Awareness of Self: The Death of My Ego

mind-sticky-notesMost of the time my brain feels like it’s a room covered in thousands of post-it notes filled with my thoughts. I’ve started to increase my awareness of the words written on those sticky notes and how they negatively impact my daily thoughts.

Okay, that sounded very philosophical. Let me break it down for you….

How It Started:

So there was this guy (yeah matters of the heart can always enlighten you) who I dated briefly. Having a keen sense of the type of guy that fits my personality and vision of life, I realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t my type. Nevertheless, I carried on ignoring the voice in my head that told me he wasn’t the one. The voice in my head told me that he checked all of my boxes and I was simply being my typical selective self. Despite the rational side of me trying to convince myself that he was a perfectly suitable guy, I just couldn’t feel the chemistry. Needless to say, my interactions with said guy unraveled and I was left feeling somewhat saddened, while my friends looked at me in complete confusion knowing what I failed to acknowledge until that point—I never liked the guy in the first place. but, how was I unable to see in myself what my friends were easily able to recognize? If you ask some of my friends, I just need to start smoking weed and be more chill.  Since that isn’t happening I searched for a more lasting solution, which I’ll expound on in a second. But first, let me explain further how my mind works.

The rational and academic side of my brain recognizes how blessed I am and how “accomplished” I appear to be by most standards. Yet, oftentimes I silently struggle with knowing what I think I need to feel happy, worthwhile and fulfilled. Sometimes, I think it’s having a successful career that feeds my passion, and other times I think it’s acquiring more wealth. Then there are moments when the need manifests itself in believing that my happiness and fulfillment will be achieved once I am married with children—until I speak to my friends who are married with kids. Although logically, I know that these desires will likely not cause me to reach the apex of happiness, it doesn’t stop the needs from creeping into my mind and lodging itself onto a permanent sticky note. This misperception was what precluded me from accepting that this guy was simply neither what I needed nor wanted.

So I decided to dig a little deeper. What was causing my unsettling feelings of dissatisfaction and uncertainty? I took the time to go into my head and consciously observe my daily thoughts. I focused on the sentences that replay in my mind while feeding my consciousness about who I am, what I want and how I approach the world. These were the subliminal reflections that penetrated my mind but were oftentimes not verbalized. I quickly realized that these thoughts were distinct from who I outwardly believed myself to be.

I perceive myself as a confident, self-assured woman; a person who not only knows what she wants out of life, but is well on her way to accomplishing it. I am smart, talented and sociable…I am blessed. So what is the problem? Why were my subconscious thoughts not always reflecting the Superwoman I felt I projected to the world? How could I rewire my mind to align itself with my outward beliefs?

The Realization:

I was determined to find the root of the problem. And after some reflection, I landed on three distinct letters that summed it up: E-G-O.

Our ego doesn’t only cause us to have an inflated sense of self. It can also cause us to create positive and negative mental distortions. Our emotions such as sadness, fear, anger, anxiety impatience and frustrations stem from our egos (I’m not that brilliant, this fact came from an Eckhart Tolle book I read).  I started to notice that my Ego (it’s capitalize because it has a life of its own) manifested itself in almost all of my thoughts. For example, sometimes I think exclusively about my shortcomings and overlook my positive qualities; this is a negative distortion caused by my Ego. Other times I disregard positive facts when they don’t align with my negative thought. For instance, when someone pays me a compliment—while I thank the person, I think to myself that he is only saying it to spit game. Or when I blame myself for something going wrong and ruminate on what I could have done better, while never fully recognizing that the real shortcoming was in the other person–like the guy I mentioned above.

So I finally recognize what needed to be done. It was time to rewrite some of those sticky notes in my head! But first I had to learn to separate my Ego from my true self.

Goodbye Ego:

I’m not going to profess that I have overcome the challenge of clearing the negative sticky notes from my mind, but at the very least, I am learning the importance of standing in my truth. I am becoming more cognizant of my feelings because most of them stem from my Ego, which is the driving force behind most of my perceptions.  It’s still a work in progress, and I haven’t conquered it, but I know that I am in complete control of my thoughts. Therefore, I am now able to decipher when my Ego is playing a role in how I am feeling at any given moment. 

So the feeling of sadness for said guy lasted very briefly when I thought about why I was sad.  It wasn’t because I actually liked him; my sadness was really driven by a deeper fear of being alone.  When I acknowledged that truth, I was able to rewire that distorted sticky note in my head and momentarily kill the Ego.  I am not alone. I have an amazing support system of special people in my life.  Therefore, the notion of loneliness was merely a negative distortion and not my reality. 

