June
15
2014

Filling His Shoes

DaddyRell

“You have some big shoes to fill.”

Within hours of my father’s last breath, I began to hear people say those words to my brother.

Each time I heard it, it annoyed me a bit more. Maybe I was hyper-sensitive. I was grieving. He was grieving.

Although, I realized that those who said it didn’t seem to have any malicious intent, I must say that I don’t think they realized that it wasn’t helpful either. I wasn’t quite sure of what type of comfort it was supposed to bring to a man who had just lost his father.

I heard it from family, friends of the family and church members in his absence and some even said it in his presence…publicly. Who knows how many other people told him, “you have some big shoes to fill” in private to comfort him.

Let him grieve. Let him grow.

I understand that my father left his footprint on the lives of many. I loved that so many people were willing to share their memories and stories about him with me and family in the days that followed, but somehow they missed something really important when they spoke to my brother. My dad didn’t always wear the shoes he wore at the time when they met him.

He was not perfect. No man is. During his life, he’d made mistakes, tried on and outgrew several of “life’s shoes”…its call life for a reason. Growing and evolving.
People, like shoes, change with the time and with the season.

Time and seven decades of experience dictated that my father change into his life’s “comfy” shoes, as he was becoming more comfortable in his faith and in the life that he created for his family and those he loved. I’m glad that at the end of his life, the shoes that he walked in allowed him to do a lot of great things and make an impact – setting an example for some, making others laugh, challenging some to live differently and even serving as a mentor – but they were emhis/em shoes, all broken in and comfortable for his feet, NOT for my brother’s feet.

daddy shoes (600x800)

Each time I heard someone say “you have big shoes to fill” to my brother, my heart broke a little.

How unfair is it put 74 year-old “experienced” shoes on a the feet of a 30 year old man? He has 44 more years to try-on and outgrow shoes. He has to make mistakes and learn from them and he has to determine his own style of “comfy” shoes for his life and those he loves. Styles change over the decades, why can’t people just let him walk in the shoes that are comfortable for him until his time.

Let him grieve. Let him grow.

In the weeks that followed the funeral, I watched my brother try to “fill those shoes” that weren’t meant for him to fill.

Sometimes I would see his stressful moments, as he grieved and learned that daddy’s comfortable “life shoes” were not the best fitting shoes for him.

I watched his “life shoe” style change in the course of three months.

He’s a different man now. He’s grown so much in the year since we buried my father the day before Father’s Day. He’s a different kind of father, son and brother now. He seems more comfortable in his “30’s shoes”. I’m extremely proud of him.

During the remaining years of this decade, he’ll make some mistakes. He’ll learn some lessons. He will change his shoes a few times during this journey, but as he walks he will definitely discover the shoes that are just the right fit and the ones that are comfortable for him as he takes his life’s trip.

He’s filling his own shoes.

June
17
2012

Daddy’s “Daughter”: The Making of a Woman

Daddy's "Daughter" Time

Daughter.

My dad called me “Daughter” for the first 12 years of my life. He called my younger sister, “Lil Woman” and my one and only brother “Lil Boy”. He even has a name for my mom too. I guess you could say that my dad wasn’t one for formal names. The only time I would hear him say our names was when someone specifically asked, “What’s your daughter’s name?” or “What’s your son’s name?”

He definitely identified us on his terms.

My dad is “southern old school” in a lot of ways. During my childhood, he worked hard. He was a provider. He was a handy man. He was bigger than life sometimes. He was MY DADDY. He loved his family but he was no “sit-down tea party” dad. He didn’t engage in “girl play” with me and my sisters. Although, there might not have been any time given to “girly”play; the time spent in other ways taught me the valuable lessons that have contributed to the woman I’ve become.

I recall Saturday mornings, watching him work on the cars. Whenever the hood was raised, I would hang on either side of the car asking him questions about what he was doing. Of course, I don’t remember the names of any of the parts; I just knew that I wanted to be a “Powder Puff Mechanic” who fixed cars. I’d decided that I would wear pink coveralls instead of the oily khaki colored ones. Little did either of us know that 17 years later, while in college I would bravely raise the hood of my 1989 Ford Escort in search of something that looked like the fuel filter and actually replace it. I must admit that I got up early that Saturday morning to do it before the guys in the neighborhood were up and about. I didn’t want them to see me screw it up and have them rescue the “damsel in distress”. I was quite proud of that moment. Because my dad took that time with me and allowed me to hang out under the hood, I had no fear of dealing with car issues whether it was checking tire pressure, changing a tire or anything else under the hood.

