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Ode to Life and its Lessons

Life's moments and lessons captured in words.

Self Empowerment Journal: Your Personal Brand

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“The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf.” ~ this is quoted on so many websites that I can’t even tell who said it first. 

This post has been sitting in my drafts for months. I don’t know why I have struggled to write it so much. 

The premise is simple enough. Whether consciously or not, each one of us has a personal brand. It’s what silently but effectively announces you when you enter a room and what people say of you when you leave the room. It is the impression we make in the minds of others.

In today’s tiny global village, the personal brand has multiple facets: the online presence (social and business media or the absence thereof), the physical presence (appearance – cothing, hair, nails etc.), your manner of self expression (how you speak, emails you write etc.) and your personality traits (honesty, reliability, likeability, edginess or lack thereof).

“Your personal brand is one of the biggest investments you are ever going to make. It’s an asset that will maximize the value of existing opportunities and create new ones,” said John Hall, CEO of Influence & Co, author and keynote speaker. And yet, despite this, very few of us pay real attention to who we tell the world we are.

Perhaps one of the most successful examples of the power of personal branding in South Africa today is Bonang Matheba. Love her or hate her, she has made her name into a formidable brand in the entertainment industry. How did she do this? By realising early on that she had the power to shape the world’s perception of who and what she is… and then delivering on that perception.

I remember getting this impression of her a few years ago when I read an article on how she started out as a presenter on SABC 1’s music show, Live. I can’t for the life of me find that article now but she speaks openly of the failures that preceded her success. In another article she mentions that it took 9 failed auditions to get the presenter job on Live. What stood out for in that first article I read was how the panel judging candidates auditioning for the job criticised her style and language. She went back to the drawing board and  using that criticism, remade herself into the classier, edgier and well-spoken woman they were after and she got the job. She was one of the first SA celebrities to set up a website dedicated to espousing her brand. Her social media accounts all serve to reinforce that brand. AKA, already an established name in his own right when he started dating her, a few months into the relationship commented “I always had style‚ I guess now I have the money and made the connections to dress nice. I’m in close proximity to someone who has made me rethink what it means to be a brand.”

What’s even more interesting about Bonang is she gets a wide spectrum of jobs and recognition: a presenter, speaker, MC, hostess, style icon, brand ambassador (liquor, makeup, underwear) etc. She is not boxed in. Why is that? It’s because she is the brand that she sells, not the service she provides. This lends credence to the idea that people don’t buy what you are selling, they buy into who you are and consequently buy what you are selling. Just look at Apple.

In addition to selling, there is also self-protection in branding yourself rather your product/service according to Deep Patel. “brand yourself separately from the projects in which you are involved. If you just focus on branding your company or startup and it fails, you lose all that work. But a personal brand can transcend the failure of any project.” Brian D. Evans, founder of Influencive.com, adds: “Branding also allows you to transcend your current project or job. It falls in line with the idea of ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket.’”

A personal brand can be developed and grown no matter what industry you operate in. It also applies to your personal life and traits. You are a lawyer: can your clients trust that the agreement you have handed over articulates what they have requested clearly and concisely? You are a consultant: do your clients know you will show up on time, prepared to engage and give meaningful advice? You are a student: does your lecturer associate your name with well-researched assignments and out of the box answers? Don’t for a second imagine you don’t have a personal brand. You do. We all do. “The question is no longer IF you have a personal brand, but if you choose to guide and cultivate the brand or to let it be defined on your behalf.”

Are you the go-to person when someone needs something done with excellence and efficiency or quite the opposite? Worse still, are you decidedly mediocre? Just another cog in the wheel at work? at church? at home? at school? in life? #thehorror (unless of course that is your desired brand). Are you the perpetual complainer? The shoddy dresser? The listener? Honest? Reliable? Temperamental? Gossip? Negative? Reactive? A leader? A follower? A coward? Conservative? Political? Soap box preacher? Shit-stirrer? Builder? Change-maker? Peacemaker? Pacifist? Fighter?

I am more conscious now than I have ever of my personal brand. Perhaps that’s why I couldn’t write this post before. I wasn’t ready yet. It wasn’t my life lesson yet.

Now that it is, I will be mindful of Deep Patel’s article’s warning of pitfalls to avoid in consolidating my personal brand.

