talk to, and being around colleagues is a good remedy. However, somewhere along the way someone decided that an open office environment was a grand idea, and it has now taken over industries and partially ruined lives (or maybe just mine…shrug).
    • So, what did I do? I invested in noise cancelling headphones. Here’s a trick…you don’t even have to turn them on to block out chatting, coughing, chewing, and anything else that keeps you from focusing. Bose, take all my money or else I might not make it! Of course there’s also alternative work schedules, telecommuting, mobile workstations, etc. to assist with this environmental challenge, but dare I say that sometimes I do want to be around other humans. I just do better when I have the option to control my desire for interacting.
  • I’m generally an organized person, which is evident in my desk organization. Clutter makes you crazy and thwarts effective decision-making. There’s nothing more distracting than an abundance of papers, doodads, spills, and useless folders from prior meetings and engagements.
    • So, what did I do to further my need for order? I acquired a label maker and disinfecting wipes. My colleagues think I’m ridiculous. What they won’t tell you is that my neat habits are slowly rubbing off and they’ve stopped collecting items they don’t need, hoarding papers as if they’ll ever look back at them, and going the entire season without at least trying to attack the germs that frequently lurk in offices and even more in an open office environment. No clean shame here!
  • I’ve always had a “one box” office rule. It means that I arrive at a new workplace with one box, and I depart with one box when it’s time to move on. The contents of this box are meaningful photos, postcard art, decorative office supplies, and a few awards. I know we’re moving toward mobile friendly environments, but I produce better work products when I have the smiling faces of my god kids and grandparents looking back at me throughout the day.
    • So, what did I do? I displayed mementos in prominent places on my desk. These often represent the many facets of our lives. Being surrounded by the people, places, and things that remind you of good times keep you motivated. Most importantly, it’s a constant reminder to save your leave for quarterly vacations. I love a good two for one!

I have noticed a little more pep in my step since being intentional about improving the physical space I inhabit for the bulk of my day. I can’t promise that this is a one size fit all solution to your office woes. But, if you can do anything to adjust the space where you devote your time, energy, and presence each day, you might find that your sparkle expands into a blissful burst of impact in your work, life, and community that doesn’t ride to the next bus or train stop without you. You make space for your happy when you’re performing in a space that fits your happy!

 

Monday’s Mantra: Give Yourself Some Grace

A broken printer inspired this post.  I was grabbing papers from another printer that actually had toner available to create my pages when it occurred to me that I’ve repeated the same phrase in multiple conversations over the past week.  As I’ve listened to stories from close friends and acquaintances or been asked to give my opinion on a few things, my parting words were the same…”Give yourself some grace.”

For much of our days, we’re battling against ourselves.

We try something new.  We question it.

We put action behind our idea.  We doubt it and whether what we’ve produced is worthy of recognition.  

We use our voice in a space outside of our comfort zone.  We think our contribution isn’t valuable.

We achieve goals that we’ve set.  We fear that we’ve still missed the mark.

We never honor the energy we use to prepare, produce, and present the skill or gift we’ve been given.  This is negative self-talk, and it inhibits the ability to operate from a place of confidence, love, and power.  While life may constantly feel like a race, it’s not.  I can’t even dress that up, because it’s a fact that doesn’t deserve a few extra minutes of my time scrolling through an online thesaurus to make it sound eloquent.  We’re not here to race each other to the top (because really the “top” is subjective and doesn’t even look the same for everyone), and we shouldn’t go to war with ourselves every time we attempt to do what represents who we are.  So, when I say “give yourself some grace,” I mean:

Release the thought that your work has to be perfect for someone to care or enjoy it.  If you gave it your best and showed up authentically for the task, anything you think is an error will probably go unnoticed.  And besides, we’re all entitled to a mistake.  Get it out there, and fix it next time.

Recognize that conflict is part of life and you won’t agree with everyone on everything. Have the dialogue, respect the differences, and don’t feel guilty about your stance.  The keys to resolution are respect and communication.  We can all learn from each other and expand our isolated views.

When someone or something is draining you, be okay with walking away to protect your peace.  This doesn’t make you a bad person.  It actually makes you smart, because you’ve demonstrated self-awareness by establishing personal boundaries.

Acknowledge and celebrate your accomplishments.  It’s easy to feel like you haven’t done enough when you’re comparing.  The reflective part is whether you pursued and achieved these things for yourself or the approval of people who weren’t going to clap for you anyway.  Clap for yourself!  There are many people who could only dream of having some of your opportunities.  Don’t discount where you’ve come from by getting so focused on doing more that you question whether you’ve done anything at all.  I’m sorry, but that certificate, that community event, that home you wanted, that promotion, that (insert achievement here) is something!

