Relationships: Chemistry and Compromise (Is There Room For Everyone? Part III)

Section 1: CHEMISTRY

Organic chemistry: The thing that everyone desires in matters of lust and love and the class everyone despises in college.

I was 16 when I had my first “official” boyfriend and it was also the first time I learned that great relationships require more than just chemistry. Well, there were three guys who wanted to date me, but I was nervous at the thought of heartbreak. In an attempt to protect me from heartbreak and teen pregnancy (I am assuming here), older women at church kept telling that “boys only wanted one thing–sex.” So, I was determined to be very careful with whom I gave my love to since I didn’t want the big bad boys to crush my heart and innocence!

Anyway, I remember being confused about which of the boys I wanted to date. I figured I should go for the one that would most likely be my husband some where down the line. I know, very naive and silly. The only problem was I couldn’t see far enough into the future to figure out which one would last that long! I had different kinds of chemistry with each one and needed advice from someone that I thought had a great marriage. So, I sought advice from one of my mentors.

Me: “I am so confused. I like them all for different reasons and I think I have a lot of chemistry with at least two… but it’s different with each one.”

Mentor: “Listen girl, don’t be confused and swept away by having chemistry with someone. Do you think that you are only going to have chemistry with one person in your lifetime? We are human! You are going to have chemistry with a lot of different people in this world– even when you are married– but don’t confuse having chemistry with meaning you are supposed to date that person, never-mind spend the rest of your life with them.  A great relationship needs to have strong organic chemistry, but it must be built on much more than that. And listen, since you are such a gorgeous girl with an amazing personality, a lot of men might likely want to have a relationship with you throughout your life. Don’t be fooled…You might feel chemistry with them, but chemistry is biological and real love and true commitment is something much deeper than chemistry.”

Ha! Well, I picked the guy I thought would be the best choice for me and it last 6 months! He was a certified player. Let’s just say I learned a lot after that and really internalized what my mentor said. Through experience, I later would come to understand exactly what true love and commitment really is and also what it is not. I would also come to realize that possible lifetime relationships could have “worked” with a lot of people, but there is a noticeable difference you find the one that works on more levels than just organic chemistry.

From dating to flirting, marriage, divorce, cheating, and everything in between, it is safe to say that “chemistry” lies at the center of it all. It is important, but it is not everything. In my opinion, there are five different kinds of chemistry: physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual. To some degree, a great relationship will have at least 3 or more and relationships with more “issues” will likely have fewer. I am aware that I am making a huge generalization here, but for the most part I think it is true.

Sometimes, however, once someone discovers they have “chemistry” with another person they are tempted to jump into a relationship without first considering all the other factors that make a person a good life partner. It is easy to become overly excited– or overly desperate (we have all been there)– in love and wrongfully allow “good chemistry” to make us…

  • believe the relationship is “meant to be” causing us to put large amounts of energy into something that we should not be in to begin with.
  • try to force the person to change the negative aspects of their personality into what we desire since the chemistry “is so strong it must be meant to be.”
  • sit in silence and unhappiness about ways we are treated because we don’t want to lose that “great chemistry.”

All of the above are things NOT to do simply because you feel you have “good chemistry” with another person.

Good organic chemistry is lovely and necessary, but it should not translate into anyone being in a relationship that causes them to compromise their happiness, morals, or character. So in terms of “chemistry,” there is NOT room in your heart for everyone you have “chemistry” with. 

In my opinion and experience, in order to have a great relationship one must really consider more than chemistry as important. Choosing a life partner should include more “life” related things like how the person fits into your life purpose(s), what individual goals you each have, whether you are both confident and clear on/in your own identity, both of your work ethics and resiliency, and how flexible you both are to compromising as each individual person grows and changes.

Section 2: COMPROMISE

Is there room for the both of us [to be happy long-term]?

I will be the first to admit that sometimes relationships are not honeymoon phases and rose petals. If you have ever been in any kind of romantic relationship, then you know that from time to time relationships can feel like there is not enough room for both of you to be happy. Arguments, drama, misunderstandings, apologies, compromises, limited schedules, hectic jobs, and other responsibilities can make it seems like in order for one person to be happy the other needs to be unhappy. This is not true, but it can definitely feel like that sometimes. Momentarily, it feels like it is the end of the world, but typically a few good conversations yield a great compromise that makes both people walk away feeling like there is room for both of their feelings and voices to be heard.

In even the best relationships, there will never be good times all the time! I think in some weird way a good partner helps us grow, so reasonable friction is good– enough for iron to sharpen iron, but not enough for two sticks to start a fire and burn down the whole house every other week! For me, the important part was/is to never allow “there will never be good times all the time” to act as an excuse to tolerate someone’s nonsense.

There is a definitive line between understanding that no relationship is perfect and settling for foolishness. Sometimes that line is very obvious as in cases of physical and verbal abuse or clear incompatibility. In other situations, the line is blurry and can only be considered on a case by case basis. If you are questioning whether you are in the right relationship, you definitely should discuss your thoughts with someone that you can be completely honest and open with (and who has a great long-term relationship). Maybe they can help you figure out if it is time to move on, if there are some steps you might take to repair or improve the relationship, or if maybe you are just overreacting or manifesting other issues and insecurities.

Creating room in a relationship for both people to feel loved, be happy, and to have space to grow requires both people to be willing to make that a priority! And on that note, let’s just point out that the “room” in the relationship should be an equal amount for both parties. It should look and sound something like this:

“I lay down some of my baggage to make room to love you more, and you lay down an equal amount of yours to make room for me. We may not lay down the same baggage, but we are going to lay down equal amounts so that the other person has an equal chance to experience the love God created for them to receive.”

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want a warped definition of love that the other person created for me. Please, love me the way God loves me and love me the way I need to be loved in order to become the best possible version of myself. That’s another problem: sometimes we want to love people they way we want to love them or the way we are used to loving other people (even exes). Leave it up to us and we will try to play God in people’s life and love them how we think they need to be loved, not the way God intended for them to be loved. But, I digress.

