Today I celebrate my birthday, so I thought I would share with you some lessons I’ve learned over a few decades on earth. There are more but these are pretty poignant. I’m still learning and making mistakes but that’s the point of life, isn’t it?
- Life is not a scorecard where your goal is to score points. Having grown up always active in some form of competitive sports, debate teams or professional sales, my life has felt like a never-ending `cycle built on winning. Not at all costs, but certainly to win the majority of the time. I needed to measure myself, my success and my future based upon a scoreboard or some sort of board game that required me to win more than lose. As I began to ponder my mind was drawn to some fundamental questions. Who became the referee, who honestly was my opponent and who decided what winning really meant? I think at times the blurring lines impacted my real understanding of why I felt the need to win and at what cost. Life is a journey not a destination, it isn’t a scorecard where if my boss or my friends viewed me as a failing I lost. It wasn’t about how I looked or how smart I was, where I lived or what I did. Those factors are not the fabric of me nor my existence. They simply are part of my journey, a journey that can never be measured by a scorecard. When I finally decided there is only one judge and juror and his name is Jesus Christ, real freedom occurred. The releasing of all the baggage of the game, a game I never really needed to play. Fact is sometimes I still play but on my terms. There is freedom in that, it took years for me to accept and enjoy.
- Walk in your purpose, use power for good not evil. I had an amazing boss once tell me your personality can positively captivate or negatively control a room. It is a unique power so use it wisely. I personally think it is God given and for so many years of my life I viewed it as a curse. Why do people stare at me, why do my customers stop mid-sentence when I walk in a room? Why do I feel like people target me or pick on me? The mystery lies within, the tale of the talents, of much is given much is required. But what happens when my mind says, I didn’t sign up for this and I don’t really like it. I remember going to a therapist struggling with self-esteem issues and an inability to control my overeating. She shared with me, that being 6’0 and a black women might cause people to look, especially in the 80’s and 90’s in international airports. At that point my job required me to be places that are often reserved for white men. Back then I resented carrying this awkward burden, so I deflected or numbed those feelings. One day I realized I could use pain as strength. Learning to use that pain and the power that was intended for me. When I learned to embrace my differences and my ability to help a younger crop of professional women emerged. I realized what it means to give back. I also learned some people will come at me pretending they need my mentorship only to attempt control. I can spot them a mile away and I release them quickly. I have learned from one of my leadership coaches “when a 6’0 black women walks in a room of predominantly white males you need to feel good about the fact they stop, stare, and ultimately listen.” This is when I learned to step into my purpose.
- Relationships are there to help us understands ourselves better. We are drawn to certain people for a reason, and it often has more to do with our past, our history, our family, patterns we learned from our parents. They are known as karmic patterns, patterns literally embedded in our DNA. Once we understand our patterns, we can either let go or be more active in asking for what we really want in a relationship. Relationships can be complicated, and everyone’s outlook is different. Heartbreak doesn’t feel good, that’s not rocket science. And we all try to avoid feeling that way by either denying it, trying to avoid it by staying in a situation that isn’t healthy, and we think if we give in to heartbreak we will always be broken, and nothing will pull us together again. But when you’re broken, you may feel, even for a split second, a release. At a particularly difficult time in my life, I was searching for answers to help me make sense of the drama that I was going through and as I was browsing through an airport bookstore, I came across this book by Elizabeth Lesser called Broken Open. Here is an excerpt and passage that resonated deeply: “To be human is to be lost in the woods. None of us arrives here with clear directions on how to get from point A to point B without stumbling into the forest of confusion or catastrophe or wrongdoing. Although they are dark and dangerous, it is in the woods that we discover our strengths.” After asking myself why I was in that situation, after many months of introspection, I worked towards changing my thought patterns and behavior’s. I am happy to say that I am now in a relationship where there is laughter, respect, fun, passion, and all of that put together is how I define love.
- Be your own voice. You can’t blame others for how you feel, but you can learn how to quickly respond when something impacts you, address it and let it go. I haven’t mastered this one, a friend of mine tells me I “perseverate” too much on things. Honestly until she said something I don’t even think I knew what the word meant. I keep things inside and over think them. By doing so people have become confused by what I will accept and what I will not accept. A lot of my fear to express my feelings came from a pattern I lived, being viewed as the intimidator. Over time I realized each one of us has power and how others chose to use that personal power cannot impact my feelings. If you hurt me yesterday, last week or last year, I have a “right” to express it whenever I am able. It doesn’t matter the timeline. This helps me today and will work for me in the future.
