Living in Central America for 8 Weeks: Freedom (Part IV)

Dictionary.com defines freedom as “the power or right to act, speak, or think as one wants without hindrance or restraint.”

Here are a few truths about me:

I am probably the most liberal person you know, politically and non-politically. In general, I believe everyone should do what they want to do. I don’t believe in being reckless, per se, but even if someone decides to be, then I think even that’s their right. My screensaver says, “You do you. I’ll do me.” This is my mantra.

I don’t believe in having “bosses.” I have a couple of friends who call the person directly over me my “boss.” That’s not odd, I suppose. Most people do. But I always reject the term. In my mind, when I work somewhere, I’m in collaboration. You’re probably over me because you or someone else decided you were the best, most efficient person to organize and disseminate information (this is usually the educational hierarchy). We work together, and I have the freedom to agree to do something or decline doing something, with the onus of consequence on me. This is how I’ve operated at my last four jobs.

I am married to a man who doesn’t ask a lot of questions about my whereabouts. If I leave the house and say, “I’ll be back in four hours,” he doesn’t call me every sixty minutes asking me questions…about anything. When I left last year to visit Panama City Beach by myself, we verbally checked in once a day. I could never be with someone who required more; it would seem a bit naggy to me.

In my non-romantic relationships (e.g., family and friends) I function in similar ways. If you want me to call you every day, I’m not the friend for you. If you want me to reach out every Sunday at 2pm just so you can hear my voice, I’m not the right family member for you. I text when I’m thinking about you (sometimes), and if you cannot text, like my ninety-something-year-old grandmother, then I call…like once a month.

Back to living in Central America…

I outlined reasons we left the country, but I also knew I needed to leave for a change of scenery. Dwight chose the perfect Costa Rican Airbnb in the mountains. I’m more of a beach and metropolitan person, but it was refreshing to wake up, cook food, and sleep surrounded by mountains. And although Panamá City is a metropolis that is a lot like other major cities in the States, it’s not North America. It’s like living in a history lesson with people who are stuck in a colonial time capsule.

I needed to see other people and what they were doing. It was interesting to watch how Costa Ricans got to and from work every day. People rode horses; some walked; others biked; many drove motorcycles. It was cool joining the Ticos’ rhythm and abandoning my own. Though hearing roosters at six in the morning was annoying, I grew used to it. It became a part of my surroundings.

I needed to speak with people different than myself. From first through eleventh grades, I learned Spanish. I didn’t think I was as fluent as I am. It turns out that children who learn a language early on store it together with their native language. I’m not saying I can hold a quick-paced conversation with a Panamanian, but I can certainly understand what the Uber driver is saying, who by the way rated my Spanish as “que bien.” It was fun for me to recall words I thought I’d forgotten, but apparently are stuck in my brain somewhere. Speaking with people in another language challenged me in ways it wouldn’t have at home.

Some people are born to be quiet to demonstrate the value of silence; others are meant to be painters as a way to help us see the world differently. I was born with a natural sense of freedom that requires a certain lifestyle, and I think the result is I get to show people how to be free. This trip has reinforced who I know myself to be.



Monday Notes: Parenting from the Heart

When my youngest daughter, Desi was about nine years old, I volunteered to read How the Grinch Stole Christmas to her third-grade class.

That afternoon, I thought her teacher was going to introduce me. She didn’t. Instead, she pointed toward the chair and asked the students to sit “crisscross applesauce” and listen to me.

I sat. I read. I left.

Desi was a bit miffed.

“How come you didn’t say you were my mom?” she asked later that night.

“So, you wanted me to say, ‘Hi everyone! I’m Desi’s moooom?’” I exaggerated.

“Well, not like that. Maybe just tell them in a regular voice.”

