Put Down the Phone!

I Forgot My Phone

Yesterday my co-worker shared a video (see the link above) with me that caused me to truly re-assess the way I spend my time and life energy. At first glance, it just looks like a typical day with people doing typical things, and in fact, it is typical…for this day and age. In each scene of the video there are cell phones actively being used. The video captures the essence of what has happened in our technological world. We are so busy using our phones that we neglect to truly engage in life’s moments.

I’ve heard many people use the term “live in the NOW” and I began to embrace this philosophy when I realized that television, computers and social media were beginning to take over my life. However, I have to consistently remind myself of this mantra because it is so easy to pick up the gadgets or turn on the T.V. to “engage” in the events of the day. The video demonstrates the sad reality that many of us have become disengaged with humanity. Not only have we allowed our phones and cameras to dictate our way of life, but we are missing out on the beauty and joy of engaging in memorable life events.

Remember that couple that got engaged on the beach in the video? At the very moment that his bride-to-be said yes, embraced and attempted to kiss him, the young man was engaged in taking the, oh, so popular “Selfie” pic. The scene with the children at the playground…one little girl was engrossed in some type of activity on her phone while she swung back and forth on the swings. And those two groups of people who were celebrating a birthday and having dinner…most of those folks had their heads down, interacting with their phones or were busy snapping pics and probably uploading them to some social media page. It was appalling to see, but it was so true.

After watching the short video I was ashamed at how many times I had been guilty of some of the same things. In my response to my coworker, I said that it should be everyone’s New Year resolution to put the phone down sometimes, especially during life’s most precious and memorable moments. We must exercise balance when it comes to technology otherwise it will deprive us of a wonderful, full life. Remember to live in the Now and Engage in Life with Humanity. During this New Year, accept the gift of the Present and Live!

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Character Kids 2014

It’s a new year and a new opportunity to dream again! This year I’m excited about adding a youth council to my character education program. I look forward to seeing what great things will become of this merging of young and mature minds. I think that it is so important to allow youth to have a voice. I’ve learned so many things from my own children, like how to keep things simple when I want to make a “mountain out of a molehill,” or that I really don’t understand “everything” that they are experiencing these days in school, even though I’ve “been there, done that”. Sure, I agree, for the most part, that there is nothing new under the sun, but surely 21st century youth are experiencing some issues that those of us over 35 never imagined we’d have to deal with during our youth.

Take for example the terms, cyberbullying, road rage, knock-out, Internet, cell phones, website, tweets, Twitter, Facebook and any other 21st century term you can think of. They were unheard of when I was growing up over 35 years ago. We may have seen a form of road rage, and yes, cell phones and computers have been around for much longer than someone younger than 20 may realize, but most of these terms, issues and products did not exist, at least in their present form, 30 years ago. Youth are dealing with the age of technology, knowledge and major life issues that require consistent adult guidance, advocacy and wisdom as well as their own voice to express how these issues affect them. After all, they will be leading our world in a few years, so it is imperative for adults to listen to what they have to say and gain some insight into their perspective of life.

My hope is that the youth council will not only represent the Maximizing Character program by exhibiting good character in their respective homes and communities, but I hope that they will become global leaders. One way that I believe that adults can give youth an opportunity to express themselves and develop into productive citizens is through role play, service learning, mentoring opportunities, designing and implementing projects and through cultural arts. Through these modes of expression, youth can develop their communication skills, increase their capacity to lead others and develop social responsibility. 21st century youth also have an opportunity to make sense of their current environments, the world and establish a worldview.

I’m rooting for our youth and expecting great things from my group of character leaders as well as those children and young adults that we hope to impact as we promote excellence in character. I look forward to shining our light as we travel from school to school, community event to community event and even as we connect to children and families around the world in order to support an important cause or create positive change in areas affected by poverty, disease or injustices. Keep checking in with us this year to see what the Maximizing Character youth group is up to. Here’s to 2014! Elevation, Manifestation and Multiplication!

A Season of Peace

The holidays are chock full of activities and events from decorating and shopping to celebrating the season with parties and parades. Some of the most memorable holiday activities, however, are during the times spent with family and friends. Swapping old, embarrassing stories, listening to holiday music, joking around with family members and sharing holiday dinners are some of my favorite things to do with my family. However, for some people the holidays are not necessarily the best times of the year. For some individuals, the holidays may evoke a time of sadness, loneliness, indifference or bitterness due to the loss of a loved one, old family disputes, or growing up without a family to share the holidays with. Holidays may even evoke feelings of anxiety at the thought of dealing with difficult family members, co-workers or acquaintances. Despite these feelings there are some positive ways to handle such circumstances that allow one to enjoy the season and interact with others with an attitude of “peace, good will toward all men.”

