Avoiding Negativity... Protecting Your Energy and Well-Being

As human beings we have a natural need for attaching ourselves to other people and that need to connect can lead to beautiful bonds. I know that the people I’ve allowed into my life seek to lift me up and to grow along with me. In my time, I’ve learned that healthy relationships are innately reciprocal and that does not mean that there is some disingenuous barter system at play, but rather a natural inclination to elevate one another. Recognizing the core of what healthy relationships should be gives us the insight needed to point out when a negative influence has infiltrated.

We all have stories of so called friends violating our trust, family members who are comfortable taking from us without consideration, and love interests who acted selfishly. Perhaps what is most disturbing are the stories of times we’ve reveled in our own self-defeating attitudes. These negative experiences are an unfortunate part of the path to self-discovery. However, there is a difference between understanding the negativity you’ve experienced and inviting that negativity into your life repeatedly. I have been guilty of keeping the company of people who were not looking after my best interests. There are those who seem to have an unending reserve of unsolicited criticism to offer with regard to every aspect of your life and they see themselves as kind enough to share it.

Emotional vampires, Debbie Downers, toxic friends, external negative influences go by many names and removing them is essential to your emotional and spiritual survival. People who have not opened themselves up to the possibilities of life are limited and they have a limited perspective, but they are still human and desire the same kinds of bonds.

The difficulty arises when a person bound by limitation attempts to bond with a free-spirit which can begin a cycle of parasitic negativity. To illustrate why this kind of relationship doesn’t work, imagine you can fly and have always known this to be true, but your new friend only believes in walking. This person berates you anytime you mention flying until either you no longer believe you can fly or you invite this person out of your life.

Negative emotions operate like a virus; they cannot coexist with a stable and whole spirit and must infect it to thrive otherwise the host (the person or influencer) must confront the limitations they have placed on themselves.

Of course there is the third option of the negative person coming to their senses and seeing the light, but that is not a burden recommended for anyone to take on. It’s important to recognize caring about people does not mean taking on their emotional baggage. You’ve got your own and it’s heavy.

Negativity isn’t something that is strictly external either; it can often be self-inflicted and self-sustaining. It would be fantastic if there were a cure for self-deprecation, but the best advice I ever received in terms of my own confidence issues was “fake it until it’s true.” Keeping this advice in context is crucial. I was not confident in my intelligence or my looks and that doubt carried over into how I treated myself and other people. I took my studies less seriously and allowed myself to be used by anyone who would have me, just because they would pay me a compliment and I was still no happier.

I silenced the internal critic in my head with a rebuttal for every negative thing he had to say about me, and eventually he went from a booming voice of self-pity to a whisper of uncertainty and eventually faded into the figment of my imagination that he’d always been.

Negativity takes many forms, it’s a dynamic creature that like a virus will fight tooth and nail to survive and take root within you. The hosts of negativity are never the same for anyone, but recognizing it and your own value will keep your emotional immunity up, like vitamin C for your aura.

Written By Taj Shareef,

Contributor and Thought-Partner

Begin Your Climb Today

Perched on an oversized hotel bed at a work conference, I was faced with a decision: use the remaining twenty dollars in my account to purchase food for the next two days until pay day, or buy a ticket to a writer’s networking event.

I’m at the beginning of my journey to be a writer. Figuratively standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up with no clue as to how to get to the top, but I know I must climb. And climbing is work. And climbing is sacrifice. So there I sat.

Tears filled my eyes as I understood the decision I had to make: short term sacrifice with the promise of long term benefits. Knowing that God will provide but unsure of how or when. Nothing really matters when you are hungry. I thought about being hungry tomorrow and the next day. And the tears fell.

I mean, after all what if this writing event didn’t work out? I would have spent two days hungry and a whole evening networking for nothing. Before I went too deep down the rabbit hole of the depression I played a song that’s near to my heart. The song simply says “It’s turning around for me. Sooner or later, it’ll turn in my favor. God is turning it around for me. It won’t always be like this.”

I wiped my face.

Instead of thinking of all the reasons why things weren’t going to work out, I held onto the promise that it would. The scripture says the end of a matter is better than the beginning. There I was at my beginning, defeated before I took even one step towards the mountain.

My face was dry now. I started to think what life would be like if I really gave it my all. If I invested the energy into what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do. Where would I be a year from now if I kept pushing instead of letting every set back, delay and denial leave me cowering at the bottom of the mountain?

I felt the spirit urge me to trust Him. To give Him my little bit of nothing and watch Him turn it into something more than I could imagine.

I told myself, “In the grand scheme of life, one late night, one missed meal, one rejection won’t matter a year from now.” I took my last little twenty dollars and paid for the networking event ticket.

Confident that I’d made the right choice I played the song on repeat and went to bed.

I woke to two e-mails.

Email 1: Your check has been deposited.

Email 2: Tickets for networking event are now closed.

Two days early? My check came two days early and I still don’t know why or and I don’t care. Imagine if I had decided that not missing a meal was more important than missing this opportunity.

The networking event rolled around and I made a connection. That connection is now an additional source of income for me. God took that 20 dollars and gave me recognition and a paycheck I could never have gotten without attending that event.

And there I was cowering at the bottom of the mountain afraid of the climb. Afraid to make a short term sacrifice for the long term promise.

Now, here I sit at the good part. Here I sit at the peak of this first mountain (there are always other mountains) and I look around. I almost gave all of this up because I was unable to trust that right now isn’t forever. I almost gave it all up because I was so focused on what I could see that I missed what I believed.

How might life be different if we could know the end? There are few guarantees on this journey upwards but the peak is always better than the base. You may not know what waits for you up there but it’s better than where you are.

Be unafraid to climb. Be unafraid to leave it all behind, to sacrifice now, and gain so much more.

The end of the matter is always better than the beginning.

Written by Dee Rene

Contributor and Thought-Partner 

Don't Let Life Defer Your Dreams

As an artist it is insanely difficult to prioritize your craft amidst the hectic life of full-time employment at (INSERT COMPANY NAME HERE), where menial tasks take up all of your time and leave your gift unfulfilled.

Working in a dead end job feels foreign to you no matter how many years you do it, and you tell yourself it is worth it for the steady pay, especially in this economy and that you’ll do some writing, painting or sculpting this weekend or next.

I wouldn’t suggest that we all strip off our suits and throw our company ID badges in a river and live in a nudist colony. It’s tempting, but not the most practical solution. I would suggest that you take a moment to breathe and ask yourself if what you’re doing at your job makes you happy?

I have asked myself time and again if inputting data or helping a customer has brought me the kind of satisfaction that resonates at my core, and the answer is an emphatic NO! This has led me to ask not only what makes me happy, but what fulfills me and for me the answer is creative writing.

On a whim one day, I sat in front of my keyboard and found myself weaving a world of my own filled with desperation and insurmountable odds, (not unlike my reality) except that there were zombies in this world. When I finished, I had ten pages that I couldn’t believe I had written. I would later scrutinize my piece to high hell, but the satisfaction of having created something from raw emotion was world shaking.

Discovering what you are meant to be doing is only a small part of the equation. Once you have your passion and purpose in your Oprah embroidered spirit warrior holster, how do you make time to utilize it? The simple answer is anytime you can.

