How Will You Respond?

We all know that family member, friend or colleague who seems to always be juggling a string of unfortunate events and challenges. Certainly, in many instances, the misfortune is the result of a poor decision. It is also the case that these events are sometimes brought on by factors outside of the individual's control. 

It's not that misfortune only happens to some people and not others. What does vary is how we behave when misfortune appears. Lisa might be late to work once and decide that going forward she is going to leave ten minutes earlier and find a less congested route. Andrew will be late to work fifteen times and blame the alarm clock or the school bus taking its time getting kids on before it tucks away its most powerful weapon, a stop sign. Robert may forget to pay a bill and then decide to set up automatic payments and set more money aside for emergencies each month. On the other hand, Tracy will come up short on multiple bills each month and be constantly stressed about money but she will continue going to Starbucks every morning and eating out four times per week. 

It is not that some people have lives that are divorced from misfortune and mistakes. It is really that when the mistake is made or the obstacle appears, some of us act as owners of our lives and some of us behave like victims. 

The question is not whether challenges will emerge. The question is how will you respond when they do? 

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

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

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!

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

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!

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.