Friday, April 12, 2013

When the Honeymoon is Over: Is Change in a Relationship Always Bad?

If you've ever been in a long term, committed relationship then you know they have stages:

     Stage 1 - Infatuation:  You can't stop thinking about the person. You text and call each other several times a day just to say hi and keep connected. You can't think about or talk to him without smiling.

    Stage 2 - Love:  Now you love the guy. It's not just infatuation. You still enjoy spending time with him but you're no longer thinking of ways to kill yourself if you haven't
spoken to him in 2 hours. It’s comfortable.

     Stage 3 - Wait a minute now: Something has definitely changed. One or both of you no longer operates like impressing the other is important. Dates have slowed down considerably; sex also. You do a lot less together; compliments are few and far between and you’re starting to argue.

    Stage 4 - WTF??!!:  At this stage, it’s fix it or call it quits. You don't really argue, because you don't give a $hit but you don't talk either. Sex is only on special occasions and it’s more like obligation sex: (I'm obligated to have sex with you because it's your birthday, Valentine’s day etc.)

I've only experienced stage 1-3 because I don't allow my relationships to go any further. Either we fix it or I move on. I'm not interested in being in a dead, boring relationship that lacks passion. I'm happier alone. I know that sounds unrealistic to some but I'm all about happiness and savoring life to the fullest at every stage of my life. When I'm in a dead relationship, I'm unhappy and start searching for the reasons why the fire/interest has waned. First thought is: cheating and I absolutely can't abide that. So a lifeless relationship that has run its course drags me down and takes up too much of my valuable mental energy that could be channeled in more productive ways.

So what's the answer to my question?  I think it’s yes and no. It depends on the nature of the changes and the reasons behind them. If your significant other is spending less time with you because he/she is in law school, studying for the CPA exam, or just started his own business, don't be a dick. Experiencing change for progress is acceptable.  In fact, use his progress as an example and get something going in your life as well. That way you'll have less time to worry about him because you're making moves too. Likewise, if he/she is going through something (that has nothing to do with your relationship but you have talked about it) give him your support, understanding and a little space to reflect, plan etc. After all, in our 40's we go through a lot of mental changes. From feeling like we're not where we had hoped to be professionally and financially by this point in our lives, to feeling like we need to devote more time to our own personal development or to our wayward teenagers, at certain points we feel the need to refocus our attention and energy. If you trust him and don't feel this is just an excuse to creep, chill out. So that's the "no,” change isn't always bad.”

The "yes" is when the change is groundless, unexplained, disrespectful and really just the result of a lack of interest and commitment to the relationship and to you. My partner and I decided early on that no matter how much we loved each other or how deep our commitment, we wouldn't promise to stay together forever. We would only stay together as long as we were making each other happy. We would commit to working hard to communicate openly and honestly, to not take each other for granted and to continue to do the things that made us fall in love with each other in the first place. The result: we've had a few tough spots, but overall we are extremely happy. He still looks at me like I'm the most beautiful woman in the world and he dates me. Not only are we madly in love, we’re best friends who have a lot in common and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. We hang out, laugh and party together as if we were “boys.”  And I wouldn't have it any other way.  When we lose interest in each other and are no longer motivated to make each other happy, there's no reason to stay together.

At the end of the day, life is about happiness. You and your spouse or partner deserve happiness with each other or someone else. Don't believe the pessimists who believe the honeymoon can't last forever. It can if you're with the right person, you have that expectation, and you work at it.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Is Fear Keeping You From Living Your Best Life?

So you engaged yourself in the 3 step exercise for improving your life that I previously wrote about ("What Do You Need To Be Happy? 3 steps to help you figure it out...and get there!" 3/28/13) but couldn't connect to it. It's not that it didn't make sense to you, but you just needed something more.  In your contemplation stage, you realized that you needed a complete overhaul; that you literally were not satisfied with any aspect of your life. Personally, you feel fat and out of shape and you're lonely and want to be in a fulfilling relationship. Professionally, you hate your job and feel that your promotion and growth potential is zero. On top of that, when the weekend comes you still don't enjoy yourself because you hate where you live, your friends are boring and you're so overwhelmed with your misery that you don't have the energy or motivation to even try to get out and enjoy yourself. In other words, life has kicked your butt and you are in serious need of a complete life overhaul and if you don't get one you'll never accomplish another thing and might possibly die an early death..... Yeah; it's just that serious. You literally feel like you're drowning in the emptiness and monotony of your life; if you want to call it a life. You have determined all these things, but for some reason, still can't commit to doing something about it. This post is written for the person who needs to make a life change but is paralyzed by fear.

If I have just described you, I am the perfect person to give you advice on how to step out of your current life into the fabulous life that is waiting for you. What qualifies me to do this? Experience. I once felt exactly like that. I felt trapped and stuck in a life that no longer fulfilled me; if in fact it ever had. Many of us are so busy living the lives that society tells us should make us happy that we are totally unaware of what actually makes us happy. Additionally, the same thing that made you happy when you were 23, doesn't automatically continue to make you happy when you're 43. As time goes on, we outgrow people, jobs, cities and states, homes and relationships. This is natural. However we trick ourselves into believing that longevity equates to happiness. For example, if you've lived in the same city for 30 years you should stay there; it's home - familiar. It should make you happy. Or if you've been fortunate to be on the same job (with the same company) for 20 years you should be happy; it's secure. Similarly, and most common, is the idea that if you have been in a relationship for 15 plus years you should stay in it for another 15 if not forever; even if you're no longer happy in it. Why change now?

This type of thinking is so common yet utterly irrational. Think about it. If you're 40 and have been in a relationship with someone for 15 years, does it actually make sense that you should stay with them regardless of whether you are happy and fulfilled? You could very well live to be 80 years old which would mean that you would spend another 40 years in a relationship that doesn't make you happy; and in many cases makes you downright miserable. Does that even make mathematical sense: Sacrifice the next 40 years of your precious life, to ensure that you don't throw away the previous 15? Or keep the same job for 18 more years simply because you have already been there for 20?

