In which she discovers…

Something newIn those last heady days before I left the US for my 30-year overdue trip to Nigeria, I had no idea what to expect.  It really didn’t matter.  I was finally going!  The Nigeria I remembered–my best friend, red clay, playing kitchen–was through the eyes of a toddler and not enough guidance for the woman returning there.  There was what I barely remembered, things I’d read or been told and some things that I’d made up a long time ago about Nigeria.  Now was my chance to see for myself.

A few months ago, I came up with a model for dealing with new situations, particularly jobs, that I shared with a coworker newly introduced to the maelstrom our workplace.  I remember saying to her that very often, we go to new jobs with an idea that it shouldn’t be this or that way and that we, clearly, have the best sense of how things should be.

Should and shouldn’t are quite treacherous territories that usually leave us dissatisfied and distressed.  The model I created seeks to help us maneuver through the unknown while keeping the shoulds at bay.  It calls for us to put our relentless judgment aside and learn, master, improve, and innovate.

Learn

When facing the new, acknowledge that your presumptions and biases– your already knowing–are irrelevant.  You have never been here before .  You have never done this before.  You don’t know what to expect even if it reminds you of something you’ve already experienced.  Repeating the steps from the past gives you more…past.  Instead, observe the situation as much as you can.  Feel free to compare but don’t stop there.  Learn what there is for you to learn to be successful in that new job or to maneuver your way through that new location.  This is not time intensive and doesn’t require years of observation.  Learn quickly, competently and concisely so you can move on to the next step.

Master

Once you’ve been humble enough to discard your inner know-it-all (now THAT is difficult!), you get to see what really is happening in front of you.  You get to say, “Oh, this is how they do this.”  Eventually, you should be able to anticipate how something would be resolved at your new job, for instance, based on what you’ve learned about how they solve problems.  Now that you’ve learned, endeavor to master the ways of this new environment.  Can you do what this place requires in your sleep?  The aim of your learning is mastery.  Mastery is an important step before you take the situation and make it your own.

Improve

Now that you’ve entered this new situation, refrained from denouncing its stupidity and have gone so far as to master its existing ways, you allow for new tools to manifest: respect, authority, legitimacy.  You now have the opportunity to possess and wield these tools.  From this space, you can work to improve the situation.  You have established that you know how things go.  You’re very good at the status quo and suggestions for improvement hold far more weight from you now than if you’d done so at the very beginning.  Now you can propose, “Let’s do this in 4 steps instead of 10” and actually be heard.  Your recommendations can now be based on your experience of and expertise in the existing system and come from a place of empathy rather than one of complaint and will be more easily heard.

Innovate

As you climb the hierarchy of legitimacy and authority in this new situation you can reach the apex of ownership of the new situation when you innovate.  You have acquired the knowledge of how things work.  You have gone so far as to be an expert on the what’s so of the situation.  You have seen and shared ways to make this situation better for everyone involved.  Finally, you can go so far suggest, “You know what?  Let’s stop doing this altogether and do this instead.  This isn’t simply improving what we normally do.  This is a whole new approach that eliminates the need for those steps and creates a satisfying result.”  In this instance, you do what you may have been tempted to do from the very beginning.  Your innovation is far more acceptable now because it is based on experience and participation rather than blind dismissal.

Test

The above model will always needs fine-tuning and that it’s a great rough guide to dealing with a decidedly alien new workplace.  Could I apply it Nigeria?  The challenge was to attempt to shed the ball of emotion and information about Nigeria I’d been clutching to all my life and experience it newly.  I would learn before I leapt to conclusions.  I would test myself to see if I could do more than survive following the existing rules of the place.  I would seek to master some portion of my Nigerian life in the few months I was there.  And only then, after observation and training, would I attempt to improve and eventually innovate.  Based on a true understanding of my surroundings, I could work to eliminate inefficiencies and enhance the experience of people around me.  Could I do it?  Did I do it?

Well I’m still in the middle of it.  What I can say though is that judgment is no light thing.  It is cemented to my being and is almost as automatic as breathing.  I have failed numerously at evading my sense of judgment.  It has been a great struggle to set aside what I already know and just simply watch and learn.  Yet the challenge here isn’t perfection.  It is the actual awareness of automatic, endless assessment that undermines my experience of life in general in whatever country I find myself.

So, yes, I fail often but I go right back to my model when I notice that I’m imposing some stale bias on a brand new situation.  I’ve learned much about myself, my family and my native country.  I’ve learned which battles are worth fighting and what is best left alone.  One of these days I’ll tell you about it!

Tessism Returns to Nigeria

In the 30 years since I had left Nigeria, I had grown to believe that the longer you stay away from the land of your birth, the more ghost-like you become.  With my father’s passing, I finally got the chance to test that theory.

