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!

 

We’re All Jacked Up!

I believe that much of the dysfunction that pervades our lives is a result of lies that have been perpetuated by society for untold amounts of time.  As an overly introspective person, I tend to keep most of my thoughts and perspectives to myself.  And besides, everything doesn’t deserve a place on the Internet. *shrug* However, several observations over the last few months have ignited a small fire in my soul thus moving me to speak on something I deem as pure shenanigans!  I’m almost mad at myself for accepting this as truth.

How many times have you heard someone say that you shouldn’t look to someone else to validate you? It’s a commonly shared piece of advice in personal and professional discussions.  I do agree with at least three tenets of that argument – 1) your happiness is your choice 2) sometimes you must encourage yourself and 3) you must recognize your worth before expecting someone else to.  But, there are also some gaps in this perspective that I think have been lost in translation and hampered our ability to build and contribute to effective, meaningful relationships.  Here’s why –

In some (not all) cases, we typically desire validation from the people we care about.  Does that mean that we’re obligated to agree on everything or that it’s okay to base decisions on what others think?  No.  But, in a relationship that’s built on authenticity, we can show up authentically and should have the expectation (yes, we should!) that we’re being heard.  BREAKING NEWS: people don’t always seek validation because they’re lacking self-worth.  They’re likely pursuing the intimacy that comes with understanding and presence.  Translation: I’m human, and I want to be accepted. That’s a post for another day though.

Secondly, we might need to reevaluate someone’s place in our life if we don’t have any evidence to show that this person is supportive.  What kind of ideals are we propagating for future generations if we’re teaching them that it’s okay to not desire subtle or even sometimes bold affirmation by other humans?  I think this can come in different forms, but it’s important that we leave ourselves room to tell people through words and actions that we value their existence, that they did a good job, that their small steps toward a big goal are monumental, and that it’s okay to express our feelings and sit with them for a while with the people we trust.  By doing this, we are communicating that we are available and we value the opportunity for this exchange.  Translation: I am present for you, and it’s okay to be vulnerable.

The point is that we all need each other.  And I believe it is our responsibility to validate each other if we want to be the best versions of ourselves.  I’m tired of us pretending like we don’t have emotions and rationalizing that we’re less than great if we seek to be understood or want to be recognized.  I get that there are levels to this, and I’m only hitting the surface.  Hell, I can even admit that I don’t appropriately validate others the majority of the time.  I see posting this as a step in the right direction to undo how I’ve chosen to interact in my own relationships.

We’re killing ourselves by ignoring our emotions and legitimate desire to be connected.  Instead of operating in a place of aversion and silence by choosing not to expect validation by others, I propose that we all demand it.  Perhaps then we wouldn’t continue living as though it’s every woman or man for her/himself out here in this lukewarm world.  We may come in and go out of this life alone, but we don’t make it through without someone else acknowledging that they see us.

We’re All Crazy!

So, let me telIMG_5481l y’all about this thing called love!  It’s big.  It’s scary.  It’s hard.  It’s exciting.  It’s work.  It’s fun.  It’s forgiving.  It’s work.  It’s passionate.  It’s breathtaking.  It’s kind.  And it’s work.  Did you get that?  It’s work!  I think somewhere between a Disney princess story and ratchet reality TV, we’ve embraced an illusion that love is flowers, hearts, name brands, and shiny karats.  But, if you’ve ever loved another human being with your whole heart, then you know it’s so much more to it than that.  In no way am I suggesting that love doesn’t feel like sunshiny days.  It does.  And it can certainly produce those butterfly feelings.  However, it’s not perfect either.  And it’s what?  Work!

I’m sure most of us have learned by now that humans are very special creatures.  We’re beautiful, but we’re annoying.  We’re kind, but we’re stubborn.  We’re compromising, but we’re selfish.  Basically, we’re all made up of a hell of a lot of contradictions, and that’s why loving each other is hard and somehow in an oddly glamourous way also rewarding.  While I’ve yet to understand the complexity and rationale of such a formula, I know that embracing the crazy and unlovable parts of one another is what makes love worthwhile.  Because there are going to come times when romance is the center of your desires for the one you love, and then also times when you want to poke your eyes out because this same person has gotten on what you thought was your last nerve!  Like can someone pass me a mountain so I can stand on top of it and scream?  Woosah.  Yet and still you’d rather have them on the mountain next to you so you don’t have to camp out alone under the pitch-black sky.