My Ego also tried to emerge one day while teaching a law school class. During the beginning of my lecture, the 30 blank faces staring at me caused my mind to start racing.  It was as if I was speaking to them in Arabic or some other foreign language they didn’t understand.  My (Ego’s) immediate thought was, this is my fault, I made this lecture too complicated for them.  I quickly retracted the distorted thought, took a deep breath and asked, “why am I seeing blank faces?”  A student quickly responded that the syllabus had stated that I was covering a different topic that day.  Crisis averted and Ego eliminated—my lecture wasn’t the problem! 

Lesson:

What I’ve learned from killing my Ego is your thoughts are way more powerful than what we verbalize.  They are like post-it notes permanently stuck to your mind.  When we allow our ego to manipulate and distort our thoughts, we give life to things unnecessarily.  Saying farewell to my Ego has been difficult–it was such an integral part of who I was.  It initially left me wondering how to fill its void.  But as I’ve cleared some of the distorted post-it notes from my mind, I’ve  acquired a sense of peace and comfort in learning who I really am and I’ve learned to stop taking myself and life so seriously. 

 

 

 

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Lawyers: Choose Your Clients Wisely

Before I delve into this topic, click here to listen to the clip of Senator Tom Harkin D-Iowa as he so eloquently voices to his fellow senators, a concern that should raise the eyebrows of all attorneys.

I often tell people there is nothing to really admire about lawyers–we come a dime a dozen.  You can find some of us chasing behind the ambulance that is taking your sick relative to the hospital, or convincing you to pay us for something that you could probably do yourself with basic reading comprehension skills and attention to detail.  But in reality, I love the practice of law! Being a lawyer is one of the most admirable professions despite the bad reputation that often accompanies us.  In order to practice law, an attorney must sit for and pass the bar exam (one of the most grueling tests that one will ever take in one’s entire academic life) of his respective state; an attorney is then sworn in to the bar and takes an oath that starts off similar to this:  “I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the State of …”  The most admirable lawyers are those who spend their time upholding our Sixth Amendment Constitutional rights by serving as counsel to indigent people who are accused of criminal offenses.

Debo AdegbileMany lawyers accept pro bono cases because we believe in the importance of providing our expertise to those who need it most.  As such, I am appalled at the Senate’s recent rejection of President Obama’s nomination of Debo Adegbile to lead the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.  Their rejection of Mr. Adegbile is a subtle promulgation that attorneys should be mindful of who they choose as a client.  Before I go any further, let me provide a brief description of  Debo Adegbile. He was born to an Irish immigrant mother, who raised him as a single parent, and a Nigerian father.  After attending NYU law school he went on to work for one of the most prestigious law firms in the country. Seven years later, he left the firm to join the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.  As the litigation director, Mr. Adegbile participated in the preparation of a legal brief filed on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, a journalist and convicted cop killer, which led to the reduction of Mr. Abu-Jamal’s sentence from death to life imprisonment. As stated by Dhalia Lithwick, “the historic mandate of the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund—was to help ensure that the American criminal justice system, and especially the death penalty, is administered fairly and constitutionally. As a representative of an organization that is institutionally dedicated to ensuring that justice is administered fairly, [Adegbile] fought for fairness and…judges agreed that unfairness occurred.”  It is without a doubt that Debo Adegbile is one of the leading civil rights attorneys in the United States and was unquestionably very well suited to be at the helm of the civil rights division of the DOJ.

I am not going to debate whether the conviction of and appeals for Mr. Abu-Jamal are justified because it doesn’t change the fact that he deserves to be represented by counsel.  Our system was created to protect not only the innocent but those who are guilty, to ensure due process for ALL.  So much so that if your client tells you that he is guilty of a crime, you are still obligated to provide him with adequate representation.  However, I can’t help but wonder what if Mr. Adegbile wasn’t a black man defending Mr. Abu-Jamal? Actually, there is no need to wonder because Chief Justice Roberts once defended an unrepentant mass murderer who was recently executed. Yet, Chief Justice Roberts was never questioned, yet alone denied confirmation by the Senate. Nevertheless, Mr. Adegbile’s defense of Mr. Abu-Jamal caused the Senate to indirectly proclaim that Mr. Adegbile was guilty by association.  This Senate vote, and the power of police officers to influence politicians, speaks volumes and should be troubling for every single person in this country. The behavior of police officers has always been questionable as it relates to the black community.  With Mr. Adegbile at the helm of the DOJ Civil Rights Division, the community was certain to have a leader who is especially conscious of civil rights violations against the black community.  More importantly, any person who is ever accused of a heinous, high-profile crime should be concerned that some of the best attorneys in the country may shy away from defending their case.  The life of the accused may end up in the hands of ambulance chasers and attorneys with mediocre litigation skills.