Traveling back under those circumstances has been surreal.  I promised myself that I would keep my eyes wide open and my judgment at bay.  I have definitely kept my eyes open but I constantly fight a war of attrition with my judgment.   Thankfully, today, my higher self is winning.  That is, until, I run into something difficult to accept in the bubbling pepperpot of brilliance, corruption, wealth, destitution, mismanagement, delight, highs and lows that I call my homeland Nigeria. By the way, Happy 51st Independence Day, Nigeria.

It has been a marvelous, emotional roller coaster filled with food, people and places I’d forgotten I was missing and stories of an amazing life that I will never stop celebrating.  One thing Nigeria will always be is breathtaking.  It is breathtaking in its beauty, greenery and blessings.  In the same token, it can choke you with it’s pollution, greed and absolute disregard of legacy and humanity but I’ll save that for another blog.

So I am here.  Was my theory correct?  Am I less ghost-like now that I’ve returned to my land of birth?  Well, yes and no.

Being away simply left me incomplete.  Not quite a ghost–a woman-in-waiting missing parts the longer I stayed away.  I still have no idea what those parts were but it feels different.  Yet my years away are an essential part of the woman I am today, something I would not change.

I don’t expect to ever be complete in this life.  I am happy for the experiences that expose more of me to…me.

And although I’ve learned to chase regret away as quickly as it descends, I am saddened that I did not see my father before he left us.  I connect with him each day as I walk where he walked and sit where he sat.  I fill in the parts of his life I missed.  Some days he is more of a giant.  Others, more human.

He lived life long and fully and left peacefully.  For that I am forever grateful.

He is my Daddy.  My prism through which the light of life is reflected.  His love, energy and legacy remain.  Always with me.  Thank you for welcoming me home.

Tribulations “R” Us

I wish I could write something light and airy for you to read and consume with the ease that cotton candy melts on your tongue. Unfortunately, these past few days have been exhilarating and daunting. They have been relentlessly jarring me out of comfortable spaces to address the long overdue.

Everywhere I turn there is a fresh challenge: wisdom teeth chose this weekend to remind that growing wise is a never-ending and often painful process, maneuvering the end of a long standing relationship and trying not to be horrified postmortem, health issues of family and friends. It is nonstop.

I could rail against fate and all of this “too much” at a time where I’m not sure I can muster up “just a little” but I know that Tribulations “R” Us” always precedes Triumph Unlimited. So I’ll take my mind-boggling dose of issue stacked upon issue and dismantle each one powerfully to tap into the triumph that I’ve been squirreling away for days just like this. Take that, trouble! I’ve got more victory where that came from. Bring it.

Affirmation: Each tribulation is a gift that allows me to experience the amazing power of overcoming anything in my way.

Results, Not Resolutions

The year is new. Actually, it gets no newer than this. With each new year comes the usual broken record of resolutions. Often they are promises held over from beginning years past.

I recently heard a news report that said only 12% of resolutions are kept. While I’m not quite sure how they came up with that figure, it sounds right to me. I’m not a big proponent of New Year’s resolutions. We start the year hopeful & then we conveniently forget our lofty promises to ourselves.

Rather than jump on the impotent bandwagon of substanceless declaration because it’s the first day of the year, I propose that we focus on getting results, not resolutions. How about we get things done this year?

This year I’m focused on results that make a lasting difference. Those results aren’t limited to one day. For instance, today, 2 bags of clutter causing coats were removed from my home & delivered by me to Salvation Army. That’s major.

Results everyday or bust! That’s my 2011. What’s yours?

Challenge Day 30: Score!

I swear I have the 30-day challenge blues.  After pushing day after day, I’m pretty sad that there is no more challenge left and that sucks the wind out of my sails.  Funny since I expected Day 30 to be the day to end all days where I would stand atop the mountain of my achievement and look out with puffed chest congratulating myself for daring the impossible.

I’m sure that I have the blues.  Now that there is no challenge each day, what will I do with myself?  Haha!  Anything and everything. The interesting thing about challenges is that they beget challenges–a sort of challenge-addiction.  Tomorrow or later this week, I’ll ruminate about lessons learned.  In the meantime, let’s get on with our last challenge!

Today’s challenge: Take stock of the last 30 days.  How did you do?  What did you do well?  What did you not do well?  What would you like to continue to work on?  How did it go?  What did you learn?
I’ll be sorting through the lessons learned on this journey for days to come but in the meantime, here are the stats of what I attempted this month:

My closest friends can attest to the wonderful peace I gained in these 30 days as well as the struggle it was to complete these last few days.  I know I couldn’t have done it without them or you.  I also know that I’m not quite done yet.

While I was able to challenge myself to different things each day, I haven’t gained mastery over anything new.  I have an experience of what it is like to live a revolutionary life but I still have work to do.  Each day of these 30 days of challenges revealed so much about myself to me.

