You and Your Heart Have Been Places

By Samantha McKenzie

You and your heart have been places. Through thick and thin, you’ve seen a lot. You may not have always been in agreement, but somehow, you managed to stay together.

You’ve experienced peaks of joy and valleys of pure pain and you lived to tell about it. It’s time to make a map of your heart. Reflect on the memories and decide where else you’d like to go.

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Think about your travels and the many impressions left on your life. Remember the people you have encountered and the impact they’ve made on your journey. Life wouldn’t be the same without them. What about the beautiful landscapes, the winding roads to nowhere in particular, the new adventures that led to newer possibilities? Don’t leave out the beauty of chance, the mysterious strangers and the unscripted. They’re equally important too.

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I made a map of my heart. I traced my footsteps back to my old neighborhood. I remembered the simple joys of jumping double dutch, playing tackle football in the snow and my longtime crush that lived down the street. I couldn’t forget the summer block parties, being in the heart of hip hop’s emergence and trying to keep up with whatever style was rolling in.

I remembered secrets between childhood friends and 4th of July barbecues and running home from church so I could still play outside before the street light came on. I remembered my first kiss, my boyfriend and my first true love.

I touched cities that I temporarily called home and vacationed in countries with silky sand and made it back to the island of my birth. I revisited friends and family and past loves and smiled at the stories made and the memories gathered. I read a lot and studied people and immersed my soul in culture. My heart and I have stuck nicely together.

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Looking back, I remember the bumpy roads that sometimes left me in a ditch. The conflict, the heartache, and some sleepless nights. I recall the detours I took, thinking I could get somewhere faster. I must admit, I’ve been guilty of ignoring the warning signs and disregarding a whole lot of I told you so’s. I’ve had to stop and ask for directions…on many occasions.

Glad to say the good journeys still outweighed the riskier ones. As they often do. 

I pinned a few new places of interest for my heart to uncover. I challenged myself to find greater things to experience.  Make a new map of your heart and make it your life’s mission to get to everywhere you could possibly imagine. And go there. Go.

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It Takes Courage to Catch Our Dreams

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By Dawn Onley

The beauty of the early morning is in the sounds of the wind rippling through the trees, the hum of the space heater and the rhythmic breathing of the babies as they sleep.

It’s the perfect backdrop for which I whisper thank you to my creator. God knew my silent prayers and steadied my anxious heart. He beckoned me to take this journey and kept me on it after all these years, even on the meandering roads and dead end streets.

As I ponder this life, I find it amazing how our dreams really do come true in ways that are incalculable and astounding, if we have the courage to act. With dreams, it’s safer to focus on the risks. It’s easier to talk ourselves down when we consider the financial aspects, or the potential to fail, or succeed, or the great unknown, or the changes we have to make, or the sacrifices, or …

We say we don’t have a clue what steps we should take, but this isn’t the real reason we don’t go after our dreams. We stay put in our lackluster lives because we lack the courage to do otherwise. We don’t move so our indecision chooses our way forward. Years later, when we pull back the layers of regret, usually we’ll find what really kept us stagnant was that we were scared to try. If we regret, it’s because we let fear win.

However, playing it safe can come with its own risks, including our sanity. We’re better off jumping – in love as in life. Being vulnerable. Risking everything.

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Dreams are not the stuff of fairytales and feathers, despite the Disney depictions. This dream business can leave us shaken to our core. If we think we can just dip our toes into the dream pool and magically watch our hopes unfold without a full-blown swim that leaves every muscle in our bodies tired and aching, and at times leaves us struggling to stay above water, we are gravely mistaken.

  • We dream of happy marriages, and then we get divorced.
  • We dream of good health, and then our bodies battle illness.
  • We dream of being mothers and then we conceive and miscarry.
  • We dream of prosperity and then we go bankrupt.
  • We dream of success by our own standards and then we fail by them.

OUR DREAMS COST US EVERYTHING WE’VE GOT!!!

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If they fail to materialize the way we hoped and prayed for, we get to choose whether to quit or to re-imagine our dreams and ourselves. We get to keep trying. God wants to give us the desires of our heart. But we must keep the faith.

  • We may find our soulmate.
  • We may be blessed with children.
  • We may buy a house.
  • We may start our own business.
  • We may finish the race we started, on better terms.
  • We may find our calling and walk in our purpose.
  • We may win our battles.

If we have the courage to risk being vulnerable.

In the still of the early morning, I realize this is what dreams are made of. The indomitable will to succeed.