Familiarity and security are not always positive forces in our lives. Sometimes a shake up like a change in scenery, jobs and even relationships is just what we need to move to the next level of happiness and success in our lives. In Russell Simmon's book, Super Rich, he concurs. He gives an example of how vital it is to be in a place and space that makes you feel energetic, motivated and enthusiastic about life and its possibilities. He gives an example of a guy that changed his whole outlook and energy by simply moving from one neighborhood in New York City to another. Sometimes it can be that minor. But even if you require something far more significant to change your life, the first step is realizing it, then taking the steps towards living the life you desire.

If all this sounds familiar, it should. It is in essence what I just wrote about in my post from last week. However, I know a few things about people who are too paralyzed with fear to make necessary life changes. First, they need constant encouragement and reinforcement of the things they need to do to make positive changes. Second, they need to hear how you did it. So here, I am reiterating the steps with a few adjustments AND including examples of how I actually did exactly what I am advising you to do.

Step 1: Take inventory of the changes you need to be happy. You might need to change jobs, get counseling ( or even a divorce), put your 25 year old son out, move to another state, lose 20 pounds, cut and dye your hair and/or start your own business. Whatever it is, identify it. When I took inventory, I needed everything! My transformation had actually started a few years earlier before I went full blast. I filed for divorce, choosing my happiness over my reputation as the strong, loyal prison wife. In 2010 when I put myself on the 10 month plan for a complete life makeover, I was ready to go full throttle. I needed to lose weight, quit my job, change careers after 20 years and move to another city and state.

Step 2: Assess your options. Let's not be overly simplistic. I know that an extreme makeover like this takes planning and thought. You can't just quit your job or move and start your own business without figuring out how you're going to finance it; or sell your current home or find a new one etc. The list of loose ends that need tying can be long and seem endless. But it's not endless, and in the end if it leads to your happiness, it's worth it. The key is being smart, strategic, calculating and prepared. For example, if you have determined that you need a life change that involves getting a different job and moving, you have to determine your options. Possible Options:
       a.  Get a professional resume and start applying for jobs, assess how much money you have (401K, savings, things you can sell etc.). Determine if you have equity in your home; is bankruptcy your best option or can you follow a plan to pay your bills off or down within a reasonable amount of time?
       b.  Be prepared to make sacrifices both short term and possibly long term. Sometimes you have to give up something to gain something.

In my case, I decided I needed to simplify my expenses as much as possible to allow me to comfortably make the extreme changes I was planning. I was renting in a high rent area and taking care of three children alone which put me in a financially precarious situation that would make saving or paying off bills in preparation for my move impossible. Not wanting to move with a load of debt suffocating me, I opted to file bankruptcy to give myself a clean start.

Step 3: Now that you know what you want and have assessed your options, create a realistic plan with a timeline. When I say realistic, I don't mean a timid one that you can pussyfoot around with for the next 10 years either. That's called procrastination. Rather, I am referring to an aggressive, proactive plan that takes into consideration the complexities of your unique situation. For example, as a teacher and a mom, I did not want to move to a new state in the middle of the school year so I planned my move for summer. I also knew that I would have more money at that time, because I could take the money they had been deducting to pay me bi-weekly through the summer, as a lump sum if I resigned then. My lease was also up in the summer (July) so it worked out perfectly. So be serious and aggressive, but strategic. Additionally, if part of your plan is something involving emotions, leaving a relationship, putting your adult daughter out etc. keep in mind your emotional capabilities and limitations. Don't set yourself up to fail by planning a course of action that you will not be emotionally capable of fulfilling.

Step 4: Take action! Start doing the things on your plan that have to be done to accomplish your goals. For example, my plan required that I start sending out resumes by February and start looking for apartments in Atlanta by April. I also had to put in my notice to vacate my townhouse by a certain date as well as submit my formal resignation from my teaching position by a certain date. I was in "go hard" mode, so I had previously determined that whether I had found a job in Atlanta by the time these other things had to be done, I was moving anyway. In order to make that type of bold decision however, I had to add up any and all money I would be able to put my hands on. I factored in retirement funds, summer pay, items I could sell etc. and knew I would have enough to pay my rent up front for 6 months as well as have a nice little sum to live off while I waited to get a job. I sold my one and only car [huge sacrifice but I found a place in the city where I could walk to everything], jewelry and the furniture I had in my townhouse that I knew wouldn't fit into the much smaller condo I was moving to in Atlanta. I knew that my living funds would be depleted just about the time I could file my income tax return the following year and get a nice refund to carry me through for a few more months if still necessary at that point. Gutsy? yes. Scary? Definitely! A huge sacrifice? You can't even imagine. But worth it? ABSOLUTELY!

At some point, the main objective of all of our lives has to be happiness. Not the superficial trappings of happiness like money, power or status. Those things don't necessarily equate to true happiness. I am happier than I've ever been before in my new city pursuing my dreams working as a freelance writer. I could be working as an attorney, with all the prestige (and money) that the title carries, or teaching again with job security and my summers off with pay. But I wouldn't be happy. Currently, I have less money than I've had in years but I wake up every morning excited about the possibilities and motivated and energized to pursue them. A change of scenery and taking myself out of a blood sucking career and city that I had outgrown released my spirit and gave me the energy to dream and live again; not just exist.

Getting Out of a Slump: 10 Ways to Get Back On Track

1. Go away if only for 1 night. We often wait until we have the time or money to take a big vacation to a tropical island somewhere out of the country. However, there are great benefits to taking a quick weekend or one night get-a-way to rest and rejuvenate. Even if you drive 30 minutes away to a luxurious hotel and spend 1 day and night resting, dining out and being pampered, the results will be phenomenal.

2.  Read a good book or watch a movie where the main character is living the life you desire. Try "The Women" with Jada Pinkett Smith and Meg Ryan or "Sex and the City: The Movie". Both films feature strong, intelligent, funny women with great careers and fabulous lives in spite of the occasional difficulties they face.

3.  Talk or write about your fears, aspirations, goals etc. Talking (and writing) are both extremely therapeutic. I can't tell you how many times I've solved a problem or gained a new perspective from simply writing or talking about what was on my mind.

