Say Something

What’s going on in America right now hurts my heart. Hurts my mind. And makes me hurt for people. All people. Because this kind of unrest will inevitably touch you, one way or another. I’m not one to speak out publicly on issues of social injustice, but I feel compelled to say something on this one. Because it is real. More real than I ever believed. And it is here. All around us.

Even if we try to ignore it.

Denver is in the midst of the fifth day of protests. I about jumped out of my skin last night when one of those Amber Alert notices went off on my cell phone. Notifying myself and the other fine citizens of Denver that we had 15 minutes until our 8pm curfew. Curfew. And not because of the ‘Rona, but because of the protests. Today, a coworker told me he was going to try and find more ammo because he heard the looters are now targeting predominantly white neighborhoods. And we were told to take precautions today to make sure our buildings and properties were secure. What kind of messed up world do we live in that we need to be concerned about these things? Wake up, people! This is not some story or issue coming out of another country. This is now. This is America.

We need to say something. That is literally what I am doing here. But there is a way to protest, a way to get your voice heard. We have more platforms than ever before. But the “poisoned well that is social media” (credit Dan Le Batard) is one of the main problems. More than enough has been said about the people taking advantage and rioting and breaking the law in the name of protest because it is wrong. Just that. Wrong. I drove through a town yesterday and I noticed a young lady on the sidewalk holding a sign. She was calmly standing there by herself, wearing her mask and holding a sign saying, “Black Lives Matter”. She was brave enough to stand there and make her voice heard. Oh, and another thing. She wasn’t black. She was white.

I grew up in Philadelphia, in a racially diverse school, but in a predominantly white neighborhood and family. Many of our friends were black and we never really saw any difference. We were just all kids. Until other voices made themselves heard and we heard things that were not so pleasant. It changed some people, but not everyone. I learned that racism was real, but it didn’t really affect me. Because I was white. But I liked my black friends and thought they were cool, so I thought that made up for the opinions of others around me. Wrong.

Fast forward years later and I started experiencing prejudice of another kind. And, *gasp*, this was towards me. I was good at my job, and I was going to get promoted. But guess what? I wasn’t going to get the same salary or the same benefits that my peers were getting. Why? Because I was female. Call it entitlement, call it the Boy’s Club, call it whatever. It took years for it to be made right and to become almost equal to those of my male counterparts. And how did it happen? You guessed it. Because I spoke up and said something. No one was going to do it for me, I had to stand up and ask for what I was entitled to, because the people who should have done something, didn’t. They just let it happen. Then it finally started to sink in. This only scratches the surface of what people of color deal with, but it became even more real because it actually happened to me. Conversely, some of the people who made a huge impact on me in my college years were black – they didn’t see me as a white girl, I was a sister. I was a friend. And I was all the better for it.

Some time after that I realized something else that some people have other prejudices – towards those with a different life status than their own. Some because of rich people, some towards those less fortunate than themselves, and some because of relationship status. Even towards single people. And guess what? I had to be all those things before I experienced those types of prejudices that people have. Again, this is totally low-grade, but it made me think deeper of how people treat people and how messed up it could be.

Then, two years ago I moved to Denver and experienced something even more disturbing. There is a lot more racism in this part of the country than I even knew or imagined. Remember I said I’m from Philly, right? There, the white population is 34.9% and the black population is 41.3%. Not Denver. The white population is a whopping 53.6% here and the black population is only 9.2%. I had no idea what I was going to run into. Here, a lot more things were said directly to me about black people in a less than friendly manner. At one point, my team was made up of 16 people and four of them were black. My Philly mind didn’t think anything of it. Then, someone made this comment to me, “You hire a lot of black people, don’t you”? I can’t make this up. I just looked at them and said, “Yes. Why, is that weird?” They kind of sputtered. Others made comments like, “Tell him to pull his pants up” or “tell him not to wear his hoodie up” and various other comments I don’t even want to write. Then there is the Hispanic population prejudice here – black or brown – people see what they want to see.

Obviously, not all white people in Denver are prejudiced. I know plenty of people who are just as upset and saddened by all of this hatred as I am. But the very real fact is that this is not a popular place for black people. I’m not sure why, but I am trying to do my part here and show people that it is not the color of skin, that makes all of us different, it’s the heart. We all bleed the same. The same blood was shed for all of us. It’s our hearts that need to be changed.