If you are a writer like myself, then write on the train or on your breaks. Get your technology in the mix and jot down any ideas you have in your cellphone notepad. Whatever it takes, don’t allow circumstances to defer your dreams.

I have seen the dreamless eyes of adults who prided themselves on staying with the same company for twenty years, and while being a diligent worker is an admirable endeavor it hardly causes that necessary resonance that reminds you that you’re worthy to experience wonder from within.

You must find the time for the work that your soul is calling you to do. The voice of God, the Void, your Ancestors or perhaps nature is calling you to realize something within yourself!

If you are a parent, practice your craft once the kids are asleep even if only for twenty minutes at a time. If you simply cannot muster sitting and working another hour after life has allowed you to slow down, then write while you are in the thick of existing in your chaos. Own your chaos!

As a writer, I try to take in the details and I keep a notebook and pen on me at all times, so that I can indulge my muse whenever it calls out to me. Inspiration and intuition speak to you all the time, and learning to listen to it with respect to your craft is essential.

Take stock of the energy you are allotting to things that don’t require the emotional investment. Don’t shirk the responsibilities of your employment, because that is a commitment you made, but realize that as an artist, you have a calling and if you neglect it, you are creating a future with regret and unanswered questions about opportunities that have long since slipped past your withered fingers.

Remind yourself daily that you will use your gift, whether it is for five minutes or twelve hours. Remind yourself that you and your gift are worthy of being acknowledged.

Utilizing your talent is an affirmation of your existence and you deserve to be here!

Written by Taj Shareef, 

Contributor and Thought Partner

Mastering Your Craft...

In a world that is so obsessed with social and economic status, it often feels difficult to be comfortable with what you have and where you are. At every turn there are messages telling us to have more and be more. For many of us, these messages are the basis for diseases that form within our minds and hearts, informing the ways in which we view ourselves and our significance in the world. Each and every person has a unique purpose and while a few of us may be led to fame and fortune as a result of pursuing our special assignments in life, most of us will take our final breaths and leave behind a life and legacy that are only celebrated and remembered by a few people who knew us well and loved us for who we were and hopefully despite who we were not.

So if fame and fortune aren't what we're all driving toward we may pause to ask ourselves what is it that ties us all together in our journey toward fulfilling our purpose and finding some level of significance. I am learning and believing that what we should be striving toward is mastering our craft, whatever it may be.

Living a life of joy and fulfillment involves doing your very best and that doesn't necessarily mean doing your best in a particular space, or doing your best with a particular task, but rather striving to do your very best wherever you are.

I spent some time last week listening to speeches and sermons by the great Dr. Martin Luther King and found myself scratching my head when King shared a story of a man who shined his shoes. In his story, Dr. King spoke in detail about this man, another Black man, who was masterful in shoes shining.

Dr. King, talked about the man's focus and the level of thought he seemed to be putting into his work and as I listened I could feel something within me wrestling with an emerging paradox.

What struck me was a tension I felt somewhere in my mind where an image of one of our nation's greatest advocates for equality was passionately praising the work of a service provider in a role that would garner little or no respect whatsoever in our tremendously hierarchical society shaped and informed by social, cultural, educational and economic elitist sentiments.

In my mind, there was something odd about King's excitement over this man's shoe shining skills, a man who likely faced great obstacles in the segregated south and had very limited opportunities to take advantage of the privileges afforded to his white brethren at the time because of the overt systemic racism that ruled this nation.

As I continued listening though, I began to understand the point of Dr. King's message. His reflection wasn't an assessment of the man's worth but rather an observation of this man's focus, intent, drive, passion and brilliance all utilized in his efforts to be his absolute best. The man's title and role may not have had value to those who took advantage of his service, but he was not concerned about status.

His only goal was to determine, for himself, the value and quality of his position by doing what he was called to do as best as he could possibly do it and the truth of his mastery, made me think about the significance we all possess despite what structures we operate in that are determined and sustained by external forces.

Dr. King struck something in me that pulled back the lenses through which I view the world and adjusted my vision in a way that allowed me to think about the potential we all have to simply do our best with whatever the assignment is that we have been given.

Our craft, no matter how big or small, does not determine who we are but it is through mastering our craft that we reveal to ourselves and the world who we are and what we're made of.

No matter what it is that you are positioned to do, don't just do it, but do it as best as you can!

Loving Ourselves Completely...

Last week, while meeting with several college students who are all interested in becoming educators, I found myself laughing a bit when one guest asked me how I dealt with "bad" students during my time in the classroom. Three years ago, I probably would have responded by talking about behavior management systems and understanding the personal interests and triggers of students, but today I'm often amused by the attempts we make to categorize children as good or bad based on their actions and our personal or institutional standards. In education, religion, politics and daily life, we are taught to take in information about the beliefs and actions of others and depending on our personal values we paint pictures of those we assess as good or bad people. Interestingly enough, as I continue to grow and evaluate the deep internal workings of my own mind and heart, I've discovered that the person we often judge most harshly is the one we see in the mirror.

I have been guilty of allowing external standards to influence the way I see myself. I have a pretty clear understanding of who I am when I am operating at my highest level of self, but there are clear inconsistencies between my actions and my ideals at times. I hate being late but I'm no stranger to being tardy or showing up to an event just in time. I'm often perceived as calm and even-tempered, but there are times when I become angry and have to find my way back to peace.

In those moments when my actions haven't been aligned with my personal standards, I've come to realize just how incredibly multifaceted I am. I've come to understand that there are many little parts and contradictory pieces that make me who I am. When I'm making tough decisions, I can hear conflicting thoughts and I know that all of the voices that speak belong to me and I've learned to appreciate them all.

It is true, that as we become wiser, we learn to listen more carefully to those voices that align best with who we aspire to be, but it doesn't mean we are immune to jealousy, insecurity, greed, anger, sadness, depression, fear and all of the other emotions that come with a full human experience.

I've learned not to punish myself when I identify the "bad" within me, but simply to hear it or touch it where it is, recognizing its presence before deciding to return to a path toward healing, inner peace and success. Even when I make a decision I ultimately consider to be a poor one, I now understand that failing does not make me a failure.

Five weeks from now I will be 26 years old and I know that I have made many mistakes and I'll likely make more, but I also know that each and every year I learn to love me more and that means loving all of me, just as I am.

We are not meant to live in fear or pain because of our imperfections. In many ways, we are designed to be imperfect beings. The task isn't to suppress the "bad" as we ultimately see it and hide it under the carpet pretending it doesn't exist, the task is to see the "bad" and the "good" as both authentic components of the human experience and to love ourselves completely regardless.

My First Time Taking An HIV Test At Home

Unlike the average man in America, I see my primary physician at least every six months. I’ve never had a fear of the doctor’s office and as my family—like many American families—has become familiar with illness, I want to ensure that I’m doing what I can to live a long and healthy life. My doctor specializes in preventive care and we have a great relationship that allows him to ask very direct questions knowing that I am comfortable sharing equally direct responses. He does his job well, but I don’t expect him to be solely responsible for every aspect of my health. In fact, I have recently expanded my participation in several areas of personal care including HIV testing.

