Sunday, January 5, 2020

I'm Not Toxic. You're Toxic!

I’m just so glad I cut her off. At the end of the day, she was toxic and I can’t have those kinds of people around me if I want to prosper. She only came around when she felt like I could benefit her in some way. But then I took a step back and saw that she was using me. She only wanted success for me in ways that could also benefit her. If I wasn’t making the life decisions she approved of, she would get passive-aggressive and try to manipulate me into doing things her way. How could I have been so naive? I was proud of myself the day I finally found my voice. I told her all the ways she had wronged me and why I couldn’t continue with our friendship. Of course, she argued back and forth about how I misunderstood everything... but toxic is toxic, and that’s that on that. One by one, I cut person after person out of my life for the same reason. It felt good, until one day it dawned on me that I was completely alone. Not even my support system could withstand my season of “cutting folks off”. And there in the silence, I realized the mess I had made while trying to clean up my circle. 

Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers 
In today’s society, the idea of “canceling” people has become widespread. This form of social-shunning often serves to hold people accountable for unacceptable actions or comments they have made. Other times, it can be used to temporarily, or permanently, disrupt someone’s means of income and/or opportunities based on said behavior. On a more personal level, some of the most trendy advice we see on social media pertains to canceling, or cutting off, people in our lives that we consider "toxic". Although it is healthy to remove people from our lives that cause us harm, it is important to consider the gravity of labeling someone toxic, and the ramifications of doing so.

To begin, it must be noted that what one person considers toxic behavior, may not be considered toxic by someone else. For example, while one person may label someone who exhibits controlling behavior as toxic, someone else may classify a person who simply lacks ambition as being toxic for their space. Therefore, given the subjectivity of the word, it is safe to assume that at some point each of us may have been, or will be, considered toxic to someone else. To add to the complexity of the matter, Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines toxic as: adj. containing or being poisonous material especially when capable of causing death or serious debilitation. With this definition in mind, it is easy to ascertain why labeling a person in this way can be extremely stigmatizing and alienating, especially when no context has been given behind the label. If something is truly toxic, it is unable to produce anything good, and it can only result in death or other forms of destruction. Although it may feel accurate at the time, comparing a person to “poisonous material that can cause death” can actually be quite dehumanizing when you are on the receiving end.

Essentially, this mindset of categorizing people as either “toxic” or “not toxic” is unrealistic. It leaves no room for human error, misunderstandings, and ultimately, no room for a person to grow to a place of redemption. In addition, consider how it might feel to be labeled “toxic” for something you did or said when you were going through a traumatic or stressful situation. Would the other person have the right to feel like you caused them harm or were unhealthy for their space at the time? Absolutely! However, should that situation reduce you to being an overall toxic person? Not necessarily, especially if you have committed to learning from it and changing your behavior. In reality, no one is either completely good or completely evil. We all possess positive and negative traits. With that said, when someone labels a person toxic and describes that person to others as such, it usually serves to ostracize that person rather than calling for genuine change.

In addition to ostracizing a person, categorizing someone as toxic and then cutting them off completely can also serve as a cop-out to avoid conflict resolution in some cases. Although no one owes us a chance at redemption if we have wronged them, frequently cutting people off after minor discord, then labeling them toxic, steals away our opportunity to work through conflict using effective communication skills. If it is someone you care about, it can be beneficial for both parties to discuss what happened that was considered toxic, and see if there is a possible solution that works for both people. If not, it is always okay to cut your losses and move on. However, keep in mind that just because you consider someone toxic for the role they played in your personal life, doesn’t mean that everyone else will have a similar experience with them.

All in all, it is important that we are intentional and careful about the labels we place on people. Since we as humans are constantly changing, using definitive labels like toxic can oftentimes do more harm than good in a situation. Instead, it is more beneficial to describe a person’s actions that you did not agree with, rather than reducing them to a label that could follow them for years to come. On the other hand, if you truly feel like someone is unhealthy for you personally, take a moment to define exactly what that means to you. If you believe it is worth talking about, feel free to communicate your feelings with them. In other situations, where you don’t believe a conversation is warranted, be confident in the fact that you don’t owe anyone a second chance or an explanation for cutting them off. However, when this tactic is used repeatedly, in order to avoid conflict or having difficult conversations, it actually stifles your ability to problem solve in social situations and can lead to unintended isolation. So the next time someone does something that causes you harm, try referring to their behavior as being toxic, rather than the totality of their person being classified as such. And if you still feel the need to cut them off… Get to choppin' boo!