Shout Outs to You!

By Samantha McKenzie

It’s Friday. The end of the work week and the beginning of the weekend. What better time to give a few special shout outs to the people who are rolling up their sleeves, taking another swipe at getting it right and making a contribution to this world that we live in.

shout-out-epwd5r-clipartShout out to all those teachers who show up to the classrooms and care for our children in ways we will never understand. Thanks for standing in the gap – serving as a surrogate parent, counselor and referee (in between your lesson plans). Thanks for widening your shoulders and taking all of the blame for a failing school system. Thanks for teaching. For educating. For passing the torch.

Shout out to the police officers and law enforcement who really protect and serve. We know that you all aren’t bad and you’re not just showing up for a pay check. You serve because you took an oath. You serve because you value your duty. Thanks for tolerating the scrutiny, for enduring our fears and for taking the hit every time a bad guy in blue goes rogue. In these trying times, we need your calm head, your steady pace and your protection. Thanks for risking your life for us. Thanks for keeping us safe.

Shout out to the protesters. You’re the voice of the silent and the best example of a free country. Thanks for risking your freedom, for being the David to the big Goliath’s out there. Thanks for organizing, for galvanizing and for fighting for the rights of others. Thanks for being vigilant and resourceful. Thanks for holding our public servants and corporations accountable. Thanks for holding us accountable too. You get props for resisting and teaching us all how to resist with you.

Shout out to the media reps, the journalists and the fact-checkers. Thanks for standing your ground and showing up to get it right, in spite of the criticism. The fourth estate is alive and well, thanks to you. Without you, we’d be clueless, for real. Thanks for sorting out the facts, for following the paper trail, and for the impromptu interviews. Thanks for being relentless, sometimes pesty, and for staying hungry for the truth. Stay in the game. Your contribution makes us understand our Constitution.

Shout out to parents. The young and the old. It ain’t easy. We know it’s your love that keeps us going. Thanks especially to the single parents who work miracles just to see their children succeed. Shout out to foster parents, adoptive parents and surrogates. Thanks for your sacrifice and desire to take on the world’s toughest job. You rock with little reward! Thanks for patience, your guidance and your investment in your children, and in the neighbor’s children too. You repair a broken world. Thank you.

Shout out to college students. They don’t call it higher education for nothing. Keep pushing through.

Shout out to caretakers. Your strength is immeasurable.

Shout out to mental health professionals. Your expertise is #1 in my book.

Shout out to best friends. You see the good, the bad and the ugly and you’re still here.

Help me keep the shout outs going. We all could use some encouragement these days.

Shout out the people and things that you admire.

Shout out to…

Learn How to Say No to Stress

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By Dawn Onley

If you have stress in your life, there’s a good chance you’re not saying “no” enough.

These wise words come from Joyce Meyer, the dynamic preacher and speaker, whose book entitled “Overload” deals with the impact of stress, and more importantly, what we can do about it.

At a conference two years ago, Meyer shared some takeaways from her book about stress, and it really struck a chord with me.

Stress is largely a disease of “yes” – where we take on way more than we should and it leaves us feeling overwhelmed and depleted. It doesn’t matter how we say yes, whether we are asked to do things or whether we volunteer. Stress impacts us when we fail to set limits that protect our peace.

To relieve stress, we must make changes in our lives, starting with saying “no” more so that we can take better care of ourselves, Meyer told the audience. When we de-stress, we begin putting fences up around our lives.

“You won’t ever get away from stress if you don’t change some things in your life,” Meyer said. She said it is compounded because we’ve developed an independent-attitude and won’t ask others to help us.

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She added that stress can also be caused by procrastination or when we are not focused. When we procrastinate and put off making decisions, this can create even more stress in our lives than making the wrong decision, and starting again, she said. Additionally, when we fail to focus on one thing at a time, we can get overloaded and stressed. It’s better to choose quality over quantity, she said.

But what if you are like me and have a hard time decompressing? I’ve become so accustomed to juggling half a dozen things at one time, that I have a hard time just relaxing and being still. Stress has become a way of life for me. I can’t even have a relaxing vacation. I’m booking tours, making sure almost every waking moment is occupied. I have to see the sights. I have to discover. Although exhilarating, this leaves me feeling exhausted more often than not, and craving a vacation when I return from vacation.

