Let’s Hear the Good News

One of the things I love about this time of year is all the posts and pictures of graduates, prom attendees, and weddings. Spring seems to be the time of new beginnings when people share their family’s good news. I’m certain there is good news during other times of the year, but spring seems to be the season for sharing it the most. Under all the layers of trauma and bad news that seems to monopolize the media streams, I just want to hear more good news.

A consensus of marketing agencies says good news doesn’t sell. I pray that is not really true, but even if it is can’t we change that? Everyone loves a feel-good story. I am not convinced we need to hear the same bad news three of four times per day or per week. It feels like the daily news’s rendition of what’s happening in the world is to keep repeating the bad news until some more bad news happens. Well to be fair, some news networks will end the daily report with at least one good news story. It would be wonderful to have more of those.

Uplifting stories not only make us smile; they give us hope. We take pleasure in knowing people are doing good in the world. When someone is rewarded for their work over and above the call of duty, we feel proud. When the underdog wins and overcomes hard times, we all feel like cheering. Good news is encouraging to everyone in the beloved community. Good news motivates us to do good works as well.

Here are some uplifting stories that made the news in May: “A teenage umpire saves a little leaguer from a dust devil; a WWI soldier’s letter to his mom in 1919 is returned to his granddaughter; a teen broke the scholarship record of ten million dollars and has his choice of 149 colleges; a woman once homeless wins $5M in the California lottery; and a 7th grader stops the school bus from veering into traffic after the driver passes out.” These stories will not be broadcasted over and over again like the last violent act of a shooter. They will not receive additional sound bites like the current politicians whose jargon is more backbiting and falsehood than promises and reform. These inspirational stories will fade into the channels of history never to be mentioned again. We should change this.

As I work with children and teens, I see fear and hopelessness. They are bombarded with bad news. They are preparing for bad news. Stranger danger drills, practices for intruder alerts, cyber bullies, climate change, and the end of the world forecasts are ever present in their environment. How are they to believe they have a bright future ahead? More than that how are they to believe they can make a difference in their world? There are mission-based companies in the fields of technology and science doing good that our youth need to hear about. There are also young people who are exemplifying great leadership abilities by make contributions to their communities right now. Our youth need to know these stories. I enjoy seeing their faces light up when they see or hear stories of incredible young people living their dreams.

Have you heard of Campbell Remess, who created Project 365 when he was 9 years old to give gifts to the kids in a local hospital; or Sidney Keys III, who at age 11 started book clubs under the title: “Books n Bros” to encouraged boys from 8 to 12 to embrace literacy? You can learn about these youths and others by googling “children making a positive difference in 2023.” You can also find them on TED Talks and CNN Young Wonders. There are children who have written books, started non-profits, and become advocates for gun safety. There are adults, especially first responders, who have dedicated their lives to helping others beyond their normal jobs. There are brand new college graduates entering the job market for the first time and they need to know that their efforts can add goodness to our world.

Just today I heard a story of a school janitor who is leading the school chess club to national championship. He actually thanked the job that laid him off and caused him to take this janitorial position. Everyday people in our world are making a positive difference with no fanfare or recognition. Their stories deserve to be told. We can be the town crier. We don’t have to wait for the media moguls to decide what needs to be broadcasted, we can use our platforms to spread the good news. What good thing is going on in your family? Who is making a difference in your community? Have you heard or seen someone going beyond the call of duty to create safety, art, literacy, or awareness in your city? Spread the good news. Tell someone all about it, and ask them to share it with the people in their sphere of influence. At the same time limit the amount of bad news you repeat or listen to. Turn off repetitious broadcasts of heinous acts of violence or nonsensical political rhetoric. Tune into positive change agents and advocates who want to make positive change in our world, personally and geographically.

I’d like to believe every one of this year’s graduates, whether high school or college, will be contributors to the good that we so desperately need to hear and see in our nation. I prefer to imagine every new wedding becoming an outstanding family in communities all over the land, and the proms are just the beginning of many celebrations of overcomers and high achievers. I am determined to be a harbinger of good news, inspirational news, and motivational news even in the midst of trauma and mind-blowing disasters, because these negative things are not the only things that are happening around us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about pretending terrible things don’t happen, I’m talking about not letting them consume everything good.

In the midst of trauma and terrible things happening communities come together to help and support the injured. Individuals turn into charitable manpower contributing time and money to resource material losses. Organizations exist and are being formed to meet the needs of persons whose means have been depleted by nature or by humans. Strangers have leapt to action to rescue endangered children, adults, and animals. I’m not sure who coined the phrase, “Difficult times often bring out the best in people,” but I agree. Sometimes the worst situations and circumstances finds a way to bring out the best in the community; suddenly we become true neighbors. This is good news.

What’s the good news in your neighborhood? family? city? state? Let’s hear it. Come on, share it! Start with your family and friends, then spread it on your media feed. Consider sending an email to your local news commentator. Share it with teachers at the middle or high school. Schedule them for career day at your local elementary school. Perhaps you could invite the person or persons to be guest speakers at your next club meeting or church social. Perhaps you are the source of good news. Don’t be afraid to toot your own horn just a little. You may be just the inspiration someone needs to make a good news move of their own. We can do this.

Let’s become Good News Influencers in our society. Let’s do it for our youth. Let’s do it to spread hope. Let’s do it because it’s the right thing to do. Don’t let spring be the only season to spread the good news.

Morehouse School Medicine Graduates 2023

What are you working for?

It seems like we spend most of our adult lives working – eight hours plus per day on the job and another two or three hours in household chores. In times past, we could multiply these hours by thirty or forty years on the same job. Today, those years may be applied to a diverse number of jobs. Nevertheless, work occupies much of our time and energy. Why? What are we working for? Are our standard answers to these questions really true? Are we achieving the goals we want to accomplish?

