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Monday, March 29, 2010

How to Make a U-Turn

A few posts back, I shared a story about a time in my life when I needed to make a u-turn. I realized the direction I was heading in was not really the direction I wanted to be going in. It started out like a good idea, but the further I went down that path and the more I learned, the more I realized that where I was headed was not where I wanted to be.

The question was posed to me, how do you make a U-Turn and when I thought about it, there are several steps to making a big, sometimes, life changing about face.

1. Be Honest with Yourself. This can be hard in and of itself. Where ever you are headed, you probably put some thought and time into what you are doing and where you are going. You started with good intentions. You might still even enjoy it or see some value in it, but ultimately, you know you need to make a change.

When in doubt, go with your gut. At the same time, don’t be rash about it. This is the time, while you are contemplating the turn, to figure out why you feel the need to change direction. This leads to step number two.

2. Ask Yourself Some Tough Questions.
What is wrong?
Is it something that can be changed?
Are you really that you are headed in the wrong direction or are you just frustrated with the pace of your progress?
Could it be that you have run into a large obstacle on your current path?
If frustration or obstacles are your problem, then are you really in need of a u-turn?
If the frustration or obstacles were removed, would you be satisfied with the path you are on?

3. Map Your New Course. When you are driving and you realize that you are going in the wrong direction, you may or may not think about the next steps in your drive. You instinctively know you are going the wrong way and you turn. You will deal with the rest of your trip as you go, knowing that if you make another wrong turn, you can quickly readjust.

Life isn’t so easy. Making a u-turn in real life could involve a lot of major adjustments: investing in additional education, moving your family to a new city (or back to a familiar one), getting a new job, starting a business, or even getting married or getting divorced. You need to figure out your new direction and plot a course to get there.

4. Be Prepared to Eat Crow. Be clear to discuss your u-turn and your plans with those who will be affected and those who are supporting you with your decisions. However, be very careful about sharing your thoughts, your doubts and your plans with those outside of your inner circle. Heck, be careful about who inside your circle you share your thoughts with if you believe that their input will not be helpful and supportive.

U-turns run counter to what people think. Besides, there are probably a number of people who believe you should stay on your current path. You might be called wishy-washy at best, or uncommitted or outright wrong. You could be called worse. Make sure you put on your thick skin.

Finally realize you don’t have to defend and justify your decisions to everyone. Allow those who disagree to disagree. Stick to your guns.

U-Turns can be ugly but they can also be very necessary!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Who Are They? And, Why Do They Matter So Much?

What do you have to prove? Most importantly, who are you trying to prove it to? Many of us get caught in that trap where we are trying to ‘show’ those who don’t believe in us that we really do have what it takes. We want to ‘prove’ to the naysayers that they were wrong about us. We need to defend our choices and show them that we know what we are doing.

But, why do they matter so much?

Validation and acknowledgement are powerful forces. We all need positive reinforcement and it’s wonderful when we get it. However, if we get too wrapped up in showing and proving and defending ourselves, we lose sight of what really matters. We sacrifice our independence as we grow more and more dependent on what others think about us. We lose sight of our vision as we try to show and prove ourselves worthy of their admiration.

A few posts ago, I talked about making a u-turn, what happens when we realize that, for whatever reason, we are on the wrong track and we need to readjust. Sometimes we need to make a u-turn or get on another highway all together.

One of the things that can stop us from making that needed change is placing too much weight on what other people think or say. We don’t want to look as if we were wrong about our own path. “What will they think,” we wonder. Will they think us flighty, foolish or maybe even failures? So we stay on the wrong path, knowing that it’s the wrong path and all the while hoping that somehow going in the wrong direction will somehow become right.

We let others dictate our actions, which dictate our direction which dictates our destiny. Who’s in control now?

Letting go of the need to prove or show something to others is a vital part of achieving success on your own terms. You can’t change anyone’s outlooks or thoughts. You can’t make anyone see anything they don’t want to see. And good luck getting anyone to admit they were wrong.

Yours is a race with just one runner. You. Show yourself how good you are and what you are capable of. Prove to yourself that you do have what it takes. Will they come around? Maybe and maybe not? But stay true to yourself and the right people will eventually come around to give you the validation you crave.

Living life on your own terms means realizing that those terms are yours and not theirs.

Who are they anyway!?!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Know When to Say When

"Work hard, play hard"
"Burn the candle at both ends"
"No pain, no gain"

The value of hard work cannot be denied. America was founded on The Puritan Work Ethic and that's probably why we have longer work days and take fewer vacation days than several of our European counterparts.

