She wants to lead the glamorous life!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Art of Being Alone

It's a fine line between being alone and feeling lonely.  I have found that there is an art to being alone.  Sometimes aloneness can feel perfectly natural and good, and at other times, absolutely depressing. What I used to define as a lack of activities and energy, I now see as more of a lack of esteem and confidence.  I have found that the more I become unconditionally comfortable with myself, the more I enjoy being by myself.  And I don't mean that as a "I can do bad by my damn self" type of sentiment, but rather, I really enjoy my own company and spending time alone.  In years past, I could do this from time to time, but it either took a lot of effort, or the feeling would be fleeting.  I would try to schedule all kinds of activities and appointments with friends and family.  I wanted someone by my side a lot of the time.  I felt like I needed it.  Truthfully, I didn't then and I don't now.

Don't get me wrong, I love my friends and family and I love spending time with them.  It's just that now, I look forward to being at home.  In her book Why You're Not Married...Yet, author Tracy McMillan writes about "coming home to [insert your name here]".  That's what I have been doing, coming home to myself.  I view my home and time alone as a respite.  It rejuvenates me.  And when I have had enough of the outside world, I know I have a place to come home to.  But catch this:  home is not the building, home is ME.  Just like "home" is YOU.  I feel like the more I look to myself as a place of shelter, the less I seek out others to fill the "voids" I may see myself as having.  Whether binge-watching my favorite shows, having a cocktail to cap off my day, journaling, meditating, trying out a new recipe or a long soak in the tub with a book, I treat myself well by allowing myself to just be.

What are some of the things you like to do alone?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

All Up in My Feelings

I am a feeler.  I feel strongly.  No matter if it's sadness, joy, anger- it comes strong, frequent and pure. What I used to be annoyed and embarrassed by when it came to my sad feelings, I now embrace.  Because in my wisdom, I now know that what my uncontrollable tears mean, or my anger suggests is that I am not good.  My discomfort signals that it is time to slow down and evaluate where I am and where I want to be. Lately, I've noticed in an effort to be "mature" (I guess), and in control of my feelings, I have been suppressing me and messages God is trying to convey to me.  My body doesn't like it.  Twice in eight months a small patch of hair has fallen out.  My cravings for chocolate go beyond good chocolate, but move to drugstore finds.  My dreams are more aggressive and I am angry or moody.  But when I talk, I cry and when I cry there is release.  So I have been talking lately.  A lot.  My friends have provided advice.  An attentive ear.  And suggestions.  I have greedily taken each.  It's not the best feeling when your eyes start to leak at inopportune moments, but it lets me know there is something deeper to observe.  And that is the time to listen...and learn.

How do you release tension when you're feeling stressed, sad, emotional?

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!

It is the last day of the year and I'm reflecting on my 2014 journey.  When I woke up to a cold, single digit temperature Chicago morning, the sun was shining bright.  Through my windows, a warm golden glow spread throughout my apartment.  The kind of glow that makes it seem like the day is personally welcoming me to it.  As if the sun was shining just for me.  After thanking God for bringing me to the last morning and work day of the year, I mentally reviewed the past year.

When I think back over 2014, I realize how much got accomplished and all of what happened throughout those fast-paced 12 months.  The year flew by, but so much took place.  It's weird because there are things that seem so far removed from now and where I am today.  I had a surgery to remove a suspicious lump in my breast (all is well).  I traveled to Paris, Amsterdam and Las Vegas.  I got a new job.  I dated a creepy man from St. Charles, IL who taught me how to make a traditional lamb cake for Easter.  A Ukranian man who took me to my first Puerto Rican Festival.  And a Nigerian critical care nurse who gave me my first boyfriend administered flu shot.  There was the death of my mother's eldest brother, which I thought I was handling well until I stopped to realize I spent a month eating my feelings, crying in the midnight hour, angry at everyone and everything and finally a dermatologist explained that my grief over my uncle's passing, was the obvious cause of the clump of hair that fell out- leaving me with a clean circular-shaped bald spot at the top of my head.  (Thank goodness, my hair is finally growing back.)