My dad was a handy too. He would build things and repair things around the house. As a pre-teen, I remember him waking me and my sister early one morning. He had us climb a ladder onto the roof to help him pull shingles. The roofing project was a family project. We had fun pulling shingles and tossing them to the ground. What a powerful “I CAN DO ANYTHING” feeling to be able to walk across the roof to look down on the world. None of my friends’ fathers would let them do anything like that! When time came to paint the house, guess who was there to help start the painting before it got too hot outside? Me.

The lessons continued into my teen years. I wanted to spend the summer evenings sitting on the trunks of cars with my friends waiting for the cute boys to walk by or ride by. My dad wasn’t having it. He would call me away from my “girl fun” to make me mow the grass or wash the cars. There was no time for being cute when there was work to be done. It was embarrassing to be called away, but my dad kept a well-manicured lawn and clean cars. Although I can, I don’t choose to hand-wash my car anymore. I’m so thankful for quick car washes and detailing services. When I moved into my house, I made sure to keep close watch on the yard and would fire up the lawn mower and get it done. My dad would bring his edger and hedge trimmer so that my yard would have a nice finished touch. Yard work would be our time together.

I also learned character lessons from my father.

As a teenager, I would hear my friends talk about how their fathers gave their dates the third degree when they first met them. Not my father. He didn’t ask a lot of questions, if he asked any at all. When guys came over, my father would come in, introduce himself (“Turner’s my name.”) and leave. Yes LEAVE. Although my mom would keep a close watch, he’d either go into the bedroom and close the door or leave the house altogether to hang out with the neighbors. I envied my friends because their “loving fathers” threatened guys to make sure they respected their daughters’ honor. Why didn’t my dad do cool things like that? Later, I realized that my father empowered me with HIS TRUST and he respected ME for my ability to make the right decisions. He didn’t have to threaten guys to make them respect ME. He knew I’d make sure of that. It wasn’t about him trusting and respecting the guys, it was about him trusting and respecting ME. I never had a curfew when I was in high school, but I was always home before midnight out of respect for the respect and the trust I’d been given.

When I tried out and made drill team in high school, I figured this would be another one of my “girl” things. Surely, he wouldn’t be interested, so other than paying for my uniform, I didn’t mention anything else about it or invite him to the game. Imagine my surprise at my first game, when I looked in the stands and saw BOTH of my parents there. He never mentioned that he was coming to the game. My dad taught me about being present and available. Actions speak louder than words. As an adult, I am careful to measure my calendar commitments because I want to make sure that if I say, “I’ll be there”, I will definitely be there. Being present is important.

I saw then and I continue to see my father’s work ethic. Before he retired, he worked in construction as a cement finisher. On the days it rained, there was no work. Although, there might not have been work on the job that day, there was work at home. He was always building or repairing something around the house. He still does.

When I was laid off, that same work ethic kicked in. While I looked for a job, I stayed actively engaged by volunteering in all types of community outreach. My friends loving called me “the busiest unemployed person ever.”

Over the years, my image of this “bigger than life” man has grown as I have grown. I’ve seen his generosity as he’s literally given people the shirt off of his back and the shoes from his feet or when he used his birthday parties as opportunities to share food with the neighbors. I have seen him become more sensitive to family, whether it’s dancing at my sister’s wedding or crying EVERY year with family and friends when they sing “Happy Birthday” to him. Boy does he love his family. Now over 30 years later, I finally see the “girl play” as he spends time and plays “tea party” with my 5-year old niece, his granddaughter. He’s changing, but he’s still daddy.

I don’t remember the day when my dad stopped calling me “Daughter” and starting calling me “Retta”. I guess it was such a natural change as he saw me maturing that I accepted it without ever noticing. I am honored to have been his “Daughter” for 12-years, the one who has been able to take so many of the valuable, subtle and meaningful “non-girly” lessons into her adulthood to become a confident, self-sufficient “Woman”. But then again… isn’t that what a Daddy is supposed to do for his “Daughter”?

Happy Father’s Day Daddy!

May
18
2012

Death and A Lesson in Intentional Living

Uncle James passed. I don’t think daddy knows.

I received and read THAT message less than 20 minutes before taking the stage. My parents and my sister were in the audience. I decided not to tell them until after the show.

As I sat backstage reading and re-reading the text message. I was at peace.

For the three weeks prior to that moment backstage, I wrestled with whether I should participate in the Oral Fixation storytelling showcase. My uncle had been diagnosed as terminal. We were getting reports that his condition was worsening and it could be any day now. Yet, I had this opportunity to showcase before me and I was concerned about the “what if he dies” scenario. After thinking it over, I decided to do the show. If I had to miss his funeral to do the show, I would because everything seemed to be in order for me to do it – from receiving the email from a friend to the compulsion to submit a story to being selected as one of the seven storytellers. I had to do it.

