Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Living Proof The Myth of Mixing Can Be Real

black white faces credit Alexander Khokhlov 2013

It's been a very interesting time in American History over the last few weeks. The hurt, pain and  tensions have finally spilled from the hearts and minds of Black people into the daily consciousness of the rest of the country.  It's about time we have a frank discussion about America's ugly relationship with race.

This is particularly hard for me since I'm one of the "those" people. You know the ones, the ones who dared to dream and build a life based on what we all preach - the myth. The Black myth told in both Black families and across White America every day.

"If you get an education..."

"If you get married and have your kids with a husband..."

"If you are good at what you do..."

"If you stay out of trouble..."

Those are the ones we hear most often in our homes and it's not wonder. That's what white people told us after 300 years of legalized terror on blacks 50 years ago. We continue to say that today. Tune in to any news station and I did for the sake of this post for the first time in months. I heard no less than 10 commentators (in all hues mind you) on 6 channels in a three hour period speak to all the things Black people can "do" to make their lives better in America. I'd even trump you one to add to the Black myth - the myth of mixing. You know, branching out beyond what you know and extending yourself to learn about, live and build life with people different than you. We learn early to stick with what we know and those of us who branch out are often "rewarded" with slightly different experiences than the rest.  Learning to push through being the "only" certainly has it benefits but you have to know full story before you go spurting soundbites and solutions to our very real racial issues here in the US.

And while I would not change ANYTHING I've done over the last 29 years (high school and beyond), I would like to point out the three things no one warns you about the myth of mixing.


This is the very pointed and consistent criticism you receive from Black people in your life for living life fully with people from other groups. It comes in the form of "revoking your Black card" for minor offenses that an unknown entity enforcing "blackness" deems not "Black enough". You also see it  family (or other black friends) excuses for not visiting you in your suburban community because there are "not any Black people there," which is odd since I'm inviting you to my house, and I'm Black. It's also the unsolicited advice from the only other Black woman at the business conference you attend who offers to help you find someone to "do your hair" as she looks at your afro. Blacklash is swift and cutting and a constant reminder that your choice to mix is not really appreciated. You learn to maneuver around Blacklash but often times just ignore it for the sake of the relationship or it can destroy the relationship all together.


Whitesplaining is a fascinating phenomenon that comes in two flavors - whitesplaining Black folks to your White friends and whitesplaining your White friends to Black people in your world.  With very few exceptions, you are Black America to your White friends. They have not bothered to get to know or keep up with many of the Black people who have come through their lives so you, by proximity have become their official spokesperson. If there is a decent mutual relationship there, they will be somewhat sensitive to the position they put you in constantly when things happen in pop culture or the news by starting their inquiry with, "I know you don't know all Black people but..." The other form of whitesplaining to your Black friends and family can be just as awkward. This form most often appears in the backhanded slight of "I'm sure you don't remember anymore but this is how we..." assuming because you live in a mixed environment you have no concept whatever they are about to say. It also flares up after events where you have had the audacity to co-mingle your life in the form of questions about every thing your White friend said or did at the event, most of which you don't remember or even noticed. Although it's exhausting, whitesplaining is par for the course for folks who intentionally cultivate a multicultural life.


When tension flare in the country as they periodically do (think Rodney King, OJ Trial, Tawana Brawley and the recent rash of deaths of unarmed Black and brown people at the hands of police), you find yourself alone in your thoughts. Now, let's be clear - I have an amazing group of people around me - Black, White, young, old, Christian, Jewish, Mexican, I think you get it - supporting me and walking me through this very difficult season. I have no issue reaching out and inviting my crew to talk, cry, reflect and debate what's going on because I know that any one of the people I'm referring to would do anything for me or my family. They have not remained silent as the country has erupted in this very painful discussion.  But my crew is literally all across the United States and all over the world on different time zones so there are many times that I am alone. I don't have nearly as much time as I need to digest and dissect all that is happening and what my feelings are about it with someone I love and trust.  And nearby, I have very few resources in the flesh to do this. Fortunately, this is not as big or consistent as the aforementioned issues but when it occurs, it can wipe away all joy and creativity under its weight.

Even with Blacklash, Whitesplaining and the occasional overwhelming loneliness of mixing, I would not change my life one bit. That one decision I made in 8th grade when I transferred from a predominantly Black junior high in Harvey, IL to a very mixed - Black, White (mostly Italian) and mostly Mexican (with a few sprinkles of Puerto Ricans) - junior high in Chicago Heights has paid off in dividends. The decision to walk into the unknown and befriend and build relationship with people who did not look like me. To resist the pressure to conform to any one narrative and go on to do so many great and courageous things from high school all the way to being the first Black person elected to a small village board in McHenry County in 2009. We all need to mix and extend ourselves beyond what is comfortable.

It's worth it.

All the aggravation, frustration and education of people on all sides (yeah - when you mix, it is not just Black and White - don't get me started on Mexicans, Indians and all other races and ethnicities  who also come to "mixers" like me for perspective) is worth it.  Every moment is worth it and it is truly the only way that races in America will be reconciled to each other. There is no legislation that will fix what has happened over the last 350 years. Can we do better? You bet and if you know me, you know I'm already working on it. But the way we change hearts and minds in this country will not happen in a statehouse - it happens in each of our homes.

One relationship at a time. I've been doing my part for 29 years.

Where are you?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Be Intentional With Your Life Soundtrack

Stevie Wonder in his "second home" Chicago - credit E. Jason Wambsgans
Ever think that what you hear, intentionally or unintentionally, impacts you greatly? I'm pretty sure I understand that what we "take in" - in any form, shapes who we are and how we see the world.  I'd like to specifically tackle music for a few moments.

Seeing Stevie Wonder on his "Songs In the Key of Life" Tour stop in Chicago drove home a few very important points about the impact of music in our lives. While I have been very intentional with what music my family and I listen to, I am convinced that that is an exercise we all should practice. Listening to Stevie for 3 plus hours reminded me of my childhood and the impact his music had and continues to have on me as an individual.

Songs in the Key of Life was playing in the background for much of my childhood years. Released in the fall of 1976, this critically acclaimed album really became the soundtrack of not just my childhood but really my entire life. Track by track, I've listened to throughout my years, each having different significance at different eras.

Some of these songs swept me back to simpler times, when I as 6 or 7 years old and my extended family congregated on weekends in the basement of one of my uncles homes on Chicago's south side. Just hearing the opening bars to Sir Duke send a chill up my spine and makes me physically smell smoke - all bringing good memories of "get togethers" and lots of talking, laughing and eating with my dad's side of the family. I can see my dad and at least 5 of his 8 brothers playing cards around a table across from the bar.

Other songs empowered me to get involved in politics early in my 20s while living on Chicago's north side. They served as a reminder from where I'd come to where I'd had the opportunity to go. Battling the contrasts of what I saw - always from a distance - growing up to what I was experiencing as a new young adult emboldened me to speak up and stand up for those whose voices were often not heard in the greater narrative of our country's story.

Yet others gave me hope for love.  Love that was true, lasting and real and thanks to Steve's pen - attainable to me. From his loving tribute to his first born to his excruciating descriptions of love lost or worth fighting for, love became something I wanted and something I already had. Songs inspired me to love myself above all else as a vehicle for experiencing love with others.

I am certain that because of this album, I have been very intentional about what music I listen to, even in the background. Words, rhythms, beats and harmonies seep into our souls. We have a responsibility to be intentional about every one we allow in.

Thank you, Stevie for the reminder.

Monday, November 10, 2014

3 Drivers That Hold #TeamBarreto Together

Portrait of a good team - #TeamBarreto established 2000

Over dinner this past weekend, the entire Barreto clan was reduced to tears of laughter several times simply because my husband and I feigned like we were smearing hot fudge on our bodies in the middle of a Red Robin restaurant. It was down right hilarious and even as I write about it now, I cannot stop smiling. I also cannot stop thinking about the fact that it's been fourteen years since we formed #TeamBarreto and I am so excited we are still going strong.

