Writing from and for the Journey

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

I haven’t turned on my creative fiction juices in a while, because although I absolutely love manufacturing interesting characters and breathing life into them, I also have a deep love for nonfiction writing. Over the past year or so, I’ve focused my attention there.

I recently entered my 10th year of penning a parenting column for a daily newspaper in Richmond, Virginia; I launched this inspirational blog a few moths ago, and I occasionally write commentary for the Huffington Post.

Beyond those outlets, my “day job” of serving as Director of Communications for a private school in my community affords me an opportunity to do all kinds of writing – from marketing and advertising copy to social media posts to letters and other messaging that share the “how” and “why” of this school and its mission to produce service-minded leaders who make a difference locally and around the globe. All of this excites me.

And yet….the ideas for a new novel still rise to the surface every now and then, teasing me to consider what my 11th book could and should be. I’m not sure yet when that one will be birthed, but I already have a list of character names, a few potential plot ideas and even a tentative title.

I’m not ready to start writing the first draft because the ideas are still “baking.” I’ll know when the plot is just firm enough to put pen to paper, and then move those handwritten notes to my computer.

In the meantime, I’m doing my writer’s “homework”: Leaning into the gifts and opportunities that come with daily life, enjoying special moments with family and friends, overhearing compelling conversations or intriguing names that might make their way into my story, and taking in the scenery, sights and sounds around me, so that when I need these things most, they are a finger tap away in the notes section of my iPhone, or stored in my mental image bank.

I recently had the pleasure of joining an award-winning children’s author for dinner, and during our conversation, Newberry Medal winner Rita Williams-Garcia announced that she no longer writes under deadline. When the manuscript is ready – however long that may take – she intuitively knows, and she only writes The End at that point.

While many of us scribes may not have that luxury – or be disciplined enough to know the difference between being stuck and accepting that the project is substantive enough to move forward – learning about her method left me thinking that more of us should find the courage (or be extended opportunities) to give our words, ideas and stories the space to grow and mushroom into something fantastically wonderful.

If and when you can, I encourage my fellow writers to let your story marinate; let the words come on their own; let the characters show you who they are in their own time.

Because I’m not on deadline or under contract with a publisher at the moment, this is exactly what I’m doing. I’m also reading some great fiction, and books about the art of writing, along the way.

It’s an unsettling experience in some ways – especially when my readers say they’re ready for another book-  and I hate to keep readers waiting. Yet, in another way, it’s freeing, because I’m allowing the writer journey to unfold before me.

I’m confident that when my new characters are ready to meet the world, they’ll let me know. When they start nudging, I won’t be able to get them out of my head unless I tell their stories! Lol

Until then, I hope you’ll continue reading my current novels, the few fictional short stories I’ll be penning soon, and also my body of nonfiction writing. The mission of all of my work is to enlighten, uplift and inspire. I hope my fictional characters and my intriguing true-to-life subjects do just that for you.

Note: This essay was originally published on the Black Christian Reads blog, in July 2017.

Her Story: How I’ve Redefined Retirement

 “Aha! It’s not about the other side of work…just a continuum of life’s journey.”

By Guest Blogger Iris E. Holliday

In May 2016 I retired from a 27-year fulfilling career of corporate philanthropy and community engagement, and from a work life that had spanned nearly 45 years.

I had been practicing for this significant change for a few years, like a doodler, as the birthdays went by. It became an obsession to see how many words began with “re-” as in the word “retirement.” All said, I amassed over 100! These included re-invent, refresh, reverb, regain and recalibrate. I was struck by their positivity in contrast with the word retirement…as in final, the finale, end, terminus.

The work ethic is strong within me, forged by loving parents – a conscientious father and a precise, efficient and maybe perfectionist mother. So to retire has been alternately exhilarating and excruciating.

While I had a loose plan for my time in this part of my life, I did not have a Gant Chart or dot-by-dot picture.

I have tossed the business cards and replaced them with a Twitter account. I’ve turned once-infrequent business lunches with colleagues who became friends into opportunities for leisurely discourse. The talks are no longer dictated by work etiquette and can be both politics and prose. It’s all on the table. The language can be colorful and candid. After all, I am only representing me!

