Falling for Fall

Autumn Trees

By Dawn Onley

I’ve never been too crazy about fall. The end of summer and the first glimpse of cold weather always drew me into a rather melancholy state, particularly if I didn’t get much beach time while the weather was sizzling hot. It’s funny how age, and the internal, mid-life heat that accompanies it, changes all of that. Now I relish the nippy temperatures, the fall foliage and the beautiful, brisk walks I take daily.

Whittier Lake

I take it all in. The kaleidoscope of autumn hues – from orange and yellow to burgundy and green – draw me into their transformation, delighting my senses. Fall feels fun. I’m enjoying all of the nature shots, and finding a photograph at nearly every turn. So much beauty to behold.

Nothing remains the same in autumn.  The children start a new school year. The leaves fall from the trees. The birds head south for warmth as the weather shifts.

Colorful leaf (2)Colorful leaf

Fall is about change. I find its symbolism particularly suitable as I will soon embark on a change myself, from Ms. to Mrs.

Yes, I’ve fallen for fall. Hard.

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Butterflies in Your Belly

By Samantha McKenzie

Ever get that fluttering feeling in the pit of your belly? The one that comes from an overabundance of excitement, the jitters, or those rare moments when the person you like finally notices you.

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My girlfriend apparently has a honing device inside of her tummy. It’s really amazing. There are times when she thinks of a person and immediately gets butterflies in her mid-section. She describes it as little happy flutters that start in the stomach and travel softly through her body. It gives her energy and excites her thoughts. “This is when I know that someone is thinking about me,” she shared. Within minutes, maybe hours, she will get a phone call from that special person.

I, on the other hand, experience a different type of energy. It feels more like a knot, but distinctly different from the “fight or flight” pangs of anxiety that usually occupy the same region of my body. These knots are a welcomed guest inside of me. They get playfully tied up when the person I want to hear from “the most” pops up or says something endearingly sweet. I get this feeling too when I’m surrounded by something extremely beautiful – like a waterfall, a field of flowers or a quiet ocean view.

The butterflies, the knots, and all the other sensations that awaken our enigma are signs that something meaningful is taking place. Invite it in.

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It still tickles me the way twins finish each other sentences, or people who have been married for decades know what the other is thinking before they open their mouth. I am a firm believer that thoughts travel. We’ve all had a moment when we think about someone and then out of nowhere, they appear. I believe these are our messages from the universe that although we are many, we are still only one.

There are several other small occurrences that happen in our daily lives that are nothing short of miracles, like déjà vu or out-of-body experiences.  I welcome it.

I’ve come to embrace our connectedness to all that this life has to offer. And I’ve come to invite the closeness that we share with what’s around us. I respect it.

Our universal togetherness. This is how life should be.

 

Judgment-Free Zone

Scales of Jugement

By Dawn Onley

When we make a decision not to give money to the beggar on the street, sometimes a judgment accompanies that choice. “He’s going to use the money for alcohol or drugs,” we might think. Or, we might tell ourselves that he is a scam artist who doesn’t really need the money and is preying on us because we seem sympathetic.

The reality is we don’t know who he is. We don’t know his intention. We don’t know his story. We can choose to withhold our money, but we should not judge him just because his struggle is different than ours.

That’s the problem with judging someone. We can’t judge without elevating ourselves and belittling someone else. As the quote goes: “Belittling someone is to ‘be little.’” Isn’t it ironic that we forget our own problems in the midst of judging others? Perhaps that’s why we judge – to focus on someone else’s challenges and not our own. We can always find someone worse off than us. But as another quote goes: “Dimming someone’s light will not make yours shine brighter.” In fact, I think it makes our light darker than the person we condemn.

We judge others on the things that we never have to struggle with. If we judged people based on our own struggles, there’d be less judging and more empathy in the world.

Although we’ve all done it, judging is not ok. We don’t like to be judged. We should not judge. We never know a person’s story.

If we truly embodied the ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’ philosophy, we would count our blessings instead of someone else’s faults. We would extend the same grace to others that we want others to extend to us, when we fall short, when we get it wrong, when we struggle.