I meditated and prayed more.  I read books that elevated my understanding of myself, my spirit and soul, like:  Why You're Not Married...Yet: The Straight Talk You Need to Get the Relationship You Deserve, Calling in "The One": 7 Weeks to Attract the Love of Your Life and When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times.  Two of those books I got from watching Oprah's Super Soul Sunday on OWN, a show, I discovered, feeds my soul when I don't make it to church.  Another shocking thing that happened this year, was that I lost an old friend who succumbed to complications of HIV and cancer.  He and I had not been 'friends' for years after a major blow-up, but we still had a couple of mutual friends and acquaintances.  From time to time when we might run into to each, it was always cordial and nice.  We would even muster up a joke or two.  He was younger than me and his death reminded me of my own mortality.  On top of all these events, I joined my gym's bikini challenge and managed to lose the weight (23lbs) I vowed to get rid of by June, with dieting and exercising.

Whether it was seeing Beyonce and Jay Z, Usher or Ledisi in concert, witnessing my best friend get married or reuniting with old friends, it has been quite the year.  I cannot believe it is almost over!  Tomorrow I plan on spending the day cooking my collard greens and black-eyed peas for good luck and good measure while creating my 2015 vision board and making plans for next year.

How did 2014 treat you?  Any plans for 2015?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Can I Get a Ride?

My car was recently out of commission.  I needed brake pads, rotors and calipers- I think, I'm not really sure what that all means, except my car was smelling and loud as hell when I drove it.  Apparently, my calipers (or was it my rotors?) locked and caused my car to feel like I was driving with the emergency brake on.  I was quoted a price for the parts and service and scheduled an appointment for this past Monday.  The cost caught me a bit off guard and I wasn't prepared to pay when I first got the diagnosis.  So for about a month, my car sat in my building's parking lot, un-driven.  For what had been at times a very inconvenient month, I schlepped through the city on bus, train or on the passenger side of whoever was willing to drive me wherever.  The rest of the time I spent in the house catching up on my DVR recordings (I had 'Tonight Show' episodes that dated back to the end of summer), cooking, eating and reading.  I had not been to the gym; I didn't just tool around town.  When I grocery shopped, it's my mom who usually took me.  Or my good girlfriend and neighbor would give me a lift on her way to work, and I rode the bus back when done.

Besides my car being out of commission, my budget has been hard to resuscitate as well.  Funds are low.  Through it all, I didn't complain, but rather exercised truth-telling and humility.  Asking for a ride to or from my mom's house is not always easy.  Informing your beloved book club that, although you would love to, you're unable to meet the group at Fig & Olive for the next meeting, but instead could host a brunch potluck at your place, is not fun.  It took me several days to muster the energy and courage to do so.  Yes, taking the bus and train everywhere, even on the weekends (I'm a public transportation commuter for work during the week) can give you that New York feel.  I think of all my New York friends who hop on and off subway trains to go to parties, the movies, meet friends for dinner, etc. and I think, 'You're being a baby.'  But I'm a South Side Chicagoan, where everything is spread out and not walking distance.  Plus, I am spoiled by organic, natural and specialty foods and products.  I find myself having a hard time buying my meats, cheeses and poultry anywhere other than Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.  I read labels obsessively sometimes, making it hard for me to just shop at any grocer in the neighborhood.  What the fuck is high-fructose corn syrup anyway?!

All of this put me in the position to have to ask for help and share my truth.  It tested my friendships and relationships with others.  I had to humble myself and say 'I need help'.  I hated it, but loved it at the same time.  Although I hated doing it, I love that people do care enough to help.  And it releases me from the unattainable goal of being a superwoman.  I stood blindfolded so to speak with courage, as I awaited someone's answer.  Yes or No- it seems simple enough, yet it was a real challenge.  But challenges are meant to be met, right?