At the top of my list of tasks on a recent Monday morning was my routine HIV test with an unusual twist. Instead of getting tested in a cold examination room, I got my results in the comfort of my home using OraQuick, the FDA approved over the counter test. I made a quick trip to my local RiteAid and $43.00, a gum line swab and twenty minutes later I got my results before even making breakfast.

Surely, many will raise concerns about the accessibility of such a test and the process by which the test is performed. While legitimate questions will continue to be raised about the product, I must say that I was pleased with my experience.

As I always do—regardless of what I know to be the case—I was nervous, but there was something about being in my own home and having ownership over the process that made me feel more at ease than usual. Waiting for my results, I sat patiently reading about the science of the virus and resources for care should I need them.

That morning I thought about the millions of lives that have been impacted throughout the international community because people didn’t know or didn’t have the resources necessary to know their status. I thought of how this test can empower millions of Americans to participate in making HIV testing a normal part of our daily lives.

OraQuick and similar tests that may hit the market in the near future will not replace testing services but rather expand them, putting personal care closer to our fingertips.

For many of us, health and medicine are strictly private matters that live in very rigid spheres of our lives.  Even those of us who participate in regular testing find some comfort and security in keeping medicine separate from daily life. However, we should all feel empowered to be our own best health advocates. Do you know your status?

Please note that OraQuick, like most HIV tests, only tests for antibodies formed by the immune system. For more information visit http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/

For more articles like this check out MUSED MAG ONLINE

What Ridiculing Others For Sport Says About You

“If you can only be tall because somebody’s on their knees, then you have a very serious problem.” When award-winning author, Toni Morrison offered this hard-hitting analysis of white-supremacy in a PBS interview with Charlie Rose, she gave the world a lesson on all forms of degradation. This critique especially applies to the popular forms of insulting gossip we see in mainstream culture today. Though our use of negative language directed toward others can be benign in some instances, it feels as if verbally wounding others for pure amusement has become quite a sport in varying forms of social media.

Celebrities are the easiest targets for “ordinary folks” looking to get their rocks off on slamming others. Hair, makeup, clothing, romantic relationships, even family are all up for grabs in the vicious game of nasty commentary thrown at people in the public eye.

Sure, we all have something to say about other people and sometimes it’s not nice. Who hasn’t watched a season of Basketball Wives, Love and Hip Hop, or Real Housewives of Atlanta and felt compelled to let it be known that some folks need to be put in the time-out corner permanently? That’s rather “normal.” It’s when it becomes a pattern of behavior or when your views reach a level of extremeness that goes beyond objectivity involving a degree of viciousness that you should take a step back and think about what’s causing you to be so worried about how other people are living.

Like everything else, these attacks as patterns of behavior stem from a few ugly places many of us wouldn’t dare talk about. Do you know what it may mean when you find yourself dogging others for the fun of it?

1. There’s Something They Have And You Want It

You may hate on the rich and famous, but I’m willing to bet that if they handed their fortune and fame over to you, you wouldn’t mind holding onto it for a while. They may have many things you believe you want or need to feel fulfilled and if you haven’t dealt with the jealous, mean-spirited child inside of you who had the potential to be a terror on the playground, beware! That child is now an adult who still has some growing up to do.

2. You Haven’t Found Or Fully Embraced Your Own Purpose

Like me, you may believe that everyone has a purpose and I’m sure you would be hard-pressed to find one person who believes their purpose in life is to tear others apart. So why do you spend so much time doing it? Well, what better way to spend your time when you haven’t found or embraced your own purpose than to put down others who are living theirs?

3. You May Be Lacking In Authority

Have you ever worked with someone who may be lacking power or authority in some area of their life so they embrace every chance they get to stand on someone else’s neck? Unfortunately, they don’t just exist in one area of work and life. They’re everywhere! What a joy it must be to spend your energy feeling as though you have some say in somebody else’s life because you’re lacking a say in your own. It might be scary but just imagine what could happen if you embraced what parts of your life you actually do have complete control over. Maybe then you’d stop wasting your authority trying to slam other people.

4. You’re Disillusioned By The Power And Convenience Of Social Media

It takes very little effort to make a public statement these days. With a simple tweet, Facebook update or blog post, we throw our opinion into the air for the world to see. Since it has become increasingly easy to speak publicly, people feel entitled to being heard. Here’s the truth, the vast majority of people don’t care about the vast majority of your opinions and no one is required to listen to you. Sure people in the public eye put themselves out there in a way that makes them vulnerable to criticism. But who died and gave you the authority to slam them? News flash: a seven year old with a cell phone has an opinion, but that doesn’t make the opinion worth hearing. Step down from your tweet horse on high.

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Don't Dim Your Light For Anyone...

Because several people have come to me over the last two weeks for advice on managing the shifting energies of friends and family, I felt the need to pause for a moment to encourage any and everyone who reads this to resist the temptation to dim your light for anyone who can't handle the brightness that is your glory. Whether you are celebrating a promotion, getting fit or simply wearing a smile more often, you may notice that some people within your circle shy away from you when you are at your brightest moments.

Like most people, you might be susceptible to allowing such energy and passive judgment to influence the way you see yourself. You may talk about your wins less or shift your focus from holding onto your joy to trying to figure out how you can support others. Worst of all, you may spend so much time and energy trying to convince others of their greatness that you forget to cultivate your own.

If you are moving up and perhaps closer to your destiny you may very well be forcing those around you to reflect on their own lives and in doing so they may find moments of discomfort as they see the life they want and the life they live.

It can be a painful and hard-hitting process and in your journey, some folks may decide that you're walking too quickly or heading in a direction that's not for them and they'll decide to walk away from you. If you're susceptible to dimming your light, you're also prone to chasing after folks who want you to run toward them and away from your purpose.

I say to you, resist! I dare you to have the audacity to rebel. I encourage and challenge you to stand firm in your own truth and light and be not afraid of losing those who would rather see you remain hurt, remain penniless, remain under-employed, remain single, all because they're afraid your change might change something in them.

When you are in someone's home and you walk into a room that is too bright, perhaps there is a switch that allows you to dim the light or turn it off completely. The walking away, the constant reminders of the times you were broken, the cries for attention and time, are all tactics people use to manipulate the brightness of your light.

The next time someone tells you your light is too bright; the next time they try to convince you to fear the impossible, you tell them that your destiny has no switch. Tell them your purpose cannot be dimmed nor damaged.

Tell them that you know and affirm who you are and that you don't fear your own light because it is indeed your ultimate gift, your most prized blessing.

Tell them that you are not a room with a light switch, but a human being with a unique assignment.

You tell them if they can't handle your brightness then they ought to look away. Don't dim your light for anyone! Shine on!

Turning Inward, The Next Chapter of Activism

As a result of my work and personal networks, I frequently meet teachers, scholars, lawyers, and non-profit leaders who consider themselves activists in some fashion. Focusing on topics from educational inequity to LGBTQ rights, they are keenly aware of issues of race, class, gender and socioeconomic status that influence the lives of the people for whom they claim to be advocates. Like any good activist, these folks are consistently focused on and, some might say, uniquely sensitive to social, cultural and political statements and policies that carry any level of bias based on a variety of identities and are fervently outspoken when they are standing guard as watchdogs and find the slightest infraction in action or rhetoric.

