6. Believe in yourself the way others do.

While preparing for some mock interviews, I came across a list of potential interview questions that all job candidates should be prepared to answer.  Of course, one of those questions was “What three words would someone close to you use to describe you?”   (Whether or not this is a good interview question isn’t relevant at this point because, let’s be real, who would say, oh, my friends think I’m an idiot?)  Anyway, I began to think about my own answer to that question, and though I have several adjectives that I would like for my friends to use to describe me, I wasn’t really sure what they would say.  Even more importantly, I’m not sure it would matter…to me…in my current state.  I am sure the people closest to me would say some wonderful things, but would I believe them?  Probably not.

To test my theory, I wrote down three words I would like for my friends to use to describe me:

Passionate         Beautiful           Funny

Those are my words.  That’s how I want people to see me.  Now, quite a few people said passionate.  I’m not sure if that’s because it typically leaves my mouth at least five times a day or because people really see my passion.  Only one person said beautiful, and that’s my aunt, so in my mind, it doesn’t count.  Of course, this bothered me.  One person said pretty, but that is in no way the same as beautiful.  Pretty fades and disappears over time.  Beauty is deep; it’s forever.  If someone asked me what it means to be beautiful, as long as I am not talking about myself, I would rattle off a list of adjectives and very few would have anything to do with physical attributes. On the other hand, if talking about myself, I would rattle off a list of physical attributes as to why I am NOT beautiful.  Why?  Because I am rarely appreciated for my physical beauty.  And while I realize how superficial this is (I know all about the beauty myth), it is the truth, and because of that, I have always desired for someone to describe me in this way (outside of family and good friends, of course).  Even men that I have been in relationships with have never, not once, identified one of my best features as something physical.  I’ve gotten a lot of intelligent, smart, strong, etc… Of course, in the end, I’d much rather be intelligent than pretty, but…right now…in this moment…as a single woman who has always struggled with body image…just once, I’d like to hear someone (preferably not family or good female friends) remind me of my physical beauty.  (I have often wondered if really attractive women have strong desires for someone to recognize their inner beauty.  Maybe so?  It is hard for me to fathom though.  However, I realize I take intelligence and inner beauty for granted…imagine that. Sometimes when I admit to this, it shocks people.  Do not judge me or take away any of my confident, all-mighty and powerful womanliness points because I have this issue…  I am simply a product of my environment.  And I guarantee, I’m not the only strong, confident woman with a little bit of insecurity when my clothes hit the floor.  Amen?)
Anyway, as far as funny goes…well, I had one or two.  Of course, this tells me either I’m not as funny as I think I am or that people around me have no sense of humor. (I’m going with the latter, of course.)

Now, you see what I just did? I did what most people in the world do when faced with a compliment.  I focused on what was not said instead of on what was!  The people around me filled my bucket with wonderful, kind, and transforming words.  The people who know me best described me as:

Passionate, Inspiring, Intelligent, Driven, Capable, Pretty, Multi-faceted, Wise, Courageous, Trail blazer, Free, Honest/Trustworthy, Caring, Giving, Service, Outgoing, Dedicated, Charismatic, Legendary, Selfless, Encouraging, Devoted, Fierce, Dilligent, Connector, Mentor, Super-hero!

Seriously??  All of those are me???

If I were to leave this earth tomorrow, and those words are any indication of the legacy I would leave, why in the world would I want to be anyone other than exactly who I am right now?

Here is the simple truth though: I am always striving to be different/better/more or less of this or that than I am.  And I still have feelings of inadequacy because not enough people said beautiful?  What is wrong with me????  Why is it so hard for us to believe that we are good enough?  Most everyone else seems to believe it, so what am I missing?  I am willing to bet that even if everyone would have said beautiful, I would have been upset that they didn’t say sexy. 

We do not allow ourselves to believe we are good enough!   

How many times have we heard that we shouldn’t let others’ opinions of us determine who we are?  In fact, the only opinion that should matter is yours (and Jesus’, of course), right?   Well, what do you do when others’ opinions of you are much better than your opinion of yourself?  How much strength would I have if I lived my life believing that all of the things that my friends have said about me are in fact…true? And what if…just what if…I defined my own beauty by the same standards I define beauty for others?  You couldn’t tell me nothing!!  But, alas, here I am…waiting for someone to call me beautiful (and again, not family or friends) and ignoring the fact that I am a freakin’ super-hero!

So here is my promise to myself…and what I would like to challenge my friends to do...believe in yourself the way others do. A LOT of people around you appreciate you and all that you bring to their lives.  Embrace it and forget (I’d really like to use a different f-word with only four letters, but my mama would D-I-E…) the rest!

You are good enough and I am beautiful.

5: Not all words of inspiration inspire.

“No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

With all due respect, I call bullshit, Eleanor.

