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The Slow Down

I love the holiday season for many obvious reasons: family time, delicious food, sleeping in, holiday decorations, nostalgic feelings, and connecting with family and friends. There is one more reason I’ve been craving since August: the overall slow down. I’m able to unravel my thoughts after a few days of rest. During the “non-holiday” part of the year, life can be fast-paced, busy, sometimes chaotic…especially my life. If you’ve followed my blog, you’ll know I’ve had a lot going on since 12/26/2017. My Thanksgiving 2018 was no fuss, no travel, no rush, and no stress. I was only surrounded by my husband and children. We made calls to family, but ours was a quiet Thanksgiving. A friend said she might stop by, but there was no pressure or expectation. She ended up not coming, which was worked out fine.

The holiday slow down is my time to refuel, realign, and re-engage with my family and myself. I planned an extra day off work today because I like to be off on Cyber Monday (although my holiday money hasn’t arrived yet 😑). I also prefer not return to work on a Monday after an extended weekend off. Ironically, my plans for today includes catching up on some office work, but it will be balanced with some pampering, organizing, and getting up to speed on my personal affairs.

Although I’m slowing down, I fully recognize that for many people, this is the time of year for what seems like endless shopping, holiday parties, and overall doing and buying stuff. Even the driving on the roads tends to being more frenetic and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more car accidents this time of year. I don’t want to fall into the trap this season. Yes, I will Christmas shop (mostly online) as I do have 2 children, but it will not be the mindless, overconsumption of stuff.

There’s something to be said for giving yourself what you need and creating a space for it to happen. I’m grateful I can create this space for myself.

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Confidence boost

How do I get women to have the courage to be bold, confident and work in their own power? It’s not by coincidence I’m asking because not only have I struggled in the past with this personally, and quite frankly, I still do in specific situations, but I manage a team of mostly women. I see women struggling with confidence and speaking their knowledge with authority. The one male on my team has no problem with confidence and speaking knowledge, yet I prefer he reigns it in at times (different post). Some goals I have for women are to be empowered to share their ideas with confidence, to stop second guessing, to step out of their comfort zone, and to speak with authority.

I propose the following strategies (in no particular order) to help women gain more confidence in the workplace and in life:

  • Do your homework- Educate yourself on the topic at hand. In my work environment, the core workforce are called subject matter experts (SMEs). SMEs learn everything there is to know about their particular program, including learning what other states do. I’ve found the more I learn about a topic, the more confident I become.
  • Practice – When I was in high school and college, I used to rehearse my presentations with other students, or solo by looking in the mirror and literally reciting my script out loud. In my line of work, these techniques haven’t gone away. I make lots of presentations and still need to rehearse, but not to the same degree as I did when I was a student. For group presentations with my team and/or others, we plan on who will say what. You might even record your voice and listen later to hear how you sound. You might want to rehearse asking for a promotion, for a job interview, and for delivering bad news.
  • Believe in yourself through positive self-talk – We all have the inner critic in our heads judging everything we do. Train your critic to be your cheerleader. It takes practice, but replace, “I can’t do this” with “I will”. I’ve trained my inner voice to be kind and it speaks to me as if I were a friend. That’s not to say the critic doesn’t come out every so often, but I work hard to make my cheerleader my main voice.
  • Make time to do things you enjoy – my love of exercise and Zumba fitness, on the surface doesn’t appear to impact my job, but the energy, calm, and joy I draw from these activities, spill into other areas of my life. In fact, becoming a Zumba fitness instructor, and the act of dancing in front of others has boosted my confidence in ways I couldn’t have imagined. That boldness has helped me in my current leadership role, which leads to the next strategy.
  • Set goals for yourself – As you accomplish your goals, you’ll develop more confidence. I had the goal of completing the training to be a Zumba fitness instructor for my 40th birthday. That was five years ago. I also had goals of earning advanced degrees, losing weight, spending more time with my family, etc. The more goals you accomplish, the more your confidence increases. Keep setting new goals.
  • Just do it – This Nike slogan has been one of my favorite mantras. Sometimes, you’ve just got to put yourself out there and “do the darn thing”. It won’t be perfect. It may not be as rehearsed as you would have liked, but put yourself out there. Take a chance. We only live once. I work in a fast-paced environment where we often sacrifice 100% quality for getting it done and out the door. If perfection is holding you back, let it go because nothing is perfect. I, myself, am a “recovering perfectionist”.
  • Channel all parts of you – I’m a parent, wife, daughter, sister, friend, aunt, cousin, niece, manager, mentor, exercise enthusiast, cook, reader, etc. As a parent, I’m used to raising my children, being nurturing/loving, setting boundaries, and teaching and directing them. Parenting is hard, but I’m confident that I’m raising my kids the best I can. I channel the parenting part of me in my role at work. I’m confident in my relationship with God and His purpose for my life, which I channel in my work. The confidence I’ve developed in the various parts of my life adds to my overall confidence bucket and greatly impacts how I demonstrate my confidence to the world.