I called my Uncle James to check on him and to hear him one last time because “it could be any day now…”

I had never called him before, yet there I was calling him because I was in conflict about doing the show, his impending death and whether I would be able to attend his funeral. He was in good spirits and he was hopeful to return home. Little did he know he would return home to hospice care.

“I’m so glad you called. You made my day.”

I was glad I called too.

After two weeks of rewrites with the producer because I “needed to go deeper” emotionally and after weeks of praying that my uncle would hang in there until after the show because in my heart I knew it was something I HAD TO DO. The night of the performance had finally arrived and so had THAT text message “Uncle James passed.”

I smiled and silently thanked Uncle James. I was relieved because I didn’t have to bear the consequence of the hard choice. I would be able to attend his funeral after all.

It has been a rough two years. My father has lost four of his 15 siblings in less than 20 months – three between August and October 2010 and now Uncle James. His death began to put things into perspective for me about my parents’ mortality, their time, my time and my intentions. I realized that I needed to be more intentional in engaging and nurturing my extended family relationships.

I decided to drive my father to his hometown in Mississippi for the funeral. The six-hour drive with my dad would be the beginning of my purposeful pursuit of intentional engagements with family. We talked about how he felt about the loss of his siblings, meaningful friendships, ending friendships, slothful people and his plans once we arrived. He would build something…he always finds something to work on when he’s in Mississippi. We laughed alot too. My dad is pretty funny.

So often when I would go to Mississippi, I would watch the brothers chatting boisterously in the yard. I would listen to the sisters and sister-in-laws chatting, laughing, talking about shopping as they watched low-budget movies. The children would run around the area between the family houses. I would simply watch it all, while I rested and retreated into my introvert’s space.

This time would be different.

When my father and I arrived, I moved into intentional action.

Within three hours of my arrival, I was driving my aunt to Natchez to look for furniture and a pair of earrings. I don’t really do “girl-time” shopping with others. It was different, but it was my “intentional” girl-time experience with my aunt. She seemed pleased with her earrings selection. We had a delightful conversation on the drive home.

Later, I spent time talking to an uncle. He really wants to stake claim to being the family curmudgeon, but he can’t because I’ve heard him laugh and seen him smile. He schooled me on making red beans and rice. Beans seasoned with ham hocks and pickled pigtails? Whose idea was that? I had to a pass on that meal. Good thing, I don’t eat pork.

As the evening progressed, more “intentional” fun ensued as I explained to my VERY traditional southern relatives that I want to be cremated instead of buried.

To say cremation in those parts is downright blasphemous.

One uncle said, “Stop that crazy talk we want to see you.”

But why? You can have a picture of me posted in the front of the church.

My aunt chimed in, “No one wants to keep an urn of your ashes.”

Yeah, I know. That’s why I arranged to have little party favor bags so everyone can take a teaspoon of me with them. When you take me with you, it would be the first time I could be in so many places at one time.

I laughed to myself as they gasped. Yes, I intentionally stirred that conversation.

The funeral is for us. It’s not for you. You’ll be dead it won’t matter to you. We’re going to bury you.

I explained to them that the distribution of my estate would be contingent on whether I was cremated or not. “If I’m not cremated…no one gets a dime.”

For the entire four-day visit, I exchanged my preferred introvert’s space for intentional engagements by sitting with family members I hadn’t talked to in several months…for some, several years.

My 4th grade cousin, the daughter an uncle who passed in 2010, and I talked about her favorite teacher, favorite class and what she wants to be when she grows up. We talked about trying different types of foods and traveling to new places.

I talked to the teenage twin about her plans after high school. Another uncle and I talked about the friendships I’ve developed in a mega-church. He thinks my church is too big. I helped another uncle as he tried to figure out how get to the “missed call log” on his flip cell phone. He won’t be texting anyone anytime soon.

The decision to be more intentional in my family relationships proved to be a good decision.

As with anything in life, there are challenges. My intentional weekend also showed me that there are some family relationships that need to be cordial hellos from a distance. I realize that I can’t pick my family, but I can definitely choose when to allow them in my space and how to intentionally (and briefly) engage them.

When I returned home, I was thankful. I learned a lot that weekend.

The next morning as I rolled over to hit the snooze, I stopped mid-slam because the song playing on the radio, Kris Allen’s Live Like You’re Dying, resonated in my spirit. I smiled and thought about Uncle James and the wonderful tributes to “the man that was always smiling” and “the man that didn’t complain”.

I smiled and whispered “thank you” to Uncle James again. This time, I thanked him for reminding me and directing me to live MORE intentionally.

March
25
2012

A Little Girl’s Eyes

Last year, my cousin posted this picture to Facebook.