  • “A brand cannot be built on a manufactured personality or an alter ego. Simply put, there is no “fake it until you make it” here. If you are only after appearances, you will inevitably be exposed as a phony. You may feel like who you are isn’t good enough, but remember, authenticity is about including imperfections…
  • Don’t be inconsistent…“The number one reason why people fail at building a personal brand is they don’t do it consistently. You want to be remembered as a leader in your industry.”
  • Branding success doesn’t occur overnight, though. You have to be consistent so you start sticking in people’s minds. It can take years to make that happen.
  • Don’t make it all about you. “Building a great brand is not about what you get, it’s about what you give,” Evans said.
  • If you frame yourself as having value to offer while building your brand, you will build the best personal brand you can imagine.
  • Don’t try to do too much, or you will end up doing none of it well, Patel said. “Focus on some core skills and showcase them – you can’t be everything to everyone.” Know your limits, and pick your battles.”

 

 

 

The Novice Wife Chronicles: The Beginning

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A happy marriage is about three things: remembering the good times, forgiving the bad times and promising to never give up on each other. ~ Surabhi Surendra

In case it’s not crystal clear from the title of this series, I am an amateur wife with little to offer in the way of tried and tested knowledge and advice. I’m just a newly-wed woman trying to figure out this marriage thing.

The purpose of this series is to chronicle what I hope will be a journey filled with character down the marriage path. Will I fall flat on  my face here and there? I have no doubt. Will I get some things right? Absolutely. Will I spend majority of the time winging it? Probably. Maybe one day my daughter will read this and she may not have to wing a thing or two. Who knows? The little that I know for certain is that I am absolutely in love with my person and I would choose him again and again and again.

All of this is to say, here goes nothing…

My wedding was surreal. I married the right man, at the right time, at the perfect venue, in the perfect dress, in not-quite-perfect shoes (smh), sorrounded by our nearest and dearest. It was better than my imagination.

The honeymoon….there are no words to adequately capture its perfection.

Lots of sex; just enough adventure; delightful food; a premium hotel right on the beach; perfect weather; excellent service; perfect colour and perfect company. Do yourself a favour a make Mauritius a bucketlist destination. For 7 whole days, the world as we knew it faded into the background and an idyllic existence was our reality.

We organised our wedding and honeymoon like a well oiled machine.

The day after we returned from the honeymoon we moved in together for the first time and it was…weird. Not the description you were expecting? Me neither. *chuckles*

It was weird in an undefined manner. It was neither good or bad. It was more like the wedding was done and the marriage was starting and neither one of us knew what exactly that entailed.

Make no mistake, we went into marriage armed to the teeth with a family constitution, books on marriage, books on understanding women, books on understanding men, books on love languages, blogs, anecdotes, pre-marital counselling, endless mountains of advice from all corners: good, bad, theoretical, idealist, pessimistic, practical, realistic, helpful, useless, sexist, traditionalist, modernist, feminist, Christian, religious, aethist, psycho-babble…. the list goes on and on and then a little longer.

Despite all of that, there I was… feeling weird. Of course, my natural reaction was to keep it to myself. Why was I feeling weird? Woud it pass? Why was the feeling undefined? I examined myself through and through. The more I examined myself, the more I overthought it and consequently, the more worried I became. What was going on in his head, I wondered? Could he tell that I was feeling odd? Was he feeling odd too? *gasp!* Why? Was it me? Should I try to appear a little more perky? Wait, was I even acting normal? May I could try for more normal. So, I did. It didn’t help. I was feeling slowly but surely crushed by the weight of some imagined, undefined expectation. It was stressing me out.

What’s bizarre to me is that all of that, as big as it was in  my own head, was happening in the background of normal life. We still laughed and talked and loved and went on date night. I tried to figure out how to mix being a wife with my workaholic work schedule. He tried to adjust to wearing a ring everyday. I bought bedsheets and he bought a hosepipe *chuckles.* So 1920s of us.

Meanwhile, in my head, I became more and more tense. My body and mind started taking strain towards the end of the first month. I still couldn’t define why I felt weird and that’s trying for a Type A personality. As if that wasn’t enough, I started feeling guilty. I felt guilty because I didn’t uderstand why I was stuggling or what I was struggling against. Was I a bad wife in month 1??? WTH was happening?

The more I fed those thoughts and feelings, the harder it became to be myself. I unconsciously started tip-toeing around him and naturally, that added tension to the equation. Cue the nightmares. The extreme kind. I’m talking serial killers and gang rapes here. I slept poorly and became tired and lethargic.