So, why did I decide to speak up now? Mainly because I was motivated by people who I listen to often and who I’ve known to make a difference. Most of you know I am a huge sports fan. So I listen to ESPN Radio a lot. This morning driving to work, I heard Stephen A. Smith talking about George Floyd’s death On Get Up and he said this was actually an American issue, not just a George Floyd issue. He also said that part of the issue is the imagery of how black men are depicted and portrayed. He said it was so important that white people speak up. That white silence was compliance. and that is what this is what everything has come down to and why we need to say something. It made such an impact on me and I was thinking about it when I went into work. Where one of my best employees was talking about the riots. He’s black and is one of the ones who taught me what it was like here. Again, being from Philly, I had no idea.

Then, my favorite radio show came on. I faithfully listen to the Dan Le Batard show on ESPN Radio almost every day. Mainly because I am intensely attracted to passionate people and Dan is one of the most passionate sports people I know. He is an award-winning journalist and I have heard him break down on radio more than once. He came on this morning and the passion and the feeling in his voice was palpable. You could feel it through the speakers. Because I cannot even begin to paraphrase his monolog, here is what he said.

“You can’t believe anything you see and read because you see bricks in the street and you don’t know who put them there,” said Le Batard, speaking from his knowledge of life under a communist regime in Cuba to the unrest manifesting itself around America over the previous five days. “You don’t know whether the people protesting really are protesting, or if they just want to start more violence. That’s propaganda. That’s Cuba. You can’t believe the things that you’re watching. You don’t know what’s real and what’s not real. It just… It’s heartbreaking. We’ll play all sorts of sounds for you today from people who are more eloquent than I am, and more qualified to speak on this than I am. Because I’m just an observer. Latin or not, minority or not, I come from privilege… I hope we can just laugh today, that there can be some medicine somewhere in this, because I’m telling you, Stugotz, I have been alive for 51 years and I have not had as heart-breaking a weekend for something that didn’t really directly impact me as I did this weekend. Where my fear kept me in a place, I gotta think it’s happening to a lot of people. I gotta think this bone weariness, this heavy feeling you have in your heart, in your stomach, it feels like a disease.

“America and its vibrant economy had to close down because of a disease that attacked the lungs for a few months. Now that disease has been engulfed and swallowed by a disease that has ravaged the heart for centuries.

See what I mean? The man has passion. Normally, ESPN tries to keep political talk at bay, but this is too big and no one was holding Dan back this time.

Jalen Rose made a comment the other day on ESPN that slapped me in the face, “I wish America loved black people as much as they love black culture”. I have been guilty of this in the past and please God, let me never be guilty of that again.

Think about a mere four months ago – when the whole world, and ALL of America, was mourning the death of Kobe Bryant. Oh, and he was black man. Who played college ball in Philly. And we all loved him. It doesn’t make sense.

So, after hearing and reading things over the weekend, then listening to these two very respected, passionate people talking about what is real, I felt I needed to say something. Even if it is very simply to say that I see black people as real people who think and eat and bleed the same as I do. The same thing with the Mexican people I have come to know and respect. I have never experienced a more loving, sharing culture. These people are people who live and breathe and love just the same as anyone else. And we need to recognize and acknowledge that .

So, don’t think you need to go to a protest, or get a spot on TV or radio, all you need to do is speak up if you see something. Or hear something. What that officer did to George Floyd was inexcusable. But what the other ones standing by did was almost worse. They stood by and did nothing. They didn’t have to do everything, but they had the power to do something.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” ― Edmund Burke

So, go do something. Something good. Something that matters. It can make a difference in the life of another human. Even if it is yourself.

Original Painting by Alexa Johnson (my cousin!)

https://instagram.com/alexa.marie.art?igshid=b8zfc6mbwt07

Where Gratitude Outshines Vulnerability

I’m pretty sure I never put gratitude and vulnerability in the same sentence before, but it’s been popping up over the last few weeks so I’m thinking they just may be related. Or I need to learn something about it. Maybe. Probably.

