I took the road less traveled now where the **** am I?

Throughout many stages of my life, I was teased a lot for the way I speak. I was told I spoke too proper. I was often accused of ‘not sounding black enough’. I say it was accusations because it made me eventually open my eyes to the ludicrous statement that really makes. How I read that when I was young was “I’m different. I stand out but this is who I am so I just won’t fit in.” How I read it now makes me believe such small mindedness was introduced to box me up. Good thing I hate boxes.  I don’t want to fit in and do only what is expected. Live beyond the stereotype. Once I got older I thought about how those words used to hurt my feelings and was like wait, so I read books and sounded educated so was being smart and sophisticated not acceptable in my community?? Well of course not but that was how I felt. How dare anybody try to tell me that who I am is not enough.

I could launch into how I was raised in tough neighborhoods and even though my family made many sacrifices for me to have opportunities, we struggled at times. I’m grateful for how I was raised and where I come from. Yet It’s unnecessary to launch into those stories because my struggles and triumphs should mean nothing if the reason I am bringing them up is to prove who I am. I’ll pass, thanks.

For me and where I’m from, I made a lot of choices different than the norm. I played golf and made friends with many beautiful diverse human beings and lived abroad and kept choosing less traveled roads.

I accepted myself instead of trying to change who I was. I march to the beat of my own drummer and that’s okay. People can adapt.

I could have forced myself to conform when I was growing up but instead I chose the road less traveled in those days. I chose me over other people’s opinions of who I should be. I have been happy being me ever since. I found empowerment in my voice. I am skilled at knowing what behavior is appropriate in different situations because I have been in all those different situations. Now I hear all the time how people love my voice and how intelligent and mature I sound when I speak. I have been requested as a speaker on many occasions. I did nothing different. It reminds me of a quote by supermodel Iman “I don’t change the way I think; I change the environment.”

Along the way in this life I have taken wrong turns and u-turns but that is the beauty of this life’s journey. The hurtful words I used to hear in my youth don’t serve me. What they taught me was how being uniquely who I am – a beautiful mess at times – was how I would bring impact.

I have been called brave by many people’s definition for the roads I have chosen. To me, I’m just living my life and I’ve got a long way to go in figuring out even more things but I’m glad to live a life that serves me. I have no apology for that.

One of my goals is to poke holes in the boxes we place others/ourselves in. There is no ‘one way’ to speak, dress, travel, work, love or live that dictates who you are or should be. Be You.

It is amazing. I went to the Pride Parade for the first time today and the running theme through much of it was just that — Be You. Tonight I watched the BET Awards and the 3.5 hour show was filled with various entertainers, educators, business people and everything in between. Any award show provides a good examples of those who stand out amongst the crowd as unique. You have something to bring to the table that no one else does. No one has your story. May no one rob you of the confidence to live your story just as you need to.

I heard a young girl say something last week in London that really resonated with me. She said “You’re the person you have to live with your whole life. Make it count.”

So it turns out I know exactly where I am. I am opening up new doors. I am figuring out new paths. I am blazing new trails. There is no formula for life. There is no ‘one way’ to live it either.

Have you ever struggled with being yourself or finding your own voice? How did that impact you?

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Life along the Thames River: My first trip to London 

I had the privilege and opportunity to spend some time in England this week. It was my first solo trip to Europe and I was terrified at first. I had this irrational fear it would be like Taken 4: The return of Liam Neeson. Then I went and put my brave boots on and had a brilliant English adventure I will never forget. I am fortunate to have now done something so far outside of my comfort zone. It reinforces I am fully capable of empowering myself to live the life I desire.

Here are 25 tips, observations and lessons I can share now thanks to London:

1. Activate international data plan before day of arrival. Sprint made for a shitty and confusing first day. I could not make any calls or use the Internet (including Google maps — can you imagine?) to figure out things. The silver lining was I lived pre-Google old school and just asked people. Thank God it is an English speaking country and also people are friendly. I found out though many people who live in London have no clue where things are.

2. Fly Virgin Atlantic. The high level of customer experience I received in economy (coach for us regulars) was amazing. Just imagine first class. Truly Virgin was phenom from check-in to landing. I even had to tweet Sir Richard Branson and his staff about it. Thanks again Richie B for giving me life.