The vortex was sucking me in.

The turning point came unexpectedly in the wee hours of yet another sleepless night. As I lay there, I had the overwhelming sense that he wasn’t asleep even though he looked like he was. Very softly I said, “are you struggling with figuring this thing out as much as I am?”

His eyes opened immediately. He stared at me for a long moment. I wondered if I should have remained silent. Was saying it out loud some sort of admission of failure? 1 month in. Isn’t this supposed to be the honeymoon phase?  Seriously! Even worse was the thought that he was judging me? My brain ran a mile in a second.

“Yes.” He finally replied. “Yes, I am.”

Relief washed over me in pounding waves that threatened to overwhelm me. “What are you feeling,” I asked? Weird, he replied. Me too, I said. We both sat up and we talked and talked and talked. We talked until the wee hours of the morning. The overwhelming realisation was that we had both been so busy trying to figure it out on our own that we didn’t notice the other experiencing the same. We just needed to talk each other through it.

This is the part where the need to realise that you are now on the same team all the time comes in. At halftime,  after a particularly poor first half hockey performance, our coach yelled at us “what is wrong with you? Has everyone lost their voice? It’s like a f***** graveyard out there. Why aren’t you talking to each other?” We went back onto the field and inbetween shouts of “I’m open,” “Chuwe’s leading,” “look wide,” “post!” and “man on,” we creamed the opposition.   Talking allows you to manage emotions and head off a significant amount of potential conflict within yourself and with each other.

The next day I slept for 9 straight hours. Not one dream. Bliss!

It was the beginning of a lot of long talks about random things and feelings and changes and life at random times that characterised month 2.

Although we knew the theory when we went in, noone can teach you or even really prepare you for the practical. No magic fairy appears to tell you which advice to apply in the moment. You have to choose to figure it out together. Regardless of how  much you love each other, if you put 2 adults who have established themselves, each one coming from having their own home, with a pre-existing set of habits and very used to plenty of personal space and life on their own terms then emotional and habitual adjustment is inevitable.

That is absolutely ok.

Month 3 has seen us establish a working routine and really starting to settle into this life-together business. We are becoming familiar with each other’s daily habits and it can be just as hilarious as it can be trying. You should have seen his reaction when he came home to find I had bought a mannequin head and I was making a wig while watching a youtube instruction video.

It is important to remember that, like any relationship between 2 people, this is merely a snap shot (frozen in time) of one aspect of a complex, fluid system with very many faces. All present, all alive and all carrying on in tandem with each other regardless of what is happening with one.

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November is a Lot

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“As long as you live, keep learning how to live” ~ Seneca

November is a lot. A whole lot. 

It is the month of my husband’s birthday. That’s a few days after my brother’s birthday (he just missed the magic month). It’s also the month of my sister in law’s wedding anniversary; my brother in law’s birthday (not the one married to the sister aforementioned. His wedding anniversary is 2 days into December. Close enough right?); my sister’s birthday; my mother’s  birthday and my mother’s death.

This year, it also marks the end of my first quarter of a year as a married woman.

What an intense 3 months it has been. My wedding was on the 20th of August and it was nothing short of magical. I didn’t cry. Strangely enough (maybe not strange at all), I think I laughed and giggled through most of the day. I was really and truly happy. As with every other wedding, I noticed the odd thing that didn’t go exactly as I wanted but even those imperfections were insignificant on that day. My lover was mine and I was his and it was all imperfect perfection. God’s day to flex… and He did. 

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The wedding planning was not difficult or stressful. Planning doesn’t stress me out. It is a simple movement of chess pieces to achieve the desired outcome. What I found difficult was processing the fact that I was getting married without my mother to hold my hand. Like graduating from university, a wedding is something that had never happened in my family before.

While I had never fantasised about my own wedding until a couple of years into dating my lover, my mum certainly had. She spoke about it a lot. What she would do about my lobola process. How she would deal with absent-father drama if he dared to show up. How she would cry when I walked down the aisle. I was in high school when she made that particular declaration. I was at home on holiday and she said it out of the blue. I was busy with some mundane chore but I stopped to look at her after she said that. Genuinely perplexed, I asked, “why?” “How can I not cry? It’s monumental. Someone will be taking you away from me,” she said as she smiled into the distance at whatever her imagination was conjuring up. I didn’t answer for a simple reason…I couldn’t understand it. Even if I was getting married, she would forever be my mum. What was there to cry about🙂 In hindsight, I realise that my cool, pragmatic, minimal-emotion approach to life has been around for some time. The only difference is now I am developing the emotional maturity to realise that it’s not an easy thing for emotionally expressive people to understand. That’s a discussion for another day. Today’s discussion is that my wedding was my mother’s dream.

