Archives for March 2011

Use Your What-If's to Give You Courage

nysubwayGlenn Berger, psychotherapist and creator of the application Shrinky for Anxiety, wrote about “what-ifs” in his blog this week. It reminded me of an experience.

For my life I take the “what ifs” beyond the horrible thing to imagining that the eventual outcome won’t be the end of the world.

A few decades ago, for example,  I wanted to buy a commercial building to house a tutoring program I had started. I knew very little about real estate, so I bought a book called “How Not to Get Taken Every Time.” I read it and prepared to negotiate for this building I had spotted and loved.

I certainly experienced anxiety and fear, especially because my husband was too afraid of this financial move himself to offer me any encouragement and support.

For a while I was frozen with fear of failure. So, I imagined “what if” I was successful in getting this building, ran a successful program there, but reached a time when I could no longer pay the mortgage and bills? I imagined that I would lose the building and not have it anymore. That’s when it hit me! “I don’t have the building now, so if I lost it I would only be back to where I am now.” What a relief that realization was!

I went ahead with my plans and enjoyed two glorious years running my tutoring program in that building. When I closed that program, it wasn’t the money so much that was a problem, but my passion had declined.

What is your experience with “what if’s”?

What are the Ingredients for a Good Read?

Posing with Shirley and Bernard Kinsey

Posing with Shirley and Bernard Kinsey

Ask any reader what the ingredients are for a good read and you’ll get as many answers as there are readers.

And yet, that was exactly the topic of a program at Cerritos Library in Cerritos, CA presented by the Orange County (CA) Chapter of the The Links, Inc. in collaboration with The National Black MBA Association Inc., Los Angeles Chapter.

Five local authors and I shared our journeys and gave our viewpoints on the writing process and the highlights of our books.

Signing books at Cerritos Library

Signing books at Cerritos Library

Daniel Armstrong, a dream coach, author and lawyer inspired us with his story of the love writing instilled in him as child by his mother who encouraged his early efforts to write letters to the President. Later inspired by his experiences in Ghana, Africa, he wrote the motivational book, “How to Live Your Dreams: Find a Tree and Get Started.”

Gary Phillips
got his experience and calling to be a community organizer from growing up in South Central Los Angeles. Drawing on his experience in activism, printing and teaching incarcerated youth he writes stories of chicanery misadventure and human condition. His popular murder mystery, Citizen Kang, was serialized online by The Nation.

Attica Locke,
novelist and screenwriter, acted as the panel moderator. Her first novel, Black Water Rising, was shortlisted for the prestigious Orange Prize in the UK in 2010. She has worked for many years as a screenwriter , penning movies and TV scripts for Paramount, Warner Bros., Disney, 20th Century Fox, Jerry Bruckheimer Films, HBO, Dreamworks and Silver Pictures. Most recently she wrote the introduction for the UK publication of Ernest Gaines’ A Lesson Before Dying.

Paul Woodring, an electrical engineer, “intrapreneur” and entrepreneur, boasts many notable accomplishments. In the early 1980’s he directed the development of the first microprocessor based life support ventilator, a product that went on to become the most-used life support ventilator in the U.S. In 1996 he formed InVentive Technologies which developed the first touch screen ventilator that allowed for use of invasive and noninvasive ventilation in the same device. His first novel, Inventions, is an intriguing story of a Black character’s experiences in the high tech world of 1970’s emerging inventions and romance.

Bernard and Shirley Kinsey, known for their collection of African American art, books and manuscripts that span from 1600 to the present, gave a presentation , “What You Didn’t Learn in High School?” Based on the Kinsey Collection Exhibition at the Smithsonian American History Museum, their mesmerizing presentation spotlighted the struggles and achievements of Blacks throughout history. The Kinsey Collection was recently chosen by the Florida Department of Education as the curriculum to tech African American studies to 3.6 million children statewide.

During my presentation I shared how my idea for Color Your Life Happy: Create the Success, Abundance and Inner Joy You Deserve began as a blog and later became a book designed to help those who believe they have no voice or choice, find a way to rejoice. Drawing from findings of positive psychology and ancient truths, I packed each chapter with a unique mix of practical advice, creative activities, poetry, anecdotes and colorable cartoons.

A good read? It’s fiction and nonfiction, history and intrigue, mystery and romance. A good read inspires, entertains, instructs.

Thank you to the following groups for making this event possible and available to the public: City of Cerritos, Cerritos City Council, the beautiful Cerritos Library, the Orange County (CA) Chapter of The Links, Inc. and the National Black MBA Association, Inc. Los Angeles Chapter.

