Liberated.

It’s been a while since I’ve contributed anything here. My emotions have run the gamut these last few months as politicians have dominated the airwaves, cases of police-related violence have shown up in media, two hurricanes have blown through this region, people have been…well, people, I’ve learned the sex of my new baby, and had a momentum shift at work. I’m in a very good place, but that doesn’t automatically spell ability for me to articulate exactly what I want to say next on this blog.

My identity has changed quite a bit over the last few months as well, and that’s called into question my presence on most social media platforms. Most people who follow me on Instagram see me as a coach and fitness guru. I wouldn’t consider myself those things anymore. I change outfits so often, for some it’s hard to keep up. But underneath whatever my new focus may be, I am still ultimately me. Most folks don’t have the patience or power to see that, and that’s okay.

Lately, I’ve been exchanging valuable lessons with my counselor – she was appointed to me through the program my OB’s office offers for expecting mothers to help with parent education, mental health and stress management, and other psychological services. What I love about getting to meet with her each week is that she affirms a lot of the realizations I’ve had about myself and my relationships with others recently, and not just because she’s my friend and loves me and wants me to feel supported, but rather because her professional opinion reflects a stance in support of the changes I’m making. These two items (my choices and changes and her professional approval) exist separate of each other. I don’t kneel before her each week asking what the next step to take is…rather I’m just taking steps, following the path that feels right, and when I open up to her about it, she meets me with praise.

The person I used to be was someone who was in survival mode. Especially when I look at that girl who lived in California from 2008-2014, I definitely see someone who just wanted to find a good place to be so that she didn’t have to be alone or on the outs. My family had left, and though I had my boyfriend/husband, he also had a life, a career, and an identity of his own. I needed (or felt like I needed) certain people around to not feel so alone or abandoned.

Now that I live here, closer to family and raising my own small family, that need for others has waned significantly. I still value friendships and people for what they bring to my existence and what they allow me to offer to them, but I don’t seek to make new friends or know new people now. I know everyone I want to. I’m close to who I want to be close to. That circle is drastically smaller than it’s ever been, but it’s also the most appropriate it’s ever been. There are people who aren’t included there who don’t like it. Fine. There are folks I kicked out because I didn’t deem them worthy anymore. Fine. (and no, that ain’t some Mean Girls shit; I don’t have time for one-way relationships anymore) There are folks who don’t like me but choose passive-aggression over stating their feelings plainly. Enjoy. This life reset has been about refocusing on what’s important, letting go of what’s not, and emotionally detaching from things (and people) that just aren’t worth the investment. And from where I’m sitting, it’s working.

View More: http://collectionbyclaribelphotography.pass.us/antoinette--july-2016

I always feared isolation because I thought it’d make me sad. The truth is, the smaller I keep my world in terms of association and affiliation, the happier I am. I would rather be alone and content than surrounded by a sea of people who claim to be on my team but constantly hurt me through being obliviously self-absorbed, or strapping me with unfair expectations. I’ve found the courage and power to say no, to keep the door locked after others walk out of it, and to set fire to the bridge myself if I know I won’t need to cross it again. None of this emerges from an angry or bitter place, but rather one of protecting my true happiness. And yes, it leaves me feeling liberated.

Wrong Label

I don’t do well at creating analogies most of the time, but I’m going to take a stab at one right now.

Imagine, if you will, the assortment of soft drinks that sit neatly stacked inside a vending machine. If one is lucky enough to have the two dollars and some change these cold beverages cost (seriously – the cost of soda is one of the many reasons I don’t drink it!), as well as the patience it takes to slide their dollar bills into the narrow mouth of the machine, they get the option to select their drink of choice by pressing the corresponding button which usually has a picture of their desired soda on it. Soft drinks have come a long way and run the gamut from sugary juices and teas, to energy drinks, to bubbly favorites like Sprite, Pepsi, Fanta, and Mountain Dew. Now, more than ever, there is a wide variety of soft drinks to choose from.

