Figuring It All Out

April 2018. My wake-up call. The light-bulb moment that would crush nearly every other light-bulb moment before. It was the instant a voice further than my head–no, this one came from a place deep inside, jangling the handle of a locked door–spoke up with, “What are you doing? Why are you spending another second in a position you don’t love anymore? Allowing others to make decisions for you, to outline your own life?” The questions came so fast and so very strong, tears instantly welled my eyes. Not just any old tears, either. The unstoppable kind that cause your chest to get all tight and ruin good mascara. Tears of anger, yes, but vexation was quickly replaced by realization.

I didn’t have to live like that. 

I didn’t have to keep trucking through a job that no longer served me.

Every tool I needed was right there inside of me. I just wasn’t using them.

When I tell you I jumpstarted my business then and there, well…You’ll have to take my word for it. I opened an LLC, started a website, opened a P.O. Box and signed up for a webinar geared toward beginning entrepreneurs. I had lunch with myself, began journaling and meditating. I finished a book, then started another. Scheduled a book tour, hired a personal assistant, stayed up late creating social media content, agreed to two television interviews, and, with the help of my local librarians, spearheaded a successful workshop for new and veteran writers. In short, I planned out my days around the life I envisioned for myself, not the one for which I had settled. In fact, 2018 ended with me planning out the next month like a general in a war tent.

But then the next month actually came. And with it, something shifted.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Girl, you got a case of good ol’ fashioned burnout. And you’re right. I did. But, y’all…it was so much more than that.

If it’s possible to have a second awakening, well, then, that’s what happened to me. I felt empty, unfocused, like I was lacking oxygen. Writing became hard, and let’s face it, writing is hard, but it was never thishard. What stands out the most here, now, over three-and-a-half-months into the year, is social media.

Warning: These next few lines are real and honest, you guys. Not that I haven’t always tried to be real and honest in anything I write or post, but this…This is the raw reality.

Social media drained me. Not just posting my own content and working desperately–oftentimes anxiously–to keep up and ensure I had new, fresh content every single day, but also what my eyes took in and my mind absorbed as I scrolled.

Y’all, we are obsessed with publicizing our lives. 

I’m going to say that again: We are obsessed with publicizing our lives.

Selfies, check-ins, vacations, new homes, new cars, new wardrobes, new bodies, political folderol (I could write a whole blog post on this one), more selfies, and just about anything that springs to a human brain, we post it. And then, as if the obsession couldn’t get any thicker, we obsess over who liked it, loved it, laughed over it, shared it, and took the time to comment. In fact, we are so accustomed to this way of life, when a person hasn’t been “online” in a few days or weeks or, like me, months, we imagine something dreadful must’ve happened.

So, what do we do? 

Send them an instant message.

On social media.

Guys, I know, okay? Pot calling the kettle black, babe. Wanna take a look in the mirror? Wasn’t that you posting every day, sometimes several times a day, on Facebook and Instagram? And now you’re waggling a finger at all of us? No, I’m not pointing a finger. You do you, okay? You. Do. You. But yes, yes, YES. All me. I’m holding my hand high in the front of the class, owning my guilt.

But here’s what I realized: I was spending too much time looking at everyone else’s lives and not enough enjoying my own. Comparison syndrome sank in. She’s thinner than me. He’s more spiritual than me. She’s got more book reviews. He’s got more money. Her house is better. He’s smarter. She’s so much prettier. I was so busy doing the mindless scrolling act, I had no time whatsoever to Be. Present.

When I backed off, faded out, I discovered some pretty cool things about me. I love nature. I love going out in the early morning as the sun is rising and staring at the delineation of clouds and sky. I love birdwatching. I love listening to my children talk about things that matter most to them. I love writing with no thought for publication. Journaling, too. And meditation! Wow, what a game-changer that’s been. I love self-development books, my Bible, having a meal by myself and starting the giant list of fiction books I’ve been putting on hold. Folks, I’ll go ahead and say this: I do not miss social media. In fact, the handful of times I’ve popped on has amounted to a message I didn’t reply to and was contacted via text or phone call.