I can remember my first job at the age of fifteen. All I wanted was to have my own money to spend on whatever I wanted. No longer would my mother be able to dictate my spending. It turns out, she didn’t have to; life took care of that. There was bus fare, uniforms, the cost of lunch, toiletries, and I had to support my own habits. Taxes! No one told me that the government was allowed to take a portion of my money for taxes. My first big purchase was a folk guitar which cost $75. I had to save up for it over several paydays on the layaway plan. It wasn’t long before I realized I had to work for necessities before I could afford pleasures. As I grew older living expenses became larger along with taxes, and I continued to learn I wasn’t in complete control of my money.

My mom’s generation had a better understanding of delayed gratification (of course this is a broad generality assuming that everyone was like my mom). They knew how to save and wait for the ability to finance their dreams. Their goals were to see their children achieve and accomplish more than they had. Many of them left the Deep South and the life of agriculture for better opportunities (least wise they thought it was for better opportunities). Working in factories and on assembly lines replaced the seasonal work of sowing and harvesting crops. However, many of them still worked from sunup to sundown, and the cost of living was harsh as the winter weather. Yet the sacrifice seemed worth it if their children were able to get a quality education that would lead to upward mobility. Some of us became teachers, doctors, lawyers, and preachers as a result of their hard labor. Others simply followed their parents into the workforce of steel mills, factories, and domestic work. My mom and her generation would say they were working for posterity.

I certainly can’t speak for my entire generation, but I venture to say we want similar things for our children. However, we also want upward mobility for ourselves. Delayed gratification is not celebrated. We want it faster. We want more and we are willing to make changes to get it. We are not the generation who will remain in one job for thirty years. We are not the people who will live in the same neighborhood for a lifetime. Our educational choices include both public and private institutions. Our occupations include entrepreneurship and multiple streams of income. There is extended family disconnect because we will move across the country or across the world for perceived opportunities, financial or otherwise. It seems like we are working for a better house, a better car, better benefits, better vacations, more prestige and power. We have more debt than the previous generations, but we know what we’re working for. Do we?

Late in life I had an epiphany that I tried to teach my children and grandchildren. It was a plan to enjoy life more whether in work or in leisure. Here is how the plan works. Choose a career path that you believe you would enjoy doing. In other words, you love it so much you would consider doing it for free. If you are going to spend a great deal of your time and energy working, why not enjoy the work? Pursue the necessary education for it. It may not include a four-year college degree; it may be a trade school or an apprenticeship. Whatever the educational requirements are, pay as you go so that you don’t carry debt into your future. Curtail your spending desires. Determine your real needs. Do you need a new car? Do you need to buy a house now? Do you need to take luxury vacations every year. Whatever you determine your real needs to be map out a budget of time and money to achieve those needs/wants efficiently and frugally. Your dreams/goals don’t have to look like anyone else’s vision. Don’t compete with your peers or your neighbors. Don’t be swayed by media or advertisements. Choose your path, but don’t be afraid to start over or to reinvent yourself. I’m pleased to say one of my sons and one of my grands seem to be pursuing this plan and are happy for it.

I discovered early on that I love being a teacher, so it became easy to implement this gift/talent/calling into multiple areas of my life. Although I’m not a morning person, when I arrive in front of my students, I come alive. If you know anything about teaching, you know this is not the profession for mega-bucks. However, there are major benefits to being a mother like the same off days as your children. Being a teacher has met my goals and dreams in so many ways. I worked to spend time with my family and to travel. My children and grandchildren were afforded summer vacations (and sometimes spring break vacations) since they were very young. My sons and I set out to see every amusement park in America. We didn’t make it to all of them, but we certainly had fun trying. My grandchildren and I made a point of going to museums and beaches, as well as visiting our family members across the states. They got to meet great aunts and uncles, and cousins across the nation. Being a teacher also means life-long learning, so every vacation had an educational component. My goals were simple, but I knew what I was working for, and it hasn’t changed much since I retired.

While I’d love to downsize my home (we are empty nesters now), trading higher cost for a smaller property would interrupt our goals. My husband came out of a three-year retirement to pursue his artistic vocation (www.donwilsonartist900.com) and play golf. I retired but I still find time to be a substitute teacher during the school year. I also volunteer as a GED teacher. The extra money is for traveling and writing conferences. We work to fulfill our personal dreams and goals. We also work to spend more time with the family and our friends; to help others (charities and volunteerism); and to produce our craft (fine art for my husband and books for me). We have reinvented ourselves several times over the years. Teaching and writing are always at the center of my desires. I drive a pretty old car. I’ve held on to clothes until they came back in style. I’ve driven to more vacation spots than I have ever flown to because I’m cost conscious. However, I am not deprived of the things I enjoy the most – the things that I work for – the things that are important to me.

The cost of living and taxes are not going away. We all work to pay these, but what else are we working for? I would love to hear your perspective whether you are very happy or somewhat disillusioned. What can you do to make your labor truly worth it? What are your true priorities? There are no right or wrong answers. This is not a competition. This is about what’s right for you and what brings you the most satisfaction in life.

Focus on your wants and needs. Become proactive in your choices. Forget about competing in the rat race. Help others along the way. Work to live and enjoy life.

Don and I enjoying life with our dog, Lady Love

All in The Family

By now you know that family is one of my highest priorities, and when I say family, I am not only speaking of blood relations. My identity, my values, and my worldview are steeped in the love of a multi-generational heritage. I don’t know any other way. From my childhood I have always had three to four generations uniquely tied to my life – my grandparents, great grandparents, the elderly lady down the street, the old gentleman from the church, the children in my daycare center, my high school students, my children’s friends. People of all ages have been and are a part of my proverbial village. I find this to be a great advantage and a blessing because every generation has made my life richer with their unique perspective.

