Some of my dearest friends and I have agreed to disagree about the angry choices a certain actor made on Hollywood’s biggest night.
What’s also true is that I don’t condone violence; I wish he would have handled it backstage, and I was waiting on him to offer a more direct apology in the aftermath.
But as I often say, we rarely know another person’s full story – including the challenges they may be walking through.
As Will Smith accepted his Oscar I saw what appeared to be shame in celebrating his biggest career achievement amid his biggest career misstep – knowing that his mother (who he seemed upset with for not coming) and his children had witnessed his implosion.
Who knows? Maybe he had to beg Jada to show up and deal with her alopecia-related hair loss on a night when other women’s tresses were flowing.
And who knows what else Will may be dealing with in his family, with his health or within himself?
He still shouldn’t have strode onstage and slapped a colleague.
He did what hurt people often do – hurt other people. And in this case, he hurt himself most of all by taking away from the legacy of “strength in the face of fire” that Venus and Serena entrusted to him.
All that said, and even as I shook my head at it all, I could think of times I wished I had handled situations differently. Can’t we all?
Not condoning his behavior, but also not serving as judge nor jury. (The memes and Twitter comments are pure entertainment and offer enough sentences without mine.)
Will Smith will face his consequences, and as he deals with them privately and publicly, I hope the rest of us can use this as a reminder that at every age and stage, there’s room for growth and room for empathy.
And who walked away with his head held highest for showing restraint? Chris Rock, who I’m sure will be telling jokes about that experience for years to come. Get ready, Will.
Seven years ago I launched an online mentoring program for aspiring writers called Focused Writers (www.focused-writers.com), not knowing that this intimate space for learning about writing and publishing would not only lead to books and blogs being birthed by members, but also to a tribe of mutual support.
When some of the members approached me about writing something together, I finally agreed, and in January 2021 we embarked upon a yearlong Mastermind Class of sorts, with me guiding them through every aspect of publishing – from idea stage to finished book.
Also exciting for us as we release this book just in time for Women’s History Month in March, is our collective agreement to donate 100 percent of the proceeds from sales made from February 22 through March 31 to the YWCA USA.
Back in my reporter days, I covered a range of social issues, including writing stories about women working their way off of welfare, fleeing abusive relationships and learning to advocate for themselves and their children.
I also wrote about the organizations and nonprofits designed to support them, including the YWCA, whose mission is to empower women and eradicate racism.
So when my Focused Writers mentees decided to write a book together, title it On Womanhood, and donate a portion of proceeds from sales, the YWCA USA was a natural choice.
I am a six-year board member of the YWCA Richmond and can vouch firsthand for the staff’s dedication to serving women and children, in a myriad of ways.
Yet, we have chosen to contribute to the YWCA USA because our Focused Writers anthology authors are based around the nation – from Las Vegas to Houston to Savannah to Richmond. And each writer will be reaching out to her local branch, too.
So in addition to buying our short collection and supporting a great cause in the process, also take some time to learn more about the YWCA USA and the YWCA in your local area!
You get to define what success looks and feels like for you – which means you also must decide what will get you from here to there.
Those considered great among us can confirm that their success required (and requires) sacrifice – even when they make it look easy.
So what are you willing to sacrifice in the short term to see that vision or goal become your permanent reality? How will you be a better steward of your purpose or dream?
As I continue to “bake” a new book – and prepare a few surprises for readers friends along the way – it is requiring some sacrifice.
Less TV time and limited hangout time, just for a season. Earlier morning risings. Deeper dwelling in my “writing cave.”
Additional quiet time to reflect, brainstorm and be. (For writers, this is part of the process.)So if you have a writer in your life, grant us some grace if you see us staring off in space or at a blank wall. We’re creating!
And for everyone else moving in your flow, don’t apologize for needing to shut things down for a while. Your results will someday offer clarity on your behalf. Stay the course, and win in your own way.