I missed a baby shower invitation because of that. 

Because a mail invite didn’t come, but a social media one did.

I’ve had people ask how I’m doing, and when I reply in genuine, heart-felt joy with, “Great! I’m just on a social media detox, hiatus, whatever you want to call it,” the very next question I’m almost always asked is, “Are you still writing?” Folks, that still hurts my heart a little. Like I said, ours is a society used to everyone putting their lives on a social media platform meant for the world to see. This is our norm. We won’t know any different, until we search for the different.

Yes. I am writing. Every single day. And with more fervor than ever. Because of the choice I’ve made to remove social media from all my devices, I’ve recaptured a love for writing I had when I was in high school–when publication was just a pipe dream. I’ve also taken back my love for me. For the development of my mind and my life and all the things that align with whom I am and who I want to be as a human being.

I encourage you to do the same, in whatever way that makes it happen for you. For me, that was cutting ties with social media for the time being. For you, that change may begin with something entirely different. Forming new habits is your starting point. What I know is that there is more to life, there is deeper meaning, an entire universe for our soul to breathe, soak in, then either keep or release. You’re on your own journey, your own path, no one else’s. Do what is right for YOU, and then don’t apologize for it.

Sometimes you just need a break. In a beautiful place. Alone. To figure everything out.– Unknown

Your Worth is Not Defined by Where You Sit

When the title of this blog post came to me, it was admittedly during one of my low points. I have those from time to time. Days when I feel victimized, nothing’s going right, and I’m far too focused on the go-to phrase of, “If it ain’t one thing, it’s another.” That’s how we say it in the South. If it ain’t one thing, it’s another. I’m sure you’ve got your own version, too. I can’t ever catch a break! There’s one. We’ve all said that more times than once, right?

On this particular day, I was still feeling the after effects of a move at work. Monday through Friday, I’m in a corporate setting, have been since I was 23 and still didn’t know what I truly wanted to do with my life. But I’ve worked my way up over the years, gleaned, learned, absorbed and studied from the best. I’m pretty darn good at what I do. Even the guys on the opposing side tend to buckle under my cheerful demeanor, revealing a soft underbelly that makes for a (relatively) smooth ride through each case. When I landed my first office–and I mean a real office with windows, walls, and a door I could close–I sat at my desk, breathed in the corporate air, and thought, “You’ve earned this, girlfriend. You’ve finally arrived.”

From that point on, I always had my own office. I could talk as loud as I wanted. Shut the door and get real with clients. Walk around, kick off my heels, fix my tights, pick my nose, whatever. I had that kind of freedom. I’d earned it. I know I’ve already said that, but let’s be clear: I. Had. EARNED. It. Blood, sweat, tears, mean bosses, impossible deadlines, greedy clients and even greedier corporate men.

But then we bought a new building. And with the handful of people picked to move, one was…uh huh. Yours truly. My new digs? Not so great. Shared space. Barely room to move. Face to the wall, back to the door (that’s perhaps the worst). I’m so close to my neighbor we can’t be on the phone at the same time. 

First day in the new space, I went home after work, shut myself in the bathroom and cried my eyes out. Why was this happening to me? Hadn’t I spent enough years paying my dues? Worse, some of my fellow co-workers stayed in the old building–in their own offices. So, suddenly we’re split. Divided. Those people are obviouslymore important than me.

That’s the kind of baloney I told myself, y’all.

But then I had an a-ha moment: by throwing myself a pity party, I allowed my value to be contingent on where I sit.

Excuse me…what?

