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Stay above the fray

I debated about what to title this blog post because I know a provocative title attracts the readers. In recent months, I’ve been working on my goal of being more consistent with blogging. I’ve also been experimenting with my content, thereby showing my readers the other sides of me that contribute to who I am such as my love of cooking. In the process, I’ve noticed more traction to my site, of which I’m grateful.

There are many layers that contribute to me being …ME. At the end of the day, this site is an extension of me being a social worker, in an administrative leadership role, who wants to share wisdom with you. Social workers are change agents, help fight social injustices, and are advocates. I’m my biggest advocate. So as is true in life, it’s not all fun and games. This post isn’t about food or a recent adventure. I want to share some points that came up for me this week regarding leadership. I hope you pick up some light lessons as you go along this blog post journey with me.

I’ve been told (and have heard) that I’m viewed as calm, sharp, a person that can have hard conversations, I have good ideas, I’m a person of few words, I’m the voice of reason, etc. This week in particular, the “calm” characteristic came up because I’ve had to have pretty poignant discussions with some of my team members. So my mentee asked, “how can you be so calm?”

I’ve learned to harness my anxiety over the years. When I tell people, I struggle with anxiety, they don’t believe me. The first thing they point to is my calm demeanor. Yes, I’m an anxious person, and as I get older and learn more, through working in public health, about trauma and its impacts on people, I can appreciate my early life circumstances contributed to my anxiety. I have self-compassion. I’ve been working through my issues, but it’s a lifelong process. You can’t necessarily foresee triggers, or may not even be aware of specific triggers, as is the case with me. Yet, these triggers can set the stage for some much needed work to get through issues that seemingly pop up randomly.

One major way I harness anxiety is exercising 6-7 days a week. I exercise mostly for the brain boost of endorphins and not be slim. I’m a healthy, albeit fit, size. (I almost typed my size, but didn’t to keep you in suspense). I’ve been an avid exerciser for over 20 years. I absolutely love my cardio, dancing. and free weights. And core exercises…not so much. My blood pressure is a “dream” for many as I’ve been told by my doctors for years. In addition to calmness, the other fruits of my exercise are peace, contentment, confidence, happiness, and ARM MUSCLES.

In terms of calmness as it relates to my leadership, one particular class in graduate school made a significant impression on me. In this class, our instructor invited a different leader to speak on a regular schedule. One particular leader was the head of a major federal department, and during his leadership, a major catastrophe occurred that resulted in the loss of life….many lives. It was mind blowing. It was an unrelenting mess for years. What he said got him through was an expression I had never used before. He said his biggest lesson in that circumstance was to “stay above the fray”. It was a phrase he’d learned as a result of being a pilot in the military.

“Staying above the fray” means to stay above the chaos. Don’t let the chaos seep inside of you. Don’t contribute to the chaos. Otherwise, you may lose your objectivity and problem solving sensibilities. The leader should have the level head. The leader should have the calm demeanor. It doesn’t mean you don’t feel emotion or empathy, but you’re not taking it in. There is strength in being calm, especially for people you are leading. Calmness means not overeacting, which may contribute to someone else’s anxiety. Calmness allows for quick and nimble thinking.

My calmness doesn’t mean I’m going to blow up once I get through whatever it is either. You may have heard the expression “calm before the storm”…? That’s not me. My calmness doesn’t mean I’m not anxious on the inside. Again, I intentionally harness my anxiety, so I can operate in calmness.

The light lesson here is to protect yourself from taking on other people’s anxieties, problems, etc. You have your own stuff. For whatever situation is going on…”stay above the fray”. Invest in doing the mental, spiritual, emotional, and/or physical work needed that will allow you to function at optimal levels.

Be your biggest advocate and do the work.

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The Unlearning

Part of the “work” of personal growth is constant self-awareness and reexamining your thoughts. As I’ve been thinking about growth opportunities, particularly in my career, I realize that there is some unlearning I need to do. Like most people, I was raised a particular way and was socialized to believe certain things. I’ve been challenging those beliefs.