All Power And Love To The People, 
Shani 

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Too Much Too Soon

Let me hit him up just one more time. He probably didn’t get my first message. You know phone services be trippin’ nowadays. It’s crazy cuz I just met him a few days ago, but I already feel crazy butterflies. He’s hella fine, super smart, and incredibly mysterious. He has this edge about him that gives off this, I won’t let you in, but you can try, kind of vibe. I’m into it though. I think it’s because I’ve always been attracted to men that present a challenge. I want to be the one they allow to get past their guarded exterior. It does something for my ego to feel like they chose me to be in their heavily protected space. It makes me feel like I’m special and valued. Or so I thought… Now that I think about it, my last few relationships have all started out that way. I always go hard in the beginning stages, just to assure them I’m wifey material. That’s right, dating me comes with home-cooked meals, good morning/goodnight texts, check-ins throughout the day, random gifts, physical affection ect. The problem is, I’ve never experienced anyone doing the same for me in return. So time and time again I’m stuck doing all the heavy lifting in the relationship. On the other hand, I give them the space and support they need to pursue their interests. They move forward confidently in life with the comfort of knowing that, even if they don’t love me for real, I won’t be going anywhere. Then, without fail, they move on and start giving the next woman all the things they found so impossible to give me. Now here I go again, complaining that he’s getting too comfortable… But what else can I expect when I’m the one over here fluffing his pillows? 

Photographer: Jill Taylor
At a time when being “boo’d up” is all the rage, it’s easy to get caught up in trying to find the one. Sometimes this causes us to do a little extra when it comes to winning over the person we have taken an interest in. We assume that if we can just get them to recognize all of our amazing qualities, there is no way they wouldn’t want us to be a part of their future. So we start off at full speed, consistently making our presence known, and hoping they reciprocate the attention. We spend our days daydreaming about them and imagining what our future could be like with them by our side. Then, in just a short amount of time, we begin flooding them with affection in hopes of securing our place in their lives. Although many of these things can be done out of genuine care and concern for the other person, most times, it is done with the intention of eventually having these actions mirrored in some way. However, instead of returning the favor, many people actually get comfortable with the treatment and begin to take it for granted. Over time, the person putting in the majority of the effort begins to feel unappreciated, overlooked, and insecure about where they stand in the relationship. This change in attitude usually leads to more frequent arguments, displays of petty behavior, and sometimes even ghosting. On the bright side, this approach to winning someone over is not the only way. In fact, when people take the getting to know you phase step by step, instead of racing through it, they exponentially decrease their chances of wasting time in a dead-end “situationship”.

One way to avoid this common predicament is to avoid giving too much too soon. Although this concept is highly subjective, an example of this may include making yourself far too available in the beginning stages. Calling, texting, and asking to meet up too often can give off the impression that you have nothing better to do with your life than pine for their attention… undoubtedly a turnoff in most cases. Another example of giving too much too soon can include prematurely sharing about your past traumas and failed relationships, especially if you haven’t had the chance to unpack them and heal. In this way, you are opening up a wound that the person may not be equipt to handle just yet, and may cause them to unintentionally trigger you. Too much too soon can also appear as treating someone you are still getting to know like they are already your life partner (if that's something you desire) with all the perks that come along with that level of commitment. This can lead to feelings of entitlement on their part, allowing them to put in little effort, while still receiving maximum benefits. When this happens, it is easier to internalize the situation as being a reflection of your shortcomings, rather than evidence of differing intentions.

As an alternative to some of these approaches, people are often advised to view dating as a tennis match. Once you hit the ball to your opponent, there isn’t much you can do until they return the ball to your side of the court. In essence, when first getting to know someone, it is important to establish a standard of give and take. In this way, each person understands that there must be an equal exchange of attention and affection in order for the relationship to grow. If one party feels like the other is not giving equally, it is up to them to address it, and perhaps even take a step back if addressing it renders no results.

It is also essential to consider things from the person on the receiving end's point of view.  Being given too much too soon can feel like fast-forwarding a movie until the end, then being asked to give a review of it. There is no way to sift through so much information in such a short amount of time in order to accurately determine the next steps. However, since people fear to have their time wasted, they prefer to give everything up front and hope for the best. Instead, it is helpful to allow people to get to know you a little at a time. It has taken you your whole life to become who you are today, so allow your interest time to understand your intricacies.