A month or so ago, I had a blog draft I was working on called Vulnerability. I didn’t get very far on it because I wasn’t sure where I was going with it. It was also coming across…..well, vulnerable. And as expressive as I am at times, putting full blown vulnerability out there was not something I was willing to do. So, I scrapped that idea and threw it in the trash. There. No more vulnerability.

Except….yep. It came up again. A few times. So I guessed there was something going on. And then on Sunday, it all kinda clicked. In church, the pastor gave the obligatory message about gratitude right before Thanksgiving. But he promised it was going to be a bit different. And it was. At least for me.

He spoke a lot about gratitude and how it changes our lives when we express it. And how our relationships with others change based on the amount of gratitude we give. Or receive. And honestly, I didn’t really think about that part before because I usually try and make a point to thank people for what they do. Especially at work. But here’s the thing I didn’t realize before – I do get irritated at people when they don’t say thank you to me. Really. I often say “you’re welcome” just to make a point. I think it’s the Philly in me, so I guess I’m making the hometown proud. But while I’m trying to “raise awareness”, I’m essentially being just as rude as they are.

So while I’m working on how I really feel about that smack in the face, let me tell you about the other thing I learned over the weekend. The pastor was talking about how we sometimes have obstacles in the way of expressing gratitude. Especially in relation to God. But think about it – sometimes we do this to people around us as well. It can be pride, or a guilt complex or a comparison situation where we don’t want to look like we’re putting ourselves out there in order to admit that someone did something nice for us. This usually happens when we’re mad at that person, not very close to them or maybe, we just simply don’t like them. (Gasp! Yeah right. Like that’s never happened to you! Haha) I’ve begrudgingly expressed thanks to people I didn’t particularly care for, even worse – people who repaid my bad attitude with kindness. Nothing like self-reflection and embarrassment all rolled into one to make you learn a lesson real quick!

The one other obstacle that got me was vulnerability. It actually stemmed from the fear of joy. How does that work? Well, think about it. If we express gratitude for something that happened and we feel joy, we ultimately have this idea in the back of our minds that it’s not going to last. Joy can be fleeting. It can come out of that one thing we’ve been waiting for or working towards, only to have something ruin it at the end. At least that’s what we think. We’re afraid to feel that joy and express that gratitude because we’re so scared it’s going to be taken away from us or that it won’t last long. What we end up doing is building defenses and not letting ourselves feel that joy. Because what’s the point of feeling it only to have it go away?

That’s the point of living people! We live for the moments of joy and gratitude in our lives. (Honestly, sometimes it makes you feel more alive). I hate feeling vulnerable because it makes me feel unprotected. Unsafe. I never thought about being afraid of joy, but there was something that resonated with me on that one. Maybe I am and I’ll have to figure that one out. Not that I’m looking forward to that. Those types of lessons should really come with a warning label.

So how does this factor into gratitude and Thanksgiving? My main point to this one is that I thought I had this gratitude thing down and I didn’t know as much as I thought I did. Whether it’s with family, friends or God, practicing gratitude is something I need to do even when it makes me feel vulnerable. Or uncomfortable. Even when I would just rather not.

Our challenge is to take a look and see how much we give thanks or express gratitude to those around us. Even when it hurts. Even when we’re fighting battles. Even when it’s the first – or yet another – holiday without a beloved one. It’s not always easy and it may make you feel guilt or vulnerability or even pride, but I’m willing to bet you won’t be sorry that you did. Not only will you feel better, but your family member, friend or coworker will be glad that you did as well. I’m not pretending that your life is rosy and you’re not the best of friends with your significant other or kids or friends or your Great Aunt Sally. Not everyone’s life is easy or plainly defined. Or even happy. I get that. It can get dark sometimes. And the last thing we think of when we’re in that dark place is to be thankful.

Call me optimistic, but I believe every little thanks brings another ray of light into that place. We just have to lift our heads up and open ourselves up to the vulnerability of thanking others for something they took the time out to do for us. If theory proves correctly, it will further connect us with those we’re thanking. Especially if they’re the ones who remind us to bring stretchy pants to Thanksgiving dinner.

Enjoy everyone – Happy Thanksgiving!

When It Just Doesn’t Work…And Then It Does

This one could also be called “Perspective Brings Contentment” but that just sounds boring, right?

