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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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Body image

The other night as I was perusing through a tray on my night stand, I came across an old high school prom picture in a pile of random photos. I’ve been thinking about aging a lot lately. It’s funny how distorted the mind can be. When I was 18 years old, I didn’t think I was pretty, thought I was fat, and was afraid to talk to people. Oh how I’ve grown…literally (pun intended because I’m silly)! Here I am today, wiser, smarter, and the most ALIVE I’ve ever been, and my body is literally changing every day. If I could have my current mindset combined with the body I had back then, I’d be unstoppable! Alas, as fate would have it, life doesn’t work like that.

So at forty six years old, I must contend with this next phase of my life. In the past few weeks, I’ve added to my research: perimenopause, anemia, iron deficiency, and healthy aging. Of all the health issues I’ve had over the years, not one of my doctors told me about perimenopause. I broached the subject with my primary care physician and she didn’t offer much, except to say I was probably experiencing it, but no tests would confirm it…only if I were in menopause. As a breast cancer survivor, my health is my main priority. I put in the work daily to keep myself healthy by exercising, eating healthy, controlling my stress, sleeping, etc. In addition to all of this, I am striving for a healthy body image.

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LPC Summer 2019

I’m glad I can laugh about a recent, real conversation I had with my husband about body image. It went something like this:

  • Me (looking in the mirror, squeezing my stomach & pretending like it didn’t exist): If I didn’t have this stomach, you wouldn’t be able to keep me away from cropped tops. I don’t care about the other parts of my body, I just want a FLAT stomach!
  • Husband: If that’s the case, if I got rid of my stomach, I would never wear a shirt while on my walks, EVER again! (Inside joke: We can’t figure out why most men, no matter their shape or size, or where we are in Austin, jog shirtless.)

I made a deal with myself a few days after our conversation that I wouldn’t be so hard on myself. I will focus on the positive parts of my body I love rather than the parts I don’t. Think about all the modifications we make to hide our imperfections. Think about how much energy that takes. Yes, I’ve had a pouch for 18 years (since giving birth to my 12.2 pound son), and I may never like my pouch, but in the big scheme of things, I have two beautiful children. Instead of looking at myself in the mirror in disgust, I will remind myself of the other parts of myself I love more. I’m hear to tell you, this is hard work, but it’s worth the effort. This may be too much for family members who may read this, BUT did I mention having a pouch hasn’t stopped me from having the best sex of my life? Yup, one of many perks of aging and aging with your love.

My oldest sister told me something recently which made me pause. She said, “You know, you’ve been through a lot in your short life”. Her simple statement rendered me speechless (for a few seconds). It’s true, but because I just move forward, I don’t spend time thinking about what I’ve been through. I focus on how else I want to grow and what else I want to accomplish. And because I’ve been through a lot, I no longer want to beat myself up or waste time thinking about how I look. I definitely don’t want to bring that negative energy into my fifties. We all have imperfections. These imperfections make us beautiful.

I want great health and great body image. I want the same for my daughter. I’m committed to aging gracefully, getting wiser, having a healthy body image, and inspiring others to do the same.

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LPC 7-21-19

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Lessons from Solange: Part I

My upcoming birthday in a couple of days will be my second without my mom, Solange. Last year, Mother’s Day and my birthday was rough. These events are one week apart. I grieved a lot. I hadn’t really thought about how my mom’s absence would affect me on my birthday until the circumstance presented itself. The pain of her loss wasn’t as intense this year as last year. To help curb the pain of her absence on my upcoming birthday, I will honor her for all she’s instilled in me by contemplating and sharing the top greatest lessons my mom taught me, whether inadvertantly or not.

