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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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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.

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The power of voice

I stood in the hallway of an unfamiliar building, not sure where to go and noticing the time. No one was around.  “Darn it! I don’t want to be late. Managers get to meetings early.” As I shuffled through my notebook to find the printed Microsoft Outlook invitation hoping to find the room number, I saw a sentence instructing attendees to plan to provide a one minute introduction about themselves.  “Great (sarcasm)! How did I miss that? I didn’t prepare anything. I’m going to have to wing it AGAIN. It’ll be ok. One minute isn’t long. I’ll think of something on the elevator ride up.”

I got off the elevator to find 3 familiar faces and each appeared lost. No one knew how to get to the conference room. I felt relieved I wasn’t alone.  After a few minutes of confusion, another familiar, smiling face appeared and guided us to our destination.  At the entry to the room, I laid eyes on who will become my new tribe of professionals: managers, directors, and officials. “Do I belong here? Absolutely.”

There were about 30 of us crammed in a small conference room. This was the first meeting of its kind. The introductions commenced, and to my dread, they were starting at my table plus we each had to stand up.  As an introvert, I’m usually uncomfortable talking about myself. I decided, “I can do this” as I have many times. However, the stakes were higher this time because of who was in the room. I recalled my boss telling me in the past, “It’s time to shine.” I always resented her telling me that because I shine on my own accord, not by command or pressure. My boss was in the room, at my table. Even though I had my elevator speech ready, thankfully, the facilitator decided to go to the other tables, so I would almost be the last person to speak. I claimed my stake and told myself that I would be relaxed and make an impression. As I listened to the years of experience, wit, and honesty, I began to feel inspired and privileged to be in the room. 

With each person that spoke, I’d think of something else I wanted to say about myself and add it to my imaginary list. By the time they came to me, I was poised and relaxed. For a moment, I questioned my attire, particularly my top, because when I stood up eyes seemed to have laid on the tie at the base of my denim blouse.  I was imagining curious looks. I knew I needed to call attention to my words not my attire so I amped it up.  I blocked out the thought about my blouse because let’s face it, I couldn’t do anything about it at that point. It was a cute. It just didn’t look as conservative as shirts other people were wearing. I said a couple of things that made people laugh, even my boss. I allowed myself to be vulnerable. I felt exhilarated after the meeting.

This true story is a snapshot of my Friday this week. The meeting lasted four hours.  I’m sharing because I want to emphasize how important a positive inner “voice” or “self-talk” is. What are you telling yourself? Sure, I have moments of insecurity and doubt, but they are fleeting moments.  Sure, I put pressure on myself, but I stay focused on the big picture. Overwhelmingly, I talk myself through until I get the positive outcome I, not only desire, but have already imagined in my mind.  If it doesn’t happen that moment, I work hard not to don’t beat myself up by saying “It’ll be ok.”  I try again the next day.

I believe that most people wouldn’t tell their best friends the negative things that many say to themselves. I view my internal voice as my best friend who is looking out for me and loves me. Now, I have to work on listening to ensure she (my voice/self-talk) is feeding me positive thoughts and telling me the truth.  For some, it can be oddly comfortable to wallow in negative emotions and self-talk.  We might not even notice the negative mumbles, which is why it takes self-awareness to do this work. It also takes courage. 

Be courageous and claim your stake in your life. Do the work of being the best version of yourself. Get to know yourself. Challenge yourself. You’re worth it.

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Full Circle Part III

Here’s something I noticed, I get the most views on my blog from my Facebook followers when I write about my personal life. Either I have some nosey followers, we share a similar story, and/or you can relate, or all three. Whatever the case, I will continue to be as transparent as I feel comfortable because I’ve had ample learning opportunities. Believe it or not, there are some private lessons that I’m not willing to share, especially as they concern others that are close to me and that’s ok.  My first blog post in this series that I’m calling “Full Circle”(you can read it here) was prompted by self-empathy as I reflected on my life experiences after I completed radiation therapy due to breast cancer last month. My contemplative state of mind can also be attributed to the fact that it’s still somewhat the beginning of 2017 (I still have not finalized my goals!).  At the conclusion of radiation treatment in January, I wanted to rid my body of the toxins I’d been exposed to since my cancer treatments began. Therefore, I completed two green smoothie challenges (one of which included a vegan detox meal plan by Simple Green Smoothies). Currently, I feel myself transitioning into another phase of life. I’m in the midst of a metamorphosis. I’ve been thinking about everything. Thoughts that have been buried away for years have resurfaced. I’ve had new epiphanies and perspectives on old situations.

At the end of that first “Full Circle” blog post, I asked my readers to stay tuned for the strategies I used to get through that difficult time of confusion and depression. I was lost. And although I had not consciously decided to sleep my life away as my previous coworker indirectly suggested (you can read about it here in Full Circle Part II), I wasn’t living. I was afraid to make any more moves. I was stuck.

When I think about how I overcame that time in my life, I think about my frame of mind, the thoughts that sustained me, and the actions I took that got me through it.  I attempted to make this list as comprehensive as I could. After rereading, I can very well say that I continue to embody this process as I am constantly evolving. This has worked for me in the past and continues to work for me.

