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.

Why Women Matter

By Stacy Hawkins Adams
Today is International Women’s Day, and I salute the women who have helped raise, nurture, mentor and encourage me and others.
From our mothers and grandmothers to
our biological sisters (in my case, three of them, and their friends) to
our teachers and youth program leaders to
women mentors in the workplace to
sister-friends with whom we’ve mutually shared triumphs or tears, and who’ve climbed beside us or pushed us higher –
Thank you all.
It is in honor of you that I write women characters in my novels who stand together through highs and lows, tell each other the truth, love even when it’s hard, and grow together in purpose and grace.
Women who, like you, change the world for better.
Even in the darkest of hours, places or seasons, and even when you don’t realize it, your presence brings life-sustaining hope. Thanks for being the light.

Her Story: The Risks and Rewards of a First Step

By Guest Blogger Belinda Todd

I am an actor. This avocation is not about the paycheck, nor is it about recognition. It is an innate something that makes me want to see the world through characters often different from myself.  It is fulfilling a dream.

However, fear almost made me cancel my first audition. The afternoon appointment was set and I arrived at the theater early. Before I could turn off the engine, the mind chatter began: “Are you crazy! Who do you think you are? You will be laughed at!”

Too nice to be a no-show, the integrity of my word compelled me to open the car door and channel an inner diva. I strolled into the theater like I belonged there.

When the audition was over, I was ecstatic, invigorated! I was finally feeding my interests. The director had said she would get back to me in a few days. Three weeks later I had given up hope of being in this performance. Then the e-mail came, offering me the part of Reba in Before It Hits Home, a play by Cheryl L. West.

The play was well received and my performance was good – not stellar, just good. But I was hooked. I was in a new tribe—a community of talented artists.

Today, my credits include television, stage, commercials, and most recently, film. I am so glad that on that fateful day, I took the first step.

The first step begins the journey to nurturing your goals and developing your talents. The first step takes you outside your comfort zone and into your dreams. The first step is a signal to the universe to prepare the way. If you don’t take the first step, you’ll never know what could be.

You see, I am a black woman over 50. The odds of venturing into new territory were not in my favor. I have watched too many people give up on their dreams at certain mile markers in life, letting age dictate their fate. But I am daily choosing to see life as a glorious adventure.

I don’t know what it takes to liberate your soul, but I do know that until you do, your light will not fully shine. The first step is embracing the vulnerability that exposes who you are on the inside: your beauty, your talent, your capabilities as well as you weaknesses.

Here is the truth: first steps are scary. It is scary to leave comfortable surroundings, routine living and even old friends. I didn’t know if I could memorize scripts or if I would appear too old with a younger generation of actors. But I had to take a risk. I had to risk looking foolish and out-of-place. Even though I risked ridicule, I didn’t risk my faith in a kind and loving God who sees me and always has my back. I have learned that it can be good, oh so good, to risk the first step.

Belinda Todd is a risk-taker. After retiring from a career with the airlines, img_4841Belinda received a master’s degree in theology, became a certified yoga instructor, and is now studying acting. She is also an Adjunct Instructor in the Languages and Literature Department at Virginia State University. She believes her mission is to inspire and empower women to use their gifts and talents to make the earth more loving, more peaceful and more joy-filled.

Literary Love: Writing Changes

By Guest Blogger Sadeqa Johnson

Here’s the honest truth: My biggest challenge as a writer is to keep my butt in the chair, and my computer screen locked on my novel.

I am a chronic email checker. There, I said it. I go to my Gmail inbox often, looking for an excuse to take me away from writing. It’s not right. I know better, but I do it anyway. I use everything as a reason to get out of my chair. The bathroom, a drink of water, a bowl of cereal, a walk out back to check on the weather conditions.

And don’t get me started on social media. My goodness, who’s idea was this electronic second life anyway? I sit with my fingers on the computer keys trying to lose myself in the story, and the next thing I know I’m clicking through Facebook. Lurking through inspirational quotes, participating in questions of the day, and liking those cute first day of school pictures.

I am blessed with three busy children and they are another distraction, even from school. It’s not totally their fault – I’m the Type A mother who starts planning summer camp in January. There is research to be done and it must be done right before I write that character sketch, flashback scene and mother/daughter confrontation.

Oh, and vacation? How I love to be distracted by vacation surfing. Many of which I will never go on, but enjoy looking at the pictures and imagining myself on the lounge chair, in sunglasses sipping a Margarita.

So how do I get anything done? I start by writing all of my ideas in longhand. Even though my once beautiful Catholic school handwriting has turned into chicken scratch, writing in a five-subject notebook keeps me from being distracted by the mighty internet. When I write longhand, there is no stroke of the key that can transport me into the world of the social conversation. It’s just me, my pen and the paper.

Another tactic is what I like to call time and treat. I tell myself, you must sit and write for an hour and then receive a treat of five or ten minutes of surfing freedom.

I’m still a work in progress, but with my third novel coming out in April (And Then There Was Me) and my fourth emerging from my notebook, I’m working hard every day to be disciplined and get it done.