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Done. And Done!

I recently started online dating.  Don't worry, I have given myself a three month max time limit which is fast approaching.  A young man expressed a bit of interest (he wasn't serious) and decided he would send me a quick questionnaire asking me generic (I'm sure he thought they were thought-provoking) questions like:  "what are you cooking for dinner" and "what do you plan to accomplish this year."  The dinner was kale, sauteed.  The question about my goals, which came across a bit snarky, like "what are your plans?  Do you think beyond right now?"  This actually made me think deeper, in between my chuckling at this little boy (he was late 20s or had just hit 30).  What were my goals for this year?  I answered him in an exact, concise manner, where he (a fellow gemini) should have been able to read my own snark-iness.  "I have hit all of my goals for this year."  Yep!  MJ has met all of her major goals and started on some smaller monthly ones.  Lose 20lbs- I lost 23.  Sucessfully complete my gym's bikini fitness challenge-done!  Finally visit Paris-traveled there and to Amsterdam in March.  Get a new job- I just finished my 4th week, yesterday.

I had to pat myself on the back- I DID that!  I found it funny, in June, when this exchange happened, that someone would ask the question about my goals for the year.  At that point the year is almost over!  If you've got a few 'to-do' items on your annual list, get them done.  Now is the time.  What are you waiting for? Tackle your goals hard and fast, but be sure you enjoy the journey.  Take time to give yourself more milder goals to discover along the way or do like I have done-keep it light and easy breezy.  There isn't anything I am feeling pressured to do for the remainder of the year.  So I can slow down and enjoy these next four months-creating new goals for 2015.

Friday, May 2, 2014

I Was There

My 93 (or 94?) year-old Aunt Edith, and I share a steady written correspondence.  She sends me greeting cards for all major holidays including Thanksgiving, Christmas and my birthday.  I, in turn, send her 'Thank You' notes and postcards from my travels out of the country.  It is very nice and old school.  There is something about getting a letter or package in the mail that surpasses the feeling of an e-mail, text or social media update.

Last Monday, I received an Easter card from my aunt with a handwritten (always handwritten) letter enclosed on beautiful stationary (classic).  It was sent to my old address and forwarded by the Post Office a few days late.  Her cards are always early or on time.  Her letter was written in response to the postcard I had sent her from my recent trip to Paris (and Amsterdam).  She started the note by saying how happy she was for me, that I am able to take trips and "see other parts of the world."  She went on to say that during her "travels Blacks [were] not able nor interested in other parts of the world."  A nurse, by profession, she would save up her vacation days and "take a month off and travel over the U.S.A."  Aunt Edith, whom at the time lived in Chicago (she later retired to her hometown of Gulfport, MS) was able to cover the West Coast, Canada and part of Alaska.  She said she would compare the "different scenery".

Even though Aunt Edith is closing in on 100 years of age, which she will no doubt reach (our family has a history of living to the upper 90s; her dad lived until he was 111), she is still thinking of travel.  "I would like to take one of [those] Amtrak tours out West, that would be interesting to sit back and see the scenery. Smile."  An avid amateur photographer, she said she hoped I took lots of pictures.  "So one day you can look back [and] remember 'I was there'".  She ended the note with her usual "Love Auntie".  

I got misty-eyed when I read the card.  I truly enjoy traveling and take pride in my freedom to move around as I please.  But her letter made me understand how important it is to travel.  My Dad often tells me how when he and Aunt Edith discuss me and my latest trips, she tells him, "tell her to keep traveling while you're young.  When you get old no one wants to travel anymore."  In me she sees herself.  She is able to witness the evolution of the world, where as a woman, a Black woman, I am able to go where I want to go and see what I want to see.  In her, I see how golden life can be.  In a time when a lot of African Americans, and women alike were not educated beyond primary and high school, she received her nursing degree from Howard University.  She still drives herself around town and is an active member in her church community.  She has no children and I am still not clear on whether she has ever been married or not, but it (from the outside at least) has never been an issue.  Aunt Edith's life and encouragement inspires me.  She makes me want to live free in both mind and spirit.  She makes me want to travel more!

