Confronting My Self-Righteousness

Lately, I’ve been struggling with self-righteousness – my own. There are a couple of recent events that have provoked these inner struggles.

A few weeks ago, I attended an event with my best friend at a church in Dallas that featured John Pavlovitz, a pastor from Wake Forest, North Carolina. Carolyn and I have followed Pavlovitz’s social media posts and blog, Stuff that Needs to Be Said, for several years, and we were excited to hear him speak. The event proved to be enlightening on many levels.

As expected, Pavlovitz’s words were inspirational and insightful. But some of the comments and questions from the audience proved to be just as thought-provoking. Two comments – one from an African American woman and another from a young woman from the LBGTQ community struck a chord with me. Both women spoke to how exhausting it is to try to “explain” to inquiring well-meaning, white heterosexuals who want to help what it is like to be black or LBGTQ. Their message was – start talking among yourselves and figure out how to change the societal structures that continue to discriminate against marginalized populations. Ouch. They were speaking to me.

In an attempt to be more understanding and have “difficult conversations,” I’ve been peppering my friends with questions – lots of questions. Not long ago (over several glasses of wine), I asked my friend Jodie about his life growing up as a black man, and he spent several hours answering my questions. I always enjoy my conversations with Jodie and appreciate his willingness to engage with me. I also believe it is important to have these conversations, but the exchange at the Pavolitz event made me wonder if I am “exhausting” my friends?

Just prior to the Pavolitz event, I finished reading Rising Strong by Brene Brown. I’m a latecomer to hopping on board the “Brene train.” I somehow missed when her first TED talk went viral in 2013 (or I just wasn’t paying attention). The first book of hers that I read was Braving the Wilderness after seeing her interviewed by Oprah Winfrey. As a result, I’ve now read most of her books out of order from how they were published, with Rising Strong being the last one I read.

Not long after I saw To Kill a Mockingbird on Broadway in July, I watched a clip of Jeff Daniels on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in which Daniels said the play is a “slap in the face to white liberals.” While I had a visceral reaction to watching Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of one of my favorite books, reading Rising Strong was a “sucker punch” to my gut. It forced me to confront the uncomfortable truth about my own self-righteousness. And, I have perfected self-righteousness.

When I was in junior high and high school, I was an unwavering self-righteous Christian. While some of the false stories I had inherited made me uncomfortable, I wasn’t one to dispute them. Instead, I nauseatingly took up the spiritual judgment banner, a trait that I had learned from the church my family attended when I was in elementary school.

After I started my career, I had the good fortune to work for one of the premier national leaders in my field. That afforded me the incredible opportunity to be exposed to the latest research and science. Consequently, I became a self-righteous disciple of evidence-based injury and violence prevention strategies and often (I’m ashamed to say) “shamed” my colleagues who were not “as smart as me” or more correctly, had not had the privilege of the same opportunities that I had.

And of course, I have sharpened my self-righteous liberalism since 2016. I have become more removed (by my own choice) from people with political beliefs that contrast mine because of their hurtful comments directed at me. I have allowed their behavior to cause me to judge them as uncaring, racists. I have painted them with the same brush as the Trump supporters I see in the news at white supremacy rallies.

I’m not shifting blame for my own shameful thoughts away from me. My self-righteous judgmental trait was learned early and has lingered far too long. I’m finally embarking on the hard journey of “unlearning” that ingrained characteristic. Frankly, I’m tired of feeling pissed off and resentful. I want to be curious about those feelings as Brene Brown recommends in Rising Strong, and work on how I can be a better person when others aren’t. But just as I commit to doing better, I learn of new tweets or new comments from the current President of the United States that I find abhorrent. This week’s sickening, soul crushing moment came when my news feed was bombarded with a fake video of Trump killing journalists and political opponents. The video was shown at a conference hosted by his supporters at his Miami resort. It was disgusting.

Remaining positive is Just. So. Hard. If I’m looking for a silver lining, I guess it is that these days I have many, many, many opportunities to do my part to shift the negativity.

One of those opportunities presented itself tonight. As I drove home from work, I saw a group of people gathered around the perimeter of the American Airlines Center. Then, I noticed the red “Make America Great Again, Trump 2020” t-shirts. The next thing I caught sight of was a large sign that read “Fuck Your Feelings.” My immediate feeling was the all too familiar fear I’ve come to know when I’m confronted with people wearing MAGA attire. Yes, I have real fear because I’ve watched too many stories about innocent people being gunned down in the name of “making America great again. That fear triggers physical reactions. My pulse quickened. I felt my chest tighten and the bile roil in my stomach. When I pulled into my parking garage a few feet away, my legs and hands were shaking. I raced into my apartment. I wanted to close my blinds, turn the volume up on a playlist, and bury beneath the comfort of my bed.

But, I didn’t.

When my breathing returned to normal after a brief meditation exercise, I walked outside toward American Airlines Center. I walked past the “Fuck Your Feelings” sign, until I reached a couple of women sitting in lawn chairs – one was older; one was a teenager. Both were wearing MAGA hats and t-shirts with multiple Trump political buttons. I stopped in front of them and asked them if I could ask them a question. “Yes,” they replied in unison.

“What is it that you like about our current President?”

Then, I listened to them for one full hour. The only time I said anything during that hour was to ask clarifying questions. I just listened. They never asked for my thoughts or opinion. They talked and I listened. My best friend is always encouraging me to listen “to learn,” not to “refute or defend.” So, that’s what I did. As we talked, other Trump supporters gathered around us and began talking.

This is what I heard.

  1. “Trump does what he says he’s going to do.”

  2. “The media should report just the facts, not try to convince people to vote for Democrats.”

  3. “We need someone who governs based on facts, not emotions. This isn’t about feelings.”

  4. “Of course, Trump tried to ‘grab them by the pussy’ because that’s just the way men are.”

  5. “There’s not right and left – there’s right and wrong.”

  6. “God told me to vote for Trump.”

  7. “It’s capitalism or communism. Socialism leads to communism. Just look at Venezuela.”

  8. Democrats are behaving like Nazis.”

  9. “Hillary Clinton said on video that she tried to get Russia to help her win the election. There’s no video of Trump saying that.”

  10. “Trump is trying to protect us from the illegal aliens who are coming to our country to murder us.”

  11. “We need to take care of and protect the people who are born here.”

  12. “There’s nothing you can do about a crazy person that gets a gun and shoots people. Taking away our guns doesn’t solve that problem. Besides the data shows that more people die from knife wounds.” At this point I did ask for the source of the data and was told “just look at police reports, and they show that more people die from stabbing.” I didn’t tell them that I had looked at police reports, and that’s not what they show.

  13. “Trump isn’t racist. How could he be? He dated a black woman.”

The older woman told me about being in prison three times, and that we need prison reform. She said that not everyone should receive the same level of healthcare. I told her that I work in healthcare and was interested in hearing more about her thoughts on that. She responded by saying that she was on Medicaid for many years and described numerous medical procedures that she had during that time. She said she currently has employee insurance because she now has a job with an oil company as a roustabout, but she never goes to the doctor. “People who can pay for healthcare should get better healthcare,” she said. Confused, I asked her if she had gotten good healthcare when she was on Medicaid and had the medical procedures? “Yes,” she replied.

After she said Trump is trying to protect us from the illegal aliens who are coming to our country to murder us, she mentioned that she had written letters to help a Mexican immigrant who had come to the U.S. “illegally” try to stay in our country “because he has a job and is trying to take care of his family.”

As we were talking, a driver in a car drove by us and yelled insults at the Trump supporters. “That’s so typical of socialists,” she said.

“Can I ask you a question?"” the teenager asked. “Do you support Trump?”

“No,” I replied.

“Are you a Hillary supporter?” she asked.

“I’m just here to try to learn and understand,” I replied.

The older woman looked at the teenager and said, “I knew she wasn’t a Trump supporter when she stopped to talk to us. But I appreciate her listening to us.”

Then she looked at me and said, “You’re the first person who has listened to us. You know, I’m in favor of building the wall to protect our border, but I think we need to spend more time tearing down the wall that divides us in this country.”

After an hour of listening to someone with whom I disagree with on so many levels, I found a nugget of agreement. As I walked away, I said, “Try to stay warm tonight.” I sincerely meant it.

When I related this story later to my husband, he asked, “So, what did you learn?”

This is what I learned.

Not one of the individuals that I talked to lived in Dallas. They had all driven hundred of miles to sleep on the concrete sidewalk outside the AAC for a chance to see Donald Trump. They were passionate in their beliefs and convictions. Did I feel intellectually superior to them? I wish I could report that I didn’t, but that’s not true. Self-righteous habits take time to unlearn, and I need more of it. But, I learned that shaming people and making them feel inferior is not the way to start or have a conversation.

I recently had a conversation with my daughter where I said I’m just trying to become a better version of myself. There was nothing I could say that was going to change the minds of the individuals outside the AAC. But perhaps they will remember our time together and be more willing to engage respectfully with someone with whom they have different viewpoints sometime in the future.

I can only hope. I can’t change the thoughts and behaviors of others, but I can control my own.

Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world.

All things break. And all things can be mended.

Not with time, as they say, but with intention.

So go. Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.

The broken world waits in darkness for the light that is you.

L.R. Knost

Reflections on a Life Well Lived

This week I received the sad news that a colleague had passed away unexpectedly. Roger Trent and I served together on the Safe States Alliance Executive Committee and were team members for Safe State’s Technical Assessment Team (STAT) visits to Iowa and Montana.

Even before I got to know him, I admired Roger. When he spoke, it was with a quiet, knowledgeable authority. When Roger spoke, I listened. So, did everyone else. In a room that was often filled with competing voices, Roger’s voice could quite the room. People leaned in when Roger spoke to grasp every morsel of every word. His voice was that powerful.