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Choosing not to attend my graduation was easy. Passing my exams was for me. I love law. Walking across the stage was for her. It didn’t mean much to me outside of making her happy. In her absence, it was immediately unnecessary therefore I didn’t do it.

A wedding is an entirely different story. I wanted to get married. I also wanted her to be there when I did. The only way was through it. My biggest struggle in the run up to the wedding was accepting her absence. It was accepting that I was doing something she had keenly wanted and imagined in her absence. It was not having the definitive voice of a mum to cut through the mountains of advice from all corners and focus me on what mattered. What I really needed to know. It was accepting that this is something one can not really talk to friends about because hearing how sorry they are about your situation and making everyone sad is entirely unhelpful. It was letting people misinterpret my long silences and general withdrawal in the run up to the wedding as wedding stress. It allowed me to contemplate how keenly I felt alone without the interruption of well-meaning voices. I didn’t know how I would react to my wedding day. My biggest fear was that I would start crying and never stop. Full disclosure – I am an ugly crier. There is nothing cute or sexy about me crying. Not. One. Thing.

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My saving grace was an email out of the blue from one of my bridesmaids, Edith.

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Sidenote – My bridesmaids were my own personal miracle. Each one of them came through for me in unexpected ways but always on time. Gorgeous set of humans arent they?!

Now back to Edith…

She is an amazing, gentle soul and I am sure she watched my increased intensity with grave concern. Well, that and a few lectures on wedding stress which I dutifully listened to. In a bid to get through to me, she sent me a link to a blogpost. I think she sent me it to me because she feared I would turn into a bridezilla and cast a cloud over the wedding *chuckles.* Whatever her reasons, that post pulled me out of the darkness. Couched in the long description of two weddings the writer had attended, was a simple truth. The bride owns the wedding day and her mood sets the tone for the wedding. What you allow to take you over, will.

The simple truth is that my mum is dead. She has been for some time. No amount of depression or tears or wishing things had been different will or would have brought  her back. Truth be told, if she had turned up at the wedding, I might have been a bit freaked out.

Instead, I saw what Edith wanted me to see. I could choose to celebrate this once-in-a-lifetime event. I could choose to laugh; to smile; to dance. I could choose to love love. To celebrate that I had met an amazing human and I loved him and he loved me. To paint a beautiful potrait in the prettiest colours with my spirit. I could choose happiness. I could choose to be a glowing bride and to infect others with my glow. I could choose. What a magical realisation. And so I did.

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May my wedding be a toast to you mum. Every perfect moment, a tribute from the child you birthed and raised alone. Every smile on every guest’s face, anacknowledgement of the amazing job you did creating and moulding. The deluge of notes from guests and staff at the venue to say what an amazing wedding it was, evidence of your success. That every staff member at the venue when we went to pick up the trinkets we left behind on our way to the honeymoon came out to greet and hug us when they heard we were there still blows my mind. Cheers to you mum. Life without you is tough but you did a damn good job before you had to leave. I love you.

 

To Thine Own Self Be True

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“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!” – Hamlet

What Polonius actually meant when he said these famous words to his son is debatable. All lovers of interpetation of literature will have no trouble coming up with more than one interpretation of these words. My favourite of these is simply that one must be honest to themselves about who and what they are in order to have the capacity to be honest in their dealings with the world.

Contrary to what one might think I met and fell for the quote long before I spent quality time with the book. It appeared on the cover of a pocket book of quotes gifted to me by a then very close friend some time before she gifted herself with a bite or 20 of my then boyfriend. As with all things and people in this life, no matter how they exit your life, there is always a contribution of value that they make to you. This, among many others, was hers to mine.

She unwittingly gave me what I think may be the key to my happiness.

It is such an easy trap to fall into…changing to please a lover; changing to please friends; changing to fit in; changing to be accepted; changing to fit a stereotype; changing to look more like someone you admire; changing to fit the societal norm; changing to meet somebody else’s expectation of who and what you are; giving up fundamental pieces of the essence of your values, of who you were raised to be in order to reflect something society is more comfortable with.

