Tuesday, December 29, 2015

3 Lessons From The Stories That Fuel My Life






As we wind down 2015, it occurs to me that our stories are really all that matter.

The story we believe is the story we live.

When was the last time you stopped to look at the story playing in your own mind?

2015 has been a year of transforming stories in my life so I've spent a great part of this year really looking closely at all the story lines in my life.

My personal story.

My marriage story.

My family story - the family of origin and the family I've built.

My business story.

My "place in the world" story.

All these stories intersect and lay out my actions and behaviors that align with what I believe about each of them. When I've stopped and really examined a story, I've learned something new. This year in particular, I've needed stories to propel me forward through some tough times and it was in this place that I got some new revelations about the stories fueling my life. Here are the three things I learned about my stories this year.

Every Story Needs Air

More than any other time in my life, I realized the unintended consequences of not facing a story that lies beneath the surface. As a communicator and storyteller by trade, I was sure I was adept at mining out and telling "the story." Immediately upon seeking help to manage my oversized life this year, I learned that a few stories I told myself and consequently lived were false narratives. It was only in the light of day and actually verbalizing them was I able to snuff them out and live authentically in what I truly believed. When we suppress a story, it does not die. I'd argue that depending on the content of the story, it may actually grow and grow in ways that are harmful to its owner if not properly attended. Give your stories air so you can weed out the ones you want and need versus that ones you need to let go. Further, you never know who needs your story - sometimes stories need air, not for us but for others.

Stories Change As You Do

Three weeks ago, while telling one of my longest held stories to a friend, he debunked it in one text sentence. I just paused this post to look at the text again and seeing it written in black and white still stops me in my tracks. He was right and that revelation has completely changed my view of myself  - with one 8 word text. My story changed. Perhaps years ago but I never noticed or bothered to change the narrative in my head. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that deep down, I knew the story had changed but I never seized on the change to bring it to action. I am a different person from when that story was created. Even as I grew over time and repeated it, I often did it with a tone of disdain or sarcasm yet I held on to the story in its original form. Until I let it go.

Some Stories Need Releasing To Make Space For New Ones

And let go I did. I have not repeated that story again in it's original form since that day. I can already feel a new story around that topic forming. Stories occupy space and energy. Think about it. If we keep stories that have expired or lost their usefulness, we don't have room for new stories to build us and serve us now. This is a hard but necessary lesson I am learning now in earnest. As I close one chapter of my life and start to build a new one, I am releasing stories daily. It is not fun. It is quite painful and there are lots of tears in my eyes these days. But with each story released, I can see a new story forming. The energy we spend holding on to stories that no longer serve us snuff out the opportunities that await us on the other side of them. Release a long held story today and watch a new one form.

So what stories do you need to give air to this day? How will your allow your story to change as you have? What stories need releasing to make space for new ones?

There is no better time than the beginning of a new year to take a good inventory of the stories you believe and live by. Stop and do that today.

Your stories fuel your life. Decide today what life you want.


Monday, December 14, 2015

My Own Personal War On Depression Start Now

The World of A Depressed Person And Those That Love Them
Over the last few years, I've lived through and witnessed the devastating effects of depression on an individual.

From the slow decline and subtle transformational changes to a traumatic event that thrust it into full light, depression devoured someone I loved.

It started with a decline in external connections. Really easy to miss especially in someone who had so few connections to begin with. I didn't pay much attention to what was being said at the time but now it's so clear. Invitations declined. Inquiries brushed off. Negative or neutral comments about every one who showed even the slightest interest in maintaining contact.

Then I noticed the disconnection from our family. Further and further drifts into the internet or other interests outside our close knit family. Almost never truly being present. And when there was presence, there was frustration and irritation. Few smiles, fewer conversations. Raising the issue only caused tension and further isolation - risks I'm not afraid of and continued to push.

Good days and strings of good days declined. I'd hold on to those good times as indications that the poor times were a figment of my overachieving imagination. Pushed along. Pushed forward. Then in August 2014, the final facade in the charade of depression was shattered. A traumatic and swift event stole the final "front" that kept my loved floating through life.

Quickly after the trauma and only at my insistence, a trip to a psychologist rendered a diagnosis and a treatment plan was laid out but never followed. To this day almost 15 months later, the treatment plan sits on a doctor's chart and burning in my brain. After the diagnosis, month-by-month, I watched the further disconnection from reality and the deeper deception that is depression.  I've watched this disease convince someone they are garbage and not worth loving or hiring.

Darkness
Rejection.
Frustration.
Guilt.
Despair.
Hopelessness.
Repeat.

That's what happens when depression is untreated, over and over again - not just to the clinically depressed person but to the people close to them trying to help. What's scary to me is the fact that people live like this in relative obscurity in our society. They have families, marriages, jobs and all the things the rest of us have yet very few people really know and understand their existence. And it is a stark existence. 

I have surrendered my loved one and my marriage to this untreated depression for my own peace of mind.  We are on the upside of this reality and managing well the transition from the life we had to the life that awaits us.

But I am now awake to the horror that is depression. I will no longer suffer in silence. I declare war on depression for the sake of those sinking in battle alone. You are not alone. There are many of us fighting. We may lose battles
but we can win the war.  Depression, like all other evils, counts on our silence.


My ask, take notice.  Don't shy away from conversations. Pick up the phone. Visit people.
Ask for help. Connect with others who suffer. Find support groups. Talk about your suffering.

Do something. Depression counts on you to do nothing.

My relationship with depression is no longer secret. It's public and it's war.


Monday, December 7, 2015

3 B’s of Feedback For the 21st Century Leader







More than any other time in history, we live in an era where people crave and thrive on feedback. With the widespread adoption of social media tools in our lives, we can see, in real time, how everyone around us acts and reacts to our every move. This desire and craving does not stop when we enter our workplace. Now more than ever, it is increasingly important that 21st Century leaders understand the importance of feedback and how it impacts performance for today’s workers.  This trend calls for us to take a look at the delicate relationship between feedback, coaching and evaluation. In theory, these concepts are somewhat interchangeable, but in reality there are very important differences in the delivery of each. Today, we focus on feedback. While informal in nature, feedback is a critical tool in an arsenal of leadership resources to properly manage performance and get the best from our teams. If utilized regularly, it can be a tremendous asset to managing and improving performance.

We believe the onus for how feedback is utilized in work relationships falls on the leader and here are three ways to make feedback a key tool for success:

Be Clear

Make sure when giving feedback to an individual you separate the person from the behavior or action. Make it clear in your language exactly what you are giving feedback on. Try not to use absolutes like “always” or “never,” as most often they are not applicable. You must be direct but always deliver your truth with grace. Give examples in the recent past of the behaviors or actions you’d like to see. Not only does this reinforce what you want, it shines a light on what you don’t want.  Do not mix challenging feedback and positive feedback. Give them the challenges as stand alone feedback.  Clarity is often elusive in work environments so it’s important to address challenges when they occur.  Outline where a breakdown has occurred and allow space for you and your subordinate to solve it together versus you solving it for them.

Be Collaborative

One major difference between coaching, evaluation and feedback is the opportunity for collaboration on what’s next. In a healthy feedback loop, there are opportunities for co-creating solutions. Smart leaders know that they alone don’t have all the answers especially when it comes to bettering the performance of another human. We must be collaborative in our approach to feedback so we get a positive result and the change in behavior or action we want and believe we need. We have to make sure feedback in useful and actionable; that positive feedback reinforces behavior we like and collaborates on ways to spread it to others while challenging feedback opens the door to finding better ways to work together toward our goals and objectives.