Forget Your Own Happiness, You Owe Me

Today I received the latest newsletter from Barbara Sher, author of Refuse to Choose!: Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams and other inspiring books on living the life you were meant to live. In her newsletter she points us to the video above where she stresses the importance of doing what we were put here on this Earth to do.

In preparing us for the video Barbara points out, “You won’t hear one word about how you should treat yourself well, make yourself happy, put yourself first. It’s not about that. It’s about a debt you owe to the rest of us. ”

Even though I do talk a lot about making yourself happy, I remembered that I ended my book, Color Your Life Happy, on a point similar to the one Barbara is making in her video.

Happiness is the state of mind that enables you to reach within your reservoir of strength, joy, love, and peace to find purpose and meaning. Carrying out your purpose will help you and others. Being grateful will give meaning to your life and to the lives of those you help.

A bit of fragrance always clings to the hand that gives you roses. ~ Chinese Proverb

I challenge you to suspend your skepticism; open your mind to the possibility of happiness and incorporate some of the ideas I’ve shared into your own life. Commit to balancing your family and work, finding your spiritual path, insisting on a job you love, releasing your leader within and leaving a worthy legacy.

I believe that each of us is born with a gift to share. Life is not just about finding ways to give yourself pleasure while neglecting to share your talents and brilliance with the world. Embracing happiness and doing what you were meant to do are one in the same.

How dare you neglect your gift to write beautiful poetry and deprive us of the inspiration it would give us?

How dare you have within you a deep love for scientific research that could lead to a cure for cancer but bury it under a 9 to 5 job you hate?

Wayne Dyer urges us not to die with our songs still inside of us.

You owe it to me, to us, to do what you love, for by sharing your gift, your purpose, and your passion, you fulfill your life mission and leave the world a better place for it.

What is your take on this? Speak up.

International Women's Day: Lessons I Learned from my Mother

momToday’s celebration of International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.

This year represents 100 years of campaigns from getting the right to vote to increasing opportunity for working women to have equal access to the training, technology and pay for competing in the global marketplace. Much has improved since 1911, of course, but women still do not enjoy equal pay for the same work as men, and globally are still the victims of violence, abuse and discrimination.

As I reflect on this day I think about my mother, who, in spite of discrimination and unequal treatment, still had a profound effect on me and others around her.

As an African American born and raised in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, my mother had plenty of reasons to keep her sights set low and settle for the status quo. Some things weren’t safe to do since you couldn’t even count on the white law enforcement to protect you. The murder of Black males and rape of Black women were often not even investigated.

The average Black woman around her counted herself lucky to get a job doing “day work” meaning they travelled for miles to work in the homes of white families all day and drag themselves back home in the evening to devote what energy they had left to their own families.

My mother saw a different future for herself

Thanks to segregation, the Black community was full of Black-owned businesses and entrepreneurs since that’s the only place they could set up shop, counting on patronage from their own people. Because she quickly learned to type, one of my mother’s first jobs was as a secretary at the Black-owned mortuary, Miller’s Funeral Home and Insurance Company in Pine Bluff. She was always so proud of that job because it not only gave her a prestigious position where she could wear business attire rather than a maid’s uniform, but also put her in daily contact a demanding and shrewd business man from whom she learned many lessons about running a successful business in spite of the racial discrimination and unfair treatment that surrounded them.

Multi-talented and eager to learn, my mother also learned to play the piano at an early age, and by adolescence was playing in a juke joint (crude building for dancing, music, gambling and drinking usually in Black rural areas) on Saturday nights and for the local church on Sundays. Because she could read music and “play by ear”, she was a sought-after pianist and organist all of her life until in her 90’s when dementia began to slowly delete the 1000’s of songs she had memorized in her lifetime.

My mother created a different future for herself

Always practical, my mother didn’t settle for the weekend money she picked up for her music, so she decided to also go to cosmetology school as a young adult, even though it meant a trek to Little Rock, AR, a formidable trip in 1930’s. With her cosmetology license in hand and a new husband who moved her to St. Louis, MO, she opened her first beauty shop in the front room of our small dwelling. (She told me it had been a chicken shack that she and my father got for cheap rent because they were willing to clean it up, put up a wall to turn one room into two, and create a crude toilet.)

My sisters and I grew up watching my mother run a successful beauty shop during the week, and slide into her position as pianist for the Children’s Choir at our church on the weekends. In addition to this busy schedule, she managed to turn out beautiful outfits for us to wear to school, cook great meals and participate in PTA.