- Learn about money. Money is currency in which employers will show us what they think we are worth. But we have to educate them too in what we know we are worth by what we bring to the table. I never liked talking about money, I hated negotiating my salary. I would tell myself that I just wanted my work to speak for itself but really, I was hiding behind the fact that I always felt like I was reduced to being a little girl who didn’t want to rock the boat and be seen as difficult. I then realized that was wrong. It wasn’t the bosses. It was me. I had to grow up. I had to find my voice and take control over my life and that included knowing what I was worth and fighting for it. It is up to me to educate the people I deal with on my worth. It’s like money expert Suze Orman says, “Women tend to settle for less. They don’t ask for what they know they’re worth, because they are afraid of the consequences if they speak up. They put themselves on sale.” She goes on to say in her book Women and Money, “We have to develop a healthy, honest relationship with our money. And we have to see this relationship as a reflection of our relationship with ourselves. I can’t put it any more simply or emphatically: How we behave toward our money, speaks volumes about how we perceive and value ourselves. What is at stake here is not just money—it’s far bigger. This is about your sense of who you are and what you deserve. Lasting net worth comes only when you have a healthy and strong sense of self-worth.”
- Fear is a great motivator, but it is also a great roadblock. My fear of the water most likely came from one experience. I suspect it was when I was pushed underwater by a bully at the Goode Park pool. I was held down, until I came up gasping for air. Was the fear about the water or “lack of control” having to be vulnerable and never wanting to drown or be in a place where someone else controlled my destiny. Fear is so powerful; it stops us from seeing what is potentially on the other side. Fear is a constant but that’s ok. Every time I have felt fear of failure, fear of making a fool out of myself, fear of being found out that I actually didn’t know what I was doing (that whole impostor syndrome thing), I would take a deep breath and push through because I would also think of the alternative. I would think about what I would miss out on if I didn’t take a chance. And let me tell you, for me, that was worse than playing it safe. It’s like what the actress Gemma Chan said about going into acting (instead of law which was what her parents wanted her to do), “It is better to try and fail. Disappointment is temporary but regret lasts forever.” Whether it was leaving my family and friends and everything I loved, to go to a city where I didn’t know a soul to start a new job at a major company where the learning curve was so steep and the world would be watching; whether it was the fear of briefing top technology CEO’s for The World Economic Forum in Davos or decision to step away from the rat race, change my lifestyle. I did all of it where I thought about the alternative. And that usually gives me the strength I need to push through.
- Confidence is key. While the choices I have made in my life have led me to where I am today, I could have circumvented a lot of tears and heartbreak by having more confidence in myself. Believing that I had/have value just by being here. And letting go of those people and places that didn’t serve in my best interests. How to have confidence? It’s like anything in life—practice makes perfect and also knowing that nobody—and I mean nobody—has it all figured out. Confidence (or lack thereof) is a feeling we’re not good enough and that we don’t belong. But like any muscle in our body, we have to train the thoughts in our brain to question those self-limiting beliefs. Being ok with the outcome regardless of what others think. People might think I am cocky now days, but I walk in what I know in life and am confident I can accept the outcome!
- Life gives us what we ask for. I truly believe this. I believe in the universal genius that surrounds us. I believe in having a clear vision of what it is I want out of my life. With an honest heart and a grateful soul, I believe in asking the universe, God, nature, spirits, energy, (whatever or whomever you believe in), for guidance and leading me to where I want to be. I trust in something bigger than myself. Start expecting miracles. Like my mother always says, “you never know what is around the next corner.” When I have been searching for direction or answers, I am led to them because I have come to believe in God’s voice. I remember many years ago when I first moved to Atlanta. I knew I was at a crossroad. I remember driving to work and I happened to see, a Billboard “All Will Be Well”. For some reason, it struck such a deep chord in me. From then on, I felt like I had taken off that dark cloak that I hid behind and believed that indeed, all would be well. I started to believe then and I believe in it now, that the universe is here to help us if we only let it. Coincidences, the right sign, the right people, the right opportunities have come my way. It doesn’t mean sitting back and waiting for all the goodness to unfold. It does mean working hard towards our vision, working hard on ourselves to figure out what it is we want and why we want it. It does mean taking whatever steps necessary, even difficult ones, to get us closer to our dreams but also trusting that by enjoying the process, being aware of and grateful for the gifts we are given every day, we will get there.