Immediately, I knew what happened. It wasn’t just her teacher’s fault that no one knew who I was. It was mine. My oldest daughter, Kesi would’ve never wanted her friends to know I was her mom coming to read to the class. But Desi was different. She always seemed outwardly proud of me and whoever she saw me as. She wanted people to know I was her mom. I should’ve recognized this.

That’s what I think parenting from the heart, a phrase I read on Talking All that Jaz, means. One way to parent from the heart is to see your children for who they are.

It took a long time for me to get that. Even now, sometimes Desi will stop me and say, “I’m not my sister,” and I have to acknowledge that and readjust my conversation with her.

Parenting from the heart also requires not only recognizing your child has a distinct personality, but also allowing them to be their own person with the type of guidance they need, not the type of general guidance found in parenting books or the type of guidance passed down from your great-great grandmother (who didn’t grow up with cellphones and other distractions). I’d also like to add that you can’t be the parent to your child that you needed. You have to be the parent they need. And that requires seeing them for who they are.

For example, Desi is a highly intelligent, free-spirited, eccentric person. Though she was accepted and primed to leave the nest, she decided not to attend college. Dwight and I understood we shouldn’t force her to go and we shouldn’t put the same expectations on her coming-of-age process that were put on us. It’s a different time period and she’s a different person. Instead, she is free to explore her life and determine who she wants to be as an adult, not who we want her to be. Her sister has a similar freedom, but the process looks different. They both know we love them and they have our full support.

Parenting from the heart can be liberating. In my opinion, it’s a softer approach that frees both the parent and the child from outside influences. There seems to be a deeper connection that feels like I see you and I trust you to create your own path, instead of I made you and you should follow this pre-made journey because I’ve been here longer and know what’s best. The latter seems a bit arrogant.

Finally, parenting from the heart requires strength because watching children go left when maybe it was easier to go right can be scary. But I think it’s worth it. I’m no psychologist, but I suspect that people who learn it’s okay to make a so-called mistake when they’re younger, grow to be adults who live fearless lives. Let me know if you have a citation for that.

What do you think it means to parent from the heart, instead of the ego? Let me know in the comments.

And if you’re in the States, Happy (almost) Mother’s Day! May you always have heart-centered interactions with your mother or child ❤

Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (II)

medalPerfectionism also used to dictate how I showed up in personal and work relationships. There was a time when I did things because I wanted to be perceived as the best fill-in-the-blank person. For example, I wanted to be the best co-worker, so I overextended myself, attended meetings that had little value, and was always the first to complete a task. I wanted whatever director or department chair over me to see me as “the best.” Oftentimes, I functioned similarly with family. I wanted to be seen as the person whom everyone could count on, the person who my cousins could call no matter what. So, I visited for holidays even though it wasn’t ideal; I showed up with my family in tow, no matter how it impacted my household. This was due in part to the perfectionist identity I’d unconsciously developed.

But functioning like that bred resentment. There were many times when I would be the “best co-worker” and when it went unnoticed, I took it personally and grew bitter, wondering why no one acknowledged my extra efforts. Or better yet, I’d be mad because someone who’d done less received accolades for minimal activity. When we drove our family out of state year after year, I grew angry. Few family members ever planned holiday visits to my home.

woman standing near body of water

Around 2015, I stopped worrying about being the best co-worker, best family member, best friend, or best anything and started just being the best version of me for me. In action, this simply means that instead I focus on being present and doing the best I can in that moment. I avoid doing things that don’t physically or emotionally feel good or that cause my family or me distress. And the last thing I think about is how the other people to whom the answer is sometimes, “no” may feel.

Functioning this way takes practice and sometimes I lapse. For those times, I pause and become more conscious. For example, the chair of a committee I’m on sent an invite on a Sunday evening for a meeting that began at 5:00 PM on Monday. Not only was the meeting scheduled at the last minute, but it was also 20 minutes farther from where we typically meet, which would add on to my already hour and 45-minute commute. My first thought was to rearrange everything so that I could make the meeting. But then I stopped and asked myself why? Why am I doing this for someone who scheduled a meeting at the last minute? The only reason I would is to appear like the “best co-worker.” It had nothing to do with the value of the agenda. Instead of acquiescing, I simply told her I couldn’t make it. And you know what? The world did not end. I’m not fired. I’m still on the committee, and I saw them the following month.