3. Mind the Gap between the train and the platform.

4. Heathrow Airport offers 4 FREE hours of wifi. There is no limit on devices. There is no catch. There is not even a password you need to type in. London’s hospitality is off the charts and this is a classic example in its purest form. Where I’m from, there is no such thing as free wifi in airports. Not even 15-30 minutes. Sad in comparison isn’t it?

5. The underground train is not all underground. Barreling through the deep, dark tunnels of London I was expecting this ho-hum florescent light experience. I was miracles only if I wanted to check a site on my phone. Every now and then though we burst through the darkness into the light and it was glorious. Keep some gum handy though while riding the Tube. The speed and pressure makes for intense eardrum plugging.

6. Press the open button to enter and exit DLR trains. The Docklands Light Railway is accessible by the underground Tube but operates differently. If you don’t want to look like a fool and you are the first one on or off the railcar, be sure to press the “Open” button otherwise you won’t be leaving. The doors do not automatically open on these trains so paying attention is key. I struggled to remember the first couple of times.

7. Tap your Oyster Card at the beginning AND end of your trip to be charged the correct amount. I kept forgetting to do so at the end because (mainly on DLR), there is no gate to exit through which serves as a reminder. For a while I thought maybe it operates on the honor system. You could potentially ride and never pay. Station attendants can request a ticket or Oyster card at any time though so not worth the risk. Later I also realized there are penalty charges involved. I think some fees for my forgetfulness ate up the pounds on my card pretty quickly.

8. London is more ethnically & culturally diverse than I expected. It was quite amazing. I saw blacks, whites, christians, muslims, asians, even Asian muslims cycling through life together. My AirBnB host was born in Bulgaria. My amazing airport Uber driver was born in Pakistan but had an English accent after 9 years of residence. I met a multitude of women from different nations at the Trailblazing Leadership conference. There were over 400 women in attendance from all over and I was the only American. It is always really lovely to see the globe represented any place I go.

9. People watching is universal good fun.

10. Google maps tells you what stop to get on and off at but never the direction to travel in. I never knew which side to stand on or which platform to be on. Every time I thought I knew…wrong lol. When in doubt, just ask.

11. Police can be approachable, friendly, helpful and harmless. Novel idea really. I could walk up to any of them and ask a question. They were literally always happy to help. I never had to feel intimidated though I still did a little bit but who can you really trust these days right? :\

12. Having staff at every train station to answer questions from tourists like myself is genius. I am convinced London is the most hospitable and accommodating city I have ever been to. If you look lost, they will ask how they can help you. They genuinely want to do their jobs well. Friendly doesn’t seem to have an expiration date.

13. Use the Thames River as home base. Almost every major viewing point in Central London is a short extension from the Thames. There is a gorgeous riverwalk and easy to find Tube underground lines or buses along the way.

14. The Underground Tube is mostly quiet. No one is asking for money, selling socks or yelling incoherent words & profanity on the platforms or trains. I enjoyed the change of pace.

15. Most of the men & women walking around in the city are in high-class business professional suits. I occasionally felt quite under-dressed. Some women were walking around in classic silhouette dresses with those cute hats we see for English weddings and such. Many men are in really fancy, nice suits. I saw one man with a top hat and coattails like I have only seen in movies. Where do these people work?

16. AirBnB makes traveling solo so much more enjoyable. My host was funny and cool. It reminded me of my days living with a host in Nicaragua. The level of quality care from a stranger really puts humanity in positive perspective.

17. Even when mean, Londoners sound nice. I went to the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace and there were people climbing on the gates so they could see better. The police kept saying, “Please don’t climb the gate. Thank You” and never got crass about it. They could have said, “Please don’t climb the palace gate or I’ll bash your effing head in. Thank you” in that English accent and it would have sounded just as pleasant I imagine.

18. The English accent makes regular sentences sound so full of drama. I enjoy listening to the English speak unless they have the Eliza Doolittle twang

19. Public transit elevators do not have to smell like urine or other abominable human waste.

20. The English love the F-word and I love hearing them say it. Consider it a guilty pleasure.

21. Don’t book an early flight on a Sunday morning. Don’t do it that is unless you’re ready to spend lots on an Uber or express train. I learned public transit doesn’t run as early on Sundays so I was almost stuck but Uber saved my life and got me to Heathrow in plenty of time.

22. Bring shoes that make sense to walk around the city in. A great way to see the city of London is by foot so stay smart and keep the shoes comfy so you can enjoy exploring.