Roger was the first person of Buddhist faith that I ever met. (Have I mentioned that I lived a very non-diverse existence during my early years?) On some of the very rare downtimes during our STAT visits, I would ask Roger about his journey to Buddhism and listen as he explained it to me. It was these discussions with Roger that first got me interested in mindfulness and meditation. Watching Roger in meetings, how he handled himself and how he treated others, made me want to be a better person.

I recall one Executive Committee meeting that I facilitated where the entire meeting felt like it was quickly dissolving into chaos. I was trying (unsuccessfully) to maintain a modicum of composure while trying to lead the group to a consensus decision. At one point, I just held up my hand to silence the room and looked at Roger. “What do you think, Roger,” I asked? As was often the case, everyone else quieted to listen for Roger’s wisdom.

Later that day when he was waiting at the airport to fly back to California, Roger sent me an email that said, “Today was a tough meeting, but you did a good job.” When he got home, he mentioned the meeting to his colleague Barb, who immediately sent me an encouraging email, too.

For a few years, I was on Roger’s holiday list. Instead of sending the typical holiday letter, Roger emailed us a list of the books he had read during the previous year, along with a summary of each book and why the books were meaningful to him. If I hadn’t already read one of the books on Roger’s list, I put it on my list to read. I valued his opinion that much.

Roger was an epidemiologist who could clearly write and articulate the nuances of injury data. Once when Dr. Alex Kelter, who was Roger’s former boss, and I were reviewing a draft data document written by another epidemiologist, I turned to Alex and complained, “This document is terrible. Why can’t this person write like Roger?” Alex looked at me and replied, “Roger is not the rule, Shelli. He’s the exception.”

A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with my sister about obituaries. My sister suggested that it would be much easier on our family if we all just prepared our own obituaries. As I thought about Roger this week and my sister’s suggestion, the words that kept coming to me was that this world was a much better place with Roger Trent in it. And, I’m a much better person because of the profound impact he had on my life.

I can only hope that someone will say the same about me.

This is not the end for Roger. His energy, wisdom and spirit will continue.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness;

May all be free from sorrow and the causes of sorrow;

May all never be separated from the sacred happiness which is sorrowless;

And may all live in equanimity, without too much attachment and too much aversion,

And live believing in the equality of all that lives.

Buddhist Prayer

Full Bucket

A few weeks ago, I ran into an emergency room physician for whom I have much respect and affection. As we were chatting, he started telling me about a book he wanted me to read. The book How Full Is Your Bucket? by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, focuses on simple daily strategies to boost well-being by following the “bucket principle.” It is organized around a simple metaphor of an invisible dipper and bucket and explains how even brief interactions can fill or empty our bucket. Obviously, when our bucket is full, we feel good; when it’s empty, not so much.

In spite of having a very privileged life with a good fulfilling job, healthy family, and wonderful friends and colleagues, my bucket often feels empty. I know that most of it is due to juggling multiple demands on my time, which limits my ability to take care of my physical and emotional health. Intellectually, I get it. However, that doesn’t mean I’ve been very good at translating the knowledge into practice. But I’m getting better.

With a lot of help, I’ve been on a mission of self-discovery, learning and growth for the past 2 years. To that end, I’ve spent many hours in conversations with counselors, executive coaches and friends. I’ve read countless articles and books, and I’m slowly learning to challenge assumptions and set boundaries. I’m also trying to prioritize time with people who “fill my bucket.”

Last week, I attended the 2019 Annual Safe States Alliance Conference in Atlanta. For me, the Safe States Conference is an opportunity to be with some of my closest friends. More than once, I’ve heard my friends say it is like going to a family reunion – the good kind! But it is also busy for me – very busy. This year was no exception. Many of our Team Texas members gave presentations. Those presentations, along with my other Safe States responsibilities kept me running from room to room every day. When the daily sessions were finished, there were more meetings or social events to attend in the evenings. There always seemed to be one more person wanting to visit with me about a new idea. As is the case every year, the days run into nights, and it can be physically exhausting. Most years when I would finally lug my body to my hotel room late in the evening, I would realize that I hadn’t spent much time with my friends.

This year was different. My friend Lisa, who has retired, drove to Atlanta and stayed with our friend Peg. I only see Peg once a year, and I haven’t seen Lisa since she retired in 2015. Although we don’t see each other often, we occasionally send text messages. I had a social event the first evening I was in Atlanta, but I dragged Peg and Lisa with me so that I could spend some time with them. It was so nice to be in their presence. Another night after our meetings ended, I followed several Team Texas members to watch the third Democratic debate at a bar that was hosting a watch party.

Instead of heading to the airport as soon as the conference ended, I headed to my friend Susan’s where our friends Amber, Linda and their teenage daughters joined us for the weekend. What did we do? We took the teenagers to get manicures and to the mall to shop for homecoming dresses and jewelry. Susan and I don’t frequent malls much anymore; our daughters are older and living on their own, but we didn’t mind being at the mall because being with our friends was just fun. Later back at Susan’s, we just spent time talking, and eating and drinking Susan’s food and beverages. Sometimes, Linda and I would be in deep conversation while Amber and Susan were in conversation just inches away from us. We enjoyed our time together, but we also gave each other space to be alone. Sometimes the teenagers joined our conversations. We listened to them, and they observed us – four women with deep friendships navigating different stages in our lives. It was just an easy weekend because our friendships our so easy.

I’m fortunate to have a wide breadth of friends and even more fortunate to have a few who know and understand the depth of my heart and love me when I’m not perfect.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the perfect friend. Too often I allow those multiple demands on my time to keep me from calling or texting to check in with my friends. Connection is very important to me, yet I sometimes fail at connecting. I read a blog post in July entitled “Here’s to the Friends Who Love Us Even When We Go Quiet.” The author talked about how much she cherished the friends who don’t complain, judge or resent her even when she is absent. She said, “I barely have time for the amazing people in my life; I certainly don’t have time for people with standards I can never live up to or high maintenance relationships that require a lot of obligatory work.” Amen, sister!

When I arrived back in Dallas on Sunday evening, my body was tired, but my heart and bucket were full.

Thank you Amber, Linda, Susan, Peg, Lisa, and as always, Team Texas and my Safe States family!

Are We Being Conditioned to Hate?

It’s September, which in my part of the country means – football season. As is often the case, I watched the Oklahoma Sooners opening game last weekend with my husband in a sports bar. We were decked out in crimson and crème and cheered and “high-fived” each time the Sooners scored. And, they scored a lot, which always makes us happy!

As I was glancing at the television during one of the commercial breaks of the OU/Houston game, I saw a clip of Mack Brown dancing following the University of North Carolina’s win over South Carolina. I smiled watching Coach Brown’s dancing figure. But that would not have been the case 11 years ago.

Even though I don’t have an ounce of athletic ability, I’m a sports fan. My favorite sport is basketball, mostly because my father and uncle were high school basketball coaches, then I married a basketball coach. But I also love college football, especially the team whose name appears on my college diplomas. I cheered for the Selmon brothers, Jimbo Elrod, Steve Davis, Jamel Holloway, Sam Bradford, Adrian Peterson, Joe Washington, Billy Sims and many, many more. Because I’m a sports fan (and still married to a now retired coach), our television was usually tuned in to ESPN or a local sportscast where we would watch pre- or post-game interviews with the coaches. 

But when I moved to Dallas and turned on the local sportscast, it wasn’t Bob Stoops being interviewed – it was Mack Brown. At the time, Coach Brown was at the University of Texas. He had actually been the Offensive Coordinator at OU during the 1984 season but left to become the head coach at the University of North Carolina from 1985-1997. In 1998, he was named the head coach of the Texas Longhorns.

To say that there is no love lost between the Sooners and Longhorns is an understatement. I grew up despising the Longhorns. Every year in October, the Sooners and Longhorns converge in Dallas at the old Cotton Bowl stadium for what is known as the Red River Rivalry. In 1996, the two schools became conference rivals when the Big 12 Conference was established. To make matters worse, I married a graduate of the University of Arkansas, who had been in the old Southwest Conference with Texas before that conference was dissolved and many of the Texas universities joined the Big 12 Conference. Needless to say, I think my husband’s disdain for the Longhorns was even greater than mine. 

I’m ashamed to admit this, but I used to cringe at the sound of Coach Brown’s voice. Years of listening to Oklahoma sports reporters and fans complain about Coach Brown being whiny about not being able to win against Bob Stoops and the Sooners really did a number on me, and I bought into the rhetoric “hook, line and sinker.” If I was watching or listening to a Dallas sportscaster interview Coach Brown, I changed the channel.

Then a funny thing happened. I started listening to my friends who are UT graduates and fans talk about what a cool human being Coach Brown is (obviously when you live in Dallas, you have friends who are UT grads)! I started reading articles about his philanthropic efforts. It seems that outside of Oklahoma, Coach Brown was revered and considered one of the genuinely nicest coaches in college football. His 30+ year coaching record certainly speaks for itself, which after last week’s game is now 239-117-1 and includes a national championship in 2009. Oh, and the Longhorns and Coach Brown beat my Sooners the first two years I lived in Dallas. By the time Coach Brown retired from the Texas sideline in 2013 and joined the ESPN broadcast booth, he had become one of my favorite college football coaches. 

Coach Brown has returned to the University of North Carolina for his second stint there as head football coach. In the opening game of the season last week, the Coach Brown led the Tar Heels to a come from behind victory over Will Muschamp (his former assistant at UT) and South Carolina. When I saw the clip of Coach Brown dancing and later his emotional sideline interview, I was reminded about how wrong I was about Coach Brown when I arrived in Dallas in 2008.  

I wonder – are we being conditioned to hate? To hate others who don’t support our teams or don’t agree with our religious beliefs or our politics?

