It’s NOT Dead!

Whatever that “it” is in your life, isn’t over and done with as long as you give it roots.

My new home has beautiful landscaping. Someone took great care to arrange the plants, bushes and flower planters just so. It stands out amongst the other houses on the street, but I never fully appreciated it because my focus had been on the eyesore right in the middle of it all – a dead space that ceased to grow. I couldn’t tell what kind of plant had been there prior, but it had shriveled up and while the rest of the yard was brimming with foliage, lilac, roses and creeping green vines, it remained grey and dry all summer and into the fall. All winter I have been contemplating the cost of having the plant ripped up and replaced with something better. I had already decided what needed to be done in order to restore the garden to its glory.

Today, as I walked between the evergreens and the dry bushes that will soon be teaming with life again, I noticed something … the one I presumed a lost cause, wasn’t dead at all! Two new, strong and vibrant branches had somehow pushed through the dead wood and were reaching out to the sunlight. These branches even had leaves on them! I missed it. I walked right past that plant time and time again and assumed it had nothing to offer and there was no need to look its way and I wrote it off.

I guess I needed this revelation today because as I settled back inside, I began to praise God. My heart was full of promise and expectation. I’ve been looking for some things in my life. I had assumed some of them were empty and a waste of my time. Have you ever felt that way?

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Well, It’s NOT dead. Whatever that “it” is in your life, isn’t over and done with as long as you give it roots. Roots come in all forms in our lives – prayer, expectancy, faith, work, service, dedication, promise, etc. Whatever it is you’ve cast away needs your attention and encouragement so that it can push through and LIVE! The work of your hands will bear fruit. The creations of your heart will change lives. Your “it” will bloom again!

Be encouraged today as you look forward to spring and all it has to offer. May your springtime be eternal and not just a season.

For insight on surviving “Dry Places,” read on!

 

 

Receiving the Gift of Growing Pains

The “stretch of life” is hard, uncomfortable, sometimes unbearable, but necessary. These seasons are the cornerstones of our testimonies.

anton-van-der-weijst-603824-unsplashBeing in an uncomfortable spot in life is like wearing a dress that is too snug. You’d almost rather stand up and be awkwardly stable than to risk sitting down and busting that sucker wide open! Life is like that sometimes. One day, your shoes fit and the next day, they don’t. You can become accustomed to the hustle and bustle until you’ve had enough and would rather make the trade for peace and quiet. We may love our jobs until the day we become aware of what we’ve sacrificed to maintain it.

Growing pains are necessary. Think of it as the “stretch of life.” It’s those periods of discomfort, uncertainty, fatigue and anxiety that drive us toward change. If it weren’t so, we would stay in our small boxes way longer than meant to be. The hermit crab eventually becomes dissatisfied with its cramped quarters and seeks out a new place to inhabit.

It hurts like heck though. Pretending it feels good to be thrusted out of your comfort zone is just plain silly. There will likely be tears, frustrations, possible fits of anger and wavering faith along the way. But the process is a gift and the outcome is its own reward. Allow the stretch. Bend with the wind so you don’t break and try not to swim against the current.

The beauty of self-awareness is being able to recognize whatever season you find yourself in. Wisdom comes with accepting that no season lasts forever. Be uncomfortable enough to become open to change, willing to try and bold enough to risk failure. Cultivate your strengths and make concessions for your weaknesses. Own the transition while moving forward at the same time.

Don’t get stuck. Don’t throw in the towel when things get tough.

Your ultimate breakthrough is right on the other side of difficult.

 

(Photo courtesy Anton Van Der Weijst on Unsplash)

Leadership 101: How She Becomes a Force Without Being Forecful

Learning who you are requires work, growing pains, as well as accomplishment and setbacks. Identifying who you are as a woman in the workplace can be one of the most challenging parts of the journey. Whether you are in a female-dominated vocation or the opposite, you’ve likely experienced how lonely the path to leadership can be. In fact, the higher you rise in your field, the less likely you are to feel that you can relate to those around you. The more successful you are, it’s likely that you’ll begin to see fewer and fewer female faces.

