Saturday, October 22, 2011

Coping with and Leveraging Your Invisibility

My father grew up in the Jim Crow South in a area on the border between Alabama and Georgia. To make extra money he would caddy on the golf course. His clients were gangsters whose acts were so nefarious , that the president at the time, Dwight Eisenhower, imposed martial law on the city.

My father told me that as his clients were selecting a golf club, hitting a ball or retrieving a ball, they'd be in dicussion. Right in front of him they would say who they killed and where they had dumped that particular body. In their minds, my father was not only unimportant, he didn't count because to them he was invisible.

Fast forward. I noticed a book advertised online. The topic was the economics of beauty. On the cover was a face divided in at least four parts. Each feature on the face was created by a part of a face from a different woman. Not one part of the face had a person with skin the color of a brown or dark woman of African descent. The unspoken message to me was, based on the cover of this book, the economics of beauty didn't even include a black woman. In the equation she didn't even count.

I worked on an international project. It required that I facilitate meetings in the Netherlands and Scotland. Many times as I looked around the table I was the only female and the only black person in the room. I remember going to dinner and I was 'jokingly' relegated to the end of the table, and told to sit and converse with a man who had been deemed as not very personable. Understanding his status as well as mine, he surreptitiously turned his back to me during the meal.

When I lived in Japan I remember sitting with a fellow teacher, listening to him bemoan the fact that he was not able to obtain a high level opportunity in a Japanese corporation because he was white American. I looked at him incredulously as I thought about the opportuntities that had been denied so many people of color in the US because they were not white American. But I guess those people didn't count.

At the university, I remember this young woman was expressing her empathy for the character in a book called, "Black Like Me". The protoganist in this true account colored his skin and masqueraded as a black person. She was moved by the fact that it was so horrible that this white man had been so terribly mistreated in his black skin disguise. I looked at her and said, "But that happenened to black people all the time". She sort of shrugged it off like, "Whatever". I guess real black people didn't count and were not worthy of her empathy.

As the average black woman, not necessarily average looking, you may be invisible to society at a large. It does not mean that this is YOUR percecption of yourself, but that this may be how the world perceives you. In general, in our society, a great deal of a woman's value is based upon how she looks. In modern day society there is a standard of beauty and most black women will never fit that standard. You know what I say, "So what!"

I don't believe that as a black woman you can afford to be color blind. You need to have an idea and an understanding of how others may perceive you. NOT, so that you can internalize debilitating feelings and beliefs but so that you can learn to cope, navigate and leverage this information to YOUR advantage. I know I am preaching to the choir. Sometimes a reminder is needed.

How do you do that? You give people the benefit of the doubt but don't have any expectations of them. Only have expectations of yourself. Afterall, you have control of one person- YOU.

When I worked in Japan, I was treated like a queen. Prior to my arrival in Japan, I had developed coping skills that enabled me to focus on my work and do my job well. I can't tell you how many times I was complimented on my work ethic by my Japanese managers and co-workers. I was offered jobs and opportunities that I didn't even know existed.

When you walk into an organization, it is very unlikely that you will be openly excluded. There is a great possibility that you may not be included, though. You have to cultivate vision and hearing that can see the unseeable and can hear the unhearable. Those are skills, ladies. They are transferable and if used with awareness, in conjunction with a solid education, great work ethic and professionalism, you will be unstoppable. People can slow you down, that is for sure. But they can NEVER stop you. The only person who can stop you is you.

Don't let someone's perception of what your beauty is supposed to be create a kink of vulnerabilty in your armor or expose you like it did to Achilles. Fortify yourself and continue with embracing your God given beauty. You've got work to do. In order to do it well you need all your wits about you and of course you will look good while you are doing it! Lastly, remember that in order to change the game, you got to be in the game. In order to be in the game, you have to be able to successfully navigate and leverage what you got. Beauty is power. Power is needed to help uplift and serve those around us in need. When you help others to reach their dreams, that just gets you even closer to reaching your own.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Listen to the Message

Have you ever ignored what someone said because you didn't like the tone of their voice? Have you ever focused on the timing of the information instead of the words of the comment? I used to, and if I am not careful, I still do.