Regardless of how loud you might think they are, we need activists today, just as we needed them fifty years ago. They hold our nation and our world accountable for ensuring that we are progressing in a way that is truly meaningful for all people and they force us to avoid resting on our laurels because things are simply better than they once were.

Anyone who reads my work or engages in a one hour conversation with me about politics might call me an activist. Though I'm not opposed to assigning that word to my role in some capacity, I feel that the term has been terribly abused and misused and needs redefining.

What I have concluded based on my own personal reflections, is that those of us who have been called or dare to call ourselves activists must prepare to move into the next and perhaps most spiritually radical phase of activism: turning inward.

Yes I am an advocate concerned about the state of Black boys in the American education system and the humanity of Black men in the criminal justice system. I'm also a critically thinking brother of three Black women concerned with the systemic forms of racism and sexism that influence their life opportunities. All of these things are indeed parts of who I am as a writer and thinker, but while I hold views about the external factors that impact conditions for these specific populations, I also hold internal racial and patriarchal views that I need to wrestle with in my own journey.

As someone who is deeply concerned about the biases and hetero-normative policies that shape the experiences of queer Americans, I also struggle to reconcile my own ideas about masculinity and gender roles, just as I see the results of classicism in my own community while still holding what others can reasonably consider classist perspectives.

I can tell you from personal experience, that turning my focus from the external analysis of what bell hooks describes as an “imperialist, white-supremacist, capitalist, patriarchy” and seeing all of the mess I’ve been conditioned to hold within me has been painful. It can be heartbreaking if your identity is partially or fully wrapped up in the views you hold of yourself as anti-something only to discover that you are to some extent, no matter how small, also breathing life into the very thing you seek to eliminate.

It can be haunting when you realize that not only do you hold contradictory views and experiences but that you also have no clear understanding of how to reconcile them and what it might mean for your work if the enemy on which you have held a laser-like focus is indeed a part of your very being. Still we must interrogate our own identities in an effort to save both ourselves and others from the social ills we believe to be detrimental to our people.

Who and what are you when you strip away your activist robes? Who and what are you when you step off the stage? When the day is done and you take off every pin and button with some sarcastic, witty political statement written in a color designed to catch the eyes and provoke the minds of others, what can you say for and about yourself? Where is it that you stand when no one is watching or listening?

When the cameras are not near, when your phone is dead and you are walking through what most would consider to be a “dangerous” neighborhood and you hear a little voice in your head begin to speak, what does it have to say?

Activists must continue to be outspoken, but in this time, in the this place, where we find ourselves battling for equality an ever changing world, leaders and thinkers, of all walks, must move from just being outspoken to also being "inspoken," that is we must learn to speak to and from the raw and imperfect person within us who is not concerned with what others on the outside might think about our own terrifying truths.

We have to be courageous enough to see ourselves with the same critical eye we have cultivated to see the world. This is the next phase of activism. It’s the intimate and deeply disrupting act of looking inward and asking ourselves what diseases we carry in our own bodies for which we are also working tirelessly to create a cure. When we fight we, must fight to save ourselves.

Letting the Small be Small

When I attended church two Sundays ago I was disappointed to find that the executive pastor was out of town. While I have not been impressed by every sermon I've heard him deliver, I have at times appreciated his style and cannot say that I have ever left his church without receiving a meaningful lesson. In his absence, a student from the Princeton Theological Seminary read a sermon from an iPad that was less than moving. Though tired, I remained true to my belief that listeners have just as much responsibility as speakers and as a member of the audience I needed to have faith that if I listened carefully to what the minister was saying and what she was not saying, I would hear something powerful. Fortunately, I was right.

Toward the end of her address, the guest pastor that day made one statement that put everything into perspective for me. In her calm and even tone she simply asserted that although "we are always busy we are seldom productive."

I'm a writer. If you leave me in a room with nothing more than paper and pen or a laptop, I will be at home. Writing however is one small part of my life when in reality, as I believe it's directly aligned to my purpose, it should be the biggest part of my life. The truth is, like many people artistic or not, I am very busy. I’m busy with emails, meetings, and phone calls. I’m busy designing projects and executing tasks I'm given regardless of how important I think they are because I am afraid that my fragile reputation might be tarnished if I turn out to be a terrible employee.

For nearly 25 years, my identity has been wrapped up in creating a story of success built on what can be said about my education, my intelligence, my network, my work, talents and career goals. What I'm seeing more and more is that all of these things are forms of external validation that are often misaligned with my internal purpose and self-perception. In many ways, I've been spending countless hours of my life investing in work and conversations I have been made to believe matter when actually their significance is miniscule.

Sometime last week, this reality hit me and I had to ask myself what would happen if I suddenly neglected to accomplish every item on my excessively long list of tasks and the gut reaction response was sad: probably nothing.

Does this mean I'm going to suddenly give up on the life I've established, quit my job and go out west to a secluded cabin where I can live under an alias and publish books? It’s tempting, but unlikely. What I am going to do though is make the big bigger and let the small things be small for the sake of my own emotional and spiritual health.

I'm going to zoom out more often to see the larger picture and pause before I go above and beyond to assess the potential impact of where I place my energy. I deserve, as we all do, to be my fullest and most joyful self and if I don't let the small things be small they'll continue to overshadow all of the glory that's within me.

Letting Go of Failing Love and Friendships

Over the past few months, I've taken a step back to really think about how I prioritize my time and attention. Outside of work, I spend a significant amount of time forming and sustaining friendships, writing and reading. I love my friends. They're a hilarious group of people with similar interests and philosophies of life. What separates some of them though is the lack of attention and time they reciprocate. In some of these relationships, I've been the one reaching out and checking in. I've found that there are a few people I've been concerned about who quite frankly are not concerned with me. To some extent they've been walking out of my life, and I've been playing catch up attempting to keep them around. I once told a friend who was experiencing similar issues with her friends, that realizing who they ultimately revealed themselves to be was not aligned to who she thought she befriended. When she considered cutting them off and expressing some of her frustrations with them, I told her that sometimes in life we don't have to put any effort into reevaluating our relationships and distancing ourselves from those who are not worthy of our friendship.

Sometimes all we have to do is stand and let them continue walking. We can write our next chapters and let their actions and decisions leave them on previous pages. We can let the seasons change and let nature take its course, blowing weak leaves and branches from our strong limbs and roots. We don't have to do anything but stand.

In a powerful video clip I saw a few months ago, Bishop T.D. Jakes preached "when people can walk away from you, let them walk." If you value your time, attention, love and friendship, why waste it on the undeserving? Why spend time trying to hold onto things and people who don't want to be held? The only thing you end up doing is holding your destiny, your light, hostage for the sake of breathing air and life into something that's already dead.

When we let go of friendships that aren't true friendships and love that is not reciprocated, all we are losing is the weight of broken promises and unfulfilled expectations that can, if we continue to hold onto them, cause us to ignore the abundant love and friendship we can find in those who are and can become roots in our tree and permanent characters in our stories. When people can walk away from you, let them walk!

An Unknown View of History

When my work affords me the opportunity to travel, I am always grateful. Growing up not having seen much of the United States, I am always delighted to find myself in new states, new cities surrounded by unfamiliar streets, faces and food. This gratitude was present when I flew down to Norfolk, Virginia two Sundays ago for work. Meeting with young, ambitious adults who are interested in addressing the grave educational inequities that continue to plague communities throughout our nation, I heard stories about family struggles, growing up in poverty and what it’s like to enter college and discover your K-12 education has not successfully prepared you.