I’ll have to admit my family is a lot like a fruit cocktail tree. (That’s a specialty tree grafted to bear a variety of different fruits such as plums, nectarines, apricots, and peaches at the same time.) You will find a wide variety of opinions, beliefs, moods, outlooks, and attitudes among us. You might even question whether one of us truly belongs to the family, but in time you will see the inseparably connections. The foundations of our fore parents keep us well-grounded and attached to each other. Faith and love keep us thriving and growing.

While it may be true that people are living longer today than in times past, it’s also true that quality of life and human connection contributes to long life. We can’t give medicines all the credit. Our lives are richer and fuller when we invest time (work and pleasure) into the lives of others. That goes for the very young as well as the very old. You haven’t enjoyed the wonders of nature and the world until you’ve seen it through the eyes of a child. You can’t learn to appreciate you stand next to a master gardening in whose hands have tilled and sown the soil. Our souls are enriched when we receive the expressions of all ages.

Sadly, we are losing these interpersonal intergenerational connections. In our mobile and transient society many of us may not live near our relatives or childhood neighbors. Some of us multi-taskers may have difficulty finding the time to socialize with our extended family and community. I won’t even mention those of us who think a text, tag, or tweet is sufficient. I guess the real question is about value. How much to we value people? How much do we value relationships? Are our interpersonal connections worth the time and travel?

The other day I had a conversation with my sixteen-year-old granddaughter. She is such a joy to talk to. She’s a deep thinker, very creative, and kind of an old soul. My grandmother would say she’s been here before. At any rate, she paid me such a wonderful complement by saying she liked talking to me because I “got her” and she always knew what she would get when she shared something with me, meaning honesty. I worked hard to establish this bond with her when she was very young. I had no idea that she would one day live so far away. I was used to seeing her every day. Yet the distance between California and Georgia has not broken our bond. We Facetime often and I plan to visit her this summer. Our relationship is genuine. I am interested in the things that concern and interest her. Sometimes we respectfully agree to disagree. I’d like to think I’m helping to shape her worldview just as my ancestors helped to shape mine. I am certain she’s reshaping my view of the world by sharing the perspective of a progressive young woman of this era.

The last time my mom (soon to be 91), my oldest son (44), my other granddaughter (soon to be 21), and myself (no I’m not telling you my age😀) sat in the family room talking we had so much fun laughing at and with each other. We ran through a variety of subjects: high fashion in our various school days, dating (or courting depending on one’s age group), cooking successes and failures, and ghost stories. It was so reminiscent of a conversation I had years ago with my grandmother, my aunt, and my cousins. We were sharing the human experience from one generation to another. We were sharing our love, adventures, dreams and goals, but more importantly this fellowship was all in the family.

I believe family connections and multi-generational relationships are needed to give us balance and a sense of belonging. We all need stories of perseverance and persistence to encourage us. We need stories of success and survival in the face of failure to inspire us. We can benefit from stories of witty invention and following dreams to motivate us. Stories of defeat and disappointment have value as well. These interpersonal connections can build strong foundations for the young and give value and purpose to our elders. All of this is in the family, the family of our birth and the family of our beloved community. All we have to do is seek out these relationships.

Be intentional. Reach out to that great aunt or uncle. Invite your elderly neighbor to brunch. Ask the eldest member of your family to share something from their childhood. Give a young child an opportunity to talk about their favorite things. Have a multi-generational talent show. Use photos albums (even the ones on your phone) as springboards to conversations. Plan a family reunion. Take a multi-generational vacation. Make an effort to be in the physical presence of someone outside of your age range. Seek to understand persons outside of your range of experiences. You may be surprised at the vicarious wealth and resources available to you. You may even be surprised that you really enjoy the contact.

“A good life depends on the strength of our relationships with family, friends, neighbors, colleagues and strangers.” David Lammy

Connect, relate, enjoy, and appreciate every generation! Afterall, it’s all in the family.

The Ark Experience in Kentucky
Spring Break 2023
A Multi-generational vacation.

Beware of Labels

Most of you know I don’t like the identity labels used to determine what generation someone belongs to i.e., GenX, Millennials, Gen Z, Silent Generation, etc. However, this post is not about those labels. This post is about a different kind of label. I think I’ll call these “pigeon-hole labels.” Here’s a definition I got from the internet for pigeon-hole: “disapproving – used to say someone or something is unfairly thought of or described as belonging to a particular group, having only particular skills, etc.” (www.britannica.com) One example of this is to say, “Everyone who is homeless has a mental illness.” This is unfair and an untrue descriptive statement. Mental illness becomes a pigeon-hole label for the homeless people. It becomes a way to disapprove of two separate groups by pairing them together,

Working in the school system for many years I readily admit I have heard, accepted, and used labels indiscriminately. Yet, I am most bothered by students using negative labels about themselves or other students. They call themselves dumb, clumsy, and ugly. I’ve also heard students call other students crazy, stupid, and trolls. There was one student in my class that the other students called The Thing (ref. The Fantastic Four). It was not a term of endearment. He was taller than all the other children, overweight, and academically behind. One day when we were outside, I asked him why he wasn’t playing with the other kids. He said he was tired of chasing them around. I said then play something different. He said I can’t they only let me be the monster. He spent the rest of recess sitting on the sidewalk watching the other kids play. It was sad that the other kids called him a monster, but it was sadder still that he accepted this label.

As adults we must become more aware of how we use labels. People have so many attributes. No one label is ever enough to describe someone. While a family may be poor, they may also be resilient. A person with a learning disability may also be the most caring and giving individual in the room. A person who enjoys physical activities may not have any desire to be an athlete, they may choose to be a math whiz instead. We must be careful not to make one label so big that a person cannot see themselves in a different light.