Anywho, in this scenario we have a young, thirsty soda buyer on a quest for cola. It can be Pepsi, it can be Coke, hell, it can even be that dreaded RC knock-off crap, but cola is the end game. The vending patron purchases her soda from an overpriced machine and hurries off to her next destination, be it a class, a shift at work, or home. The brilliant red hue of the can and the curvy letters on the label appear all too familiar, and condensation even begins to form as the icy can makes contact with the much warmer air outside of the vending machine apartment where this soda had once lived.

When she pops the top and takes a swig, the taste is both familiar as well as surprising. It’s definitely cola, and the bubbles spring against her tongue in a familiar way, but something else is there. She drinks a little more, and can’t quite place the difference, but this isn’t cola as she’s used to it. There’s an unexpected finish to it. It isn’t a bad one; in fact, it actually tastes pretty nice. It’s a different flavor, though, and while she finishes the can, she’s left wondering why those 12 ounces of cola hit her so differently from other servings of cola she’s had in the past. This soda drinker hasn’t caught on that the contents of her plain cola can actually contained cherry cola. The sweet finish was pleasant, but not sought after, and the uniqueness of the cherry cola loses its value by being represented by the wrong can.

A similar tale could be told about my temperament.

As a child, I was always friendly, outgoing, and spritely (since I brought up soda). I had my own bouts with nervousness at giving presentations or being put on the spot to speak in school or extracurriculars, but these didn’t keep me from taking to the stage for dance recitals, performing in choir, pursuing a short-lived career in radio, appearing in two music videos for BET Network, performing at my high school’s first ever poetry slam, pledging a sorority, and even wanting to become an educator in the classroom as an adult. I’ve always been typed as “loud,” and indeed, my voice carries. Meet my mom; I get it from her.

But these traits have always garnered me the label of “extrovert,” and before age 16, I just went along because I didn’t know any wiser. It wasn’t until I was in the throes of puberty that I started to question whether or not I was really as open and outgoing as everyone had come to think I was, or if I was just someone who coped with the pressure of being put on the spot better than others around me. I can remember sitting in my 10th grade English class, hating life, watching the clock incessantly, when we (the class) stumbled upon some names within our assigned novel that our teacher had trouble pronouncing. Because my mom had many Chinese, Vietnamese, and Korean coworkers and friends, I learned tricks of pronunciation and was able to spit the names out easily. Suddenly, all eyes turned to me as she asked me to continue reading this section of text. I read it as best I could, and the students around me pressed me with questions about how it was that I spoke so clearly even with words derived from other languages. I shrugged and waited out the final moments of 6th period and booked it.

The next day, this boy I’d had a crush on, who was also my classmate in this class, sat next to me and asked if I wanted to hang out with him and his speech and debate buddies one day after school. They were part of the elitist cool at my high school – not jocks or popular – I wasn’t into those guys. I refer to them as the elitist cool because they were so smart and stuck up they built their own upper echelon. I’d later learn that those types of fake societies matter about as much as two-dollar bills, but when you’re 16 and  have just learned that when you throw on a skirt you have hips, that kind of invitation can make you feel good. But I couldn’t go. Not because mom or dad would object – I could think of a good enough lie to wiggle around them – I just didn’t want to be put on the spot. I didn’t want these people knowing who I was. I couldn’t let him see who I really was. No abuse at home, no bed wetting problems, no Rosemary Kennedy sibling hidden away in my family’s attic. I was just a nerdy girl who liked to play Zelda and listen to music for hours in her own room without fear of someone barging in because there were no siblings to share space with. I liked to research things in my spare time and write poems. I’d spend hours in my room just zoning out after school because my mind was on overload sometimes. So many people and cliques and rumors and trends to keep up on and MTV and people to call and…I didn’t want them knowing any of that about me because it was private.

That was the day my introversion and I shook hands, and we’ve been locked ever since.

