Speak Up – Speak Out against Oppression!

woman-covering-mouthYour voice needs to be heard.  That’s what I tell my public speaking students on the first day of class.  So much of my message, my life’s mission really, is to ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.  Well, that requires people to speak up and share their truth even when it’s risky or vulnerable, especially when it’s vulnerable.  It is then that our power and greatness shines brightly.

Last week, I saw a young man, Jay, do exactly that – speak his truth – in a powerful and inspiring way.   At the Q & A segment of Michael Eric Dyson’s talk on Race and Race Relations in America, Jay was the first at the mic.  He spoke about his experience as a young Latino man on campus, his desire to feel a sense of belonging for himself and other students of color and the barriers he experiences. The whole audience was riveted by his heartfelt plea to create something different, not just for him but for the next generation.  I was in awe of Jay’s eloquence and courage.

Now…I recognize that Jay’s experience isn’t unique.  It’s unfortunately all too common on college campuses across the country.  It was happening when on my college campus – that sense of exclusion, both conscious and unconscious, that had students of color feel unwelcome and unwanted. A continued conversation is needed. It is an uncomfortable conversation for sure, but an essential one.  We cannot remain silent.  We must ALL courageously step into this conversation with compassion and connection at the forefront.

So when someone from the college responded to Jay’s plea with a commitment to take action and continue the conversation, I was excited that it didn’t fall on deaf ears and someone listened, not with defensiveness but with an interest in engaging.  I am hopeful that this is the first of many exchanges in the dialogue.

When listening to Jay, I was reminded where I stopped engaging in this conversation, not just about race, but about social justice issues as a whole.  In my twenties, I was a loud mouth activist who spoke up anytime I heard a remark or witnessed an act that perpetuated oppression, be it racism, sexism or homophobia.  Whether it was my personal and professional life, I would not stand for any injustice.

Now, I have noticed areas where I have silenced my activist in my professional life.  While many of my programs incorporate courageous conversations about oppression, the silence has infiltrated in little ways.  I hold back on Facebook or Twitter so as not to upset or offend any of my followers.  But in my silence, there is a form of condoning, an allowing, that I have perpetuated by not speaking up, but not speaking out against the injustices that are happening across the nation every day.

So, inspired by Jay’s courage, I am committing to speaking up and speaking out against the oppression that still plagues our country.  If this is the land of the free and home of the brave, I must be brave and speak out to ensure true freedom for all who live here.

I need your help though.  I ask that you join me to speak up and speak out.  I need you to be brave and speak out for justice.  It doesn’t require a protest sign, all it requires is for you to speak your truth.

There may be areas where you do speak out and for that I thank you greatly.  However, if there are areas where you don’t, now’s the time.  The next generation is waiting.

Question: Where do you feel silenced? Where are you willing to speak up?

Going for Gold? Go Within

With my fascination of Olympics, I have been in awe of all the tremendous hard work and difficult decisions that the Olympians have had to make over their lifetime to achieve their ultimate goal – GOLD!

With so many difficult decisions and sacrifices they have made to pursue their dreams, they had to look within, trust their gut or intuition to determine which way to go.

You have probably heard someone say, “Go with Your Gut!”  That’s what I often say when someone is struggling with a  decision to make.  The reason for this simple answer is that we truly do know what is best.  We have the wisdom within us to make those difficult choices.  It’s that quiet whisper that nudges you to make a choice that is consistent with who you truly are.

It’s not always the easier choice.  In fact, it is often more risky, more uncomfortable, but oh so much more rewarding.  In his famous 2005 commencement speech, Steve Jobs encourages “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.“

Every time, I am struggling with a life decision, especially the bigger ones, I waiver between what my inner voice says and what I think I should be doing.  The suffering that occurs in my head – should I – shouldn’t I.  In the end, after all the back and forth, when I go with my gut, I am so much happier and it more often works itself out.  When I follow the “should,” I often create more struggle and suffering.

Now this is not to say, seek out the advice and opinions of others or consider all options.  I am a big fan of checking in with others – the people who know me well or have some experience with the issue.  Sometimes, I seek out direct advice.  Sometimes, it’s just listening and teasing out what’s going on underneath the suffering.  They can provide new information to assist in making a stronger choice.  Who do you reach out to for advice or support?