There is a music video I love, it shows children and young adults holding signs with descriptive negative labels such as “Lost, Rebellious. Worthless” in front of their sad faces. At the end of video, as the song progresses, those labels are changed to more positive descriptions such as “Triumphant, Forgiven, Victorius.” These positive labels are held under smiling faces. (https://youtu.be/xctUxzZhNRs). Last week I shared this video with a friend and colleague. In turn she shared a story with me. It was about a boy who used to attend the afterschool program at the Boys and Girls Club. One day he saw a sign that said they served “disadvantaged youth.” He said that was when he discovered he was “disadvantaged.” Although he laughed when he said it, it was obviously painful to him. My friend said she felt an immediate conviction. I replied, “Labels are hard to outlive and stick until corrected by someone in authority.” I shared my friend’s conviction.

No one wants to be pigeon-holed, but too many people are, especially youth and young adults. They are not all hoodlums, gangsters, lazy, entitled, selfish, losers. When we as adults affirm negative labels, we are guilty of destroying hope and vision. We are guilty of damaging the self-worth of another individual regardless of age. This is not the way of our ancestors. This is not the way to build community.

The so-called Silent Generation (my mom’s generation) spoke success over their children, the Baby Boomers (my generation), and the Baby Boomers promoted adventure and prosperity in the lives of the Gen-Xers (my sons’ generation). What is being spoken over the next generations? Is it hopeful, redeeming, transforming, or visionary? Does it build up self-worth and security in one’s identity? Or does it bring shame, insecurity, and rejection? Beware of labels; they have the power to build up or tear down.

It would be interesting to see what labels we carry around about ourselves. As you ponder your labels, imagine what labels your children and grandchildren carry with them every day. It may give you a chance to change their perspective by giving them some new positive and true labels. You have the power to influence character.

Be caring. Be wise. Be selfless. Be the best you can be.

Fine Tuning for Harmony

I love music, particularly instrumental music. I still remember going to Severance Hall and listening to the Cleveland Orchestra during my childhood. Being in the audience of that beautiful hall and listening to the music of Beethoven, Strauss, and Mozart was a place of enchantment for me. The music captured my spirit and took away to faraway places. Years later, I was blessed to hear the Los Angeles Philharmonic. My adult appetite began to embrace opera and world class musicians and singers like: Jessye Norman, Kathleen Battle, Luciano Pavarotti, Andre Watts, and Yo-Yo Ma. (Just to mention a few.) During the holidays last year, I enjoyed the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra and Chorus. It’s amazing to see how so many instruments and voices can harmonize and make such sweet music.

When you first arrive in a concert hall (or a jazz club) you would not believe that all those people on stage with their various instruments could actually create such beautiful harmonies. Everyone seems to be playing a different note as they warm up and prepare to play. The brass instruments sound like bad drivers honking their horns. The strings sound like cats and babies whining. The woodwinds sound like squeaks and the percussions rumble in the background. Everyone seems to be doing their own thing with no regard for the people around them. Then the conductor takes his or her place and silence permeates the air. The baton is raised, and every note is aligned in perfect harmony. All the fine tuning, all the cacophony disappears into a unified composition of musicianship.

As I watch the students in my class I hope for future unity. As I watch the news and see the various acts of violence, I pray for someone to bring silence and harmony. As I see the heroes and she-roes who sacrifice their time and use their talents to help the homeless and the elderly, I believe human harmony is possible. As I see the youth speaking out against injustice and presenting intelligent ideas about state and federal policies, I am convinced that the different views are the beginning of the fine-tuning process that will bring progress. Every day I ask myself how I can participate in the beloved community to bring more harmony and less dissonance.

Could we fine tune our language to make communication possible between diverse people? Could we fine tune how we express our opinions to allow others the right to have a different opinion without physical conflict? What will it take for us to realize that we are all playing on the same stage called life? We all want the same things: health, happiness, and the means to take care of and protect our families. I’ll admit I probably have more questions than answers, but I believe we each have the ability to influence positive change, especially starting with ourselves.

My ideas, my expectations, my goals, and my efforts today are grounded in the foundations of my grandparents, great grandparents, and parents’ teachings. They embraced the pursuit of happiness, but they did not embrace destroying someone else to get there. They expected every generation to do better than the last but doing better had to include honesty and integrity. They taught us by example to be neighborly and generous because helping someone else was always the right thing to do. They held the baton that taught me how to perform both then and now. So here I am today, trying to figure out how to bring harmony to my small sphere of influence using the tools that they gave me. If it is true that adults (or elders) hold the baton, it is up to us to lead the harmonious composition of love and respect for the next generations.

Well, this post was a little more preachy than I wanted it to be. Yet, I can’t help what motivates my muse to write. I hope something like listening to a beautiful musical composition by a world class orchestra motivates us all to live a better life in community with others.

“Lift Every Voice and Sing, Til Earth and Heaven Ring, Ring With the Harmonies of Liberty…” – James Weldon Johnson

Finding Balance

Image result for Free Clip Art Balance Scale

In my mind’s eye I picture a scale where the heavy side is about to tip the entire apparatus over. On one side there is so little, and on the other side it is loaded with clutter. Sometimes, this scale represents the worrisome thoughts that overload and throw off any peace I may have had. This usually ends in a night of insomnia. Other times, it’s a heavy load of creative ideas that just won’t stop coming. This is my writer’s flaw – thinking and re-thinking story lines. At any rate trying to find balance can be quite difficult. My mental scale is always swinging and seldom fully balanced.

I would love to say I have found the key to finding balance, but that is so far from the truth, that I can’t even attempt a fictitious version of that story. The best I can do is talk about recognizing when it’s time to take something off the scale. For me that looks like full conversations with myself better known as introspection. “What’s going on with you, Pat? Are you stressed? Do you have too many projects going on at once? Are you working on fumes due to lack of sleep? Are you carrying someone else’s burdens? Have you taken the time to prioritize things – first things first? Do you need some help? Have you asked for help? What’s the real deal?” These questions usually slow me down enough to consider why my world is out of balance.