My pre-Dallas opinion of Mack Brown (and that is exactly what it was – only an opinion that was not based on facts, but on opinions of others), is not the only time I’ve been wrong about someone or something. Last week’s revelation is just another reminder for me to put in the hard work of listening and seeking truth and facts before jumping to conclusions. I’m still unlikely to wear orange, but I’m trying to do better in all the other things that really matter.

Reflection from Z Tejas -- Part 2

Last week I was back in Austin for a couple of days of meetings. On that trip, I stayed at a hotel in the Arboretum, which gave me an opportunity to walk to one of my favorite restaurants – Z Tejas. For someone who doesn’t really cook, I’ve managed to accumulate quite a number of “foodie” friends who like to introduce me to new restaurants. I actually really enjoy trying these new places with my friends, but if I’m on my own in the Arboretum area of Austin – I’m headed to Z Tejas. It’s my place to eat chips and guacamole, drink a jalapeno margarita, and reflect.

So, here’s my reflections from Z Tejas in August 2019. There were a couple of things that gave me pause last week.

When I arrived in Austin, I quickly popped into one of the shops in the Arboretum looking for a gift. While I was there, I noticed a young mother and her toddler son. At one point, the mother wandered into another room of the shop unbeknownst to her son. When the child noticed that his mother was not within his eyesight, he panicked and started crying. The mother heard her child and quickly came to retrieve him.

As I witnessed this scene, I was suddenly struck by a memory that happened when I was 4 or 5 years old. At that time, my father was the high school boys’ basketball coach in Fletcher, Oklahoma. My mother was taking undergraduate classes at Oklahoma College for Women in Chickasha, Oklahoma, which is now known as the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO). Some of the details are sketchy for me (as a reminder, I was 4 or 5 years old), but I think my mom must have stayed in a dorm in Chickasha for a short period of time to complete a class. My memory is of my dad, sister and I at the dorm to pick my mom up after her class had ended. I remember being on the elevator and my younger sister and I getting separated from our parents. I don’t remember what caused us to be separated, I just remember the sheer panic I felt as I held my 3-year-old sister’s hand and couldn’t find my parents. As I watched the scene with the crying toddler in that store in Austin, that memory came flooding back to me. I’m 61 years-old, at least 56 years removed from the incident, and I felt that panic viscerally. I don’t know how long we were separated from our parents – maybe minutes, yet 56 years later, I tasted the bile in my mouth of that fear. My heart was palpitating. It took several minutes before my breathing returned to normal.

Later when I was at Z Tejas and remembering my reaction to the scene earlier in the day, I thought about what is occurring in our country regarding immigration issues and child separation. Clearly, anyone who knows me knows that I have strong emotional feelings about this issue, but the purpose of this blog is not to air those feelings. It is to search for and highlight positivity. So, kudos to those at the border in Texas and across the country who are working to find solutions. You have my admiration and utmost respect. You are my she-roes and heroes.

My other reflection was about my walk from the Renaissance Hotel in the Arboretum to Z Tejas. It’s less than ½ mile, but there are no sidewalks. And, every time I walk that short distance on the side of road, I’m a little irritated that there are no sidewalks. Can’t north Austin and the Arboretum area do something to make my jaunt to Z Tejas a little safer?

The following day I attended the 2019 Texas Statewide Pedestrian Safety Forum and listened to a panel of presenters discuss transportation equity and the implications for pedestrian safety. I’m interested in pedestrian safety for a variety of reasons. First, it’s part of my job. Second, I am an active pedestrian and have made a choice to live in an area with a high Walk Score. Walk Score measures the walkability of any address and the ability to travel by foot to locations that offer services, retail, restaurants, places of worship, etc. I can easily and safely walk to dozens of restaurants, my dentist and ophthalmologist offices, an urgent care clinic, movie theater, several grocery stores (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Tom Thumb), coffee shops, or clothing stores. I expect to be able to walk anywhere I want safely.

Just when I’m feeling smug about my situation or irritated when something doesn’t go my way, I get slapped in the face with my white privilege. That’s what happened to me at the Pedestrian Forum when I listened to the panelists talk about the lack of sidewalks in under-resourced neighborhoods. I have access to sidewalks and an urban trail because I can afford to live in my neighborhood. I’m fortunate that I make a livable wage, but individuals who make $50,000 or less are probably not likely to be able to live in my neighborhood. And therein lies the problem – people who have transportation issues and are most in need of being able to walk to work or services – can’t.

As I listened to the panelists, I was reminded of my irritation at not having access to sidewalks between the Renaissance Hotel and Z Tejas, which by the way is in a relatively affluent area of Austin. I was also reminded of something my husband often says, “There’s a big difference between inconvenience and adversity.” I choose to walk less than ½ mile without sidewalks from my hotel to a restaurant I like – inconvenience. Individuals with limited transportation and housing must try to navigate long distances and crossing unsafe heavily traveled streets without sidewalks and marked crosswalks – adversity.

Following the Pedestrian Safety Forum, a group of injury and violence prevention professionals from across Texas gathered for the Texas Injury Prevention Leadership Collaborative Annual Meeting to discuss ideas and strategies for making Texas safer. The energy and commitment of this collective group of people always revives my spirit. And getting to meet in one of my favorite cities and spend time at one of my favorite restaurants reflecting is just an added bonus.

Working Weekend

“What’s the plan for the weekend,” my husband asked on Thursday evening. My husband likes to have a plan for every minute of every day of every week. Me, not so much. I knew what he was asking though. Are you coming to Oklahoma? Do I need to clean the house?

“I don’t have one,” I replied. It had been a busy week, and I was just looking forward to waking up on Saturday morning without any planned activities.

Friday was going to be an easy day. The only thing on my calendar that day was my Action Inquiry Group (AIG) call that afternoon, something I always enjoy. After that, a glass of wine and the weekend. I had read our assigned article about leading a life of inquiry, so I was feeling prepared for the AIG call. However, minutes into the call it became obvious that while I had remembered one of the assignments, I had completely forgotten another one – selecting a personal mindfulness practice.

Well crap.

I clearly remembered that I was going to do that after our last call, but that was a month ago, and I was on a work trip during that call, and the best intentions had gotten lost in the frenzy of work, travel, etc. You get the picture. I came clean to the group, and of course they reminded me that life is messy and chaotic and that they understood. I love those people!

By the end of the call, I felt like I always feel – energized, excited, and committed to select and start my mindfulness practice. I picked up my phone to download an app to get me started. Isn’t that what everyone does in this day and time? That’s when I saw the email from work. There was a problem and it needed immediate attention. Any non-plans that I had for the weekend were vanquished. I knew that I would spend the weekend working.

I had an initial moment of feeling anxious, but then I took a few deep breaths and began to feel calmer. Perhaps it was fortuitous that I had just finished the AIG call. The problem at work was not a new one. It had to do with some data reporting. We had discussed it in the past but had never adequately resolved the issue. I thought there were some discrepancies in the reporting. I called my Vice President, and we discussed ways to resolve the issue.

After we talked, he emailed me a tracking spreadsheet to compare data from previous years to the current one. I was grateful for his help. He’s very good at process improvement. My strengths lean more to the bigger picture stuff. The tracking spreadsheet was going to be helpful. I sent a text to one of our staff who keeps detailed activity reports each month and asked her to send me all of the reports from the past two years. I hated to have to do that. It was late on Friday afternoon, and I didn’t want to have to bother her. But as usual, she responded quickly and graciously. Have I mentioned that I also love our staff?!

I took a break from working on Saturday morning and went on a long walk. During my walk, I called my mother who asked me what I was doing for the weekend. I explained that I was working. Later that day, I got a text from my sister that said she had also talked to our mother who had told her that I was stressed because I was having to work through the weekend.

But I wasn’t stressed. This was a problem that needed to be fixed, and fixing it was long overdue. With each passing hour on Friday night and Saturday, as I compared the reports and entered data into the spreadsheet, a pattern began to emerge. On Saturday night, I sent the spreadsheet to my Vice President. I don’t think we have solved the issue yet. We will discuss it more next week, but I think we have a better idea about the discrepancies and are possibly closer to finding a solution.

On Sunday, I awoke and went for another long walk. I listened to an audio book. When I got home, I finally downloaded a meditation app and spent 15 minutes doing the first meditation. Then, I did something I’ve done only twice in the 5 years I’ve lived at this apartment. I put on a swimsuit and went to the pool.

When I got to the pool, there were several young women at the pool, probably all in their 20s. Their bodies were lean; their skin was tight. My body is no longer youthful. My skin is sun-damaged from too much time in the sun in my teens and 20s and too little sunscreen. But for the first time in a very long, I didn’t feel self-conscious or self-loathing. I sat in an Adirondack chair and splashed water across my arms and legs. I felt the heat from the sun. I smelled the chlorine in the pool and the scent of the sunscreen.

At one point, I got up from the chair, slid into the pool, and let the cool water wash over me. When I climbed out of the pool, I caught the eye of a young African American woman and she smiled at me. Not a judging smile, but one that was warm.

It’s been a good weekend. Maybe, I’m finally getting the hang of learning how to live mindfully.

Desperately Searching for Something Positive

Last Saturday, my husband and I were at our cabin in northeastern Oklahoma. I was lying on one of the beds on our screened porch working on an article I was writing. The weather had been unseasonably pleasant for early August. In fact, we had not even turned on the window unit air conditioner we have in one of the four rooms of our small cabin. A thunderstorm had passed through the area only an hour earlier, and I had enjoyed listening to the rain hitting our deck as the wind whipped through the trees. There was a breeze across my face. I was appreciating those simple moments of awe that come with being at our cabin.

My phone, which was beside me on nightstand, suddenly lit up with a breaking news message. I’ve been trying really hard to “unplug” on weekends. But when I looked at the phone, I saw the words “Mass shooting in El Paso.”