I departed for Norfolk on Tuesday afternoon and headed to Charlotte, NC—the connecting city in my journey back to New York—and after my flight was delayed by almost an hour I began to pray that I’d arrive back to New York in time for the second presidential debate. Having connected in Charlotte in route to Norfolk and then back to New York, my flight home was the fourth plane I had been on in just over 48 hours.

I’ve never had a fear of flying, but I must admit that when the aircraft is shaky at times, the possibilities of danger sometimes arise in my creative mind. Like other passengers, I always remain calm of course, reading my Kindle until I’m told to turn it off or sipping on a ginger ale wondering if it’s really delicious or if it simply reminds me of being comforted when I was ill as a child.

The flight back to New York was relatively smooth. It was a pretty short flight time and having won the aisle seat—where I am always most comfortable—the only thing left to do to make the day a true success was to snatch a cab and get back to Brooklyn in time to unwind before President Obama and Mr. Romney took the stage. As the seatbelt sign returned, trash was collected and electronics were summonsed to rest.

The sun was just beginning to set and the beauty of the city from way up above was simply magnificent. If painters search for moments to capture a reality that must never be forgotten, surely the scene from the aircraft was the foundation of a profound masterpiece waiting to be discovered. The water, the reflection of the sun from large glimmering windows of tall buildings, bridges connecting the histories of unfamiliar divisions… I was in awe.

Then my feelings of elation were interrupted by the raspy voice of the pilot. The moment he began to warn us about turbulence, I could feel the cabin beginning to rattle. I had felt turbulence before of course, but this was a bit more violent. Passengers beside me leaned forward a bit as the front of the plane tipped and then our bodies were pulled backward as the aircraft began a sudden climb.

For a split second I honestly thought: what if this is it? What if something goes wrong? What if that Facebook update about my breakfast at Cracker Barrel are the last words I leave for the world? Then I began to think about what it must feel like to be on an aircraft and to not suspect, but to know for sure that in a few moments the plane would crash.

The thought terrified me and at the same time humbled me. Living in New York, you still feel a palpable fear and a sense of loss from the September 11 attacks. Perhaps for generations those feelings will remain and certainly they are accompanied by a sense of courage, bravery, and patriotism.

Like all Americans alive during that horrific tragedy for our nation, we’ll always remember where we were that moment history was made. What we will never know, and what I felt on the plane landing in New York on Tuesday evening was the view of a history untold, because the men and women who lost their lives sitting on an aircraft are not here to tell us what they saw and heard. What the felt.

When my flight finally landed I could feel in myself and in the expressions of relief from those around, an overwhelming sense of gratitude that we had made it safely. What I couldn't escape, despite this relief, was a haunting sense of sorrow for the last words and the views of history unknown...

Balanced Thinking, A Much Needed Commodity

In the space of education reform (my primary area of professional experience) there are new solutions to the needs of our nation's children every year which are both endorsed and attacked with great passion. These policies and practices are very political and often times personal for the thousands of men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving children in our country's most disadvantaged communities. Debates are infused with strong language and often extreme positions are espoused in efforts create a sense of excitement and sometimes fear. I suppose in many ways, education reform is not drastically different from other complicated political issues with respect to the sorts of behaviors it drives leaders to demonstrate.

In watching the Republican National Convention (RNC) and Democratic National Convention (DNC), it is clear to me that economic and social issues are at the forefront of many of our nation's leaders. What doesn't always seem present though in the debates we hear in the political arena is a strong appreciation for balanced thinking.

While reading an article last week titled 15 Ways 20-Somethings Ruin Their Twenties  I was delighted to discover the author’s push for us to consider that being a "pessimistic, opinionated hater" likely means that we need to have a better pulse on reality. "Every movie out isn’t terrible, every song isn’t garbage.” Speaking to the kind of pessimistic character who is intent on taking extreme positions, the article suggests that “…this personality type is in for a reality check when eventually nobody wants anything to do with ‘em." Well it turns out that this kind of behavior isn’t exclusive to 20-somethings. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at American politics.

Meditating on the presence of the “pessimistic, opinionated hater” made me think of conversations I have had about my beliefs and opinions at ages twenty-two, twenty-three and now twenty-five. In reflecting on the shifts in my own views and the way I speak about what I observe, I found that I've learned to accept a higher level of ambiguity that is inherent in life while also finding a way to stand firm in my values and opinions without completely ignoring the reality that there's always a small chance I may be completely wrong. I’ve learned to see not just black and white but every color surrounding every issue I encounter.

Today I can fully admire the ability to look at an issue from multiple perspectives and to cite both affirming and dissenting evidence in forming an opinion. This does make sense, right? I mean what good is it for us to talk about our beliefs in a way that does not demonstrate our ability to fully assess a situation? Don’t we risk sounding authoritative and intellectually arrogant to the point that we neglect opportunities to see the forest for the trees? If balanced thinking makes sense (and I know it does) then why is there such a lack of it in the space of public affairs?

Now I will say my ability to think in multiple dimensions has been stretched to its limits over the past month in listening to the Republican Party discuss their views on abortion as well as a number of other key issues. These are views that often neglect the practice of balanced thinking and while I can sit through an interview with just about any conservative who fundamentally believes in dismissing a woman's right to bodily integrity in pursuit of defending the rights of an unborn child or fetus (may I remind you often not discriminating on the basis of how that living being comes about) I do reserve my right to call such beliefs close-minded and replete with unbalanced thought. Still, my strong beliefs won't stop me from listening to others and really thinking critically about what they're saying and attempting to understand not just their positions but how they in fact arrived to those positions in an effort to more fully shape and understand my own.

Balanced thinking involves a willingness to listen carefully, instead of running away from or attacking views that don't immediately fit into our own brains. It's a commodity that is needed in political, professional and personal realms of life. We must strive to avoid the easier path toward forming concrete opinions rooted in what social scientists refer to as cognitive distortion—seeing things in black and white.

Unless we are willing to balance our thinking, chances are we'll seldom see the whole picture and quite frankly life and all of the many important issues we must resolve in the interest of our nation are far too colorful for that.

For more information on common barriers to balanced thinking and cognitive distortions visit 10 Negative Thinking Patters to Avoid

Becoming A Better Writer

As a member of the audience, I found myself laughing at the sheer wit displayed in a conversation with Black queer writers three weeks ago. The discussion was being moderated at the Schomburg Center here in New York and consisted of several NYC based literary artists. True to popular form, the members of the panel, which included Terrance Dean and James Earl Hardy, represented a sarcastic and humorous tone that is commonly seen in popular Black gay culture. While filled with countless moments of laughter, the wisdom of the panel left the audience of burgeoning writers with sobering tokens of wisdom. Between playful pokes at each other, comedic reflections on their journey to professional writing and commentary on industry obstacles, the panelists did not shy away from telling the truth about the craft of writing.

Reluctant to sugar-coat his own views, writer and director Stanley Bennett Clay simply exclaimed "there are just so many books out there these days that are just shit!" While cosigning other hard hitting comments by his fellow panelists, Clay encouraged members of the audience to seek out editors saying that editing your work and going through the process of perfecting your writing are necessary.

