Why You Need to Embrace What Makes You Different

I’m starting to think that the ultimate goal (and challenge) in life is learning to truly embrace what makes us different. When we are young, most of our teachers, families and even Sesame Street tells us that we are special. Then, we grow up and have to contend with a world that tempts us with comparison. Every day, we have a choice to compare who we are, how we look, and our contributions to the world. Unfortunately, this is where things can become toxic.

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Thank you, Yesterday

One of the biggest things that hold us back from achieving our fullest potential is the lingering narratives from our past. The moments of success and joyful memories keep us going, but the weight of mistakes, shame, guilt, and regrets can be crippling. Holding on to the past hinders you from realizing your authentic self. In this post, we are going to take a few moments to reflect on our past—with all its ups and downs—take lessons from the past and stop to say “thank you, yesterday.”

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Run At Your Own Pace

#dearself is a series of blog posts written to my past, present, or future self. I hope you can find a lesson or gentle reminder in this personal note that you can apply to your life as well.

Dear Self,

When will you really start listening to me? You have more inside of you than you ever acknowledge or embrace! I hope today showed you a valuable life lesson—focus more on running at your own pace.

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Happiness is a Choice Not a Chase

Epiphany: Happiness is a choice.

#dearself is a series of blog posts written to my past, present, or future self. I hope you can find a lesson or gentle reminder in this personal note that you can apply to your life as well.

Dear Self,

Are you happy? You have asked yourself this question so many times throughout your life. Whenever people asked you where you envisioned your life in the future, your answer always included that you wanted “to be happy.” If someone asked you right now where you want to be five, ten, or twenty years from now, “being happy” would definitely make the list. Sure, it’s a common goal. Then again, who would not want to be happy in this life?

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Judging People in the Media: Right or Wrong?

It is very easy to forget that other people are also human.

I remember when I was a little teenybopper I subconsciously found slight enjoyment in commenting on other people’s life mistakes/decisions. In a weird way it made me feel more normal, more confident, and more hopeful that — despite not having everything I wanted — I might possibly stand on a higher moral ground than those I chose to judge comment on. I felt the pressure to be perfect, so it was kind of refreshing to know that other people were not. Hooray, someone’s mistakes were bigger than mine!

Back then I would not have considered myself a gossiper, but I certainly had an opinion if asked. In my mind, my opinions were not judgements but rather concerns cloaked in curiosity. Me be mean-spirited and judgmental? No. Never. However oddly enough, the most enjoyable conversations were those about the mistakes of people that acted like they were better than others. “See, that’s why people should never think they are better because life will show us that we are not.” This I would proclaim while thinking myself better than they were. Oh, the irony.

One of the easiest targets I felt entitled to comment on were celebrities and entertainers. There were many I loved, but there were others I thought to be raunchy, slutty, desperate, fake, corny, untalented, ugly, weird, crazy, and/or conceited!  Most of my negativity boiled down to the fact that I didn’t feel they deserved the fame, money, or success they had. I was jealous disturbed that me, my family, my friends, and others in society had to “work so hard to succeed while these celebrities prance around from red carpet to red carpet like the hardest task of life is deciding what makeup, suit, dress, or date they are going to bring that night.” Elite athletes were not exempt from my judgments opinions either: I would say, “you are talented, but you are lame!” Of course I had no idea about the challenges and sacrifices, both physical and emotional, they had to make in order to get to where they were. Yet, I still felt the God-like right to determine what someone else deserved! But you know what? It is very easy to sit back and comment on another person’s life — celebrity, athlete, famous or not —  when we don’t really have to live their life or walk in their shoes.

It might sound like I sat around all day “hating” on other people (which is not really the case), but I do recall the many moments when I projected my insecurities and anxieties onto the easy targets of the world: the famous ones, privileged ones, and the entertainers. They signed up for it, right? It comes with the territory, right? It is the price of fame, right? Well, at least that’s what I told myself in order to justify my judgments opinions. I needed to find something negative in order to explain why my life was less glamorous so I told myself I had more class, purpose, and humility than “those people.” Honestly, deep inside me I really just wished I was rich too! (I still secretly do).

