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I’ve come to a point in my life where I am learning to value self-care. I’ve also come to realize the value of time, vacations as well as the value of building solid relationships. For years I thought that it was selfish and unproductive for a person to focus on themselves… indulging in weekend getaways, lengthy visits to the spa or salon, shopping sprees, regular Girls Night Outs or simply going off to a quiet place to enjoy a good book, write or enjoy some good, soothing music. I thought, “How can people do those things when there is so much work to do in the world?
I had been told that I was selfish a few times as a teenager and I guess it stuck for about a decade or two. I had also been taught to stay busy… to not just sit and be a spectator but to get involved in life, events and relationships. At church and school I engaged in everything from singing in the choir, ushering and leading the youth group to cheerleading, volunteering and leading my senior class as President. Keeping busy and living a full, productive life was not bad advice, but it’s how a person maintains balance throughout life.
I never really understood why I was this so-called selfish person. The only thing that I can remember about this “selfishness status” was that I recognized early that I wanted a better life for myself. Even after unexpectantly becoming a young, single, mother, I refused to remain on government assistance, accepting the short-term help and then quickly moving on to work three jobs to support my child. As a youth, I pursued education, saved my small allowance to purchase things that I really wanted and later worked part-time so that I could help out at home and still engage in extra-curricular activities. I was always drawn to the finer things in life. Although I could not yet afford many of the things I wanted and my environment was not desirable, I had some very good dreams and goals as a teenager and young adult. Those dreams and goals were my imaginary friends and I could count on them to get me through some tough times. They would wisp me away to other worlds as I read a book or comfort me as I wrote in my journal or listened to music. This, in essence, was my self-care. Somewhere along life’s journey I forgot about them.
I spent years pursuing status, seeking things, helping others, pleasing others and in the meantime, I forgot about how to care for myself. Yes, I obtained the education. Yes, I got married. Yes, I secured the job I desired. Yes, I have two beautiful children. Yes…I have been fulfilled by so many dreams that have come true. However, in the course of obtaining all of those beautiful blessings there were times when I thought I would lose my mind. The busy schedules, the numerous activities, full-time wife and mother, full-time work, full-time school…there were not enough hours in a day to do everything that I felt I needed to do and I had forgotten how to slow down and take care of myself.
Today I find myself looking at life very differently. I appreciate the years of hard work and service to others. I admit…I enjoyed it the intrinsic rewards. I’m not saying that I have simply become a spectator in life. That is far from the truth. I am still young and very involved in life…eager to make my mark in the world. I have, however, learned the art of prioritizing. I focus on my passion to work with youth, teaching them to live with integrity and to create positive change and experiences in their lives and in the lives of others. The best part of this journey is that I have reconnected with the things that provide me the care that I need to thrive and continue to serve others. Music, writing, reading, exercising and spending time and getting away with my family to reconnect and recharge are all a part of my self-care plan. I am experiencing abundant peace and joy.
I love this! It’s a daily struggle but it can be done!
I’m shaking at the prospect
Of trying to deny
My need of certain gimmicks
To make my time pass by
I gaze at sites like E-Bay
Perusing all they’ve got
if I had my fleshly way
I’d go and buy the lot.
Self control is difficult
It’s something I should learn
Just to live within my means
My money not to burn
Store your treasure up above
A cheerful giver be
Peace will reign inside your heart
Just you wait and see.
October was a busy month for many of us including myself. As a nation was celebrated and promoted many important causes including breast cancer awareness, bullying prevention, Character Counts week, Ministers appreciation and a host of other holidays and causes. Maximizing Character participated and supported several events during the month. In addition to supporting other organizations, we engaged in a few activities of our own, in particular, during Character Counts Week (October 20-26, 2013). We had to be creative in our efforts to be actively involved in our community considering the fact that we are a new organization with no budget…yet.
During Character Counts Week we featured the Six Pillars of Character, created by Character Counts founder, Michael Josephson (www.charactercounts.org). Each day Maximizing Character highlighted a pillar of character, its meaning and its designated color on our Facebook and Twitter pages in order to encourage good character among all people. Members of Maximizing Character also wore the designated colors on several days in honor of the week. We participated in our second Girl Talk session and made Flowers for the Causes (check out the blog from earlier this month).
Maximizing Character also celebrated good character throughout the week on social media by featuring individuals and groups in the community that were making their Character Count. My son and Junior Executive Assistant joined The Young Men of Distinction group at his school during Character Counts Week. The program is a mentoring program for boys. Although he is already a kid who possesses good character…okay, I know I’m biased, my son reports that he is committed to the group’s principles including Academics, Discipline, Self-control, Perseverance and Uplift. We also featured my co-worker and her husband who had one of his trucks from his small business painted pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness! Individuals had an opportunity to purchase magnets in honor of someone affected by breast cancer to place on the truck, too cool!
