Find Yourself An Introvert: We Are Okay

I never thought I’d be living in a time when being an introvert would be valuable. Most people move about every day without noticing how loud the world really is. Because let’s be honest…society was built for extroverts. We construct events, gatherings, workplaces, curricula, sports, and basically everything to help our fellow extroverted friends thrive. Meanwhile the community that fancies quiet, solitude, tranquility, and whatever corner we can find to reflect must figure out how to keep our sanity in tact when we’d rather not talk, brunch, network, or video conference. But, during a time when we’re all being called to “social distance” for the greater good, I feel like my introversion prevails! Despite the horrible circumstances, the introverts are winning out here right now, because most of our friends have no idea how they’re going to make it through consecutive days of little to no in-person human interaction. Because I’ve been practicing how to engage only as necessary for a good chunk of my life, I thought I’d share how I maximize and enjoy my alone time on a daily basis. A few tips from your forced extrovert but seriously introverted friend on getting through:

Be thankful. You’d be amazed how much you have that you haven’t taken the time to acknowledge or appreciate. Whether you pause to think about it or write it down, there’s peace that comes with the act. It’ll stick with you when you’re able to stroll the streets again among your fellow extroverts and must refrain from addressing irrational behavior. Get some peace on reserve now! I have a grateful jar that I add to throughout the year. I read them all before the start of the new year.

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I’m the one with all the Post-its!

Be still. Sometimes I’ll sit on my couch and close my eyes. I love to be one with silence. I’m also known to ride in my car in silence…with eyes wide open of course. Stillness awakens you to your surroundings. It’s also an opportunity to commune with your spirituality. I often use these moments to talk and pray to God. That fosters wholeness and alignment within my soul. Plus, when you stop you can also hear nature. All of this helps me to appreciate the experience of existence.

Cut off social media for a day or two. The noisiest place we visit every day is the Internet! Picking up our phones, tablets, and laptops is such a habit that 20 minutes goes by and we’ve consumed a heap of information, memes, GIFs, and philosophical declarations from our high school and college classmates that we probably haven’t had an actual conversation with in a decade. The Internet is not all bad, but in our current times, it’s probably not ideal to constantly remain connected. It’s. too. much. Give your mind, eyes, and worries a break. And in the sage words of Congresswoman Auntie Maxine, “reclaim your time!”

In a similar vein, stop watching the news repeatedly. While I value freedom of the press and knowing what’s going on around me, the amount of good news you hear in a news cycle is almost nonexistent. Imagine someone coming to your house every day just to tell you that nothing is right and nothing is ever going to be right. That’s the narrative you’re consuming every time you tune in. It’s heavy. It’s depressing. And it’ll make you eat far too much cake, cookies, and chocolate. I do love a sweet, but health is wealth. The point is that you become what you consume. If you don’t want to feel negative and uninspired, then limit the news watching and listening, especially before bed. Since when do we request nightmares? I read The Skimm every morning. You can too. You don’t need hoursssss of all the bad. A daily digest will do.

Watch a show, movie, TED Talk, or YouTube video. I can watch HGTV for hours and never get tired of seeing lackluster homes transformed into something that I can only afford to recreate on my Pinterest boards. It’s an obsession and therapy for me all at the same time. “The Devil Wears Prada,” “The Intern,” and “Hitch,” are on regular TV every other week and a few of my favorite movies that never get old. There’s also no shortage of TED Talks to pique your interest or expand your perspectives. Similar to how you can watch one video on YouTube (like James Corden’s Carpool Karoke) and then have a never-ending list of related videos, TED is with the algorithms too. Luvvie’s talk is so good and one that I was fortunate to see live! It still blows my mind that God made a way for me to be in that theatre! God also knows I love her life message and spirit, so He later created the opportunity for me to meet her in-person at a local event! Ahhh..inspiration. But anywho…discover your digital delight and get lost in it for a while. Just know that you probably won’t have expert detective skills because you’ve seen every episode of “Law & Order.” You will know the show’s instrumental though. Dun dun.

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Me with the NYT Best-Selling Author and Side-Eye Sorceress

Write. A letter. A card. A poem. A list. Your book that doesn’t yet exist. A note in your journal. A blog post. Just write something to get what’s in your head and on your heart outlined on paper. An iPad or tablet also gets the job done if you’re too technologically cultured for the basic writing tools. But, if you’re in the office supply fanatic club with me, consider this an opportunity to use your overwhelming colorful pen collection. Fun fact: I once spent 4 hours in one of the biggest stationery stores in the world! My happy place on Earth! You can see some of it here.

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Me standing next to a giant pen

Organize something. It can be a folder, a drawer (you know…the one where you stash all the mail you never opened), your work bag, or if you’re feeling really ambitious go for a closet. While this isn’t necessarily a task that all introverts enjoy, it can spur motivation in small doses. Even if you’re a neat freak, you can find a project. I’ve already rearranged my bathroom cabinet and cosmetic containers. Next up is the t-shirt drawer! Why do we still always have so many?

Curate a playlist of your favorite artists and songs. Too lazy to do that, listen to someone else’s. Music has a way of centering you. It speaks to all of us in different ways and also awakens the creative side of the brain. You’re one song away from creating something we all need and producing generational wealth. While I do believe in miracles, the odds of you winning the lottery are minuscule. Exchanging playlists sounds more feasible. Let me know what’s on yours! My forever first lady has one with more than a few jams. And my president until the end of time does too.