  1. Believe in God – There is an omnipotent force bigger than all of us and that is God. My mom made sure I knew there is a God. However, I didn’t agree with my mom’s religion. In fact, it made me very confused for a large part of my life. She didn’t understand why it didn’t appeal to me. I simply don’t believe God wants us to be miserable all the time by following a bunch of legalistic rules that have nothing to do with God. I did learn to have a relationship and faith in God, which caused me to seek him further as I got older. I was taught only ONE religion leads to God, but I don’t believe that’s true. Thank God I have a relationship with Him because religion would have kept me away.
  2. Work hard – To know my mom is to know she worked hard all her life. She had no choice. She came to the United States from Haiti without knowing the language, without much of an education and had to raise 4 children as a single parent because my father couldn’t/wouldn’t help. She retired from a¬†hospital in Chicago after 20+ years of cleaning hospital rooms. I don’t know how she did it, but she passed on her work ethic to her children. Our work ethic is rare.
  3. Be the bigger person – I used to get frustrated with my mom because people in our family turned their backs on us when my mom was struggling and some thought they were better than us, but she still tried to make peace with them even to her death. I’m not fully at my mom’s level yet, but I do tolerate people better than I see many other people do. It helps that love helping people, am¬†trained as a social worker, and understand empathy and the value in not being judgmental. I also exercise healthy boundaries.
  4. Save your pennies – I’ve struggled with managing my finances for a long time as an adult, often because my wants outweighed my resources. Then life circumstances, such as my husband’s health issues, caused us to rely on one income. One habit that has stuck with me to this day is saving loose change. This one little habit helped get us through some tight months. I used to beat myself up because I thought I didn’t know how to save, but I do know. I’ve watched my mom do it with her small salary. The act of putting money away consistently, no matter how small, builds up over time.
  5. Be early – I still struggle with arriving places on time, let alone early. It is a bad habit. When I was younger and had my first own car, I used to arrive at all the religious meetings late because I didn’t want to be there in the first place. My mom and stepfather made it clear that as long as I lived in her house, I had to go, so I went…VERY late. Admittedly, it was an act of defiance. Later on in my life, the tardiness posed itself as me multitasking to the point that I lost track of time, underestimating how much time I had. I’m still working on this one. It’s a work in progress.

Our relationship was not perfect. Solange was not perfect. I am not perfect. It was a complex relationship as most mother/daughter relationships are. However, I always knew that Solange loved me and loved me enough to teach me how to survive in this world. I’m using what she instilled in me to not only survive, but to THRIVE and be better every day.

Next week, I’ll share 5 more lessons Solange taught me.

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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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Reoccurring light lessons

How did that happen? January breezed by with me posting not one blog post. It was busy. Now February is in full swing. No, I didn’t make a list of resolutions. However, I have been fulfilling my commitment of ramping up my self-care. I completed a 30 day green smoothie challenge (simple green smoothies), got back to going to the gym and dancing with my Zumba fitness buddies on Saturdays, and reconnected with some special people. My husband and I got baptized. I hit a milestone with being in 2 years remission from breast cancer. You can read about how I first learned of my diagnosis here. I’m generally more optimistic this year than this time last year when we were dealing with my husband’s health.

I’m living, being, moving, doing, and am overall feeling good about 2019. However, as I’ve been minding my own business, trying to live my “best” life… BOOM!!! I’m hit with another familiar challenge. I blame it on the work culture where I’m employed because there is constant change and turnover. I’m faced again with the external pressure of moving up and deciding if job advancement is what I want. What bothers me about it is that I love what I do and I spend most of my work time out of my comfort zone, but I’ve gotten comfortable with the level of discomfort I’m in right now, if that makes sense.

Listen, no one is telling me I have to do anything. No one has assigned me to anything. However, as I observe people advance in positions, I have a moment, which could be a day(s), week(s) or month(s), of internal questioning. Why wasn’t I picked? What will others think of me because I wasn’t picked? At the same time, as a working mother that solely financially supports my family, I have to think of my family first and how my job impacts them. I can’t just pick up and go to another agency because three people depend on me. As the keeper of the insurance, I know we can’t have a lapse in medical coverage either given our combined health issues.