This is part of the “work” one must do to release old habits and old ways of thinking that no longer serve a purpose. My main goal is to live all areas of my life authentically and in congruence with my beliefs. I need to get to the source of my beliefs and determine if these are truly my beliefs or beliefs passed on to me that may be holding me back. If they don’t serve a purpose, then I need to let them go or reframe them so they do serve a purpose.

I’ll share a few examples of beliefs I’m challenging:

  1. One must not share an opposing/different view so as not to offend the other person.
  2. Always make peace.
  3. If one doesn’t have anything nice to say, one must not say anything at all.

I’ve found these particular beliefs could potentially prevent me from speaking up in situations where I need to. These beliefs are antithetical to field in which I work – public health/social services. Additionally, I earned my graduate degree in social work and made a commitment to advocate and serve underprivileged populations.

In all humility, I’ve advocated and helped many people. In my current position, I manage resources, which includes people. I’m required to use my expertise to solve problems and make decisions. I advocate at a higher level. I’ve found beliefs can manifest themselves subconsciously, causing me to struggle with speaking up in certain situations because of this subconscious, almost automatic way of thinking.

Could this discomfort also be related to the growing pains of living outside of my comfort zone? Perhaps. I’m here to examine all of the possibilities. Maybe the “discomfort” is really caused by beliefs that don’t serve me well.

My challenge to the first belief:

  1. One must not share an opposing/different view so as not to offend the other person. This was definitely what I picked up on in my family growing up. We were not taught that you could express disagreement to another person, especially an authority figure, and go on with your life, maintaining the relationship. It’s unrealistic to think everyone thinks and believes the exact same things. I’m constantly providing opposing views, especially at work. The reaction I get isn’t always pleasant. Systemic problems, social problems, resource problems, people problems…problems are not pleasant. For the greater good, people need to get over their offenses. I take comfort in performing the requirements of my job with integrity. In terms of family and friends, I’ll work on making my delivery more palatable to the people I love, but if I want to live in integrity and honesty, which I do, then I will speak the truth even if it’s an opposing view. Therefore, I will let this first belief go because it can hold me back from having authentic and truthful relationships. It can prevent me from performing at a high level in my career.

I will unpack my thoughts on the other beliefs in forthcoming posts. Each belief I listed has a theme and feed into each other. I want to free myself from them.

What beliefs do you need to unlearn?

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Dominican Republic (DR) Chronicles 2019: Comfort Zone

I believe that personal growth comes from operating out of your comfort zone on occasion. I preach this often and I hear it being preached often. It’s the truth. In fact, I live most of my life outside of my comfort zone. I’m an introvert naturally which means I draw energy from being ALONE; yet, professionally, I manage a team of educated professionals, present in front of others often, provide input in meetings with other executives, sometimes tell people what they don’t want to hear, advocate for my team, etc. I’m drained by the time I get home. Becoming a Zumba fitness instructor was another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. Interestingly enough, I attribute my professional success to my alter ego as a Zumba fitness instructor. Keep in mind, I’m not teaching anywhere at the moment, but I practice in my garage “studio” as if I do.

Since I’m a person that is constantly challenging myself and love to help people, it’s not surprising that I decided to participate on a mission trip…another venture that took me out of my comfort zone. The original trip was supposed to occur in Haiti in July 2018. I wrote a blog post about the circumstances surrounding the change here: Haiti. Mission of Hope, the nonprofit that our church, LifeAustin, works with for the Haiti mission trips, is establishing their presence in the DR. My team was the first to participate at the Santiago location. I experienced many feelings (good and bad) on this trip including joy, irritation, frustration, silliness, sadness, elation, humility, awkwardness, boredom, and gratefulness. My patience and ability to relinquish control were definitely tested.

What people need to know is that there are risks to operating out of your comfort zone. It’s not all fun and games, however, the benefits can outweigh the risks. Keep an open mind. I certainly experienced some growing pains on this trip. I’m glad I can laugh at myself. Within the first 2 days, I fell 3 times. These were not dainty falls and there was no avoiding the fall in either scenario. The first fall resulted in a bloody knee. For two of the falls, people had to literally lift me off the ground. One night, unbeknownst to my roommates, I fell in the shower and landed on my butt, which hurt for the rest of the week. While we were out gifting water filters in a neighborhood, my arm scraped across some chicken wire and the medics had to mend me (see cover). The bandages look worse than the actual scar. It was a good thing that I got my Tetanus shot. Of course, every nurse I shared the story with asked if I had gotten the shot.