My father used to always tell me that I had a problem with messages. He would say, "You don't like how people tell you things. You worry about why they said it. You worry about how they said it. What you need to do is just listen to the message".

Usually, the conversation would end with me rolling my eyes, sucking my teeth and snatching my head in the direction I used to depart from the room. Why? Because I hadn't liked what he said! 

My father has passed on but because his words live in my heart, he still lives on in me as well. People are rarely going to gently tap you on the shoulder, pull you aside and whisper in hushed tones pretty words that you want to hear. Many people aren't capable. For others, their intent may not be to help you. Their intent may be to try to hurt you or make you feel or look bad.

So what. That is not your concern. Your job is to be a pole vaulter. That's right, I said pole vaulter. Your job is to take whatever has been said to you and examine it. Don't judge it. Take the emotion from it. Take the words and leverage them the same way a pole vaulter uses a pole to catapult him or herself over that vault. You may not be trying to jump over a vault, but you are definitely trying to reach heights that you have never reached before. You are trying to become the highest functioning human being that you can be. You can't get there dragging your legs behind you like deadweight, loaded down even more because of someone's words that were directed to you that you perceived to be unkind. Or, you just didn't like what was said for whatever reason.

When I got my first corporate job I had a boss who did things that I did not understand. Among other things, she would rewrite my documents and correct them over and over in bright red ink. After about 3-5 iterations, my document would look just the way it did when I first gave it to her. I was miserable.

My father said to me, "You need to send your boss a dozen roses. She has done you a tremendous favor". You know I got an attitude. I was like,"You must be crazy, daddy".

Then he went on to explain. "Your boss has shown you how people can be in Corporate America. You have learned how to navigate around her. You have learned how to handle a person that likes to play games. Instead of letting what she said or does defeat you, you have learned to turn it around. That is something that you will be able to use as you move forward in your career. She has given you something very valuable. That's why I said you should send her a dozen roses".

I am not going to sit here and pretend like I appreciated or understood what my father meant at the time. As I progressed in my career, I met many people like her on the job. When I did meet other fools, I was able to side step them and continue to move forward. They may have slowed me down, but they never stopped me.

Whenever someone gives me a message, I stop, listen and try to understand what the person is saying. I have a reputation for being able to take criticism and feedback very well and use it to improve myself. That is because no matter how the message is stated, no matter why it was said, I work very hard to listen to the message. It's not the person's intent that is important. What's important is how YOU use the information for your own benefit. That's what counts. If you learn to focus on the message and not the messenger, you'll be able to mine the gold and get a nugget from every interaction. It's your job to be the alchemist. It's your job to turn a leaden, heavy burdensome interaction into gold. Listening to the message can make you rich in experience.

Experience is knowledge and knowledge is beauty. Listen to the message and use it to beautify yourselves bit by bit!           


Saturday, July 23, 2011

Perfection is a Destination, Excellence is the Journey

How many times have you heard that it is the journey that counts, not the destination? Or another way it's put is to say, "Enjoy the journey." Whenever I see this written or hear this said

I am the first one to give a nod of my head in agreement.

Yet and still, if I don't pay attention, and if I am not careful, I find myself falling into the same old rut. That's pursuing the ever elusive state of perfection. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be the best and putting in the effort to attain your goals.

Life is fluid. That means it is ever changing. Perfection is a static state. It's a moment in time, an event that comes and goes. Perfection is unsustainable. When you are only satisfied with or interested in perfection, you may doom yourself to be focused on tomorrow. The risk is that you may miss out on today. Once today is gone it becomes yesterday and never comes back. Tomorrow is not guaranteed for anyone.