Not long after the 2016 election, I saw a cartoon posted on my cousin’s Facebook page that read, “My desire to stay well informed is currently at odds with my desire to remain sane.” I think of that cartoon often. Last Saturday, I interrupted my momentary feelings of calm to click on the news link.

By now, we all know what happened. A 21-year-old white man from Plano, Texas drove more than 10 hours to a Walmart in El Paso for the sole purpose of killing “Mexicans.” Using an AK-47 style rifle, he opened fire killing 22 people and wounding 24 others. Those killed included 13 American citizens, eight Mexican nationals, and one German citizen. They ranged in age from 15 to 90 years of age. There were stories of terrified children running through the store as the shooting began. A 25-year old mother died while shielding her 2-month old infant son from the bullets. The infant’s 23-year old father was also killed. An 86-year old grandmother was killed while waiting in the checkout line. A 63-year old grandfather was killed while shopping with his wife and his 9-year-old granddaughter for back to school supplies.

Twenty minutes before the killing spree began, the killer posted a document online in which he expressed hatred for Hispanic people and detailed a plan for a deadly attack on the Hispanic community in the United States. In that document, he used words that have often been used by the current President of the United States and other white supremacy groups.

El Paso police responded to the scene within six minutes. Police say the killer has showed no remorse or regret.

Just hours later in Dayton, Ohio, another shooter armed with a .223-caliber high-capacity rifle fired at least 41 shots into a crowd in an entertainment district, killing nine people including his younger sister, before he was killed by police. According to the Dayton Police Department, the killer had 100-round drum magazines, which allowed him to shoot up to 100 rounds before pausing to reload. In just 30 seconds, he killed the nine individuals and injured 27 others. Fully loaded, his magazines would have carried 250 rounds of ammunition.

I’ve spent the past three years working on my own personal development and trying to find understanding and common ground with people who have different viewpoints. For the past two years, I’ve spent a considerable amount of time searching for moments of awe; trying to find positivity and unity in what appears to me an eroding semblance of the humanity that I thought existed, but in reality, probably never did. Every Sunday, I read Maria Shriver’s Sunday Paper, a digital newsletter “to inspire your heart and mind” and “provide hope for the path ahead.” But the task of finding hope and inspiration is getting harder and harder for me.

A few weeks ago, I saw Aaron Sorkin’s Broadway adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Full disclosure – I love everything Aaron Sorkin has ever written. I’ve had several people complain to me that Sorkin is “too liberal.” They are entitled to their opinions. I just happen to like the fast-paced, smart dialogue of his characters. When I found out that my favorite screenwriter was adapting my favorite book ever to the Broadway stage, I knew I had to find a way to see the production.

I believe that Sorkin maintained the heart of the book and the 1962 film in which Gregory Peck won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Atticus Finch. But Sorkin’s Atticus, which has been portrayed by Jeff Daniels since it opened in 2018, is edgier and more complicated than the Atticus that Peck portrayed. One critic said that Daniel’s Atticus more closely resembles the Atticus of Harper Lee’s Go Set a Watchman, the book that was published after her death and which many scholars believe is a rough draft for Mockingbird.

There were many moments during the production that took my breath away, probably because of the familiarity of recent language that I find painful. But the part that I haven’t stopped thinking about since seeing the play was an exchange between Atticus and Calpurnia, played by LaTanya Richardson Jackson. In a much expanded role for Atticus’ African American maid, Calpurnia challenges Atticus’ appeal to his children to try to understand other’s perspectives – “to climb in his skin and walk around in it” – as well as the lengths to which we should extend tolerance to people whose views we disagree with and even condemn.

I’m also struggling with whether my efforts to understand viewpoints that I find abhorrent is really the best thing. The reality is that I don’t want to extend an olive branch to people who believe that white people are superior because I just don’t believe there are “good people on both sides” of that perspective. I don’t want to extend tolerance to people who espouse against the “Mexican invasion” because when they aim their assault rifles at “brown people,” they may be aiming at my friends. It’s hard for me to feel compassion and empathy toward people who spew hate. It’s hard for me to be understanding when frankly, I’m scared to death.

Because this blog is meant to highlight things that are positive, I’ll continue to honor that promise even in the face of continued horrific tragedy. On my flight to Oklahoma last week, I read an article in the August 2019 issue of the Southwest magazine, entitled “The Man Who’s Mowing the World.” The article was about an African American young man, Rodney Smith, Jr., who has devoted the past few years to providing free lawn care for older people, those who are disabled, single mothers, and veterans. Known as the “lawn mower man,” the 30-year-old started a non-profit in 2016 called Raising Men Lawn Care Service. When he’s not doing yard work, he distributes supplies to the homeless or speaks to student about his work.

After hearing the news from El Paso and Dayton, I kept trying to focus on the story about Rodney Smith, Jr. I also read the story about the “Teeter-Totter Wall,” custom-built seesaws that have been placed on both sides of a border fence along the Mexico/New Mexico border. University of California Berkeley architecture professor Ronald Rael and Virginia San Fratello, an associate professor of design at San Jose State University, designed the project to allow children from both sides of the border to play with each other.

You can judge me if you want, but this week I also retreated back into an Aaron Sorkin world by binge-watching the first season of The Newsroom, my favorite television show ever. For those who haven’t seen The Newsroom, it is about the transformation of a fictional 24-hour news cable network, Atlantis Cable News (ACN) to “do the news well in the face of corporate and commercial obstacles.”

In the first episode, the lead character, Will McAvoy (also played by Jeff Daniels) was a panelist at a college event. A student asked McAvoy to respond to why “America is the greatest country in the world.” McAvoy then delivers a typical Sorkin-esque statistics-laced soliloquy describing why America isn’t the greatest country in the world. That clip from the show still gives me goose-bumps even after watching it dozens of times.

In the last episode of season 1, McAvoy had been struggling with a magazine story written about him in which the author of the article called him “the greater fool.” In one of the last scenes of the episode, the economic reporter, Sloan Sabbath, played by Oklahoma native Olivia Munn, said to McAvoy, “The greater fool is someone with the perfect blend of self-delusion and ego to think that he can succeed where others have failed. This whole country was made by greater fools.”

McAvoy contemplated that for a moment, then he turned around in the anchor chair and spotted the young student from the college event. She was at ACN to apply for an internship. McAvoy recognized her and asked her why she wanted to work at ACN.

“I watch the show,” she replied. “And, I read the New York magazine article, and I know what a greater fool is, and I want to be one.”

“Ask me again,” McAvoy demanded. “Ask me your idiot question again.”

“What makes America the greatest country in the world,” she asked?

“You do,” McAvoy replied to the young woman.

Prior to his tirade at the college event in the first episode of season 1, McAvoy thought he spotted his ex-girlfriend, MacKenzie McHale, in the audience holding up a note pad with the words, “It isn’t.” McHale, played by Emily Mortimer, then flipped the pad to the next page, which read, “But it can be.”

There was a time that I actually thought the United States was the greatest country in the world, but I don’t anymore. However, when I hear stories about Rodney Smith, Jr. and initiatives like the Teeter-Totter Wall, I have hope that it can be.

Perspective

I gazed out the window of my hotel room on the 40th floor of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square. I was in New York City for a brief 48 hours with my best friend. Just minutes before, we had walked into the hotel, escaping the heat, as well as the noise and bustling activity of the city. Forty floors up in our air-conditioned room, I couldn’t hear the noise and could barely make out the people and vehicles below, which only appeared to be specs.

The image reminded me of a story my colleague, Cheryl Wittke told me. Several years ago, Cheryl’s daughter was working on a school assignment. I don’t remember the details of the assignment, but it involved her looking out over the city of Chicago from the top floor of one its prominent sky rise buildings. In the paper she wrote about the experience, she noted that from that vantage point you are so removed from the street level that it’s impossible to see or understand what is happening on the street.

While we were in NYC, Carolyn and I saw the matinee show of Aaron Sorkin’s adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird. Our seats were in the middle of the last row of the balcony. We could see the entire stage, but missed the nuance in facial expressions of the actors. Watching the Broadway version of Harper Lee’s depiction of a trial in Maycomb, Alabama in the 1930s was sadly eerily familiar. While the performances were amazing, Carolyn and I found it difficult to listen to some of the dialogue. Based on the language we’re hearing in July 2019, it makes me wonder if we are really removed from the Jim Crow laws that plagued our country following the Civil War?

Later in the evening, we watched the musical, Frozen. For that performance, we sat on the first row of the theater and looked up at the performers. We were so close that when Caissie Levy (Elsa) rushed to stage left during a scene, her skirt whipped across Carolyn’s face. We were close enough to see the perspiration glistening on the performers’ faces, but probably missed the nuance of the broader view from the balcony.

That’s the thing about viewpoints. It’s hard to understand different perspectives if you’re only looking at things from one view.

A few weeks ago, I met with members of the Community Development staff at Parkland Hospital to discuss ideas to decrease the rate of late stage breast cancer diagnosis among women in a couple of zip codes in south Dallas. Many of us on the leadership team had been discussing ways to expand access to Parkland’s mobile mammography van in the two zip codes, rationalizing that expanding access would solve the issue. When you work for a hospital system, the default solution is usually improving access to care. However, I learned from the Community Development staff that work every day with the population we are trying to reach, that we were missing the bigger picture. Many of the women we are trying to reach are single mothers who are working multiple jobs trying to feed their families, keep their utilities turned on, and pay rent. Couple that with the internal barriers such as needing several appointments to complete paperwork for financial assistance, it’s no wonder that getting an annual mammogram is a low priority for these women.

It’s a noble cause to serve those who have limited financial resources, but the Community Development staff certainly opened my eyes to the need for involving the voices of those we are serving, as well as the staff on the front lines.

This seems to be a recurrent theme with my blog posts, but it is worth repeating. We need many and varied perspectives to solve the complex societal problems we are facing. As Carolyn and I looked out the window of our 40th floor hotel down at the specs below us, she reminded me those were not just “specs.” They are real people, each with a story.

