Friday, December 30, 2016

Three Reasons Hidden Figures Reminded Me I'm Ready for Trump's America

The ladies of Hidden Figures and their actresses on screen
Hidden Figures could not have come out at a better time - for the country and for me personally.

This drama based on the lives of women who were literally hidden from the history books of one of the most significant accomplishments of NASA in history, John Glenn's orbiting the earth in 1962.

I loved the film from start to finish and there were three significant reasons why this film moved me as it did going into 2017.

Black Women As Humans

While the movie shows us the extraordinary intelligence of three very different Black women, it also delves into each of their humanness. We don't see super human fearless "strong black women," We actually see women with fears, hopes and dreams. We see women depending on each other and community for support. We see women standing up for themselves while simultaneously doubting if they have the right to do so. We see the true complexity Black women face as leaders both at home and in the workplace. This film "goes in" on the story behind the story that we often miss on film about ourselves. We see laughter, tears and gritting of teeth by three glorious Black women - we get a full range of emotions versus the stereotypical angry Black woman narrative. We do see them get angry but we also see them experience joy, satisfaction and contentment.

This was especially touching to me as I've explored how I tap into my full range of emotions. I was raised to be strong and even on a recent phone call as I was breaking down talking about my divorce, I was admonished to 'be strong" by my dad. He meant no harm but has no idea how strong I am letting myself feel my pain. It is counter culture for Black women. We are bred to push on and push through. So glad to see pop culutre catch up to my new reality.

Black Women Pioneering

I've often wondered if my spirit of ingenuity was just me or if it was innate in being a Black woman in America. After seeing this movie, I'm convinced it's indeed both. When you look in spaces where Black women enter as the 'onlies," we have a habit of elevating that space and it never being the same. Katherine Goble as an addition to the NASA task force team as a "computer" changed that team forever, how they worked, how they looked at their work and even how their work was received by the astronauts. Look around you today, so many Black women out of sheer brute force -  create, initiate and drive innovation in our country, most often in the shadows of mediocre White people. Yet, we shine anyhow.

Heading into the 7th year of my business, expanding our offering so much and taking a leadership role in driving equity discussion and action, pioneering is something not only I need to do, but something our country needs me to do. Much like the ladies in this movie, the conditions require my best thinking and resilience to drive our country forward to its true future. Then, it was the Space Race with the Soviet Union, now it's shaping what United States of America we will be - one that leverages and utilizes the talents and contributions of all its citizens or  a country that only cares about the advancement of a choice few. You know which one I'm working towards and like the ladies in Hidden Figures - we will win.

Black Women Having A Second Chance At Love (Movie Spoiler Alert)

The central character of the film Katherine Goble is a widow with three beautiful children we see early in the film. She manages her stringent work and mothering with the live-in help of her own mom. When a local military man moves home, her squad is adamant about hooking her up with him. The movie takes us through their awkward dating life which is scarce due to the hours she puts in at NASA to his grand and no less awkward proposal. There are only a few more subtle references to her marriage and we see very little of the relationship in the movie but it was significant enough that one of the films postscripts alerts us that Katherine and her second husband Jim Johnson recently celebrated 56 years of marriage together. Instant tears of joy from me.

Anyone who's been in my life or even casually observing has seen the way the dissolution of my 15 year marriage has wrecked me personally this past year.  Even as I am typing through tears to write this post, I am experiencing my first holiday without my kids and as a single person. I absolutely STILL believe that I will have a 20 year wedding anniversary. 15 months ago, I thought it might be with Isael Barreto but I now know differently. I know I am an amazing catch, perhaps pressed for time and focused on building a business and reforming government but still a woman who wants a partner. Seeing Katherine Goble meet and marry someone gave me life. Why? Some days, I cannot even imagine how I'll make time for a new man in my life and that stretches even more trying to imagine the man who will be man enough to love and cherish me with all my intensity and drive. But seeing that on film and knowing it played out in real life for another brilliant Black woman gives me hope.

Hidden Figures is a movie for such a time as this. If those ladies could excel and drive our nation's transformation back into leadership in the Space Race, under the conditions they faced in 1960s United States of America - BRING ON the next administration.