The key here is patience. To be clear, patience is not simply waiting, but rather how you respond to waiting. Having patience in love can mean using the time away from your new boo to study, create, engage in self-care, rest, meditate, and whatever else you do to maintain happiness in your life. Then, when it’s time to reconnect, you’ll have plenty of things to update them on that you have accomplished completely outside of them. This independence is often considered highly attractive to people and can make you seem even more intriguing. This idea also serves as a way to keep things balanced, preventing you from giving too much too soon. For example, after you’ve been in contact with your interest, make it a point to accomplish something for yourself before your next interaction. That way, even if things don’t work out between you and the other person, you haven’t lost any time towards pursuing your own success. In the end, it is important to keep in mind that what is meant for you will not pass you. Therefore, taking it slow will only enhance a relationship that was destined to be. On the other hand, taking it slow will help you evaluate each stage more objectively because you are focused on the process rather than the end goal. With this in mind, it is important to remember that you will never be too much for the right person. When it’s right, the pieces will effortlessly fit together, and you will not have to be anyone other than exactly who you are.

With that said, I’d love to hear from you on this one! What do think about the concept of “too much too soon”? Are there ways that giving a lot up front can actually work to your benefit? Let me know what’s up in the comments, and feel free to share this post with your friends and family if you found it helpful <3


All Power And Love To The People,

Shani

Sunday, December 8, 2019

A Legacy

Mr. Davis was one of my favorite patients. He was 87 but boy was he lively. He had been at the elderly home since my first day almost 6 years ago. He often joked about how we “started our sentences here at the same time.” Mr. Davis was always kind. When I would come in to bring him his medicine he would be up and ready for me with a question of the day. I really looked forward to those every morning. They were usually silly questions to make me laugh or ethical dilemmas to make me think. I remember one morning he rang for me. When I got to the room I noticed something different about him. His expression was somber. Barely turning over in his bed to look at me, he muttered, “Nurse Luna, I have a question.” When I asked him what was on his mind, he responded, “Do you think it’s too late for me to go to college?” Surprised at his question, I replied “Umm… No, no I don’t think so. There may be some online classes you could take. Do you have a high school diploma or G.E.D?” Timidly he answered, “I never really made it past 7th grade. I’ve been working my whole life just to survive. And now that I have time to think about it, it bothers me that I never got around to going back to school. I’ve always wanted to be a history teacher. I love showing people how connected the past, present, and future really are. Looking back, I know I did what I had to do, but I feel like I never got a chance to do what I really wanted to.” With great despair, he rolled back over in his bed and faced the wall. I know that age doesn’t define us, but sometimes things take time to develop, time that we are not guaranteed. I’ve always felt like the only thing I couldn’t help my patients heal from was regret.
Photographer: Karen Alfaro
In today's society, many of us find ourselves stuck in what we consider "the rat race". Constantly working to slowly attain more resources and power. Every day we complete the same routine of getting up, getting ready, going to work or school, and coming home to do it all again the following day. Some argue that leisure time is a luxury afforded only to the monetarily wealthy. For others, it feels like creating time for your passions or to engage with your calling on a regular basis, is not realistic. So instead, we allow ourselves to neglect what we want to do in order to do what we feel we must do. There is no in-between, and there can be no compromise. Although this line of reasoning makes sense from a survival standpoint, it may require us to sacrifice something very important. Living in this way can often cause us to forfeit the legacy we could have created in order to elevate those who will come after us in some way. Most times, we get so caught up in the present moment that we forget that our individual lives are also part of a larger humanity. We also fail to realize that had it not been for those who came before us answering their call and leaving behind a legacy, we may not be where we are today. 

To some, especially young people, a legacy is something to be considered later on in life. It can even be seen as something that is developed after you are gone, rather than something you spend your whole life actively creating. Unfortunately, this perspective allows us to take a more passive role in terms of what we will be remembered for. If we believe that we don't have much control over our legacy, we are less likely to do the things we need to in order to shape it. Essentially, we become comfortable with letting life happen to us, rather than navigating through it with intention. Our legacy is created by the summation of things we spend most of our time doing, whether positive or negative. Therefore, one of the most important aspects of shaping the narrative of our legacy is to spend a significant amount of time doing the things that inspire the change we would like to see. When we do so, we experience a level of satisfaction that can only come from tapping into our purpose. This feeling then becomes the driving force behind the conception and actualization of our legacy.