I hope this isn’t confused with the idea of “doing your best.” No matter what I do, I give 100%. I’m fully present and invested. I’m just no longer concerned with being perceived as the best.

Unlearning Perfectionism Part I

Mental Health Matters: Unlearning Perfectionism (I)

The word perfect used to permeate every aspect of my life. My former best friend believed my hair to be a weave because it was “always so perfect.” I’ve written before about how other friends shut down criticisms of my husband because they perceived him as “Mr. Rogers,” a human symbol of perfection. People believe our marriage to be perfect. While we believe we’re perfect for one another, a flawless union is impossible.

Accusations of my perceived perfection used to anger me, until I began looking closer at myself.

I used to put on lipstick just to take the trash out. I used to think long and hard before I opened my mouth for fear of sounding flawed. One reason I used to make a 360-mile, round-trip drive to a job was to prove I was good enough to be at what’s considered one of the top research universities in Florida. My perfectionist’s status was unconsciously crafted and maintained for decades.

But not anymore.

ae3e2302-12ce-4956-8558-b2d80c8cad6b-856-0000007d11cdc364I didn’t realize it at the time, but one way I ceased portraying perfectionism was when I went natural. Wearing my hair in its natural state helped with accepting myself as is. I had no idea how my hair would look or what I would need to do to maintain it. I literally had to learn to love how I looked every day, because with natural hair, your hair never looks the same two days in a row. I grew accustomed to strangers’ looks. I didn’t know if they were going to praise my hair or stare and remain silent. This helped me accept my whole self, no matter what, releasing an image of perfection.

Another thing that’s been helpful is arriving in public spaces in so-called socially unacceptable ways. I’ve done this at varied levels. Last year, Dwight and I were out of town and headed to have a drink in the hotel lobby. I didn’t feel like changing back into my clothes, so I joined him in my red Valentine’s Day leggings, Western Michigan University alumni sweatshirt, and old, tattered boots. I’m not sure how he felt about how I looked, and I didn’t care. Years ago, I would’ve feared who may see me in such a state, but not now. Now, I couldn’t care less. What does it matter how I show up to have a drink in a hotel lobby?

A third practice that limits perfectionism for me is focusing on myself in the here and now, without comparison. Yoga helps. With yoga, the concept is to do your best that day, which can change from just the day before. This idea allows me to accept myself as is in each moment. Just because I did the bomb pigeon pose last week doesn’t mean it will occur today. Also, I cannot be focused on standing on one leg, while worrying about how high yours is. It…is…impossible. I will surely fall over. I know because I’ve tried. In some ways, this has carried over to my life off the mat. Fall ’17 students may have thought I was the best, but Spring ’18 may not. That’s something I would’ve fretted over in the past. Today, I know it’s okay, as long as I did my best both semesters.

2a209f5d-90f7-4df8-af28-75ee0a59a925-1868-00000102153cd834Another thing that’s helped me accept my less than perfect self is to be intentional about what I’m doing and to focus on the process. Before, I was unconsciously stacking up achievements in an effort to be perfect in my own and everyone else’s eyes. As of 2015 and about 95% of the time, I consciously began choosing experiences aligned with my core being and that will benefit others in some way. While I would like for each outcome to be favorable, I’m no longer tied to the actual product. No matter what my mother tried to teach me, I now realize a perfect/imperfect product does not reflect me. Instead, I’m happy knowing that I began with a positive intention and had fun doing something I enjoyed, which, no matter what, will always turn out well for everyone’s best interest.

So, what say you? Do you have any suggestions for de-perfecting your life? I’d love to hear them.