The key to creating room for people to experience the greatest love they ever will in their lifetime is quite simple yet challenging to apply. The key is to compromise in order to maintain a harmonious balance– meaning both people have equal chance to be happy in the relationship– but never compromise yourself, your character, your long-term happiness, or mostly importantly, your purpose. Love and relationships should be about two people deciding to share their love with each other and, maybe eventually, their life together (if they so chose). Making room for two people to co-exist in love together is not easy, but it also shouldn’t be overwhelming challenging.

In my opinion, healthy relationships are those that require two whole people. I can say from my experience– both personal and observed– it takes two emotionally and mentally whole individuals in order to have a great relationship. Of course, initially you may not be completely there yet, but both people must accept and be actively working on bettering themselves in order to be the best people that they can for each other and the world. Without each person being mostly whole within themselves, it makes everything in the relationship that much more complicated.

Unfortunately, sometimes we find ourselves in the rut of a series of bad compromises. I have been there and done that so I bare no judgement. However, after compromising your preferences and happiness enough times, your heart will begin telling you that it’s had enough! At that point you are faced with having to make the necessary decision to (1) come back into balance as a couple, (2) to end the relationship, or (3) to stay in a dissatisfying relationship with irreconcilable issues and unhappiness (the ultimate compromise).

I have been in all three positions: the one making the decision to leave, the one being left, and the one wanting to leave but being too weak to to follow through (until all the issues back me into a corner and I had no choice but to say goodbye). The good news is that there is a fourth position to be in: a relationship with great chemistry with someone else who knows how to make room for you and themselves without compromising the internal happiness of either party. If you have found that person, you know exactly how refreshing and awesome it feels! If you haven’t yet, trust me it is possible. So in terms of compromise in a relationship, there IS room for everyone (everyone here = only the two of you) if both people are equally committed to making equal room for each other. 

Note: This is Part III and the final post (for now) in a series around a critical question: Is There Room for Everyone? I invite you to read Part I on Race and Racial Identity and Part II on Success and Competition.

Would you like me to continue this series? What other topics would you like me to write about?

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Success and Competition: Is There Room for Everyone? (Part II)

Note: In Part I of this series entitled “Is There Room for Everyone?” I attempted to consider this life question through the lens of a major issue facing our society right now— racial tension. I hope that you a chance to read it and share your thoughts! If not, it is not too late.

For Part II of this series, I would like to consider this same question but applied to another area of life: personal success. If you have ever lived–which obviously you have– then you can relate to the pressure that comes with needing to feel competent, competitive, and successful.

From birth we are taught to “be the best,” to “eat or be eaten,” to “strive to do better than we (our parents) did,” to “set an example for those following behind us,” to “live up to our fullest potential,” and to “strive for success.”

Well hello, I was only 10 years old and I didn’t know what all that meant in practice. Thanks for setting me up to chase after something I had no idea about! Of course, back then I did not have that smarty pants reply to everyone who ever encouraged me to strive for success. If I knew the hunt would be so convoluted, I might have spoken up!

There is a lot pressure on children to figure out life! No wonder youth struggle with so many internal and external pressures. All I knew as a child was that “success” was this illustrious concept that every older person I knew was still striving for. I just wish someone would have told me that success is something you achieve everyday, step by step, goal by goal, instead of making me think that it is something to be achieved at one major level.

It is very sad to think that we spend the majority of our childhood, teenage, and early young adult years chasing a concept that we likely cannot even define for ourselves until much later in life. People ask, “do you want to be successful?” Well, YES, of course! Who doesn’t want to be successful? Duh.

Unfortunately, that is the wrong question. The real question is, “what does success look like for you?”  Figuring out what success looks like for us as individuals yields a more attainable picture of success. It is wiser to know what we are chasing before we start wildly running around hunting for a random target. Unfortunately, most of us are not taught the importance of the process so, just like me, you probably started wildly running after success without direction, confidence, or a clear focus. Can anyone relate?

Ultimately, any positive or negative decisions we make in our lives can be boiled down to two motives: (1) we are either chasing what we think will lead us to success, or (2) we are doing something that helps us cope with the stress and pressures that comes along with chasing and achieving success. However, simply asking someone if they want to be successful without first guiding them toward a personal definition does two things: (1) gives them the impression that they are currently unsuccessful and (2) ultimately sends them spiraling into the abyss to chase success with a blindfold on. Hooray!

And with that, we find ourselves quickly entrenched in the Comparison and Competition Wars at a early age. “Be yourself” they say. But what does that mean when one doesn’t even know who he/she is? So in an attempt to figure out who we are, we start looking at other people for clues and direction. We take bits and pieces of other people’s success to help form our own, which is not entirely bad. It does, however, open the door for the dangerous trends of comparison to and competition with others.

Personally, I think this is one of the most damaging things we do to ourselves: compare ourselves to other people. From the physical, intellectually, financial, materialistic, and the emotional, we constantly struggle with comparing ourselves to others.

1. If we think that we are better than them, we either…

  • directly or indirectly treat them like they are less than we are
  • gain internal confidence, or
  • become prideful and exert our “better-ness” every chance we can.

2. If we think that we are not better than them, we either…

  • find ourselves challenged with insecurities
  • strive to improve ourselves to catch up to them, or
  • do things to bring them down to our level and in turn seek justification for those actions.

3. Finally, if we find that we are on the same level, we either…

  • work on maintaining an equal level or status,
  • feel comforted that we finally found someone that can relate to the highs and lows of our journey to success, or
  • do everything we can to push them (1) a little lower so we feel higher or (2) a little higher because that’s what confident people do!

This comparison and competition is only heightened when it comes to professional areas of life. Do I even need to explain this one? If you work, hang around professional people, or have any kind of position or status in an institution or business, then you know that competition is both subtly and not so subtly at an all time high. The more prestigious the job, the more competition. It really takes a mature, self-assured, confident, independent person to not fall victim to the competition and comparison wars of professional culture.

So in the end, is there room for everyone when it comes to being successful? Is it possible to compete less with each other and work more to support each other?