I have heard this quote a countless number of times, and honestly, I have told myself this several times to feel better.  It never worked.  This quote ranks right up there with that charming quote about sticks and stones (and we all know how true that is…).  While I understand that quotes like this are supposed to bring us out of some funk or make us feel better about ourselves, in reality, I think they do the exact opposite.  I didn’t give you permission to call me names or to tell me I was worthless, but you did it anyway.  And guess what, those things made me feel inferior.  My mother certainly wasn’t consulted before my dad cheated on her.  Neither of my friends that recently lost their jobs were asked about it first.  The woman checking into the domestic violence shelter with her three young kids didn’t get a say in whether or not she was abused by her loving husband.  I doubt the little boy that will be bullied tomorrow on the playground will get to have a say as to whether or not it happens.  However, we tell people through “inspirational” quotes like this one by Mrs. Roosevelt that it’s their choice as to how they feel.  We tell them this so often that the quote itself makes them feel inferior by feeling inferior. Well, another quote I have heard all of my life is that “You can’t help how you feel.”  Now, that’s the truth.  No matter how hard I have tried, regardless of the situation, I have never been able to control my feelings.  Have you?  (If so, please share your secrets because there are many times I would not like to feel sad, but no matter what I do, there it is!)   It is my opinion that these words of inspiration actually inspire us to hold onto feelings of inferiority because we think we had a choice, and that because we felt inferior initially, it was something we did!  When in reality, we never had a choice.

Even now as I ask my mom about her feelings of inferiority after my dad cheated and left, she still responds with “Well, I did let him make me feel that way.”  No, Mom, you didn’t.  It’s just a natural response to mental and emotional abuse.  However, because we teach people that we allow others to make us feel this way, it continues to weaken us.  We begin to blame ourselves because we didn’t do something sooner.  My dad didn’t need my mother’s consent to make her feel inferior.  However, because so many people in her life inspired her through quotes of inspiration and words of wisdom like this, she has spent the last 25 years trying to prove that she isn’t inferior.  In fact, she just shared that one woman asked her why she believed him when he made her feel like she was nothing.  What kind of question is that??  Again, she has spent the last 25 years trying to figure out why she did what she did.  This is victim blaming if I have ever seen it.
In response, I asked my mom if I was raped tonight if she would ask me why I allowed the perpetrator to violate me this way.   Of course she wouldn’t.  So just like with rape, abuse and making someone feel inferior is about power.  Often times, the only one with a choice is the abuser!  Of course, we can control our actions.  It’s true that my mom could have left my dad before it got to the point of him cheating (because let’s face it…there were signs of abuse way before it got to him going out with another woman).  However, like most people, she was doing a lot of self-blaming and trying to figure out what she had done wrong.

We teach people to think this way.

When we tell a young boy being bullied that he needs to stand up for himself or to just avoid the bully, who are we saying needs to change?  The bully?  No.  When a woman is being abused by her husband and we question why she didn’t leave sooner, who are we blaming?  The abuser?  No.   It’s easy to give out advice and say all the right and inspirational things until we are in a place of inferiority.   Now, I am not saying that we just need to roll over and not recognize the power within us.  However, I am saying we must recognize that perpetrators (of all kinds) are great at making people feel inferior and making their victims think they gave them consent to do so.

Simply put, people do not need your consent to make you feel inferior.  If we teach people that they are not at fault, it might be easier for them to get out of situations that  cause them the feel this way.  Rather than blaming themselves, we can empower them to point the finger in the right direction and help them see the perpetrator for what he or she really is.  I imagine this could be very powerful.  As a victim advocate for the Rape Crisis Center, the first thing I say to any victim, regardless of the circumstance, is “this is not your fault!”  And I repeat it over and over again.  If we continue to tell people that they have a choice in how things make them feel and allow them to think that by feeling inferior they gave someone consent, they might be forever lost in an endless cycle of inferiority.   By breaking this cycle, it might be easier to help people realize that the one thing they can control are their actions (or reactions).  That’s another post though.

4: A candle loses nothing by lighting another candle.