Fast forward to now, where I sit in a place where I have nothing left to do but find myself as I live in a still fairly new location, reunited with family I’d been far away from, and still adjusting to my ever-changing role as a wife, mom, career woman, and entrepreneur, and I’m learning to embrace my introversion more tightly. I was always typed as an extrovert because I engage in “outgoing” activities such as socializing with strangers at gatherings and public speaking, but what nobody ever really knew (even I haven’t understood this until recently) was that those activities drained me. I needed my alone time to recover from them, and my home environment was of such where I didn’t have to put forth much effort to get this. Mom and dad were involved, but they gave me my space. I always had my own room and pretty much ruled the upstairs of our house as the guest bedroom had my computer in it. I just thought I was being an only child, and to some degree that may have been true, but as I’m learning, I was also recharging in solitude as introverts often do.

introvert advantage

From The Introvert Advantage by Marti Olsen Laney, Psy.D.

[It’s not the introvert bible – I’ve found a few questionable spots in this book and I’m almost through it – but it gives a nice perspective on what it’s like to date, parent, and be married to introverts if you are or are not one. I’m learning that I can actually relate to the world…if I want to.] 

 

Failure to do this can have grave consequences like panic attacks, sudden mood shifts, and unkind words. I hosted a bridal shower at my home in California and had two anxiety attacks trying to keep myself together as droves of strangers marched through my home, passed my 9-month old daughter around, and peered curiously at pictures of my family on the walls. I shoved my postpartum body into a sundress and tried to play hostess, but all I wanted to do was curl into a ball on the floor and try to process the upcoming move. I like for people to come over, but I don’t like for them to stay long. I can be open, but I prefer to keep myself hidden. Even the glimpses you see of me on this blog, which are more than any I share on other social media, are limited glimpses. The complex and beautiful web that I’m weaving isn’t for others to behold beyond my spouse and someday my daughter, and they even need a road map to navigate it all.

All of this, in summation, is to say that I identify very clearly with that unique cherry cola that was mistaken for classic and undervalued behind an improper label. I sit on the more extroverted side of introversion, but make no mistake that introversion is where I sit. I’ve been on the wrong shelf for quite some time, and have finally been moved, and I like it here better (there’s more room).

I’ll have more to say on this later.

Family

I refrain from delving into stories about my extended family much because, well, quite honestly it’s an exhausting and complicated web to untangle before most listeners/readers. My immediate family is simple – me, my husband, our daughter, and my mom and dad. My mother and father-in-law are part of my immediate family too, but I don’t talk about them much on this blog because my father-in-law’s estranged ex-wife (and bio mom to my husband) frequently reads these posts and I’ve solemnly promised not to divulge any of his business here for her to see (I TOLD YOU, FAMILY IS COMPLICATED).

With that being said, I want to explain something about family, regardless of how complicated yours may also be. Our family is evidence of what we come from. To many, that doesn’t matter much because they may be ashamed of where they come from. They may not like the circumstances they come from. Poverty, abuse, and religious practices and traditions are all details. They do not have to define you unless you allow them to. They also don’t have to define your family, unless you want them to.

If left alone on this earth to start anew and construct new traditions, habits, and ways of being, whether you like it or not, you’ll likely look toward what you were told or shown when you were growing up in order to do that. Some of those habits may not be good ones – we don’t necessarily want to carry on a tradition of alcoholism or violence if there’s a history there – but even the most afflicted members of our family still have something to offer us as we piece together the history that brought us into being. Even my uncle on drugs had a generous, caring heart up until the day he was killed. My alcoholic aunt will always be a pioneer on the nursing front in the state of Florida as being one of the first women here to ever be granted a nursing license, despite being turned away multiple times due to the color of her skin. My paternal grandmother didn’t always make the best decisions, but she knew to keep the piece of land that her mother-in-law bought at the turn of the 20th century at a time when women, let alone women of color, weren’t typically able to do so.