Excellence is like a path or a road you take. You can stay on it for a long time. Not only that, if you so choose, you can savor all, some, any or most of the moments that you experience along the way. Your journey can be as fulfilling as you want it to be.

Striving for and only accepting and enjoyng perfection, that perfect moment in time, can make joyful experiences far and few between. It can make you put off today something for a tomorrow that you might not ever get to see or experience. Life is not only fluid it is tenuous.

All of us have some cross to bear as a group or an individual. Don't let that impede you from enjoying the gift of this life which you have so generously been given.

People would look at you as if you were a fool if you were to say, "I work hard and never have fun. That is because I plan to have some joy or contentment years from now, and only for the briefest moments of time." Now how crazy sounding is that? People would back away really slowly and exit from your presence if you were to say such a thing.

If you think about it, many of us live this way when striving for perfection. "When I lose weight two years from now, I am going to be good enough to have a relationship," some of us say.

That's a moment to be experienced years from now. What happens between then and now? Striving for perfection. Losing weight may sound like you are just walking the path of excellence, but if you are putting off your enjoyment of your life for later, you are immersed in the pursuit of not-to-be-found- or kept-perfection.

Maybe you are working in a job that provides you income but doesn't satisfy your soul. You stay because you have bills to pay and mouths to feed, including your own. Of course we have to be accountable and responsible. It would not be right or appropriate to just walk away. To think that some day it will magically get better is pursuing perfection. You are working and striving for some moment in the future where the situation will be perfect. That moment may never come.

Continue with that job. Instead of hoping for a change that may or not arrive, to be experienced years down the road as a moment, change it to a journey. Strive for excellence. Make a plan about what you wish to be doing. Everyday, do an action that relates to that change. What's the difference? You are no longer living for a moment. You begin to live in the moment. The pursuit becomes a journey of little pleasures to savor along the way.

I know that a dream deferred is like a raisin in the sun. I agree with that sentiment. So often, dreams are deferred because we are trying to be perfect. Perfectionism is exhausting. It saps your energy and can leave you too tired or defeated to continue on the path. While excellence allows you rest stops of enjoyment along the way.

A dream doesn't come true some future moment in time, a time that is not even guaranted to manifest into something real, touchable and tangible.

A dream comes true by working at it on a regular basis, consistently over time. If you want to defer your dreams, chase unrelenting perfection. Pursuing excellence will provide you the practice and familiarity you need, so that when that opportunity comes, you will sail into it, through it and past that perfect moment, to blissfully enjoy as many moments of your voyage as possible.

Don't defer your dreams or forego enjoyment for some far off destination point in time, that you will only experience briefly for the sake of perfection. Experience some aspect of your dream every day. Create a tapestry of your life built on many moments of joy. Life is about the journey, not the destination. Perfection is like that proverbial carrot on the stick. You'll never get it and you may spend your life hungy and unfulfilled.

Focus on the journey. Strive to enjoy it, or some aspect of it, every day. Pursue excellence and not perfection. When you look up, not only will you have enjoyed getting there, you'll be able to sustain what you have attained. If the moment of perfection does come, it will be like the final fulfilling forkful of a decadent delicious dessert that you have enjoyed and not some morsel that you starved yourself for that turned out to be lousy. Now step out there and embrace your dream bit by bit. Hope to see you on the journey!

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Dog That Got Hit Yells the Loudest

A gentleman I know told me the following story. When he was a little boy, he saw a dog get hit. It just dropped to the ground and it didn't move. A man in a truck pulled up and parked his car near the injured animal.

When he approached the dog and tried to touch the dog, the dog raised its head and snarled and growled. The dog was unable to move but it tried its best to protect itself. The man backed away from the dog and left the injured dog in the street.

The man returned from his truck with a blanket or covering. He placed the covering over the injured dog's body and head. He then proceeded to scoop up and gently lift up the dog into his arms. He carried the injured animal to his truck and drove away to get the dog help or treatment.

