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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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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.