4. Pray or meditate. Choose the one that best helps you to find peace and clarity.

5.  Create a realistic schedule that keeps you focused and engaged on achieving your goals. This can be in the form of a weekly (or daily) "To Do" list. Create your list in advance so that your daily activities are specific and focused.  

6.  Work on developing discipline and consistency. This might involve putting yourself on a strict schedule that includes healthy eating, adequate sleep, regular exercise and increased professional productivity for at least 7 days. The point is to make an effort to develop discipline and good habits.

7.  Surround yourself with positive energy. Rid yourself of negative relationships as well as steer clear of negative environments and situations. Instead, gravitate towards people, places and situations that make you feel uplifted, happy and encouraged.

8.  Eat well and Exercise. Besides for being imperative for good physical health, eating well and exercising promote emotional and mental health. When I eat healthy and exercise, I feel stronger, more focused and in control.

9.  Get adequate rest. You should definitely get your 6-8 hours of sleep per night, but adequate rest is equally important. Take a few moments throughout the day to turn off your mind and just "be." During this period of rest you can take a few minutes to do something you enjoy like read the newspaper or play a game of online chest, or do nothing at all.

10.  Keep getting back on the bandwagon. Don't allow 1 mess up to turn into a total collapse of your good work, diet or exercise habits. You're in control! If you have 1 unproductive day don't let it turn into an unproductive week, and then an unproductive month... Everyday is a new opportunity to get it right.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

What Do You Need To Be Happy? 3 steps to help you figure it out.....and get there!


It's always a great time to make a plan to be happy. If you follow this blog, you know that's a recurring theme and the foundation for every decision I make as well as the philosophy that I urge my readers to adopt. But allow me to pose this seemingly simple question: Do you know what you need to be happy?

STEP 1: Think about it: But not for a few minutes here and there as you whip through traffic or to fill the 5 empty minutes that it takes you to fall into a deep sleep at the end of an exhausting day. Carve out a chunk of significant “alone time” to engage in some deep and honest introspection. Then ask yourself that terrifying question that could call into question your entire life: “Am I happy?”

            A. Write down your answer which will undoubtedly be two-fold or even three-fold; in some areas you’re  happy, in others not quite, and in still others: miserable. But before you answer, remember this exercise is just for you and no one else will know about it. So give yourself permission to admit to yourself your true feelings. Don’t worry about how hurt your husband, kids, boss or whoever would be if they knew how you really felt. First of all, they won’t know and second, this is about YOU; not them.

            B. Once you have written down your honest answer, take the next step and create a Happy Column, “So So” Column and Miserable Column. Then appropriately categorize the various aspects of your life under each.

            C. Your happy column is cool (and hopefully long) so just smile at those aspects of your life that bring you joy, then blow them a kiss and vow to do what you need to do to maintain it. Now, it’s time to look at the areas that need your attention. Use a highlighter to mark the things under your “So So” and “Unhappy/Miserable” columns that are within your power to change or fix. Be realistic and also open and honest when you do this. For example, if you put your husband under your unhappy column and your responsibilities as a mom under your So So Column, don’t just assume that you can’t fix or change those things because you don’t intend to divorce your husband or put a hit out on your kids. Instead, mark them anyway because there are ways that you can change the way you feel about your husband as well as the responsibility that being a mom puts on you if you devise a plan of action to improve it. Unfortunately, there are a few rare things that bring us displeasure that we can’t change. For example, if you’re black and you wish you were white, there’s no cure for that……….yet. But if you feel fat, dumpy and unattractive or hate driving the kids back and forth to activities in your every spare moment, these things have solutions.

STEP 2: Make a realistic plan to fix the things you can fix. When I say realistic here, I mean in terms of actually being able to be executed as well as being within your power to execute them. For example, if you have a rebellious 21 year old who lives at home, won’t work and is just driving you bananas, don’t say you’re going to give her 1 week to find a job and get it together or you’re going to put her out, if you know that emotionally you would never be able to handle actually enforcing that consequence. Similarly, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, don’t look at an infomercial for P190 X and say you’re going to do that if you know yourself well enough to know that’s way too extreme to be sustainable for you. The key to your success here is to make a plan for each area that is within your power to execute. It’s ok if the plan takes you out of your comfort zone a little; in fact, it should. But not to the extent that you’re setting yourself up to fail.

            A. Prioritize: what needs to be done 1st, 2nd and so on? There is a logical order for dealing with the issues that you identify in your life. Some issues are causing you more immediate unhappiness and need to be dealt with immediately. For instance, if your list includes getting out of a bad relationship, losing 20 pounds, and finding a new job, your honest, self-reflection might tell you that losing the boyfriend first will be pivotal in freeing up your emotions to do the other things successfully. Any woman who has been in a bad relationship can tell you how emotionally and physically draining they are. Therefore, taking care of that might put you in a better mental space to make regular time to exercise and change your diet. It will also demonstrate to you your power to take control of your life which could boost your self-esteem and make you feel empowered to get a new job.

            B. Make a concrete, specific plan for fixing each issue.  This plan should include specific dates and actions. But these dates and actions should be realistic; even if your plan ends up being a “1 year plan” rather than the “3 month plan” you would like it to be. So, if your list includes quitting your current job there are several things that may need to be a part of your concrete plan. Things like finding a new job first if you don’t have enough savings to carry you over. And just within that one step is a plethora of other tasks; like getting your resume professionally done, deciding whether to hire a head hunter etc. So when making your plan of attack, make sure you carefully think through every step and make efforts to pinpoint any potential problems so you’ll be ready for them.

C. Assess ALL of your options. When we are in a life rut, we erroneously believe that we are hopeless and have no options. This is usually far from the truth. We often have access to money (borrowing from your retirement or 401k, selling jewelry, extra vehicles or surplus furniture) that we haven’t considered. Also, don’t forget good old fashioned “cutting back.” Change often requires a certain degree of sacrifice, discipline and a lot of thinking outside the box. Taking the time to assess your options is a significant part of the preparation process that is crucial to making a successful and sustainable life change .