Although it can be difficult, creating a lifestyle in which your legacy is directly connected to your occupation can be an ideal situation. On the other hand, if this is not the case, it is up to us to prioritize what we feel is most important. Even if we do not currently have the resources we need to make the impact we have imagined, taking baby steps toward this is progress. For example, if someone would like their legacy to center around the work they did to decrease world hunger, they may begin by simply feeding one person a day. It doesn't have to be one big extravagant gesture, but rather several small gestures that impact many over time. If someone wants their legacy to be one that exemplifies kindness and compassion, they can begin by encouraging and supporting the people they often come in contact with throughout the week. By consistently doing the things you believe in, your legacy is being cultivated in the present, rather than waiting until you are part of the past. When your intentions are pure, people are able to see that and may decide to align with your mission, consequently assisting in its manifestation. Remember that there is no right or wrong time to consider what you would like your legacy to be. However, the sooner you define it and begin constructing it, the more space you give it to grow and evolve with you throughout your life. In the end, you won't look over your life thinking about all the things you would have, or should have done. Instead, you will be able to look out over the garden you planted. You will be able to witness it blossom as other people continue to water it, making you an eternal part of the landscape of humanity. So what kind of seeds do you intend to plant?


All Power & Love To The People,

Shani



Sunday, December 1, 2019

Family Matters

It didn't even need to go there. That's why I hate going to these family get-togethers. Somebody always has to say something stupid, and of course, I have to call them out on it. I just wanted her to know that constantly "joking" with me about my weight, financial status, and life choices, just wasn't okay anymore. Like girl... just cause you're miserable in your own life doesn't give you permission to take it out on me. Then on top of that, when I get annoyed, everyone wants to talk about "Well, you know how your cousin is!", as if that's the get out of jail free card. Instead, that's the exact problem. I DO know how she is, and I'm old enough now to stop accepting it. If people can't be respectful, family or not, I don't want them in my space, period. And although I know that this is my right, I can't act like the severing of a relationship, with someone who I consider more like a sister, doesn't create a whole different level of pain. Steph was there when I learned how to ride a bike, and when I had my first crush. She was there when I won my first award, and when I crossed the stage to graduate. She's seen me grow and evolve from the beginning. To lose that closeness with someone who I feel knows me best, is absolutely devastating. But to suffer in silence, while she begins to strip away at my self-esteem one snide remark at a time, also feels devastating and unbearable. I shouldn't feel the need to have my full emotional armor on when I'm around my "family".

When it comes to our family members, the relationships we have with them are often deeply rooted, and very impactful on who we become as people later on in life. Our relatives can often be our first friends and the first people we are taught to trust. Over the years, memories are built with them which can help to establish longlasting bonds. Many times, we see our family members at our homes, places of worship, or other places where we feel comfortable and safe. As a result, it is common for people to associate their family members with the feeling of safety and security. Although this is not the case in every situation, the idea that family is supposed to be your support team no matter what, and love you unconditionally, can lead to high expectations and repeated disappointments. Unfortunately, it can also lead to us accepting certain treatment that we would not accept from someone who wasn't related to us.


When relatives do not live up to our expectations of providing love, safety, and support, especially from a young age, we may grow to think that this is an acceptable way to behave towards people we say we love. Some of these behaviors may include speaking in an abusive way, disregarding boundaries, or exhibiting negligence. Whatever the behavior, it can inspire confusion within us about what is acceptable and what is not. In the end, when we enter into other relationships, our perspective on healthy vs. unhealthy interactions can be warped. For example, if a parent gives their child the silent treatment when they are upset with them, rather than communicating the issue, the child may grow up thinking that this is the most effective way to handle conflict. Even more so, if a child grows up being forced to give people in their family a hug, even if a family member makes them uncomfortable, the child may grow to believe that they have no autonomy over their bodies. They may also conclude that physical boundaries are okay to be broken by people who claim to love them. All of these misconceptions can lead to problems when trying to establish healthy relationships with friends and lovers, and will more than likely need to be unpacked in a therapeutic setting.

Regardless of the situation, if we feel that being around certain family members does more harm than good to us, loving them from a distance should be viewed as a viable option. We should not feel obligated to engage with, or tolerate, toxic behavior. To this end, instant reconciliation does not always provide the best solution.  However, oftentimes we let people in our family, who value the appearance of peace over the actual presence of it, convince us to look past certain transgressions.  Because of this, negative emotions can be left to fester, only to resurface in areas of our lives that we least expect.