The moral of the story is that the next time your thoughts are teetering on the ledge of crudeness and compassion, choose to give yourself some grace!

 

Here, There, and Somewhere

I may not have blogged too much in 2018, but I definitely took plenty of trips!  I scrolled through my old photos this week and was quickly reminded that I didn’t sit still.  I remember having a conversation with someone about my desire to travel internationally in 2019 (already done, so stay tuned!) since I didn’t at all last year.  While I do enjoy globetrotting to other continents, my domestic trips are never without some level of allure.  And judging by the hundreds of photos in my digital collection of landmarks, food, scenery, and people I love, last year’s travels are worth chronicling.  Notable highlights included:

  • Getting a henna tattoo and enjoying a live belly dancing show during a Moroccan dinner at Epcot;
  • Snuggly CNN time with my cute godbaby genius, because cartoons don’t keep his attention;
  • Beignets, étouffée, and po’ boys…enough said!  My bayou adventures are never without all of my Creole faves;
  • A random outing on the Chesapeake Bay for crab cracking and boat watching with my momma;
  • Dining underneath the sunset by the beautiful seashore in Puerto Rico and later being mesmerized by the colorful murals throughout the capital city;
  • Blueberry birthday pie at my home away from home, because cake wasn’t on the menu and peaches were the appetizer;
  • Getting the scoop on all of the best Mexican eateries in San Antonio from my Uber driver’s well air-conditioned car…because Texas…in the summer;
  • Attending the Sisters of Flora art exhibit with stunning floral paintings by a New Orleans native;
  • Trying not to break an ankle on the graveled roads and ogling at the calves on the drive to my friend’s farm country wedding in Indiana;
  • Galavanting around Austin looking for the best spas and BBQ with the one who makes me laugh hysterically and supports my need for delectable foodie finds.

If I gain nothing else by traveling, it’s the pure essence of being comfortable with leaving behind what I know to experience the richness of what I don’t.  That’s life.  That’s wealth.  That’s my happiness.

This is 32.

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I’ve always been tickled and slightly perplexed by the fact that once you surpass 25, the years seem to go by faster!  You blink and literally 10 years are on the books and you’re sitting there trying to figure out what happened on all of those days in between!  I mean if I can be honest, Jeopardy, Sudoku, and Lumosity are a large part of the reason my memory is still somewhat sharp!  However, I’m fortunate in that I can look back on even the last year and be mesmerized by the experiences that have cheered me on, made me cry, accelerated my thinking, granted new opportunities, and doubled my sky miles.  There were times when I knew undoubtedly that the only reason why all of my being hadn’t fallen into a sea of despondence was because of grace.  I learned how to receive the gift that it is, but more importantly, how to give it when every part of me just wanted to step aside from the palm trees so I could throw some real shade! There were also moments when I’d be in a room full of highly accomplished and financially prosperous people wondering how in the world is there a seat at this table with a perfectly placed name tent in Arial font for ME.  Who am I?!  You should know that imposter syndrome is a real thing, and it can zap every bit of your happiness about any of what you’ve done that you personally deem successful.  And as a Black woman, it’s heavier than any words I could ever formulate into a sentence.

What you’ll likely discover is that one of the best things about life is that so much of it is bigger than you.  With everything happening all at once, it’s easy to be overwhelmed, lonely, and feel like you’re living in the twilight zone.  But, somehow the universe has a way of helping you to balance the scales and continue to move full throttle toward another day.  So, on this birthday, I celebrate the topple and the ascent of who I am as a growing adult and complex human being.  While the voyage to whatever adulthood really is can be volatile, I know that it will continue to be one that I pursue with confidence, peace, and that extra dash of splendor as a woman who is proud to be bold, Black, and excelling under the mantle of the Highest angel.

This is 32.

Monday’s Mantra: Show and Slay

Whew!  I just needed to let that out because the last few weeks have been nothing short of eventful!  I recently wrote about how I was about to be full steam ahead into my travel season that would take me to med schools and conferences across the country.  What I neglected to consider was all the other parts of life that happen in between, the programmatic fires that would have to be extinguished from time to time, and the riveting surprises that bring success with almost always a side of new responsibility.  But, no matter how consumed I am with all the details, I’m somehow invigorated by the challenge.  My continued excitement and energy has much to do with God and less to do with me, but I also attribute it to the fact that I’m right where I should be.  There was a time in my life where I was literally drained by boredom.  I didn’t feel like my gifts, abilities, or knowledge was being utilized effectively.  That was painful…like getting your body hair waxed for the first time painful (eek)!  I felt undervalued and stuck in many ways.  But, thankfully trouble doesn’t last always, and I can now say I’m moving, growing, and building in several arenas.