There are two lines from To Kill a Mockingbird that are still reverberating through my mind. The words that Atticus Finch (Jeff Daniels) delivered during his closing argument in defense of Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), “We have to heal this wound, or we will never stop bleeding.” And, the question asked by Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson), “How long are we going to have to wait?”

Watching To Kill a Mockingbird left me hoping that all of us will experience an awakening to the realities of injustice and bigotry. Watching Frozen left me cheering for the “sister/girl power” theme, and hoping that we can somehow find a way to “let go” of the things that keep us from doing that – hatred, fear, mistrust.

And as always, the weekend with Carolyn left me feeling grateful for time spent with my best friend.

How Much Longer Do We Have To Wait?

During the four months between the time that my father was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer until he died, I spent every waking moment consumed with thoughts about cancer. In between feelings of deep sadness and fear, my sister and I searched for a miracle cure. The pain I felt was excruciating. The days were long, yet too short. Time was running out, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

During those months, I was only partially present. I certainly wasn’t productive at work or at anything else. But, on occasion, I would look around and notice that life was continuing around me, oblivious to my family’s heartache. We were fortunate to have had plenty of support from family and friends (for which we are eternally grateful), but the people sitting across from me in the airport or in a restaurant were clueless that I was losing someone I loved. I vowed to be more attentive to the pain of others – those I knew and those I didn’t. Unfortunately, I’ve made that vow numerous times with the best of intentions; yet, I have failed too many times to count.

I remember watching my 90 year-old grandfather lean over his son’s bed (my 65 year-old father), tears streaming down his face as he said, “It should be me, not him.”

I was reminded of these memories this week.

There have been many medical advances in the past 20 years. I know there are hundreds, thousands of scientists and researchers who are tirelessly working to find cures for cancer, as well as other diseases. I know that we’ve made progress. I have friends who are cancer survivors. I also know that it takes time. In the years since my father’s death, I’ve lost several friends to cancer. I’ve watched friends lose a child to cancer. When someone you care about is waiting/hoping for a cure, it becomes harder to “wait” on those cures.

During the past couple of months, I’ve been attending several conferences and meetings that have featured presentations about autonomous and connected vehicles. I even got to ride in a friend’s new Tesla a few weeks ago. The technology is amazing, and it feels like it is progressing at a remarkable speed. If I live another 10-20 years, it is likely that I will actually own one of these vehicles in my lifetime.

I wish that I could say the same for seeing a cure for the insidious diseases that plague us. To do so, we will need to invest resources into ameliorating the diseases and conditions AND into preventing the potential causes by addressing environmental conditions that may contribute to these conditions. There are numerous credible scientific studies that suggest that certain chemicals as well as preservatives in our food have links to increased risks of developing certain types of cancer.

While the autonomous/connected vehicle technology seems to be advancing quickly, it doesn’t seem that progress in developing cures for diseases and conditions is moving at the same speed. I’m not suggesting that Elon Musk is the answer to finding cures for cancer or any of the other insidious diseases afflicting my friends and family such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, or Alzheimer’s. But perhaps, if medical scientists had his resources, it would hasten the speed of finding cures.

Once again, my family has lost someone to cancer. My stepsister passed away this week after a valiant battle with metastatic cancer. Her husband, my stepfather, and her siblings are feeling the loss acutely. Her death will be recorded in the Texas Cancer Registry, a population-based registry to help measure the cancer burden in our state. As a public health professional, I understand the importance of a systematic approach to gather and analyze data to get a complete and accurate picture of health issues. I know that statistics can provide important information about disease trends and risk factors. Statistics can also lead researchers to identify preventive interventions.

But, my stepsister was more than a statistic. She was a wife, daughter, sister, and aunt. She was a daughter-in-law and sister-in-law. She was a stepdaughter. She was a friend. She was a piano teacher who cared about her students. She raised, rescued, and showed Irish Setters. She was a person who lived and loved. I’m sure that she and her husband felt the burden of cancer in ways that will never be measured.

Her family is comforted by the fact that her suffering has ended and that she is in a better place. But seriously, we’re almost into the third decade of the 21st century. How much longer are we going to have to wait for cures?

Rest in peace, Glenna.

Stormy Skies, Conversations, Kaleidoscopes, and Beauty

This week I’ve spent several days in Washington, DC attending the 2019 Safe Kids Conference (#prevcon). One late afternoon, I sat in the lobby of The Moxy in Washington DC watching the skies go from sunny to stormy. As a photographer, I’m always intrigued by the beauty of stormy skies because they make for interesting photos.

As usual, my days were filled with conference calls and meetings, in between conference sessions. I’m staying at The Moxy in downtown DC because it’s my new favorite hotel in DC. It’s a cool, hip hotel that’s part of the Marriott hotel chain. It’s within walking distance of Union Station and the Capitol area. Every afternoon, the lobby area was flooded with people showing up for Happy Hour. As I scanned the crowd, I saw people talking to each other and engaging over the many games at the tables. No one was looking at their electronic devices, with the exception of me, who was typing these thoughts.

One of the calls I had this week was our Action Inquiry Group call, which always leaves me feeling energized, heard, and positive. One of my colleagues mentioned that she had recently listened to the Two Dope Queenspodcast with Michelle Obama. So after the call, I downloaded the podcast and listened to it.

As an older white woman who is prioritizing learning at this stage of my life, I found the episode enlightening, as I listened to three black women discuss things like dealing with black hair in situations with rain and high humidity. Clearly, this is something that I’ve never even considered. As a result, I was suddenly reminded that my view of the world is just that. It’s seen through my lens, which has been pretty narrow.

The other thing that occurred to me is the realization that I’m craving intellectual conversations that allow me to further my leanings. I need to be around people who can provide more opportunities for these conversations.

Stormy skies excite me because of their beauty! Stormy conversations and situations also excite me because they offer opportunities to learn. Thanks to my friends and colleagues who continue to indulge me with these energizing opportunities. 

With another week of national headlines dominated by racist undertones, I also heard some encouraging, inspiring news. I had breakfast with my friend Dr. Paula Yuma and Torine Creppy, President of Safe Kids Worldwide while I was in DC. I learned from Torine about Joyful Food Markets, a program in our nation’s capital that provides no cost, farmers’ market-style markets in elementary schools at dismissal for children and their families. The markets, operated in partnership with the Capital Area Food Bank partner Martha’s Table in all 49 elementary schools in Washington D.C.’s Wards 7 & 8, and are designed to both increase access to healthy, high quality foods as well as encourage families to eat healthy food. At each market, children receive a 15-pound bag of groceries, of which 70% is fresh produce. In addition to receiving healthy food, families are invited to sample a dish made with market ingredients at the Joyful Tasting Table and children are encouraged to make their own fruit or vegetable snack at the Joyful Junior Chef Table.

While we were in DC, my friends and I had an opportunity to view one of the celebrations for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk. We watched as a photo of Apollo 11 was projected on to the Washington Monument. It was an opportunity to reflect on the amazing feat of our space program in the 1960s, in accomplishing the mission at a time when we didn’t have the technology or knowledge we possess today. It was also an opportunity to remember the contributions of some brilliant women who didn’t get recognition for their contributions until recently. 

Taking time to pause, reflect, learn and appreciate is always a “moment of awe.”

My life

My life was black and white and I believed it

I believed it

My eyes

My eyes looked at the world but couldn't see it

I couldn't see it

You're like the thing that makes the universe explode

Into the colors of a world I've never known

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

Violets and purples

Diamonds and circles

You're my kaleidoscope

I love every minute

You've got me in it

You're my kaleidoscope

Hey la nah nah oh

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

Hey la nah nah oh

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

Tonight

The stars are in your eyes and I surrender

I surrender

Tonight

Our hands against the wind, we are forever

We are forever

It all looks better when I see it with you here

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

Violets and purples

Diamonds and circles

You're my kaleidoscope

I love every minute

You've got me in it

You're my kaleidoscope

Hey la nah nah oh

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

Hey la nah nah oh

You keep turning, keep turning my life around

I closed my eyes to the orange skies

Living all of my days the same

Then you came along, and you sang your song

And the whole world around me changed

Kaleidoscope

A Great Big World

Next

Many of my friends on Facebook have been sharing an article written by Arthur C. Brooks that appeared in the July 2019 issue of The Atlantic, entitled “You’re Professional Decline is Coming (Much) Sooner Than You Think.” The article describes Brooks’ “quest to figure out how to turn my eventual professional decline from a matter of dread into an opportunity for progress.”

While I’m not an athlete, I’ve followed athletics for most of my life, first as a coach’s daughter then as coach’s wife, as well as a spectator and fan. Therefore, I’m very aware that some elite athletes struggle with depression as they come to terms with their declining ability. But, I had never thought of professional decline beyond the realm of the athletic arena. I read Brook’s article with interest because these days I’m closer to retirement and the end of my professional career than I am to the beginning or even middle. I read the article looking for insight. Frankly, the article surprised me. It was a little hard to relate to because this is just not something I’ve worried about during the course of my life.

Perhaps this hasn’t been a concern for me because I don’t get joy out of recognition for current or past glories. While I consider myself pretty ambitious, as would most of my friends, I loathe public recognition for accomplishments. Maybe that’s because I have always worked in a team environment – not ever has the success of any project I’ve been involved with been the result of my singular contribution. When I have received awards, it’s embarrassing for me. As the leader, I’m the one who gets acknowledged, but it’s always the team in a collaborative effort that made any project successful.

I still get as excited when the creative juices start flowing and we begin to discuss new project ideas, but my excitement and joy is fueled from watching the team excel or witnessing individual staff members as they become more confident in their ideas.