Popular culture dictates that to be a successful female worker, entrepreneur, business owner, boss, executive, etc., you need to be rigid. These narratives tell us that women who lead value their careers above family, romantic relationships or other pursuits; that to be taken seriously, she must be aggressive, mean, dismissive of other’s feelings and interested in her own accomplishments above all else. Ruling with an iron fist has been widely celebrated, but does it really have to be that way?

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Photo by Justyn Warner on Unsplash

Strength has nothing to do with gender! Receiving recognition, being respected and valued has more to do with character, consistency and drive than we often realize. There five simple things women can do to gain leadership momentum in whatever career phase they are in:

  • Say what you mean and mean what you say: The woman whose word means something, becomes a woman whose word is everything. What comes out of your mouth should be accepted as tried and true gold, firm and decisive. If you mess it up, admit it, apologize and move on. Never back track.
  • Master the face-to-face: Insecure people hide behind technology when it comes to addressing conflict. A confident woman ditches the email, hangs up the phone, walks across the hall and addresses things head on. Her attitude is, “Let’s take a few minutes to talk about this and come up with a plan.”
  • Stop trying to keep up with Sheila: The woman who is okay being uniquely herself, has an idea of her strengths and weaknesses and knows how she prefers to lead. She isn’t looking at what the next person is doing to make herself a carbon copy of them. Even if she doesn’t get it right every time, she knows that she’ll gain more respect by being authentic.
  • Step out of the shadows: Leadership is not anonymous. It can’t be developed from the back room or operate exclusively behind a closed office door. Leadership walks, talks, has feelings and opinions. Leadership says hello in the morning and participates openly. The woman who desires to be taken seriously as a leader is not afraid to advocate for positive change.
  • Be the master of your field: All leadership journeys are marathons, not sprints. She may take necessary breaks along the way, but a woman destined to lead, knows that she will forever be a student. She is researching, learning and training to be better at what she does with an aim to be the best. She is knowledgeable, but never closes herself off to the possibility that there is still more to learn. She is also willing to mentor and teach.

“That’s Not a Real Job!”

Untitled design (7)Have you ever heard these words?

When you are ready to make your next move, people will come out of the woodwork with their opinions and suggestions on how you should best live YOUR life. I had family, friends and co-workers telling me that I couldn’t own my own business. Some cautioned me about leaving a “well-paying” job in favor of balance at home and the opportunity to raise my own children. Others wanted me to settle for nine-to-five security and put my purpose on hold…because of course, purpose can wait.

NOPE!

There is nothing wrong with working a traditional job, but it’s also not for everyone. We all must search for that thing that brings us joy when we get busy in it. It’s the work that causes your soul to leap with excitement, keeps you up at night in anticipation and drives you to tomorrow. It may be what you desire to do as your profession and it may be something you desire to do in addition to your full-time job. Part of effective leadership is getting to know yourself well enough to be rightly positioned for your purpose.

You may have notebooks full of ideas and plans for better that you feel will never come true. But they will, if you are willing to put one foot in front of the other. Whether you desire to be financially independent, your own boss, dedicate your time serving your children and family, walk fully into ministry or help those who don’t have a voice – that passion was given to you because you are more than capable. As you do the unpopular thing, you’ll have an audience, but you may not find the support you desire. Don’t worry. Don’t give up. Don’t deny your future.

This is a season of change. People are changing the world one idea, one open door, one cracked window at a time. Will you be one of them?

Am I a Woman? Yes. Am I Black? Yes! Am I Angry? No, Not Usually.

Nice plays nice with nice and fails to make progress. Nice never birthed change.

20170903_161803If it’s ever been said directly, whispered or inferred that you are a B**TCH in the workplace, please don’t waste energy being offended and don’t lose sleep over it. You’ve likely ruffled a few chicken feathers by standing your ground and upholding high standards. They WILL survive!

Let’s get down to the REAL meaning of the label, “Angry/Mad Black Woman”:

Are you being called a “mad black woman” because you’re angry, bitter, treat people unfairly, have unrealistic expectations and an axe to grind with anyone who crosses your path? Are you on a daily rampage to make others feel inferior in some way? Do you want them to fear you? NOPE!