Maximizing Character participated in a breast cancer awareness seminar hosted by Sentara Healthcare, a nonprofit healthcare organization, in order to promote early detection and intervention. And finally, we featured and supported our dear friends, Parents Against Bullying of VA who hosted two major events this month, a Skate-A-Thon and their historic, 1st Annual 1000 Kid March Against Bullying at Hampton University. These events put the icing on the cake for a busy but productive month! Maximizing Character was honored to support and participate in the activities and events with organizations and people of like-minded spirits. We hope that next year, as we grow in membership and stature that we can continue to support these important and nationally recognized organizations as well as host a few events to promote good character and ethics, health and wellness and help reduce the incidents of violence such as bullying in our schools and communities.
Aim for Camaraderie Versus Competition
A bit of a storm blew up recently regarding this woman and a pic that she posted on her website showing her posing with her kids. The point of the photo is to show off her great body, especially her abs and that she has accomplished this level of fitness despite having three children, the oldest being three, the youngest eight months when the photo was taken. People have reacted badly to the photo and this has forced her to post what she calls her first and last apology where she apologizes for the hurt she’s caused. She goes on to say “I’m sorry you took an image and resonated with it in such a negative way.”
I have no problem with the image. I think most people would be impressed by her physique and how she managed to attain it with three babies in tow. The same way I don’t…
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I launched a character education program this summer called Maximizing Character. The program has gotten off to a great start promoting its services within the community with the help of family, friends and like-minded organizations. I am passionate about promoting values and positive behaviors that help us to maximize our spiritual, social & emotional, physical, academic and professional potential. If you’ve ever wondered why there is so much violence, irresponsibility, disrespect, lack of integrity and self-centeredness in the world, think about people’s character. Consider the values that you were (or were not) taught or developed over the years. Believe it or not, character building is an important aspect of our development and it’s not just a topic for kids. Author and character educator, Michele Borba said it like this, “It is important to remember that the most important measure of a nation is not its gross national product, its technological genius, or its military might. It is the character of its people.” Civil Rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proclaimed, “Our scientific power has outrun our spiritual power. We have guided missiles and misguided men.” Character encompasses the inward “man or woman” including traits such as honesty, responsibility, caring, and trustworthiness which ultimately reveal themselves in one’s actions and behaviors. If a person is truly honest, for example, their honesty will manifest in their relationships, on their job or at school and in how they live their lives. And know for certain, that people will quickly discern your true character no matter how hard you try to mask it. So…what does your character look like? If someone were to describe you, what would they say? How do you model good character to others especially the children in your life? Just a little Food for thought.
Today I remember my Grandma, aka, Nana, Mama, Aunt Shug and Mrs. Inez Reeves. She would have been 84 years old today. When I asked her why people called her “Shug” (pronounced sh00g), she told me that it’s because she’s so sweet. Grandma was a woman of faith, an exceptional cook, a Sunday school teacher and superintendent and an avid fisher. Before she retired she had managed restaurants and created recipes used by those establishments all over our region. Grandma taught me so much about how to live by faith, be dependable, how to act like a lady and to be a blessing to others. Her motto was “Lord, bless me so that I may be a blessing to others.” She lived a humble life, giving of her time, talents and treasures to her family, our beloved church and to our community.
My Grandma helped my single mother, and so many others in our “village”, to raise me and my two sisters. We were blessed to have this angel in our lives. When times were hard for us she always stepped in to ensure that we had everything that we needed and more. When I was a young adult, raising my first son as a single parent for five years, my Grandma was by my side to help care for him while I took college courses and began working. She offered wisdom, tough love and much grace as I meandered through my young adult years. Her optimism, faith and wisdom caused me to spend hours at her house, sitting at her feet, listening, and learning, soaking up all the love and life lessons in order to find my way. When I started my career as a behavioral health professional, married and had my second son, Grandma was by my side. It was second nature for me to call or stop by to just talk, visit, and get a recipe or when I needed an inspirational boost. Grandma continued to be source of strength and encouragement for me.
I am the woman I am today as a result of her love, time shared with me and her wisdom. While Grandma shared numerous milestones with me and my children, she never got to see me fulfill some of my greatest dreams and look forward to the possibilities ahead. Grandma died in 2008, one year before I obtained my bachelor’s degree and two years before I obtained my master’s and my son, her first great-grandchild, graduated from high school. Grandma had watched me toil for years to get a college education. She never got to see me start a business, helping others to maximize their character as she had always taught me to do. Nevertheless, I’m always encouraged by her life. My Grandma continues to live through the lives of her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and through all of the lives that she touched while she was with us. I’m convinced that when a person lives their life as My Shug did, their legacy will go on forever.