So in honor of my Aunt Edith, who doesn't even own a computer and who will probably never read this, here are some pictures from my Spring European holiday.  Enjoy!  P.S. Let me know what trips you have planned in the near future.



Monday, March 17, 2014

Let's Get Happy

I recently asked life and career coach, Rosie Guagliardo, to answer some questions; I wanted her recommendations for those who have not quite kept their New Year's resolutions, people who struggle with wintertime blues and to find out how to deal with loneliness during what seems to be a never-ending cold and snow season.

Do you believe in New Year's Resolutions?
No, I actually don't believe in them.  The main reason New Year's Resolutions don't work is that they are often based on what you think you "should" do.  It feels like a forced effort based on an external reason (e.g., the start of a new year).  Research shows that only 8% of people achieve their resolutions, and that's because they are only pursued using willpower- which wanes over time.

Instead, what I recommend is thinking about what desired outcomes you'd like to experience.  This allows you to have a deeper connection to what you're pursuing and you can create an inspired plan to experience it.  For example, I used to make a New Year's resolution to lose ten pounds.  But, then I realized I really didn't care about weighing a certain amount.  What I did care about was having energy and feeling fit.  So, I refined my desired outcome to reflect those two desires.  Now my health goals are based on what I value, and I was more motivated to achieve them.  The result is that I feel better than ever.  (And the weight came off, too!)

Do you suggest a person set smaller goals for short periods of time throughout the year, or focus on one large goal to achieve per year?
I think focusing on a few smaller desired outcomes is best.  Then, you can break those down into what I call "process" goals that lead you to experiencing your main desired outcomes.  So, think of the baby steps you need to take on a daily basis.  Like an athlete who trains for his performance, think about what you need to do periodically to feel happier in the end.  Ideally, you can ritualize these actions or behaviors to make them consistent so you won't need willpower to succeed.

Smaller outcomes help reduce the chance of feeling failure, too.  But remember, life isn't about being perfect, so anticipate some failure and make space for recovery.  You might even want to reframe failure to focus on the effort you're making.  If you weren't trying, you couldn't fail!  It's just part of the process toward feeling happier.  And, stay in tune with your overall desired outcome by asking whether you're going in the right direction, even if there have been some setbacks along the way.

The holidays are over, most of us have already forgotten about or altered our 2014 goals.  What do you suggest for getting back on track with those resolutions which were so important just a few months ago?
You can start by reviewing them to confirm they're still appropriate for you.  Gaining clarity on what you want may take some time, so be patient.  If you feel that you can easily create goals (or desired outcomes) but sometimes have trouble pursuing them, it could be because the ones you created aren't what you genuinely want in your heart.  Or, they just need to be modified to be more in line with what you want.  There are several ways to confirm or refine your desired outcomes to ensure you feel happier and more excited about pursuing them.  Here are a few examples I've used:

  • Ask yourself, "What is the purpose behind each outcome?  Is it something I want to pursue or feel like I have to pursue?"  If you feel that you "have" to pursue it, then get rid of it.  If it's an outcome you "want" to pursue, remind yourself of why it is important to you.
  • If you feel that you haven't made much progress towards your desired outcomes, visualize how you want to feel and what you want your life to look like when you're achieved each one.  Use that vision to identify an incremental next step that will move you in the right direction.
  • If you're still unmotivated to take next step toward your desired outcome, try to make that action step more fun.  For example, if you don't like exercising at the gym, bring a friend along who energizes you, or go for a hike instead.
And then, after you feel that your desired outcomes really resonate with you, make sure you have the structure and support needed to sustain the energy to achieve them.