I am ready.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Ode To The Midwest City That Healed Me: Minneapolis

My beloved Twin Cities, although I spend most of my time in Minneapolis

Approximately one year ago, I made the final decision to let go of my marriage that I was clinging to for dear life in the aftermath of my husband's depression and subsequent spiral out of my life.  After a tough but awesome 2015, I decided not to enter 2016 trying to repair what was clearly gone. I vowed to "Recalibrate" my life in 2016. And recalibrate I did. But I could not have done it without Minneapolis Minnesota and my almost monthly treks there.

Let me count the top three ways Minneapolis forever changed me for the better in 2016.

The People

Literally, the people of Minneapolis carried me. First, there was the business colleague turned friend who runs a national conference for a downtown university. Opening his home and friends to me on a very tough trip in the middle of 2015, I cried my eyes out and poured my heartache out on his back patio on a warm Monday night in June. That vulnerability led to a bond and set of friends who would buoy both me and my kids during this entire year. From the freezing cold thrifting day in January to the pilgrimage to Paisley Park in July, one member of that group has become a constant each visit and I don't know what I'd do without him. Or I could also give credit to the two different new friends I met flying to Minneapolis this year - the middle seat on his way back from the Cayman Islands friend who actually kept in touch and the young man  rainbow spiked hair I had an intense conversation with on his way back from RiotFest in Chicago this past fall - both of these men have been bright spots for me and great new additions to my personal tribe. I'd be remiss if I didn't give a shout out to the business colleagues who also enveloped me and my kids with love as we explored the many parks and recreation facilities across the metro. From the ski instructors on the bunny hill to the paddle board rental manager, we were welcomed and treated so well by every person we encountered on every trip to Minneapolis as a family and that goes double for all the times I flew there alone.

The Work

The work I've done for my largest client in Minneapolis has challenged me beyond any other work since I started my business. From the complexity of the ask originally to how we have evolved our relationship over the last two years has grown me as a consultant and strategic partner by leaps and bounds. One great example is how they constantly question how we accomplish their goal to raise their relevance in the their area. We co-created some great work on unconscious bias and continue to push boundaries on why and how to push an inclusive leadership agenda forward in an organization that is not traditionally accustomed to speaking about equity, diversity and inclusion. This work with this agency has opened the doors to other agencies in the area. When I stop to really think about it, it was in Minneapolis that I launched the inclusion and diversity service offering in 2014 after my business was a a few years old and constantly asked to bring our perspective on inclusion and diversity to clients we had up to that point. It was at the Forum on Workplace Inclusion (the country's oldest and largest conference dedicated to diversity and inclusion)  in 2014 where my debut talk was the top rated talk out of 65 that year and I solidly earned my spot as a fresh and leading voice in the space. I have been a faculty member ever since with this coming spring as my first time in 3 years that I will only attend the conference and not present. I look forward to seeing the conference and my work there from a completely different perspective.

The Discomfort Converted Into Healing

Anyone who knows me knows I have never been one to hang out outside much. Cold or hot - I tended to be more of an indoors type of gal. Working with a majority of my clients as a parks and recreation agencies - you can imagine, I've had my share of invites to outdoor activities.

Denise, when you gonna come ski my hill?

Will you make it to our fill-in-the-blank-outdoor-festival?

Have you been on our hiking trail, lately?

Some of the many questions, I've faithfully dodged over the years and made many legitimate excuses to never partake in the the Illinois parks and recreation community. Not one Illinois parks and rec person can remember me taking them up on the many invites over the years. Boy, did they take notice this year when I was tweeting and posting from various parks and recreation sites in western Hennepin County starting in January with a video of me tubing down a hill in Elm Creek Reserve. I had vowed not to tube leading up to that trip. Barreto kids cajoled and park district employees ribbed but I was certain, I'd not do it at all or maybe only once. It was a negative 25 degree day in January and I was sure that I'd flake on the tubing and that the kids would join me. I was wrong. I went down that hill not once but three times. And my kids went down many many more. By nightfall, I was up on skis on the bunny hill behind Evan snowboarding for the second time in his life. We had a blast but most of all, I pushed past the cold and discomfort of being outside and enjoyed myself. I had no idea that would lead to a year full of outdoor activities and breathing of fresh Minneapolis air. I found myself getting to work sites 30 to 40 minutes earlier just to walk around the properties and "take in the scenery" the lush or barren landscapes - all beautiful, all serene, all wondrous.

