Friday, January 31, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 11 - Say You Don't Know)

I embarked on this blogging journey to force myself to work through my experiences and share things I've learned. I use language to process, so while I want and appreciate your readership, this whole thing is about me processing my life experience to date. I am sharing these lessons to grapple with one simple truth:

I don't know.

I have feelings I don't understand. I have insecurities I want to fight. I have fears I don't want to face. I am attempting to wrestle with questions whose answers I don't know. And it's ok to not know. It's freeing to say "I don't know." Understanding what you don't know is the first step in learning something new.

When you are no longer responsible for generating the answer, you can truly appreciate the question. 

So today I sit before you and say that my questions remain unanswered - I am surrending to not having to figure it all out. I, simply, don' t know and that's just fine.

Twenty-one more days


Thursday, January 30, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 10 - If Part of It's Broken, It All Could Be Broken)

I have a lot of strong opinions about a lot of things, particularly around racism, sexuality, inequality, and marginalization. As a result, I spend a lot of time thinking about systems and how they affect our collective existence. While no issue can be (or should be) condensed into a sound bite, I have learned something that applies across the board:

If part of a system is broken, it's probable that all of the system is broken - even the parts that currently work in your favor.

Systems are never perfect: something or someone is always overlooked, trapped, crushed, or dismissed by them. There are things that you as a person are taking for granted at this very moment. The ability to read this puts you in a privileged position on a variety of levels. And there are also plenty of times when the system does not work in your favor.

When the system works for you, take stock of all of the pieces that had to converge for that to happen. When it doesn't work, consider what you can contribute to fix it, change or, or discard it.

Ultimately, this is a lesson on empathy and recognizing that there are structures in place that reward some behaviors and punish others. This isn't necessarily because some behaviors and experiences are objectively better, it is because those behaviors and experiences are favored. Just because the system rewards you, it doesn't mean that you are better. Remembering that allows us all to be more aware of our place in this world.

"Better" doesn't exist in a vacuum. Rewards are distributed to benefit the system, not necessarily the recipient. Any system always works in its favor.

Racism rewards behaviors and experiences that are White-centered; sexism rewards behaviors and experiences that are male-centered; capitalism rewards behaviors and experiences that are money-centered; consumerism rewards behaviors and experiences that are consumption-centered...the list continues. When you are rewarded by these systems, ask yourself - what system did I contribute to? And if someone else was not rewarded, why not? Not "what did they do wrong?" Rather, "what did the system see in me that protects itself? What did it not see in someone else?" 

Every moment is an opportunity to question our assumptions. When the veneer is cracked, don't jump to repair it. Take a moment to lift it up, and see what you're actually working with.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 9 - Laugh Loudly and Often)

Happy Wednesday. This never ceases to be funny to me:


I really enjoy making people laugh and laughing with them. Anyone who has ever met my mother knows that it's impossible to not laugh in her presence, and if I'm a third as funny as she is, I'm one lucky individual.

I also spend a lot of my time being serious, though as I get older I take myself decidedly less seriously. Adulthood is filled with so many moments you have to take seriously, it becomes a welcome break to engage in foolishness of any kind. 

Today's lesson is to occasionally embrace foolishness. Laugh loudly and often. Look for the humor in things.

Happy Wednesday!



Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 8 - Recognize Your Best and Worst Qualities)

I am really nosy. Most of the time, this trait exhibits itself as a healthy curiosity sated by an hour or two on Wikipedia. However, there are moments when I'm digging just to dig: I want to know the who, what, why, when, and how of any of your lives at any given moment.

I've probably Googled you and it feels good to get that off my chest.

Our best qualities and our worst qualities are often closer than we want them to be.

This same nosiness actually makes me really good at my job. I listen to artists talk about their projects and genuinely want to know the details. I like to think this also helps me be a good friend - I like to listen and work through issues with people I care about. I work very hard at recognizing when issues are just not my business (to varying levels of success) because I know my nosy tendencies. I also work hard at making sure that someone wants to share information I'm asking for. Intrusive prying isn't helpful and it's taken me a while to learn that.

By recognizing our truths (good or ill) we are empowered to behave our best instead of doomed to live at our worst.