Don't Judge

These days, everyone has an opinion about what God will find pleasing and what He despises. We believe God is pleased with us and that He is focused on another person’s shortcomings.

Except it doesn’t work that way, aside from in our own illogical minds. We all fall short in our own particular way.

We need less judgment and more empathy. We need to start respecting other people’s journeys, despite how different it is from our own walk. Every life path is fraught with valleys as well as peaks. Be an encourager during someone’s hard times and a cheerleader during their good times.

There’s plenty of people who will judge them no matter what they do – good or bad. Don’t be one of them. Don’t be little.

 

Ladies: Grab a Seat at the Table

By Samantha McKenzie

As we enter into the presidential election season, I am glued to the news updates, waiting to hear which candidate said what – the good, the bad and the ugly.

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To be honest, I’m not so big on politics, but I take pleasure in voting. Years ago, after working as a summer intern at a weekly newspaper in Washington, D.C., I think my brain got fried on an over-abundance of stump speeches and rhetoric rumbling down the so-called hill.

But here recently, something has caught my attention. After watching both debates, it’s been encouraging to see two women, from both sides of the aisle, taking their seat at the table.

When women allow their voices to be heard, it stills the room. I applaud any woman who throws her hat into the ring and allows her platform, her perspective, her point of view to be heard.

According to writer Steven Hill, at the current rate of political progress, “it will take nearly 500 years for women to reach fair representation in government.” To date, only 20% of congressional seats are held by women, even though we make up a larger portion of this country’s population (50.8% to be exact).

Now feast on these facts:

We earn 60% of undergraduate degrees in the U.S. and 60% of all the master’s degrees. We earn 47% of all law degrees and 48% of all medical degrees. And we are 59% of the college-educated, entry-level workforce.

Democratic Leader Pelosi Highlights Increased Number Of Women In The House

And then there’s this. We are only 4.6% of Fortune 500 CEOs. There are no female CEOs in the financial services industry nor the healthcare industry. Although women make up 80% of consumer spending, we are only 3% of creative directors in advertising. For African American and Latino women the gap is even wider.

There are countless non-verbal messages in our society that feed the notion that we are not good enough. There are even more subliminal stories that suggest we aren’t fit to take the helm.

It will probably be months before I will gather enough information to decide who I will vote for. I will read, observe, and read some more. In the meantime, let’s be a part of the solution. Pull up your chair, seek out the big promotion, start your own business, run for office, climb the CEO ladder, and let’s strengthen our numbers.

Grab your own seat at the table and lead on.

Molding Better Realities

By Dawn Onley

The potter and the clay

In the picture, the horse is tied to a plastic, outdoor chair, under the caption: “Sometimes the chains that prevent us from being free are more mental than physical.”

We’re just like that horse. We are bound to imaginary limitations which impede us from breaking the mental shackles that still exist from a different time and place. When we think we can’t, we are summoning old defeats. When we don’t even bother trying, we are steeped in our previous failures.

This is all mental. This has no bearing on today’s reality. The things that keep us grounded are all rooted in the past.

But here’s the thing: Our realities are malleable. Just like the potter who molds the clay, we don’t have to stay in the same shape that we were once in. We can stretch and bend. We have elasticity. We can reconfigure and readjust.

We can improve our realities.

I’ll bet many of us can point to things that threatened our start. But those things shouldn’t get to determine how we finish. We determine this. The teenage mom who is pushing her way through high school? The ex-con who is learning a trade to become marketable? The lady diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes who is eating healthier and exercising? They are all viewing their reality as clay. They were each presented with hurdles that – if given a defeatist mindset — would have hindered their futures. But they refused to accept their old realities. They fought back.

It’s not how we were raised, and what we weren’t taught. It’s not whether our dads were around or whether we get along with our siblings.

Later on in life, it doesn’t really matter how we grew up. Sure, our childhoods play a role in shaping who we are today, that is undeniable. In terms of what direction we head in now as adults, how we grew up is of little consequence.

No one asks you at 40, whether you had enough food to eat when you were 10.