Be Open

In many ways, this is the most important part of the feedback circle. You must be open to hearing the response to your feedback. Perhaps, your co-worker is in a very difficult time in life and has a very legitimate reason for the change in behavior or maybe something you or others in management have done created the disconnect you’re now giving feedback on. You also have to be open to receiving feedback. Once you open the “loop” of feedback to give to others, you must be willing to accept feedback about your actions and behaviors and you need to vocalize that. Don’t assume your team knows you want feedback, be direct and ask for it.


Following these tips can open a feedback loop that will raise the bar of performance in any work setting. Not only will it strengthen the performance management process, well executed feedback solidifies relationships and make for a better overall work environment for all.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

The Magic In the Number 4

What other magic qualities can you think of for the number 4?


If I'm honest, I've always liked the number 4. It's easy and even. My mom died when I was four and my life change forever and is marked by all that happened my 4th year on this earth. Before I was married - 4 was one of the numbers of kids I wanted to have - 2 or 4. Four is the number of seasons we have in the calendar year if you are lucky enough to live in a place where you experience them all as we do in Chicago. 4 is the number of quarters in the fiscal business year that we build our activity around. It's the number of time zones to keep up with if you run a nationwide company in the United States. Four is the number of project types we specialize in at Relationships Matter Now. We recognize 4 directions on a map. There are so many significant milestones the number four illustrates. But last week, I got a whole new appreciation for the number as I approached my 44th birthday.

At my birthday massage, my masseuse casually mentioned that she missed her "4 year old" kids. She waxed on about why 4 is such a magical age and the more I listened, the more I agreed.

Four year olds dress the way they like and no one questions them.

Four year olds walk away in the middle of your sentence if they lose interest with no shame or obligation.

Four year olds question every "should."

Four year olds are invincible.

Four years still get amazed when they learn something new.

It got me thinking, with only a few days until I would be 44 - why can't I bring the magic of 4 to 44? Think about it, 44 should be 11 times the magic of 4!

44, a few years into the the decade where I fully accept and love the way I look.

44 was ushered in with amazing possibilities for my business that just completed it's 4th full year of operations.

44 will be the year I abolish "should" from my vocabulary completely.

44 feels invincible as it marks 20 more years I'm on the planet than my mom was when she passed.

44 will be the year I return to seeing the world in amazement. 

There is magic in the number 4 and it is multiplied at 44.

What other magic qualities does the number 4 bring to mind for you?


Monday, November 9, 2015

Why PC is a Bunch of BS: 3 Reasons Political Correctness Needs To Go Away Forever

While I have no intention of mentioning by name the GOP presidential candidate who has raised the conversation, I am most certainly shutting it down here in this post, once and for all.

Allow me to break down for you, why PC or political correctness is a bunch of BS.

1. The term itself is a perjorative.

Does anyone know what perjorative means? Here, I'll define it for you:

Perjorative (n)  is a word expressing contempt or disapproval.

From it's very origin, the term PC is negative. Political correctness never existed with any intent to soothe or bring folks together.  So the fact that many Americans are in a uproar over PC speech, or being PC as "outdated" or s"omething we should rid ourselves of" is ignorant and misguided.

A perjorative is something none of us should have ever prescribed to in the first place. Who even made that term up? I'm guessing someone who got slapped down for being an insensitive brute with no emotional intelligence.

2.  The definition is bunk.

Political correctness (a)  is agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people

What the hell?

Who ever prescribed to this any way? Ever? If you are a chauvinist, by all means be a chauvinist. If you are a racist, have at it. In fact - I welcome it. It's the United States of America. We have free speech, right? Now there may be consequences for your behavior but hey, if you are committed - go for it. It is not illegal to feel those things but it is illegal to act on them in a way that marginalizes someone else.

3.  PC helps no one.

First, it is a negative term. Doomed out of the gate. Why it was ever taken seriously shows us how lazy and apathetic most Americans are to have ever allowed that word to be adopted and used regularly. It must have been a slow linguistic year.

Second, why agree to something you don't believe? If there are people out there who still believe that women are not as capable and qualified as men to do certain things - leave them in the their ignorance. And let them watch women pass them by on their way to doing great things. If there are people who still believe and push ugly narratives about Black Americans - let them. I'll be sure to smile extra hard as I am blowing past limits and driving change in my community and the world. Asking or pushing PC on bigots and chauvinists is a lost cause

No sensible person ever subscribed to being PC. You say what you have to say. You believe what you believe. We live in a constantly evolving world and surely, if you we try, we learn every day. In theory, we grow and bust open biases we have to do better by those we do life with. The more you learn and the more you are exposed, the hope is that you will learn how your language affects others and your own effectiveness in life.  Or you don't. You do not grow at all.  You stay where you are and the world moves forward without you and eventually, you are no longer relevant. Your choice.
But we can all agree that it's time to drop this term (PC)  from our vernacular as it helps no one.

Who's with me?

Monday, November 2, 2015

The Summer That Changed Me Forever: An Ode to My WHQAD team


About 1/2 of the 2001 WHQAD team who seared their way into my heart forever


63 work days.

12 weeks

1 historic tragedy experienced together.

And we are bonded for life.

That pretty much sums up my time spent at United Airlines with a team of people who will always have a special place in my heart space.

We recently got together with a larger group of United Alum as this group does ever so often. Regardless of what's going on in life, this group stops to fellowship and celebrate our time together.

I often feel like an imposter in this group. After all, you see the stats. I was not among them very long. Yet they mean a ton to me. Here's a few reasons why....

United was the first corporate job I ever got after almost 8 years in nonprofit or entertainment entities. It was my first job that I truly loved. Every second of it. It was the first place, I used my entrepreneurial skills to push the boundaries of what they hired me to do and moved my talents to solve challenges my company faced.

I was 26 weeks pregnant with my first child when I was hired at United. Yeah. That interviewing process was a scary, balancing act. I wanted to show what I had to offer while not giving away the fact that I was with child and soon to be out for a few weeks. When I got the offer and started, the balancing act continued. I wanted to demonstrate my value in a way that would make my departure to have my baby felt. I took on projects and opportunities for big visibility even as my tummy grew and grew. 

When I came "out," I'll never forget the reactions, the love, the support. Hell, these are the ONLY people in my life who have ever loved me enough AND been smart enough to pull a surprise party over my head. I'll never forget the day they convinced me to do this presentation for the new big boss Larry DeShon, only to have me walk into a baby shower with my husband in tow.

Weeks after 9/11, we gathered in the suburban home with our leader to celebrate each other, even though I was no longer with them having been part of the massive company-wide furlough after the tragedies.  It was hard to feel sad for being unemployed when other United Airlines folks lost their lives that day. Yet, I was comforted and not judged by a group of people who cared and understood even if they'd all kept their jobs. There was a camaraderie in this group that still escapes me to this day but I cherish being a small part of it.

That is just a glimpse of how powerful authentic human connections that transcend everything and make a lasting imprint on our lives, if we allow it.

"Less than 90 freaking days" I shouted many times at the event while everyone shrugged it off, laughed or questioned - "was that all the time we had with you?"

That's right. Time doesn't matter when there is a true bond with a real person.

Thanks WHQAD for being those people to me and showing me how special I am to those around me.

Friends forever.

For real.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Accept People, Period: A Rant About the Semantics Of Acceptance


A few weeks back, I had a post about acceptance that garnered lots of views and reactions. It prompted me to quickly crank out this rant about acceptance.

I was challenged, privately, of course, as to what exactly did I "mean" by acceptance?

If you mean, I've got to deny my beliefs to save your feelings, then I don't accept some people.

I have my values and they inform what I accept or don't accept

and my personal favorite...

I can love someone without accepting their actions or behaviors.

Wow. Just wow.

Let's start with a dictionary definition of acceptance and there are three:

  1. the action of consenting to receive or undertake something offered.