Last week as I was headed home from a trip, I found myself reciting a phrase that most of us probably know very well…”to whom much is given, much is required” (taken from Luke 12:48)  This came following a sleepless night that was spent reviewing a few dynamic entrepreneurs and change seekers vying for a spot at TEDMED – the premiere conference for sharing creative ideas to transform the way we think and do health.  As a 2016 TEDMED Research Scholar, I have the privilege and difficult task of helping to develop the TEDMED programming!  Super exciting opportunity!  But, as I was trying to wrap-up my usual duties from my business trip and still garner what was left of my mental acuity for the day to write a comprehensive review, I definitely had a moment of “what have I gotten myself into?”  It’s funny how quickly you begin to doubt your abilities when the mountain before you looks steeper than anything you’ve ever climbed before.  Of course that’s easy to overcome with a long prayer requesting angelic toothpicks to hold my eyes open and several bites of a blueberry muffin paired with espresso to keep me hanging on until the final click of the “Submit” button.

You can expect that when you’re in the right place at the right time for receipt of your designated assignments, you will be stretched.  It’s part of the package.  You will learn the true meaning of sacrifice and be detached from your usual patterns.  You will have to do more not just because you’ve been furnished with more, but because you’ve been given all that you need to be more.  The days will be long.  The caffeine will be in short supply (I mean unless you have 24/7 accessibility to a Keurig).  Everything inside you will want to bow out gracefully.  But, the show must go on.  And if you’re blessed to have a role, your presence is required.  In the end, what is given to you deserves your best whether it’s giving a talk, organizing an event, writing a report, or baking for the community fundraiser.  I bet you probably asked for this moment at some point after all.  So, stay up[lifted], perform well (angelic toothpicks are indeed little miracles!), and believe in the possibility of the standing ovation.  You’re only given what you have the ability to slay (you know in the 21st century pop culture kinda way)!

 

 

Monday’s Mantra: Look Up

My travel season for work is now in full swing.  That means plenty of airplanes, a strategically organized carry-on, and pre-arranged Apple Music playlists as I move about the country doing my part to improve the medical school experience for current and future medical students and faculty.  Airports aren’t necessarily one of my favorite places although I do enjoy traveling to new places, particularly if the exploration is not on my dime  😉  However, it always seems as though most people are in a rush, confused, and allergic to smiling.  And for the life of me I can’t figure out why people who have assigned seats on an airplane will crowd the gate just before it’s time for them to board?!  Yes, I know you want to make sure there’s a space for your carry-on, but you’re in Zone 3!  Ma’am…sir…what are you doing?  There are like 75 other people boarding before you that you’ll be standing behind on the jet bridge.  Rest yourself and please stop obstructing my perfect view for people watching.  Ok, back to the post…

Most people are in their own world when in an airport and in life in general, which makes it easy to miss opportunities that can leave a meaningful imprint in the present surroundings.  On a recent trip, I was seated next to a gentleman who was gracious enough to introduce himself and exchange a few kind words before we took off.  I must admit I was surprised since I’m used to only hearing complaining passengers and the boisterous voice of the flight attendants over the intercom directing my attention to their safety presentation.  But, I appreciated this guy’s conversation, because it meant that he was wise enough to not take life too seriously and capable of setting himself aside to acknowledge the worth of those he encountered along the way.  That was light in the middle of my extra long day of flight delays, gate changes, and overpriced sky snacks.  The best part about it all was that I had the opportunity to return the kindness.

As we reached our cruising altitude among the cumulus clouds, I saw that he was reading notes printed in incredibly small text.  I was engaged in the same enriching activity so I was using my overhead light.  Earlier I noticed he had reached up to turn his on as well, so I assumed the shining light on our row was from both lights.  After a few minutes of reading, something told me to look up, which is when I saw that the light above was only coming from my side.  He had been reading for probably about an hour trying to share my light!  Part of me felt badly because I hadn’t noticed sooner and couldn’t do anything to save this guy’s pupils, but all I had was now to make up for it and let him know that I did indeed care that his light had blown out.  I proceeded to readjust my light so that it was shining directly on his manuscript.  He smiled and expressed his gratitude, and we both continued our in flight activities, which by that time mine had switched to sleeping for me.  Although sharing my light was a small act of kindness for someone I’d probably never see again, I knew it was the right thing to do.  It was also a good lesson.

We should all be mindful of those opportunities we have to brighten someone’s outlook.  So, whether it’s to help someone see what they’re reading or maybe see where they’ve gotten off the path, be the one who illuminates this fast-paced, and sometimes brash world with your light of tenderness, joy, and thoughtfulness.  Seat backs and tray tables up.  We’re ready for takeoff toward another week of an amazing journey!