STEP 3:  Stick to it!! These three simple words are the most important advice of all. It is very easy to create a phenomenal plan and fail just because you toss it to the side, procrastinate and neglect to do the things that you identified as necessary to get to the life you want. Having someone who supports you and checks in with you periodically to make sure you’re on track is very helpful. That person can hold you accountable, remind you of what’s at stake and simply serve as encouragement / someone to vent to. However at this phase, the most important factor is still YOU. You will have to convince yourself that you deserve happiness and allow this prevailing thought to propel you through the difficult times when you lack motivation and energy to do what you need to do to get you there.

          Easier said than done right? I know. I have been where you are and remember how easy articles and posts such as this made doing something as huge and terrifying as making a significant life change appear. Even when I read articles about real people who had actually done it, I found ways to distinguish their situations from mine. In my mind, they always had some advantage that I didn't or circumstances that were not quite as dire as mine......and the list goes on. However, those are all excuses and crutches that we conveniently use to keep ourselves from having to take responsibility for our happiness and act. At the end of the day, it all boils down to this: knowing what type of life you want to live and being willing to do the work, make the sacrifices and exercise the courage to go after it. Believe it or not, for most of us, precious little separates us from living the life we want. Make a commitment to start laying the foundation now to ensure that this time next year, you're living the life you want. 

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Bright Side of Divorce

When I endeavored to write something bright and positive on a subject as dark as divorce, I thought about some of the most common reasons that people give for staying in bad marriages. Reasons like, they would be breaking a covenant with God, the negative impact on the kids and finances, and being lonely and possibly never marrying again. There are more, but after a while they all start sounding like excuses to stay in a bad situation; more out of fear and comfort than out of any real belief that it would be pleasing to God, best for the kids and financially or emotionally profitable. To illustrate and support my beliefs, I offer my own personal defenses and also provocative quotes from writers who have found eloquent words to convey the smart, brave and responsible reasons for choosing happiness even if it means divorce.

I’m breaking covenant with the person God sent to me: God didn’t put most people together. Most people put themselves together with a person they were drawn to based on superficial things like physical attraction, financial security, and biological clocks ticking out of control. If it was deeper than that – for example, love and companionship, it was still most likely guided by your own personal feelings and not some spiritual experience. Having a wedding in a church does not a spiritual union make. I’m a Christian, but when I married my husband at age 26, I didn’t dare ask God’s opinion for fear he would discourage me. I loved my fiancĂ©e with all my heart and did what I wanted to do at the time. Well, we’re divorced now. Turns out, we were husband and wife, but not friends.  As difficult as it was, I was brave enough to choose happiness for myself and we divorced. By doing that, I gave myself the chance to be in a relationship today with a man who is my best friend and confidante; something I never knew was possible.

“What we wait around a lifetime for with one person, we can find in a moment with someone else.” 
Stephanie Klein,   Straight Up and Dirty: A Memoir

The kids will suffer: They might; but not nearly as much as they will as a result of spending their childhood in a home filled with negative energy. It is very important for children to see their parents lovingly interact with each other. Not only does it teach them what to expect and seek in their own intimate relationships later, but it also fosters a sense of security. Children who grow up in homes where there is constant tension, fighting or just obvious distance between their parents, are always on edge; always mindful that at any moment, all hell could break loose and it could all be over. So you’re not doing your kids a favor by subjecting them to you and your spouse’s dysfunction. You may think you are being selfless and making an honorable sacrifice, but staying in a bad marriage for this reason is actually selfish. Children are very resilient. If you and your spouse act maturely and responsibly and separate in such a way that puts them first, they will be fine. Children are better off in a one parent peaceful environment than in a hostile one with two parents.

“Divorce isn't such a tragedy. A tragedy's staying in an unhappy marriage, teaching your children the wrong things about love. Nobody ever died of divorce.” 
Jennifer Weiner,   Fly Away Home

My finances will suffer: As miserable as it is to be in a broken relationship, it’s hard for me to believe that anyone would worry about finances more than getting to a point of peace. But if this is a concern, I can only offer that happiness and optimism breed productivity and success. The negative energy that is present in bad relationships can drain your energy and enthusiasm,   making it impossible to focus on going to the next level professionally. Without even realizing it, your self-esteem plummets and the confidence you need to go for a promotion or new job is non-existent. Taking a stand for yourself and your happiness is empowering and makes you feel like you can do anything. If you have that, the sky is the limit.

“The only thing more unthinkable than leaving was staying…” 
Elizabeth Gilbert,   Eat, Pray, Love:

I don’t want to go back to being single and lonely: Loneliness sucks, but chances are you were already lonely if your relationship was bad. Couples who don’t want to be together anymore are normally emotionally distant; so much so that you can feel alone even when you’re together. When I was married, there were many times that I felt lonely when my husband was right beside me. I would want to talk but his body language and short, disinterested responses clearly conveyed that he did not.  Also, dispel the myth that being single is synonymous with being lonely. Being single is wonderful when you love life and yourself! It’s a magical time when everything can finally revolve around YOU. You can take a trip, change jobs, go back to school or plan a weekend trip with your friends without having to “OK” it with anyone. If you’re choosing to look at it from only the perspective of not having a partner, you’re missing the beauty of it. Besides, the happier, more confident “you” is more likely to attract and keep the attention of a great guy or girl that you’re truly compatible with.

“I remember one desolate Sunday night, wondering: Is this how I´m going to spend the rest of my life? Married to someone who is perpetually distracted and somewhat wistful, as though a marvelous party is going on in the next room, which but for me he could be attending?” 
Suzanne Finnamore,   Split: A Memoir of Divorce

Conclusion:  I’ll end simply with the following quote:

 “Your relationship may be "Breaking Up," but you won't be "Breaking Down." If anything, you’re correcting a mistake that was hurting four people: you and the person you’re with; not to mention the two people who you were destined to meet.” 
 D. Ivan Young,   Break Up, Don't Break Down

The freedom to be happy is the most magnificent gift that you can give yourself.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Dating?? Remember This:

1. Have standards and stick to them: The world will make you think that you need to "go with the flow" or "relax." Don't believe it. You need to know what you want in a man and in a relationship regardless of societal trends. Not into "casual sex" or "friends with benefits" status? Then don't pretend to be! If you require a man to court and woo you, don't worry about whether it's old fashioned or if you're missing out on potential dates. Along the way, you will meet men who can't "rock with" what you want, but if you stick to your standards, you'll be available when you cross paths with the man who will. 