Now you may be saying to yourself, “How can I trust that voice? I have made bad choices in the past, I don’t know if I can trust myself.” Self-doubt can run rampant in tough decisions.  Look – I get it.  Why do you think I suffer so much in decision wavering?  I am afraid of making the wrong decision. So I sit on the fence, which can be really uncomfortable – Ouch!

So it’s time to get off the fence and make a choice.  Remember you aren’t married to your choice – you can always make another choice later. As I look back on those bad decisions, I realized that I wasn’t following my inner wisdom, my fear or need to prove myself.  It was more in quick reaction rather than taking a breath, settling in and finding what was the deeper wisdom.

So the next time, you are going for gold or simply struggling to make a decision, take a breath, listen to that quiet wisdom, and step forward!

A Deeper Look

  • What would you do if you listened to your inner wisdom?
  • Who can you seek out for support?

Creating Your Definition of Success

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We all want to be successful in life, but what does that really mean?

Well, if you go by the Merriam-Webster dictionary, Success is defined as “the fact of getting or achieving wealth, respect, or fame.” But what if you have wealth and fame and no happiness?  There are plenty of cases where we have seen wealth and fame backfire on celebrities and other people in places of power.

We learn the meaning of success from our family, friends, and society as a whole from a very young age. And that definition continues to be reinforced as we grow older and new expectations are inserted – job, salary, family, etc.  Sometimes that works for people, but many times it causes undue suffering.

What if what’s important to you isn’t in the standard definition of success?  Does that mean you won’t be considered successful?  In my humble opinion – Of course not!

The danger is that if we aren’t considered a success by others, we won’t consider ourselves successful.  Even more dangerous – we may consider ourselves a failure. I have definitely traveled down this dark dangerous alley – beating myself up along the way.

After a good self-inflicted assault, I realized that I must create MY OWN definition of success.  I haven’t been one to follow the path of others; I like to take blaze my own trail.  So why wouldn’t I blaze my own definition of success?

So I invite you to take a deeper look as to how you define success.  Is that what you really want out of life?  Or is that what other have said that you should want?  Are you striving for that will make you happy?  Or will it make others happy?

It is your life, so you get to define the terms…you get the final say in your success!

Looking Deeper

  • How would you define success?
  • What’s important for you to feel you have a successful year, a successful life?

Nelson Mandela – A Model for Forgiveness

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As we continue to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, there is so much to celebrate as well.  I have watched countless TV segments, read numerous articles about his life, I am reminded of his incredible leadership qualities that I strive to live in my own life: His Endless Courage to speak up and speak out against the brutality despite the threats to his own life; His Incredible Commitment to Serve his country and the world no matter his age; but most of all, I am inspired by his Tremendous Capacity to Forgive. (Scroll down to view a beautiful tribute poem from Maya Angelou.)

Forgiveness is a powerful tool to end the suffering and create peace.  While this may be simple, it is definitely not easy.  Mandela suffered for decades at the hands of the prison guards and the Apartheid government.  Tens of thousands of his brothers and sisters jailed, beaten or worse…left for dead in the streets.

The crimes against humanity were horrific.  Mandela had more than enough reasons to seek revenge, but he knew it would only extend the suffering; more lives would be lost.  Forgiveness would be the key to bring the country together, create a unified country rather than one of suffering and segregation.

Committed to a larger goal, a bigger vision, he worked through the pain and found a place of peace.  First within himself, he then worked to create that for his country.   It wasn’t about forgetting what happened, but about healing the pain for the greater good of the country.  When we hold onto the resentment, we hold ourselves back, we limit our impact, we limit our power. By letting go, we can attain something far greater than ourselves. By Mandela’s capacity to forgive, he was able to attain something incredible for his country and the world.

While Mandela practiced Forgiveness and created Peace on the world’s stage, we can follow his lead and create peace within our families, our businesses, and our communities by practicing forgiveness.  Where are you holding onto resentment, seeking some revenge in your life? Where can you practice forgiveness for the commitment of a larger goal, a larger vision for a friendship, partnership or business?