The greatest revelation is that this month was a buffet of challenges for me to choose from and work on extensively in the near future.  All the challenges have been interrelated.  They are all pulling for the same transformed, galvanized life.  The next step for me is mastery.

Gratitude: I am grateful for that I could complete this month of challenges when I’ve done nothing like this ever before

On the horizon: More results, lessons and mastery…the journey – to be continued.

This is the way the world endsThis is the way the world endsThis is the way the world endsNot with a bang but a whimper.1

Challenge Day 29: Dare to Want

One more day to go and suddenly I am incredibly exhausted.  I’d rather nap than blog.  The only thing that keeps me going is my promise.  Good thing I made one, otherwise I wouldn’t have continued.  Thank you for the strength you give me by reading and witnessing my journey.

The last few moments before the end of a grueling marathon can be the worst.  It is in those moments that your mind, body, being resolve whether to finish or to curl up in a ball right there.  The next challenge is important for me to keep going.  Come run with me.

Today’s challenge: Dare to want…wantonly.  Allow yourself to want for no reason.  Want things you’ve never wanted before.  Want until you want no more.  Write it all down.  Change your mind if you need to.  Keep going until you see what you say you want and match that to what you really want.  Write that list about ideal mate that you’ve resisted writing for years.  Go ahead, write it.  Want him and everything.  Go!

Wanting is such a odd thing.  Most of us don’t allow ourselves to want things fearing that wanting things that don’t manifest may kill us or be close to dying.  We treat our wants as if we will never have them and work to push them away.  In turn, we end up yearning those things that we deny.

We suffer when we live as if wanting is a reminder of our inadequacy.  We are stuck believing that we’re not enough to deserve or earn our wants.  What if wanting was a normal part of your day as simple and constant as brushing your teeth?  What if wanting was a tool that you use to design your life?  Today’s challenge is my opportunity to dream to the point of incredulousness, dance into the impossible and shed suffering.  So I will be writing that list and collaging my vision of heart-thumping future.  What have you not dared to want?

Today’s victory: I spent a wonderful weekend failing and winning at most of my challenges.  When I missed the challenge mark, I made sure I went back and hit it dead on.  That looked like heated discussions, impasses and, finally, peaceful resolution.  I’m glad I have these tools working actively in my life.

Gratitude: I am grateful for the incredible community that surrounds, supports and fuels my dreams.

On the horizon: The scoreboard

Challenge Day 28: Flow with It

My latest challenge is a culmination of sorts of all the challenges I’ve been exploring this month.  While all the work I’ve been doing has been about pushing beyond limits and reshaping my life, today’s practice involves a different way of approaching not just these challenges but life itself.

Today’s challenge: Stop fighting.  Go with the flow of life.  Use this flow to gauge whether what you’re doing is really what you want to do.  When it is not flowing, go elsewhere.  Go where you’re wanted.  Want where you’re going.  See where you can flow in all areas of your life.  Give up the struggle.

In all these years I’ve been good at powering my way through trouble spots.  I’ve used my will and stubbornness to achieve the impossible.  This hard-driving ambition has gotten me results all over the place, but what is the balance of these results in the overall scheme of things?

I have proven that I can get things done.  It’s time for me to stop proving.  It’s time to go where I’m wanted to–to pay attention to cues and do what comes naturally.  To flow, I need to pay close attention to what’s happening around and within me.  When I flow, I can live a life that is true for me.  I will love where I’m wanted.  Want where I’m loved.  There will be no struggle or sorrow.  Somehow, it will all work and make sense and if it doesn’t I will do something else…with great ease.  What does your flow look like?

Today’s victory: In a stupendous win for losing wait, I plotted out the rest of the entries for my blog this month and I have a plan to complete my NaNoWriMo writing challenge.

Gratitude: I am grateful for the solutions that show up even in the darkest hours.

On the horizon: Coming to terms with wanted things

Challenge Day 25: For-Give

It would be very obvious to post today about giving thanks since it is Thanksgiving after all–Happy Thanksgiving, by the way.   But I’ve been giving thanks all month and that would not be a challenge for me.   Instead, today is about another type of giving.

Today’s challenge: Practice forgiving. Wherever you can let someone or something off the hook.  Even better, let yourself off the hook and see where that leaves you.

Forgiveness is an interesting concept.  Many people feel that forgiveness is something that you give to others and often withhold it to punish others for transgressions.  Consider that forgiveness is a gift that you give yourself.

Punishing others is like taking poison & hoping someone else will die.  When you forgive, you release yourself from prison.  You don’t have to keep living in the transgression or the reaction to it.

This a practice that I have to concentrate on since, unchecked, I can hold a grudge.  Forever.  I have to remind myself of what life was like without the burden of upset.  To keep up this practice, I’ll have to literally keep my eye on the prize, constantly reminding myself of the life I want to live and what I have to shed to live it.  I’ll do what it takes.