As my teenage years passed, the celebrity issues I read about were no longer so distant from the realities of regular people. Suddenly I knew/knew of people going through similar experiences: divorces, rumors, cheating, drug and alcohol abuse, hard partying, suicidal episodes, and/or new boyfriends/girlfriends every other week. I started to rethink my heavily misguided judgements about entertainers and got the sense that anything could happen to anyone, famous or not. I started asking myself: Would I be able to endure the pressure? How do I know I wouldn’t do that under the right conditions? Would I really be able to react differently than they do? Would my attitude be different if I went through that? How would I feel if I was in their shoes? Would I be happier? Could I handle the constant spotlight of judgment and expectations of perfection? I wasn’t always sure in each circumstance so I changed my opinionated tuned: “Judge less and never think you are above life’s challenges; just hope, pray, and do whatever you can so the challenges allotted for you won’t be the end of you.”

Now in early adulthood, I feel empathy for celebrities, entertainers, and leaders. Social media has not only changed how the world interacts, but it is also impacting how we view each other. When I started college, MySpace was huge, Facebook was only open to college students with a valid school email address, and there was no Twitter, Instagram, or Snapchat. Before social media, we had to wait to hear about a celebrity scandal in the local newspaper, on the nightly news, or we just had to speculate about the truth plastered across the front page of the tabloids. Now, everything is front page news on social media and everyone has a comment or judgment that can be posted openly or anonymously for anyone to read at any time. The sad news is that it’s highly likely that one of our friends, family members, or even one of us will be in a position of entertainment, leadership, or fame one day. We/They will have to endure the same public ridicule that we put entertainers and leaders through everyday. There are some people out there that warrant the opinions we have toward them, but those people are far less prevalent than those that don’t deserve it.

When I look at the tabloids, blogs, and entertainment news columns I see stories that could happen to any normal person:

  • Rumored marital problems: If you have ever been in a relationship, then you know that there are ups and downs! Imagine paparazzi and news outlets, proclaiming your relationship or marriage to be over while you’re fighting hard to make it work. Imagine your relationship is totally wonderful, yet every grocery isle claims it’s doomed because your spouse is cheating with someone else in their industry.
  • Breakups and makeups: Now we know that the dating scene can range from very pleasant to pure madness. Can you imagine every dating move you made being stalked and reported by the media? From your one-night stands, to your short-lived relationship, to your quick transition to the next lover, or to the moments you thought you were exclusive but he/she is out dating someone else. Can you imagine finding all that out on social media? Can you imagine being judged for the relationship decisions you willingly chose to make as a grown man/woman by people who probably have less than perfect relationships themselves?
  • Family Drama: Need I say more? Can you really imagine all your family drama being front page news for all your friends, employers, and haters to revel in? How embarrassing!
  • Body Image: Can you imagine feeling like a fashion icon only to later find out that half the world thinks you look hideous? Or even worse, can you imagine those times when you don’t look your best and have to go out in front of the world? Exactly!
  • Hidden Struggles: You may not be an alcoholic or drug abuser, but I am sure if you think hard enough you will be able to identify one person you know that struggles with something similar. But, what’s your vice? How do you mask and hide your insecurities, anxiety, and/or fears? What are the self-defeating behaviors and thoughts you have? How would you feel about having your lowest day chronicled and logged as the most talked about news of the week?
  • Mental Illness or Health Issues: Sometimes we deal with mental and health issues that we don’t necessarily wear on our sleeves. Some are impossible to hide and others we try our hardest to keep private. Can you imagine people taking your private moments for mass entertainment or having cameras and photographers outside every surgery and doctor’s appointment as they dig and hack for your medical history simply for entertainment purposes?

I don’t know why I think about these things but I do. I think about how some celebrities, prominent figures, entertainers, and leaders in our society must feel at night when they lay down to sleep knowing that there are a lot of people out there in the world that would rather tear them down than see them thrive. Too easily we forget that people are human and deserve to be treated like they have a heart. Let’s try harder to support the entertainers we like but NOT pull down those we don’t enjoy as much. Instead of trashing them from our lofty moral seat, let’s just say, “I am not a fan” and keep it moving. The truth is our bashing, hating, disgust, and attacks say more about our internal issues than they do about theirs.