It will be challenging, but I say it is possible to make room for others. However, there are a few things to keep in mind…

  • There will never be room for everyone else if we don’t figure out what success looks like for each and every one of us. We are all unique and have our own individual paths in this world. Success means finding your own lane and mastering the art of running in it. From relationships to professional careers, are you mastering running in your own lane or are you running in another person’s lane?
  • Until we embrace this concept– of defining our own success and staying in our own lane– we will always find ourselves pushing everyone out of the way to make room for our self. In reality, we were all created to be different so there are enough lanes for everyone. I know, competition seems natural and inevitable; I understand that. But I think that one of the reasons we compete, personally and professionally, is to ultimately be crowned a winner. Winning validates that everything we have been chasing in our own lane has not been a total waste of energy. We want to at least know that if we wasted our energy, someone else did too. However, our success is not measured by how we competed against someone in another lane, but rather how we mastered everything laid out for us in our own lane. Competition against others only leads us to emotional and mental exhaustion. So, the only time you should be looking at someone’s lane is to get tips on how to better run in your lane. Remember, the best version of you is not a series of stolen bits and pieces of other people.

There is room for everyone in success, but that’s only if everyone commits to staying in their own lane. You can look at other people’s lanes to find inspiration, but at some point you have to go back to your own lane and get moving. The only competition allowed is between following your heart or listening to the handicapping thoughts floating around in your head. In that battle, only you will decide which one wins.

Read Part I: Race and Racial Identity: Is There Room For Everyone? (Part I)

Read Part III: Relationships: Chemistry and Compromise (Is There Room For Everyone? Part III)

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Race and Racial Identity: Is There Room For Everyone? (Part I)

“This town ain’t big enough for the both of us.” – The Western Code

Nicki Minaj is currently allegedly feuding with Taylor Swift over the nominations for Best Music Video of the Year. According to Minaj, who was not nominated, “If your video celebrates women with slim bodies, you will be nominated for Video of the Year.” She continues, “When the “other” girls drop a video that breaks records and impacts culture they get that nomination.” In her subsequent tweets, Minaj presents her confusion over not being nominated for the award. She states in a reply to a follower, “I’m not always confident. Just tired. Black women influence pop culture so much but are rarely rewarded for it.”

Whether she was throwing “shade” at Taylor or Beyoncé (for her thinner body)– who is also a woman of color nominated in the category– we can all say that her comments poke at underlying topics currently booming on social media and news outlets– race and racial identity. If you watch the news, surf your Facebook or Twitter timelines, or read articles online, race and racial identity are particularly hot topics right now. Are all races equal? Where do we go? Who is to blame? Who is responsible for fixing the problem? These are just some of the questions that people are attempting to answer.

Racial differences, social tensions, the causes, effects, likes, dislikes, and everything in between are the topics of conversation. From feuds about musical accolades, to debates about whether “All Lives Matter” versus “Black Lives Matter,” to religious controversy over the recent Supreme court decision on equal marriage rights to all same-sex couples, or down to the never ending daily personal, relational, career competitions around us, they all make me think about one question– Is there room for everyone? 

Our world history is undoubtedly filled with the forces of competition, domination, conquest for power, class wars, enslavement, imperialism, subjugation, racism, ethnocentrism, entitlement, and sexism. There seems to be a prevailing need to win, and in our society winning means ultimately being better than someone else. With this attitude apparently dominating our society, is it really a surprise that we tend to compare ourselves to other groups? Is it strange that each group ends up determining that their group needs to be on top in order to win? Who defines this standard for what is “better” anyway? When did one body type become better than another? Or one religion become better than another? Or one career more prestigious than the other? Or in the context of race and racial identity, when did the color of someone’s skin continue to make them inferior or superior? We as humans created this complicated society. We made the rules and I would argue that we also still obtain the power to change them.

Our society created the standards that we still willingly follow. And in that sense, we all might bear some of the blame for the continued issues in our society. Yes, there was a time when people were legally not allowed to be equal. Their differences were despised and buried beneath the voice and power of the more influential, the more armed, or the majority. But those events in our history– despite some of the causes they fought for still needing work today– give us information that might help us figure out a more peaceful and honest way to coexist in a overly complicated world.

Based on the lessons we have learned from the past, two conclusions stand out in my mind: (1) we need to learn to love each other more and embrace the commonalities among all humans, and (2) we need to accept the possibility that there is not only room for everyone, but that we all need each other in order to move society forward for the benefit of all humanity.

Throughout history, humans decided to pursue what they thought was best for survival and success. Unfortunately, that repeatedly translated into the exploitation of one group for another group’s personal gain, and co-existence eventually resulted in the domination of one group over the other. Because of that, we all carry the fear that on the journey toward true equality one group will ultimately try to overthrown the other. It is disheartening that even on the smallest scale, we continue to conclude that there is no room for someone else on our level, in our group, or in matters that directly affect our life and our success.

If we peel back all the layers, we will find this fear, although having historical basis, persists as a result of our own insecurities, miscommunications, hurts, hatred, and weaknesses. In the end, love multiples when we choose to use it. There is always more than enough room in our hearts to love someone new after we have been hurt in a previous relationship, right? So then that is proof that there is a lot of love in our heart, if only we allow ourselves to access it. If someone of a particular race, group, or class has slighted you, please don’t assume that there is no more love left inside of you to love other people of that same group.

I am by no means trying to assert that we embrace things that intentionally undermine basic human rights and liberties. I am saying that overall, we need more of an attitude of “your culture, identity, customs, and language are just as equal and cool as mine, and you being on the same level as me doesn’t take anyway from my awesomeness.” Even down to the less attractive issues in our individual groups (violence, poverty, class), if we look closely enough we will find that those issues are less race specific and more problems that plague groups, governments, and societies around the world.

You have something to offer me and I have something to offer you. What I have to offer this world is also just as important as what you have to offer this world. It is from the connections and encounters among ideas and cultures that great progress is made. So maybe just maybe, loving more, viewing each other as human beings, becoming more empathic, embracing all races and racial identities, and actively supporting and promoting equality for everyone are the important steps needed to continue breaking down the walls of hatred and prejudice lurking in us all.

Saying we are “colorblind” in regards to race and racial identity means that I don’t see your cultural differences and you don’t see mine. I don’t think God intended for us to be “blind.” Instead, I would propose that we need to adopt– what for lack of a better term I will call– color appreciation and color enrichment. Color appreciation is to absolutely notice the differences in others and to actively embrace them as both beautiful and equal. Color enrichment is to actively support and advocate for the freedom of every group and the opportunity to achieve success without the limitations of discrimination.

