This I Know Thus Far

In two days, I will join several thousand people in Newark for Oprah’s “The Life You Want” tour, where Madame O herself will preside over a program filled with special guests and exercises geared to awaken, enlighten and embolden the masses.

Basically… I expect to cry and over-share with lots of strangers in the name of self-discovery and empowerment. Sort of like I do here, except on a grander scale and with the prospect of sharing with Oprah!

Snark aside, I’m actually looking forward to it. Something about taking action to improve oneself and the quality of the life you live from an internal standpoint just appeals to me.

So, before I embark on this emotional roller-coaster of a weekend, I’ve decided to list what I’ve learned thus far from this crazy life of mine. Unlike Oprah, who pens her “What I Know for Sure” column every month in “O” magazine, I’m still a work in progress, so speaking definitively on anything before I reach my forties is just asking for trouble.

And… as I’ve learned… things do change. Sometimes quite drastically.

Here’s what I know thus far:

  1. Attitude is everything. It was not that long ago when pessimism was my go-to drug of choice. Convinced that everything was either bad — or bad for me — it was easy to embrace negative thoughts, which begat negative results. When I eventually ditched the habits (and people) who fostered that behavior, a new world opened up. One where setbacks bring new directions, unknown things become adventures and disappointments become lessons. We really do speak life into everything we do, and as Nelson Mandela once said, “One cannot be prepared for something while secretly believing it will not happen.”
  2. When people show you who they are… believe them. I’ve heard and read this many times before, but it is so true. In my younger years, I ignored the cues; guys who couldn’t be reached during the day, but call at rude hours of the night to see if you’re free, those who consider you coming directly to their house (or any place where there’s a bed or furniture that could accommodate sex) “dates”, people who relish in gossiping about someone in your mutual circle, relatives you hadn’t seen in years who reach out when they see you in a magazine… yadda, yadda. These days, I’m a little quicker on the draw, especially now that I’m of an age where mortality has become a thing. Once you start realizing you only have so many more years left before your mind and body start dictating the scene more, you get a little selective with how much time you wanna devote to BS.
  3. If you don’t value you, then who will? This was my biggest takeaway last year, when I said goodbye to people who didn’t value my friendship or company. It actually started at the end of 2012, when a chance run-in with a woman at a bar gave me one of the biggest “aha!” moments of my life. Turned out, we had a mutual acquaintance who — shall we say — “overlapped” his time with us. In that instant, I realized I’d undervalued myself by being an option, as I’d known deep down that I wasn’t the “exclusive”. The moment I gave myself value, I gave myself a life I valued. Things fortunately fell into place from there.
  4. Be good to yourself. It’s always so easy to criticize ourselves, point out our flaws and take ourselves for granted. That’s all well and good, as long as you balance it out by treating yourself to a spa day, a nice dinner, or just some alone time somewhere where you are doing something that makes you happy. I’m a sucker for a massage and anything arts, music and culture related. Added bonus if all of the above are done in a faraway locale.
  5. Sex is exponentially better when you genuinely like the person you’re with. It’s official: my twenties SUCKED. Also — although it’s fared better — a good portion of my thirties too. In fact, I can honestly say that there is NOTHING better than being intimate with someone who you are on the same page with in every way. When you have mutual respect, understanding and… most importantly… trust, everything takes on a whole new mind-blowing level.
  6. Loyalty weeds out the riffraff. There’s a saying that goes “quality over quantity”. I’m fortunate in this lifetime to have been acquainted with and gotten to know so many amazing people. But I’ve come to learn the hard way the difference between people who call themselves your friend and the people who truly are friends. Case in point: There are about 600 or so people listed as my friend on Facebook, but if I’m having a shitty day and need to talk to someone who can give me a good “back in the day” story that makes me laugh til my ribs hurt, or remind me of something we’ve gone through together that tested us much more than said shitty day, then that number decreases by about 590. Even when life takes you in different directions, you always find a way back to a place where time stands still, and you know that person has your back in the event someone wants to stab you in it. If you’re lucky enough to have friends like that, then it’s easy to let go of anyone who thinks you must prove yourself to be their ideal and fit in their peg. Fuck ’em.
  7. You don’t have to be something you’re not, but you also don’t have to be relegated to a label. Although I’m more personally familiar with the term “broke” than I am “rich”, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of meeting, working for and with, getting to know and spend enjoyable times with people who are considered rich and famous. I’m not gonna lie, there have been times where I’ve asked myself “How the fuck did I get here?”, but the most important thing was never saying or thinking that I shouldn’t be. Of course, there have been times where the differences were more obvious and palpable (i.e. black girl in a predominantly white community setting), but I learned the only person that can truly make me feel like an outcast is me. Adversely, even with the experiences I’ve had, it doesn’t make me any better than anyone else. At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.
  8. When it’s right, it isn’t hard. I used to think relationships were supposed to be hard, and anything you want in life required some sort of struggle. There was, and is, a popular belief that if you aren’t constantly fighting then you must not care about a person or a cause. While I won’t debate that theory, I’ve come to see that not everything requires — or deserves — a fight. In my later years, it’s become clearer that when something is right for you, it fits seamlessly into the fabric of your being. The perfect career move. The perfect love story. Anything that’s meant to bring you joy and peace of mind should never bring you pain or stress. Childbirth, naturally, is excluded from this conversation.
  9. When it’s wrong, let it go. It’s not complicated. If it hurts you. If it makes you question your judgement. If it takes away your strength or power or joy… Let. It. Go.
  10. Forgive. Life is going to be filled with challenging times and personalities. Not everything is going to go your way. People will disappoint you. You will disappoint them, and even yourself. It’s the cycle of life. Nobody is perfect. We all have bad days, and sometimes they overcome our common sense and ability to have compassion. Holding on to whatever gave us grief is natural, but ultimately unhealthy if we want to function in society in a way that doesn’t scare people away. My greatest lesson in this life — thus far — has been to forgive. Forgive others, and above all forgive myself. It’s the greatest feeling of all.
  11. Find your happy place. For me, it was a mix of yoga, meditation and then finally embracing a Buddhism practice after years of just being curious. Once I began taking account of how my actions and thoughts either navigated or perpetuated something — good or bad — I became clearer on just how much power I have in whether it persists or if it ends. If things become overwhelming, I just breathe or chant. But if that doesn’t work…
  12. Wine is a magical elixir. It makes bad days go away. It makes you sleep better when your mind has been so busy racing that you can’t settle down. It makes Olivia Pope human again after she’s been so caught up saving folks in Washington and sleeping with the president and hot spies while simultaneously holding her own against a spicy first lady and all while looking fabulous in Prada and Max Mara coats. Okay, this last one was clearly my way of expressing excitement in the return of “Scandal” tomorrow (which I’ll be missing because I’ll be watching Audra McDonald slay as Lady Day on Broadway). But seriously, a glass of red can be a girl’s best friend. Two or more can be her worst enemy, if she’s not careful. What I’ve learned thus far is that when you yourself continue to get better with age, you learn to appreciate things that do so as well.