Although, I’ve seen it hundreds of times in my lifetime, it has been several years since I’ve seen it last. This time, for some reason, I noticed the little girl’s eyes – my eyes.

I stared at her eyes.

I say “her eyes” because I feel so detached and so far from her…decades. I stared at her expression. What is that expression? Timidness? Fear? Musing…maybe?

What is she thinking?

Who is she looking at with those eyes?

I don’t know.

I don’t remember.

I wonder about her. I wonder how much of what her eyes saw then impacts how I see things now – my friendships, my relationships and my expectations.

Who were her friends? Why did she choose them? What did she see in her friends then?

I wonder if they are some of the same things I look for and value in a friend now…she’d probably say they were her friends because they were “nice” to her. She wouldn’t know to use words like trustworthy, loyalty, compassionate and giving. Her friends were simply “nice”.

I wonder what she would think of me. Would she like me? Would she talk to me? From what I’ve heard, she liked to talk and she talked alot…just as I do now. What would she tell me? I’d like to talk to her every year from the date of this picture through her teen years.

Oh, the things that I would like to tell her…

ABOUT FAMILY

…It will be one of the greatest gifts in your lifetime and a wonderful support, but there will be members, both immediate and extended, who will need to be loved from afar.

ABOUT FRIENDS

…Many friends will come through your life, some will be closer than siblings at times. Some will simply pass through your life for a time. When the time comes for them to leave, it may be hard, but it’s okay to let them go. There might even come a time when you’ll have to be the one to leave.

…Listen to your male friends because the things they will tell you and the respect they will give you during elementary, middle school, high school and college will teach you how to respect yourself as a woman in the same way they have respected you. They will set your “expectation standard” of how you expect men to treat women…how you expect to be treated.

ABOUT LIFE

…Failure is not the end of everything, it’s the opportunity create something new and try it again…differently.

…Your fears hardly ever play out the way that you think…goodness knows that your creative musings can conjure some far-fetched images.

…To laugh loudly and laugh often.

…Your smile is the greatest and the most renewable gift that you will have to offer next to your heart. You can give it away over 100 times a day and it gives back just as much in return…sometimes more.

…Although you will hate journaling, do it anyway. Learn how to reflect in peaceful places. Continue to write.

ABOUT LISTENING

…Always listen to that small voice in your spirit because one day you will come to know the fullness of the voice and who it belongs to. Always seek the discerned, holy wisdom of that voice. His voice will set your path.

…Keep your ears open. Listen to the things that people tell you that they see in you…test them in your spirit, tuck them away until that VOICE reveals to you the truth of what they see and tells you, “It’s time to walk in it fully.”

…Listen objectively to the negative things that people tell you about yourself and ask the Voice to help you discern the person’s motive for telling you these things. Then ask to be shown how to receive it as an opportunity to positively change, if necessary.

I’d like to sit across from her and look into her eyes. But I can’t.

I can’t look into her eyes and tell her all these things, but now I have a different opportunity.

Now I have the chance to look into another little girl’s eyes…actually I can look into the eyes of several little girls.

Whether they are the eyes of my nieces, the girls at the juvenile detention center, the runaway shelter, or a seemingly random little girl or young lady at a grocery store or in the street, I can look them in their eyes, smile and tell them the things I want to tell her, the younger me. I will tell them the things that I see in them. I hope they will listen, tuck it away, test it in their spirit until it is revealed to them that it is time for them to walk in it fully…

March
5
2012

Oh Your Dirty Mind…Get Your Mind Out of the Gutter

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” – Oscar Wilde

I saw this quote posted on Facebook one morning. I shook my head with a raised eyebrow, as I watched all of the comments that agreed with the sentiment of the quote.

The gutter, huh? Not me.

GUTTER – noun
a channel at the side or in the middle of a road or street, forleading off surface water

Have I had a few moments or days in my life that may have seemed lower than others? Of course I have. I guess that I’ve been fortunate that I haven’t had many of those days. Maybe my lows were not low enough to qualify as the gutter experience.

Grant it, in all fairness, I don’t know the context of Mr. Wilde’s notable quotable or what caused this particular reflection, but I resent being placed in his gutter along with the “ALL” he referenced with the offering of the twinkling of the stars as an added bit of optimism.

From my perspective, this quote seems to suggest that the gutter is a mindset. He describes a lifestyle, something long-term and not a lapse. Yes, I can appreciate looking for the “glimmers” of hope, the stars, if you will, during the dark times…I get it. And although the analogy is extremely poetic, it doesn’t cause me to want to buy into nor passively accept that that it is my fate to be a gutter dweller.

From my perspective, “you can only look at the stars for so long”, namely until twilight or the dawn breaks.

Now what?