My aunt Patricia said it best to me on the phone this morning. She told me that her philosophy on seeing and communicating with family is, “I would rather make the effort to come see you when you’re alive than wait until you’re dead. I hate going to funerals – they’re not occasions to pull together for. Pull together, scrape up some cash, and make the effort for a living person, not a dead one.” Auntie Pat you are so right!

When people die, that’s it. We don’t get a say in the matter, we can’t fight it, it can’t be reversed. The finality of death is major. Instead of fighting death, I’m going to make an effort to fight through misunderstanding and differences while the people I care about are alive. I’ll probably have to apologize for some things I’m really not to blame for, but that’s neither here nor there. The bottom line is, I don’t want to look back on the relationships I have with my remaining family members, ones who it’s safe for me to have a relationship with, and feel remorse over not doing more after they’ve passed away. Perhaps this will teach my daughter something positive as well. I also plan to leave her this photo, because pictured here with me are two people I desperately long to have back in my life, but their time was cut drastically short.

One of the most precious photos ever taken of me. I am pictured here with my maternal grandmother, whom I've written about in this blog before, and my little brother Anthony, who died of SIDS. I'd pay any sum of money to bring them both back...but I can't, and because I can't, my own daughter won't get to know them as living people...just memories and pictures.

One of the most precious photos ever taken of me. I am pictured here with my maternal grandmother, whom I’ve written about in this blog before, and my little brother Anthony, who died of SIDS. I’d pay any sum of money to bring them both back…but I can’t, and because I can’t, my own daughter won’t get to know them as living people…just memories and pictures. This woman sits at the top of the matriarchal branches in my family. Me, my mom, my uncles, my cousins…we all come from her and my Papa. ❤

I do…

It’s my anniversary today. Ten years with the same guy, and six of those married. I’ve been watching anime on Saturday nights with the same guy for a decade. We’ve been laughing at YouTube videos together for 10 years. We’ve had to watch each other grow and change for 10 years.

Please don’t confuse our tenure with endless bliss and fantastical romance. Our love story is a beautiful one, but not because of how much it resembles a romantic comedy – it DOESN’T resemble a romantic comedy at all. This relationship has made us both stronger. We’ve experienced euphoric highs, and pain staking lows. We almost called it quits in 2014.

Six years ago, I stood at an altar with my hands wrapped in his and I repeated the lines that our officiant spoke that were to be my vows. Being that I am a writer, and English is his third language, he told me he didn’t want us to write our own vows. I obliged, understanding the circumstances. However, on this sixth anniversary, one that I wasn’t sure we would make it to just six months ago, I do have some important vows to write…

We said, “I do,” as so many other couples have before and after, but “I do,” continues long after the ceremony ends.

I do reflect fondly on the decision we made to marry six years ago.

I do cherish the family and life we’ve built together.

I do see how we’ve changed, for better and for worse.

I do love that you love my faults.

I do love your faults, too.

I do appreciate that you go easy on me when I am hardest on myself.

I do accept my share of responsibility for allowing our marriage to become what it once was.

I do thank you for being willing to try.

I do want us to have more kids.

I do look forward to our future.

I do…always.

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Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

In the past three days, I’ve spent a lot of time in webinars and watching videos for both professional and personal development. As a professor, it’s a requirement that I complete a certain number of hours of professional development in order to stay fresh on my subject matter and best practices for the industry I work in. I’ve always kind of looked at it as a pain, and I usually scramble to complete it each quarter. My professional development for both of the schools I teach for is due next week.

As a fitness coach, I’m also encouraged to do personal development – this is for the purpose of personal growth, which enables me to connect with the people whom I coach more comprehensively and purposefully. So, in the last few days, I’ve had to do a lot of “behind the scenes” work to make myself better in my roles as an educator and as a coach. It’s been time consuming and laborious because of the amount of note taking I have done, but it’s also been immensely humbling as I can feel myself turning over a new leaf.

