Let Us Pretend

When did you stop creating? Was it a series of small events or did it happen with one experience that was so remarkably painful that it stopped you immediately?

Was it a teacher who told you had too much rhythm? Did a coach or mentor tell you to do it their way? Was it an overprotective parent who wanted to shield you from the embarrassment of certain failure at some point even if it was on the path toward your well-deserved success? Find the moment. The sad truth, is that it doesn't take much effort.

Whether it was yesterday or twenty years ago, the voice that broke the sound of our most joyful moment to simply say "no" or "don't do that" can be heard forever. Find the moment...

Now, reactivate your imagination and pretend it never happened. 

What would you do? Who would you be? Where would you live? Who would you love?

Jump! 

Dont' Become A Played Out Song

If you keep asking the same question, it's not because you don't know the answer. It's because you don't care that you already know the answer. 

You're seeking out answers and explanations. You call the best friend, your mom, or your mentor. You bring it up again to your therapist only to hear the same answer, the same wisdom you've heard over and over again. Yet, you haven't accepted the answer as final. You spend more time trying to disprove the truth than you do trying to figure out how to change direction now that you have found it. You'll keep this up until you become too tired or worse, everyone you keep going to for answers stops responding. 

Have you ever listened to the same song so many times that it now annoys you when you hear it? It's because it was a fun song that fit a moment that passed long ago. That's what you are becoming. A source of questions that were answered long ago in multiple ways and they won't be put to rest because you are afraid to move on. 

Accept. What. You. Know. 

Quit Blaming Time

You talk about the dreams you have of writing a New York Times best seller. You hear someone speak in another language and its beauty reminds you of your desire to learn something other than your native tongue. Perhaps you finally want to get back into the dating scene after recovering from a relationship that ended. Whatever the desire is, you have it and yet you do nothing about it. Why is that?

If someone asks you, you'll say "I don't have the time." That's easy, isn't it? We all share the reality that every day we are given is made up of the same twenty four-hours. The day ends and too often it's hard for us to clear our heads to see the progress we've made even if in the smallest way. Blame time and people understand. 

What we will inevitably struggle to understand is the day we wake up and realize that the end is near and we spent much of our time blaming time for why we didn't obtain the lives we wanted. Our legacy will be limited by the safe actions we took. Our dreams will whither away, evidence of the risks we were too afraid to take and we will settle for what we have and conclude that life has been good enough. 

Couldn't life be better than "good enough" if we found the courage to reject the idea that time is our enemy and began looking at it as a true friend.  Time gives us a chance to say sorry. It gives us an opportunity to change direction, to start over. It is probably the best friend we have, more forgiving and encouraging than we could ever imagine. 

Thursday 6.05.14... How To Learn From Everyone

“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” ― Pema Chödrön

Each day we are given is another opportunity to get it right, a chance to learn something about the ways of this world and who we are in it. We don't learn by closing our minds and our heart but by pushing ourselves to always be open to the infinite possibilities of life, however they may come.

If we seek to deepen our understanding, we must be willing to learn something from every source, no matter how small and simple the lesson may seem. It is not enough to sit at the feet of those we admire and trust. We have to be open to engaging with the stranger, the taxi driver, the small child who is likely more creative than we are because their perception has not yet been tainted and yes, even the ones who annoy us.

I have discovered that when I am annoyed by someone or something, it is not an opportunity for me to run, but a moment for me to pause and simply ask, "what are you here to show me about myself?"

Wednesday, 6/4/14...Deepen Your Relationships By Being Honest

“Lying is, almost by definition, a refusal to cooperate with others. It condenses a lack of trust and trustworthiness into a single act. It is both a failure of understanding and an unwillingness to be understood. To lie is to recoil from relationship.”-Sam Harris

We're all guilty of it. No matter who you are, even when it has been simple and innocent, you have lied. We lie for many reasons, some of which are scientific. Researchers recently discovered that we are less likely to demonstrate integrity as the day progresses because our self-control diminishes over time. Whatever the reason (guilt, shame, or fear), when we lie we miss an opportunity to deepen our relationships with ourselves and others.

For myself, I know that there have been times when I have lied because I was afraid of how my truth might impact someone else. Though I now understand that in many ways, I lied because I was afraid of how others might see me. At this stage in my life, I am striving to be myself in every relationship and that requires me to lean into the discomfort of my truth as opposed to running away from it.

If we want more authentic relationships, we have to be willing to tell the truth not "even when", but especially when it is difficult.

Tuesday, 6/3/14... "Lose The Meaningless to Gain The Meaningful"

"Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option."-Maya Angelou 

As you continue on your journey of personal development where you begin to live a life aligned with your calling and your unique purpose, you may discover that there are some people who no longer belong in your space. Of course, watching our circles shrink can feel daunting and it has the potential to make us feel lonely but we must protect our energy and time if we want to enrich our lives by strengthening our relationships with people who pour into us the way we pour into them.

Do not be afraid to "lose" meaningless connections in order to create more meaningful experiences in this life.

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 

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.

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

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.

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!