This weekend I will be participating in a Walk-for-Life with a non-profit called Mothers Against Violence. As I prepare for the event as one of the vendors for their block party, I thought about the message that I want to share with the parents and their children. This event will be taking place in an urban community where violence is commonplace. While this event seeks to bring awareness to the violence that is rampant in our local community and all over neighborhoods in the country, I want to bring a message of hope.
Violence is such a general word with so many meanings. In this day and time violence is everywhere. It is evident within private homes, in our schools, the workplace and of course, the media (you didn’t think I’d leave them out did you?). Violence equates to murder, abuse whether physical, emotional or verbal. It can be domestic or international. And by the way, yes, bullying is considered a form of violence. I’m not only referring to the nationally recognized issue that schools and communities are so diligently fighting to end, I’m also referring to the type of bullying that takes place daily among adults in the form of domestic violence or other forms such as intimidation in the workplace.
Since my passion is to make a difference in the lives of youth and families, I’ll stay in my lane and focus on the connection between character and violent behaviors. I believe that character begins in the home with the primary caregivers. Whatever you are doing and saying, trust, that if there are children in the midst, they are watching and learning. With that being said, the example has to start with the adults. We all know this, but how many of us pay close attention to our response when someone treats us unfairly in the checkout line, cuts us off on the highway or inflicts some type of injustice upon us? Our precious resources, youngest citizens and future leaders and caregivers behave based upon what they have seen and know from their day to day experiences. If hitting, yelling and cursing are behaviors that they see and hear regularly, chances are they are going to do the same thing. I’m amazed at parents who behave this way at home and then act amazed, even dumbfounded when their children begin school and in a matter of days they get a call from the teacher reporting poor behavior. This behavior did not just show up at school. In most cases, the behavior was already going on or manifested as a result of what the child learned from the only examples they have ever known.
During this upcoming event my goal is to remind parents and children that violence is real and that the different forms of violence can be reduced by making positive changes in their daily behaviors and attitudes. Establishing values in the home, teaching and modeling respect, responsibility, honesty and fairness and other values are ways to start helping children develop character. Spending time with the family conversing about potential dangers and exploring solutions, engaging in necessary safety drills or role playing in order to learn conflict resolution skills are other ways that youth and families can reduce violence. And might I add that sometimes it’s the caregiver who needs to be taught or re-taught some basic character virtues in order to produce a non-violent, compassionate, intelligent, talented and productive life that influences their children. As I join Mothers Against Violence in the Walk-for-Life this weekend, share information and have a little fun in the process, I hope that families will leave with a sense of empowerment to take back their homes, communities and schools.
In my quest to teach character, I’m challenged daily to live with integrity. Since I started my youth program, Maximizing Character, it seems that my own habits are now in the spotlight. I’ve had to take inventory of my own life so that I’m careful to model strong character to my own children and students. I’ve noticed areas in my life that definitely need some tweaking. Taking time out of my schedule to volunteer my time or give to a cause instead of simply talking about it is one small step I’ve had to take in an effort to reorder my life and develop my own character. Another challenge I realized was that I have a tendency to neglect my health by eating too many sweets, making excuses for not exercising and slacking on the sleep…so much for practicing what I preach to the kids.
One of the things that I focus on in my home and program is connecting one’s character to their health and wellness. I teach my students that part of being a responsible person is taking care of their bodies, eating right, exercising, getting plenty of rest and avoiding the use of drugs and alcohol. I explain to them that a healthy lifestyle helps not only their physical but also mental health and that a healthy lifestyle wards off destructive diseases while boosting one’s energy and overall attitude and mental health. Despite my knowledge of the benefits of exercise and a healthy lifestyle and the advantage of having a husband who is a personal trainer, I find it challenging for me to go walking or to visit the gym just a few days a week to prevent illnesses that plague my family such as diabetes and high blood pressure or to simply boost my energy levels. As a result of my poor choices (and hypocrisy) I have experienced a life full of “F’s”…Fatigue, Frustration, Fatty Foods and just plain Fed Up.
I recently challenged myself to refocus and to work towards getting this area of my life back in balance. I recognize that a healthy lifestyle is essential for the life I want to live…stress-free and energized to learn and to work effectively. So I’ll keep you posted on my progress from time to time. My hope is that I continue to be a good role model for my children and others, having a teachable spirit and maximizing my own character as I pursue my passion to promote good character and healthy lifestyles.