The U.S. Senate has blocked more Obama nominees than all other presidents combined; but the most recent rejection of the President’s nomination of Debo Adegbile should send a chilling message to lawyers throughout the country to choose their clients wisely.

South Africa Adventures–The Art of Negotiating and Robben Island

After a long and relaxing day on the beach, we realized we only had a few more days left in Cape Town and hadn’t done much shopping.  Therefore, we woke up early and headed over to Green Market Square to haggle with vendors.  I didn’t bring my camera to take any pictures because we could not appear to be tourists.  But it didn’t matter because mom was a walking “I have money” target.  I tried to give her a few phrases that she could use so that she did not have to be a dead giveaway that she was American.  I told her should could say sawubona (hello) and unjani (how are you) which is the isiZulu greeting.  After that, nothing else should be said until negotiating the price of an item.  Mom refused to cooperate with me on this.  As we approached the first vendor he greeted us with a deep African accent, “hello mama, hello sista.”  Mom responded with a smile, saying “hello”.  His next question was “where are you from?” Before I could reply, mom quickly interjected “the United States.”  There goes my plan.  I bowed my head an walked away, afraid of what was going to happen next.  A few minutes later I saw him showing mom some artwork.  I hurried over before she pulled out any money and made a greater mistake.  “How much?” I asked. “For you and mama, I give special price,” he replied.  Yeah right, special American price.  Then he quoted her ZAR450. Wait, come again! Did he….huh….yes…I did just say 450 Rand.  “What?!” I responded.  “You want her to pay ZAR450?! Eish man! Cha!”  Cha is “no” in isiZulu.  As we walked away we could hear him saying “come back sistah; what price you want to pay?”  In that moment, mom realized that every price for goods in Green Market Square was negotiable and if she wanted something it was important for them to think we were non-American.  A few minutes later, I walked over to another vendor and was able to negotiate a “local” price of ZAR125 for a similar artwork (this is still overpriced, but not price gouging like the other vendor).

imageAfter haggling and purchasing up a few souvenirs in Green Market Square, we headed back to the waterfront to have lunch and embark on the ferry journey over to Robben Island.  The current was strong so at times the trip felt like a roller coaster ride at sea.  Mom was fascinated to learn about where Nelson Mandela spent the majority of his imprisonment.  Kjotso, a former political prisoner led a portion of our tour.  He described what life was like for many of those who were imprisoned on Robben Island.  The very first time I visited Robben Island, it was a very somber place.  However, this tour seemed like more of a tourist attraction.  There were portions of the prison that visitors could no longer get close to based on orders of the South Africa Minister of Arts and Culture (according to our tour guide).  Due to the holiday season, our tour was three times as large as my previous tour.  Mom and I took pictures and explored the grounds for a while, causing us to miss our ferry back to the waterfront.  As a result, we had to wait for the next ferry.  The driver of the this ferry must have been a speed boat racer because he was speeding through the water causing mom to become fearful.  Mom was practically squeezing the life out of the four-year-old little girl who sat next to her.  Her parents were very friendly and understanding.  We chatted with them briefly–they were from Pretoria (near Johannesburg) and came to Cape Town for holiday.  The mother asked us how our stay in the country had been thus far.  I explained that we were having a great time.  She remarked that she was sure South Africans didn’t know what to make of us.  This was the first person to understand what our experience has been like when interacting with locals.  Most often, mom and I are two of a handful of black people dining in the restaurant (the majority of the wait staff are usually black).  When we frequent areas where there are black locals, we also stand out.  Oftentimes, they  stare at us in bewilderment.  Maybe it’s because we smile and say hello to everyone we see.  Most people we encountered were friendly so standing out didn’t affect us.

