Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Bad Ass: A sorta book review

I recently left a secure 9-5 to pursue my dream of being a full time speaker and writer. It was prompted by some changes that made my work environment toxic. I would come home so mentally and emotionally exhausted that I had no energy for the things and people I love. 

I contemplated my options for months. I spoke to my HR department twice. I looked at other positions within the institution. My options were super limited and I decided that it wouldn't help to trade one devil for another. Was I scared? Definitely. Did I feel like a crazy person leaving a job to go after something as abstract as motivational speaking? YES. Still do. But speaking is when I feel most invigorated. Each time I share my story I feel alive in a way that doesn't compare to any other facet of my life. Most people are terrified of speaking in public. I love it. I feel nervous beforehand but once I begin, I get in a zone that is like no other. 

Over my life I have felt propelled to do certain things that fit with my life at the time and are fulfilling. Speaking is another of those callings. As with any change in life, I feel fear, doubt and a sense of losing control. Those feelings sometimes manifest in middle of the night freak out thoughts that keep me up for hours, my mind racing with the all the worst case scenarios of my actions.

As I often do in times of uncertainty, I turned to books. I had heard of the book, YOU ARE A BAD ASS: HOW TO STOP DOUBTING YOUR GREATNESS AND START LIVING AN AWESOME LIFE. By the title it sounded like exactly the book I needed. In some ways it was, but I also had a mix of thoughts.

Like most books of this nature, it is a rallying call to put your goals out there and trust the universe to make it happen. It talks a bit about the author's path to leaving a job and pursuing her passion. Like most self-help books it gives very broad, general advice for how to do so and still feed your family. I was looking for tangible steps I could take that were beyond mantras and faith. I wanted to know how to identify the game-changers that could influence the universe. What is the first thing I should do in my pursuit of a career change? How do I establish my brand on a budget? I was looking for more of a guidebook with steps that I could cross off as I did them.

Lots of the advice was simpler than what reality seems to dish out. For example, at one point it mentions getting a small business loan if that is what is needed to make your dreams come true. While this is certainly a viable route, it reeked of privilege. It was stated as such a simple step with no accounting for the low percent of approved loans for women and people of color. It also did not account for people who have less than stellar credit, which is mostly marginalized communities. That  perspective of privilege tainted many parts of the book. 

Not to rag on the book because it was mostly enjoyable with humor and an easy tone but it was almost too light in its RAH-RAH YOU CAN DO IT LIKE I DID! approach. At points I felt uplifted when the author shared some examples of success but at other times I found myself wanting to scream, "Oh come on, it can't be that simple. The universe does not hand out opportunities on a silver platter!" 

Maybe part of my problem is that I am looking for insider tips for what I know takes hours of hard work, stepping out of my comfort zone and lots more faith than I have had in years. I wanted the book to tell me to send X-many emails a day to influencers; how to identify those recipients and what I should say to get them to want to book me. I wanted the book to tell me how to get over my aversion to phone conversations and what to say that doesn't sound awkward. That is the level of direction I wanted.

I needed a chapter titled: DO WHAT YOU KNOW YOU HAVE TO DO TO GET WHERE YOU WANT TO GO because I was at Warren's side for the hours of research, networking and dedication to the business. I helped him with lots of it although he definitely did the bulk of the work.

I rebranded myself when I transitioned from Corporate America to nonprofits and when I went from nonprofits to academia. Those moves felt less intimidating because I was going from one job to another but I still had to reposition myself from what I was to what I was becoming. 

For some reason, this transition feels larger. Perhaps it's because I am the sole breadwinner for my family and that comes with tremendous pressure. Maybe it is because I am older and more apprehensive and cynical. It felt much more possible with my cheerleader/best friend at my side because I knew he had my back no matter the outcome or how long it took. He saw the best in everyone, including me and constantly reminded me to do the same. Left to my own devices I see the let downs and disappointments in people and mostly myself. I err on the side of little faith in the universe. Nothing I have accomplished came easy or felt handed to me. To believe that I put it out there and the universe takes care of it feels irresponsible. At the end of the day, the universe can't write a check to put food in my kid's mouth or clothes on her back and while the book was an easy read, it didn't take me where I needed to go to feel like a bad ass and an awesome life is just waiting for me simply because I desire it.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Storytelling (again)

Over the weekend I had the honor of helping a local producer kick off her first event. It was special because it was woman with a vision and I love supporting women who go after their dreams. I was excited to be part of something that focused on women of color and is the first of its kind in my city. 