  2. the action or process of being received as adequate or suitable, typically to be admitted into a group.

  3.      agreement with or belief in an idea, opinion, or explanation

Which do you think applies to people the most? Within the context of relationships and doing life with others, which definition makes the most sense?

If you did not choose definition number 2,  then that's where we part. When I blogged about acceptance from people who I potentially want to do life with or family a few weeks back, I was specifically applying definition number two as in "received as adequate or suitable."

We are not required to agree or believe in everything around us. We are not required to consent to receive something offered to us. But we are damn sure obligated to receive people in our lives as they are - adequate and suitable - ENOUGH by simply being alive and willing to relate to us.

We have to stop this trend of taking words out of context to fit our agendas. Sure, there are several definitions of acceptance but only one applies as it relates to relationships with people. And of course, this all goes out the window where there is abuse of any kind present within a relationship.

My rant is clear. I am raging over the way we accept some stories in our lives and reject others. Whether it's gender, race, political or religious views, we have to do better.

People are enough as they are.

Stop making people feel as though they have to "do something" to be in our lives.

Quit trying to alter someone else's narrative to fit yours. 

Start by accepting yourself.

Look in the mirror and fully accept what you see and if you don't like it, then do something to change. But don't go projecting your own acceptance issues on those around you.

I fully embrace acceptance at its core meaning for those in my life and people I meet every day. We need all stories told to better our world. Who am I to reject or diminish another human being's experience and existence? Who are you?

Please take time this week to notice when you are rejecting or diminishing someone else and stop it. Everyone deserves acceptance in society and it starts one-to-one in our relationships.

Start today.

Monday, October 12, 2015

If Life Imitates Art, Let's Up The Art Game

It is said that life imitates art. And we certainly know that art often times is a direct reflection of life.

If that is the case, then we are in big trouble in America. We are in grave danger of perpetuating cheap stereotypes, tired and outdated narratives and the "progress" we say we want, keeps slipping further and further into the future.

How many of you have seen or heard about the film Spare Parts, released in January of this year in a joint venture between Lionsgate films and Mexican media giant Televisa? Too few to count, I'm sure and that is the reason for this rant of a post.

Let's suppose that life actually imitates art and up the game on the art we consume.  Yep. I said it.

After watching the incredible based on a true story motion picture about 4 undocumented Mexican high schoolers who defied all odds and resource constraints to beat an MIT team (and other well funded university program teams) at a UCSB  Underwater Robotics competition, I am convinced that we need more.

More tales of defying odds and making a way out of no way.

More stories about the actual lives of undocumented people living in the shadows among us.

More narratives of what matters most, teamwork, collaboration and tapping into everyone's talent.

More accounts of humans striving to belong and contribute in marvelous ways.

One reason the bigoted and ignorant rhetoric we see soaring to the tops of the current GOP presidential race is because of a lack of widespread exposure to precisely these types of stories. We can't get every person in every corner of this nation to have actual relationships and/or  interactions with people who different from them. That would be ideal.

Actual exposure to people, ideas, places that are very different than ourselves, our neighborhoods and our own ideas is costly and impractical. But to make better use of the channels we have would be marvelous. Wouldn't it be great if Hollywood started making movies that disrupt rather than perpetuate stereotypes and outdated narratives? What about TV shows - comedic and drama - that better reflect the actual lives of the many extraordinary people across our great land?

Go out and make Spare Parts the "Pitch Perfect" of 2015.  Rent it. Buy it. Pass it around. Spread the word like we all did for the 2012 comedy that, like Spare Parts,  was released on a very limited low budget and sent to DVD within 120 days of its release. The momentum and word of mouth for Pitch Perfect hit its peak in the fall of 2013 when its DVD sales and popularity was at an all time high due to the rapid fire social media wave of interests.  We spread the word on Pitch Perfect because it moved us. It was clever. It was a funny story about a a group of misfits who banded together to make valuable contributions toward a greater goal. It was about healthy competition and the role it plays in growing us. It was about the power of teamwork and honoring everyone's contribution and talent.

Spare Parts is that kind of story - a story worth sharing. When Hollywood sees interest, it responds and gives us more. We need more movies like Spare Parts. Join me in sharing this great tale and demanding that entertainment companies like Lionsgate and Televisa give us more.

Get Spare Parts today!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

2 Ways To End 2015 Well These Last 12 Weeks



If you're like me, you may be wondering where 2015 went.

Woke up from my haze that was September just this past weekend and realized we are 12 short weeks away from ringing in 2016. 12 weeks. As 2015 is slipping away, I pose the question for you and me...

Did I get what I wanted from 2015?

I don't start the year with any grand resolutions or makeovers. Normally, I set a few objectives and a couple of big audacious goals and 2015 was no different. There were several big business goals and a few important personal ones. With 12 short weeks left to achieve them, here are my two practical ways to make sure 2015 ends the way I'd like it to.

Regroup

This past year has flown by and while I set out with some big business and personal goals, I've had to regroup on those especially lately. Take a step back and look at what has actually happened versus what I wanted to happen. What's the delta? How far off am I? In many cases, I am not too far off the mark but need to rejigger my compass. In other cases, I am in better shape than I thought I'd be at this point. There is no shame in tossing things out that don't make sense. With a full quarter left in this year, there is plenty of time to redirect energy into activities and relationships that will get us closer to our goals for 2015. Further, this may be the time to start tinkering with what we'd like to see happen in 2016. Get a jump on the planning and rework some 2015 goals and objectives into better 2016 ones. Regrouping is key to continued success. Do it as much as necessary.

Celebrate

I cannot help but chuckle out loud at this one. I love celebrating and don't do it nearly enough. Typically, we Americans are at one extreme or the other - you know, we celebrate too much or hardly at all. I am definitely on the hardly at all, especially during rough seasons of life like the one I'm currently in and have been in for over a year. Hence my new thought of taking time to celebrate even tiny wins and hints of new momentum. For most of the last 15 months, I have hesitated to celebrate anything "waiting" for my tough fog to lift, waiting for the "big relief." Well the reality is, it has not come. I don't know if it is even on the way anymore. So I've missed a TON of opportunities to celebrate the wins I've had in 2015. But no more. Last weekend, we had a celebratory dinner for surviving my crazy September. I have a celebration plan to finish this year and of course my birthday month will serve as a great catalyst this new direction. Part of what builds momentum is reinforcement of behaviors that got us the progress. Celebrating is a great way to encourage progress. Make sure you stop and celebrate your wins these last 12 weeks of 2015.


So the answer to my own question is... not yet. And I have 12 weeks to make sure that "not yet" converts to a yes. Then I can got into 2016 unencumbered with any remnants of "what ifs" from 2015. Join me.

 #2015Unshakable

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Family, Love, Acceptance: Relearned on A Beach Retreat





Family.


Love.

Acceptance.

The power and intensity around these words for me personally is practically indescribable. Each one a trigger of all kinds of emotions and deep seeded beliefs. As a person whose life work revolves around relationships and how to best grow and leverage them for good, I am intimately familiar with the contradictions that can accompany each word.

We all have family.

We all crave, want and need love.

We all deeply desire acceptance but know it's not always available so we can live without it.

I am deeply moved and forever changed by my experience with a "client", no less,  who showed me in a very real way that all those things are possible even in places where we least expect it.

This past Spring, a dear sister friend invited me to use my talents at a retreat for Black women executives who in work in philanthropy. Based on their desires, I created two workshops and quickly got the "thumbs up" from the planning committee. This event weighed heavily on my schedule as its confirmation fully booked my September 2015 calendar rendering me not one additional billable hour in May.  From day one, I knew this would be a history making event for me and my business, even if that the time I had not true idea why.

