Set Your Own Expectations

If we became only what other people thought we would become, many of us would have never achieved half of our accomplishments.  Somewhere through the negative noise and circumstances, I told myself that I was going to make something out of nothing.  Some of this came from positive television shows that depicted the awesomeness of college and success, along with great movies that showed the underdog coming out triumphant every time.  Looking back now, that was a window out of my dark world and into an opportunity that helped create my ambitious spirit.  We become what we see around us.  I was influenced by more than just the images I saw on TV, but by amazing people who used their gifts to love and lead me.

An aunt that I grew up around always expected excellence from me.  My aunt spoke to me in a way that helped me to see the greatness in myself.  I always felt like she was my personal guardian angel, but she used her gifts to support and encourage her friends, family, and students .  Being around her always made me strive for more, despite anything that I was going through at the time.  The seeds of success had been planted by family and teachers throughout my life, but while I was in high school my aunt tilled and cultivated my intellectual, emotional, and social garden.  She did not allow me to make excuses or pity myself.  She helped me to see the lessons in my negatives and taught me how to use them as positives in my future.  She allowed me to speak freely, but did not allow me to retain that bitterness and anger that permeated my soul at times.

These important moments in my life taught me that no matter what others said I would or would not be, what others assumed I could or could not achieve, or whatever things I did not have were not determinative of my success.  When I went off to college, I did not have anyone pushing me to be the best.  The first semester I coasted through and ended up with mediocre grades.  I had to refocus myself, decide if college was where I wanted to be, and step up to the plate to prove to MYSELF that I belonged at Howard.  There were so many times when I wanted to give up, but I had to remind myself that I was built to win and the end result would be worth the sacrifice.

Many times we allow others to set expectations for us.  We live up to the standards that are set by those around us.  If the expectations are high and we do not achieve it or if the expectations are low and we exceed them, our success or failures could become a stumbling block to getting to our true purpose.  If you want the most out of life, YOU have to expect more out of yourself and follow your heart, not just simply achieving what others want for you.  People may see you working hard and admire you, but you know if you need to put in more work to get to the next level.  Outsiders may exalt you for what you have done, but you have to remain focused on where it is that you want to end up.  People may laugh at your failures and remind you of where you said you would be, but only bitter people measure your failures against their standard of success. Remain driven, passionate, and ambitious to not lose sight of your dreams.

Expect greatness from yourself.  Walk in excellence.  Speak positively.  Teach willingly.  Live in humility.  Give your all to everything that matters to you most.

Set your own expectations.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

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Tunnel Vision: Preparing for the Darkness

I am constantly discussing being prepared because preparation is the only way to live and learn through your life experiences.  When you are prepared for what is to come, good or bad, you are able to take those lessons and apply them in future situations. Those lessons build upon the layers of your foundation and pushes you up the ladder of success. You may not make the same mistake twice if you can live, learn, and not go through the same cycle over and over again.  Everyone is quick to prepare you for success, but very few people are willing to discuss the long hard road to success and the many failures that may come along the way.

Successful people are so quick to bask in the glory of the moment, that we fail to expose the anguish, steps, and missteps we took to get there.  Many people fail because they want what others have, but can’t handle the heat that comes with getting to the glory. People assume that you have been given more, know more, or are just plain lucky. People want to believe that you are one in a million instead of one who fought to get ahead of the million.

I have made the mistake of believing that others were more successful than I was because they had both of their parents in the home, they were able to go home after college and save, or because they didn’t have to struggle like I did. I had to stop making assumptions and appreciate my own path to success. No matter how someone got to where they are, their circumstances wouldn’t get me where I need to be. I stopped focusing on others and focused on myself. I centered myself and put my goals ahead of me. My focus was towards the light and I thought I was prepared. I had tunnel vision, but I did not realize that the trek to the light would be so dark and full of unforseen ups and downs.

We understand we have to start somewhere and we can visualize our final destination, but no one wants to go through the dark tunnel. We do not want to go through the process. We just want to arrive at the light. We don’t know how long the tunnel is and many times we turn around and go backwards because the light seems too far away.

We start the journey with people who believe in us but the pressure of the process forces some to let go and we have to go through some of the toughest parts alone. When you have friends or family who continue with you even in the darkness, you have to honor and applaud them for their faith and strength. Everyone can’t survive the tunnel and you have to accept that at the beginning or you will waste time pulling people to a place they don’t belong.

The honest truth is that everything that is worth having is obtained through a process that is not comfortable. Furthering your education, changing jobs, changing careers, starting a family, starting a business, moving to a new city, and enhancing your life experiences comes with its own set of challenges. Once you lock your eyes on the prize and decide that nothing matters more than that 1 thing, prepare yourself mentally, physically, and spiritually for the road ahead.