Now, some of you may be reading this, thinking, “Girl, I’ve never had my own office. What’s the big deal?” And you’re right. It’s not a big deal. But stay with me on this: We ALL do this very thing at some point in our lives. Whether it’s the means and/or atmosphere into which you were born: rich or poor, mansion or shack, college eduction or blue collar worker, New York City, New York or Shreveport, Louisiana. We have all, at one time or another in our lives, said, “Well, gosh darn-it, if I had this much money or if I weren’t stuck in this backwards old town or if my parents had been different parents instead of MY parents or if I had my own office, I’d be doing _______________.

Right? Don’t fold your arms across your chest and say you haven’t. I know different. 

Here’s what I also know: Where you sit does not define who you are. Surprise! Where you live does not define who you are. How you were brought up does not define who you are. What you had for dinner last night does not define who you are. What is (or isn’t) in your checking account does not define who you are. You get to CHOOSE the person you want to be. Your mind is straight up that powerful. 

We’ve all heard the phrase, “Dress for the job you want.” Well, what if you lived as if you were already in the life you envision for yourself? What if you woke up with that gratitude and joy–the kind you know you’re gonna be feeling when you’re living that gorgeous dream life? What if, instead of saying, “I have to go to work today…” You wake up and say, “I get to go to work today and earn the means to reach my financial goals…”? What if, instead of categorizing the things that happen to you as “good” or “bad,” you kept life events as neutral and, in turn, choose to either react with joy and gratitude or fear and irritation?

I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather live with joy in my heart than fear.

But that’s a whole different blog post.

You define you. By being who you are, the person you are in your heart and soul, you give to the world what it craves more than anything: authenticity. When you show up every day in your true, authentic self, you encourage others to be their authentic self. 

So, stand, dry your tears, lift your chin, be proud of you and all you’ve been through, because you’ve been through a lot. And meditate on this: The soul inside of you longs for joy and gratitude. When you feed it what it needs, your life changes in ways that can only be described as divinely magical.

Passing (Negative) Judgment

Over the weekend, I, like many people from around the globe, watched the Masters Tournament. In case you’re unfamiliar, the Masters is a golf tournament that’s been around since the 1930’s and serves as the grandfather of grandfathers golf game. It’s a big deal. Only the best of the best makes the cut, and then they compete on a gorgeous, highly advanced course in Augusta, Georgia.

In 1997, Tiger Woods won the Masters Tournament. He was 21 years old.

Now, I don’t follow golf, nor do I follow the celebrity gossip rings as closely as others, but apparently Tiger got into a marital uproar when the media discovered he’d been unfaithful to his wife—and with several different partners. He publicly apologized for his actions. He and his then-wife divorced. Several years later, he was arrested for driving under the influence. As if matters couldn’t get worse, he announced in 2017 that he had undergone four operations on his back in less than two years and, as far as he knew, would never play golf again.

Fast forward to this year, and here we are again at the Masters Tournament. Tiger made the cut. Played against some of the most talented golfers in the sport. And he won. 22 years later.

I was pretty happy and, yes, I cried. The look of joy on his mother’s face, the way he scooped up his son and hugged his daughter, neither of whom had seen him win a major tournament? Just filled my heart with joy. By Monday, I was still on Cloud 9, so I shared the story with a friend. The conversation began with me asking, “Did you watch the Masters?”

“Yes, I did, and, just so you know…I hateTiger Woods.”

Whoa. “Why?” I wondered aloud.

Why? Are you kidding? He’s a cheater. He’s an adulterer, like, twenty-four times over. He got a DUI. His wife was gorgeous, he has two beautiful children, and he screwed around. He’s a piece of…”

Well. I’m sure you can tell the tone of my friend’s reaction. After I’d pulled my thoughts together, I said, “So, what you’re telling me is all those things are irredeemable to you. Right?”

“I guess.”

“So, if someone makes a mistake, there’s no coming back, where you’re concerned. Right?”

A shrug. “Twenty-four mistakes? That’s a lot, okay? He’s an adulterer.”