Studies have shown that season depression does in fact exist.  What are some tips you can give to people who are having a hard time coping with the long winter months?  Everyone cannot get away for the season, what can a person whose budget or time will not permit traveling to a sunny tropical climate do to keep "sane"?
Obviously, getting the light you need (possibly through light therapy) along with proper nutrition and fitness makes a difference.  But, there are a few other ways to generate, maintain, and revitalize your energy.  One way to generate energy is to help others through volunteering.  Positive psychologists say volunteering helps provide you a sense of purpose by committing yourself to something outside of yourself.  You'll also create connections which can help safeguard you from feeling isolated and ultimately boost your mood.  Research actually shows that expressing compassion and generosity impacts your well-being, and reveals that when you give, the pleasure centers of the brain are activated (just like when you enjoy dessert or sex).

A way to maintain your energy is to visit with friends before you start feeling down.  Don't wait until you're feeling the effects of seasonal depression to reach out to friends.  They'll help you keep you good mood intact.

Finally, a way to revitalize your energy is to create and use a "Happy Box."  Remember that happiness isn't an absolute or a destination.  Instead of asking "Am I happy?" ask yourself "How can I be happier?"  Write down several actions you can take that make you feel happier (e.g. calling a friend, meditating, taking a bath, etc.) and put them in a box.  Whenever you're feeling disconnected from your best self or feeling down, reach for your "Happy Box" and do one of the things to feel happier!

Regarding both romantic and familial relationships in general, winter can feel lonely and isolating at times, what can single people or people who are away from loved ones do to keep their spirits up?
Because it's difficult being away from loved ones, it's so important to remain connected to them - even if only phone.  Connecting on a consistent basis will keep your spirits up because you can enjoy the anticipation of talking with them as well as the actual discussions.  Try to ritualize the behavior by planning ahead and blocking out time in your calendar to reach out to loved ones.

I'd also suggest contemplating what you love most about those relationships.  Is it how safe you feel, loved, inspired, or connected?  Whatever it is, take time to be grateful for those relationships and really feel the feelings associated with them.  A study by Robert Emmons and Michaels McCullough (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology) revealed that people who focus on what they are grateful for are both emotionally and physically healthier.

If you keep thinking about what you're lacking, you'll keep noticing what you don't have, and you'll keep thinking you're not getting what you want.  If you shift your thoughts to focus on what you do have and what makes you happy, your brain will continue to notice the abundance in your life, leaving you feeling grateful and ultimately happier.

What do you say to people who have the philosophy that winter should be reserved for hibernation:  "I'll start exercising, dating, looking for a new job, break up with him/her, eat better when the weather breaks"?
I think you can positively leverage the spirit of the winter season, which includes slowing down, resting more, and reflecting while the weather is cold.  But, I don't recommend waiting to live the life you desire.  My philosophy is to create your vision for the future and balance that with your current realities.  This approach allows you to effectively pursue long-term desired outcomes while living a happier life every day.  So even during the winter, let your vision guide and inspire you during your daily life and find the baby steps you can take toward your desired outcomes.

And remember, to remain motivated during the cooler winter months, confirm your desired outcomes are based on what you truly want and aim to keep your spirits high.  By the time the weather is warmer and Spring begins, you'll be in a better position to experience the renewing energy of the season ans even more inspired to pursue your desired outcomes.

     Rosie Guagliardo has loved being a life and career coach for 7 years and the founder of InnerBrilliance Coaching, LLC.  She is also a beauty-seeking, lover of life, Italian-American who wears "Rosie-colored" glasses while being pragmatic, purposeful, and results-oriented.  The combination of these qualities inspires her to help women honor themselves and each other by seeing perfection within and all around them -- in themselves, in others and in every moment of life.  This approach to life motivates a woman DAILY to realize her life vision with ease, joy, and grace.  
     Ultimately, Rosie's desire is for a woman to radiate her true essence and navigate life gracefully so she can experience her deepest wishes.  And, for her 80 year old self to have stories she would be proud to tell.  Rosie's philosophy is become passionate about your already perfect self, others, and life...and your path becomes perfect for you.  Click to find out more.