There will also be times when your love shows up in sacrifice.  You’ll watch his favorite sarcastic comedy, wake up early to iron her shirt, double back to the store because you know he ran out of something, eat enchiladas instead of pizza because she loves Mexican, or take a personal day to make him endless cups of tea until he feels better.  None of this will ever be about you not being true to yourself or doing things you really don’t want to do.  Let’s face it…if you didn’t want to do it, you wouldn’t.  It will simply be a small gesture of adoration to say, hey, I see you and in this moment you are greater.  Because when you’re comfortable in your own skin and love wholeheartedly, putting someone else before you isn’t a sign of weakness or diminishing of self – it’s a demonstration of humility.

Love is an exquisite form of actively showing, giving, and committing yourself to being the best friend, supporter, and partner you can be.  It’s looking at his flaws and still saying, yup, he’s the one.  It’s declaring that no matter how she sees herself today, you’ll still think she’s worth it tomorrow.  It’s reveling in that state of human contradiction with someone you thought you could live without, but now recognize you’re stronger when you’re together.  Love is probably going to be your toughest challenge and your best example of meaningful work.  You won’t be able to sit idly by and hope it all comes together.  With that posture, it won’t.  There are requirements, and one of them is you.  That’s part of the reason why “love” is my word of the year, because I want to give more love, receive more love, and watch love manifest into my wildest dreams.  So, yes, live in the fairytale and keep chivalry alive, but when the pixie and chariot dust settles, be about the work!  Only then will you benefit from love’s magic.

P.S. These words are a representation of my perspective and experiences.  I am not and likely will never be a professional love doctor.  I’m out here every day trying to balance love with logic and emotion with reality.  #thatisall

Basic & Proud

My mom always says that my kids are going to have to come to her house to eat the “bad” foods because the only things I ever have are carrots, crackers, and broccoli!  While there may be some truth to that, let it be known that the odds of me ever parting with French fries or chocolate chip cookies is pretty slim.  Therefore, I’m quite sure they won’t go their entire childhood without “bad” foods!  In my mom’s most recent attempt to IMG_2913jokingly point out my preference to buy healthy and sometimes organic foods, it inspired me to share my desire for the “good” stuff.

I am not that woman who buys EVERYthing organic and always remembers my reusable shopping bags.  I need my grocery budget to go the distance.  I don’t grind my own peanuts in the fancy machines to produce peanut butter on the spot nor do I always have the discipline to bypass the donuts on the way to the cash register.  But, I am the woman who loves food.  And I am the woman who has started investing more time and energy in reading labels and caring about what I eat.

The real reason I have less of the “bad” and more of the “good” in my pantry and fridge these days is because much of the food that’s available to us is made with ingredients I can’t even pronounce!  Have you ever picked up a loaf of bread and actually looked at the label?  First off, if it says “high fructose corn syrup” I’m definitely dropping it like it’s hot.  Most of the time if you keep reading, it’s a chemical alphabet soup.  I thought bread was supposed to be basic??  Flour, yeast, sugar, salt, water?!  Of course the reason why all of these preservatives are in a typical loaf is to increase shelf life.  But, umm it’s bread.  And I like basic bread!  So, I spend the extra few bucks to get basic bread!  Oh, and let’s talk about oatmeal.  Again, I am that woman who has to take shortcuts sometimes, so I buy instant oatmeal packets.  I save the hearty oats in the canister for weekends.  #winning   There was a time when I never cared about the ingredients in these packets.  I just knew one packet was enough sustenance until lunch.  One day I flipped the box over and read the label.  Let’s just say I never bought those same packets again.  I switched to the organic oats because I wanted a basic and fast oatmeal breakfast.  You know…whole grain oats, sugar, and salt.  Why are we overcomplicating this?  And trust me when I tell you that the organic version tastes completely different than the regular one.  What a novel idea that real food tastes better.

Although I would love to spare my wallet a few dollars and get back the time I’ve spent trying to find healthier alternatives to the foods that I like, I’m becoming more invested in what I choose to consume.  I’ll spend 30 cents more on organic bananas and strawberries if it means less pesticides swirling around with the cells that constitute my anatomy.  And I’ll buy the organic chicken breasts for my stir fry if it means the pieces aren’t full of antibiotics and as big as a toddler’s arm!  The truth is that every day I’m learning more about “organic” versus “natural” and our country’s food standards.  I don’t ever intend to be a farm girl where I have more control over what I grow and eat.  But, for some things, give me the basics, because the overabundance of processed food and our contaminated environments are slowly deteriorating our bodies.