Have you reached the end of your capacity to tolerate utter foolishness? Yes.

Are you at a place in life where you have a vision and expectations for excellence? Yes.

Do you get mad? Occasionally, but not any more than anyone else under pressure.

Are you tired of hearing excuses? Absolutely!

Annoyed by adults who behave like children? Amen!

See, you have stuff to do and likely you’ve studied, prepared, critiqued and worked harder than many of your counterparts to get where you are. You don’t have time for games. You aren’t opposed to making a few friends, but the goal isn’t to be well-liked and invited to the weekend barbeque either. You are about your business and often your skin color means that your drive and focus will be interpreted as anger. It unfortunately comes with the territory.

According to the Franklin Covey Habits of Highly Effective People, we are to seek first to understand and then be understood. So understand their judgement is rooted in ignorance of your history, your struggle and your vision. Understand that they are bringing biases to their experience of you that you can in no realistic way influence. Understand that the labels you are given fly away into the wind, unless you grab hold of them and claim them.

You will be understood by those with similar experiences as long as you consistently lead with respect and fairness. Others, will be determined to find fault in you just because they are intimidated by what you represent and the ease at which you command authority. You will be understood by those who genuinely care to get to know you and that is what matters.

You may not have the luxury of being “nice” in most cases and that is nothing worthy of an apology. Nice means letting your guard down, potentially becoming complacent and lowering the bar. Nice may mean going along with what you feel in your heart isn’t right. Nice plays nice with nice and fails to make progress. Nice never birthed change. Grit, pain, focus and sacrifice, motivation, planning, and skillful execution are what will bring you into a place of purpose.

People will label incorrectly that which they cannot comprehend and that is not your issue to tackle.

Ladies, We Can Have It All! … Right? (4 min read)

Can you be a stellar wife, mom AND career woman? Of course! But…

Sitting in a conference room with a group of women had never made me so uncomfortable.

The meeting was due to start, but everyone was casually talking while waiting on a key person to arrive. It started as most conversations do: a little chatter about the weather, what everyone had on their agenda for the rest of the week and what was going to be happening in the coming week at the organization. I shared also … at first. Everyone was in the same boat – tired and a bit over-extended due to the demands of our prospective jobs.

Then, it took what I felt was a negative turn, but I seemed to be the only one who bowed out at that point. One of the ladies made a joke about how many days had passed since she’d seen her elementary-aged son due to her hectic work schedule. Quickly, someone else quipped that she’d be stopping by a local meal prep service on the way home to grab food for her family because she didn’t “have time to cook anymore.” More stories were traded back and forth with a startling theme. They all had in some way forsaken their spouses, homes, children and personal lives to meet the needs of their ever-demanding career.

Watching it all unfold in what felt like slow motion, had an effect on me. Motivational speaker, John O’Leary calls this “an inflection point.”

“Inflection points” can appear as insignificant or monumental; as positive or negative; they are the events, encounters and decisions that, once they’ve occurred: life afterwards is completely altered.*

I had a decision to make.

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Two paths were being put before me, but only one of them was being normalized. I had been on a personal crusade for months at that point (unbeknownst to the other women). My husband and I were determined to develop a healthier work/life balance. We were spending more time together, dating more, protecting our personal time and we had promised not to bring work home every day. Compromise for the sake of our jobs had taken priority for years and our marriage started to suffer.

I am a firm believer in Matthew 6:24, which says that no one can serve two masters. Can you be a stellar wife, mom AND career woman? Of course! But along the way, compromise will be required and a time will come where you’ll have to rank what’s important to you.

What you spend time on, devote energy to and feed will ultimately grow. What you neglect shrivels up and eventually dies. That’s just the way it is. Men and women both fight these battles silently every day, but it’s usually us women who experience the brunt of the guilt.

Can we have it all? Truthfully, I don’t believe that anymore. I don’t believe we can be everything to everyone and serve in a demanding corporate culture and put our children and families first at the same time. I don’t believe we have enough in our being to be excellent in all and everywhere we need to be and still have sanity at the end of the day!