Become in tune with yourself so that you can trust your gut and believe that the decisions you are making are productive and will lead to your end goal. Pray and meditate to help push out the noise that comes at every stage. Explain to your support system your plans and prepare them for the potential challenges. Learn to be okay with not being okay and have a plan to get the necessary help through those moments.

The tunnel is dark and at points can be lonely. Stay focused. Stay encouraged. Run to the light.

Be you. Do you. Tell your own story. On your own terms.

Redefining My Relationship With Religion

I have been very vocal about my disappointment and craggy relationship with religion and the concept of church over the past few years.  My generation is one of the first to take organized religion and church off of a pedestal and examine the structure and concept against what it has always stood for.    Many of us are struggling to reconcile the idealism that we grew up believing and the realization discovered from the critical analysis of an institution that has done so much damage to so many people.  This struggle has caused many within my generation to detach from religion, church, or any type of organized thinking that may be oppressive or controlling.  This generation refuses to simply accept the church for all of its good without discussing all of the bad.

Although I felt like I had found my dream church, I decided that I was not ready to be apart of that congregation because I needed to redefine my relationship with religion, or I would eventually be let down again.  So I stopped attending church and started working on my relationship with God.  I have always had a strong relationship with God and I learned to pray very early on in life.  I pray often, I pray hard, and I pray for myself, my family and many others.  I have read the Bible from front to back and have a good handle of the well used verses that preachers use to engage his/her parishioners with on a Sunday morning.  Despite all of this, I could not understand why I struggled with the things that were being yelled from the pulpit and the things that God was laying on my heart.  This is where my relationship needed more definition.

I have discussed this struggle with a few friends and received many different reactions and commentary.  I have a few friends who are just like me and would rather stay away because church is “not what it used to be.”  I have a few friends who are still into church and are able to separate those expectations from their relationship with that church.  Then there are the friends who go for the good and leave the bad right where it needs to be, with the person who brought that mess in.  I tried to decide if I was okay with being away from church forever and raising my son as a spiritualist or become more like one of the last two examples of friends I discussed.  This is what I have been contemplating gently over the past few months and strongly over the past few weeks.

I do not know how to become apart of something, yet be detached enough to not allow any mess within the church to bother me.  I do not know how to appreciate the good things of a church and leave the bad with the person that brought it to the table.  But my lesson was God saying that He wanted me to be myself and myself only.  If my desire is to be emotionally involved with a church, then that should be how I engage and involve myself in that ministry. But before he allowed my heart to desire being in fellowship in that environment, I had more redefinition of my relationship with religion and my relationship to go.

Growing up in a very religious household with my grandparents, my life revolved around church.  Everything we did and everywhere we went centered around what was going on at church.  All of my close friends were in church and we did everything together.  Church was our life.  Religion filled our ears and heads with rules to abide by and consequences that would follow if any of these rules were broken. Most of the consequences ended in going to hell, simply put.  So we did not pierce our ears, celebrate pagan holidays, wear pants to church, not wear stockings when wearing a dress, cut our hair, sit on the front row with our legs uncovered or any of the other rules that dominated our sect of Pentecostalism.  Now that I am free from the bondage of expectation, I realize that these words were a way to create normalcy but the issue was the attitude that came against anyone who violated these rules.

I look back at how my grandfather operated and I do not feel as if he was preaching condemnation but simply setting a standard.  Although I was young, I would listen to the sermons and try to comprehend what was being said.  I helped him with his sermons after he lost his sight and even heard one recently and yearned for his wisdom.  But many of the things that went on in that church while my grandfather pastored that church and even after he got sick and later passed, I learned of as an adult and that is what broke my spirit.  I was so angry that my eyes began to see many of the other terrible things that were going on in churches around the country.

I began to ask questions about other preachers in the pulpit like, “How can a man preach in the pulpit when he cheated on his wife?” or “How can a woman be condemned for having a baby out-of-wedlock but not a man?” or “What is so wrong about wearing earrings when people spend hundreds on gaudy suits and hats” or “How in the world is everyone going to hell if we all sin and fall short of the glory, yet only certain sinners are definitely going to hell?”  These questions plus so many more had me torn because I saw the church and the leaders within the church as ones who lived by the word of God.  I saw the church as a safe place and not one in which people were raped or molested.  I saw the church as a place that built people up, not tore them down for every mistake that they may have made.  I saw the church as a Supreme Being and not one created by man.  That is where I was getting it wrong. 