The dawn breaks and you’re still in the gutter!

You get to see the dawn, the entire day, the dusk and the stars all over again….

Day after day. You’re still in the gutter.

The gutter can become a lifestyle, if you allow it.

I wonder if the gutter dwellers are planning their “gutter exit strategy” as they spend the night looking at the stars. What the heck are they doing during the day?

For those who still have their minds in the gutter, I invite you to join me up here… the ground is solid here too. Whether by inches or feet, it provides you with an even closer view of those stars. When the dawn breaks you can walk away and explore something new and the opportunities are vast with those same stars twinkling in the background.

One last thing…

For those who have accepted the challenge of seeking higher ground, please know that it is imperative to leave the gutter mentality behind. All of that dust flying around and trash floating in the gutter tends to cloud ones view and experience of enjoying the stars. Be warned that bringing the gutter mentality above ground only creates an elevated gutter, but a gutter all the same.

For those who decide to climb out…GET YOUR MIND OUT OF THE GUTTER so you can see things clearly.

February
18
2012

Expectation Is The Key

You wouldn’t believe what SHE did TODAY…

That was the introduction to the stories about my micro-managing manager at work. Fortunately, she was so good at outdoing herself when it came to “doing the ridiculous” that I would have a couple of stories to report each week.

One day while delivering the day’s “ridiculous report” to a friend, I made a decision.

“You know what? I’m not going home. I’m going to buy me a suit for my interview.”

“Do you have an interview?”

“Not yet, but I expect one. I need to have my suit ready. It will be my expectancy suit.”

There was good news that day. There was a sale and I was able to buy two suits.

EXPECTANCY PLAN IN ACTION

Weeks later, my manager finally decided to let me present my project to the Director. I told my friend that I had planned to wear my expectancy suit to do my presentation.

Why?

Why not? I didn’t usually wear suits to work. It’s funny, usually in business casual workplaces where the morale is pretty low, people will assume that anyone who is wearing a suit has an interview. It was my inside joke.

My presentation went really well.

As we were packing up to leave, my manager threw me under the bus with some unrelated question. Annoyed and frustated, I returned to my office and checked my personal email. There was a message from a recruiter who wanted to talk to me about a position.

I’ll call her later.

I checked my cell phone voicemail. She had called too. She really wanted to talk to me.

I decided to call her back to discuss the position. As we discussed scheduling a time to interview, I had a wonderful idea. “Where are you located? That’s less than five miles away. Can I come in at 1pm”. Why not? I mean I DID have on my expectancy suit…the one that I expected to wear to an interview.

The interview that day went well. I actually had two interviews with the company – the exact number of expectancy suits that I purchased on sale that day.

The moral of this story…expect the JOB not just the interview.

EXPECTANCY KEY

Fed up with apartment dwelling, I decided would rent a house. I didn’t want to move back into an apartment and I expected that I’d find a house before the end of my 60-day notice. And boy did I find one! It was a cozy two bedroom cottage-style home with peach trees in the front and back yards and corner windows in the white kitchen overlooking blooming trees. Perfect.

I called my friend to tell her about the house and about my expectancy suit story.

“You know…I think I need to buy me an expectancy keyring for my new house keys.” My friend thought that it was a good idea. She was looking for a house too.

When I saw the house, I knew it was where I was supposed to be.

Two days later, I headed to my final post-surgery appointment at the podiatrist office. Judith, the young office assistant came in and hugged me. “It’s been awhile. I haven’t been here for your other appointments. I have something for you.”

She left the room and returned to hand me a heart-shaped keyring that read, “Chicago”.

Stunned, but assured.

“Have you been back to Chicago recently?”

She had purchased it three months earlier and had not been able to give it to me because she had not seen me.

“Thank you Judith. I saw a house on Saturday and today I decided make the deposit and schedule my move-in date. I just told my friend that I needed an expectancy keyring for my new house keys. Now I have one.”

EXPECT LESSONS

You get what you expect…not what you want.

I’ve heard this quote a number of times over the last few months. One of the greatest lessons that I’ve learned about expectancy is to EXPECT IT. Whether I expect peace, abundance, opportunities and the like, I am still learning to expect without concerning myself with WHEN I think it will be done or HOW I think it should be done. I have to expect and let it go. I have to. Because inevitably, when it does happen, it doesn’t show up the WAY I expected it, but I am convinced that it still shows up…I have the keyring to prove it.

February
10
2012

Leadership 101 – Dance Lessons

He STANK.

He reeked of alcohol and his eyes were always glazed over. I suppose that he had to be fully inebriated each time his girlfriend dragged him out to the dance class. Maybe drinking was his way to mentally escape being present in class, but I couldn’t escape the fact that he smelled to high heaven and the low crevices of hell.