I feel that often times we assume we are better people than we are. It's how we get into those "I don't know that happened" situations - we assumed we would make better choices than we did. There are situations for all of us that can lead us to behaving our worst: don't ignore those situations, recognize them and commit to doing better. Find situations where that same "negative" tendency is an asset. Find even more situations where your best tendencies flourish. Be conscious of what you look like at your best and at your worst: aim for more of the former knowing you can't outrun the latter.

In short, be great as often as possible. And when you're not, let me know. ;)

Twenty-three days more.


Monday, January 27, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 7 - Be Kind Until You Can't)

Kindness is really a gift that keeps on giving. It is amazing how a simple act of kindness can make any interaction more pleasant and more efficient. Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and recognizing someone's effort with kindness - even if the effort they are showing is part of their job - is always a good idea.

There are times, however, where kindness isn't the answer.

As a Black woman, often my anger is both assumed and vilified. Simple requests for action are deemed aggressive. I have many a personal story of having to couch questions in flowery language just to be heard. Women, in general, are socialized to believe that anger isn't an appropriate response, lest we be deemed hysterical or irrational or overly sensitive. Kindness becomes the assumed default, and when women (particularly Black women) are not kind, we are ignored or belittled or gaslighted.

Kindness is a courtesy - not a prerequisite for recognizing someone's humanity. 

Lead with kindness: be open to giving people as much positivity as you can. More often than not, a kind word will get you what you need. Just recognize when someone is mistaking your kindness for weakness. What you need has value, regardless of how you ask for it.

Be kind until you can't, then do what you have to do. 

24 days of kindness (or not) left.



Sunday, January 26, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 6 - Rest When You Need It)

Living in New York City, there is a constant need to do more, be more, see more. And while being driven is not geographically limited, I will say the sheer number of opportunities available here is staggering. One always feels like they're missing out on the coolest thing that ever happened, so one is constantly trying to do everything.

No matter the specifics of an opportunity, if you can't give it the attention it deserves, it is not the right opportunity. 

If you're not resting, you can't feasibly be available to the right opportunities. Rest isn't just sleep, it's giving your mind the chance to regain clarity and focus. It's almost impossible to plan and execute at the same time: resting allows you to assess where you are and pivot intelligently before you get swept up in a current of activity.

When you approach a task rested and refreshed, the task becomes less daunting and more beneficial.

Recently, I took a break from the day-to-day operations of my company, Colloquy Collective. As a tiny, emerging organization, it is easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer number of necessary tasks (not to discount the awesome efforts of my Board of Directors, Advisory Board, and interns). I had to take a step back and reassess how effective I was being as the leader of this company. I know there were opportunities missed, however, the opportunity to rest was as beneficial for the organization as it was for myself.

Organizations should occasionally take breaks too. The constant pressure to produce can lead to mission drift, stagnancy, and mistakes.

Take the time to rest - it is an investment in the work you're about to do.

25 more days.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 5 - Sometimes It's Not That Deep)

Sometimes, it's just not that deep.

Enjoy your Saturday. ;)


Friday, January 24, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 4 - Loving Yourself Is A Revolutionary Act)

In a culture that simultaneously rewards (see: Steve Jobs) and punishes (see: Kanye West) narcissism, it's difficult to understand what side of the self-esteem fence you're supposed to sit. This might be the rantings of just another self-centered millennial, but my conclusion is this:

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act.

There are thousands of messages out in the world that tell us we are the wrong height/shape/size/color/intellect to be loved. Capitalism and consumerism are built on us feeling flawed and spending money to fix those flaws. Pop culture is ripe with ways we should consider ourselves unworthy, unlovable, unattractive. Every day it gets harder to remember that we are complete all on our own.

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act.

Loving yourself is not entitlement, nor pride, nor braggadocio. It is not ignoring your flaws, or loving some falsely constructed version of who you wish to be. It is accurately accounting for every part of you--flaws, boons, warts and all--and saying "I love myself at this moment as I am."

Not "I will love myself when I lose X pounds."

Not "I will love myself when I get my degree(s)."

Not "I will love myself when I find someone else to love me."

Not "I will love myself when I get my stuff together."

But "I love myself in my entirety at this moment and forever after. And even if the world tells me different, I know that I have value. I will reject any message that tells me I'm not enough. I will always work to improve myself, not because I am broken, but because I commit to care for the things I love, especially myself."

When you truly love yourself, your capacity to love others increases infinitely.

