Another Year

Every year I get older, every time a new year rolls around, it reminds me that I have less time to waste and less reasons to not pursue those seemingly out of reach goals that appear as only small dreams. I have grown, but have I grown more fearless? – Time will tell. What about you guys?

What will you pursue in 2015 that you have been hoping to do for a while? What dreams are you already making come true?

#LifeRant: Social Media

Oh, the world of social media. People desire tons of followers, but not as many people want to lead.

Selfies, TBT (throw-back thursday), FBF (flashback friday), pictures of friends and family, social gatherings, and loads of other adventures fill Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, Snapchat, and the list goes on and on. I will not lie; I would like more followers too, but recently I have been wondering if I am using my platforms to show and share what is of value or if I am falling into the tempation of sharing what will get more likes and shares. What is valuable and meaningful should become the most liked and shared things on social media; but let’s get real, it often is not. People share what others want to see and hear, and often times that does not equate to the most meaningful message(s).

In no way do I want social media to become so serious that it no longer acts as the escape from life I sometimes so desperately need. But, as a person that works with the younger generation everyday, I can’t help but wonder and be concerned that the majority of the images and messages they consume on social media are not always of the greatest substance. Naturally, I wondered if my contributions to the “look at me, like me, share me, laugh at me, me, me, me” world of social media includes enough of the message(s) that actually makes my “followers” “better.” Then again, maybe that is just too much pressure and responsibility; it’s easier to just encourage people to “watch” me but harder to ensure I am someone worth watching. Or, maybe I am just overthinking all of this and I just need to lighten up. I just can’t help think that technology has advanced to the point that we can keep in touch with our families, friends, and strangers all over the world, and yet most of what the youth sees and consumes is garbage (in my eyes). But, can we really blame them? Maybe the majority of the “loudest” things we encourage the youth to consume and those “loudest” things shared in society are garbage. We encourage people to “follow” us but where are we leading them?

I will never forget watching the social media statuses of 33 year old Yosra El-Essawy (Beyoncé’s World Tour photographer) throughout her year-long battle with cancer, which unfortunately she recently lost. Her positive attitude about cancer, her life, and reference for God was infectious. Even though I never met her in person, I interacted with her through social media with a “I’m praying for you” here and a joke or two there to help keep her spirits up. She chronicled her struggles and shared her fight, but she indirectly always found a way to convey a profound message through her updates. The amazing thing is that it seemed to me that she was only saying what she lived, practicing what she preached, and sharing what she believed long before cancer. She WAS a walking message and touched many lives through her photography, career with Beyoncé, and even in her death. To be honest, she probably would not say she “lost her battle with cancer,” but that she conquered a life worthy of Heaven and God’s embrace. Maybe, Heaven really couldn’t wait for her. I never knew Yosra, but she still impacted my life through her social media.

I am not asserting that we should all be Yosra, or that we should even make social media that “deep.” The question I am really asking is are we capable of showing those we know and those that follow us on social media anything worth “watching?” In a world where we can share our voice with the entire world, we are really quiet. A lot of people have questions – questions about life, love, hurt, complexities, confusion, and sorrow, and they are looking for answers, not just someone to look at. Some people want to be listened to, some people want inspiration, others want guidance, some love and laughter, others clarity about this complicated overwhelming world. Can you be the/an answer? Or, are you only good for a great picture? The answer can be a laugh, a smile, a positive message, hope, or truth. Sometimes people just need to know your testimony, the real you, the unfiltered you, the un-perfect you, the scarred and scared you, and the real “throw-back” story of your journey. They need to know that they’re not the only people with unfiltered, imperfect lives.

When it comes to social media we tend to only want to show off the good and never the bad, well at least I do. We want people to think that we are stronger than we often sometimes portray. But, people are not looking for a person who has lived life perfectly, but rather a person who has responded to life in a manner that made the end result “perfect” for them. You have something to offer whether big or small and it starts with opening your mind to more than the “selfie.” So, make sure that the people who are watching and following you at least leave your online presence with something more to hope for in this world. They’re watching and they’re waiting; maybe you have something they need.

Rest in Peace Yosra!

Prepare for Success

One thing that I am always trying to get my students to realize is that they should take advantage of the time they presently have in order to work on building/exercising their skills in their own particular areas of weakness. Of course, getting high school students to see the bigger picture of the seemingly mind-numbing routine of the educational system can be at times a daunting and tiring task. I aim to get them to see that there will come a day when their career(s) or life in general will call upon these skills to perform. Life is lived skill upon skill, lesson upon lesson. However, as most teachers in any field, it is easy to forget all the times in both high school and college when I myself could have used my time more wisely to study harder and learn more; but of course, I preach to them nonetheless… a privilege of adulthood. *wink*

There is a valuable lesson to be learned in all of this for both the youth and adults: Use the time that you have in the present to prepare yourself to respond to the demands and dreams of tomorrow. It might be reading a book to keep your mind sharp for ideas of tomorrow; becoming healthier to be able to endure tomorrow’s journey; resting up today for the times when you might be working extremely hard on a goal; or, saving money for a rainy day or that dream vacation.