Behind the Kwote: Today’s Choices

choices_experiences
Kwoted. ©2015. K E Garland All Rights Reserved.

A friend of mine, who is more like a little sister, found herself pregnant with someone who she probably wouldn’t have consciously chosen to father her child. Her mom didn’t understand how it happened. She questioned how her daughter could have gotten pregnant, especially considering all of the twenty-something years of sage advice she’d provided. Her friends were disappointed; many of them had planned out their lives, as some of us do when we’re younger. They’d determined this wasn’t the path hers should take. I listened to each judgment and tried my best not to add my own. While everyone attempted to figure out how this happened, the answer seemed so simple to me: today’s choices determine tomorrow’s experiences.

It wasn’t just true for my friend’s unplanned pregnancy; it was part of my story as well. I was trying to figure out how I ended up with a road trip sized commute to work. The answer was the same. Reaping what you sow isn’t a new concept. But it seems every now and then we wake up wondering how did I get here, in this space, with this experience? The reality is whatever you’re focused on today will build future benefits or future challenges. So, it’s best to get in tune with who you are and what you really want so that you’ll be able to make conscious decisions with which you can live.

Reflections of a Commuter

img_508946,080. That’s how many miles I commuted from Orange Park to Gainesville, where I completed graduate studies at the University of Florida. These miles accumulated over a six-year period.

The drive was do-able back then because it was a little under three hours round trip; I was 31; and I knew it would end. You see, I’ve always believed that you can do anything…temporarily. So, in my mind driving back and forth to complete a degree was definitely a short-term situation. Eventually, I’d graduate.

August 7, 2010, I walked across the stage, and the very next day the girls and I moved to middle-Georgia. I’d obtained a job at a liberal arts college, which was located in Milledgeville. My classes were at a regional center in Macon. However, we lived in Houston County. This county was the best of the surrounding areas. The others were full of failing schools and lacked diversity. My children already had to adjust to a new type of southern culture. I wasn’t about to sacrifice their education as well. But, this meant another two years’ commute.

I-75-interstate-75-highway6,720. That’s how many miles I drove to and from Houston County to the Macon Center and occasionally round trip to Milledgeville for department and program meetings. Because Dwight lived in Jacksonville, there was the bi-weekly commute back there to visit. For my part, that added an extra 9,800 miles.

As ridiculous as this sounds, commuting in this way continued to be manageable because it was my first full-time academic job, so excitement floated me up and down I-75. I was just happy to be making money doing something I’d trained for and loved.

But living away from my husband wasn’t sustainable. So, I attained a job in Florida. Only this time, the commute was 360 miles round trip, door-to-door. I figured my family could stay put, while I drove up and down I-10.

57,600. That’s how many miles I commuted to and from Jacksonville to Tallahassee for three years. This time it was do-able because I was working in my niche with likeminded colleagues. But the physical and mental stress of getting there wasn’t worth it. When the Spring 2015 semester ended, I knew I was done. My soul spoke to me and made it quite clear that day in May was the last drive I’d make to campus.

A June offer at another institution in Gainesville confirmed my intuition. I figured I could do it because the commute was familiar and included fewer miles, 180 compared to 360. Plus, for the first two years, I taught at regional centers, which weren’t very far, and on top of that, the majority of my course load was online. But course loads are unpredictable, and if necessary, I have to be prepared to commute to main campus in Gainesville. That’s what happened this academic year, thus prompting my motivation to finally reflect.

12,160. That’s how many miles I’ve commuted in two and a half years to teach classes. I haven’t added additional miles required for attending bi-weekly and monthly meetings held on three separate days.

My thirteenth year as a commuter feels less enjoyable and more like a hamster wheel. I’m tired y’all. I’m tired of leaving two hours early just so I can arrive on time. I’m tired of buying new tires every 6-8 months because of wear and tear. I’m tired of the additional gas money. Plus, the older I get, the more driving up and down the highway for hours to work seems like a colossal waste of time.

img_5101Sometimes change begins with reflection. That’s what this is. I don’t have an answer right now, but I do know that I won’t be spending my remaining career on the road. Life’s too short and time is fleeting*.