Each compromise of your fundamental self that is not in line what is true to you, no matter how small, kills a little bit of your soul each time. It kills a little of your happiness. Of your light.

If you are like me, then laugh, read widely, be a ghost writer in your spare time, try new recipes, love your person, enjoy being loved by him, love eating sour milk and pap even when you make steak and salad for the other people in your home, do your best to figure out marriage, travel, exercise, sleep in, skip breakfast, study more, work, enjoy your job, learn about interior decor, dress well, be deep every so often, blog, look pretty, hang out with friends, love your friends’ babies, have conversations with toddlers, judge racist car guards, be an instagram addict, love cats, cry when you feel like it even when you have no good reason, spend time in the Dischem makeup aisle after a bad day (even if you don’t buy anything), fail at wing-tip eyeliner, cuddle your person, enjoy his peculiar sense of humour, enjoy sex, enjoy being alone sometimes, get angry sometimes, be frustrated on the odd ocassion, be unreasonable at times, be on time, eat roadside roasted corn, 2 at a time, any chance you get, absolutely hate waking up in the morning…the list goes on. It’s worth protecting.

What is true to you need not be profound. It simply needs to be true. That is enough.

 

 

To Ntimbwe Mpamba – The Boy Who Lived

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Today I choose life. Every morning when I wake up I can choose joy, happiness, negativity, pain… To feel the freedom that comes from being able to continue to make mistakes and choices – today I choose to feel life, not to deny my humanity but embrace it – Kevyn Aucoin

Every so often, in the course of ordinary life, we are privileged enough to encounter extraordinary beings. On an ordinary Saturday, a few months ago, I went to the laundromat and, while I waited for my load to complete its cycle, I decided to get tea from a nearby offeeshop. It’s in that coffee shop that I met a complete stranger who was so full of life and confidence and talked so much that he gave those of us around him no choice but to engage with him or at the very least, listen. I listened.

That was the mundane beginning of my extraordinary encounter with Ntimbwe Mpamba. Ntimbwe, of Zambian origin, was born HIV positive and, at 34, he is oldest person in Africa and the 2nd oldest in the world, only by a few months, born with the virus. You would think that that is what makes him extraordinary.

It isn’t. What is it then you wonder?

It might be the fact that his mother managed to keep his condition a secret from him for the first 23 years of his life. There were no ARVs or speacial treatment drugs or specialist doctors. There was only an extremely strict diet and herbal supplements prepared, administered and monitored by his mother, a nutritionist by profession. To put this into perspective, the oldest person in the world born with HIV started taking ARVs at the age of 8. By the time the first ever case of HIV was recorded in South Africa, Ntimbwe had already been born.

It might be that when he eventually wandered away from the nest, and repeated illness resulted in him finding out about his diagnosis, his viral load was overwhelming and his CD4 count was 36. A normal CD4 cell count in an HIV-negative man is between 400 and 1600 per cubic millimetre of blood.

It might be that, notwithstanding the fact that his doctor recomended that he start going to a public hospital rather than his practice, as there was nothing more to be done except to make him comfortable while he waited to die, he walked into that public hospital with music blaring from his earphones while his head bopped to the beat. That he could even walk unassisted was a miracle. It defied logic.

It might be the fact he is the most defiantly cheerful person I have ever met despite the experience of the brutally trying years immediately following his diagnosis. The years in which his lungs nearly gave in; he lost his eyesight in one eye to herpes; he discovered the hard way that skipping meds, once you start your ARVs, leads to dramatic deterioration of the body; and his family bore the crushing weight of the costs associated with his illness.

It may even be the fact that he is in a relationship that trascends the physical with a remarkable young woman whom he wooed with his wit and charm. On her first birthday with him in 2010, he gifted her with roses and a can of coke with the tag that read “Don’t open me because I want to spend more birthdays with you.” The can remains unopened.

For me, it is that he has somehow managed to focus on the positive lessons of seemingly insurmountable difficulties he has faced in this life. He is on the casp of publishing a book called “Crushed But Not Dis-Troyed” in which he explains how so often we seek external solutions to our problems when, infact, we could be the solution. How you are responsible for your own happiness. It’s a choice that you make each day of your life.  How you can always choose to start living your best life. If a man whose own doctor told him it was ok to go home, lie down and die chose not to and lived, then ask yourself this, “what’s my excuse?” If not you, then who? Who should be in charge of saving you?

How you must never hide behind the reason for your problems or blame others for your situation. It has no effect on the situation but paralyses your ability to handle it. Instead, ask what your part is in creating the solution.