We, the “big people,” also need to be aware of the skills/areas in which we are weaker (in the hopes that if we put in the right effort those areas will improve over time). For some of us adults, those area may even be emotional. Maybe we need to become more aware of how our insecurities, poor communication skills, emotional issues, and past disappointments still linger around so that we are prepared to love and nurture those around us (and those that will come into our lives). Whatever the area, pay more attention to who you are, how you became that way, and also how you might change for the better, if necessary. Use your life’s time wisely to benefit your life (and subsequently the lives of those connected to you) and chase your dreams while you have the time. We are purposed to find success in life but we spend too much time doubting our weaknesses and waiting for life to change; maybe it’s time we strengthen our own weakness and changed our own life.And as they say, “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”… but figure out why before you go acting like a fool by doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results. As for me, I will keep trying to practice what I preach.

What are some things you do to grow and become a stronger person (mentally, emotionally, physically)?

Comment below, if you have time of course.

Picture Perfect Puzzle Pieces: A Story

“Most people think happiness is about gaining something, but it’s not. It’s all about getting rid of the darkness you’ve accumulated.” – Jo Oz @ozlifeadvice

I posted this quote a few weeks ago, but I had to revisit it because it presents such a different perspective on happiness as we know it. Let me begin by stating that I do believe that things and people have the ability to create happiness, or to at least encourage happiness. We would all be liars if we said this is not somewhat true. My family, friends, my wonderful future husband, and having a few extra bucks in my pocket makes me very happy. And to be perfectly honest, I look forward to and hope for more love and more money. Really, who wouldn’t? But when I look at society and within myself there seems to be this insatiable desire to chase happiness at all cost. We chase and chase even more without ever looking internally to examine the thoughts and areas of our past that may be preventing us from finding or sustaining happiness. Some of us still carry negative thoughts, defensive walls, warped perceptions, shallow vision, and sabotaging behaviors that often cause us to overlook and destroy the happiness right in front of us.

Story time: Imagine with me for a moment that you are sitting on the floor in the middle of a medium-sized room. On the walls around you are bright colorful pieces of art neatly arranged against white walls. Scattered in the spaces among these paintings are large framed quotes of what you later realize are successful people of our time. As you put your hand down to begin standing up you hear a crunching noise and the feeling of something small and sturdy beneath you. Around you are about 100 puzzle pieces randomly piled in all directions. Fascinated by the paintings and quotes, you begin walking across the room with your eye fixed on a frame entitled “Keys to Happiness.” As you get closer you notice the quotation is by [insert the name of a person whose success you admire and dream to have]. Eager to see more, you examine every piece arranged around the room noting every signature on the paintings and each name quoted in a frame. They are all from people you admire. Naturally, you begin examining your life and plot out what you might need to do to achieve the level of happiness expressed through every piece. How did they create such beautiful pieces? How did they create such beautiful lives? As you ponder on each piece, you begin to notice that the puzzle pieces scattered across the floor have a seemingly consistent color scheme. You see the shades of blues, greens, browns, whites, and yellows and realize that they might connect to create a larger image. Confused as to why they are randomly in the middle of the room, you begin looking around for a box or someone to explain the odd occurrence. Across the room you spot an intercom and are about ready to push the button when you notice something strange about one of the paintings. Now less then 12 inches away from it, you discover that the painting is actually made up of tiny puzzle pieces! Astonished, you look toward the floor, drop to your knees, and begin trying to assemble the puzzle. After five minutes of intense focus you pick up a few puzzle pieces and find a note: “If you can assemble this beautiful masterpiece, it is all yours.” Determined to own a piece of art, you painstakingly find each proper piece one at a time. While assembling the pieces, you notice that they do indeed fit together but are damaged thanks to you walking all over them. Nonetheless, you carry on building your masterpiece. Halfway through your impromptu art project you make a startling discovery – you are a part of the puzzle. Somewhat disappointed that you might not be building a “masterpiece” if you are in it, you still continue on curious to see what the entire image will reveal. Finally finished, you take three giant steps back to see an image of you with/in [insert the people, things, or places that you envision as your ultimate image of happiness]. In awe, you realize the beauty in front of you but also all the dents and rips you created as you crushed your own picture in pursuit of everyone else’s in the room. As you look around again, you now notice that every beautiful image and success quote in the room is made up of tiny puzzle pieces. Overwhelmed by the experience, you slowly sit back on the floor. While staring at your partially self-inflicted damaged image of happiness, you realize that your beautiful masterpiece could have been as beautiful as the collection in the room if only you had not been so quick to reach for the keys to happiness in someone else’s dream.