If you read my last post, you know that last week was a “fun” week for me.  Looking back, I could have handled so many things differently.  (Self-reflection has been a thing for some of us at work this past year and man – is it ever a joy.  Sike.)  It wasn’t the worst, but I let so many things affect me in a negative way that, if viewed in a different light, really weren’t the end of the world.  They were hard and there was no getting out of them, but totally deal-able.  (For those of you who have been trying to tell me this for weeks/months/years, you can say it now.  You told me so. And I’ll say this – you were right.) Some things I handled well and there were lots I didn’t.

It started with someone calling out for two days whom we were almost sure was going to end up quitting.  This person was just plain miserable in what they were doing.  While they were out, yours truly was covering for them and found a lot of incomplete items and some items simply not even started.  Then, there was an incident that was not our fault, but some of our fault, that I ended up taking the fallout for.  Talking to a friend that night, I asked for some advice as it seemed I needed to do something differently.  “Be simple and to the point” he said.  “Don’t be wordy, just state the issue, tell them to do their job and move on.”  Guess what?  I was given an opportunity to use that advice the next morning and it was pretty dang effective.  See?  I listen.  Sometimes.

So by Wednesday morning my blood pressure was up to 137/107 and I was completely done in.  We have a team meeting on Wednesday mornings and, since one of my guys took ownership of that meeting, I get to take a step back.  (Yay for delegation!) During the meeting, he eluded to some of the issues and asked me to elaborate.  I laid out some of the issues and basically said that everyone needed to be there everyday and get their own work done and stop worrying about everyone else.  (I swear I can almost relate to parents some days! lol) A few of the guys took up the mantle and started to motivate the rest of them.  It was pretty entertaining actually.

Afterwards, one of my employees caught me in the shop and asked me to walk with her.  She wanted to offer to take over the job of the first guy in this story as she has done the job before.  Her current job was pretty streamlined and would be a better fit for the first person that was struggling.  We talked about it, worked out some kinks and guys, I practically cried.  For those of you who know me, I cry about four to maybe six times a year so that’s something.  This was a HUGE weight off of my shoulder as she was previously going to transfer to another department but decided she couldn’t leave me. (Right??? How cool is that?)

We offered the job transfer, everyone was happy and they started cross-training.  All by lunchtime. Yep.  We didn’t mess around on this one.  When she did go to lunch, she brought me back a little present.  (I may or may not have almost cried again.) It’s little and simple, and men’s (LOL) but they brought me back socks that said “World’s Best Boss”.  People apparently go to lunch at Target and it’s a beautiful thing.

Another cool part of this story is a verse my friend sent me that Monday morning.  Neither she nor I had any idea of how it was going to be a part of all of this, but that is one of my favorite parts.  Check out Ephesians 3:20.  Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 

When she gave me this verse, it was about another work/life issue entirely, but do you see how well it worked in this situation?  I didn’t come up with that idea, wasn’t even in part of my strategy – at all.  Something was going on behind the scenes that I had no idea about and guess what?  It was more than I even asked or thought.

If that wasn’t good enough, I drug my fine self to church on Sunday (it was one of those days I wanted a date with my bed but my friends convinced me to go) and got totally God-slapped.  This is where the perception leads to contentment thing comes in.  The lesson was this – our perspective has a direct link to our contentment.  Who we go through things with, how we react to them, what we learn from them and how we benefit from them is all related.  Rewind the past week or two and, if viewed with a different perspective, my experiences would be a great deal different.  More than likely in the positive light.

Here’s one of the things we say at work a lot though – “Mistakes are proof you are trying”.  If I wasn’t going through some of the things I did/am still going through, there would be no lesson to learn.  Nothing to fall back on to do differently or try another way.  The reward, once it comes, will be that much sweeter because I had to work harder for it.  And the lessons learned on the way – priceless.

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My present 🙂

A Single Holiday Season

It started with Halloween.  I didn’t actually realize it at the time, but that is totally where it began. It’s probably my least favorite holiday to start with – mostly because I pretty much hate horror. And being scared (and for some reason, people just LOVE scaring me). Anyway, Halloween brings massive amounts of candy, decorations, costumes and the inevitable slew of fall family photo session posts. Whether just cute kids in costumes or happy family shots of smiling parents and darling children surrounded by falling autumn leaves, they’re there.  Everywhere.  All over social media.  Showcasing how happy and together everyone’s life is.