So what does this new, no phase- or chapter-labeled retirement look like? I still have a stack of curated retirement planning books, articles and listing of websites to review, and I am still pursuing personal goals. Some days it’s like a staycation or sabbatical. Other days, it is an endless quest to cram in as much living and learning into 24 hours as I humanly can.

Many years ago I realized that it is not age that terrorizes me, but the state of irrelevancy. The cure for this is not in a jar of designer wrinkle-reduction cream, but in the endless embrace of knowledge, connecting with people where there is dynamic chemistry, in daily gratitude for family and those whose spirits abide in our hearts, and in our power to empathize and commit to serve others with what God has given us in resources.

This new world is vastly uncharted. It is kind of a “choose your own adventure” era. At this point, I can redefine myself on any terms that I’d like.

Each day is an affirmation of worth and grace, both of which include a rich work life – then and now. There is no “other” side of work, unless I say so. Aging is part of this plane. The relevancy is in my court. And I have hit hard the re-set button as part of my continuum on life’s journey.

Iris Holliday is a third generation Washingtonian (Washington D.C.), a Cruzan (St. Croix) and Hoosier (Indiana), and both a Howard University University Bison and VCU Ram. Her career in public relations spans 35-plus years. Now, retired from Dominion Energy (formerly Dominion Resources), Iris counts philanthropy and government-, media- and community relations in her portfolio. During her career, she advanced the reputations of government entities, corporations and nonprofits, including for the 10th Pan American Games in Indianapolis and as director of corporate philanthropy and community partnerships with Dominion prior to retiring in 2016. Because she lives by the Sufi saying: “Some people go to a beautiful place, others go to make a place beautiful,” community engagement through volunteerism is a key part of her life. In this vein, she was chairperson of the Children’s Museum of Richmond Board of Directors and served on the Community Foundation of Greater Richmond and the Jenkins Foundation Board of Trustees. Currently pursuing a certification in Museum Studies, she is interested in opportunities to knit public relations with the museum field. She recently accepted an internship with the Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia and is assisting with collections management.

Her Story: Thriving at Center Stage

By Guest Blogger Olivia Shaw

Lights…Camera…Tiara!  Now on to photo shoots, couture gown fittings and public appearances. Ah, such is the life of a teenage pageant queen. Right?

Well, yes and no. Most people, when they hear the word pageant just assume that all I need to do to be successful in this type of event is to be able to dress up and look pretty. With further inspection, however, many people would be surprised to discover that the majority of pageants (at least the ones I choose to participate in) are dedicated to promoting leadership skills, developing and cultivating public speaking skills and promoting volunteer service among young girls and women.

Over the past five years, through my participation in the National American Miss pageant system, I have been able to overcome my fear of standing in front of an audience and sharing my thoughts. In addition to refining my public speaking skills, I have gained life skills that will help me be successful when applying to college, as well as when seeking employment.

When I began participating in National American Miss at age 12,  standing on stage introducing myself to a room full of strangers was the last place I wanted to be. Although I sincerely wanted to give the pageant world a try, I was terrified of speaking in front of people. I also was not looking forward to being  interviewed by a panel of judges – another group of strangers that I had to actually sit down with and carry on a conversation with. Five minutes never seemed so long!

Fast forward five years, and I am now confident and excited to be able to formally and professionally introduce myself onstage to a diverse group of strangers.

You see, about two years into this pageant process, my family and I realized that I needed to have a plan if I truly wanted to be successful. I could not just show up onstage or in the interview room and hope that everything would work out positively for me. I decided how I wanted to represent myself and mapped out a strategy to achieve those goals. That, in and of itself, became another benefit of pageant participation.

I worked on my interview skills and I worked to get more comfortable being onstage, introducing myself and speaking in public.  Also, I began to think about the purpose of having an interview, and I realized that it is a time for the judges to get to know you as an individual – a  time to discover what is important to you and to see if you have the characteristics they are looking for as a queen. I started to view competing for a queen title like applying for a job or college admission. Preparing my resume was also a part of the competition that helped me to become more comfortable with presenting myself in a public forum.

Within two years of changing my strategy, my hard work paid off. In 2016 I was named National American Miss Virginia Junior Teen – a title I currently hold.