Fast forward to September 24 - my arrival day at the event. You could say I skidded to this event after 30 days of relentless travel. There were 9 workshops, 3 TED-style talks, 2 seminars in 5 cities touching countless people with my message of Engage, Collaborate, Lead in one form or another. The trip itself pushed me into American Airlines Gold status which was huge for me back in my days of corporate marketing travel on someone else's dime. I was exhausted yet completely stoked to lead and learn with a group of my peers - outstanding Black women executives. Don't even mention that the week was a great one for talented Black women in general. Even though I was on a plane, I did not miss the 2015 Emmy buzz around amazing Black actresses taking home statues  - Regina King, Viola Davis and Uzo Aduba.

Little did I know, that my contribution to the weekend would be the least impactful memory I'd have. From allowing me full participation in the planned weekend activities, to my divinely appointed work group Friday afternoon - every aspect of the ABFE Women in Philanthropy 2015 Leadership Retreat deeply touched me and renewed my faith in family, love and acceptance.

Family is a complicated matter with me. My family of origin is a complex and messy tale. Until recently, my marriage and family I built was my refuge and saving grace for the very word "family." While it is still together, many uncertainties abound about its future.

Love. Boy, do I struggle with this concept. See my Mother's Day post here, if you don't believe me. I have no problem giving love but receiving it is my achilles.

Acceptance is quite another story. I have learned to live without acceptance for much of my life. While I have always wanted it, especially from women who look like me, rarely was it extended to me. I've always been too different. Too loud. Too outspoken. Too smart. Too daring. Too driven. And now that I am well into my 40s, I simply don't give a damn if I am accepted or not. I have learned to live in that tension without diminishing who I am.

Imagine my sheer shock at getting all of these things - family, love and acceptance from a group of women who barely knew me.  Imagine feeling completely at home being who I am, delivering my best talents, sharing my heart and soul for a few days in paradise.  Imagine days later continuing to build those connections virtually and feeling the sense that someone - lots of someones - close to 30 someones HAVE MY BACK in all corners of this great country.

Thank you, ladies.

Thank you for sharing yourselves with me.

Thank you for allowing me to serve you.

Thank you for showing me that family, love and acceptance can be extended and shared in our community.

See you at the next retreat!

Signed,

Your new ABFE sister

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

How To Enjoy Unprecedented Peace In Turmoil

A mighty lighthouse - the beacon in the storm
When life unravels and keeps unraveling with no end in sight, it is critical to maintain a sense of peace. Instinctively, this makes sense but in practice, it appears elusive.

We all experience seasons of life that toss us like the boats on a turbulent sea. Some of those seasons are quick and dirty while others are long and arduous.

You never know which will be the case - a short and ugly or a long and painful but equipping yourself either way is key to coming through turbulent times with your peace of mind intact. Here are three strategies I use to keep my peace during crazy times:

Stop Measuring Time

It is very important that you look realistically at time as it relates to the trouble. It's human nature to measure things in days, months, etc. During adverse times - you must push yourself away from this tendency.  When it's short acknowledge that and allow yourself the space to feel the discomfort without exaggeration.  When troubled times are long, still keep perspective and allow space for the discomfort without wishing it away. My family is currently in a yearlong ordeal that has an another 8 month stretch before we will be "normal" again. Well, framing it has helped. One year versus 15 years of my family's existence is really short and while it be almost 2 years before it normalizes - that is still a short amount of time for discomfort. Don't believe the hype, America. With our sitcom society, we expect complexity to be wrapped in in 22 minutes, 51 tops. Sometimes things wrap up fast but most often they do not. Look realistically as how the timing is impacting you and give yourself real breaks about it.  Set small non-time sensitive goals to allow for small wins to build momentum. Stop counting the days. Start living moment to moment and find enjoyment and peace on a minute-by-minute basis. Let go of time as it relates to the trouble so you can make room for the rest of your life.

Take Breaks From Your Trouble

The easiest and simplest of all the strategies - stop thinking and talking about it. Like the time issue, this is another re-framing that goes against natural human nature. We like to discuss stuff. Some of us like to analyze and over analyze stuff again and again with different people. Stop. Resist. Get a therapist and vow to speak only to him/her and MAYBE one other close friend. Being consumed by your trouble robs you of peace. Catch yourself thinking about it and redirect your thoughts - that will stunt your conversation. Make notes and journal about it but don't do so more than once per day. Even writing and thinking about it constantly eats into the mental breaks we need from our trouble. Further, I have noticed that the more time and space I have in between dwelling on my trouble opens me up to more creative solutions for coping. Can't cope with something you never step away from. Step away. Back away slowly. Do whatever you can to take true breaks from your trouble.

Help Another in Trouble

Have you ever noticed that shitty stuff travels in groups? Rarely, are you in a turbulent moment alone. When you stop and listen to those around you, you discover that other people have adversity as well. Open yourself up to being a resource for others and it will do wonders on your own trouble. Why? First, it allows you the break we just discussed. Two, helping someone else troubleshoot their challenges opens your mind to your own trouble but from a different light. You may find better strategies as you speak to others about how they manage. Finally, it helps you feel better about yourself when you hear that others are struggling, too. Especially when they are wildly different challenges. Beware when they are similar challenges - don't fall into the comparison trap. Keep your focus on your friend or co-worker and resist the tendency to bring it back to you.

Peace does not mean that there is no trouble, it merely means that you can be yourself and move forward in spite of it. Employ a few or all of these strategies to keep your peace as you navigate hard times.  You will need it to push through to the other side.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Act On Truth, Not Your Story

Very rarely are these things aligned.



When was the last time you challenged yourself to move forward in factual evidence versus what you believe? When did you last examine your life for truth versus the story you tell yourself?

I struggle with this often.

We live in an era where we can find "facts" to back any position so it's a legitimate question. And one I am asking for a very important reason.

Too many of us are walking around in our own heads.

We make decisions based on narratives that play out in our heads and hearts daily. Narratives and story lines that keep repeating themselves because of our thoughts, beliefs and behaviors. When was the last time you stopped to see things for what they really were versus what you believe them to be?

As a person in a very challenging season in my marriage, I am working hard to break down the narrative that plays out between my husband and I in my head. I'm working to see things for the way they really are.  I'm working to look at factual evidence versus what I want to see or what I am striving to believe. I am seeking truth in our interactions and particularly my actions and behaviors toward him.

That is hard work, folks.

Fortunately for me, I enlisted the support of an amazingly honest (brutally so at times) therapist who is challenging me every week and helping me see myself, my relationships and my business in ways I've never looked before. She is helping me see truth in spite of my story.

This narrative piece plays out in work situations as well. As an entrepreneur approaching my 5th year of hanging the shingles out full-time, I see clearly the opposite phenomena. Almost 100% of my decisions are based on reality with a healthy dose of faith and belief.  Calculated risks and opportunistic moves abound but all based in factual data from month-to-month. I have no problem seeing things for the way they are without prejudice. As a fairly new business owner, I don't have a solid narrative built, in fact, I see my business' narrative forming and morphing daily.

So how can that be - same woman, different approach personally and professionally?

If I had the answer, trust me that would be my new business. But I can say this, I challenge everyone to step back and look at your life - all aspects of your life and do the following:

1.   Look for and root out patterns that stifle you.
2.   Enlist help, this work is not easy and will need accountability as it gets tough.
3.   Open your mind and heart to a new perspective where ever needed.
4.   Communicate your journey to those you do life with.

When you stop acting in accordance with your story and start acting on truth, you will see a huge difference in how your life plays out.



Monday, August 31, 2015

3 Things You Must Do To Support Your Friend Who Needs A Lifeline

People who need a lifeline need something specific from you


Had the most epic text conversation with a great friend recently who is in the midst of an enormous amount of change in her life.

Personal change.

Relational change.