23. The children naturally sound incredibly intelligent because of that English accent. Unless they sound like My Fair Lady. See number 18.

24. My English inspired vocab replacements are as follows: Brilliant! (over awesome), biscuit (over cookie), loo or toilet (over bathroom), rubbish (over trash), bloody, proper, surname (over last name), piss off (over leave me alone), queue (over line) and diversion (over reroute).

25. People are beautiful all around the globe. I was fortunate enough to spend time at a Trailblazing Leadership conference for 2 days with over 400 women. We had great, meaningful conversations about our goals, dreams and fears among other things. It was wonderful to be in a room full of women to both cheer and challenge other women along. I was fortunate enough to develop some good connections out of that. The Internet makes it almost effortless to keep connected with new friends around the world. The important thing is to make the effort. I learned from and shared personal stories with strangers that made us not so strange to each other any more. When we get to the core of things, we’re not so different — you and I. I love when I catch glimpses of the mountaintop Dr. King always spoke about.

I would definitely live there if given the opportunity. Regardless, I will for sure be back to visit. Thanks London for making me feel at home.

Netflix Binging is the New Black: What the Ladies of Litchfield Taught me about Community

Somebody once told me two important truths: Everybody has been hurt. Everybody wants to be loved.

We all want to belong or be loved. Unfortunately, some even chase those who will lie, hurt or manipulate to offer a false sense of acceptance. No matter where you go in the world, people want to belong — even those who claim they prefer to reject everyone. People who reject community have often times been hurt by it in some way.

I actually have no problem being alone. I enjoy it most of the time even though a lot of people do not understand it. That is just part of my personality but the joy I get from doing things solo is satisfying because I know I am part of something bigger. I have a community to go to at any time to recharge that energy I need too.

For those who have decided to opt-out or have yet to opt-in to the cult Netflix following of Orange Is The New Black, here is a quick – no justice given – summary:

The OITNB story all started with Piper Chapman, an upper middle-class female who self-surrendered after being named 2 years short on a statute of limitations for trafficking cash one time for an international drug ring. She was sentenced to 15 months. Chapman leaves her cushy life for an orange jumpsuit, bad food, no privacy and a wild & crazy community of women starting and finishing their own prison sentences in Litchfield.

Season 3 was just released late Thursday as a surprise for OITNB fans who had already planned to binge watch over the weekend when the series dropped on its planned Friday release.

There is a great combo of things that keep this show interesting. There are race issues and life issues and times where the ladies of Litchfield must ALL work together for common goals like the privilege of having a Mother’s Day prison celebration to kick off season 3.

Don’t get me wrong, every season of this show is definitely Rated R but if you can handle it, grab your snacks and go for it. Despite the crude language and scenes of sex and/or violence, it represents a lot of real life emotion.

The ladies look out for each other. They treat each other like family. They also have times where someone in their circle makes them angry enough to seek revenge or ignore them altogether.

We see the complicated and complex situations inside and outside the prison lives that these women deal with. Being ignored, abandoned, abused, used by their parents or lovers or themselves which contributed to their lives falling apart.

We also see those who were loved and supported by those on the outside but led to a life behind bars anyhow. We see how everyone seeks to belong even inside prison which offers them a warped version of community but a way to belong nonetheless.

Without giving anything away, this season dives deeper than ever into the emotional side of these women’s lives. We learn more about the characters former lives and how it impacts their current lives. We start seeing them even more as humans instead of criminals and I appreciate that. On this side of the prison wall, most of us are generally not shanking people or wishing to beat someone with a sock full of quarters like is occasionally a threat on the show. But if we are honest, we have our own ways of either accepting or isolating those around us.

Community is necessary and amazing but it can be messy at times. I am part of a community at work, in my family, with my friends, by living in my city. OITNB shows there is beauty and ugly in community. Characters who would have never spoken are working together and communicating. You may feel it is tough to trust people in this world. I have felt that way at times but am so grateful I have met people I can trust.  Community is everywhere and it cannot be escaped. It will never be perfect but we need community for support, love and accountability. We need people who have our backs and we also need those people to call us out when we lose sight of ourselves.

Would you agree community is important? What have you learned from some of the work, friend, family, life communities that you are part of?