The moral of the story: Find happiness in the small puzzle pieces life has given you, because from them will come your image of true happiness. Borrowing pieces from someone else’s puzzle will never quite fit yours perfectly. However, what you can take from their puzzles are (1) the steps they took to learn how to love the puzzle pieces they were given and (2) how they used the small piece to create a beautiful personal masterpiece.

Jo Oz’s quote reminds me to not overlook the light that is inside of me. We have the potential to create the same bright happiness we see in others, but we have filled ourselves with so much “darkness” that we believe that our light is not bright enough to create anything similar. If we were to get rid of some of the “darkness,” I am almost positive that we would see the happiness in the small things, in the people around us, in the present situation, and in ourselves. We would move from chasing happiness to becoming happiness; having become happier, we will attract more happiness; and as we attract more happiness, we will look up one day and see that we are overwhelmed with happiness only to then realize that we never had to chase something that we already had. It gives new meaning to the phrase “I AM happy.”

The Sky is Always Blue

Although I have what I would call “a health fear” of flying,” I still love to get in a plane and soar above the clouds. There is just something quite calming when we finally reach the cruising altitude where the clouds are beneath us like fluffy cotton balls drifting off into the sun. I don’t know why, but I often stare out at the clouds and contemplate life. The combination of the beauty, the strange idea that I have no control if the plane decides to stop working, and the awesome technology that is planes makes every problem seem literally and figuratively small. At the end, I always arrive at the same conclusion about life: beyond the darkest clouds and the roughest turbulence usual lies beauty and peace; it is just a matter of perspective.

When I was a teenager, I listened to a sermon entitled “The Sky is Always Blue.” Lies, I said. Lies! I sat there trying to anticipate where the minister was going with this lie. How could that be true? I sat there thinking about the many rainy days I’ve lived through and wondered if maybe he lived in a place like California where there was always blue skies and sun. But, it didn’t matter where he lived because the rainy days in my neck of the woods meant his statement should not include the word “always.” After thinking back to a flight earlier that year, I concluded that maybe he actually was not lying to me. I remembered the rain beating on the windows and the wind shaking the plane like the earth needed salt and pepper. I remembered the turbulence shaking every secret ounce of pray out of my heart as I tried to remain calm and “trust God” with my life. “Please remain in your seats. We are experiencing a little turbulence,” said the pilot. A little? Good one Captain, good one. Despite the rough ride, the pilot kept taking us higher and higher until eventually we reached an altitude above the storm. Boom! And there it was! Nothing but blue skies, a bright sun, and shades of pink and orange as the sun was beginning to set. So the minister was right – beyond the clouds, the sky is actually always blue.

Thinking back to this moment makes me wonder if some of the solutions to my problems are simply a matter of my ability to change my perspective about what’s in front of me. What if in some cases, the success I seek is just a few more steps past what seems like nothing. Whatever the circumstance looks like, there is always hope and blue skies on the other side, if I can just soar above it. Yes, there are challenges that may come with “soaring above” but that conversation is for another post for another day. So for now, just focus on trying not to get stuck in the turbulence of life by keeping those wings flapping. Until next time, flap on!

 

Shining in Dim Light

After (1) living in the world, (especially) post-teenage years, (2) working in a professional setting, and (3) interacting with diverse groups of people on a daily basis, sometimes it can begin to feel like the world is more negative than it is positive. Fundamentally, I don’t really believe that; or better said, I don’t want to believe that. When I look around at nature and measure the human race as a whole, I really believe that the world is a beautiful, forgiving, creative, and positive place. This being my honest view of the world, I wonder why I often feel like the world is dimly lit.

Well, as much as I don’t want to admit it, I think I already know the answer to my question – people. Yes, people with their personalities, experiences, neuroses, and personal attitudes can make it seem like the world is dark, gloomy, hopeless, and in need of serious salvation. In most cases, we have a choice in the people we surround ourselves with, and in those cases hopefully we choose wisely. However, when we leave our homes for work, school, or public places, we often lose control over the people we must interact with daily and/or we lose control of our ability to distant ourselves from negative people as they are our employees, bosses, teachers, leaders, and even sometimes family. In those instances, after constant exposure to these people, the world can begin feeling rather hopeless. Sometimes, feeling like our light is too bright, too valuable, too good – and in other cases because we are simply tired of enduring the subtle attempts to destroy our light – the thought crosses our minds to distance ourselves from those people.