I’m not sure how many women can relate to my exact experience, but I think it’s a common experience to deal with multiple pressures. The tug and pull of being a working mom and the sole financial support for my family can feel overwhelming at times. I love my family, but have a demanding job. People have expectations of me at home and work, and I have expectations of myself. I work with very ambitious people, not that I’m not ambitious too. Thank God my husband, Bryan, is a constant presence for our kids during the week. I’m actually glad he isn’t working right now so he can be here for the kids and attend to his health issues.

I’ve been processing my thoughts on this topic in my head for a couple of weeks now. If you’ve been following me, you’ll know one of the most instrumental tools I use to process is writing. Putting “pin to paper”, so to speak, is a sign I’m ready to make some decisions and move past this. I’m also meeting with a mentor for tea this morning and I plan to talk it out.

The LIGHT lessons I need to re-eaxamine are evaluating my work goals and what I want, in my due time. I need to not let external pressure cause me to make moves that I don’t want to make because it looks good to someone else. A pivotal question is what do I want which can be blurred when raising a family that depend on me. Bottom line: I need to stop worrying about what other people think of me and do what’s best for me and my situation. I need to stop being so hard on myself.

What reoccurring issues present themselves in your life and how do you handle them?

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Spicy escapade

I love to buy most of my spices in bulk from Central Market. I don’t go to Central Market often, so when I do, it’s a treat. There’s a turmeric tonic drink I have on rotation in the early mornings for its healing and detoxification properties. I ran out of turmeric. I had a stressful January. February wasn’t looking much better. On this particular day, I took advantage of being in Central Market’s vicinity and went on a spice shopping spree. Mind you, at that moment, I was feeling overwhelmed with life, but I enjoy grocery shopping. I’m the type of person that studies the sales flyers, peruses through the isles, and reads ingredients for every single item. Two communication exchanges occurred during this shopping trip that made me really appreciate the impact people have on each other.

I walked into the bulk spice section and felt slightly amused and annoyed (they were in the way of me getting my spices), watching a swarm of people navigate the bulk spice section. It was lunch time, which explains the crowd. I walked up and let my eyes scan for turmeric. I didn’t see it and the attentive worker who was managing the section asked if I needed help. I told him what I was looking for and he followed with an unexpected question: “for healing purposes or cooking?” I had never been asked such a question and proceeded to tell him it was for healing, describing my turmeric tonic. He enthusiastically told me about a type of turmeric the store started selling a few months ago and what makes it different from the other types of turmeric. He uses it too. I was intrigued and thankful that I was learning something new. A minute later, another shopper approached me and said, “I’m glad you asked about turmeric because I’m going to get some too”. I bagged a few more spices and walked out of the bulk spice section feeling a little more perky. That was Exchange #1.

I headed towards the produce section for some salad fixings. Central Market has beautiful produce. Then, a thought hit me right in the midst of shopping: “I haven’t had watercress in a while”. I discovered a few years back that not every store sells watercress. One time, I had attempted to make my mom’s Haitian soup recipe…watercress is a key ingredient. After trying several grocery stores, I found the watercress at Central Market. Here I was again, looking for what I couldn’t find. I spotted a grocer unloading lettuce. He was an older, brown-colored man with a very serious facial expression. I asked him about the watercress. He pointed and described where. That’s when I heard his accent…likely African, but from where? I tend to pick up on accents and like to ask people where they’re from. Given his stance and my mood, I decided to spare him. I proceeded to shop. Next up was lettuce. I headed right behind him and picked up a big head of organic green leaf lettuce. I was getting excited about my salad. After placing the lettuce in a plastic bag, I was headed for something else, when the brown-colored grocer, with the African accent, approached me with a giant head of green leaf lettuce. He said, “This one is bigger”, and handed it to me with a smile. I put the other head back and practically skipped out of the produce section. That was Exchange #2.

There are a few key points I take away from this shopping trip. In terms of customer service, there are people that take pride in their work and do it well. In my opinion, customer service has become a lost art over the years. I even wanted to write a book about it at one time. It’s refreshing to see that good customer service is not dead. Another point is no matter how stressful life is, you need to take time to pay attention to and enjoy the little things. And finally, we have the power to impact others every single day with small acts of kindness. So go do that.