I’ve never met a balanced high-level executive, company president or business owner who hasn’t made some type of compromise or change in responsibilities to achieve a family focus. It’s simply something that a stable life and nurtured relationships require.

You will either conform to the culture that opposes your priorities and values or you will need to separate yourself from it in order to stay true to yourself.

 

*John O’Leary is the author of “On Fire: 7 Choices to Ignite a Radically Inspired Life”

Career Life: Are You In The 30 or 70 Percent?

It’s estimated that as many as 70 percent of people end up working at a job unrelated to their field of study. Are you one of those people who feels you have an unused degree or desire to do something completely different than what you are doing now? Hate your job? You’re not alone.

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Depending on which source you reference, experts believe only 27 to 49 percent of people in the US workforce are in their field of study. That leaves 50 to 70 percent of people working somewhere that is not reflective of what they went to school for (if you round out the numbers).

Are you one of them?

I regret to say that I used to be one of them. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life.

If I knew in high school what I know now, I believe I would have taken a different path. I wouldn’t have gone to college for something that was encouraged and pressed upon me as “the right thing to do.” I would have taken more risk and focused on studying something that would fulfill me, not just fill my bank account. I wouldn’t have played it so safe.

I am, however, grateful. I take the good and the bad together as valuable pieces of my experience. I could easily look back at the hours and hours of classes, thousands of hours spent in cubicles and behind desks and kick myself, but I won’t. Regret is a choice I’ve chosen not to make. I learned a lot and I gained so much through the interactions and relationships along the way. I’ve woven so many of those things into the complex fabric of who I am.

It’s a blessing to be in my early thirties and wake up every day with purpose on my mind. I eat it and breathe it. It has become necessary for my survival. But, if I can motivate just one person to ask themselves the hard questions and go after the things they dream of, I feel that I’m sharing the wealth of a fulfilled life. I still have time to course correct and make choices that will leave a legacy for my children and my children’s children. I believe that you do too.

It starts today, one choice at a time. Start small if you have to, and put some oil on those training wheels until you get the courage to make a shift. Read a book or subscribe to an email list that will fill your inbox with motivation and “you can do it!” encouragement. Volunteer on the weekends serving others to remind you that life doesn’t happen behind computer screens, but rather all around us. Invest in yourself and take a class that you really want to take or attend a weekend conference.

Before you know it, you’ll be imagining a life where you can’t see yourself doing anything but that one thing that brings you so much joy, but scares you senseless at the same time. Purpose is your gift. Chasing after it will cause you to stretch and grow. It may even keep you up at night. Before long, you’ll be eager to fit your purpose into everything you do. Seeking after it is the road trip of a lifetime.

Not sure where to start? Ask yourself:

  • What do I love?
  • What am I naturally good at (gifts)?
  • What are my talents (things I’ve trained for/learned)?
  • What would I do every day for free if I could be financially stable while doing it?

Your purpose is tied into the answers above. That is where your work begins.

Your Vision Isn’t Yet Your Present…Now What?

The truth is, if you’re waiting to have it all together to contribute to society, you may never do it. We all think that once we have the right kind of job, making the right amount of money, driving the best car and living in our dream home that we will give back in some way.

When I counsel people who are about to jump into a career or “the real world” experience for the first time, no matter the circumstances, one concern always comes up…they want to know what to do with their time in between filling out job applications and lining up interviews. If the process of securing employment takes more than a few weeks, restlessness and doubt quickly set in.

The advice I give is always the same. Some people are more receptive to it than others, but I akin it to the principles of reaping and sowing. Hey, you want someone to invest in you and give you a chance to prove yourself? You want a secure job situation with a living wage and benefits? You want to do something that you would be proud to talk about amongst family and friends?

It’s natural to want to be of use and wake up with a purpose every single day. But, where do you start? Simple: sow your most valuable asset while you are in transition: YOURSELF. You probably have an eyebrow raised right now, but believe me, your giving will be your gain. Besides, who said that going out and getting a paycheck is the only way to be of value?

I get it. You have bills to pay. We all do. So if you have to work part-time at your local coffee house to pay the rent or fold sweaters at the mall department store, there is no shame in that. The shame would be rushing through those experiences begrudgingly, while missing the opportunity to add substance to your life. So back to my solid advice…while you are working that necessary, but meaningless job – SOW YOURSELF!