On the other hand, there are certainly times when remedying the situation is possible and healthy. Nevertheless, in order for this to occur, there must be several factors present. These factors include accountability, active listening, agreeing on expectations, changed perspectives, and changed behavior. To fix the issue, everyone involved must be able to take accountability for the role they played in the initial conflict, or the escalation of it. Keep in mind though, there are times when one party IS solely responsible for a conflict, in which case the other person may be considered a victim. In these cases, the victim does not owe the other person a chance at reconciliation, especially if they feel their boundaries have been irreversibly crossed. But in most cases, each person should be able to figure out how they could have acted differently to obtain an alternative outcome. Just as important, all parties need to agree on/ respect any new boundaries put in place in order to move forward in a healthy way. Most importantly, once agreeing upon what the relationship should now consist of, all parties must be determined enough to behave accordingly. If not, the cycle of dissension will only continue. 

Just like with any relationship, the relationship we have with our family should mirror the way we would like to be treated as a human being in general. If it does not, we should not feel guilty about deciding to distance ourselves from it. Additionally, the time for responding "well that's still your family" in the face of toxicity and disrespect, has long passed. As we progress, we must come to terms with the fact that sometimes growth is born out of difficult conversations. By choosing our own wellbeing over the desire to appease our family, we create an opportunity to connect with them on an authentic level. Family wounds can often hurt the most, but with the right balance of love and accountability, it is possible to bring about healing and wisdom for the future. 


All Power And Love To The People,
Shani

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Relationships Should Never Rewind

I felt so unstable. What I wanted and what was within my reach were two different things. We weren’t doing each other any favors by always keeping one foot in the door. But for some reason, we just couldn’t let it go. Not completely… The tone of his voice brought me comfort and made me feel at home, even when I was across the sea. I sent him postcards from Paris, and wrote letters from Laos, hoping to intrigue him enough to come with me one day. But he never quite got around to it. There were other things he felt deserved his attention instead of me, but the moment I began to visualize myself moving on, his sixth sense would kick in, and he’d come searching for me. Part of me wanted to hide, while the other part tried so hard to be found.


At the end of the day, we couldn’t be together for the same reasons every time. When we tried to deny it, and prove how much we had “changed since the last time”, it always turned out the same. We couldn’t coexist in person, and we were only connected from afar because we knew how to ease each other’s minds. This wasn’t healthy though, and we knew it. We were caught in purgatory until eventually, the situation resolved itself. I received a call from him saying that we couldn’t see each other or communicate at all anymore. Unbeknownst to me, he had met a woman and they had fallen in love. I was devastated and enraged. How could he move on so quickly when we had been together only a few weeks prior? How was it possible for him to find her when we talked every other day? As much as it hurt, I had to take some responsibility in the situation. I knew it was time to let go a long time ago, but I kept fighting. I saw all the signs that said STOP, TURN AROUND, DO NOT PROCEED, but I persisted. In the end, I betrayed my own heart by playing the on-again, off-again game. The scores were final, and I had lost. 

Photographer: Karen Alfaro

As difficult as it may be to admit, many of us have found ourselves in an on-again, off-again relationship at some point. Even if we are not truly content within a relationship, we find comfort in the familiarity of it. We crave the predictability and consistency of certain people, even if it's consistently a struggle to get along. In addition, we often shy away from becoming involved in new situations that require vulnerability, and opening up about who we really are. It becomes increasingly difficult for us to trust new people after each “failed” relationship. Then, when loneliness inevitably hits us, we perceive it to mean that we must still want to be with that person, or that we are still in love. Taking it a step further, we begin to consider what it might mean for us if that person were to truly move on, and never look back. We fear that we might be making the wrong decision, and therefore stick around to provide the chance for things to work out in the end. Although these reactions to breakups are common, it is important to recognize that they are most often rooted in fear. When we succumb to the fear of being alone, we end up temporarily mending our relationships, only to break up again in the future due to irreconcilable differences.

At times, this cycle of breaking up and getting back together can seem natural and even harmless. In reality, however, when we fail to take the appropriate space needed to reflect and heal, we end up doing more harm than good to our present psyche, and the chance at future happiness. When we continue to share intimacy, whether physical or not, with people who we do not anticipate being in our future, we end up losing out on the time and energy it takes to prepare ourselves for the next chapter. Although everyone will have a different healing process, it is hard to make any kind of progress when you are constantly being reminded of what could have been. It is difficult to stand in your decision to move on when you continue to get glimpses of things potentially getting better. But beware, oftentimes these “glimpses” are just that, a momentary view of something you desire, but rarely do they reflect a genuine change. In fact, many people go into panic mode after a breakup, even if they know deep down it was for the best. This feeling of internal panic, rooted in the fear of loss, causes people to try their best to prove that they can make the necessary changes for their partner. This can be anything from a change in attitude, change in interests, or even a change in their schedule in order to be more available to their partner. Nevertheless, if these changes are made to avoid loss, when the threat of losing their partner is no longer there, their motivation to maintain these changes will also disappear. This leads both parties back to square one, considering whether or not it is healthy for them to be together. It is also common for resentment to arise when one party senses the other is not genuine in their performance of “self-development”.