Fourteen years of marriage is a coup for both me and my husband. I did not see many successful marriages in my life as I grew up. There are a few in my family but those couples lived far from us and so I did not see the "ins and outs" of how they did it. On my husband's side, there were none. He always tells me he never saw or even knew anyone with a decent marriage as he grew up or in adulthood. We have come to know that our union is a blessing and there are few key drivers that make #TeamBarreto work.

#TeamBarreto Laughs.

One of the most important attributes of #TeamBarreto is our ability to laugh. We laugh a lot; as a couple, as a family and individually. We are all very light-hearted and goofy by nature and I believe it is one of the most valuable traits that keeps our team going. Even during the most difficult times over these past 14 years, this clan ALWAYS finds a reason to laugh.  Laughing is an Olympic event in our house. We compete to see who can make the others laugh more. And when one of us in down, we get down with them and find a way to bring a smile through tears. There are inside jokes and goofy nicknames for bodily functions. We have eye contact codes and even our own language. Laughing is our medicine and we keep the cabinet stocked.

#TeamBarreto Lives Within Their Means

To an outsider, it may seem like we Barretos "live it up." Hotel stays in the city, memberships to city museums and the many travel adventures would lead someone to think we spend lots and lots of money. We do but we also sacrifice and forgo many, many other things. If you've ever been fortunate enough to be invited in our house, you've seen our hodgepodge of garage sale and second-hand store furniture.  If you've ever complimented me on something I'm wearing, you've heard how I got the $399 BCBG brand new sequin skirt for $24 from the second hand store in Wicker Park or how I scoured the clearance rack at Nordstrom Rack to get the yoga outfit for under $10.  We Barretos live within our means. We shop clearance. We Netflix more than we see 1st run movies. We eat out every two weeks versus every week. We have a budget and every one knows how it works and what priorities are on it. In the time since I started my business, we've even lived below our means, just to be safe.

#TeamBarreto Honors Their Values

Our team works well because we have aligned ourselves around our values. Be it "kindness rules," "find the fun," "travel always" or "try something new",  #TeamBarreto honors its values in our daily lives. For example, we love to travel. We have always loved to travel and even in the transition from my large corporate salary to building my company, we kept our travel desires alive. We had to make sacrifices to ensure that our value of "travel always" remained even as it was slightly more difficult to execute. Day-to-day, we take deep breaths as we interact keeping in mind our "kindness rules" value. Rarely, do you hear screaming in our house and you certainly don't hear disparaging name calling or negative talk spewing at one another. We all agreed that we want to honor our differences another way - no negative talk toward each other.  We also make it a point to find the fun in all situations. Recently, we were faced with an extremely trying few weeks and it was awesome to see every member of the family "finding the fun" in our hardship.

While there are no guarantees in life and I cannot say for certain that nothing will happen to our team, I do know this - we are a solid team because of the aforementioned attributes. We have made it this far by holding on to those traits and buoying each other through the storms that life has pushed our way. We will surely have a shot at 14 more years and beyond because we know and honor what got us to this point.

What holds your team together?

Monday, November 3, 2014

Faith + Preparation = Success

7th generation daredevil, Nik Wallenda set two Guinness World Records last night in the skies of my favorite city on the planet. Viewership and social engagement stats are still coming in overnight but it is safe to say that #SkyscraperLive and #NikWallenda were the hottest trending topics in the last 24 hours. Alongside the stunt and all the hype was the topic of his faith in God, Pastor Joel Osteen and the pre-event prayer. Lots of chatter last night and this morning on TV & radio about Nik's faith in God and his conversation with God as he executed his stunt live on The Discovery Channel for the world to see.

As a person of faith, I love Nik Wallenda's display but not for the reasons you think. Yes, God has given him a talent and a platform on which to exhibit his faith. God was absolutely instrumental in the success of Nik's world record attempt. But here is the nuance that I believe many miss, even those who profess deep faith:

Nik's faith was strong and secure because he was prepared.

Over and over in the last 24 hours, I've heard Nik Wallenda say that he'd practiced, trained, studied and readied himself for this opportunity. He was at peace as he walked on that wire because he knew he was ready.

How often in life are you READY for the opportunity when it presents itself?

As an entrepreneur, this hit me over and over in head witnessing this worldwide, death defying spectacle. That is what I strive for every day when I wake up. Am I prepared for an opportunity that may come my way? Have I studied? How much training must I do today to be prepared tomorrow? What skills need to be sharpened to get me closer to my goal?

My faith in God is tremendous. I acknowledge (and am eternally grateful for) the way He has blessed me with my very unique talent set and personality traits that set me apart from my competition. But it is not my faith in God alone that makes me win each day. I get up each day walking toward those blessings and the opportunity to exercise those talents He bestowed upon me. I am not waiting for the phone to ring, I am making it ring with every ounce of planning,  preparation and honing of my skills and abilities. Just as Nik Wallenda was not banking on his family history of high wire walking or that God was going to miraculously walk with him across the wire, we all must take hold of the calling we have in life.

Paul wrote in 2 Thessalonians:1:11 (New Living Translation)

So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do.

It is clear that there is effort expected on your part in that verse. God "enables" you to live a life worthy of His call by giving you talents, abilities, skills and desires to execute against. He give us the power to "accomplish" those through discipline and preparation.

Today, I am fired up again to continue my walk toward changing the world, one relationship at a time. 

Thanks Nik Wallenda for the reminder.

Monday, October 27, 2014

What A White Guy Taught Me About The Future Of Inclusion

A few weeks ago, I saw something you rarely see in public.

A white male expressing his feelings of marginalization.

No, this was not related to race or economics what so ever. Rather, it was a long-time resident of a community expressing how much of an outsider one can be made to feel in that community with a rich heritage and tradition toward one particular group.

It was fascinating to me as a black woman in America listening to him explain minor instances of bias and slighted feelings he'd experienced as a member of this community. He concluded with a very convincing argument on why a more inclusive environment was needed and how he wanted to be part of the solution. He even challenged others in the room to join him. Further, it was more intriguing to watch his reaction as his peers marveled at his observations and bristled at his thoughts. That did not sit well with him, at all.

"I hear what you are saying, but I am telling you what I have seen and experienced first hand," were his exact words when questioned and pushed on his assertion that the community was not very inclusive.

As a facilitator of the discussion, I reeled it back in and guided the touchy moment to conclusion. However, it is swirled in my mind over and over again since that moment.

That is THE experience of women, minorities, people with disabilities and members of the LGBT community most every day of our lives in the United States of America. This ongoing discussion in our country on race, poverty, bias and discrimination is one that everyone has a vested interest in.  Especially white guys. And here's why:

That fear that we hear from the Tea Party and all those folks on Fox News about "taking our country" back is embedded in the thought that we (minorities) will somehow return the exclusive and biased behaviors we have faced for centuries. People are afraid that when we are the majority we will act toward them as they have acted  - passively and actively - toward us.

Let's be real.

Much like that man I heard speaking the other week about inclusiveness and equity in storytelling from his "marginalized" view, the minorities in our country feel the exact same way. We won't have time for revenge when our country gets its act together and brings us to the table in a meaningful way.

We, like the gentleman in my story, will be looking for ways to better contribute to a society that wants and appreciates our contributions. And also, like that man, we will move forward in this new reality that we helped bring about. Too many times a week, I hear people tell minorities, women or fill-in-the-blank-marginalized-group-in-America to "get over it," or "move on."

Well I'm here to tell you we won't. Just like the man in my story. You see, until he had a chance to express himself and get acknowledgment to what he was saying, it was going to be very difficult for him to see himself as part of the solution. Those "oppressors" (read long time community members who before he pointed it out - did not even KNOW there was a problem) in the room had to look him in the eye and agree or disagree - acknowledge that what he felt was real and needed to be addressed before he was going to "move on" from his hurt and feelings of being disenfranchised. He was not accusing anyone of that marginalization, just stating that it existed and needed to be addressed.