He believes that his part is to use his story to inspire others to live. I believe that, unike Harry Potter, he is the real-life boy who lived.

Your Body Language Speaks Louder Than Your Voice… and Theirs.

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“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”. “~ source

I have a problem.

I suffer from imposter syndrome.

Whether or not I am a high achieving individual is debatable of course. I accept that. I simply believe that in this context, this term refers to any individual who has achieved more than they hoped for at that point in time.

The result of this syndrome is sometimes I second guess myself at the worst of times. At other times my innate comfort in going unnoticed or to ask for permission unnecessarily wages full unauthorised nuclear warfare on my desire to use my voice and make decisions and it affects my outward behaviour.

I stumbled onto a 2012 Ted Talk about the powerful impact our physical poses and body language have on the state of our minds and, consequently, on how we are percieved by others. (Yes. Yes. I’m late to the party. 4 years late :O ).

The thing is you can’t change your body language permanently overnight so, according to Amy Cuddy, adopting a power pose privately for a couple of minutes before a big meeting or the like, actually alters your brain chemistry resulting in a noticeable increase in confidence.

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Over time, one can then work on permanently developing strong, confident body language but until then, she says, we can certainly ‘fake it ’til we make it’ with great results.

Her theory has recently come under fire from an ex-fellow researcher  (read about it here). The criticism may be true but it may also simply be a bad “case of the ex.” This remains to be seen.

In the meantime, the question of body language is an integral component of most MBAs world-wide. It seems to be that important. The gist of the teachings being that your language informs your audience how to respond to you. If you look meek and unsure, what you say is more likely to be second-guessed and/or disregarded even if you are right. If you are arrogant and brutish, people will actively try to “take you down,” and if you are confident and relatable, people will buy what you are selling…i.e. you. (coincidentally, this feeds right into my next post).

Along a somewhat similar vein, I read an interview with the symbol of fairness and impartiality, Public Protector, Thuli Madonsela. One of the things that stood from all that she said, and I am paraphrasing, was that before she successfully took on the Presidency and the spotlight became her second home, how she dressed was never an issue. Now, she says, she is becoming more meticulous about her appearance so that people can focus more on what she says. In other word, she recognises that people tend to ignore the valuable things being said in favour of discussing a missing button.

Likewise, Hilary Clinton, well before she became a presidential candidate, once famously stated, “If I want to knock a story off the front page, I just change my hairstyle.” Though it was said jokingly, it confirms that she has understood and harnessed the power of using physical appearance to divert the attention of smart minds despite telling them as much directly. Physical presentation matters.

I could go on but all scientific jibber jabber aside, what is crystal clear is that body language informs both internal and external perceptions of ourselves. The power to control that perception is ours to weild…or not.

Success: A Personal Definition

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“Success is peace of mind, which is a direct result of self-satisfaction in knowing you did your best to become the best you are capable of becoming.” ~ John Wooden

My brother and I were driving home the other day and I intentionally pressed “Play” on the song M.I.L.F. by Fergie and unintentionally pressed “Play” on the conversation that led to this post.

Brother: *Looks at the radio then looks at me then continues with his business*

Me: I am conflicted by the fact that I like this song. 

Brother: *looks at me with mild interest*

Me: I like that it is one of the first songs that speaks to the sexiness and beauty of older, successful women. On the other hand,… well… its called M.I.L.F. 

In his characterstic curveball fashion…

Brother: Is it possible that you like it because you identify with being older and successful?

Me: You might be on to something.

The light that typically signals impending mockery goes on in his eyes

Brother: So you consider yourself successful?

Me: I had never applied my mind to it but yes, I think I do. 

Brother: With this little i20 you drive?

Combined laughter..

Me: Yes, actually. Despite my little car, I do. I drive this car because I choose to and not because I can’t afford a more traditional “I have arrived car”. 

Brother: How do you define success? ….

How do I define success? A question each of us has to answer in order to know what our goals are. The definitions of success floating about out there are innumerable.

Why is that?

I believe, like Stephen Covey, that this is because success is categorically individual.

What means that “you have arrived” will be very different to what means “I have arrived.” Success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.” That aim or purpose differs from individual to individual. Take a gorgeous house set on prime real estate in the most upmarket area that sells for a premium for example: For some, success is owning that house. For others it is renting that house. For yet others, it is renting and sharing that house. For yet more it is living in that house with a spouse. For others still, it is simply being seen at that house. For someone, it is working at that house. For another it is knowing the person who owns that house. I could go on but I think I have made my point.