Given my life lessons thus far, I imagine I’m going to have yet another stupid-epic breakthrough… or a massive headache from all the crying and screaming I may do when Iyanla tries to fix our lives.

Thankfully, there will be meditation and yoga. I think this crowd is gonna need it… especially if they’re anything like me. (Which we all know they are.)

I’m packing lots of tissues…

Strong Feelings

A few days ago, life took a turn at an unexpected moment.

As I was waking up, I literally woke up.

Laying in bed — resisting the call of the morning and its wicked accomplice, the snooze alarm — I noticed in the mirror on my closet door the image of brightly painted toenails on a narrow and feminine foot. Inching further down, I saw a relatively defined calf attached to a meaty thigh and a softer body than the one that got me into so much trouble years ago. This prompted me to sit up and slowly observe the face lined with dark circles gained from loss of sleep taken by an active mind. (Well, more so than usual.)

This renewed look at my frame wasn’t like the others. It wasn’t critical of my lack of a washboard stomach, my tired eyes or my ongoing battle to save my breasts from the grasp of gravity. It wasn’t to admire any yoga results in my slightly muscular arms, or lament my small-but-strong childlike fingers.

It simply dawned on me that I was alive and healthy, and all the things I just mentioned — which have either determined my diet or my insecurities — didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.

In the last few days, I’ve gotten a promotion at work, begun steps to finally unravel the mess of my finances from the last three-and-a-half years, and discovered an amazing support group of like-minded individuals.

This comes on the heels of my continuing education in a course that supports my chosen career path (finally!) and the ongoing encouragement from a village of loved ones and a smattering of determined Buddhists.