A Tale of Two Cities: What 800 miles apart has taught me about Love

I’m in a long-distance relationship. A lot of people say,“Isn’t that hard?” Well in short, Yes! Ha-ha but not for the reasons people often think. It also isn’t tough every day like many assume. I have discovered so much joy in my long-distance relationship. The joys far outweigh anything else. It has taught me a lot about who I am and what I want in this life as I journey alongside who I want.

Here are 6 things I have learned in love from my long-distance relationship.

1. Every visit is special

Every trip, every flight. When we can spend weeks with each other it’s wonderful but if all we have is 2-3 days, it is just as meaningful. A lot of couples take for granted the simple pleasures like holding hands or grabbing dinner together any night of the week. One of my favorite things in this world is that butterfly feeling when the wheels of our flight touch down in the other person’s city — Universal symbol for Thank God I can use my cell phone again. All the time apart up to that point is forgotten. Grabbing luggage and searching for one another in the airport and finally making eye contact. There is a smile exchange at the exact time everyone else fades away. I know better than anyone goodbyes are hard but worth it when thinking of the butterflies that are eager for the next flight to touch down. Sure, Distance makes the heart grow fonder but when you spend time together, be present.

2. Communication is necessary but not required every second 

We live in different states, rise and sleep in different time zones and lead different lives. And that’s okay! Love doesn’t mean being on the phone all day, every day though it is important to communicate.

In some relationships there is irrational fear that ‘If I’m not in their face every moment or reminding them to think of me, they won’t’. Some of that stems from low self-esteem and if you find yourself feeling this way, maybe that person isn’t for you. A person who loves you will love you whether they see you, hear from you daily or not. They will think of you often even when you don’t realize it.

When your person needs you, be there for them. If something is on your heart or mind, be sure to share it as soon as possible so things that need to be addressed don’t linger. It’s cool to let them know out of the blue that you’re thinking about them. Keep it simple. Love on them then let them go about their day. Both sides open up the chance for your better half to be vulnerable with you too whenever they please. So communicate of course but also give them space to miss you and catch you up on the parts of life you can’t be there for.

3. Support, Communicate Support, Actually be Supportive

When you do text, email, call, skype, visit with each other, the conversations should not be filled with to-dos or demands. Learn their love language and figure out what they need. Sometimes they want you to solve problems, sometimes they want you to just shut up and listen. My guy knows me so well I can’t hide being upset or stressed. I always laugh when he figures me out. Mutual support is everything. My loved one reminds me of my dreams and goals when I get discouraged. I do the same for him because I believe in him that much. We push and pull each other forward and celebrate each other along the way.

4. Trust & Respect the lover you chose

How you love is a reflection of who you are. Honor that.

5. We don’t go to bed angry

Fortunately we don’t argue about much but we are human so we do disagree every now and then. My boyfriend actually came up with this rule and I have grown to really value it. The important thing is to say what needs to be said, get it all out there and then figure it out together. We absolutely do not go to bed angry whether we are next to each other or across the country. This is about learning how to communicate, figure out what’s going on, resolve the misunderstanding and move forward.

6. Our Love is ours

Not our friends, family or community. What I mean by that is while it’s good to hear wisdom and it does not hurt to get advice (even those who provide it unsolicited), do not feel the need to listen to everyone who wants to add input on your relationship. There is also No need to broadcast all the details of your relationship to the world. Some people assume you go through what has been a struggle in their own relationship. Sometimes that does happen which is why it is good to have healthy couples who you can reach out to for advice. Sometimes though it isn’t about you reacting to another couple’s laundry list of issues, but instead you getting together with your love and figuring out your own things together. And if it ain’t broke, don’t break it. If anything is broke though and you need third party assistance, consider relationship counseling.

Sometimes long-distance or any relationship is as hard as you make it. Long distance relationships are not for everyone. It takes strength and dedication. But honestly, in my opinion, the effort it takes to make a long-distance relationship like mine work should be the same effort put into a relationships with someone you see everyday. If my boyfriend and I ever live in the same city, I want the list of things I have learned to still be present, even more so.

My point is the principles  are the same, whatever the distance between you and your love. There are some basic, foundational things that have to exist in a relationship in order to make it work. It has to be true for both sides involved in order for it work. I have married friends who use the hashtag #datingmyhusband or #datingmywife and I love that because it puts intention to not lose the magic and spark.

I love that people know it’s genuine for me and my boyfriend when they see us together. What means even more than that to me is our relationship actually being genuine even when no one is watching. I encourage you to strive for the relationship no one else needs to validate.