In any case, it is important to keep in mind that there is an alternative to this vicious cycle. This alternative may come in the form of taking space, considering what you want in the present moment and future, and setting the appropriate boundaries to reflect that. Without the opportunity to reflect on ways that we could have done better, it’s easy to assume that it was simply the other person’s fault as to why the relationship didn’t work. This perspective then robs us of the opportunity to develop ourselves in the ways we need to in order to have healthier relationships moving forward. On the other hand, when we don’t make space to reflect, it is easy to gloss over the ways in which we have been harmed in a relationship. Consequently, healing an unidentified wound is always more difficult, if not impossible. Moreover, not taking space from an ex can also prevent the chance of us finding someone we are more compatible with because we don’t have the space for them in our hearts. We are then forced to continue settling for a relationship that is not fulfilling to us, affecting our overall happiness and quality of life.

On the contrary, there are certainly times when reconciliation can lead to a deeper understanding, and a healthier relationship. When both parties have done the work to heal, and adjust their perspectives on their own terms, getting back together can actually be a beautiful thing. When both parties feel like the relationship is worth fighting for, and they display their commitment to it through words AND ACTIONS, it can actually lead to a more fulfilling relationship than ever before. When both people feel that they are still in love, regardless of how much time or space has passed, this is also a good indication that the relationship may be worthy of a second chance. Most importantly, when both parties are able to feel happy and complete on their own, the chance that reconciliation will be successful increases. During the time being taken to reflect, heal, and grow, it is imperative that both parties respect the boundaries set by the other. If not, one person’s desire to reconcile can conflict with the other person’s desire to heal, causing an imbalance and disconnect all over again. Therefore, it is necessary to be patient and considerate during this stage in order to experience the desired outcome.

Regardless of whether or not people get back together, breakups can provide the space to reevaluate where you are going, and what kind of person you want to go with you. They allow us to feel pain and use that pain to initiate positive change in various areas of our lives. In this way, breakups may be considered a gift, when viewed from the right perspective. Our ultimate goal should always be to find happiness and love in ways that don’t require us to compromise our fundamental values or identity. When we prioritize this idea, we are more likely to attract the kind of relationships we desire, and avoid the dreaded on-again, off-again “situationship”.

With that said, I’d love to hear from YOU on this one! What are your thoughts on on-again, off-again relationships? Can they ever work in your favor? What do you think should be the ultimate goal after a breakup? Please comment below with your perspective so we can discuss :)

All Power And Love To The People, 
Shani 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Too Much Time In The Mirror

The first thing I do in the morning is to look in the mirror. I’m curious to see how much prep work I’ll have to do today before I can leave the house. Ugh! It feels like these bags under my eyes have a personal vendetta against me. They literally will not let me be great. And that’s not to mention all these dark spots I have all over my face from acne. No matter how much I moisturize and exfoliate, they’re right there every morning like “We ain’t... go-ing no-where! “(P. Diddy voice). But I guess the most frustrating thing about my face in the morning is the peach fuzz I notice above my lip. I mean, a girl can only pluck so much until it’s just time to buy a lawnmower ... So basically, these are things I simply HAVE to attend to. I don’t want people to get so distracted by my scars that instead of focusing on what I’m saying, they stare blankly at my forehead and then ask me to repeat myself. So instead, I spend at least two hours every morning doing ritual after ritual to make myself feel more presentable to the outside world. I feel the need to remain palatable in order to avoid rejection or people talking about me behind my back. Sure I wish I could spend time in the morning doing yoga, or cooking a nice breakfast, but those things won’t make me feel immediately more confident when I go outside. Those things also can’t help me at that time of the day when I begin to wonder if anyone else is noticing my flaws, or if my disguise is actually working. So every morning, I look in the mirror and begin to physically alter what I see, until I realize that I’m running late for work again. But all in the name of beauty... so...it’s fine.