Vocational change.

As we commiserated on 2 out of 3 of those aspects of change, we delighted each other in our responses to one another. . We left one another feeling much better and vowed to pose the following question to the rest of the world. Why do so many of us suck at supporting each other through rough patches? Why do we feel compelled to give "an answer" to our loved ones when they are experiencing difficulty? This is especially true in Christian circles. Both my friend and I are strong believers who just happen to be swallowed up in a crazy season in our respective lives. As we "chatted" intermittenly over 2 hours - it was clear why we felt so much better having interacted. Three very different things happened during our exchange: pure unadulterated listening,  no comparisons, no cliches.

Pure unadulterated listening

This one is the hardest to do but really the most important. Just listening sometimes is all our friends need, especially people who are mired in complex situations. We must train ourselves to listen. Fight the compulsion to wander in thoughts or think of solutions to the challenges you are hearing. Literally, stop everything and just listen. Respond with "I hear you," or "I feel you," and genuinely do hear and feel your loved ones concern. Sometimes you just need to listen and listen more because some people have very few people they confide in.  You may be the only person they are sharing their adversity with so it is imperative that you just listen. And listen more. Make space and time to just listen.

No comparisons

No. Nope. None. Even if you have been through this or you have a friend or cousin who is in the EXACT situation as your current friend, don't compare. Am I saying that you cannot use experiences you've had to speak wisdom into this new situation? Yes. I am. In the moment of despair or when people are raw, it is tough to hear other stories that appear similar but are not necessarily apples to apples. Even when they are very identical to someone on the outside, there are always nuances and differences, even if they are slight to the person actually experiencing the difficulty.  Respect your friend's unique story. And if you have information you are convinced will help them - ask first if you can share it. And if they give you the green light, frame it well and give them the space to see the similarities -don't push them.  We are all special and while we all experiences similar challenges, it is difficult to invite someone in and have them compare what you are going through to something else. It is good policy to do your best to not compare at all but if you must, get permission.

No cliches

This is another tough one. You all know them and in the Christian world there are so many.

Everything happens for a reason.

God isn't gonna give you more than you can handle.

What doesn't kill you makes you stronnger.

Let God and let go.

And there are many many more.  In fact, my friend and I chucked because we both balked at what we called "flimsy Christian talk" that people pull out when you confide that you are struggling. Please keep your sayings and cliches when someone shares their doubts and fears. I have a relationship with God and like most of my relationships, there are times when it is strained and downright difficult to deal with. That's right. Sometimes, it's hard to be in relationship with God. And for me, some of those moments come during my most difficult hours; when all I can see is darkness and when I hear no reply to my screams for respite. Pulling out every cliche about how it's all gonna be ok is not the right path. Really. It's not. And you wanna know why? It's not very convincing and chances are you don't really believe that. Yep. I said. Most of those cliches are lip service that we've been fed in our difficult moments and we just regurgitate it when we see a chance. No. Don't. Do better by your friend.  Listen. Feel. Reassure that you are there and that you care. Allow them to vent and have those feelings. They need to go there, so don't prevent it with a quick fix saying that isn't going to add any value in that moment. Even if you are one of those people, like me, who lives by Genesis 50:20 or Romans 8:28, you don't have to shove that in people's faces when they are hurting. Pick a less raw time and remind them of what they know to be true or introduce how you handle your difficult times.

And while we both hope to be out of our respective slumps soon, I am so glad for our exchange because it highlighted for us how we all can do better to support people around us when they need us most.

What would you add to our list to better support friends in crisis?



Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Transform Yourself Now With 3 Moves






What do you do when you know change must occur in your life?

If you are like most people, you resist. You first deny and then vehemently fight and finally, reluctantly acquiesce.

I am one of those strange folks who run toward change. Leap on the transformation train. Drive others around me to look for opportunities to change.

Currently, me, my family and my business are in a huge season of change and I find myself resisting the personal change that is thrust upon me.

It is easy to see change that must happen in others. How quickly do we diagnose and "solve" for change opportunities in the lives of others? We dissect and analyze with few data points and feel extremely confident that our resulting "answer" is solid. Slam dunk.

However, when it comes to our own transformation, we are blinded by the data. We are impaired by the narratives we've built to survive and thrive until this point. I am facing huge personal change and find these three tips very helpful.

Get Outside Help

Yes. I said it. Enlist a counselor, therapist or coach to get you where you need to be. I am so excited right now. As I foresaw some of the change that was on the horizon and sensed my own resistance to it, I started asking around for resources. Last Spring, a therapist was recommended to me and I was excited to learn that she had an office very close to my intended new location. That was no coincidence. Further, we connected well and have begun to lay out a plan to get me where I need to be.  Asking for help as a Type A - Enneagram 8 head strong Scorpio like myself is a tough, tough act. But it's also an amazingly freeing one. As the person who helps others both professionally and personally, it is imperative that I open myself up to outside help. How can you offer and deliver well what you yourself will not accept? So I have a B.E.S.T. coach for my whole self, a therapist for the emotional journey and some professionals contracted to help me with the business side of my current transformation. A dream team - unleashed to move me from here to there.

Make A Plan

Now this is not a concrete, set in stone plan but a framework for what it is you'd like to see through the change. In my case, some of the change was self-driven and some was thrust upon me. Either way, I need to start to crystallize in my mind's eye what the other side might look like.  I am not committing to the outcome but merely imagining what could be. Not only is it fun and cleansing to do, you'd be surprised at how making a simple framework starts to unearth resources that you may have never recognized without some structure to realize them within. My family's move to Evanston is a classic case of this point. We landed on Evanston after extensive research. We started to walk toward it without a specific plan in place but with some framework - a few thoughts on location and budget but the rest was up to the universe. And boy, did the universe deliver. This is also playing out in a few other areas of life right now. Trust me. Put even a skeletal frame together and watch how it opens doors.

Be Vulnerable

Open up. Share your story. Again, I cannot state enough how important it is to keep it real with as many people as possible. You have no idea who may be a resource in your transformation. Additionally, the ability to be vulnerable is without measure because it will cause you to rethink how you view yourself and the world around you. One of the things I've noticed is that my narratives, the ones I've built that have rocked and got me to this point are tired and no longer serving me. That is a very tender and raw space but again, I see the value. Busting my myths and replacing them with real truths about who I am, what I'm capable of and who deserves to be part of that journey is an unbelievably difficult task. And had I not enlisted help and made a plan, I'm pretty sure I'd have turned back as I face my own vulnerability.

Whatever you are facing that appears impossible or insurmountable most certainly is your chance to transform yourself to overcome. Whether its personal or professional, the first major transformation or one of many you've experience in your life, NOW is the time to run toward this next chapter with all you have. 

Enlist support. Set some goals. Expose yourself.

You can do it.


Monday, July 13, 2015

3 Facts About Change I Learned From Cherries






How you do anything is how you do everything - B.E.S.T. Coach to me in early 2014

And once again, it was food that shed light to me on how I approach life.

I am a berry gal. Raspberries. Strawberries. Blueberries. Blackberries - pretty much any berry except cherries. I cannot tell you why, how or when my aversion to cherries began but as long as I can remember, I have not liked cherries.

Until now.

A few weeks ago, my husband came home with a big bag of fresh cherries. Even the kids questioned the purchase, we don't normally get cherries. Within minutes the bag was devoured by the both Barreto kids and the mister. I passed with no questions asked. The next bag came and went as fast as the first and the next thing I knew cherries were on the grocery list. 3 bags in, my kids asked why I was not joining them. I simply declined with some quip. But my youngest insisted I "try them again." I ate one and remembered the tart flavor, hoping to keep them from asking me again. Week by week, I started picking them up in the store and familiarizing myself with what a ripe cherry looked like versus a prematurely picked one. Each bag disappeared as quickly as we bought it and now cherries are a fruit staple in our house.