Growing together through good news and bad news, smiles and arguments is how love gets stronger between people who sleep 2 feet or 800 miles apart. If we can be on the same page, so can you.

What has your relationship taught you about love?

Dream, Plan, Go: Why your goals need you to make moves now

In two weeks, I board a plane to Europe. It is more than just vacation, it is an investment in myself. I think that may be the coolest part. For my very first trip to London, I am taking on a personal and professional development opportunity with other women from all over the world.

I applied for & received a scholarship to attend the Trailblazing Leadership conference for women in London, England in June of 2015. My attendance at the conference was covered but I needed to cover travel and accomodations. If a hopeful, young Chicago woman like myself wanted to go to London & be forever changed by this dynamic and influential experience, I needed financial help getting there.

The conference is being hosted by Dr. Sam Collins, Founder & Director of the Aspire Foundation. I attended the “International Women’s Day Trailblazing Leadership” webinar hosted by Dr. Collins in early March of this year. I created a vision board for the first time this year. One of my visions for my personal and professional life was to establish a lifestyle blog to help individuals be the best versions of themselves because I have learned we are worthy of the best life has to offer…in all aspects of our personal and professional lives. So I loved the trailblazing webinar and felt motivated and inspired to further achieve my personal & professional vision. I live-tweeted the webinar, virtually connected with inspiring women around the world and applied for an opportunity to attend the conference. I received notice April 1 that my application was selected and I was awarded a scholarship to attend. I was thrilled to receive the news of course but then began the brainstorm for funding my trip so I could attend, be safe and bring my leadership back to my life and various communities in Chicago.

At this upcoming Aspire ‘Trailblazing Leadership’ conference, I can celebrate the inspiration, support and strength that women give to others around the world. I can share ideas, network and learn. It is an opportunity to highlight the power and strength of women, like myself, to be dynamic leaders in this world.

By attending I will:

1. Gain practical tools and ideas to achieve my biggest aspirations for life, work and the world.

2. Think bigger, vision even bigger and go for it – overcoming obstacles and fear.

3. Be inspired by like-minded women leaders and increase the visibility of inspiring women around the world.

4. Evolve my skills as an intrapreneur (entrepreneurial mindset inside my organization), entrepreneur (within my own business) and altrupreneur (in a charity or social business).

5. Learn how to stand my ground and have a voice at the leadership table at any age, level or background.

6. Network and share best practices among women globally.

I realize more and more that being myself, standing out and wanting to make a difference is fundamental to success. I want to be an authentic and real role model for the next generation, empowering and supporting women and men around the world.

I am making a dream into reality. But it didn’t just happen. Sometimes we want what we want the easy way but things worth having in life don’t always come or stay easy. The things worth having will challenge you, expand your mind, encourage your growth and demand action out of you.

And just because something isn’t easy doesn’t mean it’s bad either. It just means if it is worth the work, you will put in work for it — love, family, your personal health & happiness, career, spirituality, etc.

I have not always put that “it may not be easy but it will be worth it” philosophy into practice right away. When it came to London, I was excited to have the opportunity then immediately put myself under stress and pressure. How was I going to make this happen?? I wanted to go but wanting to go would not purchase my plane ticket or do the research I needed to plan the trip. I had to take action. I had to ask for help and accept the help offered. I had to make moves.

I took advice on cheap but safe accomodations and booked my first AirBnB. I signed up for airfare watch websites to find the cheapest direct flight possible. My friends helped me search for flight deals. I created a GoFundMe account, after a friend’s suggestion and was able to raise money to help me afford this trip I would have otherwise not been able to afford. I stopped being shy and started telling people about my goal and they wanted to help me. It has been the most affirming yet humbling experience.

On the scholarship application, I answered a question about what I hoped to get out of attending the conference I discussed this blog that I had not yet created. I talked about creating this blog, gaining ground on my vision and learning from the experiences, challenges, obstacles and triumphs of the individuals I will meet in a few weeks.

I have been unsure for too long on how I would make my dreams come true instead of wait for them to come true. Though still finding strength in my voice, now that I am at least speaking up, it feels amazing to have people affirm my vision. The late and great Maya Angelou said, “Nothing will work unless you do.” It is a supreme truth and I’m a believer in it.

What dreams and goals do you need to make a move on?