In celebration of Nelson Mandela’s life, I invite you this week to seek out the greater good and practice forgiveness where a relationship is strained.  Take the first step in creating a sense of peace this holiday season.

Thank you Nelson Mandela for your countless contributions
to the world. You will always be remembered!

Fire Re-ignited

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Last month, I had the awesome opportunity to attend the Omega Institute’s Women & Power Retreat and felt the Fire Reignited!  Inspired into action by listening to Omega’s Co-Founder Elizabeth Lesser, Vulnerability Expert Brene Brown, and Roshi Joan Halifax, I was ready to reconnect to my passion and purpose to make a difference.

This past year that fiery passion had been doused with doubt and struggle.  I had been on the economic roller coaster where my self-worth had been tied to the money in my bank account.  Even with a decade of inner work, I still struggled to find some peace in the matter.

With the amazing support of my partner, friends and family, I found the strength to keep holding on when all I wanted to do was jump off the ride.  Finally the financial roller coaster has slowed down and leveled out, I am incredibly grateful for the lessons the ride has taught me and ready to get back to my work on this planet – radical self-acceptance.

While it’s not all figured out, I have learned some great lessons along the way that I would like to share.

1.  You are not your circumstances. While I have heard this one many of times and even said it to others, I didn’t realized how much I tied my identity to my work. I found myself flailing when my career was in limbo.  Not sure where to go, not sure who I was. I had to keep telling myself, I am not my job.  I am not my bank account.  Even if we don’t attach to that, we may attach to other things like how smooth our day goes or how many likes we get on Facebook or Instagram.  We are sooo much bigger than those details.  If we can see our worth beyond our circumstances, then life’s challenges aren’t quite so debilitating. Our worth is unwavering.

2. Community is key. One of my saving graces has been and continues to be my community.  I am incredibly grateful for friends and family to listen when I needed to vent, hug me when I needed comforting, and the kick in the butt when I wanted to give up.  It’s important to reach out, get real and share what’s true for you in times of struggle. While often challenging to be vulnerable and reveal we don’t have it altogether (believe me, I can relate), it’s a crucial component to surviving the struggle.

3.  Get in action…Stay in action. This is easier said than done, at least the staying in action part.  By getting in action, doors opened for me, opportunities were created.  Despite my fantasy and desire that money would come in by watching marathons on Netflix, it didn’t work out that way.  By getting into action, energy was created and the world responded with something positive, some doorway to walk through.  While I must admit I didn’t walk through all the doorways, I know momentum was created with each threshold I passed, physically, energetically, emotionally.  I didn’t always know what was opening up, but I kept walking through.  By keeping enough momentum with each action step, shifts can occur and life can unfold in your favor.

Life is messy, uncertain and full of challenges. One day it can take you to the top of the mountain; the next day in the deep ravine.  That’s what makes it so beautifully mysterious.  It is that fire within each of us that keeps us going, that gives us grit and determination to not give up.  Push through the challenges, rise up out of the ravine and seek the summit of the mountain.   Join me and let your light shine for all to see!

Rethinking Resolutions for Real Change

With the New Year comes new hope and often New Year Resolutions.  Did you make any resolutions for 2013?  Or are you like me in hesitating in making any resolutions because they usually fail by February anyways.

Resolutions fail not because they are a bad idea, but because we go about it backwards.  We look at what’s wrong in our lives and create a goal, like losing weight or getting organized, to counteract the wrong in hopes to become happier.  While that strategy can work in some cases, it is challenging to sustain and often doesn’t produce the happiness we had expected.

By starting with end result – the happiness, prosperity, or peace we are seeking – we open the door to more opportunities to experiencing that feeling and therefore more successful!

Here are a few tips I follow to create Resolutions for Real Change in my life:

1. Listen to Deeper Desires – What is it that you really want in your life?  One way to figure that out is to take the resolutions you often make and ask the question “What will that provide?”  With each time you ask that question, you dig deeper to your true desires.  I recommend 3-5 rounds to get to the heart of what you really want.  When I dig deeper to my resolution of losing weight, I discovered the desire to be energized about life.