While, we might not be able to solve society’s problems overnight, I can say that most solutions are going to have to start with open arms by everyone. Together, we might have to place particular focus on one group for a certain time, but it is not to the detriment of another– “All lives matter” and “black lives matter.” As issues arise in any and all groups, everyone rooting for that group proves that we stand for unwavering true equality in our society.

Every race should have the opportunity to attain any position and live out any dream within our society. Historically, challenges to progress did not stop people from pushing for progress. We can debate about the correct strategies to bring about true equality all day and night, but I am convinced it starts with a few things: cultural appreciation, cultural enrichment, love, empathy, and open arms. The only way all these will ever happen is if we conclude that we all need every group to play an active and equal role in our society.

Although separate does not mean equal we must be careful to understand that “different” in terms of culture, race, and racial identity should still mean equal. To annihilate one group for the gain of another is wrong. On the other hand, to assume that one group needs to behave, act like, and become like another group in order to be “equal” is equally as wrong.

In my opinion, all lives matter, black lives matter, and [insert your group here] matters too; straight hair is just as beautiful as curly hair; big booties are just as cool as smaller booties; one artist can be just as awesome as another artist; one religion has the right to believe what they want, just like I desire to love God the way I want; your career is just as important as mine; and your talent is just as unique and cool as mine. At the end of the day, there is an element of preference involved, but your preferences should not cross lines of cultural insensitivity, discrimination, or condemnation. We may not all be recognized equally for our greatness (for many different reasons), but we shouldn’t tolerate any one group not being recognized simply because of their given race or racial identity.

I really want to know, is there room for everyone? What are your thoughts…

Read Part II: Success and Competition: Is There Room for Everyone? (Part II)

Read Part III: Relationships: Chemistry and Compromise (Is There Room For Everyone? Part III)

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Shark Attack

Oh my goodness!

Does anyone know Mick Fanning’s blood type? Because his escape from that shark attack at the J-Bay Surf League Championship competition the other day was either pure miracle or he is certified half-human and half-beast! What a moment! Needless to say, for Mick’s sake, I am happy he survived; however, for the sake of everyone watching live, I am happy that we did not have to witness a tragedy.

After watching this near-death encounter, I started lecturing surfers everywhere… in my head of course. “If you know there are sharks in the ocean, why go out into the deep blue sea to dangle your little feet out there as bait? Is riding a wave really worth your life? Did the World Surf League even check to see if there were sharks in those waters? I would sue! This is exactly why I don’t go messing with sharks! If there is no boat to shield me from shark snack time gone wrong, then I am all set right here on the shore. Why play with danger? If you are silly enough to go out there, then you…”

Yes, for a split second I almost ignorantly suggested that someone deserved to get a limb chomped off because they were adventurous enough to live out a dream. Well, after doing my research I discovered that there is only a 1 in 4,000,000 chance of being killed by a shark. Mick was living his life and chasing his dream in the face of a low probability fear. Yet, there I was cowardly lecturing all surfers when I should have been asking myself about the low probability fears I have yet to conquer in my own life. At that point, I decided that I could probably learn a thing or two from Mr. Mick Fanning.

First off, Mick survived by only doing one thing correctly. The media headlines say, Mick Fanning “Battles Shark” and “Bravely Fights Off” attack. From the looks of it, Mick was terrified and did what any of us would do– scream, kick, and swim away for dear life! Overall, he did exactly what the surviving-a-shark-attack experts say NOT to do. He panicked. He turned his back to it. He tried to out swim it. The only thing that he did correctly was to hit the shark in an attempt to scare it away!  This is a great lesson because this means that (1) we don’t have to be perfect in order to win and (2) we don’t have to look perfect (or pretend to look perfect) while fighting the sharks of life. It is unrealistic to think that we will not break a sweat in the midst of a challenging battle. We are human and great human warriors sweat too. If you don’t believe me, then watch the movie 300.

Early on in life, I thought that defeating a challenge meant destroying it completely. If I was too weak to stand there, fight, and destroy it like David did Goliath, I would be disappointed with myself up for seeming weak. On the other hand, if I destroyed the challenge, but did it with a scary-cat panicked demeanor, I would also downplay the accomplishment. Mick teaches us that escaping and surviving doesn’t always need to be pretty and heroic; it just needs to be practical. In life there are sharks– plenty of them– and I am sure that (for the most part) in the end it doesn’t matter how we look when we are fighting them off. We just need to get the heck out of danger and keep living! Survival is not always pretty, perfect, and heroic; sometimes it is panicked and hectic, and that’s OK.

Secondly, thank God for adrenaline! Seriously. I don’t think that anyone would have anticipated this shark attack at the J-Bay Competition, but it happened unexpectedly anyway. When I think about life, I see similar situations happening to people all time. You are sitting there enjoying life, living a dream, accomplishing a goal, working hard to win, and then BOOM! A shark, or in our case, people and circumstances come to take a bite out of that body! Usually, this concept discourages me: I am on a mission to do good and then sharks try to destroy me! It is even more devastating when the human shark monsters attack you intentionally. What I admire most about Mick is that he fought back even though he was terrified! I can imagine that he saw his life flash right before his eyes. Ultimately, Mick decided that survival was more likely if he kept moving! Hitting the shark with force gave him enough time to get away– and that was all he needed. In the end it worked and he survived.

What is wrong with just “dodging the bullet?” What is wrong with simply escaping the shark attack? Surviving is just as courageous! At least you are alive to tell your story! Are there life-sharks seemingly appearing out of nowhere ready to eat you alive? Are you dealing with the unexpected and feel like it might be the end of you? Well, as in the case of Mick Fanning, KEEP MOVING; and if you are frightened, panicked, and everything in between, still keep moving! Remember, escaping and surviving doesn’t always need to be pretty and heroic, it just needs to be practical. You just might survive. Correction: You will survive!

Whatever you do, just don’t let the sharks take you under!

Photo Credit: CNN News courtesy of WSL

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Daddy, I Am NOT Eating That!