My assumption in writing this post is that women are working in environments where they are expected to share ideas and contribute knowledge which will ultimately impact an agency’s bottom line. In my line of work, it’s getting citizens the help they need.

Please feel free to share your challenges and successes with building confidence.

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Fall is in the air

As I look at my overgrown vines and potted plants, I think our front stoop resembles a quaint cottage, which is perfect for fall. Fall is in the air. I’m so ready for sweater and scarf weather, acorn squash, cornbread dressing, and cozying up in the house with my loved ones watching tv. Truth be told, I’ve been ready since August and so has my daughter, Elise. In fact, Elise wants to go straight to Christmas. She already gave me her Christmas list. She’s been listening to Christmas music. One of my team members told me recently that my office smells like Christmas. Yep…on purpose. 😁

There’s been an article circling on my social media feed indicating that putting Christmas decorations up earlier may make you feel happier (read it here to find out why). I’m not going as far as putting up Christmas decorations in October, plus my husband won’t have it. However, we generally have our Christmas tree out by Thanksgiving. We slowly add the other decorations over the following week, but the tree has to be out and decorated.

Back to fall: I believe I’ve been craving fall because I want to slow down, retreat, and surround myself with warmth. For me, warmth is my family. I did grow up in Chicago which has very distinct seasonal changes so this may be a factor as well. It’s also been a busy, demanding year. I think Elise knows it too. I received a job promotion in January and my husband, Bryan, was released from the hospital, also in January, after having been hospitalized for 17 days. I’ve been the sole financial provider for my family while keeping up with my husband’s condition (which is foreign to us although we’ve been learning) and the many doctor’s appointments amongst us all, but especially Bryan. Prior to Bryan’s condition, I’ve not attended his doctor’s appointments, but it’s essential now. It’s been a demanding year for all of us. Everyone has made sacrifices.

In the midst of everything, I’ve been working at holding my own at work while keeping my family together. I have a lot on my plate. I manage a team at work and manage my team at home. I’m not complaining, but merely stating facts. I know myself enough to know I need to recalibrate some things to maintain a balance in my life. This is precisely why I’m looking forward to the overall holiday season…so I can slow down. Office closures make me slow down. Kids out of school make me slow down. Dinner with family and friends make me slow down.

I also am looking forward to more blogging during the fall/holiday season. My busy schedule doesn’t allow me to blog as often as I’d like or planned (weekly). I hope to change it up soon. My blog messages are simple by design because I don’t feel like I need to use complicated, flowery words to make an impact. After reading other blogs, I’ve thought maybe my posts are too simple, but I don’t want to go over people’s heads. I also don’t spend a lot of time developing my posts. As a recovering perfectionist, I would never get the blog posted if I spent too much time on it. An idea comes to mind, I write for an hour or so, then I post. I make edits later. My aim is to make my messages simple, digestible, and relatable. I’ve gotten some indication through “likes” and facebook I’m not alone…others can relate of which I’m grateful.

New seasons allow me to reflect and start fresh. Self-awareness allows me to assess what’s working and not working. It’s an opportunity to refine and adjust.

I would love to read which season(s) resonates with you.

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Brave in Sunny San Diego

San Diego…what a beautiful place! I’m here for a few days to attend a behavioral health business conference. It’s been a positive experience. I generally love conferences because I walk away inspired and energized. I needed this considering I’ve been drained.

I admit the first day, preconference, was rough: a 3 hour flight and then I couldn’t figure out where to enter the hotel due to construction. I drove around several times. There was a slight problem with my hotel reservation, but it was resolved. My ears were plugged up for the rest of the day. I was tired and irritable. My nose was congested.

I felt better when I woke up Thursday morning at 3:14 a.m. My body still thinks it’s 2 hours ahead in Texas, so I woke up on time. On Friday, I woke up at 3:48 a.m. I’ve still been getting a little less than 6 hours sleep. My attitude improved after I wrote Thursday’s blog post.

