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!

 

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.

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.

Monday’s Mantra: Do More Little Things

IMG_5965Two years ago, I became an independent jewelry designer for a company that’s built on doing more of what you love with the people you love.  As a charms based company, there’s an extensive selection of charms that represent family, hobbies, seasons, sports, and much more.  But, my favorite charms in the collection are the engravables, because they can be customized with dates, initials, names, and quotes.  These are particularly appealing to me, because they’ve given me the opportunity to wear my values on my wrist.  Each time I look down I can be reminded of what I believe and stand for.

My most prized engravable is my hematite geo bar that reads, “little things.”  If you’ve been following my posts over the years, you probably know that I base my life on the little things.  For me, the small gestures of kindness toward myself, my presence for the celebratory and even non-celebratory moments for loved ones and friends, and the thoughtful gifts that I curate or purchase is what brings me the most happiness.  I try to be intentional about the way I care for myself and those in my life by not being consumed with flashiness.  Instead I purposely choose to invest my time, energy, and being into what makes my soul smile.  Some days that might mean that I stand outside and listen to the whistle of the wind, go to the library to see if my knowledge of Dewey Decimal System is up to par (yes, I know what that is!), or randomly mail a card to someone letting them know I’m proud of what they’re doing.  I do this because I’ve recognized that it’s the small things that we often take for granted that bring delight to our days and a boost to who we are as human beings.  When we remove our focus from the little things it’s easier to become overwhelmed, overworked, and overly consumed by materialistic or shallow things and feelings.  That instantly robs us of the ability to appreciate our blessings and privileges.

If I could give one piece of life advice, I’d say do more of the little things.  That could come in the form of saying “no” when you know you’re not really committed, finally booking the plane ticket for the vacation you’ve never taken because you don’t want to get behind, not feeling guilty for leaving work on time so you can grab dinner with friends, devoting a portion of your day to pursuing your passions, calling the family member you haven’t heard from in a while, or eating the slice of cheesecake because you want to celebrate an accomplishment.  The truth is that all of those little things will be the peace that you’ve likely searched for in other places.  Everything we do doesn’t have to be big, bold, and witnessed by the masses.  But, everything we do should be a collective representation of every little thing that makes us stress less and cherish more of what we love while we’re here.

All the Places a Plane Goes

Last year, I crisscrossed the United States more than a few times and traveled overseas.  As my Nana would affectionately say, “Girl, you have a lot of miles on your butt!”  Much of my travel is attributed to my professional life, but whether I’m learning about new innovations at medical schools or enjoying time off, I look for the small beauties in new places and things.  That can be anything from –

  • Exotic tree branches or flowers that collectively produce fragrant winds or shade under the California sun;
  • The fullness of the trees along the perimeter of Olympic Park in Georgia;
  • The perfectly aligned bales of hay along the South Dakotan flatlands;
  • The trio of sail boats slowly cruising along the river in Wisconsin;
  • The presence of the sun’s shadow as it radiates among Nevada’s popular skyscraper hotels;
  • The sensory jolt from the Cajun spice, vibrant jazz tunes, and boisterous locals in Louisiana; or
  • The smell of bread and pastry dough from Parisian or Italian cafes along narrow cobblestone streets.

I have definitely been fortunate in my ability to move about the world and explore the definition of life through someone else’s eyes.  In each of these places, I’ve met enthused, indifferent, lively, subdued, and impolite people.  All with a story (perhaps some far too long for my typical abbreviated Uber rides).  All with a perspective.  And all with a personal connection to the geographic location in which I managed to temporarily house my suitcase and carefully organized work binder and fact books.  But, what I take away from all of my recent travels is the greatness of creation – of things to look at, paths to trek, and conversations with other beings.  Because life is not about the number of places you can say that you’ve been but the quality of the connections you make to your surroundings.  Hats off to a great year of discovery…and food!  Phenomenal food!

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

Monday’s Mantra: Don’t Take It Personal

I think I deserve a pat on the back for growth.  Rarely do I ever toot my own horn about anything, but nowadays I have to celebrate the fact that I’ve made some strides in a rewarding direction.  There used to be a time when I would take everything personally.  The weight of a conflict, letdown, or confrontation was a burden that I believed had everything to do with me and how I may have initiated or reacted to the disturbance.  I often proceeded to carry the blame for things that I should’ve let fall away like the leaves from a tree on a brisk autumn day (is it just me or did this season waltz in quickly like it’s ready to put on a show stopping performance?).  While I may not have held any grudges toward the parties involved, I allowed myself to be far too consumed with the ways in which things had escalated and why someone could be so discourteous with little regard for my feelings.     I think one of the reasons why I’m not too fond of merry-go-rounds is because I had one that was constantly spinning in my head.  I’d go round and round with myself only to feel irritable and drained once I decided the ride in my brain was closed for the day.

It only took a few years for me to learn that a surefire way to exhaust your peace is to walk around being angry and offended.  I’ve lived long enough to know that there will be people in life who will do and say things that will make you scratch your head or want to let out a few expletives (again, God is not finished with me yet!).  There will be words that sting and actions that hurt.  But, you can’t take it personally.  The truth is that most of the time people’s responses have nothing to do with you.  This is why you’ll find yourself in situations with people where the apology or discussion you want will never come.  You’ll be told a lie before they realize you would’ve respected them more with the truth, and you may even have to settle with being wrong when all the evidence says you’re right.  And guess what?  You can’t take it personally. People respond in life based on their individual experiences and perceptions.  Some responses will be favorable and some you’ll wish they had been counseled on before you crossed their path.  Either way it’s not something you can control since God works on all of us in different ways and at a different pace.  Why give energy to what you can’t control when it’s a battle you were never meant to fight?

I can assure you that the less you take personally, the more years you’ll add to your life.  So, stop being mad and start being mindful of what you allow to rest in your spirit.  Everything and everyone isn’t meant for you to handle.  And something tells me you weren’t meant to slay other people’s giants!