Granted, to most individuals, at the very least, success means money and power. Sadly, I am not transcendent enough to fall outside of this category. I simply fall out of the category of people for whom money and power are the sum total of their definition of success.

My drop of saving grace is that there are other things on my list that somewhat balance out my baser self. Success to me means the ability to buy accompanied the freedom of choice not to. It means remaining true to the principles I was raised with, despite the full understanding that I can choose not to. It’s the ability to provide for every need of those who depend on me without straining myself financially. It’s the ability to use my voice and my pen. It’s a personal brand that is synonymous with excellence. It’s the ability to empathise. It’s winning the love of a child. It’s nailing a new recipe. It’s continuing to learn. It’s evolving. It’s learning to do a sharp, crisp turn during a cha cha with your partner at full pace (Trust me. It’s not easy!). It’s a life with love in it. It’s family in all its bizarre shapes and forms. Its finding and keeping true friendship. It’s God.

Success is categorically individual.

She Designed A Life She Loved.

she-designed

“She took a leap and built her wings on the way down.”

I’m tempted to say I’m back. I really am.

But the truth is I can’t say that. I can’t say that because I am not sure I am.

I think I have changed. I am not sure I am the same person I was 3 blog posts ago.

In fact, I am sure I am not.

No. It’s not because I’m married now. It’s because a year and a half of monumental changes in the life of a person can have that effect. And they did.

A brutally demanding job in an unforgiving environment has made tougher. It has taught me to be unapologetic about who and what I am. It has taught me to speak up. It has taught me to ask for more. More money. More work. More credit. More responsibility. More change.

It has taught me that sometimes strength is simply using your voice to speak.  “A woman with a voice is by definition a strong woman.” ~ Speak up for someone simply because it is the right thing to do. Say a kind word to someone you do not need to be kind to simply because you can. Say no to what you do not want out loud. Speak politely and firmly as you voice the need for positive change in your life, in the lives of others and in the space aroud you. A chip in the glass ceiling is the biggest step towards shattering it. Your voice can change a life. My voice can change a life. Our voices can change lives. Speak up.

I feel a sureness in my step that wasn’t there before. A confidence born of knowing that I am adding value. Born of knowing that I have earned the respect of those around the boardroom table. Despite the pressure of that pedestal, not fearing being wrong or being corrected. It’s ok. Learning is an unending journey. If you are not learning, you will stagnate.

That little voice that questioned whether my opinion was right or even mattered speaks to me a lot less now.

I am filled with gratitude for the life I have. For God. He is my beginning and my end. For my incredible husband (He shoud be worried about setting such a high standard when he has signed up to live up to it forever *chuckles*). For my siblings. For my mother and the time I had with her. For the extraordinary friends that bless me with their presence in my life. For my family (new and old). For a new stage in that life. For never feeling like I know it all. How could I ever? For every hardship and heartache that taught me to appreciate the good that life has to offer. God blessed the broken road that brought me to this very moment. How remarkable is that thought?

I love being a woman more. I own being a woman more. I donated most of my shoes *gasp.* (If that isn’t proof of a significant shift in the wind, then I don’t know what is). I have chosen to see the good in the my life and take a moment to appreciate it. I acknowledge the hardships in my journey (those bygone and those to come) knowing they serve a purpose. I take in the simple, daily moments because they paint the beautiful bigger picture. I buy myself flowers. I own myself. I finally get that I can. I finally let go of the excuses not to.

There is a change. I live by a new Constitution.