On this final day of 2021, give in to tradition – take a journey through your mind and review the past 365 days you’ve experienced. Consider grabbing a journal or a notebook to jot down your thoughts and feelings about where you started at the top of this year and how life is going as it comes to a close.
Acknowledge your areas of growth and the seasons you may have pushed through, without taking time to pause or reflect. Bravely confront the areas in which you’ve felt stagnant or stuck, without a clear plan to correct course.
Whatever surfaces as you process, decide to use those memories and reflections for good.
Forgive yourself. Forgive others. Celebrate your successes. Give a nod to your meaningful “baby steps” in the right direction.
Craft a practical plan to keep moving forward, one detail and one goal at a time. Decide in this still-raging pandemic to embrace personal peace, grace and excellence, shedding any habits that in 2021 allowed mediocre or treading water to become your comfort zones.
Be in THOSE moments of year-end reverie long enough to gather the fuel you’ll need to seize THIS moment – the birth of 2022 and the collective clean slate to start anew.
Author Grace Hansen once said: “Don’t be afraid your life will end; be afraid that it will never begin.”
If you’ve been living on the margins – going along to get along – decide to do something different today.
Realize that even during these strange times, when a global pandemic has caused untold grief, stress, isolation and disruption, and when the simultaneously unfolding racial pandemic has led to heartbreak, hope and strain on relationships, you can make choices and create impact that yield some positive, lasting change.
Sometimes you may need to stand alone, be still or do it afraid.
You may find yourself compelled to speak up in some instances, while others will require restraint. In all cases, you can be grateful to be a chosen vessel, for such a time as this.
When you do the best you can with who you are and what you have, you’re telling your life ‘thank you’ and showing gratitude to those who are in the trenches with you. Your Creator appreciates the nod, too, for faith without works is dead.
Gratitude in action is a full circle opportunity to appreciate, and in some way, pay forward the chances we get to breathe, be and do some good.
Nothing can trump my love of being near water, but being in the mountains is a close second.
A recent weekend visit to Carter’s Mountain in Charlottesville didn’t disappoint, and in the days to come, I’ll enjoy some of the fruit of my efforts – handpicked apples that I mostly pulled from trees myself.
The pic below was taken before my bag was full, but I left the mountain with it bulging with some delicious apples and a few gems for life.
For what we choose to fill our bags with can both feed us and fuel us. No one gets the mix right 100 percent of the time – my sweet tooth wins more often than it should. However, just enough filling of goodness, wisdom, love and hope can add weight and substance in our life’s favor.
What will you fill your proverbial bag with today? This week?
I’m throwing in some creative juices for my writing,
some sneakers for the miles I want to walk,
some generosity and fun for myself and my loved ones,
some courage to push past fear and take a few more risks,
some prayer for those who are grieving or angry with the world,
and some kindness and grace for all I encounter.
Be intentional. Make sure you enjoy filling the “bags” you’ll carry along your way.
You’ll be more likely to find them weighed down with blessings and lessons you won’t mind holding onto.
A friend and I have been challenging each other to get things done this fall, and to take baby steps, if necessary.
We check in once a week with a reminder to devote at least 30 minutes that day to our goal.
No matter how busy I am that day, can I fit in at least 30 minutes of creative writing? And can she accomplish an art-related task or project for at least half an hour?
We both are certainly devoting more time throughout the week to our endeavors, but this check-in at the start of each week is a helpful reminder that if we put our minds to it, we can do it.
Encouragement and climbing together matter.
Consider finding yourself a challenge partner – one who won’t stress you out or condemn you on the days you falter – someone whose gentle belief in you will help you believe in your dreams all the more.
You’ve got this – one step, half-hour commitment, or day at a time.
If you are of a certain age, you’re among the many of us who have a September 11, 2001 “Where were you?” story.
Mine involved focusing on things that have long mattered most to me:
striving to be a caring mother
striving to be a courageous storyteller
intentionally using my words to make a difference.
That day was my first day back at work as a newspaper reporter, after a 12-week maternity leave.