That is where we a nation need to start. Conversations. Discussions. Open dialogue about this crazy cycle we are in with each other. There are signs of hope. Lots of pockets of the country are beginning to have frank discussions about racism as an institution versus racist people. But more is needed. 

I am looking forward to the progress I know this community group will make because they had that tough discussion.

I'm also looking forward to the day we as a nation collectively have the same discussion.

Monday, October 20, 2014

No Online Scrapbooks For Me, Ever

My scrapbooking process could never be replaced
For the first time since December 2010 before I had my right arm surgically repaired for radial nerve damage, I sat down to create a scrapbook. It was a daunting task that I'd started preparing for since late spring.

Once I decided this was going to be the weekend to crank out a book, it was on. During my initial layout process, I was quickly overwhelmed at how much work, time and effort goes into these lovely masterpieces. My oldest has 7 of these to my baby's 3. And he cherishes the ones he has looking at them at least once per month. My intention is to finish two for him and catch both kids up to the calendar year 2010 and I'm on 2008 now. I'd even posted on social media that I'd only "catch-up" the old fashioned way until 2010 after which I'd buy the more efficient online versions of my scrapbooks.

Yet, once I started my creative process, saw the gorgeous photos of my sweet little boy and all the colors, stickers and markers - I ate those blasphemous words. I'll NEVER substitute my masterpieces for an online scrapbook and here's the reason why:

I love putting these books together.

These books represent much more than the pictures, scraps of paper and shells that hold them. Every loving moment I spend cropping pictures, reliving the moments I'm immortalizing - I am closer to my family. The process itself puts me in a state of gratitude that is rarely replicated with any other activity in my life. I only discovered that after NOT doing it for almost 4 years.  It really got me to thinking about how we replace things that are essential to our growth with lower value alternatives. I also love that for a fleeting moment, I thought I could replace this treasured process with a quick online substitute.

Thank goodness I cannot.

And while the process is much longer now with the urge to document it in social media, a nosy dachshund walking all over my materials and curious kids asking questions and giving input to photo selection, I would not ever change it.  My goal to get one book done this weekend looked more like 4 of 12 pages completed. I am completely overwhelmed at the thought of "catching up" and have no idea how, when I'll do it, but I know that I will complete my good old fashioned scrapbooks in due time.

No Shutterfly short cut will do.

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Power of The Surrender

The white flag is not so bad in many situations
As a person who does not shrink from conflict nor passes up a fight, my whole psyche around the word surrender was so skewed.

Surrender was not a part of my vocabulary. The very thought of surrender takes me back to my childhood days of watching Tom and Jerry cartoons when after 10 straight minutes of abuse, Tom would wave that flag from around some corner signifying he was "done." Jerry had won. 

That imagery was my only frame of reference for the word surrender until a few years ago.  During one of my first Bio Energetic Synchronization Techniques (B. E. S. T.) sessions, I was enlightened to understand surrender a different way.  Looking at dictionary definitions only reinforced my resistance to surrender in the way that is truly healthy and life affirming. Then I found this definition online:

Surrender: To give yourself up to a new emotion or course or influence.

That definition captures beautifully the true power of surrender. For type A, Eneagram Type 8 or ENFJs like myself, it is the only way to look at surrender. Here are two ways I have converted surrender into a powerful life tool for me.

Better Energy Management

Surrendering has enabled me to better manage my energy. Without question, one of my biggest assets as a person is my high powered, influential and positive energy. I get so much done when I direct my energy well.  Over the last 3 years as I learned to surrender outcomes - specifically not being married to the "how" something comes about, I have been able to focus my energy in ways that are too numerous to list. The best area I've learned this has been in my relationships. Surrendering outcomes with people has benefited me the most and enabled me to focus my best energies on being with and enjoying the people I choose to do life and business with daily. Additionally, as a entrepreneur, it has benefited my bottom line. My prospecting and sales process has been transformed. Focusing my energy on what I do best and telling that story well consistently, has fueled my young business's growth. All my new energy management efficiencies can be attributed to my ability to surrender.

Broadened Possibilities 

With my energy free from resistance, I see bigger and better possibilities for almost all situations that come my way. Good or bad. Personal or professional. The power of surrender has enabled me to broaden my perspective on everything in every way. For example, more than a year ago, I made a decision for myself. I shared it with my husband and he was not too keen on it. Instead of focusing energy on convincing him, I gently withdrew the subject from our airspace and focused on my part of the decision. I focused my energy on bringing it about and let go of the specifics. Fast forward to now, not only are we moving in the direction I originally desired, but my entire family including my husband are all excited about the new possibilities that await us. Further, we have not been shaken by the unfortunate set of circumstances that have enabled the change of direction. We can all see how every bit of this transition has purpose for each one of us.  Without releasing my narrow view of surrender, I am certain this would not be possible.

Today, I challenge you to look at ways you may employ surrender - the way I have defined it above - in your life. Are there areas of your work life that need surrendering? Could a personal relationship of yours use some surrendering powers?

Wherever you find yourself running into similar circumstances with familiar results - take a moment to look at ways where you may surrender and take back your energy and broaden the possibilities.

Monday, October 6, 2014

How Well Do You Pivot?

Are you ready for any of the paths that lie before you today?

Over the last month, Relationships Matter Now forged a new stream of work that has been very fulfilling and intriguing. Stemming from a relationship we've been cultivating all summer, we now have entered an area of work that did not exist for us when 2014 began. As exciting and terrifying as it's been, I am so impressed that we were able to take advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself to us. This whole experience got me thinking and inspired me to ask the question of my tribe -

How well do you pivot?

The dictionary definition of pivot did not quite fit exactly the context by which I am using this word but the number one synonym does: turn. How well do you or your business "turn"? In the 4 year history of Relationships Matter Now, we have evolved and grown simply due to our incredible ability to "turn." Here are three things we've done to make that possible.

Have Purpose 

Relationships Matter Now has always had a solid purpose in place - to "change the world, one relationship at a time." I can remember when folks questioned our purpose and I stood firmly in my conviction for my company. While it may be "squishy" to some or seem like a "tag line" - our purpose is real and every decision we make hinges on it paying off that purpose.  When you are crystal clear about why you exist, it is easy to create opportunity for yourself.  Now, please be sure and note that I am speaking about purpose - why you get up every day, why you open the doors of your business and the very thing that motivates you to do what you do. Purpose must be in place as a very first step to being able to pivot.

Develop Clear Repeatable Model

Before late in 2013, the way Relationships Matter Now delivered services was clear but it was not articulated. Because of this lack of articulation, there were times when we deviated from our delivery methodology and it hurt us. Once we captured, documented and branded our delivery model, we saw an immediate boost in our business. Without a clear repeatable model, you are doomed to "recreate" your work each time. This has personal implications as well. Think about the way you make decisions or operate. If you are not consistent, you will find yourself creating extra work each time you encounter a situation - perhaps the same situation you faced before. Having a clear and consistent way of executing saves you time and effort.

Be Ready

Readiness is the most important aspect of being able to pivot toward opportunity. Readiness looks different for different people and businesses. For Relationships Matter Now, we recognize readiness in our ability to apply the previous two items to a new area of work. Does the possible opportunity align with our purpose? Can we see ourselves making an impact quickly? Does our methodology work with this new area? Can we apply our expertise with this audience? After answering most or all of these questions in the affirmative, we immediately go to work building time to brainstorm around the new possibility. Then we quickly decide if it worth pursuing. Readiness also consists of being open to new ways to apply our talents and skills. We are not married to how or where we apply our work, just married to the ability to do it often.