There will always be some outspoken, unpredictable member of the family or a colleague who just has to compare the children, make unrestrained comments about someone or some sensitive subject or overindulge on the holiday beverages and pick a fight with someone. And yes, there’s Cousin “so and so” and Uncle “you know who” who just irritates everyone. Don’t shy away from the holiday festivities because of a few unique individuals in your circle. Instead, treat yourself to some good company, food, laughter and great memories. After all, laughter is good medicine and each of us deserves the opportunity to eat, drink and be merry!

There are some positive ways to enjoy oneself during this and all seasons without allowing the past or certain individuals to hinder your joy. The first thing one can do is to take a deep breath and decide that nothing or no one will stop you from experiencing the goodness of life. It is always a person’s choice to not participate in holidays or certain traditions. However if there is a desire to participate but one of the aforementioned reasons has been a hindrance, choose to move past those reasons and enjoy this time making new memories while continuing to cherish the former (good) ones. Prayer, meditation, exercise, listening to music, reciting a special scripture or affirmation or browsing and reminiscing through old pictures of loved ones who have gone on before us are ways to cope with the holiday season. Whatever seems to give you comfort and joy, tap into those resources and celebrate well.

Sometimes spending time with family and friends, even the most difficult ones, is better than isolating oneself and feeling miserable. The shared time with others is great encouragement. If you did not have a family unit to celebrate with while growing up or at some point in your life, consider celebrating the holidays with close, trusted friends or co-workers or if you are old enough and have started your own family, create your own special memories that will be handed down and cherished for generations. And for the family member or co-worker that “plucks your nerves” as some of the older folks would say when I was growing up, greet them with a short salutation, a smile and move on if you can. Avoid getting riled up and jumping to your defenses too quickly…sometimes that’s just what the other person is looking for…some type of response to keep things going. Obviously one must stand up for oneself if, for some reason, something is said or done that clearly is unacceptable and has to be addressed. Remember to guard the Golden Rule and refuse to focus your energy on “foolishness”. If they happen to spark up a conversation with you, listen to what they have to say rather than tune them out but keep your guard up, you don’t want to get caught up in negative talk. Change the conversation or politely move on. When it is all said and done, let Love guide your relationships!

Attitude of Gratitude

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Thanksgiving 2013~Family, Flag Football & Feasting

As I reflect upon this season of Thanksgiving, I am reminded that we should be thankful for our many blessings and freedoms daily. Over the course of this year I have had many conversations with my sons, in particular my youngest son, about being thankful for the things and blessings he has. I’ve also been challenged to be, not only grateful for what I have, but to be content.

Society bombards us with advertisements that lure us into the stores and online to buy things that we do not really need but often desire in order to make our lives more comfortable and pleasing. We watch the lives of celebrities in the media and attempt to imitate their lifestyles by adorning ourselves with the clothing, jewelry and the hairstyles they showcase. We seek after the cars, gadgets and homes that we see broadcasted each day and go to great lengths sometimes to obtain them. I’m not exempt. I too, have to be careful not to get caught up in the “hype.”

My husband and I have worked hard to provide a comfortable home and lifestyle for our children. Because we know what it’s like to want nice things or to be able to participate in certain events but not be able to afford them as youth, we have tried to provide our sons with some of the opportunities that we were not always privileged to receive. However, I find myself having multiple discussions with my sons about being grateful for their blessings because they often want more and more “stuff”…more video games, more snacks, more expensive sneakers and clothes, more money…more, more, more. As I get a little older I’m realizing that giving my children everything that I didn’t have is not what is best for them, hence my conversations and lessons about being gratefulness.

These discussions involve learning to be considerate of others, learning to be content with the life they have and refraining from coveting someone else’s lifestyle.  I’ve become mindful of how much we already have…a loving family and a host of friends, good jobs and schools, a home, food, clothes and a variety of “toys” and I’m learning to be content. This perspective of life, I’ve found, has brought me so much peace and is allowing me to focus more on others.

While I believe it is okay to want the best for ourselves and our loved ones, we must have balance. I’ve had to teach my sons that everything is not necessarily going to be given to them so they are going to have to develop a sense of responsibility and learn to work for some things. I’ve also taught my children to consider other people’s needs and help them whenever possible. Ambition is a good thing…in the right perspective. We must balance those desires to aim for the best in life with an attitude of gratitude.

We Were Made to Be Courageous

All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them!

All our dreams can come true if we have the courage to pursue them!

Fear is a distressing emotion that can hinder the best of us. Fear not only causes a person to procrastinate regarding the things that need and desire to be done, but it paralyzes the greatest exploits. I know this all too well…I struggled with this kind of fear for many years. Fear of failure, fear of what other people would think of me and the decisions that I made and fear of rejection were some of the issues that stunted my personal and professional growth. On the other hand, courage is the ability to overcome fear. While courage can mean facing physical dangers it can also mean standing up for beliefs and making hard decisions on the basis of evidence rather than what is popular. In my case, courage meant overcoming fear and taking responsibility for my life. It took faith, action and a positive support system to help me to overcome my fears and realize the unlimited courage within me to do anything I desired.