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Life is a beautiful mess…

Near the end of January, my dear friend sent a text asking how I was doing. We first met in the 7th grade and our friendship was sealed in high school. She moved to Texas some years after I did, so now we live just 2 hours apart. I caught her up quickly on my cancer treatments because she didn’t realize that I had already started and completed radiation treatment. Naturally, I was honest and indicated that I had been feeling moody and not wanting to be around people, more so than the usual. I attributed it to the hormone therapy I had started a few weeks prior. Her reply was an unexpected, pleasant surprise to the tune of taking me on a spa retreat. We scheduled it and it was AH-MAZE-ING! She picked me up on a Friday night in February and I returned that Sunday. Yup…a whole weekend of spa wonder, relaxation, exquisite farm to table food, and most importantly time spent with my dear friend catching up on everything.

First and foremost, I admire my dear friend as she is very successful in her field. She’s always been very generous. I attribute this to her parent’s example of generosity and unconditional love, which made a tremendous impact on me in high school. If I’m honest, I will admit to being envious of my dear friend at certain points in my life. As I’ve matured, I no longer feel that need to compare. I’m simply so proud of her. We each have our own paths, but we have an undeniable bond. Friendships ebb and flow with life’s milestones and we’ve experienced that in our frienship as well. She works hard, travels frequently, and takes great care of her family. We don’t talk all the time, but when we do, it’s like continuing where we left off. I know she has other friends. I have other friends, but nothing compares to this.

That weekend was beyond wonderful. It was what I needed – time away from my day to day busy life…time away from my husband and kids. After breast cancer treatment, I wanted to be lighter, not worry as much, and not take things so seriously, but something has been off and old ways of coping were creeping back in. That weekend, I was fed well and pampered. My dear friend and I caught up where we left off with ease, revisiting our history, talking about our relationship, catching up on our families, sharing our current struggles, and expressing our appreciation for our friendship. 

Have you ever experienced something so beautiful and thought that everyone should experience it? That’s how I feel about this. Sure, its great to be whisked away to a spa and be pampered, but that’s not the norm. That was evident to me as I was sharing the spa experience with my coworkers and telling them they have to visit at least one time. One coworker responded non-convincingly that it MIGHT happen one day WAY in the FUTURE. I thought about that and acknowledged that not everyone can afford to do something like this. Hell, I couldn’t afford to do it at the time that we did. Therefore, I contemplated what about that weekend made it so special. This blog is about self-care and our weekend at Travaasa Spa will go down in my book as one of the pinnacles in my self-care journey. The massages, facial, pedicure, manicure were amazing. The massage therapists were knowlegeable and caring, offering me tips on managing possible side effects of breast cancer treatment. Every meal was fresh and delicious. The equine experience with our guide and very own horse, Pete, was therapeutic and unforgettable. The service was impeccable. Despite all of that, hands down, the most meaningful exchange was the time spent with my dear friend. It was the fact that she carved out time in her busy life to spend a WHOLE weekend with me. That was the greatest gift.

That weekend reminded me how important friendship is, especially with regard to self-care. Spend time with your friends. Make time for your friends. Get to know people so that you can make friends. WARNING: It does require the willingness to be vulnerable at times, but that’s how you get people to know the real you. The benefits outweigh the risks. The return on investment is high. I consider my husband to be my best friend, but there is nothing like friendship outside of marriage. I only have two people who I consider dear, close friends and they’ve known me before I met my husband. We’ve maintained our relationships since we were adolescents and have been there for each other through life ups and downs. That is something special. That is something to be cherished. I’ve also developed other friendships over the years.  We make time for each other by having lunch once a month (with one group of friends) and having breakfast on the weekends after Zumba fitness class (with another group of friends). Solitude has its place, especially for an introvert like me. However, friendships provide support, comradery, fun, and love, among many other things. 

Courtesy of the staff from the spa, “Life is a beautiful mess, made better with friendship.” Get out there and spend some time with your friends.