One of the most common things that weighs me down is saying yes to too many things. Too many good things are just as harmful as too many bad things. Before you know it, you have agreed to do more than you have the time to do or more than you want to make the time to do. Whether work or volunteerism, the tendency to overcommit can definitely throw your mental and emotional scales out of balance. Getting to the root reason of why we can’t say no is a critical one. Relationships that can’t handle an occasional no may be relationships that need to be reconsidered. Yet, it is up to us to prioritize our activities and our relationships. Date books are very old school, but I find I do a much better job of balancing my life and my time by keeping a calendar in front of me. Before I give answers about my availability, I literally check my availability. Whether it’s your smart phone calendar, a day planner, or sticky notes on the window, it’s important to plan and schedule your commitments realistically.

Have you ever overscheduled yourself? I have, too many times. Recently, I agreed to pick up my granddaughter from college for her spring break, signed up to attend a writer’s conference, and committed to fill in for a teacher friend all on the same dates. All of these things are important to me. They all need to be done. Yet, it is impossible for me to be in Tennessee, Georgia, and North Carolina at the same time. As I was saying yes to my teacher friend, I had this nagging feeling that the dates were an issue, but instead of looking at my calendar I agreed to do it. Now I have a dilemma. The writer’s conference is definitely out. Perhaps I can get someone else in the family to pick up my granddaughter, but asking someone to drive to Tennessee is not a small thing. Perhaps I can find someone to work in my place for my teacher friend. I haven’t worked any of this out yet. On top of being over committed, I feel bad because I’ve got to let someone down. The scales are leaning.

Yesterday, I had the thought: I don’t want to be needed anymore. That is evidence that I need to find that balance that keeps me mentally and emotionally stable. Balance includes work, leisure, rest, relationships, personal discipline (This will link you to my blog entitled: A Disciplined Life), quiet time, and personal getaways. I love those signs that say: “Live, Laugh, and Love.” True balance has to have those elements as well. Finding balance isn’t a one-time event. It is a practice in daily living. So don’t beat yourself up, just find a strategy that works for you. Whether you use a day planner or introspection, therapy or a life coach, you can change the weight of your scales.

Say yes when it’s right for you. Say no when it’s best for you. Make the rest of your life, the best of your life. Manage your scales in a way that brings you peace, joy, and fulfillment.

What if you could choose how you want to feel as opposed to simply reacting to the reality that surrounds you? Amazon

Mirror, Mirror!

I wasn’t a Disney princess kind of girl, but one of my granddaughters loves everything Disney. I bought all the story books just to read them to her. The one that always stood out in my mind was Snow White. I love the part where the evil queen looks in the magic mirror every day asking the same question, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, who’s the fairest of them all.” Later I associated Michael Jackson’s song, Man in the Mirror, with the same general idea. “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways.” It makes sense to me that we all need to talk to our reflection in the mirror from time to time.

Those of you who have been following me for a while know how big I am on introspection. According to Merriam-Webster introspection is “a reflective looking inward; an examination of one’s own thoughts and feelings.” I like this definition because it’s simple. Introspection requires looking on the inside to see what’s true and what’s real regardless of the facade you may show on the outside. That’s what so fascinating about the evil queen in the Snow-White story. She was beautiful on the outside and she considered that to be enough, but she was ugly and mean spirited on the inside. The mirror said Snow White was the fairest because she was beautiful inside as well as outside. The evil queen couldn’t come close to the beautiful character traits of Snow White. Nor could she initiate the love and affection that came Snow White’s way. People and animals were drawn to Snow White’s inner beauty.

What do we see when we look in the mirror? Do we see only the outside and forget all about what’s on the inside? It may be harder than you think to examine your true self. Sometimes rather than examining our own thoughts and feelings, we make comparisons. We say things like “I’m doing better than so-and-so,” or “At least I’m not as bad as so-and-so.” This is not true introspection. This may be more closely related to compromise or denial. It may also point to the influencers in our life whether from associations or social media. Like the wicked queen, we may be satisfied with the responses we receive as long as they agree with how we feel. What do we do when the answer is honest and painful? Do we change or do we turn on the one who had the nerve to tell us the truth? This is the problem many of our teenagers are having, discerning and understanding what’s really true.

I was subbing at a school a few weeks back and I was somewhat surprised to see how much the students were into their outward appearance: fabulous fake nails of every color, false eyelashes that looked like slain caterpillars, multicolored synthetic and human hair, and color coordinate crocks, leggings, jeggings, and jeans galore with and without prefab holes; name brand sneakers, slogan shirts, and tats. (Why did I think you had to be 18 or older to get a tattoo?) Add to that cell phones, ear buds, and I-watches. I was shocked at the amount of money invested in the outward appearance of the students. I was also a little dismayed by some of their behaviors and language. What’s wrong with being fashionable and smart, handsome and kind, stylist and articulate? Is there anything wrong with showing off your intellect and character?

I asked one young lady if she had a role model for her style and her answer floored me. She said, “Not really, I just dress to fit in.” I asked her if she had a career path in mind and she said, “Not really I’ll probably just get a regular job. I found out later that a regular job is at a store or something. The teacher in me continued to look at this child hoping for a glimpse of her soul. Finally, there it was, the true prodigy. As we began talking about communication and speech techniques in class, I brought up the style of spoken word poets. She lit up. She was animated, smiling, and contributing to the discussion with enthusiasm. Turns out she considered herself a poet. She even shared one of her poems with the class, a true spoken word poet. I wish I could have videoed that moment. It would have been great for her parents and her other teachers to see the true character of this young lady. She was anything but nonresponsive and nonchalant. It would be even better if she could see herself – talented, gifted, valuable, able to contribute to her academic community.