I can’t promise that I won’t eat an Oreo before the night is through or grab some waffle fries for my next lunch.  Let’s face it…I do like to indulge and be happy, so Mom can stash a few “bad” foods for me too when I come to visit.  However, I will balance it out with some foods that are whole and foods that should never be anything more than basic!

Eat, drink, and splurge on organic when you can, my friends!  It does your taste buds and body real good!

New Year, No Resolutions

"Living" - 2016bestnine

“Living” – 2016bestnine

I stopped making New Year’s resolutions a few years ago.  It seemed extremely counterintuitive to keep setting lofty goals that I would likely abandon before making it past the first 30 days of the year.  There I was thinking that resolutions were supposed to get me pumped and excited about all that I was convinced I was going to accomplish while not once considering that perhaps the ingredients to this particular life recipe wasn’t something I would be good at cooking.  I stopped making New Year’s resolutions and started taking on my dreams and joys in Twix fun size pieces (fitting of course since it’s my favorite candy).  No longer would I subject myself into believing that on this one day out of the year was I required to critically think about how to make my life better.  Was I not equipped to do this on a regular basis?  Is champagne and confetti somehow supposed to ignite an everlasting superpower that will make me want to run to the gym, open an IRA, eat more carrots, save my change from a Hamilton, sail the ocean blue (yeah right, I’m all about the Boeing), tell people who are simply taking up space to go fly a kite…I mean you get the picture.  In my mind, that was a puzzle with a ton of missing pieces.

My “one day at a time”/nix the resolutions philosophy couldn’t have been more real than in 2016.  Sans a whole lot of details, I can tell you that you begin to understand the  multitude of privileges in each day when you wake up with pressure cuffs on your legs in the hospital, lose teammates to reorganizations, have to let go of relationships, get awakened by a phone call from the paramedics, and see a loved one intubated in the middle of a room that’s inhabited by professional strangers on a routine schedule.  All of that was my 2016.  And it reconfirmed my personal need to take each day in stride while taking on tasks fitting of the success for one specific day.  So, whether that has meant slipping away to write one page for a multi-chapter book, buying enough food to cook meals for three days of the week as opposed to five, or spending 20 minutes catching up with a friend between meetings instead of listening to Alessia’s “Wild Things,” I’ve opted for the celebratory factor of crushing the small tasks to get me closer to the fulfillment of my own happiness.

It’s funny because on my 2016 vision board I had pasted the word “living” that I’m sure I cut from some fashion or home and garden magazine (I swear those things are magnets for cobwebs, and we all know spiders ruin my life).  I wanted to see those six letters every day so I could get about the business of embracing my sometimes ordinary yet often unpredictable journey that I had the power to fill with some of what I hoped for.  Little did I know what meaning that word would take on throughout the year literally and figuratively.  But, through the highs and the lows, I can say the days were more bearable and/or exhilarating because I chose to consider what I needed to do or how I could be better for the very moment in which I was breathing.

A new year will happen every 365 days whether we have new year’s resolutions ready or not.  And the “new you” intimation that gets thrown around like that brown thing on Sundays happens in all of those days in between.  Because it’s the tiny victories in a single day that are resolved into a living, thriving, and happy being whose inscription will sparkle well beyond the stroke of midnight.

Happy New Year, friends! xo

Full Plates Fortify Futures

It’s something about the twinkle in their smiles.  The way they can make a long, monotonous day into one of the best of your life with a simple stick figure drawing of the family that they enthusiastically request that you hang with all the others on the refrigerator.  Children.  They restore the gray areas of our once colorful imaginations and give us a reason to want to be the best versions of ourselves.  But, what happens when children dream in black and white?  What happens when the best they have to give is being a consistent classroom attendant but not an active participant?  What does it mean when the last bell of the day rings and a child goes home unsure whether there will be enough dinner to go around for the entire family?

In America, over 13 million children are lacking one of the basic necessities of life – food.  They walk along our sidewalks.  They swing on our playgrounds.  They sit in our classrooms.  They play with other children we know and love in our communities.  Some may have even sat at our tables.  In the most industrialized country in the world, one in five children are unable to access nutritious food on a regular basis.  While federal food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), National School Lunch Program (NSLP), and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) have attempted to close the gap, there remains an ongoing need for food assistance in this country.  Poverty plays a significant role in food insecurity and continues to perpetuate a cycle of inadequate access to food and other resources.  I encourage you to read this article about the way the U.S. Census Bureau measures the poverty rate and this one about the reasons it hasn’t really changed.