2. Be yourself: Sounds simple but many women feel the need to change who they are, what they like, and what they want in order to have someone to date. If you like to drink beer rather than champagne and enjoy the way profanity feels on your tongue, don't front. Everyone deserves to know exactly who and what they're getting. So, there's no reason to present an ultra feminine fake to your potential boo if you're really a little "hood." As stated before, when you meet Mr. "Right for You" he'll love and appreciate your quirks, idiosyncrasies and even your foul mouth; mine does!

3. Don't be desperate: You don't have to like every guy who likes you. Just because you finally met someone who calls you regularly and wants to spend a Saturday afternoon with you, you don't have to make him into your boyfriend. If you genuinely like him, can be yourself and don't have to waiver in your standards then, "yaaaay;" he might be the one. But if you find yourself overlooking significant things and talking yourself into why you should like him, you might be trying to choose him, just because he chose you. 

4. Continue to cultivate your female friendships: Don't forget about your girls just because you now have a potential boyfriend. Men don't stop watching Monday Night Football with their boys at Dantanna's just because they met a girl. They continue to do the things they always have and simply merge their new interest in with the old ones. The new guy you're dating should enhance your social life, not replace it. 

5. Don't search for superficial things: If you're over 35 and still looking for a man or woman your age with ripped abs, a tight, 22 year old ass and a waist the size of Scarlett Ohara's, please don't complain when you remain single......forever. Or worse yet, get a partner that has the character and morals of Satan. But remember: you weren't looking for character; you were looking for a flat stomach and round booty. Of course, we'd all love to have a physically perfect partner and I'm not advocating selecting a partner that makes you throw up in your mouth every time you look at him/her. But if you meet someone who has taken good care of themselves and can still fit in an airplane seat, give them a chance to show you the things about them that really matter. The reality is that most men and women over 35 have had children, stopped pumping iron in the gym for 3 hours daily due to careers and family, and therefore, don't still have the abs and pecs they had at 20. It's science. And for God's sake, if you're fat yourself, you really need to stop it.

6. Be the type of partner you would like to have: It's selfish and ridiculous to expect from a partner that which you yourself don't even have or give. This goes back to what I just said about looks and even beyond. If you're not attentive and generous, don't expect to get someone who is. If you're not rich, don't have a requirement that you only date wealthy men (or women)............... What was that? Birds chirping? It suddenly got really quiet in here. Again, we would all love to meet, fall in love and ride off into the sunset with a wealthy partner. But, don't dismiss every potential partner who's not. Especially if you're not. The amount of money a person makes today, is not the amount of money they have the potential to make tomorrow. Nor does it determine their character and how well they will treat you in a relationship. You better ask Tina about Ike......Enough said. 

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Enjoying the Space You're In: 3 Ways to Celebrate Your Current Status

One of the cruelties of life is that people always want whatever they don’t have. Skinny girls want curves and curvy girls starve themselves to be skinny; married people crave the freedom and autonomy they had when they were single and single people pray nightly for someone to answer to and inhibit their freedom. Teens long to be adults and adults wish they could be teens again. “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” However, we all know that this saying is really a sarcastic way of acknowledging that it’s probably never greener but when you don’t have it, it will always seem mighty tantalizing over there. So why do we spend so much of our time coveting things, people, lifestyles and circumstances that we don’t have? There’s probably no scientific answer to this question but my very unscientific one is that it’s probably due to that little monster of personal sabotage that lives within each of us. But instead of letting this little monster succeed in making you miserable, try embracing and celebrating your current status. Here’s how!

ONE:        Take stock of all the good things that characterize your life: “AS IS.”

TWO:       Tear down the fantasy of how great the other side is.

THREE:   Don’t let society dictate to you what defines beauty, fulfillment or happiness.    Create and embrace the unique standards of beauty and happiness that work for you.

I Want Children: The first thing you have to understand is that both sides of the fence have desirables and undesirables. Single people who desperately want children have just dropped their jaws to the floor wondering how a couple with 2 angelic children and a dog could possibly have a moment where they don’t experience almost orgasmic joy in the midst of having it all. Well, I’ll tell you. First, those 2 beings that you labeled angelic are anything but angels 80% of the time; and those “great” Saturdays spent shuffling the “angels” to soccer games, ballet class and to the mall for new sneakers is anything but “great” to the exhausted couple who would love to just experience the joy of sleeping late one Saturday before the eternal slumber of death. They WISH they could lie in bed until they feel like getting up and then have one whole day that involved only things that they wanted to do. The thought of having a 20 minute phone conversation without interruptions from a child who wants a snack…….NOW is heavenly. Meeting a friend for impromptu drinks after work sounds divine, but anything impromptu is out of the question because having kids is the most restrictive existence outside of actual incarceration that exists in the free world. In order for the average working mom to meet a friend out for unplanned drinks after work, she has to arrange for someone to pick the kids up from school, help them with their homework, make them dinner, ensure they get bathed and in bed on time…. Not to mention, sign permission slips for tomorrow’s field trip and pack lunch etc. etc. etc. It never ends; and this is just one day. So, am I saying that you should change your whole life plan and schedule Vasectomies and Tubal Ligations A.S.A.P.? No; I’m not. What I am advising however, is take the time to enjoy your childless status and the delicious freedoms that come with it. Relish it. Then, when your status changes to mommy or daddy, you’ll enjoy it even more.  