My first dance class. A West Coast Swing class with a Salsa rotation during the second half of class.

Being in a beginner dance class, a partner dance class, at that, is hard when no one in the class has any partner dance experience.

Partner dancing is about the leader/follower relationship. That means lot of mental role adjustments for some people. The “independent” women who are used to doing things on their own, are now placed into the follower position of having to trust someone other than themselves to lead them.

The men have been placed in the leader position, accepting responsibility for followers, learning to think several steps ahead and having to do it all without anyone getting hurt. Leadership is a huge responsibility and should DEFINITELY not be combined with excessive drinking, especially when one is learning to dance.

The instructor showed the leaders their basic steps. He did the same for the followers. The time came to partner up. The mental preparation begins…

Okay, I can do this….I have to trust my leader now.

We repeated the steps with each partner three times and then rotated to the left to try it with a new partner.

Great! Now I HAVE to dance with HIM?

We connected and started the first pattern. Still trying to adjust to the “partner” thing and being lead, I got off a bit and stepped forward knocking him off balance (which wasn’t too difficult since he drunk). I apologized profusely only to hear him drunkenly respond, “Naw, it’s cool. You’re cool”. Each of his stale alcohol and smoke saturated consonant plosives reminded me just how close partner dancing could be. He reeked.

Can we hurry and get these next two times out of the way?

Finally! We rotate. New partner.

We connected and started the first pattern. Anticipating his next move, I stepped forward. He stopped the pattern. “Wait, I didn’t lead you there yet. You have to wait for me. We can do it again, so that you get it right. We’re working together.”

He’s learning to lead. I’m learning to follow the leader.

MY FIRST LEADERSHIP LESSON

The title of LEADER does not inherently mean that a person is 1) capable of executing the task at hand, 2) able to see the big picture and can engage proactive insight by thinking ahead, and 3) interested in assuming the role and responsibility of the position.

In one case, I had a partner whose interest in his leadership responsibility ended where the top of the opened been can began. Unfocused and unconcerned…and he stank.

The other partner assumed the responsibility of his role as well as for the partnership. Even while still learning and a bit unsure of his leadership skills, he recognized the problem, he gently corrected by offering a solution to help his partner and he recognized that teamwork is key to making the dance move fluidly.

I LIKED THAT!! Who doesn’t want to follow a leader who sees the value in working together?

Watching the dance floor has taught me a few things about a leadership and what makes a great leader.

A GOOD LEADER SHOULD…

…BE TEACHABLE: The instructor demonstrated a pretty complicated pattern. I watched as my rotation partner slowly walked through the move with me, dissecting each move. He asked the instructor for more information. He tried again, slowly, until HE figured out exactly where he was making the mistake. I patiently walked through it with him because his decision to get it right, kept me from getting hurt. He asked the questions. He asked for help.

…ACCEPT RESPONSIBILITY:: A few partner rotations later, I got Darren. I had been watching him all evening. I also watched the angst-filled faces of each of his previous partners. He was constantly lecturing them on “what YOU did wrong”.

Somehow, he didn’t understand that before those seven women rotated to him, they seemed to have gotten it right with seven other lead partners. He was a bit too prideful to ask for help, because “the ladies couldn’t get it right”. There was no fathomable way that HE could be the problem. Right? It wasn’t them…it was him. Stop assigning the blame.

…BE TRUSTED: When I first started social dancing, I remembered being stopped a bit short by my partner. The slight jolt caught me off guard. Because of my leader’s ability to survey the crowded floor and watch for changing conditions, he prevented me from colliding with another dancer. I appreciated him for doing it. He was (literally) watching my back, building trust.

…NOT REMIND PEOPLE THEY ARE LEADING: I have found that the greatest strength of a weak leader is the ability to constantly remind followers not to forget who is leading. Without fail, whenever there was a miscommunication in the connection, a misstep or heaven forbid a mistake, He would immediately say, “You follow MY LEAD!” or “You’re suppose to follow me…I’m leading.” If you have to tell people, you’re probably not doing that great of a job at it.

…ALLOW CREATIVE TEAM INPUT: I’ve seen some amazing dance presentations. Some of the most beautiful and powerful dance presentations have been the partnerships when the leader is comfortable enough to allow the follower to express something beautiful and something different within the context of the dance. The leader uses the opportunity to display his flexibility, his ability to adapt, his trust of his partner, knowing that the creative expression will complement the team’s presentation.

…RECOGNIZES THAT IT’S ABOUT INFLUENCE: Sometimes nothing needs to be said, just observed. It’s the leader that simply shows up, leads and enjoys the dance…no fanfare, just leadership. It is evident when I overhear followers say, “Now I want to dance with HIM”. It is evident when I see other leaders watching him…studying his moves, taking notes. He leads by example, not by title. Great leaders simply lead.