This past summer, a boat ride turned into hours of paddle boarding when the boat "did not start". And while I don't believe to this day the boat didn't actually start- I am glad it didn't as paddle boarding became a thing at the Evanston beach this summer for my kids. I also liked it and would have done it in Jamaica had Hurricane Otto not come and followed us on the Thanksgiving vacation. We sat for hours in a cabana by the beach in Jamaica and read for hours in hammocks between trees almost every day of our vacation - a rarity for me. And it wasn't just in Minneapolis or Jamaica that drew me outside. I made it a habit back home with my Illinois parks and rec clients to arrive early and/or stick around post meeting and walk outside surveying the outdoors, breathing the air, quieting my soul. My initial discomfort with the outdoors melted away and provided a solace for my most frustrating moments. I live across the street from a park and now, I often step away from my desk to get fresh air -- outside.

Minneapolis, there were so many more aspects to how you assisted me in recalibrating this life of mine but none greater than your people, my work there and the way you made something uncomfortable for me before, absolutely irresistible to me now.

You did it. I am an outdoor gal.

Thank you.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

First Snow Triggers New Appreciation for The True Purpose of Winter



The snow covered tree outside my front window

Fall is my favorite season from start to finish. This season gives way every year to Winter and its  final days have always given me pause to reflect on the upcoming process that winter brings. Snow falls and brings about a natural slowing down of every thing.  Winter is a time for hibernation and the almost "death" of all growth.

This December as the first snow fell upon us, my personal life as I have known it for the last 16 years completely "died". After more than a year of knowing my marriage was over and the final decision to make it official, the day of the first snow in 2016 marked the first full week of our new normal of not living as a foursome. We are working daily on the new family dynamics. Holiday traditions as we've known them have to be reimagined and executed all once.

If I am honest, it is way harder than I ever imagined. This time of year is a constant reminder of our life as we've known it and the excruciating process of what we know and love hibernating. Shutting down.

Dying.

Winter is a chance for everything to stop and just be. And that's exactly what we need right now.

As I hit the final month of this year of recalibrating my life - my womanhood, my motherhood, the relationship with my former life partner and how I operate as an entrepreneur in my new normal - I have a full appreciation for what Winter really is.

It is not death for the trees, flowers or grass beneath the snow cover.  It is the full stop of activity among them. They are quiet. Still. And undisturbed for a season.

That is how I move into this Winter. Ready for the quiet, still, undisturbed time to reflect on all the changes in our lives at this time. Rested from a respite island vacation. Replenished by time with my kids and my thoughts. Knowing full well what awaits me at the thaw.

New life.
New ideas.
New energy.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

The Panacea To A Drought Season or Your New Normal






For more than two years, I have spoken about the "tough season" my family and have have faced. Many times I've referenced it as a desert, a drought and most certainly a "temporary" moment in time for us. As this "season" has given way to a new normal that is quite different to my old life, I have  come to terms with how I face life today.

First, I have a posture of surrender. I surrender myself to circumstances beyond my own control. Now surrender in this case is letting go of control as well as not allowing the circumstance to impact my core.

Single motherhood. Not my favorite term and certainly not a term I ever wanted associated with me. Took extraordinary lengths to never be a single mom prior to my marriage yet here I am at 45 recalibrating my life as a single mom. Surrender in this case meant letting go of my own deep rooted beliefs about single motherhood. This exercise also challenged me to rethink my womanhood and what it meant to be a woman. It helped me think beyond what I was conditioned to think about motherhood, womanhood and marriage -  and I had to surrender all those thoughts given my new information and it has been liberating. Surrendering those thoughts and actions based on those thoughts made way for the second way I've come to face my new normal - a posture of gratitude.

Now, I've always been a somewhat positive and thankful person. You could always count on me to send you written thank you notes and that's a trait I passed to my children. I started an Awesome Jar a few years back to literally track all the good things that happen to me each year so I can take time on New Year's Eve to be grateful for them. Being grateful has always been in my DNA but I see now how it's even further and deeper ingrained in my daily life.

Because of the sheer amount and length of painful experiences we've had in the last few years, little things I took for granted before are sources of joy for me.

A phone call from a long lost friend.
Cocktails with a new friend.
A text from a virtual friend.
A hug from a growing boy.
Snuggle time in the bean bag chair with young lady.
Over 200 birthday wishes on Facebook.
A full day without tears over anything lost.
A compliment from client.
An incremental project.
An idea for my blog.