Being a queen with National American Miss has also helped me to promote my volunteer service platform, Miracles in Motion Dance Group, on a wider scale. Miracles in Motion is a dance company for special needs children and young adults, and working with them gives me joy.

Due to the experience I gained with public speaking and public presentation with National American Miss, I was able to speak at the Miracles in Motion Annual Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser in 2016 to a crowd of close to 600 people! I also received an opportunity to share my community service platform at the national pageant competition last November, and I placed 2nd Runner Up for Volunteer Service in the Junior Teen age division for the nation. Talk about an opportunity to overcome my fear of public speaking!

I am so grateful for all I have gained through my participation in National American Miss. These are skills that will last me a lifetime. I now can truly “go confidently in the direction of my dreams” and live the life I have imagined.

Olivia Shaw, a 17-year-old resident of metro Richmond, Virginia, is the reigning National American Miss Virginia Jr Teen. She will pass her crown on to her successor in July 2017. She loves volunteering with Miracles in Motion Dance Group and looks forward to many years of sharing her love of dance and music with her fellow dancers. You can stay connected with Olivia’s journey  through the following social media sites:                                        Facebook:@NamVAJrTeen2016                                                                                    Snapchat: @livve_kitty22                                                                                    Instagram:@livve_s23    

 

Her Story: If I Could Turn Back Time

By Guest Blogger Vanessa Womack Easter

If someone had told me 35 years ago that I would be living in Richmond, Virginia as a divorced mother of two wonderful adult children, I would have responded, ‘You must have me mixed up with someone else.’ I was not a woman who desired to get married and have children. I wanted to be about getting ahead in business.

At that time, I was living in New York City, working in corporate America and completing my undergrad degree. Nothing could happen fast enough for me. I walked at a quickening pace to keep up with the normal hurried stride of New Yorkers; clung to the chrome, floor-to-ceiling bar of fast-moving subway trains; sought promotions within corporate structures or left when bored or stagnant; partied with beautiful people from SoHo to the Upper West Side. I lived in seven different apartments in all the years I lived there. (Still grieving over the Central Park West apartment!)

When New York was not enough, I moved to the ‘left’ coast – California – to be a field marketing representative.

While living in Sacramento, something happened to me. The best explanation I have is God wanted me to slow down and pay more attention to Him. I became born again in the Lord, started going back to church and became actively involved.

Being far away from family and friends on the East Coast, however, after 18 months in California, I returned to New York City. The lifestyle I left in New York was harder to embrace upon return. Not only that, the cost of living and apartments had begun to escalate. So after a short stint of living in New Jersey, I followed a path to Alexandria, Virginia, where I met my future (now former) husband.

In the brevity that I have left for this column, here is my deep confession: I miss the excitement of the fast pace of my former lifestyle. Being over 60, dealing with normal aging health issues, some boredom and limited funds present daily challenges to be content. Sometimes I ponder (not for too long, however) if I had made different choices somewhere during my early adult life, how would my life be drastically different. Would it be something bigger, better or just different?

Not to despair about what could have been, I relish what could be. I am here because this is where I am supposed to be. Otherwise, I would be somewhere else.

Knowing that I have fewer years ahead of me, I believe there is more purpose for living. Therefore, I will strive each day to find contentment in the Lord.

Vanessa Womack Easter has a diverse background in training and professional development, entrepreneurship, higher education instruction, human resources, nonprofit and leadership development. She is also a writer, having penned the novel Paint the Sky Purple in 2010, and having served as a co-author with other international women’s voices in The Female CEO: Pearls, Passion and Power (August 2014) and Entrepreneurship 101: The NEW Reality of Business Ownership (June 2016). Learn more about Vanessa on her business website, Facebook Group Page and LinkedIn profile.

Her Story: An Obstacle Became My Stepping Stone

By Guest Blogger Lillian Lincoln Lambert

Entrepreneur – A word I didn’t know as a child. Becoming one on the final leg of my career was paradoxical.

Having little interest in college after high school, at the age of 22, I enrolled in Howard University and obtained a bachelor of arts degree. There, a professor became my mentor and convinced me that I was Harvard material. In 1969, I earned my Master of Business Administration and achieved the historical milestone of becoming the first African American woman to receive a Harvard MBA.