Ultimately, however, allowing the negativity of the world and others around us to dim and weaken our light is not the answer, neither is removing our light completely from the situation. Yes, it can become very difficult to be one of few around you brightly shining, but you must find purpose in the fact that you were (1) created so bright and that (2) someone around you needs your light. If we shine, the room cannot possibly be as dark as it would be without us. I am not condoning you remaining in negative jobs, relationships, or situations because you want to be a positive light. Rather, as long as you are there, shine as bright as you were destined to shine and do not let anyone try to dim your light on account of their discomfort, insecurity, or weakness.

Taste the Rainbow

So, I was asked one of the most popular questions ever asked among ambitious people – “so what’s the next move?”

This is a question often discussed among people that are either (1) in a successful career but working on promotion or (2) among those that are working in one area but have outstanding desires and goals they still wish to pursue. Wait, actually, I am sure that at one point or another everyone is asked this question. Well, someone recently shared the thought that people who have many different talents and interested can sometimes feel exactly like people who have no idea what they want to do in life. This actually made perfect sense, because usually when a talented person has to answer the “what’s next” question, the greatest challenge is not in what they want to do, but rather when to do it or how to do it. This can often be as paralyzing as not knowing what step to take at all.

Often times, when giving advice to the clueless person, we will tell them to just try different things until they figure out what direction they want to move in. I wonder if the same principle can apply to the successful career-driven person who wants to accomplish more but is just waiting for the right time, finances, or courage. As someone very similar to the latter person, I believe that the same concept can apply. For one reason or the other, we may not be sure which plan we should pursue next, but we know we are ready to make the next move. I say, just like going to an ice cream store, taste test all those interests, decide which one you prefer to eat at that moment, put the others down, index that ice cream store, and once you finish eating your choice of the day, come back another day and eat another flavor. Just like ice cream, you really can have it all, maybe just not at one time. So for the ambitious and the stagnant alike, walk into that figurative ice cream store, choose one (or two or three) ice cream flavors to begin, and before you know it, you will have tasted and done it all.

What I Learned About Myself From My Response to Weather

As I sat at my computer, with strong winds and rain in the background determined to burst through my window, I thought about all the people that were likely very angry that it was rainy and cold in Boston (in April) after such a beautiful summer-like spring day. Little did they know, but Mother Nature was to serve up two inches of snow the next morning followed by clear blue skies and a cool spring-like day… and then another cold winter day after that. This is the yo-yo weather of New England.

[Comments in winter …] “If it snows one more day… I am so sick of the cold.”

[Comments in Spring when it doesn’t feel like it…]“Thanks Mother Nature for ruining my day with the rain… Isn’t it supposed to be spring? You could have fooled me… I cannot deal with this weather…I wish it were warmer… hotter…”

[Comment(s) when Mother Nature grants us summer…] “It is too hot.”

[Comment(s) when summer moves into Fall…] “I miss summer.”

Mother Nature is never good enough and can never seem to please everyone. Those that love winter find discomfort in the summer, and those that love summer find discomfort in winter, fall, and spring. She is simply damned if she does and damned if she doesn’t.

From time to time, I too have been guilty of complaining about the weather. Then one day, I realized that I was complaining and commentating on something that I can in no way, shape, or form control – even if I wanted to. I started to notice that my response to the weather was great insight into the attitude in which I was responding to life. Although I would have never considered myself to be a person who complained for the sake of complaining, I was noticing that I was negatively commentating and spending too much energy on areas of life that I could not control, rather than putting that same energy into areas that I could. It was the principle of the matter. Why complain, comment, or exert too many emotions on things that I cannot control?

I am not suggesting that you should not comment or express your feelings about the weather. There is nothing wrong with enjoying a particular season and looking forward to it with great anticipation simply because you love summer, spring, winter, or fall. Saying, “I am so sick of ____ ” every now and then is not a bad thing. However, if we find ourselves complaining too much, it might be useful to see if there are parallels to our attitude in other areas of life. If we cannot control the past, why continue to complain about it? If we cannot control chronic ailments, failure, physical features, temporary circumstances, or other people for that matter, why spend more energy on it than on what we can change?

However, we are human and we will have those moments where we simply cannot stand the weather or our life circumstances, and we will want to comment on it with passion; and in those situations, you should get those feelings out. But, when it moves toward becoming a pattern of negative thought, and you are questioning Mother Nature/life more than you are simply stating facts about your feelings, you have crossed into the potentially dangerous territory of complaining about that which you cannot control.

In the grand scheme of life, there will be more days in which we cannot control or anticipate the weather than days in which we can control our attitude about life. I am trying to transition my attitude more toward understanding that the world either needs whatever weather exist or maybe we are causing global warming and have ourselves to blame for the inconsistent weather. Either way, it makes more sense to check the weather, dress accordingly, adjust, and move forward. And the same for life – control what you can and limit the energy you spend on what you cannot.

As the Serenity Prayer says, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”