We know that in order to strengthen bodies and develop our minds, we need nutrients, particularly in the early stages of life.  I don’t think I need to present any scientific or psychological findings to convey the fact that when you’re hungry, you’re not focused or productive and in many ways you’re disengaged.  Raise your hand if you’ve ever been “hangry!” This is reality for millions of children who without food assistance programs and other community initiatives to combat hunger, they would not be able to sustain much less excel in their learning.  I wonder how many times a child has been labeled a “problem” at school for performance or behavioral issues, when the root of the problem was a growling tummy.  Things that make you go hmm…

LKO - Snack Packs

LKO Social Action Committee & Volunteers

Fortunately, there are organizations that have made it their business to address childhood hunger.  You may be familiar with several national organizations and initiatives, including Feeding America, No Kid Hungry, and Childhood Hunger Ends Here.  Often times in your community, there are opportunities to get involved and support local efforts.  My chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., Lambda Kappa Omega, is one of many service organizations in the D.C. Metro area that partners with local agencies, food banks, and pantries to increase access to nutritious food.  I have personally had the privilege of donating my time and money to assemble after school snack packs for elementary school children.  These snack packs become critical when a child might not receive another complete meal until breakfast the next morning at school.

We’re all here to help shape the future of the children who will become the next leaders in technology, education, business, medicine, music, sports, arts, politics, and beyond.  After all, we’ve only come this far because others have assumed responsibility for our growth and success.  So, on this National Childhood Hunger Day, I encourage you to share your heart, lend a hand, and take a stand by donating food, money, or time to initiatives in your community that ensure our children grow up with full plates that will help feed their imaginations and empower them to be extraordinary.

Snack packs for the children of Fairfax County

I Choose My Peace

garden of peaceIf I had a choice between $1 million and my peace, I’d choose my peace.  First off, $1 million isn’t a lot of money once Uncle Sam gets his cut.  Secondly, peace can stay with me for the duration of my life; if you don’t make money work for you, then eventually it runs out.  I don’t ever want to be in a place where I no longer have my peace.  That tranquility.  That stillness.  That unshakable love for who I am and where I am (and even where I’m not).  Those are all things that money can’t buy, keep you happy, or plugged into the miracles of life.  I look for peace in everything.  And with age I’ve learned how critical it is to make a concerted effort to be peace, give peace, and accept that peace isn’t always going to look like you have the upper hand.

To be peace means that you choose to approach each day with gratefulness and an expectant heart for that which is good.  Every minute of every hour is not going to be something to write home about.  The volatile details that make up our lives can be challenging, annoying, and unnerving.  But, allowing those things to alter your attitude and drain the delight from your character will not change the story.  You have to be intentional about maintaining the energy that makes you bright, bold, and bountiful in your love for the delicate tapestry of your being.

To give peace means that you choose your battles.  I can think of more than a few things and offenses in my life that didn’t warrant a response or reaction, but I gave one.  And what exactly did that do besides cause a volcanic eruption of emotions between all parties involved?  I’d venture to say…nothing.  Sometimes it’s best to let things pass right on by.  And it’s not because you don’t have valid points, but because making those points is going to infringe on the harmony you need to be a better human.  In that moment, there’s so many more things of importance.

To accept that peace isn’t going to always look like the odds are in your favor means that you understand everyone you encounter is walking a path that you don’t know much if anything about.  Living ain’t easy, and all of us govern our lives according to our personal experiences.  The fact that we process and internalize differently can sometimes lead to rifts in relationships because we all want to be understood.  But, typically no one understands why we are who we are until the dust settles.  Frankly, some people have a little more living to do before they know what it means to give peace.  You have to be attuned to the concept of loving people where they are to tap into the peace of what it means to win the war instead of exhausting all of you on the battle.  A lot about life isn’t about you, and 99% of the time people know when they’re wrong.  So, when you have to be the mirror, be patient enough for people to see their reflection.  Accept that you haven’t lost anything or been forgotten.  You’re really a lifeline for someone who probably hasn’t had the courage to divulge and embrace they’re imperfections.

A life without peace is a life without joy.  And if you don’t have joy, then you simply don’t have life.  So, as long as I’m here, I choose peace because with that there are mountains I can climb, roads I can travel, seeds I can plant, and no limit to the skies that I can touch.