Read a book. Need suggestions? Join the The Little Things Book Club community. We pick a new one every other month. If you don’t like books, read a few articles. There’s always something to learn, and you’ll shock yourself the next time you can answer the Jeopardy clue. If you like magazines and you’re a Prime member, you have access to those too. Knowledge and stories are everywhere.

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March/April 2020 Book Pick

And finally, take a nap. When we were kids we never wanted to take them. As adults, there’s rarely an opportunity. That just changed. If you can find 20 minutes to curl under a blanket, catch your zzz.

I’ll admit these are unpredictable and difficult times for everyone. We must continue  to support, love, and extend kind gestures to each other. To all of my well-intentioned extroverts, please know that this won’t last always and us introverts are available by video appointment to shorten the social distance. Be well. Take care of loved ones and friends. And be in tune with thyself and our seen and unseen blessings.

 

 

Reigning Results

I take the last bite of my chocolate croissant (oui!), and thoughts of 34 dance across my waves only to remind me that I didn’t uphold my tradition of birthday penning. I’m more than halfway through this trip around the sun (whoa!), and I must say that the days have been full and fleeting. The reigning disposition is that through the wonders and woes, I got me!

Our most treasured gift is the ability to be in tune with the idea that we can define who we need to be for ourselves. Sometimes that means giving yourself permission to forego tradition. And other times it means celebrating the freedom in forging new paths and choosing you. So, here I am doing what I want, need, and love to do for the evolving layers of me!

 

 

 

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!

 

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.

Birthday rEVOLution

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I’m a little over two weeks into what many presume is my “Jesus Year.”  While I had never heard of this reference during any of my previous decades on Mother Earth until recently, I did some perusing of online sources to understand the significance.  In short, I learned that this is the year when I’m supposed to get serious about life and perhaps experience a spiritual awakening.  The connection to Jesus is centered around his age at the time of his crucifixion and ultimately resurrection at what’s believed to have been 33 years old.  Now, I could’ve found myself crawling down a hole of additional searches and historical fact checking, but instead I’ve elected to ascribe this reference to our propensity as humans to look for associations and links to everything in order to find meaning.  It’s just what we do, and I don’t see it as good or bad.  I guess it also further proves that I am much farther removed from the Internet than I thought.  *shrug*  But, as I think about how another year of life has shaped up for me, I can honestly say that I’m proud.  I’ve done much more before 33 than my family probably could’ve imagined.  And I’ve definitely had to ascend a few mountains along the way that increased my capacity to breathe, endure, and hold on in what often seemed like an interminable cycle.  None of that happens without a progression in maturity, faith, and a comeback!

In today’s age, life can feel so rushed and/or it never seems like you’re doing enough in any aspect.  It probably doesn’t help that it has become incredibly easy to hop on the comparison train when our technological capabilities have propelled us into a new era of communication.  I will not claim to have figured it all out and done anything perfectly.  But, for every opened door and nudge to leap, I know that I’ve done A LOT that has given my life new meaning and certainly required that I step into the challenges of adulthood long before adding the 33rd candle to the cupcakes.

Even though this birthday is now in my rear view, I celebrate every time I had to redefine my attitude, perspective, and plans to become more in tune with myself and acknowledge my need for God.  I know that in this year and in those to come, there will be more transitions.  My hope is that I will continue to grow through this life with love for myself and the uniqueness of my being for the good of the world we all share.  So, here’s to me continuing my revolution!

Mental Mazes

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As an accumulator of words, I tend to randomly record my thoughts as I’m moving about and navigating the labyrinth that is the DMV commute.  Oddly enough, these colloquies that I have with myself in my head and then jot down in a frenzy to avoid forgetting and to clear some space for more mental capital, will often surface in one of my online repositories at what seems like a very relevant point in time.  The story you will read below is an example of one of those moments when the discovery of things I’ve written on the go and the context of a personal experience align and seem appropriate to share.  And although this is something that occurred several months ago, it’s still so relevant in light of our current state of affairs surrounding mental health and wholeness.

I saw something on the train this morning that found a cozy seat in my mind for the remainder of the day. As we whizzed past the trees and buildings and I attempted to focus on my morning ritual of reading, I happened to glance up and noticed another young woman reading too.  Ok, what’s so surprising about that?  Well, she had her e-reader open that was shielding what she was actually reading – a book on depressive illness.  I can still see that title in big, blue text with the image of a person holding the world on her back.  And in that moment, my world literally stopped because I had so many thoughts swirling.  First off, this was the same woman whose curls I had just finished admiring as we climbed the escalator.  The curls were poppin’!  I remember saying to myself, “I wish my curls were that cute!  Go girl!”  But, then I started feeling sad and wondering why such a young, beautiful, and Black woman was trying to hide from a train full of strangers that she was reading a book about depression.  Now, she could’ve easily been reading it for a class, to help a loved one, or for her professional development.  I shall never know.  But, I do know that it troubled me that she didn’t feel like she could be free.  And then, it was like wow, how many of us are riding into the city every day to do work that we like but aren’t passionate about while also trying to juggle emotional scars, financial woes, racism, and/or relational drama?  Or how many of us don’t feel like we quite fit where we thought we would?

Those are heavy questions that are coupled with elaborate situations and complex answers.  But, no one should ever feel as though they have to carry it all alone.  The load is always lighter when there’s help.  I hope that one day we can all experience the freedom of riding through this life with genuine company and some consolation that we are not our insecurities or fears, or the misrepresented labels that others have deemed appropriate for characterizing our being.  My hope is that we also figure out how we can freely rise to…reach out to those around us and reach deep within ourselves to embrace our individuality.