This list could go on and on and on. I actively seek things to be grateful for these days. I can be grateful for the big things like an amazing birthday month that included a 5 day vacation in Jamaica with my kids and equally thankful for a 2 hour conversation with a new friend. My heart has grown bigger and my woes smaller.

Next time you find yourself struggling in a tough season or resisting your new normal - take time to surrender and be grateful. Rinse and repeat.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Sloppy Towels = My New Sanity

Towels folded by others. Perfectly.

With a huge sigh of relief, I made it through September 2016. Four weeks, 12 flights, 2 road trips and about 8 nights in my own bed total. I do it to myself every year so it is not really a surprise and in the midst of it, it always hurts but on the other side, it always feels good.

The productivity.

The contacts.

The projects

Nothing matches the energy boost to my business as September of every year.

Now this year is different because it's the first time I'm winging solo as a single mom. The previous 4.5 years I could count on my husband to keep everything running smoothly at home during my chaotic time on the road. I say 1/2 because last year, I had an indication the marriage was over and his untreated clinical depression had rendered him less than capable during last year's annual September run. It did not end well and I knew I'd be in for it come 2016.

I planned better and overall it went well.  Yet there were aspects that still did not go as smoothly as I'd have liked. And thanks to the towels you see at the top of the page, I am ok with that.

Those folded towels changed my life in early September.

When I've been used to partnership and two adults carrying the load financially, physically,  mentally and emotionally for close to 14 years and I have to deal with it slowly peeling away; it is hard. It is exhausting. It is sad. But it is also frustrating. My instinct is to resist.

And in the midst of all the changes in life, you want some things to stay the same. Like the towels.

OH - but there is where I found life. Letting go of what was and accepting what is. Empowering others to chip in and accept that help without judgement.  Those "folded" towels and my ability to put them away without refolding them marked a new era in my life.

Not so long ago, I would have refolded them without a word and put them away. But not only would that have been bad for me but the message to the folks who folded them would have been that their contribution was good, but not good enough. It was physically painful to put them away as is and I laughed and giggled all the way to the pantry.

Since then, the dust in the corner doesn't bother me as much. The unpacked boxes from our May move don't nag at me at all. When I'm a few minutes late to pick up a kid, I don't sweat it. Eating Pizza Hut twice in one week elicits a shrug. Quilted Northern on sale versus Charmin Ultra Soft - nah - that's where I draw the line but you get the point.

We have entered the era  of "good enough." And my sanity is thankful.


Tuesday, August 30, 2016

3 Things A Tough Person Does To Make It In Tough Times






For exactly two years, I have been saying those very words to myself.

Two years.

733 days to be exact.

But you know what has propelled me forward during this still very tough tough season?

Action.

While inspirational words and memes are very good to soothe you in a moment, action is the only real anecdote for tough times. Here are three actions I've taken that have helped me in my seemingly never ending "tough season."

Acceptance

I have stopped resisting all the turmoil. Early in this season, I'd fight fiercely to move forward and "be done" with all that is going on around me. Ironically, personally speaking it's not let up one bit. My avoidance and fighting has not changed any circumstance or outcome. And while I'd love to tell you I believe my season is due for a change, I don't. I have accepted that this season could very well be my new normal and that I need to get some better coping mechanisms in place.  I have also accepted that looking for "relief" from the onslaught of difficulty was not helping.  Breathing and learning to face what was and continues to happen to me and around me has helped me tremendously. The energy I use to use to fight or resist has been redirected to my work and my relationships. My first reaction to difficulty now is to sit and marinate in it. Allow myself to feel it. And whatever comes next, roll with it. Meaning if I need to cry and check out of life for an hour - so be it. If I have to take a walk and call my BFF to vent. So be it. If I fill 10 journal pages processing it out of my mind so I can get back to work. On it. But resisting or fighting is no longer an option.