This morning, my breakfast bowl of fruit was equal parts cherries, blueberries and strawberries.  What changed? How is it that just 6 weeks ago, I would not have touched a cherry let alone many cherries? What does my cherry story tell you about change? As my family in embarking on a huge change, I could not help but reflect on how my cherry story is very similar to any change in life and why I'm so glad I'm eating cherries today.

First, change requires humility. The courage to recognize what you don't know. Many folks lack that. Imagine how silly yet really telling it would be if I stuck with my "I don't like cherries" line. I didn't know if I liked cherries, I hadn't eaten them in years. Instead of balking, arguing or making my family force me to try them, I readily recognized that I knew little about the cherry besides my very uninformed opinion that they were less than strawberries, blueberries or raspberries.

Change also requires education. When you don't know, it's better to admit that and commit to "finding out." That's right. In the early days of the cherries coming into our house, I observed the family eating them; which ones they winced at, which ones brought a smile. I was even watching the brand name and noting the farm they came from. By the time, I randomly grabbed a bag at the store, I was well educated on how they'd taste.

Finally, change is life giving.  As silly as it sounds, my snacking is so much better now that I have cherries added to the mix. The tart flavor offsets the sweet fruits I love and am accustomed to. Further, adding that variety to my palate opened the door to new desserts I did not have just a few months ago.

While the analogy of cherries may seem trivial, think about all the applications of this story. Is there a recurring theme in your life that you've been resisting or ignoring? Have you been nudged by those around you to explore something or try something you insist you don't like?

Humble yourself and check it out.
Educate yourself and see what you learn.
Allow your life to be changed by something small.

My cherry transformation was 5 weeks in the making and I'm glad because that is a representation of how I view change overall.  Always remember, the way you do anything is the way you do everything.

Cheers.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Please Call Me When The World Is Normal Again

No, really. Call me when it's ok to come out.

9 black people were murdered in during their bible study by unknown stranger they worshiped with for over an hour in a historically significant church in Charleston, SC.

Fierce debates over flying the Rebel Confederate Flag on government properties.

Walmart, Amazon and other retailer rush to remove Confederate Flag from sales lines.

U.S. Supreme Court upholds legality of Affordable Care Act. Again.

6 other black churches  torched across other Southern U.S. cities in the 10 days following the #CharlestonMassacre.

U.S. Supreme Court paves the way for same-sex marriage recognitions as federal law.

Bipartisan Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement passes almost undetected.

Yeah.

I'm gonna need another few weeks to process all that has taken place in the last 11 days in the United States of America.  In fact, I'm actually gonna take the rest of the summer "off." Well, not off from work or the major transition my family is embarking on in the next 39 days, but off from news and current events.

There is only so much an activist, Type A, do something gal like me can take. My head is literally spinning at all the information and endless commentary surrounding each and every topic listed above. My normal "to read" least is bursting at the seams and appears to be growing daily, yet my time to get to all that reading done seems to be shrinking.

A growing, thriving business to drive.

Public service in way of elected and appointed offices.

A weary marriage season.

Two amazing young people to shield from chaotic world and scary personal terrain.

An aching body and tired mind to keep sharp for all those things simply cannot process another world or current event in U.S. popular culture.

Uncle.

Please call me when the world in normal again.

Yeah, pretty sure my phone will never ring.

So, instead, I am implementing new rules for the remainder of this summer (or at least the next 8 weeks until Barreto kids go back to school). Only critical reading that will serve me, my family or my clients. Frequent walks in between all the hustle and bustle of my life. More time offline daily (haven't figured this one out yet but setting the intention and putting it into the Universe gives me a shot at reaching it.) More hugs. More conversations versus texts.

I feel better already having laid that out. I'd love to hear how others are coping this summer. Leave your thoughts below.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The One Thing That Burns Me Most About #RachelDolezal

Rachel Dolezal recently and a growing up
There are so many themes and story lines that have passed through my mind since the Rachel Dolezal controversy broke last week.

Lying.

Deception by omission.

Appropriation.

Mental illness.

Confusion.

Hurt.

Anger.

But the one that scorches me the most is the fact that Ms. Dolezal's charade erases me.

Yes, the fact that Rachel Dolezal assumed the "life" of a Black American woman and "profited" from opportunities to use a platform to tell the her "story" erases mine - the actual Black American woman.

This is particularly hard for me to process as I have really been intentional the last year or so to bust the popular and accepted American narrative of the Black Women in America. You may or may not recall that I have been honored by two different Chicago suburban media companies in the last year for my contributions to business and my community. At both award ceremonies, I specifically spoke about the honor to be recognized with other talented women and how excited I was to get the chance to share my story as I did not see many stories like mine told growing up or into my early career life. I also challenged both homogenous audiences to lift up stories that were different than their own. I asked them to reflect on ways to make sure all American stories get told. In both cases, I touched a nerve and incited less than positive responses from people in the audience who could not resist the chance to challenge my point of view.

At the event last November, one woman, a fellow entrepreneur no less, took the liberty to point out to me that the lack of storytelling affected "all women." When I asserted that I understood that but that that America is particularly egregious in not telling the stories of women of color, she bristled and again, tried to correct me, in front of my child. Really? I stood firm in my position and politely brushed her off to speak to a true well wisher.

In May, a well suited man from my county asked me after my speech to give him - in 25 words or less an "example" of what I meant by it "being difficult to be different in McHenry County." When I did in less than 10 words, he challenged me with, "well that has not been my experience," to which I replied - "they were asking me about mine, sorry you can't see your story in my story, sir." He forced a smile and congratulated me on the award "anyhow." He literally said that.

Erasure is something Black American women face daily. We must battle just to exist because our very existence is unwelcome to many. Further, when we have the chance to get recognized for something and even more courage to tell our communities how we really feel, it is overwhelmingly well received because it is new and fresh story. For both those people who tried to erase me at the very ceremony created to honor me, there were dozens of people who applauded my bold declaration. Private messages and a line of people at both events thanked me again and again for telling my story but also thanked me for the reminder to them to make space for different stories in the Great American Narrative.

I don't begrudge Ms. Dolezal's positions or activism. It is welcome. But we need White women allies in the arena with us - not replacing us. We need the Rachel Dolezal's of the America to be fully who they are lifting our true stories to the forefront and not tainting them with fabrications. I applaud her trying to change the narrative for Black women in America but I rebuke her method of doing so.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

You'd Better Believe. Starting Now.


Pretty much all I've been doing the last 30, 90 or 253 days is centered around the seven letter word in the title of this post.

Dictionary.com defines believe like this: to have confidence in the truth, the existence, or the reliability of something, although without absolute proof that one is right in doing so.

Wow. 

That's been my life and I'd encourage you all to go there some day.

Go to that place where you actually allow yourself to "believe."

Believe your life can be what you want it to be.

Believe that your relationship "is what it is" and is time for you to let it go.

Believe that you can provide for your family doing what you love.

Believe you can turn a thought into a reality.

Believe there are people around you who care and want to help you.

Believe that "long shot" can be a sure shot if you just take action. 

Believe in yourself.

Believe in the good of others.

Believe people who act like they don't care


I could go on and on and on but I won't.


What I need for each of you in earshot to do is take this advice from me... whatever it is before you that seems impossible - go for it. 

Believe in yourself. Believe in the universe, or higher being (for me this is Jesus - but NO JUDGEMENT HERE - believe in something bigger than you because there is - know that). Believe in that tiny possibility.

The second you step out in belief, the universe will conspire to make it happen.

It's happening for me now and it can happen for you.