It may sound old fashion, but our kids need positive role models and mentors. They need an opportunity to see a potential reflection of themselves at a later time in life. Their peers and social media are not enough to foster the hope and possibilities of future successes. They need to hear the truth and importance of character, and intelligence. They need to know that they can be great and accomplish their dreams with hard work and perseverance before they become old and jaded like the evil queen. Like the community of dwarfs, we must protect and watch over our youth until they reach their true destiny as princesses and princes before the evil of this world can destroy them. Wow, I know that sounds over the top, but I see teenagers who feel hopeless, depressed, unseen, and alone every week. They need to be affirmed. They need to be assured. They need to feel useful and valued and seen. When they look into our faces, they need to see faith in their abilities and their dreams reflected back to them.

I’m looking at myself in the mirror and I’m realizing how many people invested in my outcome; how many times I questioned myself and heard from them that I could make it, I could do it. Snow White never knew that the mirror said she was the fairest of all. She would have been content to live as the housekeeper of the seven dwarfs for the rest of her life, but the evil queen was determined to destroy her. We must identify the wicked enemies of our children, the predators, the naysayers, the liars who espouse shortcuts and self-medicating, the carrot danglers – all those who will discourage or dissuade the progress of our youth. We must be the counterpoint to all that is negative so that each one of our children will reach their full potential and claim their rich inheritance. They aren’t in Disneyworld; they are here in the real world with us and it’s up to us to tell them what’s really important, and what’s really true. Hard work, character, and intelligence are the catalyst for success. “Mirror, Mirror on the wall,” tell your children they are the fairest, the best, and the worthy before it’s too late.

Be safe. Be proactive. Be a role model. Be involved.

Brandon is the first spoken word poet to compete on AGT and to receive the Golden Buzzer award in the first round, going on to win the entire competition! Amazon

A Disciplined Life

What do you think of when you hear the word discipline? Do you think of parents spanking their children or a course of study at the university, or perhaps martial arts? Has the word become obsolete for you? There is a lot more to this word than corporeal punishment and academics. The word discipline means “training that corrects, molds, or perfects the mental faculties or moral character; a rule or system of rules governing conduct or activity.” (Merriam-Webster). While I’d love to chase the etymology of the word down the proverbial rabbit hole, I won’t. (You welcome!😊) Let’s just say discipline is a necessary part of life. We can usually all agree on this point.

We admire people who demonstrate discipline. We honor them with medals, awards, scholarships, and other means of recognition. Excellence in sportsmanship, musicianship, academic achievement, military prowess, and other life pursuits happen because of personal disciplines. These types of discipline may include practice, exercise, time management, and lifestyle changes. Disciplined individuals focus on the end goal; they will do whatever is necessary to achieve their goals. People like Serena Williams, Yo Yo Ma, Michael Jordon, and the U.S. Olympians are just a few individuals whose skills and high-performance levels depend on how they live and handle themselves, we call that self-discipline. These persons have demonstrated world-class achievements because of their willingness to lead a disciplined life, but what about the rest of us? Do we need personal disciples as well? How much more could we accomplish if we led a disciplined life, personally and professionally? I have no doubt that I could produce more as a writer if I were more disciplined about writing, such as scheduling time to write everyday.

Sometimes discipline is a matter of priority, and believe or not writing isn’t my highest priority. This accounts for my missed deadlines. Different priorities/goals may require different strategies and disciplinary habits. We may have to start off with small changes to build up the necessary disciplines for achieving our prioritized goals. (I certainly did.) I am not saying we all need to go out and hire a life coach or a trainer (although it may help to have an accountability partner), but I am saying we need to become more intentional about who we want to be and what we want to achieve. Then we can set the perimeters for what we must do to achieve our goals and dreams.

I recently read an article by Jennifer Cohen, a former contributor of Forbes. According to her “self-discipline is the number one trait needed to accomplish goals, lead a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy.” (Google: Five Proven Methods for Gaming Self Discipline, Forbes.com, June 18, 2014.) Like Jennifer, many believe (and so do I) that people who practice personal disciplines are not easily swayed by peer pressure, emotional impulses, conflict, or failure because disciplined people are focused on the end game. They make decisions and adjustments based on factual information and personal objectives, rather than peer influence or the latest trends. On a daily basis they chart their progress and revisit their targeted short and long term goals.

Your goals may not be, nor do they have to be compatible with anyone else’s goals. Personal disciplines are self-imposed changes to your lifestyle and personal habits. According to the article mentioned above, there are five proven methods for gaining better control of your habits. (If you get a chance read the entire article.) “1. Remove Temptation. 2. Eat Regularly and Healthily. 3. Don’t Wait for it to “Feel Right.” 4. Schedule Breaks, Treats, and Rewards for Yourself. 5. Forgive Yourself and Move Forward.” I would like to add just one more to this list: Don’t expect others to understand or agree with all of your choices.

Here is an example from my own life. I have to stock sugar free products for my consumption and avoid the temptation to overindulge in carbohydrates. I can’t remove the temptation by forcing others in my home to eat like me, but I can remove myself by having high protein choices easily available. I also have to resist eating out of boredom or depression. I can’t award myself with food. Substituting fresh fruits and raw vegetables is a healthy choice for me rather than my favorites: chocolate cake and ice cream. When I fall off the wagon, I try not to dwell on it. I admonish myself and start again. I revisit my short term and long term lifestyle goals (to lower my A1C and eliminate the need for certain medications). Living a healthier life is my true motivation. Others tell me that I should give myself a break. After all, they say “sugar free products aren’t very good,” but my decisions aren’t based on the opinions of others, nor do I expect them to understand.