Stick with me here.  This is not a plea for attention nor a blast on those who post these photos.  I personally know of a lot of people who have prayed for years for a spouse and/or children, and these pictures are a testament to their faith and joy.  No issues here, people.

What I would like to bring awareness to are the ones who are hanging in there on their own, whether firmly intact or hanging by a thread.  Holidays suck for single people sometimes.  They just do.  And you don’t even have to be one of those singles who is hardcore looking for a significant other, seriously.  I personally go back and forth.  Last weekend?  I was totally annoyed at life, my single status and the fact that every third post on Facebook showed a happy, smiling family unit.  It seemed like they were mocking me.  Every single one. And the way it made me feel? And my reaction to it? Let’s just say it’s wasn’t pretty.

What manifested from that is something I am not particularly proud of.  Issues in my work life crept into my personal life and I felt like a complete failure who was going to be alone for the rest of her life. (Crazy, right? But we’ve all been there a time or two.) Then I had to attend a bridal shower, where at one point, one of the ladies made all of us “single ladies in the back” stand up so everyone could see us and have our picture taken. The words in my head at that moment people! (Although let me point out here that I love this particular bride and, through the haze of my blah, I was completely happy for her) In light of all this, last Sunday ended up being a pretty rough day for me and I was pretty bitchy.  A funny, snarky bitch, but one nonetheless. Thankfully, my friends put up with me and laughed me through it. Later that night, I had a long talk with one of my best friends and realized my fear and discontent was at the heart of it. We worked through some of those issues and I felt a lot better.

I knew I was gonna regret it, but I told her I was thinking of taking a break from Facebook. I’d realized I was on it more often than usual and that it wasn’t good for my mental health at the moment. Being the great friend that she is, she offered to do the same. So, for the past week I stayed off of Facebook.

I’d like to tell you I didn’t miss it at all, but you know the truth. I was seriously addicted. Had no idea how many times a day I stopped to see what the world was doing. By Wednesday I was pretty disgusted with myself and found that life indeed went on without Facebook. It was oddly freeing.

But back to the main point – holidays get interesting for single people. Here’s the thing, Thanksgiving and Christmas are my two favorite holidays and I will celebrate them in whatever way possible. I love going to parties and even hosting them. But what sucks for single people is celebrating them in a way where you end up making concessions for everyone else.

Not sure what I’m talking about? Let’s put it this way – think about the last few years and maybe even the upcoming holidays – who have you have invited to your events? Where do you put them? Some of my single friends are still stuck at the kids table – while younger people sit at the main table simply because they’re a couple. Some are invited as afterthoughts because the family members they normally celebrate with were invited elsewhere. Some have to change their plans last minute to accommodate siblings or other family members simply because “well, you’re only one person”. All while expected to bring food contributions, gifts and to show up looking classy and put together because “there’s no one else to take care of” and you can look good cause “you have all the time in the world” and “you need to attract men!”. Yet they’re the ones paying for all of that stuff by themselves. Because they are one person.

See what I mean? Most people don’t even notice. Hell, half the time us single people don’t even care. Because we’re with the people we love and we get to celebrate the holidays. (And honestly, we can go home by ourselves and go right to sleep if we want. Pros/cons) But then there’s the inevitable years where it feels off. Where you wish you had someone to attend all the events and parties with. Where you get tired of answering the same three or four questions that apparently are the go-to “ask the single person” ones.

So, in order to escape the weird questions or feelings or even loneliness, we end up on Facebook checking to see what’s new only to be bombarded again with the happy families, new engagements and overall good stuff that people post. All to have the stark reality thrown right back in your face. It’s real out in the field, people.

We are not alone in this either – any single parent, couple longing for children or people simply unhappy in their marriage more than likely go through the same thing.

My plea in this post is to think about these people during this holiday season. Don’t stuff the singles wherever you may have room cause you had to invite them. Remember for all intents and purposes they are a “family unit” as well. I’ve personally experienced the things I’ve pointed out and most times you just roll with it. Because that’s life and where I am in it for the time being. But it’s when people tell you that you should be more flexible (in whatever situation) because “it’s just you”, is when I usually lose it. You’re already trying to manage all this stuff on your own and then someone says something like that and it just make you feel like a friggin winner.