I’m thrilled when former staff members rise to leadership positions. While I’m flattered when they ask for my advice, I mostly listen to them as they bounce ideas off of me. I pretty much just validate their ideas and thoughts. Already, these individuals are so much more advanced in their professional development than I was at the same stage of my career. This doesn’t make me sad; it makes me ecstatic and hopeful.

When Tony Dungy retired as coach of the Indianapolis Colts in 2009 at the age of 53, I listened to many sportscasters talk about his career as a player and coach. Not one of those sportscasters seemed “worried” about Dungy’s life after football. Coach Dungy, who lead the Colts to a Super Bowl title in 2007, was not the most successful NFL coach in terms of wins and championships. But, he may be having the most successful “retirement.” When his “glory days” of football were behind him, he “unplugged” from playing and coaching football, but he stayed “plugged in” to life. He is a best-selling author of the books, Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, and Priorities of a Winning Life and Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance. (I’ve read both and highly recommend them.) He’s involved in numerous charitable causes, including All Pro Dad and Basket of Hope. He’s also an analyst on NBC’s Football Night in America. And, one more thing – he writes a blog!

In an interview with NPR shortly after his retirement from coaching in 2009, Dungy said, “If you're just saying, hey, I'm doing this. I'm working to make money. I'm working to increase my status. If that's all there is, I think you will find out that it's meaningless.”

Coach Dungy said that while it was meaningful and fun to go to the Super Bowl and win it, those times were not as meaningful as helping young men who came into the NFL at 21 or 22 years of age and watching them grow as men and community leaders.

I don’t think I have to worry about “avoiding misery” as Brooks discusses in The Atlantic article. When my professional tenure ends, I don’t think I’ll be looking back wistfully, but I’ll be looking forward with excited anticipation. Because I understand, like Coach Dungy, that there is still joy, and possibly some “glory days” ahead.

America

I’ve driven through many urban and rural areas of Texas and Oklahoma in the past few days, and I saw celebrations of our country’s independence everywhere. Store windows were decorated in red, white and blue. Old Glory hung from flagpoles, lampposts, porches, and apartment balconies. Fireworks blazed through the skies. Speakers blared everything from The Star Spangled Banner and America the Beautiful to Lee Greenwood’s God Bless the USA.

If I were asked 5 years ago what it meant to be an American, I would have proudly answered freedom and opportunity. When I heard The Star Spangled Banner, more often than not, my eyes would fill with tears and an overwhelming sense of pride would flow through my body. As a middle class, white heterosexual Christian, I have been privileged to experience freedom and opportunity. For a large chunk of my life, I naively believed that everyone in this country had the same opportunities and experiences, and I was insolated from understanding that they did not.

For what should be obvious reasons, I cringe at the word “great.” When Donald Trump said he would “make America great again,” Republicans cheered. When Hillary Clinton, said, “America never stopped being great,” Democrats cheered. Yet, the reality is that for some, America really has been great, and for others it has been shameful. What I realize now that I didn’t 5 years ago, because I was protected by my own privilege, is that while many have prospered, including me, others have been harmed. I have spent my entire career working for a state or local government agency, and I firmly believe in government’s ability to help and protect individuals and populations. But, I also realize that even when the intent is good, some laws and regulations can lead to unintended negative consequences.

There are many issues facing this country today. Healthcare costs continue to rise. College tuition costs continue to surge, as do interest rates on student loans, resulting in many young people entering the workforce with six-figure student loan debt. When I entered college the year this country celebrated its bicentennial, I was fortunate to have scholarship funds and a Basic Educational Opportunity Grant (BEOG), which was authorized as part of the Higher Education Amendments of 1972. Because of these funds, my working class parents were able to send both of their daughters to college without us amassing debt.

This country is also plagued with an opioid epidemic, which has contributed to our behavioral health crisis, which has contributed to our criminal justice system crisis. According to the U.S. Department of Justice, approximately half of state and federal prisoners meet criteria for substance use disorder. The Dallas County Jail is the county's primary mental health treatment provider for individuals with any involvement in the criminal justice system. It is also the second largest mental health facility in the entire state. However, the criminal justice system was not designed to treat mental illness or drug addiction.

Listen to any reputable news source, and you hear stories of continued discrimination in various forms, bigotry, and economic disparity. And, there’s the immigration crisis. We have many, many problems.

In an article published in Odyssey Online on June 5, 2017, St. Olaf College student Danielle Sovereign wrote, “Love for one's country has to be more than a paltry sense of nationalism or a spirit of competition against other nations. It has to be a willingness to admit the faults of the country you live in and fight for not only the rights of you and your family, but for the rights of all inhabitants of the United States.” Wise words, Danielle.

Despite the problems and shortcomings in our country, I still believe that democracy is the best form of government. I still believe that we can make a difference. I still believe it’s possible to create a country in which everyone has the same freedoms and opportunities. But, I also know that life presents complex problems, and that it takes physical and mental energy to keep going. And, that sometimes you need a break to recharge.

So, during the Independence Day holiday, I took a break from work and searched for moments of awe. I found these moments when I looked at my niece’s face and listened to her burbling noises. I saw them when I looked at a photo of my mother holding her smiling great-granddaughter. I experienced them as I meandered through the Farmer’s Market with my sister-in-law and her dogs, ate some fresh pesto and bruschetta that she prepared, floated on the river, enjoyed margaritas and conversations with friends on the patio, and cheered as the U.S Women’s Soccer Team won the World Cup!

I acknowledge that I was able to take that break because of the perks of privilege. I get it. But, I’ll use my renewed energy to continue the work we started. I still believe that our dreams can come true.

They can say, they can say it all sounds crazy

They can say, they can say I've lost my mind

I don't care, I don't care, so call me crazy

We can live in a world that we design

'Cause every night I lie in bed

The brightest colors fill my head

A million dreams are keeping me awake

I think of what the world could be

A vision of the one I see

A million dreams is all it's gonna take

A million dreams for the world we're gonna make.

A Million Dreams

The Greatest Showman

Embrace the Detours

I recently saw a t-shirt in Wimberley, Texas that said, “Embrace the Detour.” For those who are not familiar with Texas geography, Wimberley is an “off the beaten path” small town 38 miles southwest of Austin in the Texas Hill Country. I was in Wimberley with my friend Mary Ann because we have committed to extending our business trips after the “business” is finished. We are doing this to experience the “local culture” of the cities and surrounding communities on those business trips. We had just finished a week of meetings in Austin, which are held quarterly. Instead of immediately heading back to Dallas/Fort Worth, we had a nice dinner in Austin Friday night while listening to live music and headed to Wimberley on Saturday.

Seeing that t-shirt got me to thinking about a conversation that I had with my husband earlier. As I wrote in the blog post about our 40th wedding anniversary, my husband is a planner, and in many cases that has served us both well. I certainly believe in strategically planning for the future, so that we can be as prepared as possible. But, I also believe it is impossible to chart a course to get from point A to point Z without expecting there will be a few (or many) detours along the way.

Since I work in the field of injury prevention, I’ll use a motor vehicle analogy to explain this further. I think I’m a pretty good driver. I learned to drive when I was 15 years old and have had lots of driving experience since then. I have a car that has all of the latest safety technology built into the vehicle. But, if I notice another vehicle coming toward me in my lane where I have the right of way, I’m not going to stay in my lane – I’m going to swerve to avoid crashing. It doesn’t matter if I’m driving correctly, and the other person is wrong. What matters is my ability to course correct. And, that’s what I think detours are.

I think I officially began to embrace detours many years ago when my daughter and I were traveling to Colorado on one of our annual snow skiing trips. On this particular trip, we were just south of Colorado Springs when Staley announced we needed to find a restroom. I was immediately irritated. We had just stopped for gas an hour earlier, and I was annoyed that she hadn’t taken the opportunity to use the restroom at that time. But, I also knew that punishing her by making her wait until we arrived at our hotel in Denver, which was more than 2 hours away, was not a good option. So, I took the next exit and began looking for some place that had a restroom. About a mile down the road, we found a very cute and quaint country store that not only had clean restrooms, but that served organic foods and possibly the best chai tea I’ve ever had. That place became a “must stop” every driving trip to Colorado after that.

Since then, I’ve tried to learn from every detour my life has taken – even the painful ones.

Our trip to Wimberley wasn’t exactly a detour because it was planned. I discovered Wimberley thanks to several articles I’ve read on social media about the “best small towns in Texas to visit.” Wimberley was on every list. It didn’t disappoint. Nestled among many Cypress trees along the Blanco River, this town of just over 3,000 population is thriving!

There are no chain restaurants in Wimberley. No Starbucks. No Walmart or Target. There is an H.E.B. grocery store, which made Mary Ann (one of my foodie friends) consider if she could actually live there!

We spent hours wandering through the many quaint shops and art galleries. We started to believe that every person who lives and works in Wimberley must have had an intensive course in customer service! Every person in every shop, whether they were younger or older, was so gracious. They took the time to talk to us and answer our questions. And, we weren’t the only customers in the shops. There were many customers, yet every time a new customer would come in, we witnessed the same warm behavior from the sales clerks. It was impossible not to get caught up in the community spirit because these people exuded such love and pride in their community and their jobs.

We talked to two young people who had been raised in Wimberley, moved away for a time, but had returned. We talked to a storeowner who was from Dallas, but had moved to Wimberley with her husband to start a new life. We talked to a young black man who had lived in Dallas, Houston and Austin, but had chosen to move to Wimberley to live and work.

We had a wonderful lunch and cocktails at the Longleaf Craft Kitchen & Bar. While we were there, we had a conversation with the owner, who along with her husband also owns The Old Mill Store next door to the Longleaf. We learned that the owners had previously operated an art gallery in the building that now houses the restaurant, but had made the decision to close the gallery and open the craft kitchen in its place. When we asked her why, she said, “Millennials don’t buy art, but they eat and drink craft food and cocktails.” She explained that changing times meant that she and her husband needed to make some changes to their business plan. She said they made the adjustments to keep people interested in living and working in Wimberley and to continue to attract visitors. They closed the art gallery, moved some of the art to The Old Mill Store, built a kitchen, and opened Longleaf.