With a Harvard MBA, one would think I could write my own ticket. Not so.

Recruiters were not aggressively pursuing me and I was not assertive with them. The four years after graduation, I had five different jobs. The last, as Executive Vice President with a small family-owned business, was challenging and rewarding.

Into my third year, friends started asking me had I ever considered starting my own business. The idea was intriguing. I finally took the leap and filed incorporation papers, but did not quit my job.

Respecting my boss, I decided to tell him my plan so he’d not hear it from someone else. Since I’d be a competitor, this was not welcome news to him. I assured him I would not solicit his clients and he would be a friendly competitor. He accepted my explanation and seemed supportive.

We agreed that I would remain with the company to help recruit and train my replacement. When we both felt things were running smoothly, I’d leave to focus on my venture. I was on cloud nine with the best of both worlds.

Three days later, the bottom fell out. My boss met with me and informed me that his board had convened and decided that I should leave at the end of the week. I was fired! This was devastating.

Married with two small children and accustomed to living on two incomes, a major decision had to be made quickly – find another job or get my newly-established company off the ground? Becoming an entrepreneur was my choice, and I decided to concentrate on government contracts – a market I knew well.

Timing was critical. This was May and the government fiscal year ended September 30, with most contracts issued prior to that date.

I persevered and ​landed my fir​st contract about three weeks before the end of the fiscal year. With that launch, entrepreneurship was my career for the next 25 years – a period during which I grew my company to $20 million in sales and hired 1,200 employees.

Getting fired from that executive position all those years ago turned out to be the first of many obstacles.  Yet, had I not been let go, building my company would have been a part-time effort with a lesser chance of success. What seemed like a disaster at the time was instead a blessing in disguise; and as I have faced other obstacles over the years they, too, have become steps leading me to higher levels of achievement.

“Success is a journey, not a destination.” – Lillian Lincoln Lambert

As the first African American woman to receive a Harvard Business School MBA during the tumultuous 1960s, then becoming a barrier-breaking entrepreneur in the mid 1970s, Lillian Lincoln Lambert is a role model for how to treat obstacles and barriers as opportunities to succeed. Her inspiring journey is detailed in her memoir, The Road to Someplace Better, and she occasionally speaks to corporate and civic audiences about her journey. Lillian is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Harvard Business School Alumni Achievement Award, the Dominion Resources Strong Men, Strong Women Excellence in Leadership Award and the Library of Virginia’s Women in History honor. She is also an inductee of The HistoryMakers, an organization dedicated to preserving African American history. Learn more about Lillian at LillianLincolnLambert.com and visit her on Facebook at facebook.com/lillian.lambert or LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/lillianlambert.

 

 

Her Story: A Caregiver’s Heart

By Guest Blogger Cassandra Savage

Recently I assumed a role I thought no longer fit me, since my two sons are old enough to feed and nurture themselves: I became a caregiver.

According to Family Caregiver Alliance, I am not alone. Approximately 43.5 million people have provided unpaid care to an adult or child in the last 12 months, and about 34.2 million Americans have provided unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older during that same period.

A caregiver, also known as informal caregiver, is a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighboer involved in assisting others with activities of daily living and/or medical tasks. Formal caregivers are paid care providers offering care in one’s home or in a care setting (i.e., daycare, residential facility, or long-term care facility).

I have become my 93-year old mother’s informal caregiver, and I can honestly say, this was never a role I thought I would have to play. I was too busy – I have my job, a teenager at home, my business, my blog, my church responsibilities and my social life.  I was even studying for my securities license.  So how could I fit the role of caregiver into my schedule?

Well, in this season of my life, God had another plan. He spoke to my heart and instructed me to take on this role, and I answered His call. Trust me, when God calls you to do something, He has already laid out the path and equipped you with everything you will need to accomplish it. I am thankful and grateful for my mother’s formal caregiver, Maria, who has supported me tremendously during this transition. She has been my rock.