Technology has only made this worst. I remember getting my first cell phone in 1998. My job gave it to me. At that time, I told my friends that I felt that cell phones and email were part of an insidious plot to keep people working all the time. They laughed. Now, they see that I was right!

An AOL survey (2007) showed that 83% of people check their email daily while on vacation. Many of them are checking work and personal email. I've taken business calls on Sunday and on weekdays as late as 10:30 p.m.

Working is great. It helps give life meaning. Although technology has changed our relationship with work, we still have to know when to say when. What I mean, is that it becomes more important than ever to set boundaries and listen to our bodies.

Just Stop. Working very long hours is impressive; it looks good. It shows your commitment. It is, sometimes, necessary. But the truth of the matter is that after a point, when you start getting tired, you are losing your effectiveness. The law of diminishing returns kicks in. You start getting less out of the work you put in. This is a great time to step away and get some rest. Come back early and start again fresher and with greater focus.

If you cannot, step away for an extended period (usually because a tight deadline is involved), shift gears and do something else for a few minutes. Take a break. Get some water. Take a brief and brisk walk. Make a phone call. Do something else and then switch back to your work.

Set boundaries. I cannot tell my boss what to do (if I want to keep a job! LOL!) However, I can dictate to others what my boundaries are. I have a number of freelance clients. I tell them from the beginning, I do not accept work calls after 7:00 p.m. on weekdays. I do not do weekends. If they need me on a weekend, they need to call me on a week day and schedule the time.

Listen to your body. These tips don't just apply to work. When you are at home cleaning, when you are exercising, when you are driving on a trip, it pays to listen to you body, you can only push it so far. Yes, there is something to be said for 'pushing through the pain' and the virtue of 'feeling the burn' when you are working out. But if you are paying attention, you also know when you are doing too much. Stop before you injure yourself or worst.

Pushing yourself is a good thing. Pushing beyond your limits isn't. Only you know you, you know what your limits are. The key is being honest and realistic with yourself.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Hard to Say “I’m Sorry”

Two words that are hard for people to say and sometimes even hard to hear “I’m sorry.” Admitting that you made a mistake, hurt someone’s feelings or caused in some way hurt or pain, can be difficult, but it can be done. In fact, sometimes it needs to be done. It’s difficult to move forward from hurt to healing or from pain to positivity without an apology of some sort.

I know people who have waited for decades to hear that priceless phrase. Yet, their satisfaction has been denied. On the other hand, I know people who carry the guilt that goes with an unsaid apology, knowing what needs to be said but not knowing how to say it or even wear to begin.

If you are the one who needs to apologize, there are a few questions you need to ask first. For one, are you truly apologetic for what you’ve done? Unless you genuinely want to right a wrong or correct your actions, you shouldn’t apologize. An apology born out of what you think you should do and not out of what you feel needs to be done is not an apology. For example, if you don’t believe you are wrong but someone else suggests that you are and that an apology is in order, then don’t apologize.

A second question would be, “Do you know what you are apologizing for?” A man comes home from work and says to his wife, “I’m sorry.” She asks what he’s sorry for. He responds, “I don’t know but I’m sure I’ve done something I should apologize for.” In most cases, he’s just made a bad situation worse. Be clear and specific about what was done and why you are offering an apology. Blanket apologies do not work.

Now, if you are the one who feels deserving of an apology, there are two things I want you to know.

The first is simple to say and hard to hear (or read in this case). Your apology may never come. Some people wait a lifetime for an apology and never get it. You can’t wait for an apology to give you permission to move on. You cannot tie your healing to something that unpredictable. Find another way. Look for other means of getting what you need to go forward.

Finally, you can accept an apology without accepting the behavior or the person. An abusive man will apologize and might even be truly sorry. When caught in a lie, the habitual liar will usually apologize but that doesn’t mean they won’t do the same thing again. You can accept that apology and refuse to accept the behavior or the relationship. Your well-being and your health – physical, spiritual, emotional, or mental – comes first. Accept an apology but don’t allow it to be the key that unlocks the door to future abuse, mistreatment and hurt.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It's Good to be a Grown Up

I’ve been an adult for over 20 years now. Thank goodness, adulthood isn’t what I thought it would be! When I was younger, I thought that being grown up meant growing serious and stern. I thought adulthood and fun couldn’t be in the same equation.

Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot more to be serious about as an adult: jobs, children, careers, bills, retirement accounts, healthcare, insurances, cars and car repairs and the list goes on and on. Yet, we don’t have to be so serious all of the time.

I find things to laugh about on a daily basis and I’m glad about that. I have friends that I laugh with and have a good time with. I still act goofy and if you have ever pulled along side of me at a stop light when a good song is on, you know what I mean.

Bring a Little Levity Into Your Life!

1. Smile
2. Have a friend or two who have a good sense of humor. Put them on speed dial.
3. Do something you enjoy everyday
a) play with your kids
b) play with your pet
c) watch a show that makes you laugh out loud
d) listen to music that makes you move
e) find an exercise you like to do and do it
f) talk to someone who naturally makes you laugh
g) if you see something funny laugh
h) enjoy a good meal or snack
i) get enough sleep
j) subscribes to blogs or newsletters that make you smile
k) relax, leave a little earlier so you don’t have to rush. Rushing is no fun!

Thursday, March 11, 2010

An Ounce of Prevention

Benjamin Franklin said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” In the health field, this is fairly obvious. It’s easier to prevent a disease than to cure one. Better to eat right, exercise and keep a decent weight than it is to treat the diabetes or heart disease that comes from a life time of unhealthy choices.

Of course, the ounce of prevention adage works in other areas as well. Ask the renter who lost all of her possessions and didn’t have renters insurance. Ask the worker who made a very good living but chose to spend everything she made, without even thinking about saving, a few weeks after she gets the pink slip. Ask the frustrated mom on the side of the road after her minivan has broken down, the one who didn’t think getting the oil changed was that much of a big deal.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure but (and I’m on a roll with these old sayings) hindsight is also 20/20. As she stands in the ramshackled living room that $20 a month for the renters insurance doesn’t sound too bad. Likewise, saving and getting routine car maintenance would make a lot of sense in the face of the lay-off or an unexpected breakdown.

The trick is to use that ounce of prevention before those bad things happen.

I think we aren’t concerned about prevention because we just don’t think that bad thing (whatever it is) will happen to us. Sure people are losing jobs but you are okay. They need you. Don’t they? And your car, it’s just fine. Isn’t it?

When that dreaded event happens, we are blindsided. I was one of those people I didn’t have renters insurance. I never saved for a rainy day and I let my car go without maintenance for far too long. Yet after years of being hardheaded, I learned to look for the ounces of prevention because a pound of cure can be expensive!

The ounce of prevention can cost too – in both time and money. Insurance isn’t free and car maintenance certainly isn’t. It does take time to locate and compare policies and to take the car to be serviced. Saving some money isn’t nearly as much fun as spending (at least to me) but these are small costs when you consider the alternative.

Look for areas where you can find those ounces of prevention and when you find them, take action. Because an ounce of prevention won’t do you any good once you need a pound (or more) of cure.

Monday, March 8, 2010


You have a plan. You are committed to your plan. You are working your plan. But, something isn’t right. You are getting results, but you aren’t happy with the results you are getting. It isn’t what you expected. In fact, you aren’t even sure this is what you want anymore. You might even know that you don’t want it anymore. What should you do?

Well, a U-Turn might be in order.

From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to be an attorney. On rainy days, I’d play court in the basement. I would set up two TV trays, one representing the defense and the other the prosecution. For the judge, I moved one bar stool behind the bar and placed the ice breaker there so he could pound it and demand “Order in the court.” My teddy bear Curtis played all the witnesses. I would jump from tray to tray, examining and cross examining my ‘witness’ and occasionally I’d jump behind the bar and pound my mallet and make a ruling. What can I say, I was an only child.

When I got to college, I declared journalism as my undergraduate major. I thought the focus on writing and speaking would serve me well when I got to law school. There was one problem. By the time senior year rolled around, I had this nagging feeling that the law wasn’t for me. We had to take a number of law classes in –J-School, because the law plays such a major part in a lot of the news stories we’d be covering and I realized something. I didn’t like it.

I realized that I was in love with the idea of the law. I was in love with what I thought it was. The reality was something different entirely. And I didn’t like that reality.

My path was clear though. I was traveling in one direction. I was looking into law schools and my boyfriend at the time was looking into trying to get his commission somewhere near where I was going to be (based on the law school I chose). My father and my family were looking forward to having a lawyer in the family.

I made a U-Turn … and a pretty big one at that.