When I was asked to participate the title: STORIES TO TELL MY DAUGHTER excited me. Raising a teenager is difficult and I believe it takes a village so it would be a great way to have other women impart their wisdom and experience on my daughter and give her a varied perspective. It was also something I wanted to share with my own mother.

I said yes without a story in  mind. I figured it would come to me as I learned more about the event. When I met with the producer and she explained her vision, a story began to form. The problem was, I didn't want to share that story. It was extremely personal in a way that would lay me bare in a setting much more intimate than my previous storytelling experience. This would be a smaller venue, the audience would be physically closer. My social circle crossed with that of some of the other storytellers and the producer so I knew there would be a lot more familiar faces in the audience. That was intimidating given the vulnerability I would have sharing that story.

I wish I could say that I had some brilliant strategy for coming up with another story. Unfortunately, my strategy was procrastination. I should have written out the story many times and went over the timeline and details. I did not. Instead I started reading two new books and tried to justify my fears and hesitations by burying my head in someone else's story. I kept asking myself why I had to tell that particular story. I gave myself no viable response other than that was the story I needed to tell. Period. For weeks I fought with my procrastination and ignored my inner-voice. Even as I resisted, the story formed in my head. Without trying, I had a beginning, middle and end. I had the theme and knew how to weave it in without writing it out.

Weeks of this immature behavior went by and before I knew it, it was the night before rehearsal. With no other story formed, I gave in and wrote the one that wouldn't leave me alone. It came easily, which became a blessing in disguise because it allowed me to try a different technique for preparing to speak. Rather than rely on notes and outlines, I recorded the story and listened to it over and over again. It was helpful to hear it in my own voice. I was able to focus on the pace, pauses, alliterations, repetitions and the inflections of my voice. With my focus on those elements of the story I was less worried about the content. I was still telling the story that my heart wouldn't allow me to ignore, but I found a way to be less worried about it. 

At rehearsal I let it flow and was pleasantly surprised. It was more polished than I expected although I hadn't spent much time memorizing exactly what to say. The reaction of my fellow storytellers was reassuring. They each shared how they related to what I shared and how important it was to put that story into the universe. By the time I left rehearsal, I better understood why that story had been so stubborn.

On the day of the event I was more nervous than I expected. I got to the venue an hour early and it helped to be in the space where I would speak. I generally don't feel a need to be in the space where I am speaking much more than a few minutes before I begin but it felt necessary in this instance. I envisioned the seats filled and how I would appear to the audience. I was glad that my mother, brother, daughter boyfriend and best friend would be there, although I had no intention of making eye contact with them for fear my throat would lock mid-story.
My stomach was a hurricane and my knees shook as the MC introduced me but once I got out the first line, all that melted away. I got through my story with no locked throat, no tears and no other mishaps. It was me and the audience and I felt electric and warm. I connected with the room and felt as though I was talking to close friends. That warmth carried through to the end of the event when audience members came to congratulate me. One person in particular smiled with misty eyes and hugged me, completely wordlessly. I did not know this woman but in her embrace I felt like I peeked into her story and intertwined my own to form a bond. It was a lovely and exhilarating moment between two strangers that also felt deeply personal and familiar. At that moment I shot up a little thank you to the universe for the courage to tell that story and not allowing my own fears to steer me away from what that women needed. It was a wonderful reminder that our stories truly are a gift to those who hear or read them and should be respected as such. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Six Years

Mi Querido Amor,

It is strange to think that 2,190 days ago you left this earth. To think of it in years feels like it hasn't been that long yet feels like decades in my heart. 