Monitoring carbs is just one of my personal disciplines for living a healthier life. Some of my other disciplines are journaling (for personal and spiritual reasons), meditation and prayer, spending time in nature, solitude (my husband calls this being anti-social) and practicing gratitude. (You may remember my gratitude jar from a former blogpost.) Why do I need these disciplines? They help me control my emotions, my actions, and my thought life. They help me stay motivated and grounded. They help me examine my motives and my desires. They help me focus on the person I’m want to be. They stimulate my creativity and establish a sense of contentment and peace. Career and professional achievements are only a small part of the whole picture. My objectives encompass my entire life because I try to see myself holistically rather than compartmentalize each factor of my life. (Check out What is Your Net Worth from 8/22) Lastly, these personal disciplines are checkpoints, they help me to have a realistic view of my progress or regress as I seek to be the best me I can be.

Years ago, I read a book about spiritual disciplines. (Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster) It included forming intentional habits such as: retreat, fasting, simplicity, celebration, silence, academic pursuit (studying), and service (in the community or abroad). I can’t imagine how many disciplines there may be, and I’m not suggesting that we try all of them. I am suggesting that all of us have an opportunity to improve ourselves if we consistently practice self-discipline. Much of the media world around us appeals to our base instincts of self-indulgence and compulsion. Just watch three consecutive commercials on your favorite TV station or live streaming platform, commercials appeal to our appetites for temporary pleasure. They want us to act or react without thinking. They offer us temporary happiness. But don’t we want more than temporary happiness? (Actually, I prefer the word contentment to happiness because of its lasting value. Happiness seems to depend on something happening.)

What if we were motivated “to achieve our goals, live a healthy lifestyle, and ultimately, be happy” as Jennifer stated? Would that change the world? Would it change the marketplace? Who knows? The real question is would it change us, and how would it change our immediate world? It starts with introspection. Where am I and where do I want to be? Who am I and who do I want to be? What steps can I take to reach my goals? What habits do I need to get there? What habits do I have that hinder me? What kind of habits do I need to develop? What personal disciplines are the best personal disciplines for my dreams and goals?

I’m grateful that I was introduced to personal and spiritual disciplines early in my life. They guide my life decisions. They make me more self-aware. Achieving my personal, spiritual, and professional goals is viable. Being healthier in mind, body, and soul is in reach, and experiencing happiness (contentment) on a daily basis is attainable. How about you? Are daily habits and routines leading you to a better life or hindering your accomplishments? I would love to hear about your personal disciplines and how they are helping you achieve your goals.

Stay safe. Stay Sane. Stay on your game! Practice joy!

Powerful lessons in Personal Change (Amazon)

Give Yourself a Break

Sometimes pressure and stress come from outside of our being, but sometimes it come from within. We have our own standards and our own expectations to meet. In fact, we may be convinced that no one can do things the right way like we can. So, when and if failure comes, we are devastated. Devastation may lead to depression. Depression may lead to other health issues. We may feel it necessary to double our efforts rather than ask others for help. Sometimes we feel like we just can’t get a break. The question I have is: where should the break come from, within us or outside of ourselves?

Self-reflection has been critical to finding and loving my true self. For years, I spent so much of my time trying to please others – trying to make them proud of me, love me, recognize my skill set, or approve my methodology. This started in my childhood and continued on throughout a portion of my adult life. I actually used to repeat to myself this mantra: “Everyone else can do 100%, but you must do 200%.” I felt the burden of being the first in several areas of my life, as well as being a role model for those who would follow – the unknown others. My standards, my goals, and my drive had an audience mostly created by my imagination. I never would have believed it back then, but now I see it so clearly. I never gave myself a break, therefore I never truly enjoyed or celebrated my own achievements.

I can’t necessarily take all the credit for this type of thinking. The comments or criticisms of those we love and/or respect can be a catalyst. Perhaps a parent, or grandparent, or a coach, or a boss questioned our efforts when we had given our all. Perhaps an authoritative person compared us to other scholars, workers, or volunteers causing us to reevaluate or double our efforts. Competition may also be a source for such obsessions with accomplishment and determination to reach a certain status. When your work is good, but someone else gets the recognition for their work or receives accolades, you may receive this news as a challenge to be the best next time. Self-doubt and low self-esteem can have the same effects as narcissism. All three of these characteristics are self-centered preoccupations on what others think whether perceived or real.

Now you all know I am not a psychologist or psychiatrist, I’m just a writer trying to use my craft to keep positive conversations going through stories and poetry. So today, I’m sharing a wakeup call from my life. One day, I realized I was miserable when I should have been happy. I had accomplished many of my dreams. I had many successes under my belt academically and in my career. My family life was great. Religiously and spiritually, I was growing. I (we) had property and savings. I had traveled all over the U.S. and abroad. So why was I miserable? Who could I point the finger at or blame? Who put the target on my back that would never let me take a break. After some introspection during a personal retreat, the answer was clearly ME. Yes, me.

So many people in my family, even my husband, saw me as driven. They thought I was driven by my own desires and dreams. Each time I reinvented myself, they thought I had a plan and was going for it, but some of those times I was just quitting before potential failure could manifest. Sometimes I was competing with persons younger than myself, but of course they didn’t know that because the competition was in my head. Other times, I was hiding my weirdness, aka giftedness, because I hated when people saw them as an unfair advantage. (This usually had something to do with my ability to write or my discerning interaction with children.) I couldn’t, and I didn’t ever give myself a break or take the time to really celebrate my successes. While it was true that I was the first in many cases, no one was pushing me to be better than good. No one was creating the challenges in my mind but me. I invented my own “rat race.”

Over the years I have developed two favorite retreat locations: Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, GA. and Hendersonville, TN right outside of Nashville. I try to spend two or three days in these places to reset my spirit and my goals a couple of times each year. (If I only have a day, then any place with water works i.e. the lake at the monastery or Stone Mountain Park, or West Lake in LaGrange. Rivers are great too like the Oconaluftee.) It’s important to take the time to get in touch with yourself. What are you feeling? What is going on with you? What are your short term and long-term goals? What brings you joy? What causes you stress or sadness? How are you balancing your time between work and family? What are your real priorities? What will you do about failures? How will you celebrate victories? Who do you want to share your life with? (By the way, these are journaling events.)