Some women were giving a presentation and I was in the audience. I could barely hear the current speaker. Therefore, I raised my hand and asked her if she could please speak up. I wanted to hear what she had to say and thus did not want to miss anything because she was speaking too low.

She was quiet and she stared at me very hard for a few seconds. She rolled her eyes, exhaled sharply, turned away and then quickly repeated what she had just said. I was very confused by her reaction. It were as if I had bothered her.

Later, I overheard her conversation. She was stating that she found public speaking terrifying. I went over to her and said, "Oh, now I understand. When you were presenting and I asked you to speak louder, you seemed like you were angered and bothered by my request. Now I realize that you were afraid. By me asking you a question, that just made it worse for you."

She said, " I was so scared that I took three Zantex. I don't even remember you asking me that question."

This woman is by no means a dog. Yet, her situation is similar. With the dog, it was possible to see and know the dog was afraid and injured or in pain. It would have been inhumane for the gentleman who approached the dog to become angry at the animal when the dog snapped, snarled and growled.

People are the same way. Most people don't have injuries, pain or fear that we can see. Yet, it is there for so many. The next time you encounter someone who is growling and snarling at you and your good intentions, instead of backing away and getting in your truck and driving off, go back inside yourself and re-group. Then, come back out with a cloth or blanket or protection, the love you have for yourself, and approach that person again. That anger that you think you may be encountering may be someone's only form of protection.

You never know what is going on in people's lives. If you are conscious enough to have good intentions to want to help and be kind to others, then you are conscious enough to be the bigger person and extend yourself a little and give to that person with the invisible injury or pain.

Yes, it may be that the dog that got hit yells the loudest. Also know that many who are in pain can be the most quiet. Reserve your judgement. Suit up and arm yourselves so that you too can circle back and help, even if the injured party growled and snarled at you during the initial approach.

Offer kindness and understanding. Afterall, that's what a beautiful woman does. She reaches out to those around her whose need for understanding may be disguised as anger and pain. A comforting word is all someone may need. The power is in your hands to beautify their world just a little bit, bit by bit. In return, you will beautify your own.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

I am Tired of Being Afraid

Friday afternoon I headed to the restroom. As I entered the brightly lit, windowless, two stall bathroom I heard this frantic movement in the farthest stall from the door and from me. Someone was hurriedly dressing. I could see a work out bag on the floor at the person's feet. We have a gym in our building so I assumed whoever she might be was rushing to change.

The sound was unsettling to me. I hesitated before releasing the door and entered tentatively. I entered anyway, used the restroom and pulled opened my stall door to exit and to wash my hands. As I approached the sink, the lady who was rushing in the stall next to me was now rushing to wash her hands at the sink to my left.

I admonished her and said," Slow down. You are just rushing. I see you have your keys in your hand. You need to slow down so you can get there safely. Are you going to a meeting?"

She said,"My sister is dying. I have to get to the hospital." Then she rushed out past me.

I didn't know what to say. I just stood in the middle of the bathroom, staring at my feet and the sterile, but cold unforgiving tile beneath them. Then my head snapped up and I rushed to the bathroom door and dashed into the hallway.

She was still standing at the elevator. Waiting. There are four in our building. Unless it is lunchtime, they come very rapidly. They were slow. It wasn't lunchtime. She was still waiting.

She was about 30 feet away and was in the midst of turning to enter the elevator opposite where she was standing and I yelled, "May I pray for her?" She nodded. "Please tell me her name so that I can pray for her by name," I called out. She paused before entering the elevator and told me her sister's first and last name. I took it. Then she was gone.

So was her sister. Her sister didn't make it. But she made it to see her sister in time. She was breathing then was buried all within days. I didn't know her sister but the encounter took me on a downward spiral. I felt that I had intruded when I told her not to rush. I may have even told her that what ever she was rushing to was not that important to risk having an accident. I don't remember to be honest.