My battle scars (might be a little dramatic) remind me that I gained way more than I lost in comfort by participating on this trip.

More posts to come from my DR experience.

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Live Your Life

Here’s an idea…it’s your life, so why not live it unapologetically…full throttle, without all the explaining? How about you check in with the people who depend on you to make sure you don’t leave them in the dust, but aside from that, it’s your life for the taking, so LIVE it.

My LIGHT lesson for this post is to do whatever you need and want to do to live your life to the fullest….your “best life” as often phrased today, in our American culture. However, also spend a good amount of time “being” rather than “doing”. “Be” for the sake of “being” and not to prove to friends, family, coworkers, haters, society, or who ever. Be the change, inspiration, advocate, enthusiast, peace, love, etc. Stop seeking other people’s approval and/or permission.

I remember years ago, my male boss at the time asked me what I was trying to prove. Granted, I believe he was threatened by me, but I did have an aura about me that took on the air of having to prove something to the world. I was in graduate school at almost 40 years old, worked full time, had a family, and was a first generation college graduate after having previously been a college “drop out”. My mother was a single parent from a different country who cleaned hospitals for a living. My father was abusive and did nothing to support us. The odds were stacked against me, for sure. I remember my aunt saying to my mom in creole when I was about a pre-teen, “what are you going to do with her?”. The “her” was me. So I thought I had a lot to prove to everyone. That pushed me to crush goals, but I could have possibly gone farther had I focused that energy to prove on myself. I don’t know. Nowadays, I have nothing to prove to anyone, but myself.

I type this like I have it all figured out and I don’t. However, I know what I’m striving for and I’m tired of setting limits on myself. The beauty of getting older and being a breast cancer thriver is I care less, but there is room for me to care to a lesser degree about what others think of me.

One step I’ve taken to get more clear on my goals is to reduce my time on social media. As much as I love catching up with family and friends and getting updates from my favorite pages, my struggle with social media is the many competing messages about most everything and everything seems to be taken out of context. You see the constant self-promotion and borderline narcissistic posts. There’s the danger of getting into the “comparison” trap. All of these factors, and more, are counterintuitive to how I see myself “being” in this life.

As I process this message, I’m sure I will find other areas I will want to work on to get me where I want to be. In the meantime, I will strive to live unapologetically and in full throttle.

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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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Father’s Day message

There’s no denying the impact a present father has on his child’s life. I’m not going to get into if we call him “father” or “daddy”. In my culture growing up, we called him “poppy”. Whether a positive, negative, or mixed impact, it’s an impact that can be tied back to the father. I think when a father hasn’t been in his child’s life, especially from an early age, the impact becomes more tricky to assess. My perspective is personal because my father was not in my life. In fact, I barely speak of him. He was dangerous. He was irrational. He was bitter. He was defeated. He was misunderstood. He was broken.

My father was around, but he didn’t raise me because he was incapable of raising his family at the time. People whispered about him in my presence. When visiting my uncle, his brother, he couldn’t sit in the living room…he could only go to the basement. My uncle would arrange for me to see him on occasion, but those visits were brief and lacked substance. That’s my uncle in the picture as I was getting baptized. My father wasn’t present at this most special occassion. I’ve seen positive examples of father figures through my extended family and friends. I knew what a good father was and I knew I didn’t have one. Some might argue it was in my best interest. Some might say that I would have only been disappointed and would have gotten hurt. The impact of him being in my life might have been tragic. I don’t know. What I can say is by him not being in my life, the impact is this underlying feeling of disconnection I’ve carried with me for years. I’ve not placed the source of this feeling until now. Not to mention, I don’t know anything about my father personally. I don’t know what traits I picked up from him. I don’t know his likes/dislikes or what his passion was. As I reread this, I want to be clear my tone is not of bitterness. My tone is of acceptance.