I Want a Spouse/Significant Other: If we could throw together some great physical, mental and emotional characteristics, blend them in a bowl then bake on 350 for an hour and have our soul mate, we’d all be in the kitchen right now. But since we can’t, why waste time stressing over “when” and “if” he or she is going to materialize? Contrary to the information touted by so many articles and books written to mainly women audiences, changing your hair, losing 10 pounds, and playing “dating mind games” is not going to cosmically bring you in contact with the person destined to be your soul mate. So instead of wasting time making so called “improvements” and adjustments to yourself in hopes of catching Prince or Princess Charming, use this time to enjoy “You” and to improve yourself simply for the benefit it brings to you as a person. As a woman who has experienced marriage, divorce and is now a partner in a committed relationship, I have a clear and well-rounded perspective of relationships. I know that marriage can be wonderful but it is not the total bliss that desperate singles imagine it to be. Even when you are in an amazing relationship like the one I’m in now, there are still times when you miss the autonomy and freedom of being single. As much as you love the sense of belonging to someone who adores you, you have moments when you miss belonging only to yourself; the days when you could make major decisions without considering or consulting anyone. When you are in a relationship you end up sharing everything: your body, space, heart, time… And sometimes, you wish everything could just be about you. You wish you had the freedom to quit your job and pack up and move to Miami because it was one of your college dreams to live near the beach and operate a burrito truck. Well, if you’re married or even in a committed relationship, you could never make a quirky decision like that without consulting him or her. And when you do, how likely is it that the answer will be: “Let’s go!” If you have kids: no consultation necessary. It just “aint” happening!

I Want to Be Skinny: Body image is huge in this country; maybe even the world. Trust me, I know because I spend 15% of everyday looking in the mirror and criticizing what I see. At one time, the trend was to be as hip-less, butt-less, thin and waif-like as humanly possible. We starved ourselves to be that. Now the trend is to be booty-licious thanks to pop icons like J-Lo and Beyonce. But…..or should I say, Butt……you can’t just have a curvy rear end because that would be easy for some of us. You have to have a curvy butt and hips, BUT a waist made for ultra-tiny waifs from times past. The combination is almost unnatural. So what do we do? We get butt injections, implants, liposuction and other procedures that a natural girl like me has never heard of. They even make butt pads which look ridiculous, may I add. I’ve had my biggest laughs looking at some skinny girl in the club who looks like she has two loaves of wheat bread in her pants. The skinny thighs and huge butt is a dead give-away. And if you have an ample figure all over, forget it. The world has no place for you. But instead of riding the rollercoaster of society’s beauty trends that are here today and gone tomorrow, develop your own sense of what looks good for YOU. I have always had a small top and curvy bottom; way before the mainstream thought it looked good. I didn’t try to get the fat sucked out my butt; I just wore clothes that made me feel and look good to ME. Now it’s in style, but next year - who knows? Now and then I see a small, petite girl and wish I looked like that but I immediately shoo that thought away. I make my main objective to be healthy and work with what I have. The huge boobs you hate, your short 4’11” frame, round hips, thick lips, big butt, small butt and the list goes on, is the envy of someone somewhere. Not only that, it is a huge turn-on to someone as well.

Food for Thought: Believe it or not, there are just as many married people who wish they were single as there are singles who want to be married.  There are moms and dads with children who wish they didn’t have that huge emotional, physical and financial responsibility. And yes, while curvy girls are saving to have their big butts, thighs and hips suctioned away, skinny girls are saving for injections to have theirs enhanced. I am a proponent of doing what you need to be happy; but only if it’s truly what YOU need, and not what the world tells you that you need. Only You know the answer to that. To illustrate this, again I must allude to the Bible of Life: “Sex and The City;” this time the movie (part two). Carrie and Big made two extremely non-traditional decisions that worked for them. First, they decided to never have children. Although a happily married couple, they decided that children just didn’t fit into their lifestyle as a dual career, social, NYC couple. They even had rings engraved to commemorate the decision: “me and you; just us two.” Second, they decided to retain Carrie’s old apartment so that once or twice a week, one or the other could go over there to have privacy and space. He wanted to lay in bed and watch TV which irked her and she needed the time away to feel like herself again so she could write. They had both been single for a long time and found that though madly in love, they still needed a little space from time to time. Her friends thought it strange at first, which made her insecure, but in the end, they ended up using the apartment themselves when they needed a little R&R away from their own hubbies and homes.

But it’s not about what friends think: it’s about you. So if you’re married and feeling restricted and unhappy, talk to your spouse about what you need; if it’s a little non-traditional, so what?  If you’re a mom and starting to hate your children, verbalize it. Then get the support you need to get away and have the alone time necessary for you to recharge and enjoy motherhood again. There are no “right or wrong" decisions; just “right or wrong” decisions for YOU.
A happy couple starting a family

Single girls having fun

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Get Your Mind Right

           It’s really easy to lose sight of how little control we actually have over some aspects of life. It’s not until that "thing" happens that rocks our world that we understand that despite our best efforts, shit happens. If you can grasp this concept, it helps you keep your mind right even when you’re in a storm. Getting your mind right refers to adapting an attitude and way of thinking that transcends circumstances and situations. “Control what you can control.” Many times, circumstances and situations arise that are outside of our control; the only thing we can control all the time is how we handle these situations. If your mind is right, you can take the worst situation and not just overcome it; but triumph.

           I went through a really rough time once. It was literally a situation where I went to bed on top of the world, and awoke with the world on top of me.  I felt miserable and hopeless and there seemed to be no end in sight. I remember wishing for death. To the world however, I seemed strong because I never stopped; I kept pushing forward living life as if nothing had changed. It wasn't until later that I realized I don’t know how to give up. I honestly thought I had no choice but to keep getting up every morning, going to work, taking care of my children and my newly incarcerated husband...after all, I kept waking up alive.

          Much later someone explained to me the fallacy in my thinking. They pointed out that you do have a choice and sadly, many people don’t make it through. There's actually such a thing as giving up without dying. They opt to stay in bed; can't face another day. It even has a name: mental breakdown. That’s when I realized I had actually done something pretty amazing.  I did have a choice: to fight or give up. I CHOSE to fight. I WAS strong. The thing is, I never learned how to give up; only to fight and make it happen - one way or another. So my first point is:

          1. Never learn how to give up.  Don’t teach it to your kids either. There are some basic things we have to have in life and you have to do what you have to do to make sure that you are able to provide those necessities for yourself and your family; by any means necessary.  Menial jobs that are beneath your experience and credentials, temporary public assistance ... These things don’t define you or your worth. They are temporary means to an end. Don’t focus on them or your current situation. Instead, focus on your plan: what you’re doing to put your current situation behind you. 