  1. I Didn’t Give up
  2. I Prayed and Believed
  3. I Was Patient
  4. I Had a Positive Mind
  5. I Dreamed
  6. I Had an Honest Conversation with Myself
  7. I Gathered Information
  8. I Created Measurable Goals
  9. I Filled Out Paperwork and Followed Through
  10. I Set New Goals as I Crossed Old Ones Off My List

Some of these items are self-explanatory, but I will give my spin on what they each mean to me.

I Didn’t Give Up

I think by far the most important decision I made was not to give up on myself, especially having felt that some people had given up on me. I want to emphasize that it was a decision…a choice to not give up. I believed that if I gave up on myself, then it was over. Who else would believe in me? I had hope that I would get through it. Sometimes, hope is all you’ve got until you can gather more tools. My hope wouldn’t allow me to give up.

I Prayed and Believed

At that time, I prayed often for God to reveal his purpose in my life. I was very familiar with bible scriptures having grown up in the Jehovah’s Witnesses religion and Catholicism (long story for another time). I believed that God wanted the best for me. I just didn’t know what that “best” was. Even though I could not see my future, I knew it was laid out for me. I listened to what God was telling me to do. It was not always easy to hear His voice, but I tried really hard to follow his steps.

I Was Patient

And I still am. There were times that I wanted to see progress immediately, but to some degree, I had dug a hole for myself. I wasn’t coming out of that in a matter of months. There was satisfaction in knowing that I would eventually get myself together and the naysayers (a.k.a. haters) would have to give me my props. There was also a time that I would pray for patience, and boy, I kept getting challenges that tested my patience. I’ve since stopped praying for patience. I’m a pro. 😉

I Had a Positive Mind

I read quite a few self-help books on personal development. I mentioned in the initial Full Circle post that, at that time, I went to a therapist once and was too afraid to go back because of the backlash from my family. I was embarrassed and ashamed and actually convinced myself that a therapist wouldn’t be able to help me with the mound of mess that I was in. I thought a more gentle approach would be for me to spend time doing this on my own. I read books on positivity and personal growth. I practiced what I was learning.

I Dreamed

I have quite the imagination attributed to years of being in environments that I didn’t want to be in so I had to do something with my mind. Just as I had daydreamed under those circumstances, I dreamed of the day that I would accomplish my goals. Visualizing myself being accepted into a college, in my graduation robe, or accepting my college diploma helped to keep me focused on my goals. I would also visualize myself having tough conversations with my family and friends. I’ve spent a lot of time in my head. As an introvert, it’s my favorite place to be.

I Had An Honest Conversation with Myself

I messed up too although I didn’t have the best dealt hand in life to work with either. However, I was not going to have a pity party. I was done sulking and sleeping all the time. I decided that I would attempt to change the things that I could control (insert Serenity Prayer here). I didn’t beat myself up, but looked at the situation as objectively as I could. I had some work to do.

I Gathered Information

I love libraries and my favorite was the Harold Washington Public Library in downtown Chicago. That is where I discovered many of my self-help books and also where I researched careers. Prior to dropping out of college, I was a business major, but that didn’t feel right. When I worked in downtown Chicago, I would spend my lunch breaks walking over to the library and researching the field of “social work”. I was fascinated.

I Created Measurable Goals

I’m a goal setter. I wrote down on paper what my goals were and systematically took the steps to get accomplish each goal. Smaller goals fed into the larger goals. I remember applying at Roosevelt University in downtown Chicago because I had known all along (but didn’t accept) that I would thrive in a smaller university. I would set goals to fill out the application (not available online back then…mind blowing), turn it in, meet with an admissions counselor, etc. SMART goals are the way to go – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Specific (SMART).

I Filled Out Paperwork and Followed Through

Boy, did I fill out paperwork – college applications, job applications, personal journal entries, letters to friends, school writing assignments, etc. I wrote a lot and still do. I also followed up and through with my commitments. I wanted to become a FINISHER. I wanted to complete a big goal and that entailed constant follow through.

I Set New Goals as I Crossed Old Ones Off My List

Here’s where the overachiever in me comes in. That euphoric feeling that you get from achieving a goal is addictive, so you want to have that feeling over and over again. I’m also addicted to learning new things, learning new things about myself, and becoming a better version of me. Hopefully, I will finalize (or start) my 2017 goal list. On one hand, I’m surprised that I haven’t done this yet, but on the other hand, I had a lot going on. I just set the goal to complete this list before the weekend ends. It’s a SMART goal.

This blog post is a little longer than my usual, but my early twenties were a defining moment in my life and I had a lot to figure out at the time. I’m very pleased with how my life is blossoming. I acknowledge that it has taken great courage for me to move forward. That courage gives me the confidence to keep going.

What’s interesting is that I am at a crosswords again. I feel like I am birthing something, but I’m not quite sure what yet. A metamorphosis is happening within me. I will get it eventually. Sometimes I’m a little slow with figuring things out and I don’t always hear God clearly, but I’m patient. Stick around with me on this journey and we could learn together.