Peace.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Why I Chose "Love" This Mother's Day

Gift to Women at Willowcreek Church for Mom's Day
In celebration of women on Mother's Day 2015 at Willowcreek Community Church, all women were gifted with a pendant on a chain that had one of the following words: Hope, Grace, Love and Courage.

Sitting with my daughter in service, we almost immediately agreed that I should choose "Hope." After all, I have been the steady rock in our family over the last 9 months during an incredibly difficult storm that is only starting to subside.

Then, I drifted off again during service, thinking I might choose "Grace." I certainly understand and walk in a huge amount of grace with God and those who live with me. Plus my understanding of God's amazing grace has allowed me to extend grace abundantly in my life over the last 8 years or so.

I never thought about choosing "Courage" as it is emblazoned across my forehead and most folks who know and interact with me would call me brave, courageous, bold and all the negative nomenclature that remotely relates to courage.  I have a bracelet that says "Fierce" and I barely wear it anymore as people really don't need the visual cue - it's pretty apparent almost instantly.

That left "Love" as my only choice. My first inclination was to resist. Love is cheesy. I love, I reasoned sarcastically internally. But really the more I thought about it, my tough character is in a season where it desperately needs love.

To love and feel loved.

It is very easy and intuitive for me to "get stuff done." I can shut out feeling anything for days on end especially when there are clear needs and things that need to be done. Courage is second nature and almost as deeply engrained in my DNA as Hope. Hope is my fuel. And as I referenced last week, even a sliver of hope can be instrumental in pushing me forward sometimes to my own detriment. On a brain and heart level, I get Grace especially the  undeserved, abundantly flowing and unrequited kind. Grace was not easy but it was innate in my personality especially since I got married and became a mom. But love eludes me.

Just writing that sentence brought burning tears and a frozen tense state of being. I love. I love my husband, my kids, my BFF and hosts of other people but I struggle to feel love and be loved from others  - all those people included.

Let me be clear, it's not about stuff or cards or gifts or even time together. For me, love is about actions, behaviors and attitudes that display what someone means to you, consistently. Key word being consistent. It's why I struggle with holidays. Why do most people need external prompts to show our appreciation? Love is year round, day in and day out. And even if I struggle to express love to those around me, I don't believe I struggle in demonstrating it. I mostly struggle to see the love of others toward me and I know it's my own lens of love blocking it. Love is a very negative trigger for me and it feels un-American and certainly unmotherly to feel this way. All moms love "love," right?

So when the Teaching Pastor closed the service reminding us to choose  our pendant wisely and remember that part of the idea behind the gift was to select something that speaks to you now, precisely in the season you're in but that you will be on the look out for it as a need in others so that you may one day "pass it on."

That's why I chose "Love". I aspire to generously and courageously love and receive love in my life from the people I do my life with.  It's scary to think that I have courage, hope and grace so firmly figured out without love.  In fact, it makes me know that when I get a better grasp on love, all those other things will manifest in an even greater form in my being.

I am excited to turn some energy to "love" and see what I can do to soften the trigger reactions to it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

2 Ways Forward When You Feel Stuck "Trying"



Late last year, with the help of one of my coaches, I learned that I had a big problem taking and owning responsibility for stuff that was not mine to own. 9 months later, even with that awareness, I still find myself struggling to only own stuff that is mine. In my yoga practice lately, that has been my biggest "intention," let go of stuff that is not mine. This past weekend, a conversation with my 13 year old made it crystal clear why I've struggled and gave me a pathway for freedom. Her simple assessment of a situation gave me two clear paths forward for the next time I get stuck.

Recognize Your True Contribution

Often times we inflate our importance to a circumstance or situation. When we stop to look at our true placement in a particular situation, we can see that even when we are an integral part of something, we truly are only a part of it - not the whole. We can never be the whole when we are part and understanding that helps us set boundaries for what we can and cannot do. My daughter clearly articulated that seeing and understanding our place in a situation enables us to make a good call on how much energy we should invest in changing that situation.

Know When To Say When

As the consummate overachiever in all areas of life, giving up and knowing when to give up is one of my biggest blind spots. Having had the opportunity to grind out victory over victory for most of my life has skewed my judgement on "when to say when." As much as recognizing my true contribution to a circumstance is key, so is understanding when my efforts are having diminishing returns. People like me take hope from even the slightest progress and sometimes that is ok. But most often, it is not and my 13 year old clued me into that revelation. In some situations, you need big progress, not small progress. And the reality is sometimes we fool ourselves into seeing progress when there really is none and it's truly time to move on.

What an amazing burden lifted from me to learn these truths and even more rewarding to learn them from my offspring. I must be doing something right.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Stop Telling Yourself That - It's a Lie!

Do you have a good grasp of the "facts" of your life versus the "myths?"
A recurring theme has risen in my interactions over the past few months. When I've been in both personal and professional discussions, the idea of knowing your story versus your circumstance has been popping up again and again. Whether it was directly pertaining to me or the person I was speaking with, it is clear that we all need to be reminded about the facts of who we are versus the things we tell ourselves.

During this current season of my life that has been both a mixture of deep despair and triumphant joy, I have had to re-examine the facts about myself versus my own or society adopted fiction. Knowing and fully embracing my true story is what propels me during the tough times. And of course, it's during tough times that we have fight off the myths that keep us from realizing who we truly are. Here are two pieces of advice to help you distinguish lies from truths.

Spot and Name the Pattern of Good in Your Life

What is the pattern of good that keeps surfacing in your life? Can you readily name it? If not, carve time out of your day TODAY to recall good in your life over the years. Was it your support of others? Was it your network's support of you? Do you bounce rather than splat under pressure? Are you the source of great ideas in a pinch? Would someone say your words are "lifesavers?" There are so many possibilities for this. Take some time to reflect on your life. If not your whole life - how about the last 5 years? 10 years? Look for and annotate times you were proud of yourself. Think about and record specific incidents where you felt good. What was happening? Who were you with? When you can spot and name the pattern of good in your life, you can summon it when circumstances tell you otherwise. Your consistent patterns of good are your true life story, not the situation you currently face. Knowing and recalling the good serves you when what's around you is not so good. Make it a habit to know and retell the good in your life.

Know the Difference Between Circumstantial Evidence and True Evidence

Wikipedia defines  Circumstantial evidence as  evidence that relies on an inference to connect it to a conclusion of fact—like a fingerprint at the scene of a crime. By contrast, direct evidence supports the truth of an assertion directly—i.e., without need for any additional evidence or inference. Clearly, this analogy applies to criminal or civil case law but look at how this applies to the topic we are unpacking. As you reflect on your life, you may see a pattern of circumstances that have led you to believe certain lies about yourself. And in the self-fulfilling prophecy, you have adopted the lies as truth when in fact, they are only true in certain contexts.  Take time to realize what circumstances are harmful and take steps to remove them. Remove yourself from the contexts that feed your lies and immerse yourself in contexts that feed your truths. This could be situations or even people patterns but you owe it to yourself to hold on to what is actually true versus things that occur in a certain set of circumstances.

Once you've reconnected with your true story and start to repel your myths, you will see an immediate difference in the results you get as you face your circumstances. No, your circumstances won't magically be more bearable. They may even get worse. But your ability to manage through those circumstances will soar and you will feel more peace and security. When grounded in our truths, there little that can shake us.

#2015Unshakable


Monday, April 13, 2015

Chance Meeting, Lifetime Impact: Tribute to Dr. Levi Watkins

Have you ever had the experience of meeting someone that seemed so normal and routine at the time only to realize it had a profound impact on your life later?