On Monday, September 9, 2013 I had the privilege of facilitating the Kappa Cardinal Cheerleaders’ Girl Talk group. My friend, Shawnie, and founder of Parents Against Bullying invited me over to teach some character-building skills and focus on “girl” issues. The cheerleaders, middle school aged girls who were full of energy, greeted me with open arms. Immediately upon my arrival, three or four girls, who had arrived early, engaged me in conversation about school, asked me what was in my gift bag and showed me some of their cheering moves. As more of the girls arrived, they were quickly called to order by cheering coach, Ms. Shawnie. She reminded the girls of their manners and encouraged them to be on their best behavior, using words like excellence and respect to help them stay focused. Although these girls were young enough to be my daughters, I attempted to engage them by meeting them where they are in this critical stage of life. Remembering issues that I dealt with during that age, I dived into their world to find out what was plaguing their minds and hearts.
We opened the session with an ice-breaker that allowed us to get to know one another. The girls were chatty but quickly engaged in the activity, hands raised often to share their experiences with the group. I was surprised and elated by their feedback as I had previously been told that they were a hard bunch to please. As we transitioned into the main lesson of Girl Talk, Ms. Shawnie had to remind the girls of her expectations again…the girls seemed to be enjoying the activity so much that they were beginning to have their own conversations about the topic. I challenged them to draw a circle which was identified as their camera lens. Then brainstorm and write about some issues that they were personally dealing with. Afterwards the girls wrote down their best qualities inside the “lens”. I encouraged them to focus on the inward portion of their lens and not allow the external “stuff” to dictate their lives. The girls had no problem sharing some of their “issues” as Ms. Shawnie and I addressed them, encouraging them to do the right thing, providing them community resources and validating their worth.
Facilitating the Girl Talk group was a refreshing change for me. Having grown up in a house with all females and now being the only female in my home, it blessed my heart to be able to connect with the young girls and focus on ‘all things, GIRL’ again. The girls communicated and behaved like a little sisterhood. They conversed together, played together and ate a meal together and even prayed together. They even summoned me join in on their closing prayer and chant, deeming me an honorary member of the cheering squad. The camaraderie that was felt and shared during our time together was great.
A girl’s life, in this day and time can be filled with a lot of “drama” as several of them pointed out to me this evening. I thought, if they only knew how blessed they are and that many of their ‘sisters’ across the globe suffer each day to survive and thrive, they would embrace their lives and circumstances, making dreams come true and pulling up others alongside them. For an hour though, it was refreshing to know that these girls put the drama aside to bond, learn new things about themselves and build their self-confidence. After encouraging the cheerleaders to maximize their character strengths and confidence at all times and in all settings, I was touched as several of them informed me that they were leaving and reached out to hug me goodbye. I had come to be a blessing to these intelligent, beautiful and impressionable young girls and they graciously blessed me.
A person’s character can be found in every aspect of their life. Whether they are conducting business in the board room or hitting the books in the classroom, the essence of a person will manifest itself, good or bad. When I think about the many lessons that I was taught at home, among family members, from teachers and community leaders, I clearly remember learning about how to treat others respectfully, use kind words, help the elderly and serve others humbly. Today, I often get the feeling that somewhere, down the line, those lessons were lost in the last few generations.
Today I see and hear things that cause my heart and ears to hurt and my insides to cringe. I hear vulgarities, for example, not only coming from the media or as I walk past an angry adult on the street, but I also hear such language from the mouths of those seemingly coming from the womb. I have watched a generation leave the rich lessons they were taught behind, in search of the next episode of “Drama”…Housewives, Dancing Stars or Singing Idols and Voices. Television and computers have become our children’s caregivers and social media have become our BFF. I have witnessed the youngest of our generation disrespect and shame us, only for us to later enable them to live a life of false entitlement and ignorance. What happened to manners? What happened to the “Golden Rule”? What happened to the mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers who strategically took the time to teach wisdom, justice and service and demanded respect so that these valuable gifts could be passed on to the next generation?
Each of us is challenged daily to maximize our character as we navigate through the day to day issues of life. And it is not always easy, given the problems we face in our ever-evolving, global society. Nevertheless, it is not enough to just focus on ourselves and forget those who rely on us to show them how to fulfill purpose and destiny in life. My challenge to anyone who reads this is to assess yourself and then take a look at your circle of influence or potential sphere of influence. How can you create positive change? Do you possess strong character? If not, why? What steps can you take today to improve your ability to be a better parent, friend, caregiver and citizen? In what ways can you be caring, respectful or trustworthy? When was the last time you made time to share a word of wisdom or teach someone else, in particular, a youth or young adult how to do something or to say something that brought value to their lives?
Make a commitment today to first, develop your character, your inner being, reflecting your best qualities and then lift up the life of another by sharing your gifts of wisdom and experiences. I am confident that your heart will reward you.