The ability to pivot toward opportunity can be the difference between existing and thriving. Many people and businesses struggle to pivot and thus have difficulty growing and changing in the ways that could benefit them most. We hope you will that the time to discover what it takes to pivot in your life and/or business today.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How Will You Finish 2014?

With exactly 3 months left in 2014, I am already focused on how I will finish this year,  both personally and professionally.

It does not matter that I started this year on a Whole30 diet to clear my mind and break up my unconscious habits.

It doesn't matter that my business is growing at a 300% clip going into a quarter when I grew 900% last year.

It doesn't matter that I cannot go one week without yoga, my newfound relaxation and exercise panacea for all the ill my life.

Nor does it matter that I am 0-8 on every federal contracting opportunity I've bid on.

It doesn't even matter that a personal crisis dropped in our laps on the cusp of the fall threatening to blow up every single plan that was made for this year.

The next quarter is my chance to run across the "finish line" of this year - 2014 - my year of being unencumbered  - with most or all of my goals in the rear view mirror. I've got a little over 90 days to make that happen.

Now that is not going to happen "by chance." Here are the five things I'm doing to finish 2014 well:

1.   Make contact with all the potential business partners I've been cultivating relationship with all year. If I am just reaching out for the first time, chances are they will be a warm enough prospect to impact this year or set me up for work next year. It's the time of year for budgets for 2015 and final projecting for 2014. Small end of the year projects go to those who are asking.

2.  Sit down with each family member and look at what I need to do to ensure we are in sync going into the holidays. Holidays are stressful but they are more stressful when not properly prepared for. I'll make things right with anyone I've wronged so we can have a peaceful and fun holiday season.

3.  Do a gut check with all my current clients. Set up meetings to gage their satisfaction and these will be in continuation to all the efforts I've made all year. Many of my on-going partnerships have already expressed intentions of continuing - it's on me to create more value.

4.  Self-reflect. Even though I do this often, I will have a serious inventory chat with me. Am I where I want to be? What's holding me back? What can I do to change that? Taking time, going into the final stretch of the year is critical for ensuring I actually shut down when I have my down time.

5. Plan my break. Every year since I've been an entrepreneur, I have experienced a near shutdown at the end of the calendar year. The first year it startled me and I was not prepared. By year two, I had plan and now I won't ever go into final quarter without one. We have a trip to California on the books and a surprise waiting for us all on the other side of year end.

I am looking forward to this final quarter of 2014 and the push to start 2015 well. Every move I make over the next 90 days will ensure I hit my goal of finishing well both personally and professionally. What are you doing to end 2014 the way you want to?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

2 Lessons From A Few Days Of Silence

This is a tough thing for a ENFJ like me
As I approached a week with three public presentations and a pop concert, the familiar scratchiness and dry throat sensation made me panic. Standing outside on a wet chilly day at a cross-country meet, I decided not to talk for three days. This declaration was super easy to say but almost impossible to execute. Right away, I broke it when we saw one my son's former soccer coach, whom we had not seen in over 2 years. As I walked away, I started thinking about how I'd actually pull off the next few days without my voice.

After all, I am a storyteller- by nature and nurture. A corporate marketer and strategist, talking is my bread and butter. It's how I make my living especially now as an entrepreneur. Now, a full week on the other side of that experiment and those important conference speaking engagements. I sit here with my sore throat reflecting on the two most important things I learned from my few days of silence.

Many Ways To Express

Expression comes in many forms. We are taught from an early age that talking is the best and most effective way to express ourselves. After having to shut my yapper for a few days, I'm not so sure. I noticed how my family slowed down their interactions with me. I could see them hesitating as they are, sadly, accustomed to me jumping in. Their eyes reassured me that it was ok because they recognized my sadness without me having to say it. That was a powerful expression of empathy from them and my own sorrow for my past actions. Touch became extremely important to me during those few days. Normally, I am pretty low on the tactile expressions of affection. During those days, hugs and even simple hand holding were so important to me. Everyone else in my family appreciates the back rub or scratch and I'd always rejected these forms of affection, until I had no words and they became a means to express my feelings. And it has been one of the "holdovers" I have kept since I started talking again - touching more. Finally, my facial expressions and body gesturing has always been slightly on the dramatic side. During my silent days, it was like I was a mime. Without words, my other expressions were even more valuable to me and I noticed those expressions more from others.

Listening As Art

Anyone can talk. In fact, most everyone does but not many people listen. And while I am a decent listener, those two full days of not talking really taught me how to listen from a different point of view. There were so many encounters where my listening skills were sharpened. Again, mostly with my family but also at the first conference I attended that week. Meeting tons of new people and not saying much was a first for me. I decided against "explaining" not talking much and just observed. People generally hate silence and without my normal instinct to fill it - I realized how good it can be. Watching the expressions and comfort levels of people during a silent moment is incredible. I'd never seen that before and now I will allow for that as it is a great indicator of many things. The most critical listening for me occurred at the Ed Sheeran concert with my 13 year old daughter. I only knew two of his songs going into the show. Being forced to only listen at a live music event was phenomenal. Not only did I gain an appreciation for this young artist and his craft, I got to take in a concert with all my other senses because I did not talk. My body felt the music in a fresh new way. Most of the show I took in with my eyes closed feeling the music deeply. I expressed my reactions through touch with my daughter who often times looked like she was floating in air. I'm pretty sure it would have been very different had I uttered even one word.

Because I talk for a living, I plan to take some of my key insights from my silent days forward. I plan to give my voice a break at least one full day every week moving forward - no calls, no meetings and very little talking personally. I will awaken my other expression skills and activate them more often - integrate them with my words. I challenge you to join me - even if your voice is healthy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      

Monday, September 15, 2014

Two Things Not Spending Money In September Has Taught Me

It's September 15 and I'm half way through my self-imposed spending embargo. I cannot take credit for this experiment as I saw a friend do something similar in August. I was intrigued by the challenge to only spend money on what was absolutely necessary - needs versus wants. 2014 has been a year of challenges for me personally, some self-imposed and others thrust upon me. I could not think of a better time to stop and examine how I spend money than now. This exercise in fiscal discipline has taught me two things about myself (and human nature)....

You Can Rationalize Anything

Dictionary.com defines rationalize as an attempt to explain or justify (one's own or another's behavior or attitude) with logical, plausible reasons, even if these are not true or appropriate. Declaring to my family in August that I was not spending money on anything I (or they) did not need in the whole month of September did not elicit much response. I could see the "uh-huh, whatever you're doing works for us" malaise when I told the family over dinner one August evening. It was not until we were standing at an accessories stand a flea market on a Sunday that they truly understood what I'd meant that day. 

There were $1 hair flowers in a bin calling my name. Colors I don't have now and I have tons of colors.  When I refused to buy one, my kids pointed out that hair flowers were part of my wardrobe - my brand. They insisted that I needed those flowers. For about one minute, I considered their input. It was true. I wear hair flowers in my fiery red afro every day - most often matching whatever clothing combination I sport. The flowers were an essential part of my wardrobe and brand. Yet I vowed not to spend money I did not need to spend for the entire month of September. So as great a deal as the flowers were, I passed. 

Like everything else in life, we have to make choices. We have to honor and own our choices. I promised myself I would not spend money and while it would have been easy to justify or rationalize the small purchase, I would have let myself down. There was no room for that - not for a $1 hair flower. Or anything. I made a promise to myself and I cared enough not to rationalize breaking it.

You Can Do Anything

The toughest test of my spending embargo came this past Friday when I went to Geneva for a client meeting. My favorite popcorn shop is there and every time I visit the community, I buy at least $10 worth of popcorn. I, unconsciously, pulled up the the store front on 3rd street and parked my car. Within 10 seconds of putting my car in park, I realized that I could not make that purchase. Ironically, I had not eaten that morning, so my stomach started to growl at the sight of the caramel popcorn through the window and the buttery smell wafting in the air. As quickly as I stopped the car, I started it again and left. I arrived at my meeting where there was fruit, pastries and coffee. 