I decided to make the best of this trip because how often do I get to come to San Diego? It’s a privilege I’m able to travel to interesting places for work. This is my first time in California. I’ve never particularly cared about visiting…go figure. I enjoy networking when it’s the right group and I had an inkling this would be that group. On Thursday, I made some connections, gave some compliments, passed out my business cards, learned some valuable information, and overall embraced the day. I also received a few site seeing recommendations from a conference participant I met from Minnesota. I had something to look forward to at the end of the day.

I spent some time in Seaport Village and I loved it. Although I can’t swim and am afraid of large bodies of water, the water had a calming affect on me. I took lots of pictures and soaked in the breeze.

I took my time strolling. I walked on a pier. I enjoyed watching other people taking in the view. In some ways, Seaport Village, particularly by the pier, reminded me of Chicago (my home town), on the Lakefront. Instead of the Pacific Ocean, Chicago sits right on Lake Michigan. In other ways, the location reminded me of Austin because of the open beautiful, blue sky.

Eventually, I was hungry, but indecisive about which restaurant, so I perused through menus until one felt right.

I landed on a place where my food was mediocre at best, but the window view on the water made up for it.

Thank God for smartphones and GPS because I rely on them so much when traveling. I got nervous when I missed a turn in this very unfamiliar city. For a moment, I thought, “just go back to the hotel”. However, I was determined and when I found my destination along with a parking space, I was relieved.

It was a relaxing and wonderful ending to a great day. I’m proud of myself for being brave enough to do a little exploration of San Diego. It wasn’t much and I won’t be here long, but I wanted to get back to Austin with some good memories of San Diego. The fact that I’m attending this trip solo confirms my commitment to growth. I’m so used to operating outside of my comfort zone, I seem to gravitate towards activities that do just that, without much thought. At the end of the day, I grow in confidence, knowledge, and experience.

Light lessons:

  • Be brave
  • Take responsibility for your growth
  • Live outside your comfort zone sometimes

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Awareness

For the past couple of years, I’ve become inundated with a flood of emotions this time of year for two main reasons: 1) I was diagnosed with breast cancer two days before Breast Cancer Awareness month and 2) my mom’s last visit to Austin was in late October 2016 when she came to support me through my two breast cancer surgeries.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so there’s so much attention on breast cancer on my social media and elsewhere. I like reading the informative articles and the personal experiences of those affected. I’ve also been sharing information about my personal experience and have made small donations to the grocery stores and other places collecting funds for the cause. I like to say I’m a “thriver” rather than “survivor”, but I don’t fully subscribe to the language of how I move through this disease.

I find it interesting to read of people who have or will “beat” breast cancer. Have I beaten breast cancer? My oncologist told me I’m cancer free, yet I will still undergo hormone treatment (through oral medications) for up to 10 years. The reality is once you become intimately acquainted with the disease, you learn it can return. With every doctor’s appointment, blood test, and mammogram, there is a looming fear. This is a fight I didn’t sign up for, but I don’t feel sorry for myself or regret it. I’m simply doing what I do best: adjusting to life’s roller coaster, being strong, and making the best out of it.

I do need to be careful because I’m in a very vulnerable space. Upon receiving the confirmation that I had breast cancer, it was an extremely emotional experience, which I attribute to coming face to face with my mortality. I have children and a husband who need me. I have family and friends who love me. We all know we’re going to die, but when you know you have a disease which has killed many, it does something to you.

I am also vulnerable because my main source of support, my mummy, passed away 8 months after her last trip to Austin to come support me during my breast cancer surgeries. I can still hear her cries when I told her the news over the phone. Breast Cancer Awareness month reminds me my mummy was by side during the most difficult time in my life. I’ve been coping and have grieved her death, but there are moments where I simply miss her and feel sad she’s gone.

So here it is. Through blogging, I’ve uncovered this nagging, unsettling feeling that’s been plaguing me for the past couple of months. I thought I was just tired. Breast Cancer Awareness has triggered some emotions in me. What do I do now with this awareness? It starts with me being patient with myself and removing all judgments. I will extend myself some grace. I will rest. I will embrace myself with an imaginary hug.

Light lesson: Self-love is being kind to oneself in thoughts and actions. I hope you do the same for yourself.