Dancing has taught me so much about leadership including the importance of understanding that you have to know who how to be a great follower before becoming a great leader. Leadership has no gender. The same dance leadership lessons that I have observed can be seen in other relationships – personal relationships, intimate relationships and professional relationships.

“If you think you’re leading and no one is following you, then you’re only taking a walk.” – Afghan proverb

If you think you’re leading on the dance floor and no one is following you… get off the floor and out of the way while the true leaders lead and allow the rest us to enjoy the dance.

February
1
2012

It’s About Perspective

Coretta!

I panned the crowd looking for the person who called my name.

It was Lauren. I had not seen her in months. How in the world did she spot me walking across the crowded plaza?

I walked to her. As we exchanged hugs and she said, “Coretta, I thought that was you. Walking across there with your nose all in the air.”

She was right. I’ve heard that comment many times before. It’s funny because I don’t consciously think about it when I’m walking.

I smiled and asked, “Yes, it is. Is there a better place for it to be?”

As I walked away, I made it point to take note of the position of my head and how far nose was tilted upward.

Why do people notice THAT about me?

I pondered, “Is the position of my head and nose really that noticeable to people? Where do people expected it to be?”

Walking towards the building, I began to notice all that I could see when my head is positioned forward and upward. I was more aware of my peripheral vision in addition to all that I could see in front of me. The word perspective came to mind.

I looked ahead. Perspective open.

I looked down. Perspective limited.

PERSPECTIVE
1) a visible scene, especially one extending to a distance; vista (a far-reaching mental view)
2) the state of existing in space before the eye

I am one of those who choose to look ahead. For me, there is nothing like looking into the distance to take in the full landscape of what’s ahead of me – the possibilities. It could be the smiling face of a stranger, a beautifully manicured lawn, animals or any of the other random activities that play out against a perspective’s backdrop. I love to take in the entire scene before isolating the pieces that I find to be most intriguing.

I choose the picturesque vista when walking.

Is there a reason to walk while looking down? I suppose there are a few reasons…if you’re carefully watching where you step or maybe if you’re looking for something that has been lost? That’s a different kind of looking. It’s purposeful looking.

Interestingly enough, many of the people who I have observed are usually walking, looking at the ground and are not carefully looking for anything or watching their step. They are simply walking and looking at the ground. Distracted. Maybe they are engrossed in deep thought.

As I considered the definition of the word “perspective”, I’ve found that it can be dangerous when you aren’t looking or aren’t aware of what’s before you. Moving forward, yet distracted, gets people hurt. Think texting and driving or crossing the street without looking.

Moving forward but unaware.

I continued toward the building, looking towards my destination…Do you want to know what I noticed? I could still see the ground ahead of where my feet walked. There was no need for a concentrated focus downward. A quick shift of the eyes downward and back forward.

Musing about the word perspective, I looked forward and engaged my picturesque vista. I thought about a tight-rope walker between two five-story buildings. Once the walker decides to leave his platform (or his safe place), he knows that what’s ahead of him is safer than what’s below him and he moves forward to the goal ahead.

Like the tight-rope walker, when I decide to move forward, I want to focus on the perspective before me…I know what the ground looks like.

January
18
2012

Is the Horse Thirsty?

“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.”

How many times have you found yourself making this statement when you’ve reached your wit’s end?

I’ve said it countless times myself.

QUESTION. Why do we become so frustrated with the “horse” (or person)?

Ever stop to think and ask, “Is the horse thirsty…NOW?”

Thirst, like hunger, is a basic instinct. When the horse becomes thirsty enough it will drink. We have no control over when the horse’s instinct will kick in. Best believe WHEN it is thirsty enough, it will search for water and it WILL drink.

The same goes with people.

Going forward when dealing with a person, instead of becoming frustrated, let’s consider doing our part to show them the path to the water. Walk with them, talk with them if we must, do our part to help them recognize the water source and let them go. Realize that when their thirst (need) is great enough, their instinct will kick in and they will drink until their thirst is quenched and they are SATISFIED.

They Don’t Appreciate My Good Water

Someone suggested that the person isn’t moving because “they don’t want more from their life”.

I think to say people “don’t want more” is a bit unfair and doesn’t take into consideration the motive of the person doing the leading. Not everyone who leads a person (horse) is leading with selfless intent.

Those who are attempting to lead with an ulterior motive are among the frustrated. They are frustrated because the scenario did not play out when they wanted and how they wanted.

The Horse is Not Ready to Drink NOW.