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Understanding Your Relationship Timeline

If you have ever been in a relationship, I can almost guarantee you have either thought about your relationship timeline or someone has asked you about it. If you are in a relationship (especially in your late 20s and above) or have been dating someone for three or more years, people seem to ask the same basic questions:

  • “How long have you two been dating?”
  • “When are you planning to get engaged? Have you talked about it?”
  • “When are you planning to get married?” 
  • “When are you planning to have kids?”
  • And then after having one child, “When are you planning on having more?”

These are normal questions to be curious about, especially if you are excited for the other person. I’m sure as annoying as these questions can be, we have been guilty of asking our friends and family them at some point in time.

I don’t have a problem with the questions. I have a problem when the person asking begins to place their judgment on the answers and proceeds to interrogation. When this has happened to me, it ultimately left me feeling like I needed to defend my timeline or the strength of my relationship.

I have a public service announcement: There is no one-size-fits-all relationship timeline.

Why? Because we are all on our own unique life path.

For many reasons, our society has communicated certain relationship timelines and expectations to us. We often think we know how another person should live their life. However, most times, we barely even know how to live ours. Yes, there are universal truths, wisdom, and lessons we should pay attention to but what works for one person does not always work for someone else. We need to respect that.

If you are in a great relationship, do not allow yourself to be swayed by other people’s opinions of your relationship timelines. You can be in a strong relationship and have different timelines for different reasons. And, that’s OK!

People have different timelines for a variety of reasons. Some people have values and beliefs about marriage due to personal or spiritual reasons. Sometimes people are in positions where they cannot have children or want to have certain structures in place before they do.

As I talk to friends about relationships, I find myself living by and sharing the same piece of advice: “The best thing you can do for your relationship is to stop comparing the relationship and timelines to other couples.” 

With that said, do not use this statement as an excuse or justification for staying in a poor relationship! Every couple’s relationship dynamic and timeline may be different, but love is identifiable and distinguishable. Disrespect, cheating, abuse, degradation, and selfishness are not characteristics of love. While you should not compare your relationship to others, you should look to great relationships for positive traits of love.

If you have found a great life partner, which requires more than chemistry, chances are you are destined to have a wonderful life together. When you chase another couples’ relationship timeline, you might experience issues in yours because that road is not meant for you. You are missing out on the many blessings on your unique road because you are too busy traveling on another couple’s path. 

Many years ago, a few couples I adored and knew closely went through a divorce. Everyone I knew LOVED these people together. We were shocked by the news because we thought they had it all. On the outside, they were the perfect couple, or so we thought. Feeling confused, it was at that moment that I decided to learn from their successes and failures but to always do what works best for my relationship.

I am not a relationship expert, but I know that having a successful relationship requires more than checking off a list—engagement, marriage, babies, house, and more. Instead of comparing your relationship to others, keep doing the real work necessary to make any relationship last.

  • Keep working on your mental/emotional readiness, finances, health, and career.
  • Do the healing work from your past so it doesn’t prevent you from giving and receiving powerful love.

Remember, a strong relationship that is built to last takes time to build.

There is Room for Everyone: Success and Competition

In Part I of this series, I explored the topic of racial equality. For Part II of this series, I would like to consider whether there is room for everyone in another area of life: personal success. 

If you are living, then you can relate to the pressure that comes with needing to feel competent and successful.

From birth we are taught to be the best, eat or be eaten, strive to do better than our parents, set an example for those following behind us, live up to our fullest potential, and strive for success. Well, I was 10 years old when I started hearing all of that and I didn’t know what any of that meant in practice. Thanks for setting me up to chase after something I had no idea about!

There is a lot of pressure on children to figure out life before they are 18. 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 every day, step by step, goal by goal, instead of making me think it is a single destination.

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 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?

Unfortunately, that is the wrong question.

The real question is, “what does success look like for you?” 

Simply asking someone if they want to be successful without first guiding them toward a personal definition does two things: 1) sends the message that they are currently unsuccessful and 2) ultimately sends them spiraling into the abyss to chase success with a blindfold on.

From an early age, we find ourselves quickly entrenched in the comparison and competition wars. “Be yourself” they say. But what does that mean when you don’t yet know who you are? 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. Personally, I think this is one of the most damaging things we do to ourselves. From the physical, intellectual, financial, materialistic, and emotional, we constantly struggle with comparing ourselves to others.