That was me this past Saturday as I leisurely scrolled through my Facebook feed to learn that someone really special was no longer walking among us. Immediately, upon reading the news of the passing of cardiology pioneer Dr. Levi Watkins in Baltimore last Friday, I was struck with a deep sense of loss. It almost felt like my mind was playing tricks on me. Geez. I'd only met him one time. And last Fall had made a new friend who worked near him at Johns Hopkins Hopsital who had passed a message to him for me. It is a very volatile time in my life, I started to say in my mind as I tried to calm myself in the moment. But reading the very personal and poignant tribute to Dr. Watkins from his brother, Daniel Watkins really made the tears flow.

I'd had a chance meeting with greatness.

I'd shared wine with one of the finest doctors who ever lived.

I was encouraged to BE ME and keep moving forward with BOLDNESS by a living legend.

And I had no idea.

I have never forgotten that late Spring afternoon meeting at the Chesapeake Bay Wine Company in 2007. I was in the area to meet a friend of Dr. Watkins, who was a client partner of the company I worked for at the time. This partner was one of our company's toughest customers and if I'm honest, most every one in our home office was deathly afraid of him. He was gruff. He was flippant. He was witty and cold. And a trip to DC/Maryland to see him was always dreaded, until that day.

I was not afraid at all.  I went to the meeting prepared. He immediately informed me that the allotted time he agreed to before I arrived was no longer possible. In his stiff, Southern drawl, he encouraged me to "brang my best, in much less (time)."

I did. I presented data and offered my humble opinion on what they could do better to up their marketing game. He challenged me hard and I stood firm. Before I knew it, I actually did get the full amount of time with him as he previously agreed. He even offered to take me to lunch and asked if I'd ever had Maryland Crab Chowder. "My favorite dish", I replied and he proceeded to treat me to one of the best bowls of chowder I've ever had a dive location near Beltsville, MD. As we entered his huge truck, I asked him where he's from because he certainly doesn't sound like he's from Maryland.

"Alabama", he replies proudly and I finally have a personal connection to Stan. "My dad is from Alabama", I offer to which he quickly responds, "knew you had 'Bama blood in you." From that moment on, our conversation changed and was rich. We talked Alabama and business, we talked about our families and our dreams.

Back at his office (now I'm in OVERTIME), he invites me on his boat that evening proceeds to write me handwritten directions to Chesapeake Bay. He adds, almost as an after thought, that he has someone he wants me to meet. "Another Alabama great", he said. I agreed.

Dr. Watkins came into the Chesapeake Wine Company right on time to meet Stan and I and Stan introduced me. I don't remember his exact introduction but it was peppered with compliments about me, my courage and expertise at what I do. Dr. Watkins congratulated me, confirming that Stan is never generous with praise. Our 45 mins were lively and full of talk about Alabama, courage and other things I scarcely remember but I do remember what Dr. Watkins said when we stood to part. He specifically said he enjoyed meeting "young folk" like me, "self assured and confidently taking on the world." His last words to me were, "don't ever change - no matter how hard it gets or who you face, the world needs you just the way you are".

We hugged and I went on my boat ride with Stan. Over the years, since that meeting, I've often thought about that conversation and it rang in my head in late 2011 as I boldly left my corporate job to do Relationships Matter Now full-time.

Saturday when I heard Dr. Watkins had died and began to read about the outspoken civil rights and medical genius he truly was, it occurred to me that our chance conversation was one of the first mustard seeds of my entrepreneurial journey.  I was pushed to my life's work by someone who was doing his. I was acknowledged and validated as a great mind in my field before I knew it myself by someone accustomed to greatness and achievement.

Thank you Dr. Levi Watkins for your amazing life. And especially thank you for seeing more in me than I even saw in myself that day.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Action Trumps Everything




"A real decision is measured by the fact that you've take a new action. If there is no new action you haven't truly decided." - Ruby Gettinger

A few weeks ago, I saw that quote somewhere when I was traveling and I took a moment to record it on a post-it note and shoved it in my purse.

Low and behold, last week, I was confronted with taking action in a situation that has long yearned for me to act. Have you ever been there?

You know you must act.

You even have an inkling to what action must take place.

You also understand the consequences your action may have on others around you.

Yet, you do nothing.

That's where I was last week, in a tumultuous time where every possible stressful situation a family can face was staring me down and the circumstance that I'd been avoiding taking action on finally could no longer be avoided.

So I moved.

And INSTANTLY, I felt relief. Not the relief I'd felt the night before at hot yoga class - the very good (very guided and ) temporary release of tension but a true and definite release of all body tension. I'm happy to report that every day since my action, I have felt better, physically and emotionally. Even as I write this post, the uncertainty of the full consequences of my action is still very real but the tension and anxiety is gone.

We owe it to ourselves to act.

Act on faith.

Act on the confidence of your own convictions.

Act for peace of mind and spirit.

Act knowing that nothing changes until you do.

Two days into my new action, I stumbled across the post-it with the aforementioned quote written on it and I smiled. Little did I know a few weeks ago, I was sending myself a message of confirmation into the future. Reading that quote again, validated that change I desired was coming my way simply because I took action. 

Action does indeed trump everything.

Monday, March 30, 2015

In Like A Lion: What To Do When Life Roars Ferociously

Gorgeous lions living "outside my door" in Chicagoland
March came in like a lion and and is leaving just the same. From the extreme high of launching my second non-fiction book at the 27th Annual Forum on Workplace Inclusion to the extreme low of watching my 9 year old swell up unrecognizably in an allergic reaction that was resisting meds in the  ER over the weekend, this March has roared ferociously from start to finish. And honestly, I'm looking forward to a new month later this week.

Each week of March was full of activity, not all activity immediately "productive," the worst kind of activity for an enterprise like mine. Personal and professional ups and downs. So much so that time to post in this venue never arrived until now. I never stopped creating but my consistent creating here was horribly interrupted. What do you do when life roars as a lion directly in your face for consecutive days, weeks, months as it has for me the last seven months? These three actions kept and keep me going.

Know You Are Your Story, Not Your Circumstances

I am in a shitty season of life right now. No way around it. There are so many very good things going on for me and my family but there are also some really rough things we are working through at the same time. And it is not easy. However, I know my story. My story of triumph over tragedy. My story of character in the face of disgrace. My story of doing what's right regardless the cost. I also know my family's story and it is very similar to my personal one. We have experienced tough times before. We have seen plenty and scarcity. We know and experience joy and love. We are supportive of others and have received support. We have fun in spite of what we "see." We focus on what's important and let go of what's not. Knowing our story has helped us not focus on the circumstances we are currently facing. We are bigger than what's going on right now - good or bad. Our ability to "be" during trying times are what make us who we are - not what is happening around us.

Remember, Life Is Seasonal

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven. - Ecclesiastes 3:1 NLT

When life is good, I often forget to enjoy it fully because I just keep pushing. I have made it an intention to focus and enjoy life more in the last 18 months or so and I am glad. For fully enjoying life when it is good helps bolster you when it is challenging. Savoring life's blessings big and small gives you good practice when facing rough waters. The ability to see it all as fleeting and seasonal is wonderful perspective that builds resilience. Resilience makes storms appear as the temporal challenges they really are. Keeping a seasonal outlook to life is good business.

Share Your Heartache

Perhaps the most challenging for people like me (and I imagine many others) is opening up about your pain. One human reaction to pain is resistance and another is shame. We hate being in pain and will often deny it but even worse is our tendency to hide it from those with whom we share our lives. Thankfully, the last two years have seen me sharing my pain and letting others assist me in carrying  the burden. This one action has trumped the other two because it gets me outside my own head. It allows for added perspective on my trouble and enables others to help me with solutions. Further, people want to help. We deny them the opportunity when we hold our challenges in secret. Allowing others to share your heartache breaks your heartache into smaller parts and thus makes it easier to endure.

So, while I am looking forward to a new month that will hopefully give way to a new season, I am prepared either way.