I’d placed my infant son in his babysitter’s arms and dropped off my daughter at a nearby preschool, and was settling at my desk just before 8 a.m. in the quiet newsroom.
Suddenly, a photographer ran past me and yelled to turn on the TV – a plane had hit one of the Twin Towers in New York City. Then a friend called to welcome me back and to share that she’d just seen live news reports about the plane crash. Together, we watched as a second plane hit the second tower, and we knew the world had changed.
After reminding myself that both of my kids were in good care, with people who loved them and would keep them safe, I did what journalists do – went right into reporter mode, knowing that I’d have to somehow help make sense of this madness for residents of Central Virginia and beyond.
Within the hour, I was driving down a winding road south of the city to visit a local mosque. Despite growing fears for safety in the wake of the terrorists attacks, the Imam (spiritual leader) trusted me enough to let me inside the building, which was teeming with young children, because it doubled as a daycare and preschool.
There was mayhem. The phones kept ringing with death threats, frightened parents showed up to pick up their children and the Imam sought to keep everyone calm.
I saw fear and hurt in his eyes, both over the tragedy that had occurred in our nation and over the need to defend himself and the Muslims he knew and loved. He requested that I use my news article to remind people that not all Muslims are terrorists and that he, too, was grieving.
On my drive back to the Richmond Times-Dispatch newsroom, the radio waves were eerily silent and my cell phone wouldn’t work. I returned to learn from colleagues about the attack at the Pentagon and the crash of another plane that was believed to be headed to Washington, D.C.
I sat at my desk and wrote about the Imam’s plea for people to look past ethnicity and into hearts, and not to harm Americans who looked him or those in his spiritual care because of the hateful and evil acts of others – acts he also denounced.
That conversation with him, and witnessing the distress at the mosque that day, led me to write a year-long series of newspaper columns about people of various faiths – Muslims, Quakers, Sikhs, Buddhists, Christians and more – and to use their personal journeys to educate readers about the principles of each religion, so that perhaps we could really “see” our neighbors, colleagues and strangers and find some common ground.
What my readers (and I ) discovered through my columns is that regardless of the different commandments, laws and practices of the various faiths, the primary mandate of absolutely ALL of them is to LOVE, and to use love as a guide to honor God, live peaceably with others and flow positively through this world.
Sometimes love must be giving.
Sometimes love must be sacrificial.
Sometimes love sets boundaries.
All of the time love can heal and produce hope.
This isn’t as easy at it sounds, of course, which is why people of faith are always “practicing” their faith. But leading with love never fails and never goes out of style.
Twenty years later, as we remember this significant and painful day of loss and fear, may we also remember the love that followed in the aftermath. And may we continue striving to look past what we see on the surface and give others’ hearts a chance, while having the courage to share our own.
On this Labor Day, may we find some time to pause, breathe, reflect and reset.
In doing so, perhaps we can lean into what we love about having the opportunity to work and the opportunity to live with purpose.
Regardless of whether our life’s purpose intersects with our day-to-day work, I imagine that one feeds off of the other – with our job providing the resources and space we need to execute our life’s calling, and our calling being shored up and reflected in the formal work we do consistently.
So today, my challenge to you is to be grateful for your opportunities to live, work and be.
In doing so, you contribute to your own wellbeing and that of your loved ones, while in many instances also fostering greater good in the world around us.
Whatever kind of work you do, it matters, especially during a pandemic that has significantly altered over the past two years what formal work looks and feels like, and perhaps has led you to set aside your hopes and dreams.
Today, pick them back up.
Consider what pushes you forward even when you’re tired,
what wakes you up before the alarm sounds,
what brings you joy, in season and out.
That thing called purpose won’t be fickle, and when you recognize it and honor it, neither will you.
Do the work to discover the work you were born to do, then give it your all. And even if you’re in a season of retirement or between formal jobs, explore and discover how this new phase or next chapter still can be deeply meaningful.