You have missed so much and yet you are still part of everything. Mostly I know you are part of my raising our daughter. Most of the time I feel like I am doing things so differently than if you were here. We had some very distinct ideas about how to raise a girl. You are missing the fun of the teen years. She is no longer the little girl who would spend snow days playing dress up in your suits and ties. Today she wears ripped jeans so tight I think she needs to spray herself with butter to get into them and sometimes I look at her and wonder what you would think of that style. Would you hound her to have more integrity in her appearance or would she have you so wrapped around her finger that you would be her shopping buddy? Both are very real possibilities. I sometimes imagine us disagreeing on things like sleepovers and make-up - your more traditional expectations clashing with my wanting to break away from those old ways that make young women question their worth. Sometimes I smile to myself when I tackle things I know would have made your ears turn bright red like puberty and the talk

So often I want to talk to you about everything that has to do with her. I want to hear your advice, see you laugh at her sass and beam with pride when teachers tell me that she is among their top students, or when she wears your Grinnell sweatshirt and says she wants to attend the same school as her daddy. You always wanted her to try her hardest and that is what she does. She gets that from our high expectations and that is part of the legacy you left her that I strive to carry on. 

It is hard not to wonder how her personality would be different if she had more years of your influence. I have done the best I can to keep your spirit alive among us but so many times I feel like I am keeping my head above water that it's hard to know if I make any in-roads. There are certainly times when I fail at parenting and feel that you would be ashamed of my actions. There are times when I send up a little, "I'm sorry" when I know you would have expected me to react differently than I do. I try, I really do but some of the challenges of parenting are more than what even you could face with an open mind and heart. This is hard work that never ends. 

Sometimes I am happy that you got the good years of playing tea party and making her day with a stuffed animal. Those days brought you so much joy and you took those moments with you. They were what brought you happiness and what our daughter holds on to. Nowadays it is way harder to make teens happy. Half the time it feels like swimming against the tide while wearing a weighted vest. I wish you were here to swim alongside me, hold me up when my arms get tired. This is by far the hardest thing you left me to do and I want to do it in a way you can be proud of. Even with the village of love and support you and I built, parenting solo is lonely.

Overall, six years feels like it has dragged on and gone by in the blink of an eye all at once. Was it six minutes ago that the casket closed? Was it sixty years ago I last heard your voice? Perhaps that is why many people equate grief with losing your mind. It feels like that sometimes. I miss you in subtle ways all the time, more so than I ever mention because it has become a part of who I am. I see things that you would like and the thought of you comes to mind. It saddens me but I remind myself that your bliss is better than anything I can see and the feeling passes. It all happens in seconds. It's like breathing. Yet, the days leading up to the 15th all my emotions are so much more profound.

I feel fear and vulnerability at levels that are hard to deal with. I feel needy to a degree that is uncharacteristic and it scares so me so I withdraw when what I really want to do is be curled up among those who love me and have been my rocks. The thought that replays in my head is how clueless I was in the days leading up to your death. I had no idea that we were experiencing our lasts. Our last good morning, our last disagreement, our last Valentine's Day, our last good night. The days were so normal and mundane and then BOOM. You were gone; my life changed; I changed. The trust I had in the universe was flipped on its head. In its place is the dread of the other shoe falling, waiting for the next shock to hit. It's like when you've been beaten and someone comes to hug you but you flinch because you expect to be beaten again, even if the person is smiling and calm as they approach you. I live in that flinch, especially in the days leading to the 15th.

I ask myself how I manage to unflinch the rest of the year and I don't have a clear answer. Why after six  years am I still flinching? I don't have an answer to that, either. I have these high expectations every year that I will be stronger, more prepared and less emotional. But every year I am disappointed at how much I feel, hurt and want things to get easier.

This year is no exception. Every anniversary I try new approaches. This year I have packed my calendar with back to back appointments and will end the night surrounded by family and friends. If it were not for them, I don't know where I would be. Throughout the day it is inevitable that my mind will wander back to February 15, 2012 and I will think about what I was doing that day. The memories will come in waves of feelings as they do every year. The scenes from that day will mix with scenes from your wake and funeral as they always do. One memory that always comes to me on this anniversary is the last time I saw your physical self, right before they closed the casket and how my feet felt glued to the floor. I didn't want to see the actual closing but I couldn't bear to walk away knowing what was to happen as soon as I did. From then on, the closed casket wasn't you. It was a prop from the worse day of my life.

Te quiero Mi Amor. Hoy y siempre.

Tu Preciosa,


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