Today’s victory: I spent time with a friend who I’ve had a tough time forgiving and I began to let go and was gracious with her.

Gratitude: I am grateful for the open hearts, home, family, food and welcome I experience this Thanksgiving Day.

On the horizon: Flowing

Challenge Day 24: Let It Go

A new day brings a new challenge.  Now that the Four Agreements are out of the way, I’m left with a week’s worth of challenges to dream up.  I dedicate the next seven challenges to things that I find the most difficult.  Today’s is something I have to keep practicing because it just never sticks.

Today’s challenge: Let things go.  Practice letting go as often as you can.  Let go of people, things, grudges, disappointments.  You name it.  Let it go.  Become a master of unburdening yourself.

Letting go is beyond difficult for me.  I tend to hoard memories and things.  I hold onto data, ideas and what we did last week.  I never forget how you hurt me or how you misunderstood me.  Even my home holds things I refuse to let go.  My favorite poem highlights how letting go feels like losing:

One Art
by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

–Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied.  It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

Letting go can feel like dying–if we really know how that feels.  It’s a trick that the familiar plays so that you can continue on the same path.  Notice that when you let go, the bottom does NOT fall out of the world.  If fact the world opens up even more for you.

I can hold onto things that hurt me and keep me from moving forward or I can take a risk to see what will show up once I clear out the space.  For the next few days, I’m going to practice shedding thoughts and things, especially the unnecessary.  I’ll take it even further by letting go of the things I hold onto that seem crucial yet haven’t been useful.  I’ll get rid of those items so that I will room for something new.

So it is with heavy heart that I let go of that one that I want to love me so much that my memories overshadow the present.  I’m letting go of the past to make room for an unrecognizable future.  I will do this every chance I get for the rest of this month.  I wonder what I’ll do with all the space I create.

Today’s victory: I literally let go of something today and I feel great!

Before

 

After

I let go of a whole lot of hair today (If only you could see the front!) Chopped!  I feel like a new woman.  Letting go can sometimes be fun.  Who knew? Let the games begin!

Gratitude: I am grateful for the delicious that always finds me.

On the horizon: Lightening my heart

Challenge Day 23: Always Do Your Best

Today is my last day of exploring don Miguel Ruiz’s Four Agreements.  In the last few days, I have challenged myself to three of the Four Agreements:

  1. Be Impeccable with Your Word
  2. Don’t Take Anything Personally
  3. Don’t Make Assumptions

Those agreements have been the most humbling of these 30 days of challenges because they really get to the heart of the things that make my life difficult.  They point to things subtly operating unnoticed and unchallenged in the background of my every day.  I speak carelessly.  I usually believe that everything that happens that hurts me was meant to undermine me.  How I see it must be the only way it is. That is truly a torturous life.  Yet we all live like that at some point until we realize that there are ways of looking at and doing things in life that simply don’t work.  They run the show and they run it badly, leaving our mental well-being in jeopardy.

The Four Agreements attempt to break up the gang of ineffective and sometimes detrimental behaviors to open us up to more options and give us an enhanced sense of freedom and peace.  What does life look like when I pay attention to what I say?  Am I telling the truth?  Am I speaking in a way that uplifts me and others?  What does life look like when I let go of the belief that people do things because of me?  What if the hurt I feel is because of my interpretation and not their intention?  What if I took the time find out what was really so for people in my life instead of jumping to conclusions?  What if I slowed down, asked and listened to what people were saying and requesting of me?  What would life look like?

Over the past few days of implementing three of the four practices, life is lot easier.  I’m not as attached to people seeing things my way or figuring out why people do things.  If I really want to know, I ask.  Then I accept what they say.  I believe the Four Agreements have a lot to do with becoming less attached to people, thoughts, beliefs and just flowing through life.  Practicing them gives you permission to be without necessarily having to know or prove everything.  It has been refreshing.  The last agreement lifts yet another burden.

Today’s challenge: Take on the fourth agreement.  Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret.

For me, this challenge is all about being gentle with myself and accepting where I am.  It isn’t a license to not achieve.  It is a license to achieve at different levels according to where I am and making that ok.  I will not expect myself to perform at the same level on few hours of sleep as I would after being well rested.  I will appreciate all that I can do and make sure that I do my best for where I am.  No slacking here, just the discernment to be able to answer the following.  What is my best right now?

Today’s victory: As part of my exquisite self-care I have been practicing giving myself permission to stop working instead of toiling endlessly.  The work will be there when I return.  I need to unplug and I make sure that I stop before I burn out.  Another victory is getting this post up well before midnight.  It’s been a while since I’ve done that. Yes!

Gratitude: I am grateful for the ability and will to figure it out.  I can strategize my way out of anything.  I am grateful for my mind and its acuity.

On the horizon: The elephant in my life