There are many ways to interpret this saying.   Of course, I can talk about volunteering and service to others, but surprisingly, this time, I’m going in a different direction…kinda…  I am going to discuss something that is a bit taboo…our desire for praise and recognition!  Now, like any good world changer, I am not an active and engaged member of my community solely for recognition, and honestly, I am a little judgmental when I hear people talk about how good service makes them feel.  It’s almost like I have been trained to be so selfless that I am to deny and reject any need for praise and recognition.  Well, let me be the first to say that being selfless is physically exhausting and emotionally draining.  Sometimes I find myself helping others so much that I neglect my own work and health.  Serving others has become (both figuratively and literally) a job.  Though I do not do it for the recognition or the reward, I would be lying if I denied that like most people, I desire recognition and praise.  I like to know that I am doing a good job and that I am making a difference, and often that pat on the back or simple “Thank You” provides an extra bit of energy to keep going.   When did that become unacceptable?  When did a desire for praise make me weak?  Is that my sole reason for the work I do?  Do I need it everyday for everything I do?  Absolutely not, but it often provides the energy to keep doing it.   If I am feeling this way, then I know you probably are, too.  So here is the simple truth:  why don’t I tell you more often?  I lose nothing by offering you the praise and recognition you deserve (and even if it’s not deserved, I still lose nothing), but we both gain so much.  So let people have their moment and remember that sometimes a pat on the back, a “good job” or a simple “thank you” can give someone that extra little bit to keep on going or the motivation to do a little more.  Also, don’t be afraid to take a moment and give yourself the praise and recognition you deserve.

Now, I know what you might be thinking, “I don’t want to be conceited.”  So don’t be.  As I am sure we all know, there is a fine line between self-confidence and conceit.  Conceit is defined as “an excessively favorable opinion of one’s own ability” and self-confidence is “an awareness of one’s ability.”  Just don’t be excessive.  Be genuine and sincere in your praise of yourself and of others.   Typically, we label people as conceited when they relentlessly give themselves praise in front of everyone else.  However, I would argue that people do that because they just want someone else to recognize it too.  So just beat them to the punch.  Recognize their work with praise and accomplishment.  See what happens.  What do you have to lose?  Absolutely nothing!!   Recognizing the hard work, time and heart someone puts into something may provide the fuel he or she needs to do it again…or to do more.  Likewise, recognizing the work, time and heart you put into something may provide the fuel you need to do it again.

(Recently, I have been struggling with admitting my need for praise.  I have been dealing with an internal struggle between what I am supposed to feel and what I actually feel.  I knew there was a lesson to be learned through this struggle, and I honestly think it is that I lose nothing by helping someone else do or feel better.  It doesn’t change who I am, the work I do or the passion I have for others.  Likewise, a desire for praise doesn’t change the fact that I am still strong and confident.  It just means I am also human.)

3. Courage Doesn’t Always Roar

For some reason, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what it means to be courageous.  Some time ago, I was browsing through a list of inspirational phrases, and I came across the phrase, “Courage doesn’t always roar.”  At first, I just glanced over it without giving it much thought.  However, this past week, I have witnessed several acts that have brought me back to this phrase.
According to the dictionary, courage is defined as “the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.”  I cannot agree with this.  To me, courage is facing difficulty, danger or pain in spite of fear.

I have six students in my speech course at SCC.  Immediately, I recognized the diversity represented in the room.  Though all of the students are women, each of them bring something very unique to the table.  As they were introducing themselves, I found myself thinking, “Wow!  Now, that’s courage.”  A few of the  students are twice my age and have come back to school after several years of working and raising children.  One student lives in fear almost every day because her husband of 24 months has been deployed for 18 of those months.  Another student stood in front of the class and delivered her first speech in English, in her first English speaking course, and told us how she has to return to her home country in September and she is already trying to figure out a way to get back to the United States to continue her education.   None of these women have dreams of being the President or making millions.  These women are not fighting in a war.  They are not seeking recognition and they do not want to be praised.  These women are simply getting up every day, despite their fears or hardships, and are trying to be and do better.   That’s courageous.

So what does the phrase, “Courage doesn’t always roar” mean?  To me, it means doing something every day to be better.  Courage isn’t always defined by our big acts of bravery.  It is also defined by our small acts of facing difficulty despite our fears or hardships.   Everyone has a story and everyone is dealing with something (no matter how big or small) that makes life a little more difficult.  For some, courage is continuing to pull out the classifieds after you’ve lost your job.  It is not answering the phone after a breakup, going back to school after 20 years, or giving a speech in a language you do not fully understand.  Sometimes, courage is just getting up to face the day.  Take a look at this video that one of my students shared with me awhile back.  It exemplifies what it means to be courageous.

Take a minute to think about all of the people in your life…even those you don’t like.  Think about their stories.  Is it possible that there is a little bit of courage in all of us?  I think so.  We just need to encourage and nurture it (in ourselves and in others).  When you realize how much courage you already have, it makes facing other fears and hardships much easier.  So, the next time you meet a stranger, take a minute to get to know that person’s story, and allow him or her to teach you something about what it means to be courageous.  In turn, continue to encourage and nurture your own courage.   No one is asking you to be the best…just have the courage to be better than you were yesterday.