It is important to pay attention to the world around us and keep a close eye out for the clues and crumbs that lead us to an understanding of how to better navigate the world. I love a good life lesson. That’s what this blog is all about! However, as I live life, I am learning that a great life lesson is not always learned the hard way or even through great struggle. Sometimes, life lessons are found in the silver linings, the fumbles, and even the humorous. It’s fun to find lessons in odd places because it keeps us laughing, positive, and optimistic. I learned two valuable life lessons when my father was tasked with making me and my brother a sandwich when I was around 9 or 10 years old.

Ok, so my father is literally the most innovative and ingenious person I know. This guy can fix anything, with anything, in any place. The most amazing part about it is that he does not have any sort of formal engineering degree but can still solve a problem like no one I have every encountered. The end product may not always look beautiful, but it is functional and normally working again. The man is a genius and can solve mostly any problem he has ever been presented with except this one small task my mother left for him to do– to make my brother and I a sandwich!

It was a Saturday and my mother had gone to work for the day. One of my brothers and I were going to be the only kids in the house for the day. My mother didn’t have time to make food in advance like she normally does, so she asked my Dad to make us a sandwich for lunch. Now it is important to note that my parents mostly ate home-cooked food and rarely ate out when I was younger. My mom would branch out and experiment, but my Dad… well let’s just say he liked what he liked and American deli sandwiches were not high on his list back then!

I waltzed down into the kitchen for the yummy sandwich that I had complete faith my Daddy dearest was capable of making. He is generally a good cook, so I was pretty excited. Upon entering the kitchen, the four slices of bread were already neatly assembled on the kitchen table– two for me and two for my brother. So, he began to make the sandwich. Peanut butter… jelly… cheese…

Me (in shock and horror): “Daddy, WHAT ARE YOU DOING?”

Slightly annoyed and startled, he replies, “What do you mean? I am making you a sandwich?”

Me: “Daddy, NO. That’s disgusting. You can’t put cheese with peanut butter and jelly! I am NOT eating that.”

To my shock, he was not done with his master sandwich! To the peanut butter, jelly, and cheese, he added lettuce and deli meat! (I am sure I am leaving out at least one ingredient. Nonetheless, all I know is that the ingredients he assembled were sure to break some kind of record for nastiest sandwich). So, the debating began…

Me: “Daddy, that’s disgusting! Are you serious right now?”

Dad: “What do you mean? You guys eat this stuff all the time! Doesn’t Mommy put this in the sandwich all the time?” he yelled.

Me: “Yes, but not all at the same time Daddy!”

Dad: “Well, whatever! It is all going to the same place anyway! You either eat it or not. I am not making another sandwich!”

In the hopes that my father would understand the difference between sandwich contents, I called my brother down who is 3 years old than me. Well, he too was shocked and tried to talk some sense into the sandwich slaughterer, but it didn’t work. He was convinced his sandwich was gourmet and we were certain it was certified gross! In the end we didn’t eat it. I munched on a few snacks until my mother came home to rescue us from the nastiest sandwich any human had ventured to assemble! I cannot stop laughing every time I think about this story because my father is truly hilarious for this one. And trust me, I remind him of it every time I remember it.

Lesson 1: Do not be so quick to copy some one’s actions or life choices if you don’t know all the details of how they arrived there (and the consequences they endured getting there). Do you know my father’s reason for making this disgusting sandwich? He said he saw my mother use those ingredients all the time when she was making sandwiches for us! Are you kidding me? Well Daddy, you needed to pay closer attention buddy because she clearly never put those ingredients together at the same time in one sandwich! But isn’t his mistake much like ones we often make in life? We see other people’s success or we watch what they have achieved; then we just try to duplicate it without first doing our research to see how they got there in the first place. Do we know the details of their journey or are we blindly imitating them in the hopes of creating a masterful sandwich? Exactly. Then we are surprised when no one wants to eat our sandwiches. Sorry Dad, epic fail. Do your research before you start trying to blindly copy Mommy– the master cook of the house.

Lesson 2: Don’t allow ANYONE to make you physically, emotionally, or mentally ill– even if they are your dearest friend or family. There was no way on earth that I was going to eat that sandwich at that time. If I was on Fear Factor and it stood between me and $1,000,000, then gobble, gobble, gobble! However to eat it at home after I dreamed of a yummy sandwich all morning, absolutely NOT. I figured out a plan B and waited until my mommy came home. That sandwich would have made me vomit; and in the not vomiting versus not making my Dad feel bad about his epic fail of a sandwich game, I chose to not make myself sick. I love my Dad very much. He is one of my favorite people on the planet, but there was no way I was going to make myself sick just because he’s my Dad and I love him. Are you allowing someone you love (family, friends, acquaintances) to make you physically, emotionally, and mentally sick in the name of love, kindness, friendship, etc? We are little good to ourselves and those we love, if we are not at our best. I am sorry, but being emotionally and mentally sick because we keep eating crap (figuratively) from other people is ridiculous, not to mention poisonous. It is important to recognize that some times people are not intentionally trying to hurt us, but ultimately they are. It is our job to know our self, know our limit(s)– and with the help of God– know what’s best for us. That nasty sandwich was my limit. God bless my Dad’s heart, and I know he wasn’t intentionally trying to make me sick, but I would still not eat that sandwich.

Life is not always this big bad wolf that wants to blow our little house down. It wants to laugh with us, dance with us, and show us that life is all about growth, love, learning, and laughter. All there is for us to do is keep our eyes opened for sandwich slaughterers like my Dad trying to feed us the yuckiest food on the planet. Keep your eyes open, your heart receptive, and remember, DON’T EAT IT!

The Conundrum: Being Strong

After breaking my silence about a personal life event, I know there are a lot of people that suddenly have a lot of questions. My original post was intended to shed more light on an issue in our society than a whirlwind of questions about me. However, I accept the questions and curiosity as a part of the journey. In the initial aftermath, I noticed that there was one reoccurring message among conversations with people that personally know me– they have always viewed me as strong and smart. It is so sweet and wonderful for so many people to say this. To be honest it is oddly reassuring, yet in it also lies one of the descriptors that has caused unnecessary emotional turmoil throughout my life– STRONG. I have always aspired to be a women of great strength so I am happy that this trait is visible to others. However, for a long time my desire to be “strong” caused me great distress because I had no clue about what “being strong” really meant in practice. In my opinion, being strong and feeling strong are two different things and there is no great lesson in school that teaches us the differences between the two. For me, it is something I had to figure out over time.