What does that mean? It means that you should purpose to give of yourself in a way that is genuine and allows you to be a part of something bigger than your problem of the moment. Put your skills to work with the sole focus on helping others and see what happens!

The possibilities are endless:

  • Tutor kids at a local school, community center or after school program
  • Ask your church office if they need help cleaning, organizing, filing or need assistance with any special projects (ministries usually have so much to do and not enough man power or money to do it)
  • Cook/serve dinner at a local shelter or soup kitchen
  • Organize and package food for your local food pantry
  • Organize a group of friends/family to clean up and/or fix up a local park or playground
  • Volunteer as a sitter for a family member/friend who needs a break
  • Donate your time at the local children’s hospital, pediatric cancer center or Ronald McDonald House
  • If you can sing or play an instrument, perform at a nursing home or children’s hospital
  • Create and send inspiration cards or notes to a local nursing home or shelter
  • Become a mentor
  • Lend your time to an elderly family member or friend who may need help around the house or running errands

 

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When we step outside of ourselves to serve others, a few things happen: 1.) The mountain of problems we have, miraculously shrinks and seems more manageable or less critical in comparison. 2.) We learn more about the inner part of our spirit – what motivates us, where our strength comes from and how we relate to others. 3.) We grow in love and patience for humanity. 4.) The experience impacts our dreams for the future; family goals, career direction, financial goals, wants and priorities.

The truth is, if you’re waiting to have it all together to contribute to society, you may never do it. We all think that once we have the right kind of job, making the right amount of money, driving the best car and living in our dream home that we will give back in some way. Many people do – they write a check, put it in an envelope and send it off to work on their behalf. But there is no service in that. It doesn’t require your faith or sacrifice. Go sow of yourself while you are uncertain, feel stagnant and not sure where to go next. Do it while you don’t have it all figured out and need direction. Take your broken, depressed and tired self somewhere and offer it up to the people who will be glad to have it and put it to use.

If you can get up and go somewhere with a smile on your face and work hard with no financial benefit, imagine how much more faithful and effective you will be when your time to shine comes!

He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much (Luke 16:10)

 

 

 

 

Daring To Be Me: How I Cultivated Authentic Leadership

I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people.

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“If you have to tell people that you are the boss, then you are not the boss!”

The statement was simple, but I will never forget it. The day I heard it, I was sitting in a Bible class. The topic of the evening was leadership. I laughed out loud because of how simple and true the statement was. But as the week went on, I found myself replaying it in my mind over and over. It prompted me to make a decision. I didn’t want to be that person – the one so out of touch and insecure that I needed to throw my weight around and remind everyone constantly of how in charge I was.

I would say, looking back on it now, that statement resonating with me was the beginning of my purpose journey. I wasn’t even in a supervisory role at the time, but I knew that I didn’t want to do what I saw everyone else doing. I definitely didn’t want to repeat their failures. I was growing out of the people-pleasing phase of my life and wasn’t interested into conforming to someone else’s idea of leadership.

Was it possible to be someone’s boss, supervise their work, delegate to them, provide them with guidance and criticism when needed and also love and care for who they were as a person? I believed it was true and found that juggling all of those demands and expectations was my niche. I never had to dangle a carrot to get someone to run faster or work harder. I never threatened or belittled. I didn’t lie or keep secrets. I was just Stephanie all day, every day. I worked hard to ensure that I upheld my values personally and professionally so they were never at odds.

Side Note: It’s so much easier to be one person all of the time and not have to maintain separate versions of oneself.

I was transparent, firm, optimistic, kind and caring. I was the opposite of what many would expect a person in a high-stress leadership position to be. I was determined not to take out my stresses and shortcomings on my staff. I took a servant’s approach. They were there to serve the company and me as their supervisor, but I was also there to serve them. If their fundamental needs weren’t being met, then I looked at it as a failure on my part. What resulted was a powerful dynamic of trust and openness that I didn’t see anywhere else in the company. People would comment that my team was “different” and my team members “actually liked each other,” but what they didn’t know was how intentional it was.