2. We cannot start from any place other than where we are.

Many people have studied “place” and what it means to “be” in that “place.”  This is entirely less complicated and less convoluted, but still symbolic of how our current situation, our state of being, drives (not defines) who we are and who we want to become.  Until we fully embrace our place and what it means to be there, we will never be able to move beyond it.   Though this can be applied to many, many situations, I am going to examine it through myths about education because…well, that’s my place…

Myth 1: Once you graduate from college, you will find the job of your dreams and be able to afford all of the things you want.

Though you may be one step closer to these things after graduating, do not expect them to happen immediately.  If you ask the most successful (regardless of how you define success) person you know how they got to that point, I doubt they would say it was just the next step after they received that coveted diploma.  Rather, the diploma was just another step on their journey to that destination.  Regardless of your destination, you have to start where you are and continue to take steps to get you there.   For example, if I want to go to walmart, I do not walk out of my house and immediately expect to be there.  Why would I do that with any other goal?  Success takes hard work and determination, but to begin, you have to start where YOU are (and not where you think you should be or where others want you to be, but where you actually are).  The first step to that is, of course, recognizing where you are.  Take a minute to really evaluate your abilities, resources, and situation.   Think of it as a roadmap:  here is where I am (this is my reality) and here is where I am going.  What’s in the middle?

Myth 2:  You need to go to Harvard (or any other well-known school).

No, you don’t and neither did I.  Since I was 5 years old (and my mother can vouch for this), I had it in my mind that I was going to change the world by going to Harvard and becoming the best damn lawyer anyone had ever seen.  I was going to fight injustice all over the world with that Harvard degree.  Well, guess what happened…my place at the time didn’t allow for Harvard.  I was forced to recognize that as a “poor white girl from Appalachia,” Harvard just wasn’t a reality.  Now, some said, “I can’t believe you allowed money to prevent you from accomplishing your dream.”  Because money was the reality, I had to realize that Harvard wasn’t the dream.  Harvard was the means to an end, even if I didn’t realize that at the time.  I had to reevaluate not only my place, but how I was going to move beyond it so that my dream could stay the same.  So, starting from where I was, I gave up Harvard and went off to (what my peers called) a “no-name” school.  Though Berea was one of the best things that ever happened to me for many reasons, I cannot say that I went there for those reasons.  No, I went to Berea College because they offered me the most money.  However, while I was in this place, I made the choice to do everything I could to help reach my end goal.  I made Berea my Harvard.  And though Berea is a great place, many of my peers didn’t have the same experience.  Berea didn’t define my experience, but created opportunities for me to define it.  It was my place and I had to consciously evaluate my abilities, resources, and situation to fill in the gaps between where I was and where I wanted to be.

I recognize the perks (additional resources) that could have came from a Harvard education.  However, even those perks do not ensure success.  Again, the most successful people in the world are not successful because they went to Harvard, but rather, because of what the decisions they made during and after Harvard (how they filled in the gaps).  Think about the most influential people in your life.  Do you know where they went to school?  If I sit and think about it, I can probably name where about 5 of my colleagues went.  It’s what they did afterwards and what they do now that makes them so influential.  So again, regardless of where you are, be there and make it the best it can be.  Make your place your Harvard…evaluate your abilities, resources and situation and move forward from there.  I don’t know how many times I have heard people say, “I want to be a doctor so I can help people.”  Well, honey, you can’t pass Biology 1000.  That’s your place.  Recognize it, embrace it and move forward from there.  Find a new way to fill in the gaps between where you are and where you want to be.

1. People are listening: Speak with Purpose

I’m sure we have all had those moments when we thought no one in the world was listening, and honestly, depending on what you’re saying, they may have been trying to tune you out.  However, more than likely, someone always hears you.

I began this new year with a special gift from one of my students.  She sent me a message about a vision she had for feeding hungry people in her community.  She mobilized her family members and ended up feeding 50 people in her area (50 people that may have not had a meal if it wasn’t for her actions).  Though this is a small action in the grand scheme of things, I can guarantee that lives were forever changed because this young lady decided that she could do and be more.

Now, there are many laws that can be found in this one story, but for now, it reminds me that people are listening.  This student sent me the message because as she was fixing these meals, she thought of me and the many times I had told her that one person can make a difference.  In this case, she made a difference in the lives of 50 people all because I made a difference in the life of one.   As conceited as that might sound, it is not meant to be.  Rather, it is to demonstrate that we are all in a unique position to influence and encourage others to be the best they can be by being they best we can be.  People are listening (with their eyes and ears) to what we are saying.  Therefore, we should all ask ourselves, “What message are we sending?”

So the first principle that I would like to offer is to speak (and act) with purpose.  Be intentional with your message.  Find your passion, know who you are, and stand strong in the laws that guide your life.   You never know who is listening (or watching) and whose life you may touch (and whose life that person may touch…and whose life that person may touch…).   One person can make a difference.  I hope that person is you.  (Spoiler alert:  You will probably see that last part again…)