Yeah. I think we cleared that. The very first—and I do mean the VERY first word that came to my mind was judgmental. Why are people so judgmental of other people? Heck, I’ve been judgmental of other people, I’m sure of it. We all have, right? It’s human nature to judge. But then that word began rolling over and over in my mind to the point I thought, “I’m going to have to write about this.”

So, I did some research.

Let’s be clear on this first: My friend is a wonderful person. Smart, funny, loving, kind. The kind of friend that’d show up to your house with a bag and a shovel if that’s what you needed. The reaction to Tiger Woods’ win was a surprise, to say the least, but I’m thankful, because it spurred the idea for this blog post.

Second: The term “judgmental” isn’t necessarily a “bad” thing. By being judgmental, we as humans decide what people we’re most compatible with, what politicians’ beliefs align with ours, who would and wouldn’t make a good mate, et cetera. According to Dr. Terri Apter, “The fundamental workings of the human brain that has evolved along with our need to live with other people is to assess them, both positively and negatively. Our automatic judgment meter is a legacy from crucial survival responses that prime us to assess a person as someone to approach or avoid.”

Fact is, we are hard-wired for survival. When someone does something or behaves in a way we disapprove of, our initial reaction is a fight-or-flight, instant analyzation of—and oftentimes affronted reaction to—the offensive person’s behavior. We tense up, get defensive. Angry, even, as in the case of my friend who got up-in-arms about Tiger Woods. We’re disappointed and, so, we think the worst of that person. We throw negative judgment, without understanding and without intention to find out more through communication.

The key, however, is to realize that our mind is so powerful we harness the ability to pause before we allow ourselves to play out of this mode—the initial, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe…!” reaction.

Once paused, we’re able to think before we speak.

Or send that text.

Or nasty email.

After we’ve had a moment to think things through, well, you have the choice—the power to make something amazing happen: You can change the script. Instead of feeding into those negative thoughts, what if you tried to understand where the other person may be coming from? What if you redesigned your thoughts to come from a place of positivity and love?

Perhaps the biggest problem when someone behaves in a way that sets off our GASP!meter is that our natural next step is to personalize what happened. But it has nothing to do with you. Not even remotely. Each human being on the planet reacts to circumstances in his or her own unique way. And while one person may have reacted and made a choice that maybe you wouldn’t have, that doesn’t mean they don’t experience pain and struggle just like you do. Dr. Barbara Markway said, “When I feel critical of someone, I try to remind myself that the other person loves their family just like I do, and wants to be happy and free of suffering, just like I do. Most important, that person makes mistakes, just like I do.” And while their mistakes may seem greater than yours, remember that life itself is just a matter of perspective. We are all conditioned to belief systems that are completely changeable, if we want them to be.

To delve deeper, when people pass negative judgment on others, it is usually a reflection on their own lives. Low self-esteem leads to the inability to accept yourself as you are and, so, you point a finger at others who, to your mind, are not living life as they ought to or making bad decisions. Believe me, I’ve learned this the hard way in my own life. But what I’ve also learned is that just because someone’s journey looks different than mine, doesn’t mean they’re on the wrong path.

When you learn to accept yourself as you are—flaws, talents, body, mind, soul—the way you interact with others will change. You’ll love people for getting past the rough points in their life, not hold those rough points against them. If someone wronged you in the past, you’ll find yourself suddenly able to forgive them and then to ultimately let go. When you accept you for the glorious, amazing person you are, you will begin to do the same for everyone around you.

And that, my friends, is one keyway to allowing joy into your heart.

I’ll leave you with the great words of American radio host Bernard Meltzer: “When you forgive, you in no way change the past—but you sure do change the future.”