I have always been a dreamer, envisioning my goals and making an impact on the world. However, for some reason I had a hard time making those dreams come true. I allowed fear to creep in. I don’t recall my issue with fear being something that happened overnight. What I do know is that little by little this debilitating emotion began to consume me. I saw my self-confidence waste away; my courage to “launch out into the deep” began to wane.  Maybe it was something someone said or how they made me feel or maybe it was my own lack of self-worth at the time. One thing that I learned was that when you allow circumstances and other people to dictate your life, you fall into a terrible trap that only leads to frustration and regrets.

My faith in God was a lifeline. I had always trusted God to guide my life through prayer, studying the Bible and attempting to live out the principles of Christianity. Some might say that was courage in and of itself…but while I could memorize and quote biblical scriptures that declared that I was “more than a conqueror” and that “God has not given us a spirit of fear but Power, Love and a Sound Mind,” I had not yet internalized those transformational words. It took years of frustration, several life changing events and some good teaching, mentoring and gleaning from spiritual leaders to help me to develop into the woman I am today.

I’m reminded of the song by Casting Crowns called Courageous. It declares that “We were made to be Courageous!” The song is an amazing declaration of the warrior inside of us all. Life comes with challenges that we were meant to overcome if we would just tackle them courageously. I realized that my true self-worth was not wrapped up in the opinions of others. I decided to take action and create the life that I wanted. I relied on the motto “faith in action” to fulfill my dreams. From being a good wife and mother (teaching my sons and the kids in my youth program to be courageous) to re-entering college and obtaining my degrees to launching a business I had envisioned over 10 years ago, I am still tapping into the unlimited courage that is within me to do great things. I’ve learned not to measure my success by other people’s standards, but by the peace and joy that I possess in knowing that I am fulfilling my purpose and impacting the world through courage.

A Big Payback

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Today I shared a special occasion with one of my niece’s. Today she signed her National Letter of Intent to receive an athletic scholarship! I was a proud aunt and family member. The informal ceremony brought me to tears. This was my “baby” sister’s daughter and it was such a blessing to see my sister reap the rewards of her good parenting, mentoring and support. As I engaged with the family, taking pictures, videos, sharing hugs and congratulations, I realized that this occasion did not happen by chance. It took a lot of years of preparation and dedication to get to this day and this is just the beginning.

My sister and her family have spent many years playing sports, mainly basketball and football. There were other sports in the past…soccer, t-ball and baseball, but my niece, who stands at 5’10 ½ according to my sister, was drawn to the game of basketball. My sister played the sport during middle school and continued throughout her college days at the shipyard apprentice school. I guess you could say that my niece decided to follow in her mother’s footsteps. She was awkward for many years on the court, learning the rules of the game and how to maneuver her body at the same time. She played each season faithfully while keeping her grades up…at least until mid-high school when, one day she woke up and her friends, boys and “all things teenager” finally sparked her attention. Despite a few setbacks, my niece got her grades back up and continued to play the game and pursue her goal of playing college ball.

Just like many parents whose day is encompassed with school activities and sports, dance lessons, music lessons and other extra-curricular activities, my sister, her husband and their children successfully managed to participate in sports and other activities while maintaining good grades and still find time for family and friends. Sometimes I wonder how they do it, but over the years I watched my sister and her husband effectively and lovingly communicate and organize their schedules so that their children could get to and from practices, get dinner, homework, attend church and other daily events and keep their sanity.

One of the other things I noticed about my sister and her husband is that they are not overly obsessed with winning or their children’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, they definitely encouraged competiveness and they keep note of their children’s stats, but there is a balance of good sportsmanship and personal drive in their children. As parents they never yell at the referees, coaches or their children. I’ve watched them display patience with my niece, in particular, when others around them suggested that she be more aggressive on the court. My sister continued to encourage her to play her best and to be herself. I watched my niece play her favorite sport with passion, without the aggressiveness that sort of comes with the territory. My mother deemed my niece the “Gentle Giant” as a result of her laid-back attitude on the court.

This family, my family has truly demonstrated dedication, discipline, sportsmanship, patience, encouragement and support and faith. This day didn’t just happen because of talent and being in the right place at the right time, it is a culmination of years of hard work, sacrifice, practices and games, meetings, crazy schedules, fundraisers, volunteer work and travel. My sister and her husband have invested and sacrificed much time and money to enjoy the benefits of this blessing. I was honored to share it with them.