If you are leading and there is no ulterior motive, just know that there’s a plan in place for your “horse”. Lead them, leave them and know that you’ve done your part to help them identify the resource until their thirst kicks in.

The Horse Doesn’t Want YOU or YOUR Water.

Yes, there are those “who don’t want more” and that can be sad. Then again it could simply be they don’t want more from YOU and YOUR style of leading.

Could it be that they are thirsty and seeking water and have decided not to drink because their instinct has given them every indication that the direction they are being lead is not in their best interest, despite what the leader believes. It is possible that they are not being lead in a way that compels them to want to follow and to take a few sips to whet their thirst. In that case, it’s really NOT the person’s issue at all, it’s the leader’s issue…In other words, it’s YOU.

For those who insist on continuing to push the horse to drink the water, here are few things to consider:

1. Keep a water bottle nearby. Forcing your will onto someone else can be really exhausting. You can work up a good sweat and we don’t want you collapsing from dehydration. (We wouldn’t dare FORCE you to drink from the water bottle, it’s simply something to consider.)

2. Be careful to keep your distance. Watch out for the hooves and consider periodic spot checks to see if you’re agitating the horse because you could get trampled.

3. Remember. Think about the people who pressured you do to that “something” you weren’t ready to do or had no interest in doing.

Believe it or not you’re someone’s horse too. Why aren’t you drinking the water?

January
11
2012

An Addict’s Purpose

It was a perfect autumn day in Dallas.

I sat on the patio at Starbucks with a new professional acquaintance.

We talked for hours. It was a wonderful conversation filled with professional discovery. After an hour or so we began to discuss our childhoods. She was ten years my junior.

She was from the Midwest. I was from the South.

She was a rebel. I was a sheltered nerd.

She experimented with drugs during her rebellious teen years. My rebellious teen drug highlight was a few disgusting sips of a wine cooler at my first lightly chaperoned party. Other than seeing the boys smoking weed on the bus stop, I didn’t have any real personal experience interacting with drugs.

I have never smoked, injected, snorted or drank anything illegal.

I couldn’t.

When I was a child, I decided that I wouldn’t.

As we talked on the patio, I reflected on my childhood. I saw images of some of the boys and the young men in my neighborhood. Something just wasn’t right. I was too young to put my finger on it then. By age 10, I figured it out. They did drugs. I didn’t know which drugs, but I knew they did them because my uncle did them. They all hung out together. I didn’t like the way they acted when they were high and my instinct didn’t allow me to trust them.

I don’t ever want to do drugs. EVER.

If the erratic and suspicious behavior of the neighborhood boys wasn’t enough to solidify my decision not to do drugs, I had a living DON’T DO DRUGS monument sitting right in my neighborhood. His name was Tony.

Each day, Tony spent most of his day seated in a chair on his mother’s front porch. I don’t know if he could speak. I know that he didn’t speak. He just sat there and stared into the distance. He was a shell of his original self. Almost zombie-like at times.

He was one of the guys who did drugs. The story in the neighborhood was that Tony had smoked some “baaadd” stuff. Who knows what made the “bad stuff” worse than any of the other drugs, but evidently it wasn’t the stuff Tony was used to smoking. It had been enhanced a bit…“doctored-up”.

When I would see him walking in the neighborhood, I would cross the street. The fact that I didn’t know anything about who he was or what he was capable of doing in his zombie-state, freaked me out. I am not saying I was right to do it, but it was based on my childhood distrust of the ones who did drugs and he had been one of them before IT happened.

Our coffee shop conversation continued.

I mentioned that it still puzzles me, even 30 years later, when I see those same boys, now men, doing the same things. How is it that after 30 years of overdoses, near death encounters and jail time does one continue to live that same kind of life for so long? How can you not look at your life and say, “After all that I’ve been through, I’m still here. I’m alive and my life has value and purpose?”

“But what if their purpose in life was to keep you off of drugs?”

I must say that her question was intriguing. It caused me to pause and to think about who I could have become had I not made that decision at such a young age. What if my life had gone in a different direction?

THEIR purpose was to keep ME off of drugs?

Although it was thought-provoking, I refused to accept that God would call a person to a life of “purposed destruction” to be an example for me so that I could fulfill my purpose. Tony’s life was as valuable as my life. Unfortunately, one day, he made a bad decision that changed his life and his future.

Over the years, I’ve met with and talked with a number of recovering addicts who taught me and continue to teach me so much about fortitude and perseverance. I see their light when they tell the stories of their journey, of how they have discovered a new life and discovered their purpose. Their stories are amazing stories that fill my heart and inspire me to change something in my life.

Unfortunately, there were never any inspirational words to the one addict’s story that had the greatest impact on my life. He never said word to me. He just sat there on the front porch and inspired change my life.

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