Somehow I developed the misconception that being strong and smart meant that I always had to feel and act strong and smart. I had this idea that I couldn’t let people see my greatest weaknesses or else they might question my strength. In reality I was probably more terrified that if I acknowledged those weaknesses to myself it would disapprove what I believed about myself– I am strong. So when people kept saying how strong and smart they always viewed me to be, I started to wonder if this somehow meant they no longer believed it as much as they once did. The old way of thinking tried to sneak its little way back into my mind. After the comments, concerns, shock, and testimonies started rolling in, I started worrying about how this news would affect people’s image of me as a person. Would they think that the strength, drive, smile, laughs, ambition, and positivity we shared was all a lie? I mean, I worked so hard to overcome this adversity and serve as an inspiration for others so the last thing that I want is for people to treat me differently or question the many good times and happy days that we shared together. Yes, this little mind of mine was trying to test me! But, rest assured everyone; I passed the test in the end. Of course, without a doubt I know I am strong. How could I have overcome this secret adversity if I wasn’t? Yes, I may have scars, but I am still me.

In our society, people look up to the “strong.” Every Marvel comic superhero has his/her weakness, yet even though they often come close to demise in every movie, we still wish we could take a special daily multi-vitamin to gain some of their superpowers. We admire people that seem to endure adversity and subsequently emerge as victors. Well, as a young girl I had no clue about the complexities of strength, of how I even attained that label, or how to understand what it really internally feels like in a complicated world. Before the assault, I was strong. So after the assault, and when I felt I was over it (if that is ever really possible), I felt that I needed to continue being what I knew myself to be– strong. I thought feeling strong meant feeling confident, powerful, and happy. So, in my mind it should work in reverse order– being strong must mean being confident, being happy, and being powerful. Clearly, it takes more than a few years of life to develop confidence, happiness, and unwavering strength, yet I was certain that when I was not doing these things or feeling like this, I was not strong.

While my secret was significant and traumatic, I had a life, dreams, and other issues outside of it that I wanted to focus on as much as I could. In my adolescent ignorance, and in the face of a world that seems to enjoy playing dodgeball with human life, I set out to (1) feel, look, and embody my strength and (2) to fulfill my dreams. WHAM! Doubt. WHAM! Insecurity. WHAM! Failure. Mistakes. Fear. Acceptance. WHAM! WHAM! Loss. WHAM! WHAM! WHAM! Ball after ball, life was starting to put my strength to the test and I felt that the whole world was watching to see how strong I really was. In reality everyone was probably worried about their own issues, but I told myself that letting other people see my pain would mean that I wasn’t strong. Where did I even come up with this crap? It is kind of funny; we really believe some warped ideas at times. Think about it. When an elite athlete is interviewed on TV immediately after a game, are they not breathing pretty hard? Aren’t they usually tired, sore, and possibly on the brink of exhaustion? Exactly! So, why would I ever think that exhaustion signaled the lack of strength?  This is real strength, not the silly mentally I had. Strength says, “I ran the race and finished. I tripped, fell, am tired, and sore, but I did not and will not give up. I will be back.”

After living life a little more, one the greatest discoveries I made was to realize and understand true strength through the lens of fitness and sports. In my athletic heyday, I could lift a pretty hefty amount of weight in the weight room. I was a young female athlete on a mission to sprint faster and run longer. I was am proud of my strength at that time. But I have to tell you, I was usually physically sore most of the time during the season! Eventually, I accepted soreness as a necessary component of building strength and after a while I got used to it. It was natural. “No pain, no gain,” right?  Overtime, I was less sore and very strong. In the beginning, I would say to myself, “Get it together girl. You are stronger than this. You are supposed to be strong.” In the end, I began to understand that I am “not stronger than this” but rather “I am strong because of this.” In my mind feeling strong once meant feeling confident, happy, and powerful. Well, on the journey to building strength one does not often feel confident and happy about difficult training and subsequent soreness. I finally started to see that strength is more a behavior than it is a feeling. From that point on, I learned to stop questioning my strength whenever I discovered another area of weakness. I was as strong as I believed I was and as strong as everyone says I am. Looking at strength this way has given me freedom in times when the weight of trauma, loss, failure, and disappointment are at an all time high. I was free to show the world that my physical and emotional “soreness” by no means was a sign of weakness, rather a sign of great strength.

In the end, I began to understand that I am “not stronger than this” but rather “I am strong because of this.” […] I finally started to see that strength is more a behavior than it is a feeling.

In most areas of success, business, or fitness, it is imperative to analyze areas of weakness in order to make the necessary adjustments to improve performance. It is no different for “strong” people. Anyone who is willing to reflective, notice their weaknesses, and take action toward improving themselves is strong. Strength is never an indication that a person is not carrying a heavy weight; it just means that they are choosing to never let it overtake them. Everyone displays emotions differently and everyone deals with things differently. If someone who is viewed as “strong” displays their emotions in a different way, it in no way indicates that their hurt is easier, lighter, or their character stronger or better. It just means that everyone is different and yet everyone is the same– human.

Strength is never an indication that a person is not carrying a heavy weight; it just means that they are choosing to never let it overtake them.

As we weave through the characters and complex world around us, remember that everyone has a story. They may never tell you the story or act it out before you eyes, but that doesn’t mean that their pages are not filled with complicated stories like everyone else. Never think that a “strong” person has never experienced great emotional challenges. Most likely, it is their journey through those challenges that makes them who they are! Chances are you are one heck of a strong person too; maybe even more than you know. And yes, life will play dodgeball against you too! Listen, you grab life by the balls and start fighting back with all you’ve got! You might feel a WHAM or a dozen along the way, but that’s OK. When you take the hit, you regroup and knock those challenges right back on its _ _ _ ( ← clue: another word for butt)! What? Strong people don’t swear… 😉

Me Too: A Glimpse Inside the Mind of One Sexually Assaulted Girl

When the news first broke about Bill Cosby and the numerous alleged sexual assaults, like most of you, I read different posts and articles yet could not figure out what or even who I believed. At first, I did find it strange that so many women waited so long to speak out against Cosby. Why now? Article upon article questioned the authenticity of the women involved and many others desperately tried to defend one of American’s favorite TV dad’s. I am not sure why I personally questioned why the accusers waited so long because I too have been keeping my silence.