This comparison and competition are heightened when it comes to professional areas of life. Do I even need to explain this one? If you work or have any kind of position or status in an institution or business, then you know that competition is often 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 in professional culture.

So in the end, is there room for everyone when it comes to being successful?

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.

  • 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. However, our success is not measured by how we competed against someone in another lane; rather, it’s measured by how we mastered our own. Competition against others only leads us to emotional and mental exhaustion. 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 possible 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 with yourself.

Read Part I: There Room For Everyone: Racial Equality?

Read Part III: There Room For Everyone: Compromise and Chemistry in Relationships

The Conundrum of Being Strong

After breaking my silence about a personal life event (sexual assault), I know there are a lot of people that suddenly have a lot of questions. My original post was more intended to shed light on an issue in our society than it was to create a whirlwind of questions about me. However, I accept the questions and curiosity as a part of the journey.

After the post, I noticed that there was one reoccurring message in conversations with people that personally know me—I have always seemed so strong despite this silent trauma. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how to process that at first. On one hand, I guess it’s oddly reassuring, yet it also reinforces one of the misconceptions that caused me a lot of emotional turmoil throughout this ordeal. This was the false narrative: “I am supposed to be strong. Women are supposed to be strong.”

Strength is an positive attribute and I have always aspired to be a woman of great strength. So, I am happy that this trait is visible to others. However, strength doesn’t mean we are superhuman and invincible. Unfortunately, this is what I thought it meant for so long. Therefore, I kept my sexual assault a secret (read the post for other reasons) and operated in false strength. My desire to appear “strong” meant viewing trauma and mistakes as weakness and questioning my often wavering healing. I had no clue what “strong” really meant in practice.

Now I understand that being strong and feeling strong are two different things.

In our society, people look up to figures that show strength. You will rarely find anyone following a weak leader. Every Marvel superhero has his/her weakness, but we root for the superpowers. We admire people that seem to endure adversity and emerge as victors.

Well, as a young girl I had no clue about the complexities of strength. I thought strength meant always being confident, powerful, and happy. Somehow I developed the idea that I always had to show strength to the world and couldn’t let people see my greatest weaknesses. In reality, I was probably more terrified that if I acknowledged those weaknesses to myself it would mean I didn’t believe I was strong. The problem is I was equating strength with happiness and joy. If I am strong, I should feel happy. If I’m happy that means I’m strong. Wrong. In reality, real strength is preserving and moving forward in both times when you do and do not feel happy and joyful. It’s a way of being.

As I struggled internally through the silence of my assault, people could not understand saying I was depressed at times even when they saw me smiling. So, when people kept saying how strong they always viewed me, I started to wonder if this somehow meant they no longer believed it as much as they once did. My 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. Would they think my strength, drive, smile, laugh, ambition, and positivity is a lie? Of course, it is not. It’s just not the only truth. I was/am strong AND I really struggled during those hard times. And, oddly, it’s that struggle that made me even stronger today.

Changing My Perception of Strength

It was helpful for me to use fitness and sports to better understand true strength. In my athletic prime, I could lift a good amount 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. And, 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 muscle, and after a while, my body adapted as it got stronger and I learned proper recovery. “No pain, no gain,” right? 

Think about it. When we see an elite athlete 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 we ever think that exhaustion or struggle signals a lack of strength? It’s actually the greatest sign of strength. Strength says, “I ran the race and finished. I am tired and sore, but I did not and will not give up. I will review this performance and get back to building more strength.”

Everyone displays emotions differently and everyone deals with things differently. When you see someone’s strength, it is never an indication that they are not carrying a heavy load mentally/emotionally, it just means that they are trying to never let it overtake them. So, as we move through the complex world around us, let’s remember that everyone has a story. You may never know the full story, but that doesn’t mean their pages are not filled with complicated stories just 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.

Strength is more behavior than it is a feeling. I learned to stop questioning my strength whenever I discovered another area of weakness or struggled through a period of my life. 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 am free to show the world that my physical and emotional “soreness” is by no means a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of great strength. In the beginning, I would say “you are stronger than this.” Now I say, “I am strong because of this.”