While being purposeful in my pursuit of balanced and authentic leadership, I uncovered a purpose that was so intricately woven into the fabric of me, but it was at odds at times with the goals of my employer. I cared more about the individual than I did the often suffocating metrics that hung over my head daily. If someone wanted to quit, I encouraged them to go find the type of work that they were passionate about, even if it made me one person short during the busy season. If someone had a calendar full of appointments, but came to work devastated by the wreckage in their personal life, I sent them home and took on the burden, delegating what I could. When someone needed to cry, vent frustrations, get angry, cuss or ask for personal advice, I offered my office as a safe space.

I took a risk and it was worth it. I had challenges just like any boss does with hiring and firing staff, having tough conversations, dolling out the constructive criticism and not-so-favorable evaluations at times. I would question whether I was doing the right thing. With examples of the opposite before me, I started to feel like maybe I was too soft and cared too much. But I approached each person and each situation with a purpose and for that reason, I have no regrets. I’ve been able to build and maintain wonderful relationships over the years by doing things differently and choosing to connect rather than dictate.

When I had to call someone into the HR office first thing in the morning to tell them they were being let go, discuss severance, request their key and walk them out of the back door, I felt like a failure. But then, the unusual happened – I got a hug from them and a sincere “thank you,” followed by a genuine request to keep in touch. To me, it was triumph amidst the disappointment.

Today, I’m still not the type of person who can work a room full of strangers or walk into a crowd and demand attention. I’ve never had an iron fist. I’m a quiet observer. I have a fantastic photographic memory and an uncanny ability to learn and recall random facts about history, people and places. I come alive when I can talk about purpose and what I’m passionate about. I thrive when I can teach someone something new. I find confidence when I can authentically share my life experience and make someone else’s life better in the process.

My hope for you is that you find your own voice and your own leadership style that allows you to connect with people. It doesn’t matter if you are naturally loud and out front or a behind the scenes supporter. Everyone has a leader in them. The type of leader you desire to be may not be popular, but from my experience, that’s when magic happens.

Allow the leader you are to be an intimate part of you, not just a representative. Be real and be accountable to who you are and upfront about your expectations. Share with people and they will share with you. Learn about the people who look up to and rely on you. If you don’t know who they are, what drives them, their strengths, their limitations or worries you will never truly understand how to lead them effectively.

No, it won’t be easy.

But yes, I can say from experience that it’s worth it.

Sandwich, Anyone?

 

I’m an introvert. I don’t like confrontation. Enough said.

However, I learned very quickly in my career life that confrontation is inevitable. Whether I was working with children, peers my age or peers older than me, I could count on the fact that we wouldn’t always agree. Additionally, I had to navigate conflicts in personal and family relationships. We all do. Situations repeatedly arose where I needed to set boundaries, speak up for myself and/or politely disagree. Through those awkward moments, I began to use a method that worked well to decrease the amount of anxiety I had going into those interactions.

I could be direct, to-the-point and decrease misunderstandings by using the sandwich approach. You may have heard of it and I admit, it doesn’t work for EVERYTHING, but it definitely works for most. It gives you the advantage of crafting your message in a clear and precise way, while adding in some positive feedback or encouragement to lessen the blow. Once you master this method of managing confrontation and delivering less-than-favorable news, it can make addressing issues that come up in the moment less frightening.

As women, we are often expected to be kind and polite, not to disagree too much and not make waves. Men are usually groomed from a young age to be firm, authoritative and decisive. These expectations from our upbringing carry over into our relationships with our significant others, our children and co-workers.

Delivering news that may be hard for someone to hear, doesn’t make me a b***h, but it does make me honest and human. In conquering the fear of delivering “bad news” without obsessing over the possibility of upsetting someone, I found my voice and I found freedom. This isn’t to say that crafting your words just right means that feelings don’t get hurt or someone won’t react negatively, but being okay with that as a potential outcome is part of the growth that comes with being open and finding your voice. It isn’t always about WHAT you say. The magic is in HOW you say it.

You can do it too! After all, practice makes perfect. Take advantage of this short tutorial on The Art of Sandwich Making.