Sadeqa Johnson, a former public relations manager, spent several years working with well-known authors such as JK Rowling, Bebe Moore Campbell, Amy Tan and Bishop TD Jakes before becoming an award-winning author herself. sadeqa-from-family-shootHer novels include Love in a Carry-on BagSecond House From the Corner and the soon-to-be-released And Then There Was Me (April 2017). Sadeqa lives in Virginia with her husband and three children. Learn more about Sadeqa and her work at sadeqajohnson.net.

When Understanding Matters More Than Knowing

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

Experience is a great teacher, but so is empathy. Today, rather than criticize, ridicule or dismiss the people with whom you share space in the world, consider viewing life from their perspective.
Or, if their experiences are so far removed from your own that it’s hard to relate, at the very least practice the Golden Rule – Do unto others as you would have done unto you. mutual_respect_and_understanding
When we’re willing to see past differences into another’s heart, and give others the benefit of doubt rather than assume the worst, we begin to really “see.” That’s what renders understanding versus simply knowing, fosters hope and healing, and enables humanity to rise.

Her Story: The Sliver Linings in Curveballs

By Guest Blogger Dawn McCoy

At the time, it seemed so wrong. It was something that happened to other people. Then it happened to me.

I found myself so blindsided by my company’s sweeping corporate layoff that almost 10 years later, I still cannot recall what was said during the announcement. This was a position I was sure was secure – so much so that I relocated from California to Virginia to oversee a regional office for the organization.

After the layoff, I chose not to move elsewhere or return to California. Instead, I assumed that my college education, leadership positions and 20 years of work experience meant I could readily transition into another top organizational position.

Networking skills and political acumen helped me navigate in the unfamiliar region. However, dead-end interviews and lukewarm job leads ended with closed doors. It was the first time I felt defeated despite my accomplishments. Occasionally I glanced at my diplomas and awards shaking my head in disbelief.

As with other life-changing experiences I’ve gone through, I faced the harsh reality and decided I had to think fast. In this case, that meant reinventing myself and shifting my thinking beyond the expected “climb up the career ladder.”

I began to approach my next steps by thinking beyond checkboxes on a job application. I leveraged my expertise to speak, teach and write, and translated those areas of expertise into a hybrid of part-time work and contract opportunities.

Thankfully, my background in drafting technical user manuals, regulatory policies and corporate compliance requirements paid off. I was able to translate those skills into valuable lectures, life-learning guides and proposals. Networking and strategic thinking also morphed into valuable grant-writing and fundraising opportunities. Who knew!

The same year as the layoff I launched a leadership development and communications firm to empower others with training modules and tools. Looking back, it was the beginning of a new chapter to serve others and at the same time chart a different career path.

Interesting enough, within three years of the layoff, my young son’s special needs and chronic health issues required a more non-traditional work schedule to accommodate his therapies and medical appointments. Not to mention that he had repetitive, unpredictable health problems. Thankfully I was already in a work capacity that nurtured my role as mother of a special needs child.

Had the unfortunate corporate downsizing really manifested into an unforeseen blessing?

The silver lining in my 10-year journey means remembering the layoff as a life-changing event that no longer makes me frown, but cherish even unsavory situations. Turning the corner does not mean that I have lost time or given up a future cushy-corner office. On the contrary, I continuously remind myself to embrace a new paradigm that nurtures my creativity and makes my spirit soar.

Dawn McCoy is a leadership strategist, speaker and the author of Leadership profile-headshotBuilding Blocks. She is also founder of Flourish Leadership Group, LLC, and a senior service facilitator with Moms in Motion, a consumer-directed Medicaid Waiver service facilitation case management provider. Dawn and her son reside in Central Virginia and enjoy the arts. Learn more about Dawn at Flourish Leadership Group (www.flourishleadership.com). You can also connect with her on Facebook at Dawn McCoy Books  and Twitter @dawnmccoy02

The Power of Story Is In Both Art and Words

By Stacy Hawkins Adams

img_4698
“Southern Landscape” by artist Eldzier Cortor. Photo captured by Stacy Hawkins Adams, at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

I had an awesome time this evening at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts participating in the National African American Read-In.
Along with those who gathered for the readings in front of designated pieces of art, I learned the history behind this beautiful painting (see right) by artist Eldzier Cortor (who died at age 99 last year, a short time after the museum interviewed him about this work). The piece was produced in the early 1940s and was owned by famous author Ralph Ellison.

After the museum curator shared details about how and why Cortor rendered this painting, I read two poems  – “Southern Song” and “Sorrow Home ” – to the guests of all ages, backgrounds and hues who had gathered.   The poems were penned by esteemed writer Margaret Walker and related well to the “story” told in Cortor’s art.
As a GRITS (Girl Raised in the (deep) South), I could relate to the images Walker painted with her words, and also to the emotion present in the eyes, posture and gesture of the woman featured in Cortor’s painting.

Both the artist and the writer seem to be grappling with the bittersweet notion of what staying in their beloved south means and what going would mean. There are wins and losses either way.

Do you find yourself at a crossroads sometimes? What is your measure for staying or going, for pushing through the dilemma to consider all options, and making choices that honor the best in you?

Consider telling your own story with a paintbrush or pen, and tell it authentically.  For this is what “freedom of expression” permits, and ultimately, this is what makes both art, and our individual journeys, awe-inspiring to live and watch unfold.