God revealed to me that the Church is just a body of believers who are trying to hear my voice and follow my word.  The Church is a place to worship and lay your burdens at the altar but also a place to learn from your mistakes.  The Church is a place where you replenish your soul through the word, fellowship, and service.  The Church is greater than anything one man could destroy alone by his acts, words, or sin.  Within these revelations I began to see for myself that I allowed others to make me believe that the church was equal to God.  That I wrongly believed that the Church was the only way to get to God even though I knew I knew him for myself and had a strong relationship with God outside of church.

I know that if something is for you, it is for you and you alone, but if you are not prepared to receive it or use it for the right purposes, that individualized blessing will pass you and be given to someone else.  Missed opportunities.  And NOW for me going to church is simply an opportunity to affirm what God has already spoken to me.  It is not the only opportunity, but one that is organized and built around this convoluted concept of religion.  The purity of my relationship does not depend on the purity of the leadership of a church.  But when I feel that I am not being fed, God’s word is not being affirmed, or I am too distracted by the darkness of a church leadership then that is not the place for me to worship.

Church is simply an opportunity.  If you do not seize the opportunity to fellowship, it does not mean that you do not know God, that you are any less of a Christian (insert any religion), or that you are missing out on what God has for you.  What is for you, is for you and God will get it to you through a pastor, a friend, an article, a song or by any means necessary.  That is how He works.  I have chosen to not be apart of any structure that does not build me up or support my current relationship with God.  I have chosen to take opportunities to affirm what God has already placed on my mind and heart.  I have chosen to be myself and when I can no longer be myself in that ministry, to search for another place of worship.

I know that God has a calling on my life.  I do not think it is to stand in a pulpit and preach a word but I know that it is to spread His word.  I understand that no matter how far I run from religion or church that I cannot run from God.  I believe that this generation will get back to the relationship and stray from the religion.  I want my son to experience the love and support of a church community that I have received over the years.  I promise to protect him from the evil within and to answer the questions that stir up some sort of doubt in his mind about what has been said to him from a religious leader or teacher.  I vow to approach this church thing differently so that no man can disappoint me and push me away from something I love.  I love to fellowship.  I love to worship.  I love to praise.  I am a church lady (as my friend often reminds me) and I can be that person without being caught up in who is delivering the word and more invested in what is being delivered through the word.

I am going to continue redefining my relationship with religion until I settle in a place where I am on a solid rock.  This is literally the beginning of a series of posts about my own struggles with my faith and reconciliation with what I have been taught and what I have learned or believe is truth.  I know many people won’t understand this post or agree and I can accept that, but for those who know that there has to be a change in the way we connect with those in this generation that seek God then I welcome your comments and opinions.

I will never stop walking this walk.  Who helps guide my walk may change but where I am going will not.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.

Nobody Owes You Anything

Nobody owes you anything.  Not your parents, your friends or your loved ones.  No matter how much you have sacrificed, supported or submitted for them, their present or future decisions do not have to benefit you or your dreams.  This premise sounds harsh and unnatural, but it is reality.  Once you are able to separate your success for others support, you realize that with or without them you will still get the job done.

When you go through life with an attitude that you are owed nothing from anyone, you are more likely to give freely to everyone you come in contact with.  If your love is not conditioned on a returned gift, you love, give and engage without limits.  There is a sense of freedom that comes with this spirit and a counter spirit that burdens you to continuously invest and inspire others.

If you wake up thinking that someone owes you something that they will never give, you will lie in wait wasting precious time going through unnecessary turmoil for a promise that you never received.  Your expectations in life will determine your outlook, your connections and how far you will rise.  There is a sense of power that comes with this mind-set.  You aren’t waiting for one person to enrich you, so you are welcoming when others see something in you and support you in ways you could have never predicted.

When your mind and spirit are free from chains that connect you to people who cannot see the dream, you begin to adopt their way of thinking and self-doubt creeps in and takes over.  But when you release the chains from everyone and appreciate the love of support from anyone, you give the key to your success to the universe.  Instead of forcing your way through doors, doors suddenly begin to open for you.  Instead of begging for opportunities, opportunities suddenly show up at your door step.  Instead of waiting for something to happen, you start grinding and putting in the work to make sure you are ready for YOUR moment.

One monkey don’t stop no show.  These aren’t just words but an attitude that allows you to step over, around or go under anyone who is in your way.  Change your mind then you will change your perception.  Change your perception and you will see things that were always there but you were too blind to see.  Your brain sees, but your eyes project.  So when my professor said, “You see and you see,” I understood the second see was going to happen when I changed my mind to see differently.

Life is too short to wait for unfulfilled promises.  If you wait for that promise to be fulfilled, you may miss out on many others that would have helped you to fulfill your mission.  The only person that is holding you up is you.  Be you.  Do you.  Tell your own story.  On your own terms.