Run At Your Our Pace

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 4 to 5 miles everyday but that was 10 years ago when you were in high competition shape. You let life, work, and other things like metabolism and stress bring you to this point. (Ladies and gentleman, it is true…. 2 miles is now a STRUGGLE for this girl. She is not in the competitive or even physical shape that she used to be. In her mind, she thinks that she can get back to that point and knows that she can. However, one thing that she stumbles through sometimes is inconsistency and poor prioritization of self care. If she can finally pass that self-imposed hurdle then she will reach this goal. So far, she has been doing great).

When you first set out in your mind to run 3 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 starts about 0.5 miles in and you hear those voices of doubt telling you to just walk for a few seconds before getting back at it.

There was something different about today. You threw your headphones on and hit the road just as you did in the past. But this time, you said “even if I have to jog at the slowest pace of life, I will not stop” until this Nike Running App say “you have reached your goal.” I know that was a hard decision because you wondered how many people walking and running would wonder why you were running as fast as you could just as well speed walk. I saw you wondering who was looking at you and running past you but you stuck to the game plan. Although you were fighting the thoughts, I know you were worried that someone you know would see you struggling along with your little steps as you ran along the beach.

Oddly enough, with each step something physical and mental re-energized within you. You were finding yourself again because you finally embraced your strength, momentary weakness, and personal pace. What I loved about you today is that you were ready to embrace where you are today! I’ve been trying to tell you this for a while now — where you start is not where you will end. Instead of spending so much time trying to figure out the end (which is impossible to know with certainty), why don’t you continue doing what you did today — focus on learning to embrace the process!

Today, you zoned in, you took a first step (for the likely the 100th time) and you ran slowly, very slowly, at times even embarrassingly slowly. HOWEVER, you completed your goal! You ran 3 miles without stopping once and managed to do it with a huge smile on your face and in your heart. Tomorrow, you will be strong enough to pick up the pace. Then, a year from now you will be even stronger than that. You will never get to your ultimate goal if you don’t complete the process. You will find new determination to never quit once you fully understand that repeated small successes will someday equal big wins.

Life is a race, but you already know this. Don’t spend too much time trying to overanalyze the run. Just run at whatever speed you can push yourself toward today. Some days will be a series of sprints while others will feel like a long endurance training session. The next steps for you are to continue to listen to your life. Learn when you are supposed to sprint and when it is time to regroup and slow things down. Confidently stay in your own lane and focus on your own form and breathing. Your race was designed for YOU. No one else can run it and you cannot run someone else’s journey. Looking to the left and right, worrying about who is passing you and who might catch up are only distractions.

Embrace your own journey. Feel the burn and adjust; don’t feel the burn and quit. You were never meant to run someone else’s race. You were meant to master your own. As the Nike Running App’s Coach Bennett said, “finishing my best doesn’t have to mean finishing first.”

#dearself is a series of blog posts written to my past, present, or future self. To follow the #dearself series, join our email list or follow The Life Me Blog on Facebook and Twitter @thelifemeblog 

Happiness is a Choice Not a Chase 

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 5, 10, or 20 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 principle — 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. Even more, I was trying to show you that happiness is external and joy is something you find within. You were quite hardheaded at times, but you slowly started to learn that you could bring happiness into your life instead of waiting for it to come knocking on your door.  Please do me a favor. Do not go back to being a semi stress hoarder. I am going to need you to eliminate the joy killers in your life one by one.  Do not think for one second that you are going to just coast through life and stumble upon happiness. You are going to need to work at this thing! Even fairytales are not that smooth sailing.

By the way, can I just say one thing before I move on? Child, thank goodness you learned to stop equating people and things to your happiness! You were killing me with that emotional rollercoaster. Ugh! I’m sorry but I had to get that one out. Oh, and another thing… we secretly had a party when you discovered that happiness is not something you need to earn! I’m not sure how you developed that warped thinking. We put that thinking through the lie detector test and it determined that whoever told you that is indeed a liar.

So, now back to business. Your joy is what is going to endure when you have less than you hoped for. You do understand that life may become somewhat unpredictable, right? Well, it will be your choice to continue stamping your life with the hashtag #goodvibesonly.  Yes, good vibes only! Learn to breathe and give your mind a break from ruminating on things that stress, worry, or deplete your happiness. Not just once, but whenever your mind needs it. Breathe baby, breathe.

Honestly, I’m proud of your growth. You’ve moved from chasing happiness to choosing happiness. Now, the goal is to learn to maintain your inner joy among all the different demands of life. Overall, I think you are going to crush this goal. All you need to do is remember some of the things that help you stay in control of your joy.

Remember…

  1. Organize and plan your day as much as a possible. Take control of the things you can and plan for success. This will allow you to make time for things that bring you happiness or at least help you to minimize your stress levels.
  2. Check your stress! Minimize it as much as you can.
  3. Be more conscious of the things that go well versus everything that may go wrong.
  4. Take a few moments to be thankful for both the small and big things in your life.
  5. Let it go. Don’t dwell on the negative for too long. Allow yourself time to mope and then move on. Tomorrow is a new day and this too shall pass.
  6. Be happy for someone else. Happiness is contagious 🙂
  7. Feed your happiness jar. Listen, read, explore, and surround yourself with things/people that inspire and motivate you.
  8. Practice self-care.
  9. Exercise, meditate, and pray.
  10. Be patient and don’t expect perfection; it’s not realistic.

If you can choosing happiness and find that joy inside, I can almost promise you that happiness will keep choosing you.

Dear Reader, how do YOU continue to choose happiness everyday? Comment below! 

#dearself is a series of blog posts written to my past, present, or future self. To follow the #dearself series, join our email list or follow The Life Me Blog on Facebook and Twitter @thelifemeblog 

Read another blog post on Happiness: 10 Steps to Finding Happiness

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.

Follow The Life Me Blog on Facebook and Twitter
Have a Life Question, Need Perspective, or have a Discussion Topic? Ask me: http://wp.me/P31EeG-hg

Photo Credit: Seth Capitulo

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

Follow The Life Me Blog on Facebook and Twitter
Have a Life Question or Need Perspective? Ask me: http://wp.me/P31EeG-hg

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)

Follow The Life Me Blog on Facebook and Twitter
Have a Life Question or Need Perspective? Ask me: http://wp.me/P31EeG-hg

Photo Credit: Jqpubliq on Flickr

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.

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

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