By the end of my first year of college, we moved to California, enjoying the many opportunities that were flying open during the 60’s.

Like many young people I didn’t fully realize and appreciate the many lessons I learned from my mother until much later. She was amazing not only for her many talents and aspirations, but mostly for her unwillingness to be defined by the unfair conditions that were a reality around us. Mostly I remember her

1. Money wisdom–she was a thrifty and a smart shopper, but she always stressed that it was wiser to spend more and buy a few quality outfits than a bunch of cheap outfits that would soon wear out. Because she was a great seamstress, she could create classy dresses from Vogue patterns and spend the money she saved on top-of-the-line shoes.

2. Courage–she once said that she took us to any events where they would let Black people attend. I can remember travelling by bus (we didn’t have a car) for a long ride to attend the circus at the Arena. Although Blacks could attend, the concession stands wouldn’t sell refreshments to us so I remember her hauling a bag full of snacks so we could enjoy munching during the circus.

3. Resourcefulness
–From her customers, church members, the newspapers and radio, she always found enrichment and educational activities and events that my sisters and I could attend. Summers were filled with YWCA camp and then Vacation Bible School, and of course the school year was loaded with plenty to do after school and at church on weekends.

4. Willingness to let us make some decisions for ourselves
–By the time I was in high school the St. Louis schools decided to desegregate schools by swooping some of the gifted students from our Black high school to a white school miles away. When I was offered this “opportunity” I am so grateful that my mother let me decide.

In spite of all the technology and superior instruction this white school was going to offer me, I could not see the sense of leaving my Black high school where I had friends, was active in many activities and excelling academically, to catch a bus in the early dawn to go across town to an unwelcoming environment where I would have to face untold treatment from fellow students and teachers alike. I clearly didn’t have a pioneer spirit, nor the same courage my mother had. I saw no benefit for me in being the tool of the school district to try to correct the wrongs of the past.

As I reflect on International Women’s Day, I think fondly of my mother who did her part to enhance the lives of her daughters and all the other young women whose lives she touched. Her favorite saying and song was “If I can help somebody as I pass along, then my living will not be in vain.” (You can hear Patti LaBelle singing the song here

I encourage you to do your part through a church, charity, school, community or personal effort to ensure that the girls and women in your local area have safe, enriching and inspired lives. In this way, your living will not be in vain, and our global goals will be met, one neighborhood at a time.

"I want to be like you when I grow up."

dressup-resizedI hear this a lot, and until I read Tim Miles response to a similar question, I didn’t have a good comeback.

Now I do.

So you want to be like me when you grow up?

Okay, here goes in no particular order.

  • Get up at 5:30 AM every morning whether you have to go to work or not. (Yes, weekends too.)

  • Each day if you are able to get out of bed under your own power, or you are still alive,  say “This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalms 118: 24

  • Write in your journal, morning pages, reflect on your day, go for a walk, meditate or other activity that sets your intention for the day.

  • Stop watching the news. It’s designed to scare and distract you. Someone will tell you if you need to evacuate your neighborhood.

  • Stop waiting for the right time to do what you want. I couldn’t figure out the order in which I should have a teaching career, a family, return to graduate school and be an entrepreneur. So, I did it all along at the same time. (Try giving birth to your 3rd child on the first day of school in the second year of your doctoral studies and returning to classes the next week.)
  • Strive for harmony in your life by making time for work, health, fun, family, friends and spiritual needs.

  • Be willing to do things that make sense to you even if  not to other people, even your family and friends.
  • Learn to enjoy your alone time. Major projects require blocks of thinking and working alone.

  • When you have a burning desire to travel or go to some  event, don’t postpone it waiting for a willing companion. Go by yourself.
  • Risk making a fool of yourself or failing miserably at something.
  • Face frequent bouts with  self-doubt, knowing that you’ll regain your self-confidence and forge ahead.
  • Follow your dream for years even if you aren’t making any money from it.
  • Admit you don’t know everything. Take classes and read constantly.
  • Always be open to learning, especially from your kids.

  • When you figure something out, be willing to share it with others even when they won’t pay you a cent for it.
  • Accept the fact that when you open your heart to love someone (even your kids) they may not love you back in the way that you would like. Love people anyway.
  • Adapt to change. It’s the only constant.
  • Make a plan.
  • Abandon your plan and be spontaneous sometimes.
  • Show gratitude for all your life experiences, even the ones you that didn’t seem so great at first.
  • Then, when you are about to enter your 7th decade, share your life tips with someone who says to you “I want to be like you when I grow up.”