To know your father, is to know where you came from…to know who you are. My beautiful mom did her God-given best, but there was a void she could never fill or replace. Now, both of my parents are deceased, and their parents are deceased. How do I contend with this void?

I have solace in knowing great examples of fathers who selflessly love their children. Men in my family: my uncle, my brother, my brother-in-laws, my cousins, and my friends’ fathers. I also sleep with one of these selfless fathers. He’s my partner in crime…my husband, Arnold (goes by his middle name Bryan), named after his father, Arnold, who passed away when my husband was 10. Even though my husband feels inadequate and gets frustrated at times…likely because his father passed at an early age and he lacked examples of positive father figures, he’s here every day…involved in his children’s lives. If it has to do with his children, my husband is the most selfless person I know.

If you’re feeling alone and disconnected because your father wasn’t in your life, pray about it and adopt a family or two ot three. Don’t be bitter. There’s no going back to the fact you grew up without a father, but you can seek positive examples of father figures and allow them to have a positive impact on your life. For men, continuously make a positive impact on your children’s lives. Get to know your children and allow them to know you. For women, if you haven’t already, marry a man who has the traits of a good father and support him always. For all, ensure your children see other positive examples of father figures.

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Next level thinking

When you desire to go to the next level in life (work, relationship, growth), you don’t play around. You do what you need to do to make yourself better. That’s where I’m at now.  I put my pride in a timeout. I put my shortcomings in a timeout.  I’m doing things I’ve never done before or thought were options for me.   

I was in a sticky situation at work this week. Navigating relationships with professionals on different levels within an agency can be tricky sometimes.  I recognized that I needed ideas beyond my own to help me through the situation. I quickly enlisted the help of my mentor.  In the past, I’ve rationalized that I have a master’s degree, so if I have a problem with an agency, I can find another job. In graduate school, one of my professors actually told me when a job stops being fun, then it’s time to move on. At the time, her advise saved me because I was absolutely miserable at my current job. After about 7 years of employment, it hadn’t occurred to me to search for a new job. That evening, I applied for a couple of jobs, and by the next month, I was employed at a different agency.

I went through a honeymoon phase of about a year with the new agency until I noticed some problems unfolding.  After a few years, I sought employment elsewhere.  I was out of that new agency in 6 months.  My professor was right, when it’s no longer fun, look for another job. However, it may not be solving the problem.  There may be evidence that supports the days of employees working at jobs for 20-40 years are gone. In American society today, depending on the occupation and geographic location, it’s normal to switch jobs every few years, especially in the social work field. I believed this to be my destiny.

What I’ve learned is that every agency has its own unique culture, politics, and you’re thinking it…PROBLEMS.  However, another common denominator, if I’m moving through these different agencies every few years, is me. It just so happens the same theme does emerge.  I get frustrated with people who have strong personalities and/or exhibit unchecked, bad behavior.  I eventually give up.  I believe I’ve lost some opportunities because of quitting too soon. Some people won’t blame me for quitting.  I listened to an audio book this spring by John Acuff called Quitter. (When I figure out how to do it from my phone, I’ll paste the hyperlink to the book.)  I was attracted to this book because I was convinced my destiny was to become self-employed because I was no longer feeling the fire at work. At some point, I may become self-employed, but the point I want to make here is the author gave me a different perspective on how I view my job.  I gained a whole new appreciation for the opportunities that I could create for myself.  I was promoted a few months later. 

Imagine this: Today, I’m confronted with the same situation as I’ve had several times in years past. God is and has been telling me to deal with this issue. This is David and Goliath. This is a matter of me standing up for myself as the dynamic professional that I am.  This is a matter of me not walking away from what God has in store for me. This is a matter of me making a change, so that I can be the change.  And I will do it in a smart and strategic way, but not alone.

When you see a problem, enlist the help of people you trust to help you through it. Especially seek out people who know more than you and who have been there. Common themes in my posts are that it takes vulnerability and courage, but how badly do you want a different result? This is next level thinking.