In the wake of the passing of Maya Angelou and, most recently, Ruby Dee, it occurred to me that the impact of these women resounded not only because their gifts could be seen and heard around the world via innumerable resources and platforms. It is because they never allowed themselves to be pigeonholed or undermined by their physical attributes, and instead rose to reverence through their versatility, intelligence, indomitable strength of character and resounding faith in themselves and the potential of generations of others to be greater.

This week I saw more than what I could physically “see”. I saw the fruits of finally speaking up for what I wanted in my career and life and seeing them become possibilities rather than dreams and wishes. I saw an emboldened woman, who acknowledged she had more to offer the world than a smile and witty banter. I saw futures where fantasy once played.

I saw… me.

Only stronger.

Let the greatness begin…

It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time…

These days, the art of reflection has become a constant source of amusement to me.

We’ve all had them… those “WTF?” moments where we questioned our judgement and motivation in retrospect post incident, or two… or fifty.

The night of tequila-based drinks that ended in the ruin of both your purse and dignity in the eyes of a unknowing cab driver.

The time you tried desperately to fit in and divulged your deepest personal secrets to a bunch of women with superiority complexes.

That guy you met outside The Strand.

That chunk of time fondly referred to as “my Twenties”.

Okay, those are my moments of reckoning, but as long as you were able to fill in your own blanks with equally humiliating and regrettable tidbits, then my work is done.

But the key is to recall them with a lightness of heart that can only be matched with the feeling of your feet dangling in the air — because you’ve fallen off your chair laughing at how stupid they are now.

There are so many things that hold such importance in our lives to the point where we feel lost without it; material things, status, relationships, appearances. If we lost any of these things tomorrow, would it really be that big of a deal?

Is it that important for you to have that lifestyle at the risk of breaking your bank?

Do you actually give a shit if people don’t accept you for who you are, or support what you do if they don’t consider you on “their level”?

Would life really end if that person didn’t love you back?

When we read it, it seems absurd to even contemplate any of these notions. But in the heat of a moment, when phrased differently in our minds, we answer a resounding “yes” more times than we care to admit.

If we didn’t, it would be a perfect world where people didn’t go deeply into debt, succumb to insecurities to be part of a group, or feel like a breakup is proof we don’t deserve loving and respectful partners and friends.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t take anything seriously. In fact, when we reflect on how badly we cocked up a situation in our past, it should ideally give us pause and perspective on how we can get it right in life the next time.

These days, I find reason to smile even when my thoughts turn to tragic things. If I’m unable to find a funny instance in the moment, then I find comfort in knowing that whatever it was… it’s over and I survived it.

This frame of thinking might have made high school and college significantly smoother transitions, but hey, better late than never.

Happily, my relationship with tequila has since improved… vastly.

Sometimes laughter truly is the best medicine.

 

 

No Comparison

In my lifetime, I’ve managed to amass an absurd amount of girlfriends who are not only beautiful inside and out, but they tend to be ridiculously successful professionally and highly accomplished and world traveled.  If not for the tremendous amount of love and respect I have for them, I would systematically pick them off with an assault rifle.

Like most women, every now and then my insecurity gets the better of me, and I find myself envying my friends and their lives.  I’ve even been overcome with feelings of inadequacy when I would hear their latest news and see pictures of their latest adventures… thinking that my own life wasn’t nearly as exciting, and longing for the days when I could relate to their experiences.

Naturally, this is silly and unproductive thinking, but if none of us succumbed to the occasional complex, we wouldn’t have consumption, commerce, or politics.  When you think of it, the cosmetics, fashion, and even the automotive industry are amongst the many that thrive on our inner fears and desires to “keep up with the Jones'”, which has sadly now been amended to pop culture’s newest standard, the Kardashians. 

…But I digress.

The point is, sometimes I get so caught up in other people’s lives that I forget how great my own has been, and neglect to see the potential it has to be even greater.  The best part is, it’s still going, so that leaves for plenty of opportunities to see and do more with each passing day.  

Comparing oneself to others is a colossal waste of time for no other reason than the realization that you’re cheating yourself out of the joy you get in celebrating the differences that make you and the people around you so special.  And yet, somehow, you found a common ground.  You found enjoyment and comradery.  You found a support system.  You found each other.

Nothing can compare to that.