It was like passing by a table covered with mementos and knick knacks and collectibles. As you pass, you lose your footing and your balance and you grab for something to support you. Instead of grabbing the solid table, all you grasp is the edge of the tablecloth. As you fall you bring the table cloth to the floor with you and all the things that were on the table come crashing down as the cloth spirals in your hand as you descend deeper and closer to the floor, the bottom. That's how I felt.

The stuff on the table that came spiraling down was a combination of several events in my past.
The death of a friend in Japan. I had been trying to call her and found out that she had taken her own life days before. The last week of my father's life before his death seven days later.The fear of the loss of a relationship that I so desperately wanted to hold on to. All of it came tumbing back and down just like those symbolic knick knacks that came tumbling down.

I was a mess. I asked my mother to pray for me. I told her that I was afraid. I was afraid of death. Afraid of saying the wrong thing. Afraid of failing. Afraid of losing those that I love. Afraid of what is going to happen. I have been teary since that incident in the restroom. I berated and admonished myself for saying the wrong thing. I berated myself for not saying something, the right thing at the right moment. I was spiraling downward faster and deeper.

But life goes on and I had made a commitment to perform a bank transaction. I needed to get it done that day. There is a bank branch in our building as well. I know the tellars and always speak and chat.

That day as I went up to the teller that I know, she looked at me and knew something was wrong instantly. When my eyes met hers, I started to get teary again.

She said,"Let me hurry up with this transaction and get you what you need, honey."

I shared with her what happened. I ended with, "You can be breathing on Friday and be buried by Monday." Another teller who was standing there looked up at me and nodded his head knowingly.

Then she said something else. She said, "You were put in that bathroom to comfort her during her time of need."

I said, "I just went there because I had to pee," sounding like an absolute fool.

She rolled her eyes and said, "You could have gone at any time. But you went in there at that moment. You made her conscious of her rushing and because of you, she probably thought about that and slowed down. At the elevator you asked her for her sister's name and she gave it to you and said thank you."

At that moment, my little tears dried up and I felt the most soothing, comforting peace come over me. I was like, yeah, I did give her some comfort.

Let's just say that she had rushed and just had say a minor fender bender, or the police had stopped her for speeding. The loss of those precious moments could have impeded her from being present during her sister's passing.

This incident was the straw that broke the camel's back for me. I realized that I have been living in fear for some time now. When I experienced that profound sense of peace, I became relieved then exhausted.

Being afraid and living in fear are exhausting. I didn't even realize that I was living in this heightened state of fear and had been for many months. The peace that I got from the words of the bank teller just washed over me and seemed to cleanse away my immediate fear.

I would be a liar to say that I am no longer afraid. I am aware now. You see, I am afraid of change. Death is a change. The end of a relationship is change. But with change comes other things. Renewal. Insight. Growth. Peace. Transcendence. Although these ebb and flow, someting does not. It's love.

Love is constant and everlasting whether it be in the form of a memory, a person and most importantly, within yourself. It is always ever present. When you find yourself afraid, fall back on that love to comfort and guide you through. Believe in love. I now know that love conquers all.

When you think you can barely make the next step in front of you, know that love walks beside you. When you can go on no farther, know that love will comfort you and hold you until you have gained your strength. When all is dark and you can smell the fear, know that love will waft through the thickness of night and touch your nose with the sweet comforting scent to guide your steps.

We are fallible and weak. It is our arrogance and ignorance that makes us forget that we truly have no control over anything but ourselves. We have no control over any situation or person outside of ourselves.We don't.

But it is love that elevates us beyond the limitations of our human form that helps us to remember no matter what it looks like or how it feels, that we are to focus on love, as it is everlasting. So when you get tired of being afraid, you can fall wearily into the arms of love. You will be comforted, protected and enveloped in peace. If you let love battle your fear, I guarantee fear will never defeat you.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Big Furry Baby Bigfoot in a Bikini

For two years, I had been wanting to order a sexy bathing suit online. I finally sat down and made some time to go through the site. Perusing the site, I selected a white, bathing suit bottom and a matching top. I spend time outside of the United States sometimes and love to go to the sea and the ocean.