          2. Don't put your fate into anybody else’s hands. Take charge of your own life and destiny. Do everything you can do for yourself. My son is an aspiring musician currently trying to break into the hip hop industry. He moved to Atlanta specifically for this reason. He has had some small successes but lacks the financial resources to really do what he needs to do. As a result, he’s always in a perpetual state of waiting on someone to do something for him: this person is going to take him into the studio, this guy is supposed to introduce him to that guy who’s in the industry; this girl is supposed to take pictures for his photo shoot or video shoot….. Forget all that! Do everything you can do for yourself. Maybe it won’t be the caliber or quality that you desire. But it’s something. You can be waiting for years to have the $5,000.00 it takes for professional pictures or to shoot a really elaborate video. Meantime, you’re at a standstill; feeling bad, losing motivation and wasting the most precious of all commodities: time. The internet is your friend; iPhone cameras and video recorders are your friends. Use them! Remember, Justin Bieber was discovered on YouTube sitting in his living room singing and playing a guitar.

          3. Keep failures and disappointments in perspective; stay positive. Remember: you don’t have cancer. I say this all the time because I watched my dad die of cancer and that was the most helpless situation I have ever been in. You feel helpless and hopeless. I could do nothing for him, the best Doctors at Duke could do nothing for him, and he could do nothing for himself. He probably wished at that time that his biggest problem was one of the problems I have now. I’m sure he would have preferred being homeless than lying in that bed wasting away waiting for death to claim him. So, If it’s not cancer, you have hope. And even if it is cancer, a positive attitude can bring healing sometimes and if nothing more, peace and calm to you and your family as you help each other cope with the inevitable.

          4. Look at every situation from this perspective: what’s the worst that could happen? Often the worse thing is still something that leaves us with a heartbeat. And a heartbeat means there's still hope. One day my son was having a horrible day. You know, one of those ones that greets you as soon as you wake up. He knew he was going to be late for work due to a curve ball that this dreadful day had thrown first thing in the morning and he knew his supervisor was going to go ballistic because that’s her style. I looked at him and he looked so defeated. I gave him what I believe to be some great advice. I told him, "yes, she is probably going to go ape shit, but you are late so you can’t say too much to that. However, at the end of the day, after all her ranting what is the worst thing that can happen? She can fire you……that’s it.  And the beautiful thing about that is - it’s a dreadful job with low pay that you should have quit already anyway. You will still have a place to live and food to eat." Losing your job might not be as inconsequential to your survival as it was for my son because the “worst thing that can happen is subjective and therefore different for all of us.  But look at it this way: even when the worst thing that could happen happens (death, unemployment, divorce) if you’re still breathing, there's still hope.  My dad died suddenly of cancer; worst thing that could happen. It was painful and rapidly degenerative. But in the midst of all the ugly, was beauty. I got to know him in a way I never had before and WOULD never have but for his illness. We had never before taken that time that we were forced to take once he got ill.

           5. Nothing is the end of the world; except the end of the world. This one goes hand in hand with the last 2. I think I’m stressing this one to the point of being redundant, because it’s so important to keeping your mind right. What makes our minds “wrong” and disillusioned, is giving so much significance and power to the problems that life brings us. People commit suicide over things that could and would work themselves out in a matter of time (sometimes as short as weeks later) if they would give time the chance to do what it does best. That is such a sad waste.

          6. Remember what’s important: good health, family, love. Those of us who are healthy and loved by our family and friends take these precious gifts for granted. Your health gives you the capacity and the ability to build the life that you want. You may not have it now, but if you have good health, the only thing standing between you and that life is how much effort you’re willing to put into making it happen. The person lying in bed dying of cancer no longer has the option to fix his life. He can use the down time to be introspective and figure out some things for the future, but he will never have the chance to bring it to fruition. Family and friends who love you are priceless. The support and love that we get from them cannot be bought and should be valued. But often, we take it for granted. If you are in a loving relationship or have great kids, extended family, sisters or brothers, parents etc. you are blessed and have half of everything you need in life to be happy. Look at the wonderful things that you have right in front of your face instead of looking THROUGH those assets in search of the problems. 

7. The glass really is half full. Any negative situation can be turned into a positive if your mind is right. If you apply for a job that you really want but don't get it, the glass is still half full. Examine your resume with a critical eye, then look for ways to improve it. If you had an interview and didn't get it, critique your interview style and technique. Were you positive and responsive to the questions asked? Were you knowledgeable of the company's objectives? Were you professionally dressed and articulate? Use this rejection as a way of assessing and improving your interview style. Finally, look at it like this: sometimes not getting one job means there is a better job for you. I firmly believe that if you are prepared and position yourself to take advantage of opportunities, you will get what's meant for you. Keep striving.

          8. Keep that friend close who tells you like it is. Honesty is your friend. No sense in being positive if your positive thinking is based on a lie. For example, we all have friends who constantly complain about their jobs, marriage or relationship, body image etc., yet never do anything to make it better. If you think you’re overweight but won’t change your eating habits or exercise, you are contributing to something that is making you unhappy. Worse yet, if you are compounding the problem by dressing in such a way that emphasizes your girth rather than plays it down, you’re making it worse. This is where the good friend that shoots it to you straight comes in. He or she will tell you to do something about your weight if it makes you unhappy and in the meantime, stop dressing like a size 6 if you’re a size 14.  They will also tell you when you’re complaining about things on your job that you cause, or a relationship that you long outgrew etc.  Hearing this “straight no chaser” information is sometimes exactly what we need to make positive changes in our lives.

          I know the advice I am offering is easier said than done but when your very survival depends upon it, it’s easier done too. That age old saying holds a lot of truth but it can also be used as a crutch and an excuse. When you are trying to move forward in life, keep your sanity and find happiness and fulfillment, philosophical crutches and excuses are luxuries you cannot afford. Read books about people who have overcome or who have successfully tackled the field you’re in or the obstacles you face. Learn from their struggles and mistakes, get hope from the fact that they made some of the same mistakes you did, felt miserable sometimes etc. but in the end they made it. You are not alone in your struggles. Others have had the same and somehow figured it out. You will too if you keep your mind right.