Why I Don’t Do New Year’s Resolutions

Back in the 90’s, there were two things I never missed at the turn of one year into the next: New Year’s Eve in Time Square and MTV’s New Year’s Eve. Granted, I was never there in person (I watched from our tv that was actually a large piece of furniture), I nevertheless felt as if I was. The lights, the music, what people were wearing and the smiles on their faces. It all seemed so glamorous–and it was. Truly, I haven’t seen a look that quite compares to Christina Aguilera’s gleaming silver-glitter eyeshadow and animal-print hair extensions, as she danced to and sang Genie in a Bottleon the small MTV studio stage in 1999. Gosh, she really killed it that year. Good stuff. One thing the reporters and v-jays working the events would always ask the attendees was, “What’s your New Year’s resolution?” And they’d answer with the fundamental, “lose weight, travel more, be more organized, try new things,” et cetera. And of course, I thought, “If cool, beautiful New Yorkers are making resolutions, maybe I should, too.” After all, wasn’t it Coco Chanel who said, “My life didn’t please me, so I created my life.” ?

So, I made resolutions. And failed them. Failed myself, or so I truly felt. Every year I wanted to lose weight, be more fit, more health-conscience. And while that lasted for a while, sweets always pulled me back in. I mean, let’s be honest: I’m from the south, folks. If you eat at my momma’s house, immediately following the meal, before you’ve even finished your plate, she’s putting on a pot of coffee and pulling out a pie or cake. It’s just who I am, where I came from. And I’m cool with that. Fewer things more precious than embracing your roots.

Then came the resolution of trying new things. Great resolution. Truly, it is. We should all be doing what scares us. Author Jack Canfield said, “Everything you want is on the other side of fear,” and nothing could be truer. But when I personally made that resolution, I felt so bound to it that I refused to say, “No,” to anything. Or anyone, for that matter.

Here’s what I know to be true, at least for me: Instead of making New Year’s resolutions, I look forward to all the beauty a fresh new year will doubtless bring. The accomplishments of my children, and watching their eyes fill with joy when they pass that exam or get a gold star from a teacher. Waking up every morning with the gratitude I’ve worked–and continue to work so hard to instill in myself: that I open my eyes and I can see the roof over my head; that I move my legs and my feet hit the floor, then take me to the restroom and, after that, to the coffee pot. That I have coffee! What a great luxury, coffee. Or tea. Tea’s great, too. Still a luxury. 

As for health and fitness, I try to eat well and make good choices, not for my weight, but for my insides. I think better when I take care of myself–it’s that simple. If I go on a fast food binge, overindulge on sweets, and don’t drink enough water, I see it in my skin and the way my clothes fit, yes, but most importantly I notice a downfall in my energy levels and my ability to stay focused on all the things I want to do. And since I’m a writer, it’s mega-important to me to stay focused. I’m sure it’s the way for everyone, regardless of profession.

And, you guys, I know it’s hard for a lot of you–it’s hard for me. I know. I get it. But please learn to say, “No.” It’s okay. If something doesn’t align with you…if, as my sweet momma says, you’ve got a gut a feeling you shouldn’t, just say, “No.” We learned to do it in our D.A.R.E. education class way back in elementary school. And, granted, yes, that was to drugs, but really…Why, as adults, do we have the darnedest time saying, “No, thank you,” when we don’t want to do something? By all means, say, “YES!” to what will move you closer to your goals, to the life you want to live. But also be okay and at peace with offering a polite, “No,” when, quite frankly, you just don’t freaking want to.

So, instead of binding myself to a New Year’s resolution or two or five, my goal is to live my best life everyday. To react to situations the way the best version of myself would. To honor my heritage, including my love for sweets anda great cup of coffee. To remember that in everything I see and do, to find a measure of beauty and gratitude. Because it’s a blessing to be my own my individual journey. To embrace the past, look forward to the future, but to live exclusively in the present. In my experience, when I’m living my best life, everything else falls into place. Opportunities, people, accomplishments, finding joy in the smallest of things–they all come with work, yes, but smart work, not the hard kind that makes you long for fruity drinks and sandy beaches.

Even though I still long for that. Sometimes. What can I say? I’m a work in progress. And that’s okay, too.