I left the venue that evening with many thoughts and one critical question: where does my own writing fall on the scale of quality which begins with awfully shitty and ends with something like beautifully brilliant? I had to really ask myself how serious I was about being a good, if not great writer. I felt great discomfort with the possibility that I may fall into a class of bloggers that some professional, well-trained writers might describe as arrogant. Calling yourself a writer these days seems so damn easy. With all of the resources we have at our fingertips, any one of us, regardless of education, style, voice, or topic can write whatever is on our minds and publish it somewhere. If we're lucky, someone will read it and even declare that they "like" our work; but does that really mean we're good writers?

If someone were to ask me what I think of myself as a writer, I'd say that I do a pretty good job at articulating my thoughts and ideas, but I still have a lot of work to do in perfecting my craft. I get an encouraging note here and there from followers, mentors, family, colleagues and academics who tell me they appreciate my work and want to see more. Though appreciate, I don’t write because I’m searching for such praise. Whenever I decide to write I'm really writing for me. The vast majority of my written work has never been published in any space, but I've learned to share pieces occasionally because what good are ideas and thoughts if they only live in my little head? The truth is that I haven’t consistently sought the guidance of others as a writer. Outside of my academic experiences in high school, college and graduate school, few people have read my writing and returned the work to me with guiding questions and feedback.

My guess is that we’ve all read some article, blog post or short story online that really should have been deleted the moment the last punctuation mark was added in the final line of the work. The moment we realized how terrible the writing was, we closed a window on our screen, or put a book back on the shelf and continued on with our lives.

What if we paused for a moment to actually write the author a quick note with some advice about how to improve their work? Wouldn’t the modern world of writing shift just a bit? Wouldn’t writers who are prone to spilling diarrhea onto a page and hitting “publish” without a second look feel a little more humble? Couldn’t we, as readers, hold authors accountable for the quality of their work? Granted, I just may very well fall within the cohort of writers who should reconsider writing anything aside from their own name (though I personally don’t believe I’m that damn bad). I wouldn’t know it if that were indeed the reality because aside from the occasional messages I receive praising the work I produce, no one tells me how I might create better work and I don’t take the time to seek out such constructive criticism.

In my own reflections over the past few weeks, I have learned of some things I can do to improve the quality of my work. First and foremost, I need to read more. Steven King slapped the shit out of me with this undeniable reality in his incredibly honest and authentic book On Writing, A Memoir of the Craft. I consider myself well-read, but as I’m in the process of writing my first novel, I had to ask myself if I’ve read enough great fictional work. I love music! I listen to music almost twenty-four hours a day and I can speak endlessly about the artists and entertainers in the musical world who’ve influenced my tastes and my ideas about what makes a song great. Why can’t I do the same for literature?  If I want to refine my voice and get a better understanding of great writing, I need to read more work from great writers. Seems commonsensical doesn’t it? Believe it or not, it’s apparently common for writers in our modern fast-paced world to neglect this practice. Perhaps that’s one of the key causes of the wide array of terrible writing available on the market these days.

In addition to reading more, I need to write more. Several years ago, before I discovered that I looked like I was dying (5’10 and only 130 pounds) I was a long distance runner. I ran a few miles every day and trained in the gym. I was careful about what I ate and I’d watch track and field every chance I could get to study the form and strategies of world-class runners. Unlike some of my peers, I didn’t excite spectators when I stepped onto the track, but I improved drastically each year with intentional practice. The first time I ran a 5k I thought I’d die. My chest was tight, my legs were on fire and if sweat could be used as money, I could have hired Bill Gates to be my personal chauffer. I’m not kidding. It was tough, but practice paid off. It’s time I approach writing with the same mentality. If I want to be a better writer, I need to set aside time each day or at least several times a week to just write!

Since it seems this post has turned from being a written reflection to a quasi-advice piece, let me say one other thing I need to do in hopes that at least some of you can benefit from this as well. I need to be more selfish with my time in an effort to give my mind space to breathe. When we are passionate about things, we make them priorities in our lives. Sometimes we let work, family, and friends get in the way but what I’ve learned in my 25th year of life is that the world and its nearly 7 billion inhabitants have few limits on what they may demand of you.

In a world in which we are easily accessible, it can be difficult to find a balance between taking care of your energy and maintaining relationships with others. None of us wants to give the proverbial “fuck you” to the members of our expansive networks by blowing off obligations and ignoring calls, texts and wall posts, but if I don’t get more serious about giving my mind some time to cool off, I know I might be cutting myself off from opportunities to pause and receive the many ideas the universe has to offer. I’ve come to appreciate King’s belief (which he writes about in On Writing) that we don’t have to find ideas but rather “recognize them when they show up.” I need to be ready when they come and I find I’m most ready when I’m not allowing my mind to run at 100 mph being concerned with all of the distractions the world has to offer. It doesn’t mean I have to stop living, but it does mean I need to be more conscious of my life as I’m living it.

I’m committed to being a better writer. I don’t think I’m awful, but I know I have a lot of work to do if I don’t want to spend my days producing work that can only be described as shitty.

A Note on Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer

  “I don’t do that. I don’t tell people what they should get out of a film.” This was Spike Lee’s response last Friday evening when I asked him what he wanted his audience to take away from his latest work Red Hook Summer.

 Like many of Lee’s films, this newest addition to the Brooklyn filmmaker’s repertoire is filled with many themes and lessons on which any conscious viewer could walk away reflecting.

From confronting the devastating realities of one American ghetto to debating the viability of traditional methods for rearing children through religion in a rapidly evolving culture, characters in the film meet a number of complex situations that force their mindsets to shift a bit as the audience receives powerful tokens of wisdom and profoundly gripping images that rattle the mind in between moments of laughter.

An uncompromising Brooklynite, Lee crafted a film that explores the realities of Red Hook which is presently fraught with gang activity and sobering levels of economic disparity, while, as some sources indicate, it is on the path to becoming Brooklyn’s latest gentrified area.

Despite some of the changing tides we hear about in the film, the main characters in Red Hook Summer are not at all shy about the challenges they face. Among many arguments concerning the economic state of both our nation and his small piece of Brooklyn, the film’s Deacon Zee, played by Thomas Jefferson Byrd unabashedly reminds viewers that Red Hook has 80% unemployment.

In addition to the state of Red Hook, the minds of viewers are stretched far enough to be exposed to both the realities of the community as well as the troubling experiences of Lee's key characters.

In the film we see the violent product of one former church-going boy’s transformation into a member of the gang, The Bloods as well as the struggle of the film’s lead character, Flik Royale, who—like many young Black men—is missing the presence of a man in his life after the death of his own father. Most riveting perhaps, is the emergence of a man who visits the local church and knows the congregation’s bishop through a dark past.

Regardless of what Lee intended, this film is not a break from his tradition of creating thought-provoking work.

With a little help from Clarke Peters who plays a well-known minster in Red Hook and the grandfather of the film’s protagonist Flik Royale, played by Brooklyn’s own Jules Brown—who was discovered by Lee in the eighth grade—Red Hook Summer is sure to leave audiences with a great deal to think about with universal themes including forgiveness, friendship and love.