On our drive back to the flat after leaving Robben Island, mom asked whether Table Mountain was on our itinerary.  Table Mountain is a prominent Cape Town landmark and a beautiful backdrop to the city.  It is approximately 3,558 feet and as I mentioned in a previous post, mom is deathly afraid of heights.  So I immediately responded by telling her that Table Mountain was not a planned stop.  She insisted that she wanted to overcome her fear of heights so we too a detour and I drove to the mountain.  As we ascended to the base of the mountain from the city (approximately 15 minute drive), mom repeated in a heavier than usual Jamaican accent, “LIST tek yuh time!”  I was barely driving 20 mph on a 60 mph road! there was no way we would make it to the top of the mountain at this rate. Mom’s palms were sweating and the mood in the car became very somber. As we turned into the entry for Table Mountain she started to let out large sighing sounds. We arrived in the parking area. Mom was frozen and did not want to exit the car. “Mom we have to get a ticket for the cable car,” I repeated twice before mom responded. “I can’t do it,” she said. Sigh.. I wasn’t going to force her because if it were up to me, we would not have gone because I know the depth of her fear of heights. I tried to convince her to at least come out of the car and take a picture at the base of the mountain which still provided a great view of the city. Once she refused, I came out to take a picture of the view for her then we slowly made our way down the base of the mountain and back to the flat.

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We had dinner at Baia and that was probably the best dinner I had during our stay.  I tried to keep up with Ace by clearing my plate.  By the time the meal was over I was so stuffed I didn’t feel well for the remainder of the night as I walked around with a belly that appeared to look 5 months pregnant.  We tried to walk it off to no avail.  Looking back, I don’t regret it. 🙂

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What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?

A couple months ago, I decided to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.  Although it was met with much acclaim, it has also faced quite a bit of criticism.  Nevertheless, this book has become my new bible!  As I turned each page, I couldn’t help but think how spot on Sandberg was.  She delicately expressed the difficulties in balancing motherhood and a job, while guiding women to take charge of their careers and closing the leadership gap between men and women.

I think most of the critics of Lean In are women who don’t aspire to become leaders of organizations and cannot fully relate to Sandberg’s seemingly overambitious, type A, superhuman temperament that permeates the words on each page.  Being CEO of one’s household carries its own challenges and is hard work for a woman.  However, Lean In focuses on the struggles of women and mothers who face the challenge of fulfilling the societal characteristics of a good woman/mother/wife while advancing their careers.

I could write on a variety of topics that Sandberg touches on in her book, but I decided to start by deconstructing a portion of the chapter titled “The Leadership Ambition Gap: What Would You Do If You Weren’t Afraid?” In this chapter, Sandberg speaks about the self-fulfilling prophecies that are introduced during childhood and reinforced as we grow up.  Society has become comfortable with seeing one woman at the table in a boardroom, but we have not adjusted to a woman leading the entire board.  It remains an anomaly to not only have a female running a company’s division, but to have a woman as the chief executive.

bossySandberg points out that since more men aim for leadership roles, they are more likely to obtain them.  Although women have progressed since the 50s, societal pressures still cause them to keep an eye on marriage from a young age.  It is not that women are less ambitious than men, it’s just that their aspirations change more dramatically as they grow.  Additionally, cultural messages reinforce the ambition gap between men and women.  Someone recently coined the term “bawse” to characterize a man or woman who seems in control of his or her life/destiny.  But Sandberg notes that when women try to lead they are still labeled as bossy (in a pejorative way, not they way Kelis celebrates it in her track).  And even though some women may say they don’t need to be liked, they only need to be respected at work—that’s a lie.  Almost all women care about being liked especially in the workplace.

It’s time for women to bridge the performance gap!  What would you do if you weren’t afraid?  This is the trillion-dollar question. We’ve all heard someone (or ourselves) say “man I wish I could/did …” Oftentimes for a woman, fear is given as the reason why she hasn’t accomplished a goal.  But what if we weren’t restricted by our fears, what would we do?  The answer doesn’t have to entail bringing world peace or single-handedly ending hunger in developing countries.

cautiont to the wind“Risk taker” is far from a characteristic that is befitting to me.  I recognize the things I would do if I were fearless would require me to live poorly or marry rich.  Nevertheless, if I weren’t afraid, I would pack up and move to South Africa with my doggy; I’d become a legal consultant or study the history of the country and write a book comparing the struggles and current lives of South Africans vis à vis black Americans; I’d focus my practice of law on the truly indigent; I would live in a Spanish speaking country and submerge myself in the culture.  live more and care less.  Bottom line is there are so many things that I would do if I weren’t sometimes frozen from the fear that accomplishing these goals would preclude me from having other important things in my life–like a family.

After finishing Lean In, I will no longer live through my fears!  As Sandberg points out, the world needs more women to aim high, lean in to their careers and run the world because the world needs us to change it.  Women all around the world are counting on us.

“Ask yourself: What would I do if I weren’t afraid?  And then go do it.”