I decided not to go to law school. I couldn’t see spending three years and tens of thousands of dollars doing something I knew I didn’t want to do, something my heart was no longer in. I also knew, for a bunch of personal reasons, that I needed to end my relationship … and it really was me and not him. I just wasn’t ready.

My father and family still regret that I’m not a lawyer. I’m sure my ex- doesn’t regret the breakup, as he went on to meet and marry a wonderful woman and they have a great family. Regardless of what anyone else thinks or thought, what they feel or felt, I had to do something for me.

I disappointed everybody; but, I’m okay with that. I couldn’t live my life for them. I had to be true to myself. As the only one living my life, I’m the only one who controls when to put on the brakes, when to speed up and when to make a u-turn.

I’ve made a few more u-turns since then and I’ve taken my share of flack for those decisions but I’d rather chose my own path then have someone chose it for me or stay on the wrong path for fear of what someone else thinks.

When a driver makes a u-turn, it’s because he realizes that he’s going in the wrong direction and no matter how hard he tries, going the wrong way will never get him to his destination. Think about it.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

It's In Your Hands

My friend Timogi is an incredible woman. She is a poet, clothing designer, business woman and motivational speaker. She hosts what she calls Sistah Parties. At a Sistah Party, Timogi has a table filled with random kitschy knick knacks and two stacks of cards, one with quotes and one with questions. The women at the party each come up to the table and pick an item or a card and Timogi explains the significance and allow the women to discuss it. I love Sistah Parties and I’ve been to several. I never get bored because each party is different.

I attended a Sistah Party a few weeks ago and a woman got up and picked up what looked like a DNA molecule. She handed it to Timogi. Timogi looked at it and said, “Our DNA determines a lot of what makes us who we are. It determines our gender, our height and any number of things. But what we do with what our DNA has given us is up to us.” Then she went over to the woman who selected the molecule and handed it back to her. While she is holding it, Timogi said, “It’s in your hands.”


So many times, we let our gender, our race, or our socioeconomic background define us. When we do that, we fail to realize that our destinies, the paths we choose and the choices we make, are really in our hands. It truly is up to us.

In 2010, the only thing that can stop us is us. I am an African-American woman, I recognize that those two factors play a role in who I am and how I experience this world. Yet, those things for me are filters. They are lens that help shape my perceptions. They are not obstacles. They are not barriers. They will not stop me.

I don’t know you personally but I know that you have your struggles, your demons, and your complicated pasts. However you got to where you are, the rest is now up to you. It’s in your hands.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Find the Time

A friend of mine is an author-in-waiting. She has two books inside of her just waiting to come out. She has the ideas. She knows the story. She can see the characters vividly in her mind, almost as if they are friends. When she talks about it, you can see the excitement in her eyes and hear it in her voice. If only she would sit down and write it.

She says she really wants to do it but she doesn’t have the time. I told her that I’d written 3 screenplays by devoting 30 minutes a day to writing. Some days getting through that 30 minutes was painful. I would sit and look at a blank page, and then I’d look at the timer and realize I had 27 minutes left! Other days, I couldn’t wait to write and when that buzzer went off, I couldn’t stop. Most days, I did my 30 minutes and moved on.

But I had to make the time. And if it really matters, you can make the time. I have a friend who would stop by Starbucks on the way home and take a book with her. She’d buy a bottle of water and read a chapter or two before she got home. A co-worker had a pair of tennis shoes she’d leave at work, she’d get to work about 45 minutes early, throw on her shoes and get a good half-hour of walking in before she started her day.

Me? I had a hard time working out in the evening. I had all day to talk myself out of it and dread it. Then something would happen and I’d convince myself that I had to pass on my workout. Since childhood, I’ve been a night person so when the suggestion to get up and work out was made, I’d immediately dismiss it.

As the number on the scale gradually increased, I knew I had to do something. What I had been doing was not working, so I had to do something else. I got up a half hour and did a light workout. I did that for a few weeks. Then I moved the clock back another fifteen minutes. After another two or three weeks, I moved it back one more time. I was getting up an hour earlier and working out. Me the quintessential night owl was getting up with the roosters!

If you want it bad enough, you’ll find the time and if you can’t find it, you’ll make it by getting up a little earlier or going to bed a little later. Because it would be a shame if my friend never wrote those books, or if my other friend missed out on the magic of reading or if I missed out on the benefits that I reap from consistent exercise.

Time is the treasure and you are on the hunt.