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 YOUR best race at your own pace.

Yes, you used to be able to run four to five miles everyday, but that was 10 years ago when you were in competition shape. Girl, you are older and things change. (Ladies and gentleman, it is true. Two miles is now a STRUGGLE for me. These knees and lower back are showing signs of old age and the lack of stretching enough).

When you first set out in your mind to run three miles without stopping today, I said “it’s about time that you get back at it.” But, I was nervous for you because this is not the first time you made this goal in the last year. You’ve started before with a image of ten years ago in your mind. Then, the burn in those legs started about 0.5 miles in and you listened to those voices of doubt telling you to just walk for a few seconds before getting back at it.

But, there was something different about today.

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Happiness is a Choice Not a Chase 

#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?

I am OK with you leaving happiness on your list of goals as long as you promise me to remember one important thing—happiness is just as much a choice as it is a chase. There were so many times when you didn’t feel happy. It was sad for me to watch you become increasingly frustrated with not “feeling” happy because happiness is just that—a feeling.

The “feeling” came and went and the other feeling called blah came and went too. I cannot even tell you how many hours, days, weeks, and even months you spent trying to figure out what would make you happy. At times you looked like a deflated happy birthday balloon struggling to hold on to helium. You smiled and wished that people could not detect how frustrated or unhappy you were, but I know you and I knew better.

Yet, look at you now. Time taught you what me and life were trying to teach you all along—happiness is a choice not a chase. You were quite hardheaded at times, but you slowly started to learn that you can bring happiness into your life instead of waiting for it to come knocking on your door.

Please do me a favor. 

Continue reading “Happiness is a Choice Not a Chase “

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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Relationship Timelines: Dating, Marriage, Babies…

Is it just me or does it seem like when you are in a relationship and (1) get to a certain age (between age 25-30, at least) or (2) have been dating someone for 3 or more years (past age 21), people seem to ask the same basic questions regarding your relationship?

“How long have you guys been dating?”

“When are you guys getting engaged? Have you discussed it?”

“When are you guys getting married?” 

“When are you guys planning to have kids?”

And then after one child, “When are you guys planning on having more?”

As annoying as these questions can become, I am guilty of asking my friends these questions as well.

Let’s assume these are natural questions to ask (although I am not certain of that). The problem I have is when the questioner doesn’t think my answers are sufficient and proceeds to ask more questions. This ultimately ends with me feeling like I need to defend my timeline and the strength of my relationship. “Sufficient” answers in this context is hilarious to me because sometimes we really believe we know how another person should live their life; but most times, we barely even know how to live our own.

Listen, if you are in a great relationship, you need to feel that with certainty and not allow yourself to be swayed by other people’s decisions for your life. Yes, I have a great relationship, but that doesn’t mean my timeline choices make it any less wonderful! Usually people don’t even know the reasons why you make certain timeline decisions, yet they jump to conclusions and dole out timeline suggestions that you probably never asked for.

People can be in very different places relationship-wise– some single, some in new or long-term relationships, some newly engaged, engaged for a long time, newly married, married for a few years, not interested in marriage, in positions where they cannot have children, or with someone that is not interested in marriage or children. 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.” 

Disclaimer: With that said, do not use this statement as an excuse or justification for staying in a jacked up or abusive relationship! Every couple’s relationship dynamic and timeline might be different, but love is clearly identifiable and distinguishable. Disrespect, cheating, abuse, degradation, and selfishness are not characteristics of love. While you should not compare your relationship to others in aspects of timeline and dynamic, you should look to great relationships for positive traits of love. There is no ” thin line between love and hate” in a relationship. If you feel that you love and hate a person at the same time, then it is probably a sign you need to re-evaluate that relationship– fix it or end it. Trust me, I have been there and done the love/dislike thing and my conclusion is that a relationship like that is full of cracks!

For the most part, comparing your relationship and timelines to other couples’ is not a good idea! If you have found a great life partner– which should be the ultimate goal and requires more than chemistry [I wrote a post about this]– chances are you are destined to have a life journey unique to you as a couple. I believe that’s God’s ideal plan. So, chasing another couples’ timeline/journey means that you have stepped off your path onto theirs and at some point you will either (1) discover that your shoes weren’t built to last on their road or (2) that you missed out on the many blessings your road held because you were so interested in traveling on another couple’s path. In general, people need to live according to the timelines that work for their life.

Many years ago I started witnessing couples I adored (and swore had a strong relationship) go through divorce. In most cases, everyone loved the couples together. On the outside they were the perfect couples… or so we thought! After years of marriage (ranging from 1-15 years), we all were shocked by the news that they were getting divorced. From celebrities to people we know, we all have witnessed relationships we covet fall apart. Feeling hopeless and scared for my own relationship future, I decided that I would learn from other people’s relationship successes and failures, but that in the end I would do what works best for my relationship. Here I was comparing my relationship to ones that looked great on the outside but was suffering internally. However, all the while my relationship was working for me, my life, my journey, my purpose, and my happiness. I learned that if I am going to compare my relationship to others, it might be beneficial to know the details of what is really going on behind closed doors. 

I am not a relationship or a statistics expert, but based on what I have observed throughout my life, I know that having a successful long-term relationship requires more than simply checking something off on a timeline or list (engagement, marriage, babies, house, etc.). It seems more important to work toward things that will make my relationship last long-term versus working on a timeline or checklist.

Personally, I think couples’ timelines vary based on a few factors. So, before we go judging, questioning, or pushing someone into a particular timeline, we should consider some factors:

  1. the mental/emotional readiness, finances, health, and career trajectories varies from person to person and couple to couple making it difficult to force someone into a timeline and
  2. meshing two personalities, two families, two different careers, two different sets of life experiences, and two different life purposes in order to yield a strong relationship that is built to last is not something that should be rushed or taken lightly.

Photo Credit: Jurgen Appelo

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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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