Just don't ask Lee what you should learn from all that he offers in this film. If the 55 year old actor has some concrete ideas, he's not sharing them and like many artists, is living the work open for interpretation and understanding.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LksGNgOgLsY]

The Role Humility Could Play in Your Relationships

In the past few months, I've seen several friends go through some serious challenges in their romantics lives. I myself wrestled with the end of my own relationship back in April and have since tried to reflect on what went wrong in my previous attempt at long-term love. I wanted to dig deep into myself to understand all of the many lessons that experience could possibly offer, and having turned 25 since, I've also thrown myself into a constant state of reflecting on who I am and who I want to be. I was thinking about several relationships this past weekend, not just relationships with romantic partners, but also friends, colleagues, and family members. In asking myself some of the tougher questions I've probably ignored in the past, I discovered that many of the problems I've experienced in my own relationships have a common root cause, the absence of humility.

Several of my friends who have experienced troubles in their own love lives over the past year point to communication, intimacy, and unequal care and attention in their relationships as some of the primary causes of turmoil. But when I ask them questions that force them to reflect on their own actions and mindsets, I've noticed this overwhelming presence of arrogance in how they see their role in their relationships.

In one conversation, a friend of mine shared that her partner doesn't "share the same level of affection." I asked her to explain further and she said, "I'm very romantic, affectionate and I feel like I'm the one always expressing that and he likes it but won't do the same in return." It was also disclosed that her partner in general has a difficult time expressing his feelings. Although this was a problem for my friend's lover, her ego told her that she was  "worth the effort" and that he needed to just "change" for her.

She is beautiful, brilliant and possesses many of the attributes that any single man with his head screwed on properly would desire, but the truth is if our lovers enter relationships with barriers that they've never been respectfully pushed to address and given the time and space to do so intentionally, we would be incredibly arrogant to assume that they'd just change overnight for us.

What was even more of an issue here is that my dear friend never bothered to really tell her lover how she truly felt about how the relationship was progressing on the basis that "he should just know..." Should he? A part of me wanted to ask my friend, who in the hell she thought she was to believe that someone should just know how to meet and cater to her needs when she had not explicitly shared those needs or disclosed where her heart and mind were with respect to the relationship.

It's not her fault though and it also isn't her fault that her partner's arrogance hinders him from seeing that while he also brings many great things to the table that his own work in making my friend both happy and satisfied is far from being done. In addition, he's arrogant to assume that just because he has some difficulty meeting my friend's emotional needs that she was just going to have to compromise while continuing to meet his needs. Both of them, like many of us, were lacking the kind of humility that could really take their relationship to greater heights.

When I think about this concept of humility, I think about the shear arrogance and ego that I see consistently interrupting the trajectory of our most sacred and meaningful bonds.  If I really think about the root cause of problems I've seen in many forms of relationships, often it's our inability to set our ego aside or arrogance that leads us to believe someone should change for us, that we should only be TRUE lovers and friends when WE are in the mood, or others should just know how we truly feel without being told explicitly.

I also think of the arrogance that forces us to believe others should give us more than what they are capable of giving and how deeply humility could inspire us to fully accept our realities in relationships, stopping us from thinking we could bend reality to fit our own needs and desires.

I want to be more humble in my relationships. I want to recognize, own and display my weaknesses, my fears, my concerns and set my ego aside to open up my mouth and be able to allow the words that rest at the deepest parts of my heart to flow honestly and freely. I want to love, and care, and listen, and walk in humility next to those with whom I am in relationships, acknowledging my small place in this world and the potential humility has in making a massive difference in the lives of others.

3 Ways To Own Your Email

I don't know about you, but the overwhelming email culture in both the non-profit and business sector (so I hear from friends) is out of control. Three weeks ago, I became ill and spent two days away from my email prior to returning to work after a weekend. Though I knew for sure that I would have some unread email to filter through, I did not expect my total unread emails to reach what I considered a depressing 387 on a Monday morning. Granted some of these messages were from the previous week, but too much damage had been done in my short absence for my own comfort. After spending more than half of my day responding to these messages I did something I've never done before. I courageously declared email bankruptcy.  Highlighting all of the messages in my inbox that had not yet been filed I calmly and cautiously pressed delete and held my breath for a few seconds waiting for a helicopter to suddenly appear outside of the window and a tactical team to sweep into the office and detain me for violating some complicated unknown law regarding national security. It never happened... To my surprise my world did not suddenly come crashing down and I exhaled releasing one of the heaviest work related burdens I carry, email overload.

Feeling good I then took my war against excessive  email one step further. I posted a permanent automatic email response  message with three fundamentally radical ideas that I hope will spread like wildfire among my colleagues.

Do you find yourself sometimes being owned by your email? Well you don't have to suffer anymore. Turn the tables around and begin your personal journey toward owning your email with three suggestions for all of those dear friends and colleagues who just can't seem to avoid reaching out to you.

1) Abandon the body and use the subject line. Suggest that task related messages focus solely on the task. Tell your colleagues to skip the inquiries into the quality of your weekend and get straight to the point by simply stating what they want from you in the subject line of the email. They don't need to write anything in the body of the email itself. When possible suggest they be as short as possible and simply state "Send updated project plan."

2) Phone a friend. Unless you're a part of that microscopic segment of our nation's population who don't believe in modern technology and suspect cell phones are just another way for the government to keep tabs on us (which they are by the way), you have a phone and that phone allows you to have quick conversations that avoid the back and forth steps one usually has to take to facilitate a conversation over email.  Ask that when feasible your colleagues simply pick up the damn phone and give you a ring.

3) The 200 Character Challenge. Twitter gives us 140 characters. Be nice and throw in an extra 60 characters. When the message can't be summed up in a subject line, ask your colleagues to be as short as possible and send you "tweet like" emails. To accomplish this they may need to cut out some words and write incomplete/improper sentence (Ex: need to analyze data for upcoming meeting. would like your assistance. send times of availability.) Come on! This is our chance as adults to keep it simple and stick it to that mean, rigid English teacher we had in high school.

These steps are easy and while they may not cure the problems you see with your own email culture, I can assure you that my own experience tells me that they're a step in the right direction. Best of luck!

Love & Relationships Guest Writer, SueZette Robotham on being "More Than Just Enough"

…more than just enough…

-sueZetteyasminrobotham

“Is this the way to live for me to be yours?  Is it wrong to want more?”-Feist

I’ve never actually been one of those people that has proclaimed that “I deserve” anything. I don’t really recall anything being simply handed to me. I work hard…I play hard…and so anything that I have…I have earned. There are things that I need. There are things that I want. There are things that I desire. There are things that I even crave, but I’ve never felt that there was anything that I deserved.

Well that was until this past weekend as I sat on the floor of my sister-friend’s bedroom listening to Frank Ocean.  I don’t know why I felt the need to listen to Thinkin’ Bout You on rinse and repeat, but there I sat glued. I’m not new to that song and yet each time I started it over, it felt like I was being reintroduced to it. Perhaps it is because I have felt the emotions in every single note, key, chord, melody, and verse of that song. Frank was telling some of my story, a lot of my story actually.