The rest of the day, I kept playing that moment in front of my favorite snack shop over and over in my head. Had I really resisted my favorite snack? Yes, I had. I'd also ignored all the Puma Friends and Family emails that inundated my inbox this past weekend. I tossed the Gap Outlet coupon that expires September 30. I'd also pushed away my normal "get a jump on Christmas shopping" urges that assaulted me when I was not thinking clearly one evening.  Each day that has passed has proven to me that I can and will complete my challenge to not spend money on "wants" the entire month of September.

You may be shaking your head at the $1 hair flower or the $10 caramel corn stories. But I am here to tell you that being faithful in the small stuff absolutely impacts your ability to be faithful when it really matters. Those small often unconscious purchases are the root of larger spending. And while, I do not have a problem with spending or keeping my budget normally, I've learned in 15 short days that changing my thinking on small things can make a HUGE impact on bigger things. I have not even set foot in Banana Republic Outlet, Gap Outlet, Target or TJMaxx - places where I most often make purchases without even blinking. I am excited to see how this thinking will impact my marriage, my relationships with my kids and my business.

So, I turn to you. What in your life needs your attention? Is it spending? Is it a relationship? A habit?

Where are you rationalizing thoughts/behaviors in your life? How are you letting yourself down? 

What are you not believing about yourself that's holding you back?

Take a moment today and examine your own relationship with choices. It will be worth every minute. In fact, you may find yourself on some sort of "embargo" of your own. October is right around the corner.

Monday, September 8, 2014

3 Ways To "Be" When Trouble Comes To Town

When we hit crisis mode, our next steps matter most

If you live any length of time, you will face a crisis or some type of adversity.  Whether it be relational, vocational or deeply personal, crises are the great equalizer of human beings. Hardship is part of our human reality - a "given;" operating smoothly through hardship is optional.  Here's a few tips to help you exercise that option:

Be Still

When you hit a rough patch, it is normal to feel like you must "do something." Our senses are heightened. Often times, much is happening around us, related to us. We feel compelled to action. One very good way to react is to be still. Literally, do nothing. Don't make any declarations or decisions in the heat of your rough moment. Breathe more. Seek solitude. Withdraw from non-essential commitments and just be. There is no need to make any moves when crisis first hits you. You have to absorb what's happening so you can truly understand what you are to do next. That happens best when you are still. Find respite and do nothing as much as you can during your storm.

Be Discerning

Merriam-Webster defines discern as to detect, to recognize or or to come to know mentally. You need to discern whom to include in your crisis. Be very careful only to share your crisis with people who are known to be helpful and discreet. Identify that short list and keep to it. Equally, you have to recognize how things are different post-crisis. The temptation will be there to try and "normalize" life or get back to the way it was "before." Embrace your new normal. Resistance only causes more pain. Take time to notice how different things are and acknowledge your role. Only spend energy on things within your control, letting go of all else. Surround yourself with love. People you love. Activity you love.

Be Ready

Life has put out a challenge. Things are not as they were and now you must respond. Being ready for change is the hardest aspect of managing adversity.  We get angry and stuck reviewing what we could have done differently and in those moments, we miss opportunities to move forward. Push yourself to be ready for what your new normal will offer. For some people, that will mean examining areas where you just float through life and force yourself to "shake it up. " If the crisis didn't do that for you - you have to do it for yourself, now. If your crisis turned your routine upside down, embrace it. Look out for new ways to express and communicate what you are feeling. Notice people you did not notice before. Allow yourself to "go" places you don't normally go - both physically and emotionally. You would be surprised at what the universe can bring your way when you are ready to receive it.

Over the years, hardship and adversity has come my way many times. By implementing the advice I  just shared, I've found that my ability to manage those tough times has improved and stifled the long term impact them on my quality of life. I hope you find that, too.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

3 Unhelpful Things Folks Do When A Friend Is In Crisis and How To Be Different

Do you know how to extend a hand during a crisis?

When people you care about hit a bump in the road, it can be super hard as a bystander. It often takes all we have to be on the outside of the crisis looking in. The immediate time following discovery of a crisis is so important. Whether your friend tells you or you find out another way, how you react to them in the early days really makes a difference in the long run. After many years being on both sides of this equation, I've compiled of list of the 3 unhelpful things most folks do when a friend is in  a crisis and what to do instead.


Believe it or not, many people do nothing. They either 100% avoid the person during the crisis or completely ignore the crisis when they are forced to see them. While it is uncomfortable for you, it is worse for them. Nothing is really the worst possible thing to do when someone you care about is hurting. People need empathy and compassion when they are dealing with a problem. Proactively reach out to the person and let them know you are there for them. Nowadays, a text is good enough to gently send the message that you care, especially if you are unsure of how close your relationship may be. Of course, call if you share a deeper bond. When you see them, don't avert eye contact, give them long reassuring gestures to demonstrate your love and loyalty during their difficult time. Make sure you check in with them after the "initial" hit. Like earthquakes, most human crises have "aftershocks" and it takes time to return to their routine. Knowing people are concerned can really make a difference, more so as time goes on.

One Up

If your friend opens up to you about the crisis and needs to share, do not "one up" them. Meaning, don't use that opportunity to relate a time you felt similarly or compare their current crisis with your own past crisis (or that of someone else)  - even if they are identical. During the crisis, people want to be heard. They need to vent and release the stress they are feeling. While relating stories are good in other circumstances, during a crisis, it is best to just listen, especially in the early stages. When people are in shock from their crisis, the last thing they need is to have to shift their thoughts and energy to processing a story about someone else. At some point, it will be ok to give your friend encouragement about a future state but during the crisis, it's best to just listen.

Crisis Overkill

Many people get wrapped up in someone else's crisis. It's human nature to do so. Being obsessed with knowing "how it's going?" or "are you ok?" can be very damaging to a person's ability to heal. Do your best to read your friend and discern their healing rate. Clearly, ask how they are doing related to the crisis but ask them about other areas of their life as well. Your loved one needs outlets and reminders that life goes on. Time often drags in the midst of a crisis and uncertainty. Every day tasks can be monumental when under tremendous stress. Bring dinner one night to relieve her of that responsibility.  Take him out for coffee and share with them something new going on in your life - unrelated to the situation. Give them a gift card for a car wash. Mow their lawn or come and take their dog for walk. Being helpful in a meaningful way gives hope. It allows your friend a moment of gratitude and gratitude is a proven cure for most ills.

Adversity and crisis are apart of life and inevitably,  relationships. Our role as friends may call on us to be by someone's side when calamity hits. Next time you're called to support, you know exactly what to do.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

You Versus You - Who's Winning?

"We miss life's greatest opportunities not because of our inability to negotiate with others, but because we can't negotiate with ourselves."  - Erica Ariel Fox

At the recent 20th anniversary of the Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit, those words from Session Five Speaker Erica Ariel Fox cut through me like a fine ginsu knife.

Ms. Fox started her talk with those words and while I did hear and retain many other great points from her talk, those words reverberated in my heart since that day.

Being the typical type-A personality who has recently discovered many of her deeply introverted characteristics, understanding and managing myself has been (and continues to be) the greatest challenge of my life. Even as a wife, mom, entrepreneur and public servant, managing my own heart/will and subsequent actions is my greatest feat every single day.

I often look at my "performance gap," which Fox described as the distance between what you ideally want to do when you living your best life versus what you actually do in real life. And while I mind that gap pretty closely, it is indeed still a gap. Here are three actions I find helpful in closing my game and winning the battle of you versus you:


I absolutely crave and need solitude. Daily. Each day, I start the day in a raggedy yet comfortable green chair in my family room. Whether it's reading or praying or just being still - and it's really all three - I do not start many days without my "me" time. Solitude is my best place to hear from God. It is the time I hear myself as well. I tap into my deepest desires each day in the quiet. I reflect on the good, bad and everything in between in the wee hours of the morning when no one else is moving. I have also scheduled "me" time away from my house. When I was writing my first fiction book, I went away for a night to a hotel to finish it. Being alone really stimulates good and ways for me to look closely at who I am versus who I want to be.