As I hear more and more about the demise of small towns across the country, I wonder if these towns would also be thriving if their leaders were more adaptable to changes.

While I more often than not do embrace detours, I’ve also been known to ignore them. As we were driving back to Dallas from Wimberley, traffic alerts popped up on both Mary Ann’s vehicle navigation system and the Apple maps on my iPhone. The alerts indicated a traffic delay a few miles ahead of us. Because traffic seemed to be moving at normal speeds and we couldn’t see any slowed vehicles in front of us, we made the decision to proceed on the same course and not exit where our devices were indicating. A half a mile past the exit, the road curved and we saw the line of brake lights. At that point, we couldn’t turn around and go back to the exit we had passed. It was late, and we were tired. But, we both realized no “gnashing of teeth,” complaining or blaming was going to speed up our arrival in Dallas. We just had to go forward at the snail’s pace to get around the crash. So, as we crept along, we noticed moments of awe around us – the stormy skies to the east and the orange/yellow sunset to the west, and I enjoyed 45 extra minutes with a good friend.

I recently saw an advertisement for Land Rover that said, “It’s not about getting to the finish line – it’s about respecting and enjoying the journey.” I believe that how we choose to navigate the journey, including the detours in our life, as well as the ones we don’t take is important.

I’m choosing to embrace the detours, accept responsibility for the ones not taken, and do the best I can to enjoy the journey.

Learning to “Lean In” to Disagreement

“I should've known the world was wide enough for both Hamilton and me.”

Aaron Burr in Hamilton

Lately, I’ve been considering whether I should I decline invitations from people who have different views than I do. It’s not because I don’t want to be around them – in fact, it’s quite the opposite. I’m fascinated with group dynamics and how people navigate disagreement to reach consensus. The reason I’ve even considered this is because my presence seems to make people with different views uncomfortable. I’m a “pleaser” by nature, and I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable.

For most of my adult life, the people in my family’s social circle had vastly different views on virtually every issue than I did. When derogatory remarks about someone from a marginalized population or an issue of social justice were made, the individuals would look at me and make a joke about me being the “token liberal.” For many years, I wouldn’t say anything. I would just smile begrudgingly.

That’s not the case anymore. These days, I dispute comments that I feel are disrespectful and hurtful. And, even though I try to have respectful dialogue, I’m finding that these same individuals seem to have difficulty with my disagreement.

As I mentioned earlier, I am fascinated by group dynamics. This fascination was accelerated after I participated on my first State Technical Assessment Team (STAT) visit with the Safe States Alliance. The Safe States Alliance is a professional association of individuals who work in the injury and violence prevention field. The STAT visit is a service offered by Safe States to injury and violence prevention programs within state health departments. If a state injury program makes a formal request for a STAT visit, Safe States will assemble a voluntary team to travel to the requesting state to conduct a point-in-time assessment of the program and prepare a report, which makes recommendations to enhance activities. Each team member is assigned a section of the report to prepare.

STAT visits can be tough. The length of the visit has ranged from 4 to 5 days. The days and evenings are long, with the team working 14+ hours every day. In its current iteration, the team members spend the first two days of the visit conducting back-to-back interviews with partners and stakeholders the state program staff have invited to be interviewed. After the interviews, team members travel back to the hotel and spend more time together debriefing what was learned in the interviews. After the debriefing sessions, team members adjourn to their hotel rooms to write their sections of the report. On the third day, the team assembles in a conference room at the hotel to read and edit each section of the report to make it a cohesive document with sound and feasible recommendations.

There is typically a mixture of individuals on the team from various generations and various stages of their careers. As I wrote in my August 8, 2018 entry “I’m Still Learning,” 72 hours into a STAT visit, the team members can become tired and “punchy.” It’s at that time that I’m most intrigued and amazed by group dynamics. More often than not when the STAT members are tired, they will coalesce, push on, and complete the task at hand in a respectful manner. At the end of a STAT visit, I’m exhausted, yet energized.

There were a couple of instances during the past week when I watched similar group dynamics unfold in a way that also invigorated me.

The first instance was when the strategy team of the Texas Injury Prevention Leadership Collaborative met in Austin for our annual planning meeting. This is a group whose values are grounded in:

  • Supporting the inherent value of each individual and believing in the collective wisdom of the group with purpose and passion;

  • Creating safe spaces for discovery by striving to stimulate and influence one another by strengthening each member and their contribution;

  • Accepting the responsibility to voice our opinions while supporting each other’s right to authenticity, creativity and learning; and

  • Believing in collaboration and cooperative interaction to find common ground to produce meaningful outcomes.

When I am tired and feeling beaten down by the current state of discourse, I know that I can always find solace in spending time with this group of people. Our meeting last week was no exception. We don’t always agree. But, we have created safe spaces for disagreement, where our team members “lean in” and listen to hard conversations. This includes me. At one point during our meeting, one of my colleagues looked at me and shared a situation when I had unintentionally been complicit in making people feel excluded. Because of the trust we have generated, I was able to hear her words with a learning mindset instead of getting defensive. Instead of trying to figure out how to refute what she said, I was immediately able to see how my actions could have been perceived. Even when we have difficulty articulating perfectly, we still communicate respectfully. In doing so, we have developed the skillset to work through tension and discover new ideas and opportunities. I am so proud of this group and grateful to be a part of it.

The other instance this week came during an Action Inquiry Group call, when I witnessed the group members sit with confusion around a topic and talk through that confusion. As one of the facilitators of the group said, we often are uncomfortable with “not knowing” and overwhelmed with complexity. The kneejerk reaction is to either defer to an “expert” to come in and solve the problem. Or, we rely on our own cognitive bias to find a simple solution. Here’s the thing about complexity – it’s complex, not simple! Through our Inquiry group, we are learning how to notice and pay attention to the intangible things. As a result, we are open to exploring different ideas. By doing this, we were able to overcome the confusion on our call and come to a decision that we all liked.

In her book, Unlocking Leadership Mindtraps: How to Thrive in Complexity, Jennifer Garvey Berger said, “In times that are uncertain and changing fast, too much agreement, like too much polarization, is a problem.” She said that while too much agreement is pleasant, it makes us follow a narrow path rather than expanding our solution space, which makes it harder to create and pursue a wide span of options that will prepare us for the demands of an uncertain future. Complex situations require diversity of experience, approach and ideas. Berger encourages us to learn how to harness conflict rather than push it away.

Touché, Berger. I think I always knew segregation wasn’t the solution!

Unshakable Hope

When I started writing this blog in 2018, it was to “search for moments of awe.” Over the past year and a half, it has become very apparent to me that I can’t see “moments of awe” when I don’t have hope. Hope is critically important to me.

A few weeks ago, my best friend and I were discussing Brene Brown’s latest book, Dare to Lead. There is a chapter in the book where Brown talks about personal core values. Brown recommends that individuals narrow their core values down to two. We’ve been discussing core values at work and have completed an exercise in which each of our team members selected their personal core values. Photos with each of us holding a Word Art document with our individual core values hang on the walls in our suite of offices. My Word Art document lists 12 core values, and I had a hard time narrowing them to those 12. I explained to my best friend, that while I understand Brown’s reasoning behind narrowing them to two, I just didn’t think I could it.

Carolyn, who directs the Center for the Practice of Collaborative Leadership at The Johns Hopkins Hospital, produced a deck of cards with a core value on each card. She asked me to sort the cards, without too much thought, into two piles. One pile represented values that were important to me, and the other group was the discard pile. When I had finished, she told me to repeat the exercise with the “important” values pile, until I had narrowed the core values pile to a point that I could no longer narrow it anymore. The card that I just couldn’t discard was hope.

My sister teases me about my “Pollyanna/rose-colored glasses” viewpoint, but I think that is more about my hopeful nature. Even during the darkest of times, such as when my father and nephew died, I’ve always managed to find reasons to feel hopeful. Until the day arrived when I couldn’t.

I’ve been fortunate that I’ve escaped the throes of clinical depression that has affected several family members. Truth be told, I probably wasn’t very understanding in the past because it was hard for me to relate. However, the National Institute of Mental Health reports that major depression is one of the most common mental health conditions in the United States. According to the 2017 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, an estimated 17.3 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode, defined as a period of at least two weeks when a person experienced a depressed mood or loss of interest or pleasure in daily activities, and had a majority of specified symptoms, such as problems with sleep, eating, energy, concentration, or self-worth.

I was one of those 17.3 million adults in 2017. I wasn’t just sad – I felt hopeless. This didn’t last for days or even weeks, but for almost 10 months. I felt like I was living in an alternate universe. My values of fairness, empathy, gratitude, humility, credibility, curiosity, and hope seemed to be lost among the cheering for a presidential candidate who had admittedly had multiple extra marital affairs, bragged about “groping” women, bragged about the size of his own genitals, mocked a reporter who had a disability, and insulted a family whose son was killed serving our country in the military. I watched as politicians and other leaders used, what I considered, racially charged rhetoric that seemed to embolden dormant neo-Nazi behavior. I watched news accounts of how several hundred members of white supremacy groups carrying torches marched on the grounds of the University of Virginia shouting, “You will not replace us,” and “Jew will not replace us.” I listened as Christian leaders praised these actions and cited Bible verses as justification. I read “tweets” from Christian pastors defending these actions while condemning persons who are gay or lesbian. I watched others, who claim to be Christians, turn away from the hate and violence with apathy.

Where I once saw immeasurable kindness and generosity, such as following the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah building in Oklahoma City or when my father was ill, I could only see a country that no longer resembled my values. The people being targeted were not nameless, faceless Mexican-Americans, blacks, Muslims, gays and lesbians, or women seeking justice from sexual harassment or freedom for reproductive rights. They are my friends and family. Their issues are my issues. I was paralyzed with an overwhelming fear.