Although I have had very few and limited engagements at “Vulnerability Café”, I’ve done it. You can believe whatever you want about the Zodiac signs; this Scorpio woman subscribes to it and being open is not my thing. I’m the life of the party…I love people, but when it comes to love and relationships…I tend to keep my heart quietly removed from public scrutiny.

While I’ve watched my friends fall madly in and out of love-allowing themselves to find the one and the next and the next, I tend to dilly dally in surface relationships -waiting for the person worthy of the exchange of energy called love. Just to be clear, I have experienced the act of being in love. And while the end felt tragic...I have accepted the fact that...in order to truly appreciate what love is—sweet sacrifice—I had to be willing to take the stage at and give it my all.

Falling out of love sucked…Hard!

And I decided that there would be no more performances until…

As I sat there listening to Frank Ocean, mulling over why it was I was paralyzed by the song, something dawned on me. There would be no more performances until he who was willing to give me more than just enough joined me on stage.

For the first time I was ready to verbalize the following, “I deserve someone that is willing to love and give me just as much I want to love and give.”

I didn’t simply need, want, desire, or crave holistic love…I deserved it.

I deserved and still deserve the opportunity to be vulnerable without fear with someone who is willing to give me more than “just enough.”

I’ve had such beautiful instances or moments with people. And while I’m more than aware that every person in your life serves a purpose and is meant to spend a reason, season, or lifetime in your zone; I’ve only had snapshots. Your girl is ready for the entire picture.

I’m ready for my love story. I don’t want to be anywhere thinking about someone and what they may or may not have meant or what it felt like. I deserve to know what that love story feels like.

I don’t need, want, or desire the occasional outing, or random text messages, or guest appearance on “Moi’s Back.” I deserve the opportunity to be fully engaged in growing something meaningful, sustainable, rich, and rewarding. I deserve the opportunity to be loved and to love simultaneously damn it!

I am more than just enough. I am enough. More than enough!

*drops mic and exits stage left*

About the author: 

sueZette is Northern-born, Southern-reared, and island infused. sueZette is on a journey through infinite possibilites...enjoying each experience along the way. You can also check her out on Centric TV's Culturelist Blog where she serves as the resident love & relationship writer. sueZette will be relaunching her personal blog soon. Stay tuned!

When Functionality Beats Aesthetics

Among the list of things that push me to practice my highest level of anger management, readers will notice an asterisk next to poorly designed products. In our ever-evolving world of technology, designers across the globe have to be committed to giving consumers the latest and the best products they can get their hands on. Whether they're cell phones, clothing or—as in my case—website themes, designers have to find new and creative ways to produce highly engaging products that both capture and sustain consumer interest. It's not easy to stand out in this competitive world that can very well be an oyster for highly effective designers from all areas of expertise, but there are a few things that must remain constant as we continue to see thousands of new toys and trinkets emerge.

Funky colors, uniquely manipulated structures, interactive features, smoothly cut edges; you name it and you'll find all of these characteristics in the products pushed in front of us at every turn. Who doesn't want a product that fits with the times and stands out?

The one concern I have as a consumer is that there's one characteristic I see being ignored far too frequently—functionality. Who gives a damn if you design a futuristic can opener made with platinum and colorful glass if it can't cut paper let alone a can of tuna?

The less mechanical but more technical products are no better. Anyone who has purchased a theme for a website in the past six months because of the cool ways you can manipulate images and provide an interactive feel for your viewers will tell you that some designers have a top secret competition to create the most obscure and confusing buttons you have to press to make anything work.

The point of technology is to make life easier and though beauty is of great value, if it ever came down to it and the two clashed in a back alley somewhere in Brooklyn at 2 a.m., functionality would pimp slap aesthetics.

If we're not careful, we'll all end up living in homes where doors look like they should be pushed or pulled when in actuality they slide, surrounded by products that were supposed to serve some function but in fact sit on tables and hang on walls as a new form of "art" which consists of dysfunctional reasons we spent our hard-earned money.

3 Ways That Minding Your Damn Business Can Change Your Life

As I was walking through my apartment last night, I was wrestling with the complexities of a friendship I'm currently managing. The details of the situation aren't at all significant so I'll save you some time and energy and jump to the point which is that this most recent complexity has made me reflect on past relationships (using this term in the most general sense, not exclusively romantic) and I discovered that in many ways the problems I've experienced—whether they've been insecurities, frustration, anxiety, anger, or regret—have often came about because I wasn't minding my damn business. Chances are if this aha moment (thanks Oprah) is true for me it's true for other people as well. So as I continue to reflect on what this all means for me, I thought I'd take a moment to share with you just how minding your damn business more often may change your life.

1. Gossip: You can pretend to be a saint if you want to, but let's be real. At some point in your life you too have participated in gossip. Either you were talking about someone behind their back or passing on a story you heard about someone. In some cases you yourself may have been the subject of gossip which, understandably so, put you in an awkward situation in which you felt obligated to address the issue/defend yourself. These circumstances typically bring about drama and distract us from the far more important things that are or could be happening in our lives. It seems that no matter what you do or where you go, someone will always have something to say about you so why waste your time worrying about and/or creating the nonsense? Next time you are the subject or facilitator of gossip, just think of the headache and potential heartbreak you could save yourself if you decide to take a rain check and mind your damn business.

2. Waiting for permission to heal: I'll given you a break from the honesty and ground this one in my own experience.  So I have been in a few relationships that didn't work out. Someone disappeared. They stopped calling. They suddenly weren't sure if they were ready for a relationship although I'm "amazing" and "brilliant" and "beautiful" and my favorite "You're everything that I have ever wanted. I'm just not sure I deserve you yet..." Can you believe this? Of course you can! You've heard it too! Oh wait, we're focusing on me. Oops. Right. So when these situations have emerged in the past, I've searched for an explanation. I wanted to know what happened. What did I do wrong? Was it something I said? Was there someone else? Well you know what? I never actually got any answers and instead of moving forward and healing, I harbored anger toward romance and often times when someone else came along tugging on my legs—even if gently—I wasn't willing to take a step forward because I was standing still waiting for closure to come. Guess what; It never showed up... Often times people don't give you an explanation because they don't believe they should have to or that you at least deserve one. Want closure and permission to heal from these situations? I have a tip. Mind your damn business. Why they didn't want you ain't none of your business.

3. If it isn't your life, don't live it: Here's a tough one. Love...it's a tricky bastard because when you love someone you give them a space in your life from which their actions and words can cause you pain and worry. Many of us have friends and family members for whom we care very deeply and occasionally someone will come into your life for whom you want the very best. Sometimes the problem is that what we want for others is more than what they want for themselves. So what do we do? We lose sleep. We sacrifice money, time, energy, care and sometimes even our well-being to ensure that we do all we can to convince them to live the life that we believe they deserve. But in trying to force our horses to drink the water to which we have led them, we typically hurt ourselves and in many cases we damage our relationships with those we love. By all means we should care for others, but when our care for them begins to diminish our care of ourselves we have to pause and ask ourselves if we are pouring our precious wine into a porous barrel and hoping each time that it will stay. Sometimes when you neglect your life because you're busy trying to live someone else's, you have to learn how to mind your damn business.

Can you imagine other ways in which minding your business might be helpful? If so, please share below! You never know who might benefit from your thoughts.