Choices, Chances, Changes

Stories of overcoming obstacles are commonplace with successful people. There are many people who have turned dismal realities into hopeful ones. We can choose to have a happy ending.

If we want different realities, we need to mold our clay.

Time Spent at the Dinner Table

By Samantha McKenzie

The dining room table was set. The aroma of a home cooked meal oozed out the kitchen. Family members scattered throughout the house. A mother’s voice called the troops in. Supper was ready to be served.

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The time I’ve spent at the dining room table as a child were happy times. I remember my mom’s look of satisfaction as she stirred the pot one last time. I recall my dad’s serious face as he told joke after joke, leaving me and my siblings laughing so hard, my mom worried we’d choke on the food. I have many not-so-happy memories of my brother swiping the last piece of chicken off my plate, licking it, and then offering it back at my mother’s bequest (brothers!)

Without much thought, I carried this tradition into my own home. These moments around this four-legged rectangle leveled the playing field. This was the time when everyone got a chance to be heard. I was never quite sure if it was the food, the time, or a combination of both, but I learned so much about my children’s lives right in this spot.

It was during these daily gatherings that they told me about their day. I learned mostly the things they liked and disliked, how they sometimes handled fear and controversy and about the many people who impacted their lives.

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They critiqued their teachers, family members and neighbors, quickly distinguishing the real ones from the fakes. I listened as they helped each other face difficulties, offering up their own brand of sage and pleading with the other siblings to just take their advice. I was there to interject parts of my family history, sprinkling in just enough of my own experiences to be of some help to the dialogue.

I relished these evening chats. Like most mothers, I made sure I cooked a balanced meal. We laughed at the youngest, who still to this day, is the last one at the table negotiating her vegetable intake. “Eat it,” they would heckle. “If we had to eat it, so do you!”

I recall all of the old stories that would be told over and over again and still received the same reception. I remember the jokes. The joy. The astonishment every time one of the children realized I was once a teenager too.

I think however, beyond the personal conversations and the thoughtful menu, the atmosphere solidified the love that we shared for each other. We had all bought into the idea that when we sat down for dinner at the family table, we’d leave feeling full.

This was the place where our hearts stayed warm, where we strengthened our support system and where the nurturing was always guaranteed.

Know Your Worth

Self Confidence

By Dawn Onley

It never ceases to amaze me the number of people that I come across who don’t fully grasp their worth. They brag about their kids, their spouse, their family and friends, even their dog, but when the conversation shifts to them, they avoid eye contact, they belittle their accomplishments, and they cut the conversation short to divert attention away from them.

These awesomely talented people, with big, loving hearts, sell themselves short – both personally and professionally. They’re unsure of themselves. They question their every move. Deep down inside, I wonder, if they have a hunch that there’s got to be more to life than the drudgery they’re experiencing. There is!

For these selfless spirits, I wish that it weren’t easier to remain part of the status quo than to blaze a new trail. I wish the beliefs that others have in them were enough to make them believe in themselves. I wish they knew their truth worth.

They have made me realize that talent is not nearly enough, nothing is actually, if a person doesn’t believe in his or her own abilities. Talent, confidence, good self-esteem, drive – these combined attributes are what it takes to reach new heights. This is what will propel us forward. If we don’t possess these attributes, we’ll continue to get more of the same out of life.

Iyanla Vanzant, the TV personality, speaker, author and life coach, says what we believe about ourselves is reflected back in what we attract to ourselves. “We cannot outperform our level of self-esteem. We cannot draw to ourselves more than we think we are worth.”

Trust Yourself

Lululemon Athetica also drove that point home with part of its motto: “Your outlook on life is a direct reflection of how much you like yourself.”

There’s so much life out there, just waiting to be lived. Secretly they know it. I believe they feel it. They see others living the life they want to live. They don’t truly believe that they can live this life. They’re wrong. They can.

Whatever it is you want to pursue, pursue it. Life rewards those who take bold steps – and it’s not always monetarily. Sometimes the reward is a new-found belief in yourself.

Go get your bliss.