Growing up so many people watched The Cosby Show in the hopes of someday attaining the image of one of America’s successful TV families. If you were an African-American living during the prime of the show, you could not help but support and love it because there were not many successful African-American families displayed on TV. Overall it was an endearing show, so Black, White, Asian, or Latino, you probably also loved it. Therefore, when the allegations started pouring in, many people’s first instinct was to deny the reality that a man so adored and loved could have drugged and sexually assaulted so many women.

As more women started speaking out, I started to think that these allegations were less likely a coincidence or a lie. There were just too many women from too many different walks of life. If someone was “paying them” to do this, that person must be a billionaire because 39 accusers (and rising) amounts to a lot of money that I can’t imagine shelling out just to ruin another person’s reputation. From racial animosity to desperate claims for money, the accusers (for the most part) were vilified in the media by citizens and celebrities alike. Well, on July 6th, major news outlets reported that documents dating back to 2005 revealed Bill Cosby admitting to (1) obtaining drugs with the intent to utilize them on women and (2) that he used these drugs on at least one woman. With the release of his dated admission, every doubter, questioner, and supporter alike probably started to change their minds on the subject.

Although the release of these documents confirm the likelihood of sexual assault against numerous women, one major question still remains– why did the majority of the women wait so long to say something? Was it fear, denial, shock, the belief that no one would believe them anyway, or did some of them just lie to obtain fame? No matter what reasons the women have cited for their lengthy silence, some people will never understand or accept it. I feel even worse for the few women who started speaking out years ago and were silenced. Bill Cosby never assaulted me nor could I ever begin to explain or understand how these particular women felt throughout all their years of silence. However, I think I might be able to shed some light on why they might have waited so long because I too was once sexually assaulted.

This is the first time I am sharing this with more than a few people. None of my siblings know. The majority of my friends have no idea. I finally told my mom a few months ago and my father still has no clue (I think). To be perfectly honest, I hope he never reads or hears about this blog post because I think his heart would break, literally. Hopefully my story will help someone understand the emotional and mental maze that begins to form in the mind of someone that has been sexually assaulted. When the assault is by someone you have known for a while or respected for some time, the mental maze becomes even more complicated.

Before I begin, let me just say a few things. If you are reading this and you personally know me, please refrain from guessing who my assaulter is. Chances are you will be wrong and draw damaging false conclusions in your head. If you have more questions, contact me directly. Secondly and sadly, I have never brought charges against this person, so for that reason I will not include too many details. This post is more about shedding light on the emotional roller coaster that a sexual assault victim may experience. So with that focus, let’s get into the mental maze…

  • Shock: Without getting too deep into the details of who, what, when, where, why, and how (it would be very long and likely blow your mind), I will undoubtedly say that the first emotion I went through was shock. I never in a million years thought that I would be a victim of sexual assault. My assaulter was someone that I respected and interacted with on a daily/weekly basis throughout my high school career. My friends and teammates also highly respected this person and he was very close to some of their families. Never believing this would happen to me is probably one of the reasons my first emotion was shock. I watched movies and shows involving sexual assault and always imagined that I would use some major fight moves to escape such a situation if it ever happened to me. Sadly, my moves failed me.
  • Questioning: “What is he doing? What should I do? How do I get out of here? What did I do to give this person the impression that I wanted this? Were there signs about this person that I missed? What will my parents say? Will my friends– who love this person– believe me? Has this happened to anyone else? What will happen to this person if I tell? And the list goes on and on. Unfortunately, in my case, the biggest question in my head then (and to some extent now) is “what did I ever do to make this man do this to me?” Logically, I know that I absolutely did nothing. All my interactions with this person were always surrounding sports or life, yet this question still baffled me. I can only imagine how this question plagues the minds of other victims of sexual assault.
  • Blaming Yourself: This thought/emotion somewhat follows the many questions. Regardless of the innocence you know you have in the situation, it can be extremely difficult to refrain from second guessing how you handled the situation before, during, and after the act. For me, this person assaulted me numerous times, so I blame myself for not saying something to someone after the first instance. I always considered myself to be a strong person, so I was disappointed that I didn’t speak out after the first instance. Instead I worried more about how all my friend’s lives would change if I said something. This person was a father figure to some of my teammates and others depended on this person’s expertise to open doors for athletic scholarships. If I said something, I might ruin their lives, or at least that’s what I thought at the time. I blamed myself for my silence.
  • Guilt of Ruining the Abuser’s Life: This one might be a little hard for you to understand. Since I spent a significant amount of time with this person, I knew a lot about this person’s life. He was not married, had no kids, had very few friends, spent most time working, and spent little time with siblings and family due to distance. Before the incident I often felt very bad for this person. My friends and I even spent time joking about how he should date different older women that we knew or how he needed to go partying with his friends and switch up the routine of work-home-work. I had pity and in a weird way I could understand how someone like this person could become desperate and dysfunctional. So when I was faced with putting this person in prison and destroying the little life he had, I couldn’t do it. In hindsight, I wish I did. No one deserves what I went though and he should have thought more about his life before he chose to assault young women.
  • Letting other people down:  As I contemplated whether I would speak up, I was torn between the right thing to do and the many people that would be devastated by the news. First, my parents. One of my parent’s biggest warnings and concerns was always to be safe at all times. They did everything they could to keep their children out of harm. How was I doing to break this news to them? I was afraid they would never let me go anywhere else throughout high school, and more importantly, that my little sister would never get to go anywhere without my parents panicking. So, I said nothing. Secondly, my friends. How would they take the news that one of their favorite people was a creepy assaulter? I didn’t know if he was assaulting them too. I tried to watch for changes in their behavior, but I couldn’t find any. In my uncertainty, I kept quiet. In the end, I confronted the person about it (it didn’t go well) and used my independence and maturity to navigate my way out of the assaults and away from that person. The sad news is that I couldn’t avoid being around the person on a weekly/daily basis so I pretended to be okay so that my friends would not figure out the truth.
  • Feeling tainted and unwanted: I know. This emotion/thought makes no sense. Because of all the varying ranges of sexual assault we see in the media, I thought that people might view me as scarred. How will my boyfriend (at the time) react if I tell him I was sexually assaulted? Will that image be in his mind forever? Will he still want me? I was a teenager and these were the thoughts running through my teenage mind. Sad, but true.
  • Comparison: Who am I to complain? At least I wasn’t raped in a back alley by some stranger and then strangled to death. At least I wasn’t molested by one of my family members. At least… At least… At least. You know the saying “someone always has it worse than you?” Well, this is probably a sexual assault victim’s worse enemy. Although what happened to me was traumatic, it was not the worse case of sexual assault that I ever heard. I was not drugged, beaten, or killed. Therefore, I kept telling myself to get over it and move on, to stop being sorry for myself and be grateful that something worse didn’t happen. Why ruin this person’s life and make a big deal when it wasn’t “that bad?” Right? It made no sense, but like I said, the emotions are like a roller coaster and the mind like a maze.
  • Alone and Misunderstood: Carrying the burden of silence sucks both emotionally and mentally. You really want to scream at the top of your lungs about the emotional confusion you are going through, but at the same time you know that you can’t bring yourself to say something (for some of the reasons already outlined in this post). Of course, I thought I never changed emotionally and believed that no one would see the pain that I was in. However, I may have been successful on the outside, but was failing miserably on the inside. It manifested in many different ways. I didn’t want to get up for school in the morning and was constantly late; I felt depressed behind my laughs and bubbly personality; I failed classes in school that as an A and B student I never thought I would fail; I overcompensated in other relationships because they felt safe; and I strained my relationship with my mom because she confronted me on different occasions about the “change in attitude” and of course I always replied, “I am fine.” For a long time, I felt alone and misunderstood. I isolated myself from certain people in order to cope and I would keep many people at arm’s length so they wouldn’t indirectly figure out my secret.
  • Depression: It is a great misconception that the only depressed people are those that never get out of bed, eat tubs of ice cream, cry often, isolate, and walk with their head down. Well, sadly, due to my little secret I can say that I struggled with depression from time to time behind my bright smile and all my laughs. This is not to say that my love of laughter was a facade, but it does mean that sometimes my laughter was to keep from crying. It also means that at night when the laughter stopped, I often cried. Yet on the bright side, I can unequivocally say that it means that my laughter and smile saved me.