When God calls you to serve another, it is not about the pain, the hurt feelings or disappointments you may have experienced with this person – it is about Him asking you to put aside all differences to serve Him and do what He has called you to do. As I repeatedly answer the same questions over and over again, due to my mother’s dementia or when she tells me I’m not doing something right, I remind myself that I am doing what God has requested of me.

I want to thank those who have been so supportive during this season of my life. I’m also thankful for God’s reminder in Hebrew’s 6:10: “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them.” (NIV)

As my mother and I begin to settle into our new normal, I have to remember that this is stressful for her as well, due to her having to leave her hometown, where she lived for more than nine decades. Watching her as she enjoys talking to my sons, feeding the dog an excessive amount of dog treats, appreciating my grandson’s visits and eating shortbread Girl Scout cookies, I know I have made the right decision.

Cassandra Savage recently celebrated 33 years of federal government service and holds a master’s degree in Organizational Management. Along with her extensive government career, she possesses a profound passion for serving others. She has struggled with her identity, experienced divorce and balanced a full-time job while single parenting, yet has never allowed these experiences to define her. Her resilience has inspired her to share her life’s journey with others, and two years ago, she founded New Wine Consulting, through which she provides personal development and leadership coaching. Learn more at New Wine Consulting, where a different version of this blog post originally appeared, in February 2017.

Her Story: Freedom from Personalizing and People-Pleasing

By Guest Blogger Gloria Thomas

Gazing up at my business idol, I tremble. If I can’t mutter my question to her, I’ll quit my new sales job, defeated by my inability to withstand rejection, complaints and conflict.

Three reasons led me – a painfully shy, personalizing people-pleaser – to a job in sales: Flexible hours meant more time with my toddler; I hoped the challenges would build my communication confidence, and I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my gregarious grandfather.

DaDa was a lifelong salesman. Even as a boy he sold “Alspaugh’s King of Pain” for his father’s business, based in Burkeville, Virginia. The alcohol base of this snake oil (patent medicine) made it popular during prohibition.

DaDa encouraged me to speak up, connect with people, laugh and take risks. Yet, as the oldest of four siblings, I was a serious, sensitive bookworm. I believed that if I was smart, good and kind I could make everything okay, keep everyone happy and avoid conflict. Then no one would yell or bruise my tender feelings.

It didn’t work that way. Dealing with people baffled me, and sales encounters at my new job weren’t providing easy answers. One day, my call to a prospect who yelled at me before slamming down the phone, left me undone. After sobbing in agony, I went to my manager. “I just can’t do this.”

My manager knew I admired our executive vice president, though I’d never met her. She was coming to Richmond to speak to our regional sales team. I reluctantly promised to hang on for a couple more weeks, until I could ask our trailblazing leader how to prevent angry prospects and hurt feelings. She could help me!

I don’t recall a word of her speech – probably because I was totally focused on asking my question. She sat at my round table in the hotel banquet hall. Yet, shy and intimidated, I didn’t utter a word during lunch.

When she stood to leave, I scurried to the group surrounding her near the door and was the last to approach. “May I ask you a question?” “Sure!”

With a shaky voice I manage to tell the story of what happened with the prospect and asked her, “What did I do wrong?”

She looked puzzled for a moment. Having grown up in Queens, New York she’d NEVER been a personalizing people-pleaser. “You didn’t do ANYTHING wrong. She was just RUDE.”

With that declaration, something shifted in me. My relief brought courage, and a few days later, I called the prospect again. I learned that she couldn’t talk with anyone when I first called because her husband had just walked out on their family.

That experience resulted in a life-changing lesson: When I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing and someone behaves badly, it’s NOT about me. It’s about whatever they’re dealing with. I can empathize through understanding that intellectually – without attaching emotionally.

My communication confidence continued to blossom, and two years later at our annual conference, I gave a speech after my business hero presented me with the award for “Sales Manager of the Year.”

Who knew communication challenges could provoke personal growth?

© 2017 Gloria Thomas, all rights reserved

Gloria Thomas is known as The Communication Wizard. She is the founder and chief communication strategist of Wizard Workforce Development (www.wizardinc.com), a communication consulting, coaching and training company. Her most popular training programs include Communication Lab: Increase Your Interpersonal Effectiveness, Speak on Your Feet Presentation Skills and Diversity & Workplace Communication.