Enjoying Life, Today

Has it ever occurred to you that you may be focusing more on your future than you are on the present moment and the events of the day? I’ve often heard people, including celebrities like television mogul, Oprah Winfrey say, “live in the now”,” live in the moment”. I’ve been guilty of basking in my dreams and future goals so much so that I forget to stop and take in the events of the here and now — answering that life-changing question posed by my preteen or young adult son, initiating that hug or call to say “I Love You” or “Hello” to a relative or friend I haven’t spoken to in a while but who lives only ten minutes away. While I know that there is absolutely nothing wrong with dreaming and aspiring to fulfill one’s purpose in life… it is actually wise to plan ahead, I realize that one must exercise balance and remember to live in the now.

As I continue to mature and take inventory of my life, I am beginning to understand the philosophies of the older men and women in my life more and more. They said what was on their mind freely, they did not yield to other people’s opinions and they basked in the glory of the day, enjoying their lives as it was at that moment…content. These elders, in particular the women, did this with such grace, unmoved by all the chaos going on around them. They seemed to have such peace. I desire that peace, that feeling of tranquility and security that comes from embracing and engaging in the events of the day, confident that my future is already fulfilled and blessed. I get it…now that’s good living.

A Great October

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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.

Got Character?

205_fairness-stickerDeveloping character can be a challenging process. It is not always easy to do the right thing when everyone else is “doing it”. As I mentioned last month, since I have started the Maximizing Character youth program, my own integrity has been challenged. I have been confronted relationally, professionally, spiritually, financially and physically to consistently do the right thing. Don’t worry. It’s a good thing. I’m up for the challenge.

There are times when we all want to fit in and not necessarily stand up or stand out. In most cases, we want to blend in with the crowd at the sporting event by wearing casual apparel as opposed to a tuxedo or ball gown. Ok, that wasn’t a good example, but hopefully you get the point. Kids, for example, want to fit in by wearing the latest designer clothes and shoes or they don’t want to be the snitch that tells the school administrator what they know about the latest school crime. For me, starting a program focusing on people’s character has been a challenge in and of itself. I’m challenging myself and others to do a self-evaluation of the behaviors and motives that cause us to do what we do. This is not always a popular topic in society. People actually want to hear about the latest “dirt”, scandal, celebrity gossip or breakup. Stories that involve a lack of character seem to hold the spotlight more than the good news that peers through the rubbish.

As I watch the news and observe the lack of character in politics, business and entertainment as well as the increase in violent acts—increased bullying, children killing their peers and adults, acts of suicide as a result of being bullied, youth acting out dangerous and even life-threatening scenes from the latest video games or movies, I have to ask myself, what can I do to help reduce the occurrence of these events? Obviously I can’t help everyone, but I can create positive change in my sphere of influence. In the past few months I’ve learned that it is fulfilling to be able to take a stand for what I believe in. I believe it takes a resolute mind and steadfast determination to do what is right, walking in integrity.

As I encourage myself, I also encourage my readers to continue to do the right thing. Don’t quit. Don’t forfeit the intrinsic benefits that come with possessing good character. Commit to developing a better you, not only the external you that we as a society tend to focus on, but also the internal you, the essence of who you are and want to be in order to make a positive impact in the world. It starts with one. Got character?

Flowers for Causes

Happy Character Counts Week! In honor of this special week I spent some time with some special girls to make Flowers for the Causes. My friend Shawnie invited me back to another Girl Talk session to create paper flowers in honor of National Bullying Prevention and Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I jumped at the opportunity to share with her cheerleaders again because not only did I have a blast during last month’s visit, but we had the opportunity to also celebrate Character Counts Week!

I was amazed at the fact that the girls had never made such flowers before. Some had never heard of or seen this particular craft before. I learned how to create these little flowers as a young girl with my mother and during a few activities in school. I had to quickly remember that the times have changed and that arts and crafts are not necessarily at the top of a teenager’s list of things to do these days. After briefly providing directions and showing the girls an example of a flower I had previously created, the girls began to delve into the project.

The girls kept me busy, distributing tissue paper, ribbons and scissors and helping them fold their paper, accordion style, in order to get the flower to “blossom” just right. As I assisted the girls with their project, I listened to their responses. Some of them were frustrated about how their flower was evolving, while others were excited about their creation. I made sure to provide extra care and assistance to the girls who were having difficulty creating their work of art. By the end of the Girl Talk session, most of the girls were amazed  at how a few pieces of paper could be transformed into such a beautiful creation.

Blue, Green and Pink were our colors for last night’s activity. Blue represented the Pillar of Character for the Day: Trustworthiness- meaning reliable, dependable, and deserving of trust or confidence. As my friends at Character Counts would say, “think true blue”. Blue and Green represented Anti-Bullying and of course, pink represented Breast Cancer Awareness. The flower making event was a fun and creative way to acknowledge and celebrate the causes. It was also a great opportunity to remind the girls that as growing flowers they must carry themselves with honor and worth, take care of their bodies and blossom in their various gifts and abilities. PhotoGrid_1382399130630