Wise Counsel

Not a day goes by that I do not seek out wise counsel from a variety of sources.  From my posse of fellow elected women officials to my very best social worker friend from college, I look for opportunities to hear from others about how I'm doing. I also have a personal board of directors. This unpaid but richly compensated group serve as a sounding board for my ideas, dreams, frustrations and battles. There are baby boomers and millenials. Spanish speaking folks and black folks. Gays and straights and of course, men and women. This very diverse and eclectic group has a cornucopia of knowledge between them. Yet, they all know me well and I know each of them well. That mutual trust and confidence gives me the ability share my heart and expect theirs in their words and deeds.

Own It 

The buck stops with me. I own my every move. Right or wrong, I take responsibility. That gives me the freedom to truly go for all I desire because in the end, it's all on me. This is especially true in my dealings with others.  Even as self-aware as I am, it is very easy to look at others as I maneuver through life.  A client. A spouse. A child. Another parent. People do impact our lives and our ability to get where we want to go. No denying that. However, our own responsibility trumps all others. We own our actions and reactions. We own our feelings and behaviors. And until we truly embrace that ownership, we will find ourselves with a larger gap between the life we want and the life we have.

While the battle rages, I can honestly say, the "me I want to be" wins more often than the shadow me. And by making space to be with me, seeking wise counsel and owning my journey - I am certain I'll continue to negotiate well with me. And win.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

If Forced To Pick One, Love Wins at #GLS14

One of my favorite #GLS14 Speakers, Erica Ariel Fox

Days later, I am still unpacking all the great wisdom imparted on me at the 20th Annual Global Leadership Summit. For many months to come, I'll be sifting, sorting and applying much of what I heard. When asked over the last few days to, "give me your favorite idea," or "who was your favorite speaker," I've been a bit stumped. So many great concepts rush to my mind and all the quotes I was tweeting started forming in my mind's eye. No one thing or one person jumps out.

Carly Fiorina reinforced my original attraction to her as a leader and has added many dimensions since I first "met" her on the Summit stage in 2007.

Jeffrey Immelt illuminated and shattered my view of the "typical US based CEO" with his warmth, candor and humility.

Susan Cain taught me to learn from someone very different than my normal teachers.

Patrick Lencioni did not disappoint and drove home many thought provoking ideas.

Joseph Grenny, my favorite from GLS 2013, further solidified major keys to meaningful influence.

Erica Ariel Fox challenged me to better negotiate with myself while Allen Catherine Kagina encouraged me as a fellow public servant.

However, if I was forced to pick one thing that impacted me most at this year's Global Leadership Summit,  I'd have to say it was the overwhelming sense of love and compassion I physically felt every minute of every hour, I was on the South Barrington campus during the summit this year.

Maybe it was because of my tense and often numb reaction to what was going on some 310 miles to the southwest of us in Ferguson, MO.

Perhaps it was because I had the chance to meet,  connect with and receive amazing hugs from the current and former leaders of Compassion International.

Honestly, I cannot pinpoint exactly why I felt that love but it was real.  Love and compassion was in action throughout the two days...

In the eyes, hearts and hands of the volunteers I interacted with.

In every speaker's talk.

In the songs we sang.

In the comedy of Michael Jr.

In the lunch catch up with my kid's former ministry leader.

In the side conversations overheard while waiting to buy books.

In the replied tweets of new friends.

And while I may forget lots of what I "learned" at #GLS14 - I know I won't forget how I felt at my 8th Global Leadership Summit.

I felt loved.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Grow Yo Self

Courtesy of Willow Creek Association
As a leader, it is imperative to make space to grow and improve.

Leaders must examine their leadership.

Leaders have to gain perspective on new and improved ways to motivate .

Leaders need to pause from leading and "fill" themselves with wisdom and actionable teachings.

Leadership requires refueling and rejuvenation.

Leadership necessitates sharing with other leaders.

Leadership demands honest reflection.

True leaders get this and take steps to intentionally make themselves better.

Regardless of where you do it or who you learn from, as a leader of anything, it is imperative that you take time, often, to grow yourself. Much like a favorite television character of mine chimes "treat yo self," I'm gonna chime, "grow yo self."

Growing yourself as a leader is the chief form of self-care. Whether leading a family or a team at work, leading of any kind demands growth. The responsibility of decision making and taking action is too great to be left to chance. Leadership encompasses followership and followers require care. One cannot care for others well if they are not caring for themselves. "Grow yo self" is not a joke or an option for anyone who leads in any way.  Here are a few ways, I grow myself as a leader:

Reading is great way to grow yourself. It requires attention and focused time, alone. You can learn from a variety of teachers and at your own pace. Not only does reading give you perspective you otherwise might not have, it makes you rest from your routine and break neck pace of living. And while I don't read as much as I like, it is a priority to read at least one book every few months to keep my learning going.

Fellowship with other leaders is key. I have several networks of leaders -  business leaders, political leaders and mommy leaders  - feeding into my growth. All these networks are intentionally formed and meet regularly. Sharing our challenges with one another fuels our individual and collective growth. Each meeting, whether by phone or in person, revives and rejuvenates me as a leader. They are non-negotiables on my calendar.

And every year since 2005,  another way I make space for growth is by attending the Willow Creek Association annual Global Leadership Summit. This annual August gathering, that subsequently travels around the globe all fall, has become a fixture on my calendar. Marketplace and church leaders from around the world gather to hear some of the best teachings in a unique format with many tools to take your learnings and put them in action. And over the last three years, as I've built my business, it's become a team experience. It's part of the compensation of working for Relationships Matter Now, LLC., even for contractors who work on ONE project with us.  This conference is part of the DNA of my company because my motivation and inspiration to start RMN was nurtured in the summits leading up to its incorporation in 2010.

Tune in to my social channels this week to get a glimpse. And take it as fuel to find your own way to "grow yo self."

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

6 Hours In A County Fair Booth Made Me Unstoppable

Not sure what it is but I've always loved the county fair. Or any fair for that matter. Roasted sweet corn. Hot sugary funnel cakes. The noise. The crowd. Animal smells.

Yeah. Love that.

This year, I woke up after my visit to the county fair feeling something different.


For the past two years, I've volunteered at the Democrats of McHenry County booth at the McHenry County Fair. And you may ask, "Why in the world do you feel 'unstoppable' after that?"

Well, it's simple.

Have you ever stood as a volunteer in a booth, at public event where you see people's disposition physically change as they spot you?

Have you ever had someone snatch their kid's hand away from a basket of candy you were holding out?

Have you ever seen someone almost break their own neck not to make eye contact with you?

Have you repeatedly been told "no"? Even before you stated anything?

Have you ever been called a baby killer to your face?

Have you ever had people argue with you unilaterally even when you were not arguing with them?

Well all that and more happened on my 5 hour shift in the Democrats booth at the county fair last week.  Now, to be fair (no pun intended),  our county is reasonably split - 45% of registered voters are Republican, 38% Democrat and the rest are Independent.  On paper, we should not be so outnumbered but the perception about our county is that it is overwhelmingly Republican.  And the behavior of most of the people I encountered last week would reflect that perception. You may be thinking - "what in world were you saying to those people?"

97 days until the election.

Know you have a choice in McHenry County.

Absolute power corrupts.

People who run unopposed do not work as hard.

That's it. I wasn't pushing anything or anyone. I was simply reminding people what a democracy looks like and yet I was met with some very vocal and non-vocal rejection.

And I love it!

Here's why:

I am in the arena.

I care about something.

I'm proud to stand by what I care about.

I'm stronger for looking people in the eye and owning what I believe.