Manage Energy

Time has started to blur for me. In the past I would take pride on my time management skills and how efficient I believed myself to be with my time.  With the onslaught of complexity in my life and one difficulty after another, I realized that it was not my time that needed managing, it was my energy. Really getting judicious around what, how and who I spent energy on would prove to be one of the biggest actions to help me during my tough time. Work tasks have become more organized and intentional. Personal interactions have really focused on people who lift me and feed my soul. I have not been the friend I used to be in this season because I have very little margin. Replenishment activities have been come very important.  My energy now is almost this imaginary tank next to me and I can look at it and see when it's running low. Yoga and Pilates fuel me. Radical self care trips out of town fuel me. Self care rituals locally fuel me. I now actively seek out conversations that raise my energy and refill the tank before it empties. I also allow others to help me. 


Enlist Help

I struggle asking for help. It is has never been a strong suit of mine and this prolonged tough season is the thing that finally broke me. This is a new thing for me in the last 30 days. The 703 days of this tough season found me pushing through exhausted, irritable and feeling alone even with people literally begging me to help.

What can I do?

Most days, I dread that question. I don't need anyone to help me. I'm an oldest child. I run my own business. I help people run their businesses. Stopping to think about how people could help me was literally freezing me up; rendering me immobile. Local friends asked. Friends from across the country asked. Most often I brushed folks off with - "you can pray, thanks." But then I realized how lazy that was of me. I am separating and moving forward as a single mom after 16 years in a couple. There is a SHIT ton of stuff people can do. I just needed to get out of my head and stop the jerk reactions. As the new month started, I vowed not to answer right away - because I'd found that every time someone asked me to help, within a day or two afterwards something did come up that I could use extra hands or brain power around. The pause.

Instead of my usual retort - I thanked people and said, "there is nothing now but I will keep you in mind if something comes up." Not only did "something come up", I also started to notice things I just did unconsciously that others could help me with. So I got help moving a couch. Picking peaches. Making meals. Rides for my kids.  Many people offer and are willing to help. Most often it's us that stand in the way.

I have come to believe that my "tough season" is no longer a "tough season" but my new normal. And I know the action I am taking is equipping to be successful in this new era of my life.  












Tuesday, August 16, 2016

A Quadrennial Reminder of My Own Quest For Excellence


With just 5 days left of competitions for the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, I am already dreading the the end of the Summer Games. I love the Olympics. Ever since I can remember, I have loved the games. I remember vividly watching over the years and this year marks the 20th anniversary of my special accomplishment of working at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games in Atlanta. This year also reminded me of something I'm not so sure I'd recognized before... my absolute love of excellence on display.

I was a tomboy jock girl for as long as I can remember. I loved all sports and all things about sports - playing, watching, coaching. I was a competitive tennis player from age 10 - college. I played other intramural sports at two universities. I've coached a sport I love and know well but could not play very well. I've coached other sports because there was a need. I started my career in sports marketing before it was a "thing" and major college track in the early 90s. I watch sports from around the world and have for many years now. I am a sports fanatic and I partially blame that on losing my mom and female influence early in life and growing up in a sports town like Chicago.

It make sense that a woman like me would love the Olympics. And I never questioned or thought much of my love of the Olympics as it just seemed natural for someone who loved sports as I do.

Until now.

This year, as I am recalibrating my life and examining EVERYTHING I ever thought about myself - I came to a new and exciting discovery. It is not only sports that attracted me to the Olympic Games all these years. It is the quest for excellence.

Mark Spitz
Serena Williams
Mary Lou Retton
Greg Louganis
Dominique Dawes
Michael Johnson
Usain Bolt
Marion Jones
Bruce Jenner
Carl Lewis
Nadia Comenci
Michael Phelps
Simone Biles
Simone Manuel

Those names ring in my ears long after I've been exposed to their excellence because seeing them on the world stage is a reminder of what happens when you excel at your craft. When all the years of practice come down to that moment in time when you exceed even your own expectations - it is glorious. It is inspirational. It's also been my main attraction to the games even beyond my love of sports.  

From a very young age, I have had an insatiable thirst for excellence and the Olympics was one of my quadrennial and tangible reminders of that. Of course, we get to view excellence in many ways, shapes and forms but not quite in the same way as the Olympics. Literally, the whole world stops to celebrate the individual and collective accomplishments of these athletes and their drive for excellence in their respective crafts. And while, I never believed in my own sports abilities enough to pursue excellence there - I have pursued excellence in my work throughout my life.

And at the tender age of 44, I'm starting to see the results of that pursuit manifesting in my business and the work we are doing to change the world, one relationship at a time.

Thank you Rio 2016 for that great reminder and new found inspiration for excellence.