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You need a tool box

As a grown up person, you have to realize you are responsible for charting your own course despite past circumstances and upbringing. If you want to gain more confidence, do the work to increase your confidence. If you are not fulfilled in certain areas of your life, do the work to become fulfilled. If you want to write better, do the work to improve your writing. If you want to lose weight, do the work to release the pounds. You get where I’m going with this…Light lesson: Ultimately it’s up to you to manifest the life you want, and to get there, you must take action. I want to empower you with this: You direct the changes/enhancements you want in your life, but not without putting in some work…at times, some soul stirring, gut-wrenching, sweaty, messy, frustrating, humbling, confusing, unpretty, exhilarating, rewarding, and satisfying WORK.

Some of us have done the work, but I believe we also need periodic refresher courses. When you have a professional license and/or certification, you’re required to maintain a certain number of Continuing Education Credits (CEUs) to maintain the license in a specific timeframe. This ensures you’re keeping up to date on practices in your field. I haven’t renewed my social work license yet because I’m short on ethics CEUs. Those are hard to come by, especially with my schedule. In essence, refresher courses, like CEUs ensure you’re keeping your skills sharp.

Over the years, I’ve studied to earn an advanced degree, worked jobs that took me out of my comfort zone, gained parenting skills, improved my fitness level, improved my cooking and baking skills, learned how to cook vegan meals, learned how to be a better wife, learned how to garden, honed my communication skills, lost some weight, and on and on. I’m a constant learner. I’m an action oriented person. I put in the work.

All I do to gain knowledge and enrich my life adds to my self-confidence. Occassionly, I need a refresher course because despite my high confidence, sometimes I have doubts mostly due to my damaged wiring. Yes, although we may put in the work to conquer past demons, resolve old hurts, forgive past mistakes and people, there may be some residual damage of which we learn to live with. It doesn’t mean we haven’t done the work. It just means there are remaining mental and/or psychological scars and damage. We can’t control the memory triggers, but we can work on how to cope with them.

About a month ago, I was thinking of writing a blog post on confidence because I’ve encountered several women lately who lack confidence. They know it. I supervise a couple of them. I believe once they conquer the confidence factor, the sky is the limit on what they can do. This is important to me because I know how important confidence is in life and business. This blog post is really about how I’ve gained and maintain my confidence.

To help myself in my own periodic struggle with confidence, I recently opened my tiny purple tool box that rests on my dresser in my bedroom. It’s about 8 years old. In my field education class in graduate school, my instructor had each student decorate a tiny box. Once we completed the task, she had us write a positive message about each person in our cohort on tiny pieces of paper. We passed the tiny pieces of paper to each person, folded our own tiny messages, then placed them in our box. It was a brilliant and beautiful exercise. It’s like a time capsule in that strangers who bonded years ago shared their impression of you at the time. I read the tiny pieces of paper recently and a smile emerged on my face and heart. Talk about a confidence booster! I needed that refresher.

You may not have a tiny purple box filled with notes of inspiring messages from classmates, but my point is to find something that reminds you of what makes you FABULOUS. Also:

  • Take some life refresher courses, literally and figuratively
  • Create a tool box, literally (like my tiny purple box with powerful messages) or figuratively (books, activities, quotes)
  • Educate yourself
  • Plan and take action

We have access to so much information. No EXCUSES. Do the work.

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Cancer Strong

Altough breast cancer awareness month is not until October, I’ve been thinking a lot about my journey lately. The incisions have healed and I can feel the scars from breast reconstruction surgery extending from under both my left and right breast bones. The breast reduction and lift does not hide the dent from the lumpectomy on my lower left breast. September marks two years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. On September 28, 2016, my life changed forever upon learning my fate. You can read about my reaction to the news here.

I’ve been breast cancer free for about a year and nine months and have gone on with my life. Breast cancer is not at the forefront of my thoughts anymore. In reality, I’ve had no choice but to shift my focus because my family needs me considering my husband’s health issues. Back in the fall of 2016, I was totally consumed with researching everything about my disease. The follow up medical appointments that occur mostly every 6 months (medical oncology, radiation oncology, mammograms, primary care) and the medication I’ll take for another 3 to 10 years, remind me that it’s not entirely out of my life or that far behind me. However, it’s a part of my life and I’ve learned to live with it.

The thing about having a cancer diagnosis, at least for me, is it makes you keenly aware of how short life is, which can be a good and/or bad thing. I’d like to say because I’m keenly aware of how short life is that I don’t let things bother me, or say I don’t worry, but that’s not true. Things do bother me and I do worry…after all I have responsibilities. However, I work to put things in perspective daily and practice not being so hard on myself.

I’m physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally strong and that’s what will get me through this journey.