Guys, I am not advocating that you go stand in a political booth. That is only for the sheer lions of this world, like myself. But what are you waiting for to stand up and get involved? Get out there and get in an ARENA, TODAY!

What do you care about most?

Education? Support a PTA/PTO. Go to school board meeting.

Economic growth? Get to a local municipal meeting. Question your officials.

Elderly care? Volunteer at a nursing home or assisted living facility.

Literacy? Join your local library "Friends" organization or run for library board.

Women's Issues? Call your local YWCA and get involved.

Whatever the cause, there is an arena waiting for its warriors. Every voice counts. All people matter. Stop buying into the belief that you cannot make a difference.

For every 5 rude and fearful people I encountered last week, there was one who silently walked by with the thumbs up. For every 5 people who stopped to tell me I was not welcomed or wanted in this county, there was one who stopped and thanked me for being there.

One man with courage is a majority - Thomas Jefferson

It's not rocket science. It's part of the human experience. And because of my time in that booth last week - I recognize my power as an individual contributor to this great nation.

When will you recognize yours?

Monday, July 28, 2014

Where I Learned Happy

Me and my college neighbor, Dina
People who know me would say that I am a happy, positive and optimistic person.

Without question, this is true.

A recent afternoon shopping trip reminded me of where I first "learned" that behavior. It was after my time living next door to Dina McReynolds at Judson College that I learned to consistently be positive.

Dina and I were alike in many ways but we are also very different. On the small homogeneous campus of Judson College in the early 1990s, we stood out. Not just because of our infectious laughter and penchant for fun, but because we were both very confident and bold in so many ways. We were both singers who graced our chapel stage for fun and for worship.

We both had our band of sisterfriends. And we both had our stories of pain and triumph.  I was very guarded and only let a few folks in, it was a tough road to truly get to know me because of my cynicism and biting sense of humor. Some days, I think about all the people who just recoiled when I'd intentionally say something to "test" their will to become my friend.  Thankfully, those days were cut short in 1991 when our group of loud girlfriends got assigned to live next door to an even louder group of girlfriends, who were seniors in Volkman Hall.

I'd been exposed to Dina from a distance the previous two years at Judson but really did not get to know her until that school year and the following two years after her graduation in 1992 and mine in 1993. Late night chats, treks to the south side to raid her closet and a host of other fun and crazy times marked our friendship. Dina singlehandedly taught me that I am a lightweight who should never drink or party past 10 pm. The summer of 1993, my first summer as a 21 year old working at U.S. Soccer Federation, for 30 days  I hung out with Dina and our crew. The Wild Hare. The Metro. Places I don't even remember - if they were in the city and were open past 2 am - we'd paid them a visit, trust me. By August 1, it was clear that I was not cut out to "hang out." But I was cut out to be perpetually positive.

Through everything, Dina always had a smile and a positive word. Even when folks were CLEARLY treating us poorly out and about, Dina always responded with positive energy. Make no mistake, she let folks know they were out of line but she did it positively. In fact, recently I was reminded that I have a gift of telling people to go to hell while convincing them to enjoy the trip. I'm certain my time with Dina influenced that skill.

Over the years, we lost touch but thanks to Facebook, we reconnected. And over the last two years, I've really recalled what she meant to me. Her energy, her passion for life and most of all her ability to lift others even during her toughest moments influenced me for good.  Dina has demonstrated that our happiness is not circumstantial. She has been a purveyor of love even when it hurts. I admire her strength and am humbled to call her my friend.

This year after not seeing her for over 10 years, I've seen her twice. Both times, we laughed and connected as if no time had passed. As I observed her, in two different settings, with different people, I realized her influence on me way back when I was struggling to find my own sense of self and my peace. There is no way I'll let so much time pass again.  I am grateful to have spend time with the person who taught me "happy."

Thanks Dina

Monday, July 21, 2014

Fruit, Seasons and Other Reasons My Peach Tree Grew Me As A Leader

Young peach tree with fruit. Something I won't see on mine this year.
We have a very young (less than 5 years old) peach tree in our back yard, very similar to the one you see in this photo.

Only difference, is this year,  for the first time in three years, we will have not fruit. There are no baby green peach buds on our tree now or will there be.

As a family we'd been watching for them but they have not arrived. There are so many reasons for that and trust me, as I've mentioned it to folks for the last few weeks while I digested the news, we've gotten lots of input as to what "wrong."

"This past winter was brutal."

"There are drought like conditions in Chicago this year."

"Many crops failed this year with the short spring."

And one very wise woman at a farewell party this past weekend asked a question, she inquired, "Did you guys prune that tree well last year?"

Being that I only deal with the indoors in our household, I don't even remember what I responded but I have been thinking about her question and all the related terms ever since.




As a leader, those are three very important concepts to tune into, often. To be effective as leaders, we have to think about fruit, seasons and pruning.

Fruit is the product of our work. Leaders have to challenge themselves often to assess the fruit in their lives, the fruit in their work, the fruit in the relationships they cultivate. Fruit is one way of "taking stock" along our journey. Fruit can be a measurement of our efforts. When we have lots of luscious healthy fruit, it can be correlated to direct intentional actions. And while fruit is not the only thing that matters, it is a significant indicator on the work we leaders do day-in and day-out.

Seasons are also indicator in our lives. We have seasons of growth and change. Depending on the leader, those can be fun and invigorating times or tough, uncomfortable periods. Seasons also remind us that everything is cyclical. No season lasts too long or too short. Seasons come and go just as they need to for reasons we never truly understand. Our understanding lies in grasping that a season is a short and finite opportunity to impact something or someone.

Pruning is a process of cutting back to have more. And while plants generally let us know of their overgrowth and it's very tough to ignore, in a leaders's life pruning is a bit more subtle but just as important.  In life it is not always easy to "see" where pruning needs to occur.  But if we look closely, it is actually easier than you think. We must prune away people, things and processes that hinder our growth as leaders. When we look to grow and move forward, we must always look at our current situation to know what we need to leave behind to foster that growth.

It's amazing all the lessons my young peach tree taught me when I stopped to listen. In a way, I got fruit from it this year,  after all.  Now, I hope we don't have to wait too long to see actual fruit again. 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Where Have You Seen God Lately?

On a Sunday afternoon, in the small remote town of Zacualpan de Amilpas in the State of Morelos, Mexico, we had an encounter with God.

It was quiet and the surroundings very still as we were in a cemetery. Just my husband and our two kids seeking out a memorial, we'd encountered with a bigger group over 4 years prior to our own adventure.

We paced together and separately seeking out the location of my father-in-law's final resting place. Since 4 out of 5 people buried in this municipal cemetery share the same last name as my husband, it was frustrating, at best and downright heartwrenching, at worst.

At one point, I pleaded with God, out loud to help us find the spot. My 12 year old enlisted God and the spirit of a woman with the last name Barreto and first name Maria buried in a large and highly adorned plot on the main walkway. My husband said nothing but scanned each plot in the cemetery many more times than we did.

Finally, we decided to leave our flowers on an empty wooden cross that resembled the one that marked his father's spot many years ago. As we gathered, you could sense the sadness and doubt about our selected location. We turned over a plastic vase to put our flowers in and it stated, "Familia Barreto." We all smirked since almost everyone buried here belonged to that same "family." We cleared a spot and placed our large floral arrangement in the center of the memorial plot in front of the empty cross.

As a family, we locked arms and held one another in silence as we all stared at the flowers and faded cross. I decided against trying to pray out loud as both kids were weeping softly. I just asked God to be with us in this moment.

And then He appeared.

A beautiful red-beaked hummingbird flitted into our view and purposely swooped in to nibble on the nectar of our flowers. It was gorgeous, deliberate and almost in slow motion.

We stood in awe and relief.

We know for sure that we were in the right place to honor the life of Ezekiel Barreto.

Sometimes people look for thunder or lightening.

Others want grand revelations.

I know from experience, the best way to experience God is just as we did that afternoon in Mexico.