So here are some pointers. Instead of the obligatory questions about work, “where are you traveling to next” and, my personal favorite, “have you thought about online dating”, ask us what our favorite thing was this year. What was the best thing we learned? How are we making out with life? Do we need any help, advice or someone to talk to? (In my case it will probably be “do you need therapy? Lol)

This rant is how I feel now and it doesn’t usually last long. I’ll probably be just fine and dandy in a few weeks and be out celebrating somewhere. I’ll be fine – but please just think about those celebrating alone this season and make them feel just as special and loved as the others. Because they usually are.

The ones who put up with me 😉

People In The Air

So I have a question for you -Do you normally talk to your neighbors on airplanes or pretty much just sit down with your headphones on and pretend to go right to sleep? Personally, I usually go with the latter. But, sometimes you meet quality people when you least expect it.

Two weeks ago I was on a midday flight from Denver to JFK to meet up with the group I was vacationing with for our flight to Morocco. Due to the time difference, I had to get out of Denver earlier in the day to be in New York for our 8pm group flight. I was technically working that day so I went in early, worked for a few hours and was still clearing up some last minute items while waiting to board the plane.

When I got to my aisle seat, I had my noise-cancelling headphones on, my laptop accessible and I opened it up and continued to work as soon as we reached altitude.

As many of us do nowadays, I glanced at the two people next to me, smiled and went about my business in my own little bubble. I worked for about an hour and then bought lunch when the flight attendants came around. The older lady in the window seat got my attention and let me know the bag from the sandwich I just purchased was leaking. We swapped it out and thus, she saved me from a soggy lunch.

After I finished, I was reaching for my laptop again when the older gentleman next to me taps me and says “Before you get all set up again, I need to see a man about a horse”. I laughed and got up so he could go to the restroom. When he returned, I pulled my laptop out and started back in on my never-ending email.

A few minutes go by and he starts talking to me. So I took my headphones off and found he was commenting on Outlook and how it looked like “some other guy’s program I was sitting next to”. I showed him a few things and he thought it was terrible people had to deal with “that many emails”. That’s when I realized he had a heavy New York accent and that they must’ve been visiting Colorado. My natural curiosity set in and I asked them about their trip.

Turns out this couple has been married for 50 years, raised three kids and put them through college and now travel to see all the things they missed out on. They are in their early 70s and I was surprised as hell to find out how adventurous they are. She even went zip lining in Costa Rica a few years ago!

They were telling me how they toured around Colorado and how they tried a different ethnic restaurant every night. Their favorite was a Thai restaurant were they apparently made friends with the owner. The lady who would buy restaurants, make them profitable, sell them and then go see the world with the proceeds until it was time to do it all over again. The man was fascinated with her as she had a younger boyfriend and said “Man, she was a tiger!” with a big look in his eyes. Cracked me up.

As we talked, I found out he was Ted and she was Bobbi and that Ted had been in the fashion business and the insurance business and that Bobbi had worked at the New York Public Library in the Children’s section for over 40 years. They told me of life in the Bronx, of raising their kids and how she now wants to move to Manhattan and he hates the city. Typical, right?

Ted gave me a tip to use a car service instead of Uber when I came back (I needed to get from a hotel by JFK to LaGuardia at 4am yesterday and it ended out working perfectly). He wanted to hear about my trip when I came back and asked for my email address. I gave him one of my business cards and Bobbi was going to put in her bag. Ted took it right away and says “No, this is going in my wallet!” He was a riot.

All of this to say, I’m so glad he started talking to me – I would’ve missed out on meeting some great people. Don’t get me wrong – there are times I get on a plane and I don’t even want to look at people, let alone talk to them. But with so many people ignoring each other lately, it becomes easier and easier to just ignore them back. After all, they’re strangers.

Ted was true to his word and emailed me the next day. I sent him a reply yesterday when I got back to work and he sent me one right back. He has questions about my trip and what it was like to be in Morocco and he finished it with “it seems to be a good place to sell fence-post diggers”. And – you guessed it – I cracked up again!