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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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Happy Self-Care Weekend

Just what I needed…a 3-DAY WEEKEND to rest and recharge. I’m taking advantage of every minute. The intensity has been high at work for a couple of months as we implement programs across the state. How fitting it is to AMP UP my self-care routine during Labor Day weekend! I’ve been working hard at work and home. I strive to be a shining example to my team, colleagues, and family of managing IT ALL while simultaneously taking care of myself. My constant reminder to my team is to “take care of yourself”.

Self-care entails so many different things, but in my blog site, I share what works for me. I like to keep it simple. I do things within my budget, if money is involved. I hope you pick up some of my ideas to create a self-care plan that works for you.

Bubble bath

I kicked my Friday night off with a long soak in an Epsom salt and lavender scented bubble bath. I don’t know about you, but I’m achy all the time. I’m also very active with exercise. I don’t normally do bubble baths on Friday nights either. However, my body has been BEGGING for it. I have no idea why I haven’t had a bubble bath in a while (maybe 2-3 weeks), but if I had the time and energy (i.e., wash tub daily…no thank you), I would soak daily. Whatever the case, I was serious about getting some quality sleep of which I’ve been lacking lately. A nice warm bubble bath soothes my aches and sprains while setting the stage for some quality sleep. Speaking of which…

Sleep

As much as I try, I have a difficult time getting at least 7 hours of sleep per night. My average is about 6 hours per week night. On the weekends, I thought I was making up for it by sleeping in and taking naps, but I recently listened to a doctor indicate that the requirements for 7-8 hours of sleep account for daily sleep and not the “make up on the weekend” kind of sleep. I might be in trouble, but OH WELL. My goal this weekend was to take naps regardless. I took a 2-hour nap on Saturday and a 1 hour and 55 minute nap on Sunday. I’m still tired.

Unplug

I haven’t spent much time on social media this weekend. I’ve found that when I’m not feeling like my full self, I need to steer clear of social media. I’ve been concerned about my husband’s health lately and attempting to get some answers. Also, overall, I’ve been tired. I need to focus on nurturing myself and not reading about what other people are doing. I think it’s very healthy to pull back occasionally. As an introvert, I thrive on solitude.

Eat Well

I’ve noticed myself more freely accepting goodies at work. We had a retreat on Thursday and I WENT TO TOWN (expression meaning I overindulged)! I’ve done cleanses for several years now, a couple of times a year. I love the benefits of a cleanse: better sleep, better mood, better digestion, banish cravings for unhealthy foods, glowing skin, etc. With schedules being more structured now that the kids are back in school, this is the perfect time for a reset.

My reset means I’ll be doing a 7-day green smoothie and vegan cleanse. I wrote about my GLOW UP from the Fresh Start 21-Day Cleanse I’ve completed several times, which you can read about here. What I plan to do this week, starting on Sunday, is combine my favorite recipes from two cleanses (Fresh Start 21 and Thrive, courtesy of https://simplegreensmoothies.com/). I’ve written posts about my love of green smoothies and just overall eating well. You can read about them here and here.

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Reset Menu. LPC

I wrote out the recipes I plan to eat this week. I’ve since added a meal not pictured on my list: Vegetable Medley with Basil Pesto. I’ve already spent a good amount of time meal prepping, which is essential for a successful cleanse.

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Tamari Almonds. LPC

I forgot how much I love these Tamari almonds which are simple to make. Don’t believe me? Mix 1 cup of raw almonds with a tablespoon of Tamari sauce. Pour onto a baking sheet and bake for 10-15 minutes. Let cool. Eat. Whoila!

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A morning at the Farmer’s Market. LPC

On Saturday morning, my husband and I actually went to a Farmer’s Market. I haven’t been in over a year. I bought some apples, local honey, basil, and lemongrass. We enjoyed the experience.

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Farmer’s market basil freshly washed. LPC

I made the Basil Pesto this evening and it is amazing! I’ve also made cashew cream, Vegan Waldorf salad, strawberry herb dressing, and the Cauliflower Rice Bowl…on a plate (Ha! Cover picture). This dish was like a flavor BOMB in my mouth. It consists of sauted cauliflower rice with lime and cilantro, roasted sweet potato cubes, onions, and peppers, and pineapple salsa. What I love about my vegan recipes is they are very decadent and make me feel like I’m treating myself.

Pamper

Although I was up very late on Saturday night, I’m glad I invested the time to wash/set my hair and give myself a mani-pedi. I didn’t have the funds this month to make a trip to the salon like I did last month, but that’s not a big deal. On one level, it seems like polishing my nails is a small thing, but it’s amazing how it makes me feel so much more pulled together.

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Wash Day. LPC

My urge to cut my hair has been growing recently. I went as far as to ask my niece, who is a hair stylist, to send me pictures of short hair styles that would look good with my face. Well, she sent me some lovely photos! She matched various pictures of me from the past to a similarly styled short cut. The pictures were side by side: the short cut option, next to a picture of me. All of the short styles were FABULOUS, but what I unexpectedly got out of it is that I loved my hair in the pictures.

I strive to be content with what I have, which we know is contrary to societal pressures to constantly “want more”, “be more”, and “consume more”. It occurred to me that maybe I’m getting close to a breakthrough with my hair length and I shouldn’t cut it yet. I’m also not ready for the maintenance required with shorter hairstyles.

Instead of cutting my hair, (not in my budget anyway), I treated myself to some new products (not all pictured), which my hair enjoyed. I’m still basking in the lovely scent of my products. I will add I purchase products with natural and organic ingredients, free of harsh chemicals. I’ve toned it down some, but I can be a product junkie. I wrote a blog post about my product junkie ways, which you can read about here.

Day 2 of 3 of my weekend has been great. If you do or don’t have an extra long weekend, I hope you are practicing self-care daily. And it’s the little things. It doesn’t have to be expensive or cost any money at all.  Call a friend. Go for a walk in nature. Write in a journal. Go to the doctor.  Make a cup of tea.  Take a deep breath.

Take care of yourself. Do it for you.

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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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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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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 was thinking it was 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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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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Know your limits

No these are not tree trunks! These are my legs, tired and lifted on a bench, as I soak in this luscious breeze and watch my husband, Bryan, finish his last lap in our neighborhood park. I got my Fitbit steps 2 laps ago. I feel inpsired to write at this very moment, on a Tuesday, because stress is real and I’ve been overcome with it today. These daily walks with Bryan out in nature helps calm my nerves. I’ve employed most of my self-care strategies today: hot tea, head massage by hubby, Alleve, a walk in the park at dusk, and writing. Next is a hot shower. Am I better yet? A little…

My light lesson for the day is know your limits and work around them. My boss told me the other day that you teach people how to treat you. Inside my head, I was rolling my eyes because how many times have I heard and practiced this very thing? However, I have a new epiphany. I need to teach people how to use my calendar. My job requires me to be in meetings most of the day as we plan and strategize for our programs, but I need to be extra vigilant on days where I have long meetings and then other meetings. I already block off time to do work, but a little more planning would have prevented today’s debacle. It’s just too much. I was overstimulated…BIG TIME. I have a limits. I need to respect them.

Rant over and I feel better.