My sister and I once took a trip to Hawaii. She told me she would be perfectly fine spending the week camped out on the beach, sipping Mai Tais and enjoying the lovely sounds of nature, but as scenic and beautiful as Hawaii was, that was too dull for me. So we booked a few of our days exploring Pearl Harbor, the Polynesian Cultural Center, Diamond Head Park, and feasted at a luau. I really wanted to do a helicopter ride, but my sister wasn’t up for it so I finally decided to chill out a bit and join her on the beach.

Meyer’s conference served as a great reminder for me to always strive for balance. For every busy day, incorporate a light day. To think differently about down time. To sign up for another yoga class. To seriously consider turning my phone off more frequently, going to bed earlier, and taking more social media breaks to dial back life’s noise.

Moderation is key, but if you are an all-in personality like me, sometimes shutting down to refuel works best.

Are You an Enabler too?

By Samantha McKenzie

I am somewhat of an enabler. Well to be perfectly honest, I’m a full blown enabler and it just became apparently clear that it’s time I give it up. I do too much. I talk about having boundaries, but at the end of the day, the need to help people always wins out.

Unfortunately, this means I am part of the problem. I enable people’s addictive behaviors when I should be empowering them. I do it at work, when someone drops the ball and I come to the rescue, and I do it at home, when I pick up the slack for well-intentioned friends and family members who take my kindness for weakness.

I’m not alone. I’m sure if you take a good look at yourself, you share some enabling behaviors too. It’s hard not to. Caring people top the enabler list. We take our compassion for people to unhealthy levels and we contribute to the dysfunction. Repeatedly. Over and over again. We give until it hurts…all of us.

It’s no laughing matter. It’s a crisis. The enabler has helped usher in a generation of immature, irresponsible and under-achieving members of society. Because I am an enabler, the other person doesn’t have to be accountable for his/her actions. They never have to take responsibility for their own affairs. They don’t have to experience carrying the full weight of their consequences…you know, that one sure ingredient that makes us all grow up. Can you imagine living in a world where there’s no price to pay for what you say and what you do?

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Enabling used to be a term used exclusively in therapy to describe people who contributed to an addict’s lifestyle by providing solutions to their behavior. Addicts, in this instance, were people addicted to alcohol or drugs or other substances. Enablers were also called co-dependents. These were people who supported an addict’s behavior and needed counseling as well. You know, they were the family members who would give the drug addict daughter $20 when she begged for it long enough or the person who’d make excuses for the alcoholic friend who missed another day at work.

But if I can put substance abuse on the side for a moment and address today’s social addiction, the new drug of choice would be self-indulgence. Yep. We’re pretty much addicted to ourselves. We’ve been called the most narcissistic society in modern history. We’ve been socialized to think about ourselves first and sometimes only. We see it so often, we’ve sorta gotten used to it. I’m no scholar on this, but I’d suspect the “me” generation ushered it in and the “selfie” generation just expanded upon it.

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It’s the “I can do what I want and have what I want, when I want it, if I feel like it” new attitude. If my girlfriend doesn’t like it, I’ll just get another one. If my boss doesn’t approve of my vacation, I’m going anyway. If someone tells me no…what? Imagine that. Wrecked my car? My parents will buy me another. Broke my new phone? That’s what insurance is for. We no longer have to apologize to people, or repair things that we’ve destroyed. We don’t have to “wait for it” or live with the pinch of a good old fashioned rejection. Everything is replaceable, including people. It’s sad to say, but we’re addicted to pleasing ourselves. This is our new normal. The perfect breeding ground for an enabler personality, wouldn’t you say?

Enablers get their name not because they care, but because they care too much. We offer up our assistance in good faith, but don’t realize when our help turns to harm.

It’s time to replace our enabling behaviors with empowering ones. It’s time to become more calculated in how much we help and find our boundaries. It’s time for me to let it go.

I’m a recovering enabler. I hope you are too.

 

Jolted Into Action: How My Feisty Niece Got Me Back on the Healthy Track

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By Dawn Onley

I remember the moment because I was mildly offended and amused at the same time.

I had just finished my annual Vision Board and was showing it to my 17-year-old niece, Maya. As I explained the themes, one of which was to get back in shape and to drop some weight, her saucy response was: “That’s been on your Vision Board for the past 3 years. Let’s get it done this year, ok?”

Um, ok.

Ouch.

I laughed at how spot on and funny the comment was, even though my pride suffered a bit of a blow. It proved to be just what I needed to hear. In previous years, I accomplished many goals on my Vision Board while I struggled to stay consistent with my diet and exercise because I love cake and bread and pasta and cheese and everything else that doesn’t love me back. As a result, my weight loss goals have remained elusive. Maya’s reminder jolted me back to reality. Even while I deluded myself each year with my half-hearted effort, she had noticed. She was paying attention. She knew I could do better.