As I was watching Serena Williams on ESPN she said something that triggered this train of thought after winning her match. “For years I had a target on my back . . . but today I don’t have anything to prove, I don’t have anything to win, and I absolutely have nothing to lose. I’m just Serena, you know . . .” I took it to mean she could simply enjoy her last days playing tennis. She could play her game to her standard. Win or lose, she was doing what she set out to do. Needless to say, everybody has an opinion of what she should do, how she should do it, and whether retirement is the right move for her, but what matters most is her own opinion, her own decisions. That’s personal growth. Others may indeed try to place stress on your life, but you can give yourself a break. You can play the game of life your way.

There are many events that may require you to give yourself a break: a newborn baby, being a care provider for an elderly relative, a bad medical diagnosis, changing positions in your place of employment, airline travel canceled by weather or other things out of your control, broken appliances, auto accidents, a national pandemic, social distancing, menopause, arthritis, death of a loved one. I could go on, but you get my point. Any number of things can change or upset your plans, but none of it makes you less than. Give yourself a break. So, what if it takes two more hours, two more days or two more weeks to get a thing done. So, what if it didn’t turn out the way you planned at all. It may be time to reevaluate. It may be time to come up with a new plan. It may be time to say the magic words: “I need help.” It may be time to take a walk or go to the spa, but it’s not time to beat yourself up. You do have a choice. Like Serena, you can raise the bar or lower the bar according to your own standards.

There’s enough going on in our world to keep us on alert and in the battle, but we don’t have to give the outside things permission to take control of what’s inside of us. Rest, relax, enjoy leisure, surround yourself with people who fill your bucket when it’s empty. Take a vacation, or a stay-cation. Read a good book, play a board game with your children, enjoy a romantic evening with your spouse, but don’t miss life’s joys because you won’t give yourself a break. You are your own score keeper. Noone else can determine whether you have given your all. Allow yourself to retreat and reflect and be honest with yourself. (See my blog: Self-Care, a Non-Negotiable.) Are you enjoying your life or are you the one making your life miserable?

I hope this blog entry is relatable. I can tell you now, I am enjoying my life so much more than I use to. I’m smiling more, laughing more. and doing more of the things that bring me peace and joy. How about you? What’s your story? Feel free to share your thoughts with me.

Stay safe, stay free, stay engage in the joys of living!

Giving myself a break.
A beach retreat.

What is Your Net Worth?

Our family reunion was in July. Since then, I have spent weeks sharing and trading pictures with relatives as well as reviewing family history. These activities brought about some introspection. What have I done with my inheritance? What will I pass on to my children and grandchildren? Will my legacy have the same, less, or better value than the legacy I received from my ancestors?

If you have been following me, you know that I attribute much of my values, education, and outlook to the influence of my grandparents and great grandparents. From childhood through adulthood, these were the people who invested their time, talents, and treasures in me and my future. In fact, these were the people who passed on everything they had to the next generation since the 1800’s. Mostly, I remember the time spent with each of them. What precious memories!

As a curious and tenacious only child, I was constantly pursuing knowledge. I wanted to know what everything was and how everything worked or didn’t work. I always had a thousand questions about any given subject. Curiosity was my main character trait, but I can’t remember one time when I was turned away or dismissed by my elders. Oftentimes, they turned my questions into full-fledged lessons which was further than I wanted to go or know. I also remember lots of laughter, both with me and at me when I was feeling particularly silly. More than anything, I remember faith and spirituality, respect for the land and it’s produce, charity and community, stories and singing, and the sacred bonds of family. My life was made richer by their endowments. I’m positive the dividends of their net worth have been multiplied over many generations.

Being the creative writer that I am (LOL), you know I haven’t used all these financial terms to talk about money. The material possessions I have from my grandparents and great grandparents consist of a quilt, some china, a watch, a snake necklace set, and our written family history based on oral tradition. These are all priceless treasures to me, but their total appraised value probably wouldn’t surpass three thousand dollars. To be honest, I’m not sure my children and grandchildren will find much financial value in the material things I will leave behind. Yet, I am striving on a daily basis to leave them the most valuable things I have – a true legacy. My net worth has to be something that will endure and transcend time and place – something that can be passed on perpetually to next generations.

My godson really has a grip on this concept. He defines wealth this way: “The internal assets of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment my life generates, in my life and the lives of others.” (Yes, he is a deep thinker, and I’m so proud of him.) He has been quoted to say, “My life and the people I share it with is my wealth. Loving life is the goal!” So, when I hear the question: What is your net worth? I don’t think of my portfolio or my insurable assets. I think of those intangible benefits that I inherited from my ancestors such as becoming a life-long learner, understanding my own self-worth, being a contributor to the success of the next generation, instilling hope and administering love, demonstrating faith, and implementing such strong support that failures become steppingstones. As my godson says, “internal assets.” These things never lose their value. These things cannot be taken away. These things can be passed on from one generation to the next, and if nurtured can be the catalyst of a successful, fulfilled life.

I am so blessed to have the love and the spirit of my ancestors living inside of me. I am blessed to have experienced their living firsthand. My great grandfather, Will Jackson, the last of that generation, died the year after I got married, but I can still hear his stories; I can still hear his husky laugh and it warms my heart. I have no idea what the monetary value of his life was, but I am absolutely positive he left his children, grandchildren, and his great grandchildren everything he had which makes my net worth priceless.

I plan to continue the tradition. How about you? Do you know your net worth? How do you define wealth? What are you planning to leave the next generation? I’d love to hear from you.

Stay safe, stay invested, count your blessings!

Will Jackson
my great grandfather