Jay-Z In Georgetown University Classroom

Anyone who knows me is aware that I have an slight infatuation with Jay-Z.  So needless to say, I was over the moon to find out that one of the most prominent professors/authors of modern African-American culture is teaching a class solely dedicated to my boyfriend Jay-Z at my alma mater.  Where was this class when I was in school?  I would have lined up at 7 am in order to take it.  But really, is Jay-Z worthy of having a 75-minute 3 credit college course dedicated solely to him?

As much as I love Jay-Z, I think this class is premature and untenable.  Michael Eric Dyson is known for his ability to be a fantastic wordsmith, but regardless of how one spins this, teaching about Jay-Z’s success, breadth of “work” and  lifestyle is premature.  I recognize this is a sociology class and Professor Dyson apparently wants to focus on pop culture, but what about teaching about the wide aray of hip hop artists who have influenced pop culture  (i.e., Dead Prez, Tribe, Run DMC, Mob Deep, and the list goes on…)?

Of course most students would prefer to take a class discussing Jay-Z versus someone like the iconic Nelson Mandela; but without a doubt, the life of Mandela can provide us with more insight than Jigga.  Of course Mandela is no Jay-Z but he spent  27 years in prison and later became the President of the country who imprisoned him (versus president of a record label) and has been hands down one of the most influential people in the world.

When professors highlight the success of Jay-z to college students then are we saying that going from selling drugs in your community to attaining a corner office by rapping about bi*ches and pushing weight (that’s crack/coke for my non-hip hop readers)  with a sprinkle of consciousness (i.e., Mr. President there’s drugs in our residence tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us) is successful enough to warrant a class about one’s life? That’s one way to make  a college student realize that their $100k education is waste of time.

In a recent Forbes article, Professor Dyson explains his class on Jay-Z: “I wanted to investigate his career as not only a Horatio-Alger-in-blackface, rags-to-riches story, but as a person who, were he alive during the period of ancient Greece, would be regarded as a god in terms of literary and poetic expression.”  Jay-Z has mastered the art of double and triple entendres but, a “god in terms of literary and poetic expression”, a Horatio Alger of our day?—sounds to me like Professor Dyson drank the kool-aid on this one.

If we are lauding Jay-Z in our university classrooms, then how can we tell children in the “hood” that their dreams to become a drug dealer turned rapper are wrong?  Perhaps Professor Dyson believes that this homage to Jay-Z will get him into Jay-Z’s close circle (Professors desire to be cool too), or earn him front row tickets to the upcoming Jay-Z concert in Washington, DC.  Regardless of his intent, Professor Dyson should have chosen someone other than my boyfriend Jay-Z—and that says a lot for anyone who understands my love for Jay-Z.

Change

“Have no fear of change.  Losing something good could be making room for something great!”

Change used to be one of the most crippling actions for me.  The only things  I didn’t mind changing often were my underwear and my hair.  For most children, consistency is key.  Some adults become bored with a monotonous life, but for a long time, I woke up everyday embracing the monotony.  I took comfort in knowing that my day would be the same as the one that came before it.  And with each day, a fear of change grew deeper.

One day Over the course of time, I embraced the notion that losing something good enabled me to make room for something great.  Lack of change was holding me back.  Not wanting to let go of friends who had almost redefined the definition of friend to foe, holding on to relationships that I knew were heading nowhere out of fear of embracing a better one.  The fear that delving into something new may not bring the outcome that I desire.

Today I feel 100 times lighter and  1000 times happier–I embrace the outcome of what change brings!  The seasons change so why shouldn’t you?  Our attitude toward change determines the effect it will have on our lives.  Looking back at who I used to be and who I am today, I’m grateful for all the good and bad changes I have experienced.  

30-Day Challenge

I know it’s been a minute since I penned a blog post, but I’m back!  I have tons of draft topics but never seemed moved enough to finalize and post any of them.  Well, I am ready to embark on the 30-day challenge.  This came to mind when I began to re-read a book authored by J.L. Ford.  I’ll save you the details as to how I obtained his book and got to know him (follow us on twitter and you can view our banter).  In my first read of the book, I thought his quotes were an overly optimistic depiction of life.   As I re-read it during my train rides in the morning, I realized that it helped me to start my day off in a good mood.  I started to ask myself if I followed even one-third of his overly optimistic quotes, how much different could my life be?

With that question, evolved this 30-day challenge.  JLF’s book—Wear Yes on Your Heart includes hundreds of quotes and wise sayings related to life, relationships and love which provide me with a wealth of topics to blog about.  For the next 30 days I will choose one of those quotes and extrapolate on my thoughts on its meaning.

Disclaimer:  I was not involved in the publication of the book, and receive no proceeds from any copies sold–but I suggest picking it up and supporting an African-American author.

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