2. Declare your Commitment – Once you discover what you really want, you can declare a commitment to creating that desire in your life in 2013.  A commitment inspires you into action.  A commitment doesn’t require perfection, but simply the willingness to get into action regardless of past performance.  My Commitment is A Life Full of Energy.

3.  Get into Action – With an inspiring commitment, now it’s time to get into action, any action that supports your commitment.   Brainstorm a list of aligned actions to encourage variety and flexibility, which leads to greater success over time.   Taking simple actions every day in support of your commitment will allow you to create what you really want for your life.  With a Commitment to a Life Full of Energy, I can exercise, socialize with friends, go out dancing or Zumba, or sing along with the car radio.

4. Create Community – With any sustained change, it requires a support team to hold you accountable and encourage you when your commitment fades, as it commonly does.  To be most effective, be specific with how each person can support you.  Will it be asking for encouraging words every day?  Will it be inviting a friend to join you in creating a similar commitment?  While it can seem vulnerable to ask for help, we succeed that much faster, that much greater when we include those around us.

5. Celebrate Small Successes – Celebration is critical to success and satisfaction as a whole.  If we continue to strive for the next goal without celebrating and acknowledging the progress made, we don’t recognize our growth and are often left still feeling “not enough.”  Celebrating can be simple with a manicure, or even FREE with a Shout-Out on Facebook or 5-second Dance Party with a friend.  Celebration often provides the needed inspiration to keep your commitment alive.

As you step into 2013 with a renewed sense of hope and commitment to change, remember that real change is like a roller coaster with highs and lows.   While the journey may be simple, it may not be easy.  Show yourself compassion when you make mistakes.  A sense of humor can help too!

May 2013 be a Year of Desires Fulfilled!

Give the Gift of Presence

A strange week to say the least. Between mourning the tragedy in Newtown and the anticipation of the holidays, I am trying to sort out my thoughts and feelings of what seems like opposing experiences. How can I honor both experiences simultaneously? How can I honor the lives lost and still celebrate? How can I make the tragedy a personal wake-up call for my own life and not just for the nation?

The holidays are filled with opportunities to be around people, whether it’s family gatherings, parties, religious services or last minute shopping. These opportunities allow for us to not just be around them, but truly connect with each other.

While we often hunt for the perfect gift for our sister or best friend, we could give one that is more meaningful and FREE. We could give the Gift of our Presence. Yes, it may be cheesy or cliché, but can also be incredibly powerful.

Here are a few ways you can give the Gift of Presence:

Mend Friendships – Many people are speaking about how we can create peace in our communities these days, but what about start with creating peace in our own circles. Are there any strained relationships that could use some mending? Are there are resentments that could be forgiven? I know there are few in my circles. My friend, Dr. Stephanie May, came up with this brilliant idea after much soul searching, and I just had to share it. If we can “Be the Change” of creating peace, then our communities and nation will be more peaceful.

Have Authentic Conversations – Despite the hectic schedule of the holidays, I consciously try to have meaningful conversations with family and friends, rather than surface chitchat. Far too often we speak from a place of default, rather than authenticity. When people ask how are you doing, give them a real response beyond the automatic “fine.” Seek a deeper response in their answer as well; find out what’s really happening their lives. Brady Quinn, KC Chiefs quarterback, eloquently shared a similar message after the domestic violence tragedy with teammate, Jovan Belcher. By having authentic conversations, we show people that they matter and you care.

Create Gadget Free Time – The holidays often mean spending time with friends and family, but I know for me that most of that time is with my phone in hand. While I may be sitting with my family, I am checking Facebook or playing Angry Birds. As a result, I miss out on spending real time with people I care about. If we put the gadgets down, turn off the TV and spend real face-to-face time with our loved ones, we can truly stay connected.

Count Your Blessings – As the year comes to an end, it often is a time of reflection. And with this year in particular after all the tragedies, I am going to count my numerous blessings. While it may be easy to recall all the things that went wrong, it’s often more powerful to recognize our successes and be PRESENT to the greatness within ourselves and our lives.

After such a roller coaster of a year, and especially this last week, join me in taking the time this holiday season to count our blessings and truly connect with the people in our lives. With the simple Gift of Presence, we can make this holiday one to remember.

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