Life is very much about perspective. We can view situations in a number of different ways to lead to a variety of different outcomes. For some, a flat tire on the way to work can be a huge day breaker – they will allow this incident to set the tone for the remaining 16 hours of their day. For others, it’s an inconvenience, but nothing to cry about. And for others still, it’s seen as a nice excuse to grab a cup of coffee and head into work later that morning. Each of these different outlooks comes from a different approach. The way you choose to approach a situation will directly affect your experience. Some people approach work or certain relationships with a bad attitude, so it’s no surprise that they have a poor experience. While taking a positive approach to situations doesn’t give way to utopian dreams, it certainly makes the experience easier rather than more difficult.

I’ve had to check myself recently, because I wasn’t taking the proper approach to all aspects of my life. Lately, I’ve been working hard at making repairs in my marriage by communicating more positively and expressively to my spouse who in turn has reciprocated. Who doesn’t love sharing positive communication with their spouse? I’ve also been on a soul-searching journey to figure out just what my future will be as a career woman, a mother, a creative soul – as a person. While these areas seemed to be blossoming in my life, my professional experience was tepid and lackluster. Because of the person I am, I don’t like to just half-ass or phone it in on things that define me. The day I start half-ass parenting (and not just “I had a long day so let me microwave dinner” parenting, but blatant, “I’m going to cut major corners as a standard” parenting), half-ass spousing (which I was doing for the latter half of 2014, and I’ve since stopped because it was selfish and hurtful) half-ass teaching, half-ass friending, half-ass LIVING – the day I start doing any of that is the day I need to just withdraw altogether. Half-ass teachers do not inspire. Half-ass marriages don’t work. Why have friends if you’re going to half-ass it? Why work a job if you’re not going to give it your all?

I have been half-assing my job as a professor, maybe not in my on-ground position, but definitely in my online position. I think I made an unfair comparison to what IU would be like by expecting CCSD standards, which are impossible to expect. It’s like biting into a strawberry but wanting it to taste like a peach. It’s not going to happen! And as a result of my unrealistic expectations and subsequent disappointment, I had grown to resent my job and bosses. I became accustomed to doing the bare minimum and was ready to fire back at anyone who demanded otherwise. I’m ashamed to admit it, but this is who I was.

Then I devoted some time to personal development as a coach, and it dawned on me: The only way to make my situation into what I wanted it to be was to treat it like it was what I wanted it to be. I needed to treat my job as exciting and engaging, treat my boss as a woman with experience and good feedback, and look at the company as one that housed potential for me if I should choose to seek it. My bad experiences were exactly that – my bad experiences. They don’t speak for the overall school and could have easily been changed by a different approach. I had to check myself before sitting down with my boss for my annual review, and instead of throwing my hands up in the air and telling her I was fed up, I sat down and admitted to her that though I was performing well, I could do better. I had to apologize for half-assing it. She seemed surprised but also appreciative, and we both came away with lots of positive gems after this meeting. I’m so glad, because it could have easily gone sideways had I not been honest with myself.

Are you honest with yourself? Are there things that you could be doing that you aren’t because you’re making excuses or half-assing it? I believe the purpose for development on any job is to make us into better people to fill our roles. Yeah, the webinars and seminars are time consuming. Some cost money and require travel and we’d much rather be at home with our loved ones or doing the things we enjoy. However, nobody becomes great by simply staying where they are. Self-actualization is an ongoing process over the course of our entire lives, and it can only happen when we look at ourselves honestly and decide to make improvements in the areas we are falling short in. If you’re someone who thinks you don’t need professional or personal development I ask you this: Are you CEO of the company you work for? Are you financially set for the rest of your life? Is your body perfect? Are your relationships perfect? Have you learned all there is to know in your industry?

Nobody can answer yes to all of those questions, which is why personal and professional development is for everyone. Yes, even you.