Finally, the package arrived. The envelope was smaller than one of those zip and lock sandwich bags. It was exciting to be realizing the culmination of a goal: getting the courage to buy and wear one of those sexy bikinis.

When I opened the package, there were two cellophane bags. One contained the bikini bottom and the other contained the top. Each bag was 1/2 the size of a regular fold down sandwich bag, respectively. In fact, I could easily fit them both into one sandwich bag and have space left over. Both the top and the bottom had a tag attached with a hard plastic string. I was unable to remove or break the plastic that held the tag to the bottoms, with my bare hands.

Since I couldn't wait to try on the suit, I didn't want to spend or take the time to find a pair of scissors to remove the tags from the bottoms. I wanted to get the full effect of the suit as soon as possible. So, I snatched up my favorite pair of six inch mules with gorgeous, steel colored silver heels.

There's this little inexpensive door mirror in the room. I really wanted to savor the moment of seeing the impact of the full outfit, for the first time. I decided to keep my eyes averted until I had suited up. Daintily, I stepped into my pretty heels. First one foot, then the other. I teetered a bit, losing my balance ever so slightly.

I tied the strings on the top. Then adjusted the bikini bottoms.

Boldly and with bravado and confidence, I stepped in front of the mirror with my little hands on my hips and my high -heel clad, feet spread apart. Firmly planted before the mirror, I raised my chin, readying myself to take it all in. The only thing I needed was a blowing cape because I knew I had it going on.

When I met my own gaze in the mirror and simultaneously looked myself up and down, I was speechless. The strings of the bikini bottoms seemed to have disappeared, taking three fourths of the tag with it! Turning around to look from behind, I could barely see either one.

Even very light peach fuzz on my belly and forearms and legs looked like it was as long and as thick as carpet. I looked fat, furry and funky. Since I am petite, I figured I looked like a baby Bigfoot. If there are any Bigfoots out there, I apologize in advance for the comparison. The next thing I knew I had collapsed on the couch, my body just crumpled and I began to cry and scream with laughter! I called my mother and told her all about it.

I even dared to put the bikini back on for my husband. He was like, " just need to shave a bit more and do a few sit-ups. Otherwise, it looks alright." I was just too tickled and burst out laughing again.

My feeling is I am so glad I bought that suit and tried it on, despite the results! First, I took a risk and decided to do something outside of my comfort zone. It's not like I was walking around with the bikini on outside, though.

The next thing is that although I had different expectations in my head, compared to what I saw in the mirror, I now had a baseline. I saw where I was and where I wanted to go. I learned exactly what I needed to address to reach my goal of wearing that bikini.

The interesting thing is, I still don't feel as comfortable as I would like to in the suit. Therefore, I have yet to wear it out on a beach. More importantly, because of the episode, I increased the care I gave to myself and my body. I soon had to take some pictures for an upcoming book I am writing. You know what? The pictures came out pretty darn good! In fact, they were some of the best photos I have ever seen of myself. It was all because of that bikini.

I was shooting for a bikini babe body and instead ended up as a Furry Baby Bigfoot in a bikini. That's alright, though. It helped me to see that I needed to make some adjustments. It reminds me of that quote,"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll still land among the stars."

Continue to take calculated risks. Don't let fear of failure stop you or make you skittish because of the looming possibility and threat of disappointment. In order to become the person you want to be, you may have to go through some growing pains. Your journey may not be quite as hairy as mine (pun intended), but the end result may be similar. In my case, I started out as a beast and emerged as a beauty. I am determined to wear that suit! Perhaps Summer 2011 will be my time. Until then, beautify bit by bit! You've got work to do and the world is in great need. Continue to work toward being your best in 2011. When you are at your best, you've got so much more to give.