She was holding me accountable.

It forced me to have a serious conversation with myself. Her words made me question and ultimately decide whether I wanted to spend this year talking about getting healthier or actually doing it. I decided to finally get serious about what I eat, when I eat, how much I eat, how often I exercise, how often I challenge myself during those exercises, how much water I consume, how much sleep I get, etc.

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I knew in that instance my thinking had shifted. Before then, I was way too casual about becoming healthier, and because of this, I wasn’t getting the results I was after. Imagine a person wanting to save money, year after year, to accomplish a goal yet not changing any aspect of how they budgeted their money, or refusing to sacrifice some of their wants for the bigger picture.

This is exactly how I felt regarding getting healthier.

Suddenly, it all made sense. I now felt more serious about the outcome and more determined to make it happen. I had finally reached the point of being sick and tired of being sick and tired — sometimes literally.

Admittedly a portion of it came down to this: I like to win. Scratch that, I LOVE to win. Plain and simple. I took Maya’s comment as a challenge. But it also came down to this: Getting stuff is fun, planning experiences is a thrill, but there is no bigger reward and better payoff than taking care of our physical bodies and improving our health. Not just for vanity’s sake, although that’s icing on the cake, but to ward off a whole host of maladies that threaten to come as we age and as our metabolism slows down.

Since the beginning of the year, I’ve dropped 6 pounds. It’s been a slow process, but I’m learning what triggers unhealthy food choices inside of my brain and which foods instantly make me feel sluggish and look bloated. I’m paying attention to my new-found energy. I’m noticing a difference in how I feel.

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I’m not there yet. I still have a ways to go. I still have off moments and days. But I’m making great progress. I’m making better choices. I know that turning back is not an option. I still have about 20 pounds left to shed and this year, I’m more hopeful than ever that I will reach it. I’m on a roll!

Sometimes what we need most is the type of jolt that only a teenager can deliver.

Make a List of Every Job You’ve Held…

By Samantha McKenzie

Make a list of every job you’ve held. Then post it on your refrigerator for your friends and family to see. Make sure the list is big enough for your children to read as well. If you’re bold enough, post it on your social media page and let others see. Make it a conversation piece.

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I attended a conference last week and one of the speakers had a slide of all of the jobs he’s held. The list included his early days when he did odd jobs in the neighborhood and his stint as a factory worker. As the list continued, it showed his progression through the years. He’d later go on to become a professional basketball player, vice chancellor, author, minister and motivational speaker.

I admired his list and the reason why he chose to share it. It told a story of humble beginnings, of growth and of choices.

Sometimes we see people who are successful and have no idea where they came from. We tend to think that they’ve always been well spoken or well dressed and that maybe life was made easy for them. We don’t usually think that they had to make tough choices just like the rest of us.

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So unless you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth, you have held many, many jobs to get where you are today. Each job I have ever held has taught me something valuable and has made me the type of person I am today.

My list goes like this…

  1. Neighborhood babysitter. I learned to be responsible for others.
  2. Hair stylist (braiding). I learned how to be detailed and creative.
  3. Cashier at a five-and-dime store.I learned that time is money and money is time.
  4. Data entry associate. I learned to type at 94 wpm.
  5. Administrative Assistant. I learned how to cater to my manager and multitask.
  6. Customer Service Representative. I learned that people were spoiled and privileged and arrogant. I learned how to quit.
  7. Copy editor. I learned to find errors in the written copy, quickly. Very quickly.
  8. Reporter.  I learned how to write on deadline and how to get people to open up and tell me their business.
  9. Teacher. I learned that teaching was a real skill and I wasn’t that good at it.
  10. Public Relations Coordinator. I learned to take my people skills to another level.
  11. Special Events Manager. I learned to create checklists and more checklists. I learned that Murphy’s Law is true.
  12. Media Relations Director.  I learned that I could speak two languages. I understood the media and I understood the client.
  13. Director of Marketing and Communications. I learned the art of branding.
  14. Writer. I learned that writing was still my first love. I would do it for free.
  15. Entrepreneur. I am learning the difficult side of starting a business.

This list helps me paint a picture of all of the places I’ve been in my career. It helps me remember a time in my life when I didn’t know much about anything. I learned to listen, to open myself up to criticism and to learn from my mistakes.

I hope to keep adding to this list. I hope to keep growing.