The revolution begins when nothing diminishes how you feel about you: you become invincible. You hear more accurately the difference between legitimate criticism and hate; between flattery and love; between authenticity and game. You take care of your needs and are able to be more generous with your spirit.

Loving yourself is a revolutionary act. How will you love yourself today?

27 days.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 3 - The Worst Thing That Can Happen to You Is Rarely That)

In the last 2+ years I have been fired, ended a long-term relationship, failed a class, and tragically lost two mentors and more than a few relatives. Each moment was devastating in its own right, and some hits were harder to take than others.

The worst thing that can happen to us is letting the most tragic thing that ever happened to us be the last thing that ever happened to us. 

The things we fear every day aren't the worst things that can happen to us. The scariest truth is that the universe is surprisingly adept at creating new tragedies. However, that is only outmatched by our collective ability to overcome. The instinct to survive and persist is biological - we are literally built to keep going. I'm not one to justify tragedies by implying they all happen for a reason: many things are just awful and random. 

However, every moment you exist after those tragedies is a triumph worth celebrating.

So whatever you are fighting right now, you are winning. The worst thing that can happen to you already happened and you survived. Just take the next breath, keep going, and keep winning.

Twenty-eight days left. 



Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 2 - Ask the Hard Questions)

Twenty-nine days left until thirty and today's lesson is Ask the Hard Questions.

The hard questions aren't always obvious.

"Do I want to be with this person?" "Do I want to continue to work this job?" "Am I happy?" Those seem like hard questions, but they are actually just questions with sometimes difficult answers. If the answer doesn't inspire another question, your first question wasn't hard enough. And when we focus on answers we can easily make up ("Of course, I want to be with him/her." "I need this job, so sure I'll stay."; "I'm always happy.") we let ourselves off the hook. At the very least, we ask those questions with a general idea of the answer.

The hard question is the one you don't want to ask, not because you fear the answer, but because you genuinely don't know the answer.

"Is this relationship giving me what I need?" "Does this job value me in the same way I value it?" "Do I love myself enough to allow for happiness?" These questions require work that can't only be done internally. The hardest question I've asked myself in recent memory was "Do I need a committed romantic relationship to feel like my life is complete?" I am working through the answer, but realize this is the first time in my adult life I've allowed myself to ask it. 

What's a hard question you'd like to ask of yourself or soemone else?


Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Countdown to 30: 30 days, 30 Lessons (Day 1 - Speak Up)

Today marks a milestone in the #CountdownToThirty: 30 days left. And I've decided to share 30 lessons I've learned over the last 30 years in a lesson a day. Friends will be tagged and stories will be shared all in the hopes of arriving at 30 with clarity, laughter, and motivation.

So without further adieu, today's lesson is simply this: Speak up.

In August of 2012, I wrote an e-mail looking for a fight. I had some serious thoughts that I wanted addressed, and the people to whom I wrote stated they wanted the feedback. So I sent a rather harsh e-mail, and the recipient invited me to meet him. The subject was New Brooklyn Theater's desire to renovate the Slave Theater; the recipient was none other than Artistic Director Jonathan Solari.

I got the fight I was searching for, just with an ally instead of an adversary.

After we met, Jonathan and I become fast friends. Artistically and professionally we wanted the same things for Bed-Stuy with slightly different approaches; personally, he just turned out to be one of the coolest people on the planet. We have since collaborated on some amazing things and have been able to support each other in this Founding-Artistic-Director-struggle. Had I not spoken up, I would have missed a chance to get to know an amazing person and collaborator: my life and work would be worse for it.

And this other time I was on Twitter in my feelings.

Social media-ing while sitting in your feelings is rarely a good idea. However, one day I decided to do just that. And a friend offered me words of encouragement. I texted him a thank you, and we proceeded to have one of the most honest and fulfilling conversations I've ever had. It was unique in that we never talked like that previously. It was a random and honest moment of connection - a testament to his generosity as a person. I got through the day and got out of my feelings, but realized (again), had I not said something I would have missed it. I'm not even sure he knows what that (and subsequent) conversations meant to me.

Speaking up is not about burdening those around you. It is about trusting that your thoughts have enough value to create something amazing.

Telling someone how you feel (good or ill) is not just for unrequited love or bedside confessions. It's an opportunity to trust the people around you to be great; to be supportive; to be attentive. It's an opportunity to be vulnerable, which we should all take more frequently.

Speak up, truthfully and often.