The emotions and thoughts outlined above are only those of my story. Also, these are in no way a complete list of the possible emotions. I am sure that other people who have been sexually abused can relate, but I also know that I cannot and do not speak for every situation or every person.  It is sad that society and certain circumstances make it difficult for people to feel that they can speak out against respected and well-known people when they have committed wrongdoings.

In our society, some people are dishonest about sexual assault and try to use it as a means to retaliate against other people. Unfortunately, at first the 39+ women in the Cosby case were probably perceived in this light. Now hearing the truth, I feel sad that they had to carry this burden for so long. The emotional trauma that lingers throughout the life of someone that never had the opportunity to share their hurt and trauma is complex. It undoubtedly affected many areas of their lives that they might never be able to go back and change. They often carried the burden alone and had to figure out different ways to hide their moments of confusion, sadness, and even rage. Hopefully, at some point throughout their silence they were able to find healing. For any woman that sat or sits in silence suffering in the mental maze, I stand in solidarity with you.

Yes, Bill Cosby has done great things for American TV, African-Americans in film, comedy, philanthropy, and education, but he might also be a sexual abuser (Technically in the American justice system he is innocent until proven guilty). If guilty, his successes should not trump the pain he has caused many women. Let’s use this as a lesson and if you are still questioning why these women (if he’s guilty) or any other women of sexual abuse took so long to speak out about their assault, I hope that this blog post has at least shed a little bit of light.

If you know of someone who has been sexually assaulted and has had to keep it a secret (for whatever reason), or if you have been the victim of sexual assault, I hope that one day you will be able to share you story. You are not alone.

#breakthesilence

Ask me: http://wp.me/P31EeG-hg

Protect Your Optimism

Man, oh man! How much bad, poor, negative news can we handle? Does anyone else feel like every time they turn around there is more bad news being reported? Yes, Facebook is usually filled with positive messages and laughs; Instagram with joyous photos and smiles; but, the news, forget about it– sad news upon weird news upon more sad news. Of course, there are many hopeful stories mixed in, but violence, rape, fraud, cancer, overdoses, war, terrorism, racism, death, and financial ruin seem more prevalent than the positive, the hopeful, and the good.

I often struggle with keeping a positive, hopeful, faith-filled head when I watch or receive dreadful news. In the moment, it really knocks a little bit of the wind out of me and makes me wonder if there is any good left in the world. In some instances, I find myself asking myself “why” this or that happened. Thereafter I usually utter a “God, help me,” put everything back into perspective, and realize more and more that living to the fullest is the only alternative to the negative surrounding us. Herein lies the good news: the more I attempt to live life to the fullest is the more that I realize and believe that there is still more positive than negative in the world.

Some time ago, I began thinking about how often fearful negative things actually happen to me or people I know. Throughout this exercise, I found that more negative instances did happen more in some areas than others, but overall the chances of the negative prevailing were lower than my fears would lead me to believe. In no way does this mean that I believe bad things will not or cannot happen to me or those that I know. It just means that although the negative, bad, discouraging events may happen, they are probably far less prevalent than my fears will allow me to believe.

Sometimes it can feel that negative things unceasingly happen to us. While this may or may not be true, the goal is to not lose hope and try not to become too overwhelmed by them. In the grand scheme of life, the statistics may still fall on the side of hope and good. If life does not feel positive right now, keep living and eventually the numbers will straighten themselves out. Who knows? Maybe the positivity and optimism we all seek lies inside of us all.

Protect your optimism, then, share it with the world.

Photo credit: https://flic.kr/p/qBtgR4