Clearly call Him.

Be earnest in your invitation.

Wait in stillness and faith.

He will show up.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Make Space For Rest

Whether we like it or not, summertime brings a natural productivity slow down. And while many of us, hard driving, Type-A personalities wrestle with it, it is important for every human  to make space for rest.

Here a three things you can do to facilitate a restful moment soon:

Take Stock

It is the the mid-point of 2014 and a good time to stop and reflect on what's occurred so far this year. Take time to write down some of the best accomplishments you've had to date this year. Rest is always easier when you have a good handle on "where you are" in relation to where you want to be.  Reflect with a friend or colleague on how you're feeling about the year so far and take note of the areas you want to see improvement.

Plan Next Move

Just like reflecting, taking a moment to lay out what you want to do next is very helpful for ensuring full rest. It is hard to unplug, unwind when you have pending thoughts, ideas or actions floating around in your head. Similar to taking stock, laying out options or intentions help solidify the ability to relax completely. Make a few calls, send a few emails - not looking for replies but really emptying your head and heart of outstanding actions.

Be Real

If you cannot take a real vacation, please don't call your time away from work a vacation. We cannot fool our bodies nor our spirits by calling time away something that it is clearly not. I learned this a few years back. We have family visits out of the country every year. They are in Mexico and they are fun. But they are not a vacation; at least not in my mind's eye. Be sure and be real with yourself. If your annual camping trip is not truly a rest and respite for you, don't call it a vacation. Call it what it is. Being real is the most important rule for getting true rest and alignment.

Whatever you do this summer, make sure you actually make space for rest. It can be as simple as taking a few days off and just doing nothing. Or take time to do something that actually soothes your soul. All living things need rest and we must be intentional to give ourselves the rest we need, when we need.

May you get some rest this summer.

I know I will.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Don't Look Back, It's Bad Luck

Photo (and blog title) credit to Sarah Morgan, her view on a recent cross-country move.
It's not often I get inspiration both visually and with words from the same source. But that is exactly what happened last week in my Facebook feed when I saw the above photo. Posted by my friend who just had a sudden move from Southern California to the Southeast, the cool pic was captioned, "Don't look back, it's bad luck."

What a perfect metaphor for life. With change being the only thing we can ever truly count on in life, it's very easy to stay put and hold on to whatever is familiar.

The stressful work situation.

The strained relationship.

The dream deferred.

The unpleasant living arrangement.

The failing business plan.

That's why I was drawn to my friend's post so intently. I actually know what it's like to "not look back," both personally and professionally. And while I don't believe wholeheartedly in luck, I do know that in order to really make progress in life or in business - you do have to leave what's in your rear view mirror, in your rear view mirror.

Regardless your relationship with change, it is imperative to look ahead and not look back. It's why the most important message when moving from "here to there," is all about why "here" no longer works or serves you.  The picture must be painted clearly of why "here" is not where you (or those you want to change with you) need to be.

You must be descriptive. You must be explicit. And you have to be real with what the true consequences are for holding on to your current circumstance.  When people around you encourage you to stay "here," you have to articulate why it's time to move "there." As events or happenings frighten your move from the comfortable "here," be ready to remind yourself and those affected that "here" is not going to solve what only moving "there" can attempt to tackle. Finally, you just have to take a few steps away from "here," - make the mental and physical shift away from "here." Then and only then, can you truly move forward to "there."

And once you have a glimpse of "there" and you start making decisions and moves toward "there," "here" will take its proper place.

In your rear view mirror.

Monday, June 9, 2014

My Circle of Life Moment

There goes another rubber tree plant
Over the years, whenever I heard the theme song from the 1994 classic Disney movie, The Lion King, it never meant much to me. I'd just sing along with Sir Elton John and reminisce about the great animated tale of King Mufasa and Simba's journey to his destiny.

This past April 1, for the first time ever, I had a personal connection to that simple song. The ficus "rubber tree" plant in the photo above was gifted to my very best friend when her beloved mom passed away suddenly. After the memorial, as we were clearing the funeral home of all their belongings and all the wonderful floral tributes to her, I was stopped in my tracks seeing this plant.

It was my circle of life.

You see, when my mom passed away in 1976, someone gave us a similar plant. I grew up with that plant and it was taller than me when I left for college in the fall of 1989. I loved that plant, for it represented so much. It was the vitality and  living breathing proof of my mom's existence for a very long time. I am not a green thumb at all but I did care for that particular plant. (I hear they are pretty hard to kill). When I left for college, I took for granted that that plant would be there or would one day be mine. I did not think to verbalize my love for that plant at that time. A series of unfortunate events happened over the years and along with all my baby photos with my mom,  that plant disappeared from my life. I cannot tell you I ever even felt the loss of the plant.

I've mourned the loss of my pictures many times but the plant was an obscure hurt that I did not feel again until that day in April standing in a central Illinois funeral home. I immediately felt drawn to the plant.  I mentioned to my BFF my story, briefly and succinctly. We were very absorbed in her grief and it felt selfish to even say it but I am glad I did.

Later that afternoon as we were leaving, she called me into the living room with her brother and her father and asked me to take and care for the plant in honor of her mom and my mom. I could not keep my composure. It's even taken me months to write this because the overwhelming emotion of thinking how amazing it is - this thing we call life.


This friend who was pushed off my lap in 1990 and almost wasn't my friend.

24 years of friendship.

A clear schedule on my calendar for the precise days she needed me.

A ficus plant someone thought to send.

If that is not the "circle of life", then I don't know what is.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Mom, Grandmom To All: Maya Angelou's Legacy With Me

My fav image of Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

Like the rest of the world, I took the passing of author and poet Maya Angelou really hard when I saw it in my stream of news.  I was overwhelmed by so many emotions and I wept reading key pieces of her work the other night. Then, it occurred to me that the most important thing I'll miss about Dr. Angelou is her mothering and grandmothering of me. Yep. Me, personally from a far.

I picked the photo of Dr. Angelou on purpose because it represents something to me.


Things my sweet mom and maternal grandmom were not blessed with.

Maya Angelou only birthed one child physically, her son Guy in 1945 when she was just 17 years old.  Yet, she said on many occasions that she was fortunate to be the "mother to many people".  I was one of those people.

From a distance, from a far - as soon as I connected with Maya Angelou's writing, she was a mother figure to me.  Followers of this blog know well that my own mom, Betty Jean Jackson (Wilmer)  lost her life at the tender age of 24 years old in 1976 when I was just 4 years old.  For much of my life, I've resisted real-life, up close mother figures.  So it was easy to have this distant yet close in spirit mom figure in Maya Angelou.  However, as I read more and devoured information about her in her death, I realized that she'd moved a space from mother to grandmother in the later years of our "relationship."

I realized upon "losing"  Maya that, in addition to being a motherless daughter, I never had a close relationship with a grandmother either. On my paternal side, I had a grandmother who enjoyed a long life until 1997. Unfortunately, I never had the privilege to know and/or enjoy her.  My mom's mom, who was nearby and very involved in our lives, passed away suddenly in her 50s in the mid 80s. I've always said she passed away from a broken heart.

An only child of sharecroppers in Arkansas, my grandmother Lois Anderson had four children of her own. My mom, Betty was her first child and when she lost her, it was said that she never truly recovered from the blow.  Then in late 1983, she lost her own mom and barely lived another 90 days passing away in her early 50s in 1984. The legacy of early death haunts me. So, at some point over the years, I transferred my maternal feelings toward Maya Angelou to those of a grandmother. Without one on earth for most of my life, I just made Maya Angelou my grandmother.

I looked forward to any news from her and the releases of her books. When we got Twitter and she joined, I eagerly followed to feel connected to her and her wisdom.

Now, I'm officially without "mother and grandmother" Maya Angelou. And even though  I've been in this place before, this time, I'm left with tangible evidence of her presence in my life through her writings.

Thank you, Dr. Maya.