Do you or have you had to commute? What was it like?

*Had to borrow from Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Monday Notes: 3 Ways I Function that Counter Society’s Rules

Everybody isn’t like you Kathy I’ve heard this sentence a million times. It usually follows my telling them how I live and interact with people. Over the years, I’ve learned what they say is true: everybody isn’t like me. I think a little different. Here are three of those differences:

I don’t function out of obligation. I mean I used to. I used to feel as if I had to do something or go somewhere just because of who the person was. If my “boss” was having a shindig, then I felt obligated to attend. When my grandmother purchased my first car (and I had to make car payments to her), I in turn felt required to do pretty much whatever she said. But I turned a new page around 2011. Around 93% of my life is spent doing what I desire. Period. If I’m at your soiree, then please believe I want to be there. I don’ feel obligated to show because you’re my cousin or co-worker; I’m there because I want to be and have made myself available in that way. Making this decision has created a sense of liberation, not only on my part, but also on others’ as well. I don’t expect for people to do things for me just because of who they perceive me to be.

img_5195I don’t need to prove myself to anyone. Around mid-2015, I posted something like this to FB: I’m no longer proving I’m a good friend, family member, or co-worker. I meant that with my whole heart. Perhaps this can be part two of the obligation section. For a long time, I wanted people to know they could count on me. There’s nothing wrong with that, except I’d begun doing things that were not aligned with my character. Consequently, I didn’t say no to a lot. For example, my then best friend used to visit the States every other year. Because I wanted her to know I was her friend, I agreed for her to stay with my family and me for 2-4 weeks at a time. Through this process, I discovered that three days is really my maximum for visitation. Therefore, 14-28 days was overload to my soul. But I agreed because of some unwritten social contract: this is what best friends do. The proving myself days are over, both professionally and personally. You’re either cool with me and how I engage, or you’re not.

img_5196I recognize patterns and then step out of them. I’ve become reflective as a way to take ownership for who I am and the choices I make. Because of this, I’ve gotten adept at discovering my own patterns of behavior, looking for root causes, and then choosing different paths. For example, I recently realized that finding a job I like is challenging. There’s always something I absolutely hate. Consequently, I’ve had to think deeply about why that is because quitting and getting jobs every 2-3 years is exhausting. I’ll likely follow this up with a longer post, but my point is, enough is enough of this cycle. I have to figure out what’s going on inside so I can step out of this behavior pattern.

Are there ways that you think or act differently than what society tells you to do? Do either of these resonate? Let me know what you’re thinking.

Behind the Kwote: Least Miserable Situation

img_0852

This kwote is in a section called “Konscious Life Perspectives.” As the subtitle suggests, it’s all about making conscious decisions appropriate for your life.

The thought came to me while talking to one of my favorite cousins. He was going through life-changing events. The way he saw it, he had two choices. On the one hand, he could pursue his dream career, but it required him to live several states away from his wife and young daughter. On the other hand, he could continue working two part-time, “dead-end” jobs, and that would preserve his marriage and relationship with his daughter.

During our conversation, I asked him what he really wanted to do. I encouraged him to pursue his true intentions because after all life is not about choosing the least miserable situation. Subsequently, he pursued and attained his dream job. But the move was more challenging than he’d anticipated. It didn’t work out as planned and he is currently back home living with his wife and child.

I’m never sure how my messages resonate, so I’ll add this for anyone reading. Oftentimes you may find yourself faced with what you see as a limited decision. However, there are infinite paths; your vision may be too myopic to see them. If you take the time to assess your desires and then vibe out from there, then the appropriate course for your life will appear. In that vein, I hope you never feel as if you’re choosing between least miserable situations.