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!

 

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.

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: 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!