It has long been understood and accepted that the first thing people notice about a person upon meeting them is their physical appearance. We also know that first impressions are everything and that people often make snap judgments about others based on those initial observations. For this reason, we find it important to be conscientious about how we look, and how we are perceived by others. We strive to present ourselves in a way that makes us feel confident yet palatable. In addition, taking care of one's physical appearance may even be classified as an act of self-love. At the same time, internal conflict may arise when the concern for our physical appearance is derived from the desire to meet the perceived expectations of others. This type of concern can often lead to neglect in other areas of our lives such as our mental, spiritual and emotional wellbeing.

Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers
As a society, we care a lot about what other people think of us. We buy cars we can't afford to impress people we don't like. We buy memberships to the gym just to say we have one, and we buy all types of products from companies that promise to make us more beautiful and attractive. On the surface, it's easy to view our eagerness to blend in as being a byproduct of socialization. However, when taking a closer look at this matter, one could argue that our ultimate motivation, when it comes to our appearance, is not to "fit in" but rather to avoid the rejection that may come from standing out.

When I first moved to Los Angeles in 2017, I remember becoming extremely self-conscious about my skin. Every day, I would be the only woman in my office without makeup on, and over time I began to notice more and more imperfections when I looked in the mirror. Although these "flaws" had been there my whole life and had never bothered me before, I became hypersensitive to them as I began to compare myself to the women who came to work with a fully beat face Monday through Friday. Furthermore, I began to wonder if this whole time people were noticing my imperfections as well and if they were making judgments about me based on them. In order to alleviate these feelings, I decided to start wearing makeup. The first day I wore it, I remember a few people complimenting me on how I looked by asking me where I was going after work and inquiring about "who I was trying to look cute for". This positive reinforcement encouraged me to wear makeup even more often. I felt free. I had finally found a way to camouflage my flaws, and could now focus on other things. And then it happened... I woke up late one day and didn't have time to put on makeup. I remember people coming up to me asking if I was okay, and telling me that I should get some rest because I looked "super tired". I was heartbroken. I hadn't done anything differently that day besides not putting on makeup. To me, this had just confirmed my worst fears. They COULD notice my flaws, and it DID affect the way people interacted with me. At that point, I felt like I would have to wear makeup every single day in order to avoid these unpleasant interactions.

After work, I returned home to cry and reflect on what had happened. That night, I came to some conclusions that would stay with me forever. First, I realized that I wasn't wearing makeup for the "right reasons". I had to accept that I was not in fact "wearing it for myself" like I often told people, because on the days I didn't leave the house, I also didn't apply makeup. I wasn't wearing it because I enjoyed doing it, or because it was an outlet for me to be creative. I was wearing it solely to disguise what I considered to be my flaws. I felt that if I wore makeup, it would make me overall more approachable, and more likely to attract the right people. Second, I realized that the real issue was never about makeup, but more so about my own lack of self-esteem. I was disappointed in myself for getting to a place where I would even consider comparing myself to the people around me. I let my assumptions about what other people wanted me to look like cloud my judgment. Who told me I needed to wear makeup to be beautiful? Who told me that that's what the people around me expected of me? I did. I told myself all of these things, and I paid for these lies with my sanity. What disappointed me the most was realizing that I had begun to neglect the activities that kept me feeling beautiful internally, in exchange for activities centered around my physical appearance. I exchanged prayer time for youtube tutorials on contour, meal prep time for practicing my cat-eye, and journaling time for redoing my eyeshadow over and over again. I knew that the intense sadness I felt, caused by this lack of balance, could only be remedied if I approached things in a different way moving forward. It was time to make some decisions.

From that night on, I decided to prioritize my perception of myself over what I assumed others were thinking about me. I also decided that things in my life didn't have to be one way or the other. It was possible to put effort into my outward appearance without compromising my internal wellbeing. I also decided that, moving forward, I would only wear makeup on special occasions, or for creative projects because that's what made me personally feel most confident. To this day, I feel most fierce when I can walk into a room eyebags saggin', mustache flourishing, pimples gleaming, and STILL captivate the entire space with my beauty, personality, and intellect. And to be clear, this does not mean that people who wear makeup regularly cannot do the same, but instead, it points to the fact that each individual should do whatever makes them feel most confident, safe, and fulfilled. Instead of being preoccupied with hiding my imperfections, I decided to focus on identifying what I found most beautiful about myself. In doing so, I was able to attract an amazing tribe of people who also recognized that beauty, regardless of my perceived flaws.