She loved life and it loved her right back
celebrate her passion
She listened to her heart above all other voices
celebrate her wisdom
She pursued big dreams instead of small realities
celebrate her priorities
She saw every ending as a new beginning
celebrate her resiliency
She discovered real measurements had nothing to do with numbers or statistics
celebrate her self-esteem
She was kind loving and patient…with herself
celebrate her tenderness
She woke up one day and threw away all her excuses
celebrate her accountability
She realized that she was missing a great deal by being sensible
celebrate her spirit
She turned her can’ts into cans and her dreams into plans
celebrate her goals
She ignored people who said it couldn’t be done
celebrate her independence
She had a way of turning obstacles into opportunities
celebrate her magic
She went out on a limb, had it break behind her and she discovered she could fly
celebrate her faith
She discovered that she was the one she’d been waiting for
celebrate her self-reliance
She added so much beauty to being human
celebrate her presence
She walked in when everyone else walked out
celebrate her friendship
She just had this way of brightening the day
celebrate her radiance
She made the whole world feel like home
celebrate her warmth
She decided to enjoy more and endure less
celebrate her choices
She decided to start living the life she’d imagined
celebrate her freedom
She colored her thoughts with only the brightest colors
celebrate her optimism
She was an artist and her life was her canvas
celebrate her brilliance
She ran ahead where there were no paths
celebrate her bravery
She crossed borders recklessly, refusing to recognize limits, saying bon jour and buon giorno as though she owned both France and Italy and the day itself
celebrate her joie de vivre
She held her head high and looked the world straight in the eye
celebrate her strength
She not only saw a light at the end of the tunnel she became that light for others
celebrate her compassion
She designed a life she loved
celebrate her joy
She took the leap and built her wings on the way down
celebrate her daring
She said bye-bye to unhealthy relationships
celebrate her happiness
She remained true to herself
celebrate her authenticity
She made the world a better place
celebrate her

 

Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

“AFTER SCHOOL SPECIAL

Dear Mr. Schneider,
I attended your elementary
School almost thirty years ago
And I’m very sure that
You will remember
Me.

My name is Suzy.
I’m that hyperactive girl
From the Egyptian family
Who used to always play dead
On the playground during
Recess.

You used to keep me
After school a lot,
And then my father would
Force me to make the long
Walk home in the cold or rain.
Sometimes I would arrive
After dark.

I’m writing to tell you
That I was bored as a kid.
I was bored by your curriculum
And the way I was always taught a
Bunch of useless
Junk.

I did not like being locked up
In a prison of scheduled time
Learning about irrelevant material,
And watching belittling cartoons and
Shows approved by academia that
Made me even more
Bored.

As a kid
Who was constantly
Growing, evolving, and
Being shaped by all around me,
I wanted to travel,
See other kids
In the world like me,
To understand what was going
On amongst us and around us,
To know what we were here for
And what was our real purpose
For existence.

I have some questions
I would like to ask you, Mr. Schneider,
Now that I know that you are no
Longer a school principal,
But the new superintendent
Of the entire school
District.

I want to know
Why racism today
Was not clearly explained to me
Even though we covered events
That happened long ago.
I want to know why you
Never shared with us
Why other countries
Never liked us,
Why we are taught to compete,
To be divided in teams,
And why conformity is associated
With popularity, while
Eccentricity is considered
Undesirable?

I want to know
Why my cafeteria lunches
Were slammed packed
With bottom-tier
Processed junk food
Only suitable
For pigs?
And why is it
That whenever a bully
Slammed a kid into a locker for
His lunch money,
Nobody explained to us
That egotism, selfishness and greed
Were the seeds of
War?

I want to know
Why we were never taught
To stick up for each other,
To love one another, and that
Segregation sorted by the
Occupations of our fathers,
The neighborhoods we lived in, our houses,
Choices of sport, wealth, clothing,
Color of our skin
And the texture of our hair
Should never, ever
Divide us?

And lastly,
I want to know why
Is it that whenever I pledged
Allegiance to the flag,
I was never told that I was
Actually hailing to the
Chief?

You used to say that
I was a troubled child,
A misfit, and that I needed
Obedience training,
But you never acknowledged that
I was the fastest runner in the district
And that I took the school
To State and Nationals to compete
In the Spelling Bee among kids
Grades higher than me.
And that it was me,
Who won that big trophy
That sat in your office when you
Used to detain me for hours
And tell me I was no
Good.

Mr. Schneider,
If we are not taught truths as kids,
Then how do you expect us to
Grow up to be truthful citizens?
If we are only being taught the written way,
And it has not shown positive effects
In societies of yesterday or today,
Then how can we progress as a
United and compassionate
Nation?
What good is it,
To memorize the histories
Of our forefathers,
Without learning what could be
Gained from their lessons and mistakes
To improve our future
Tomorrows?

And finally,
I want to thank you;
For I know you have a tough job
Dealing with rebellious children like me.
Your job of mass processing and boxing
The young minds of America has not been an easy one,
And I congratulate you
On your recent promotion.
But I sincerely want to thank you,
Thank you,
And thank you,
For always pointing out
That I was
Different.”
Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute the Sun: The Writings of Suzy Kassem

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