Monday, October 1, 2012

What's Your Handicap?

          I LOVE GOLF.  There’s a lot that I still don’t understand about the fundamentals and rules of the game, but I like watching it on television and I LOVE accompanying my boyfriend when he goes to play. There's no place more beautiful and serene than a well-manicured golf course. But I'm not referring to golf in that question. I'm asking you to uncover and define that thing that keeps you from realizing your full potential or keeps you stuck and unable to move to the next level. The thing that keeps you handicapped. Is it a thought, a habit, a past decision or an attitude?  How do you unearth it? And even more importantly, once discovered, how do you fix it? The total solution depends on the specifics and nature of the problem, however at least 70% of the solution is just realizing you have a handicap and defining what it is.
          1. The unrealized fantasy: Did you lose a parent, a spouse or an opportunity at some point? Did that loss cause a massive shake up or shift in your life and circumstances? If so, you're not alone. These things are inevitable. But it’s how you deal with them that can set you apart. The unrealized fantasy is that thing that happened to you that you now blame for all your current problems. If "__" wouldn't have happened, my life would be so great.” My son lost the only father he knew when my ex-husband went to prison and later stopped communicating with him altogether. I will call him Mr. X. Mr. X met my son when he was only a year old and took him on as his son from age 1 to age 15.  My son looked up to him and respected him tremendously. He grew up watching Mr. X take care of his trucking business and our family and felt he would have his love and support forever. Unfortunately, after our relationship as husband and wife hit the rocks, Mr. X no longer wanted a relationship with my son either. It crushed my son and to this day, it affects his outlook and self-esteem. He feels that his life would be different and so much better if Mr. X was still in it. He saw him as a strong and powerful person who knew how to make things happen and who would have easily supplied him with the tools and support to become anything he wanted to be; which at age 20 is to be a writer and artist in the music industry. While this may or may not be true, focusing on it is an exercise in futility and an unworthy focus of time and energy. Advice: give yourself a reasonable amount of time to grieve. I'm not trying to diminish your pain. Seek help from friends or professionals if necessary. But at the end of the day, don’t give unmerited importance and power to that person or situation that robbed you of a sense of security. So you lost a parent at a young age, your husband left you or you missed a chance to go to college because your family couldn’t afford to send you. Maybe your life would’ve been better absent those circumstances; maybe it wouldn't have. You really don't know. But whether it would have or not is not a worthy focus of energy because you cannot recapture it. A much more worthy use of your time and energy is developing a plan to overcome. You can’t afford to give this type of crippling power to anyone or anything. People overcome extraordinary circumstances that would blow your mind every day. It’s much easier to blame that situation or person for your failure than to look within yourself and determine what you are doing to contribute. Life happens to everyone. How we deal with it is what separates us.
          2. Making bad decisions; repeatedly: Hindsight is 20/20; it’s true. On the front end, we don’t always have all the necessary information and insight to make the best decisions. However, some of us make a habit of making poor decisions that not only cause us pain but the people around us as well. If you are a woman who repeatedly picks the wrong man, or a husband who constantly cheats on his wife, gets caught, repents and then starts the whole cycle again, you may be a chronic bad decision maker. Repeatedly making poor choices that hurt you and the people involved with you is a handicap. It is something that keeps you stuck in a particular pattern or cycle of negativity and stunts your growth. Depending on the circumstances, this type of mental recklessness can also be very damaging to the people around you. In the example of the repeat cheater, not only is he destroying the relationship that he obviously wants to stay in, but he is destroying his wife’s self-esteem, sense of security and ability to trust. Women who consistently hook up with the wrong men waste crazy time putting up with crap and heartache while trying to mold him into the type of guy they want. Why not just try to find that guy from the start? Being in a bad relationship is especially crippling for women because we are extremely emotional beings who normally express our pain and frustration by spending countless hours venting to our friends. Venting is how we define and work out our pain. Women can spend 5 hours straight commiserating on our relationship woes. The problem is commiserating wastes a lot of time that we could spend on something that could actually be beneficial. Something like helping each other figure out a business venture to start together. My suggestion here is to take time to do frequent self-evaluations. You’ll have to figure out the most effective way to do it for you. I write in a journal, take a long shower or sometimes call my best friend and start talking from my soul. However you do it, take some time to think and reflect on your life, desires, decisions and plans. Determine what your usual decision making process consists of. Do you get all the facts before you act on things? Do you consider the consequences of your actions before acting? Do you ignore your gut feelings and instincts when making decisions? Do you learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to guide you in future decisions? Determine your issue and take the necessary steps to break the handicapping effect bad decision making has on your life and happiness.
          3. Negative Attitude; the glass is always half empty: If you think life is tough, unfair, overwhelming and downright miserable sometimes, I concur. Many times we are working hard, being nice to others, saving our money, being responsible and still we fall short. Emergencies come up to wipe out our savings, despite our best efforts at work we get overlooked for the promotion….again, and even though we are nice to our in-laws, they hate us. I know how it goes. But in spite of these negative situations, life is still a beautiful thing overall. If you have good mental and physical health you’re in a great situation to make all your dreams come true. However, if you have a “glass is half empty” mentality, you will find it difficult if not impossible to believe that. The “glass half empty” analogy is brilliant and a remarkably simple and clear way to express one of the most important philosophies in life; the good or the bad of your circumstances depends on your perspective. Think about it. You have a half glass of water. You can decide to view it as being either half empty (negative and defeatist) or half full (positive and optimistic). Your way of looking at it neither adds nor takes away from the actual contents of the glass. But what it does is create an attitude within you that enables you to feel like you are either half way to being satisfied and fulfilled or half way to lack and poverty.  This simple illustration puts the power in your hands; not the world or your current circumstances to determine the contents of your glass.  Do not allow a negative, cynical attitude prevent you from acknowledging the tremendous power that you have over your life and circumstances.