When we strive to improve ourselves internally as well as externally, we become one step closer to operating as our highest-selves To do this, it is necessary to engage in regular activities geared towards development and balance in each specific area of our lives. It may also prove helpful to conduct frequent self-check-ins in order to ensure that we are experiencing our desired equilibrium within. If we are not, it is important that we have an idea of which thoughts and activities can bring us back to our center when our insecurities arise. If nothing else, remember that you are beautiful. You are capable, and you are loved.

¡Hasta La Victoria Siempre,
Shani

Saturday, November 2, 2019

Stay The Course

The only thing I know for sure is that I want to be a lawyer. There’s nothing I love more than advocating for those in need and sifting through the facts to get to the truth. The only issue is, I don’t really agree with the way our criminal justice system works in this country. I also can’t quite see myself spending hours on end reading through law books for reference. In fact, I’d much rather be in the forest collecting plants that heal different ailments naturally. But that would be kinda hard to explain to my parents who paid for me to attend law school. So I guess I have to go through with it... Right? After all, I don’t want to seem ungrateful for their sacrifices. Or even worse, I don’t want to seem crazy for choosing a path unfamiliar to those around me. I mean, I love the idea of being something as prestigious as a lawyer, but maybe that’s all it is… an idea. My heart beats for something else, something my friends and family wouldn’t understand. So I tuck my passion away and pursue other things. I pursue so many things that everything I touch starts to unravel and fall apart. This isn't what I want. This isn't what I dreamed of. This isn't who I am.   

Choosing a path, and sticking to it until you see it through, is one of the most difficult things to do in life. One reason is that our society makes it easy to become distracted with new information, new offers, and new ways of doing things. In addition, it has become increasingly difficult to resist being swayed one way or another by genius marketing tactics, peer pressure, and the desire to please the people around us. Moreover, when we don’t immediately experience the desired rewards from pursuing a particular path or venture, we begin to doubt whether or not we should have been on this path to begin with. Once this doubt begins to set it, it is easy to conclude that we must change our trajectory in order to avoid failure. However, by dropping out of the race long before the finish line, we do ourselves a disservice by not allowing us to learn and grow from the experience of the race itself. Then, when we do begin the next venture, we are ill-equipped to succeed because we have not mastered the ability to commit, problem solve and persevere in the face of adversity.    


Photographer: Jenny Desrosiers
When it comes to changing your path in life, the most important factor to consider is your true motivation behind making the change. If it is based on your desire to live a life that feels more authentic to you, and therefore genuinely makes you happier, this change should be embraced. For example, if you decide to switch your career because you develop a new interest, and pursuing that interest makes you feel happier and more excited to attend work every day, this can be viewed as a positive shift. This is especially true as opposed to staying in a position you are unhappy with simply to “see it through” until the end. On the other hand, if you decide to switch your career simply because you did not receive a promotion as quickly as you had hoped, this change may not be in alignment with developing the kind of character it takes to be successful in any field. This is because in most cases, people do not become successful overnight. In fact, many of the people we look up to as being great or successful in their endeavors will admit that it took long hours, high-risk decisions, belief without proof, and sticktoitiveness to get them where they are today. All of these characteristics are developed when your long-term motivations outweigh the discomfort caused by temporary challenges. When the immediate follow-up to adversity is completely changing paths, it makes it nearly impossible to progress in any area of your life, leaving you stuck in a position of constant motion, yet no actual progress.   

To combat the distractions and fear of failure, that often cause people to reroute, it is imperative to have a deep understanding of exactly WHY you are on a certain path to begin with. When people are motivated by why they are doing something, rather than how and when their actions will pay off, the chances of success become far greater. Being attached to the idea of helping sick people heal, will serve as a better motivator to finish medical school, than being attached to the idea of making a lot of money. Why? Because there are many things one could do in order to make a large amount of money, and it doesn’t necessarily include mastering a rigorous curriculum about the human body. Therefore, a person who is simply after money is less likely to have the tenacity to complete medical school, and will likely change their path several times as they are introduced to new ways to quickly make money. 

With this in mind, it is essential to remain mindful and intentional about everything we do. Our actions and decisions should bring us closer to the life we have taken the time to imagine for ourselves. By the same token, when we are confronted with challenges, we must remind ourselves of our “WHY”. This gives us the ability to problem solve and persist in order to stay the course, rather than jumping ship mid-journey. Lastly, if we do decide to change paths, we must be careful to consider how this change will bring us closer to our most authentic selves, rather than simply choosing the path of least resistance. 

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  - Galatians 6:9


All Power And Love To The People,

Shani