When I looked into the eyes of my friends, I saw their angst and fear, too. But, I also saw love and resilience. It was that love and resilience, as well as professional counseling, that got me through the dark months. Even today when I read my journal entries from that time, it still stirs feelings of despondency. But hope has re-entered my vocabulary.

A couple of weeks ago, I attended the baptism for my great-niece. In honor of the infant baptism, the minister prepared a sermon on “unshakable hope.” That’s what I want. Correction, that’s what I need. I need to believe that Audrey will grow up in a world that is empathetic; a world where understanding and acceptance of people with different talents, ideas, and beliefs is fostered. I don’t want to succumb to the cynicism of our current reality.

I’ve discovered that you actually can find hope and “awe” if you just look for them. A few weeks ago while waiting to board my flight from Washington, DC back to Dallas, my iPhone XR froze. I couldn’t access my boarding pass. I hadn’t bothered to read the directions or look at the Apple Tips app since I had gotten the new phone. I was panicked and close to having a meltdown. An African American young man, with tattoos and baggy jeans, came to my rescue. This young man patiently showed me how to turn my phone off and back on again. He told me, “Don’t worry, I will stay with you until your boarding pass comes back up, and you get on the plane.” I was relieved and very grateful.

This week, my sister-in-law sent me an article about Cody Barlow, a 28 year-old heterosexual Oklahoma man, who decorated the tailgate of his pickup truck with strips of duct tape in rainbow colors, along with a message that read, “Not all country boys are bigots. Happy Pride Month.” He posted a photograph of the truck to his Facebook page with the following message:

“This is important to me, not only because I have family and friends that are LGBTQ+, but also because countless people have dealt with hatred and judgment simply for who they are, and/or who they love, for far too long. Obviously doing this isn't going to change the minds of those who are intolerant, but hopefully it can help drown out the hatred with love.

I live in a rural area in Oklahoma, surrounded by small towns in every direction, and I'm sure this is not a very welcome message around here, but this is going to be displayed on my truck for the entire month of June in support of pride month.

I don't think it is necessary to say, but for all intents and purposes I am a straight man that grew up here in Oklahoma. I love taking my truck mudding, going fishing, swimming at the lake, floating the river, and several other "country" activities.

It doesn't matter what negativity I receive for supporting this. I hope that this can help even the slightest bit to encourage and support at least one person that needs it.

I hope everyone finds their inner strength to finally live life loud and proud without regard for the negativity of ignorant people.

Happy pride month!”

Today, when I pulled up to the drive-through counter at Starbucks with my Starbucks app ready, the barista told me the man in the car in front of me had paid for my order. Surprised, but appreciative, I held my phone out to be scanned and said, “Then, I’ll pay for the order for the person in the car behind me.”

Perhaps, my hope for Audrey’s world isn’t that far off, after all.

Gmorning.

Try and face the world with

your best self, even if the world

doesn’t respond in kind.

Don’t do them, do you.

Gnight.

Tomorrow we try again.

Rest up.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

Gmorning, Gnight!

little pep talks for me & you”

I Need a Vacation!

Me: Sometimes, I think God takes control of our lives when we fail to listen and respond accordingly.

My friend Jen: Amen

Something happened this week that was either an epic fail on my part or a direct message to me from the Supreme Being that I need to slow down and take a vacation. I’ve written that I haven’t had a real vacation since 2014. My definition of a “real” vacation is more than 4 days strung together around a holiday or business trip.

Vacations are very important to me. I grew up traveling with my family on out of state vacations. The frequency of these vacations is somewhat in dispute. I remember them happening with more frequency than my mother does. Her version is probably more correct, but my version means they happened enough to make an impression on me and fuel my wanderlust gene.

When my daughter was young, we went snow skiing at least once a year and met up with my friend, JoAnn and her sons in the summer – typically at a beach in California. The summer after my father died, JoAnn rented a 15-passenger van. Staley, my mom and I flew to San Francisco, where we met JoAnn and her sons, plus a friend of my mother’s and her grandchildren. We then set off on a week-long driving trip from San Francisco down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles. One night of the trip, we stayed at a cool beach house. We liked it so much that we went back the following year and spent several nights.

Although that trip was planned, I was also just as likely to jump at the chance to go somewhere on a moment’s notice. I recall one year when Staley and I had gone snow skiing in January with my sister-in-law and nephews instead of our usual time at Spring Break. Two days before Spring Break was scheduled to begin, my friend, Debi casually inquired if I would be interested in going skiing again during the school break. Forty-eight hours later, we were headed to Colorado.

In the Fall of 2017, I had the idea for my sister and I take to take our mother and daughters on a Stephens’ girls trip to NYC in December, so our mom could see the holiday windows, a bucket list item for her. While we did manage to make the trip, Staley and I only spent 48 hours with them (Saturday and Sunday) because I had to get back to work the following Monday. Both of us were sick all of those 48 hours, possibly due to the work/life stress we were feeling at the time.

A few weeks ago, I got a text from my best friend that said she missed me and that we needed to plan some time together. I read the text and started crying. So, what happened? How did I go from being willing to head to Colorado within 48 hours to making excuses for not doing something that is vitally important to me? Why did a heartfelt text from my BFF suggesting a trip together send me into a fit of sobs?

I don’t know if I have the answer, but it could have to do with a change in circumstances. There have been some changes professionally that have caused me to question my competency. Thanks to executive coaching, I’m working on regaining self-trust, but it’s a work in progress.

So, instead of saying “no” or “not now” to work requests, I say yes. I say “yes” to uncompensated business travel because it allows exposure to the good work our team is doing. If the team is getting good exposure and publicity, I rationalize that it will be harder to eliminate our department if budget cuts are necessary. If I’m asked to speak at conferences, I say “yes” because it promotes our team. I work on weekends, trying to be prepared and anticipate any last minute requests I may get from our leadership, as well as other business partners.

Which brings me to the situation I mentioned in the first sentence. In the past week, I’ve been on five flights traveling to five cities. By the end of this week, it will be six flights and seven cities. On May 22, I flew to Baltimore/Washington DC for a meeting on the 23rd (the Baltimore part of the trip was so that I could spend 17 hours with my best friend before heading to DC for my meeting). Then, I flew back to Dallas on the 23rd and flew to Tulsa on the 24th to spend the Memorial Day weekend (and our 40th anniversary with my husband). I flew back to Dallas on Monday, May 27th. My fifth flight was on Tuesday, May 28th at 6:20 a.m. from Dallas to San Antonio. I flew to San Antonio to speak at a conference that I thought started on Wednesday, May 29th. I knew that my presentation would be on Thursday, and that I would need to leave immediately after my presentation for a meeting in College Station on Friday. With the precision of a surgeon, I had booked all of my flights, secured a ride from San Antonio to College Station on Thursday, as well as a ride back to Dallas on Friday, so that I could fly to Oklahoma City on Saturday for my great niece’s Christening on Sunday, then fly back to Dallas on Sunday evening.

When I arrived in San Antonio on May 28th, I checked into the hotel and participated on several conference calls. Later in the day, I finally managed to check the online agenda for the conference to find out what time it was scheduled to start. No, I hadn’t done that earlier because most days I’m lucky if I can check my calendar the evening before the next day. I quickly skimmed the agenda and saw that registration was scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. At that time, I was feeling exhausted and was relieved that I could sleep a little longer the following morning. However, I woke up around 7 a.m. on the 29th wondering if the plenary session of the conference actually started at 11 a.m. or if that was just when registration opened. So, I logged into the conference website again to discover that Wednesday’s activities were pre-conference sessions, of which we were not registered. Instead of feeling relieved, this time I felt panic. How had I managed to screw up the dates of the conference? If I were my boss, I would be wondering about my attention to detail. How can I be productive if I’m missing something as simple as dates of a conference?

I immediately sent a text to my friend and colleague, Jen, who lives in San Antonio. During my travels last week, I had missed a text from Jen asking me to call her to discuss some Texas Leadership Collaborative updates. I texted Jen, apologized for missing last week’s text, told her what had happened that morning, and that I was expectantly available for a meeting or call. Even though I had screwed up, I was still going to have a productive day. Jen’s response was “Shelli, go for a walk along the river. We can meet later for dinner.”

I sighed. Jen was right. I’ve been getting lots of messages from many people about needing to slow down and build self-care into my life. I’m hearing it from my family and friends. It’s in podcasts that I’m listening to and books that I’m reading. A couple of weeks ago, I spent 5 hours doing nothing but feeding and cuddling with Audrey (my great niece) and talking to Madison (my niece and Audrey’s mother). Later, my sister reported to me that Madi had said it was the most relaxed she had seen me in years. Ouch! Have my actions and non-stop work schedule sent the wrong message to my daughter and nieces?

Just this week, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it is updating its definition of burnout in the newest version of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), which will go into effect in January 2022. The new definition calls burnout a syndrome or “occupational phenomenon” and ties it to chronic stress that has not been successfully managed. WHO says it is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion” and “reduced professional efficacy,” among other things. It also says burnout is a factor that influences health status. Yikes. How can I do the important work of preventing injuries and diseases if my physical and mental health is in jeopardy? How can I protect the ones I love if I’m feeling drained, disengaged, and depressed?

A few years ago, my friend, Mary Ann suffered multiple pulmonary embolisms, which is often fatal. Thankfully, Mary Ann recovered, but she said that experience caused her to re-evaluate her life and what is important. Since then, Mary Ann and her partner, Jodie have prioritized vacation time. Each year without fail, they take vacations in May and December. They say those vacations rejuvenate their bodies, minds, and spirits.

Last week, my uncle called to tell me he was “spending his son’s inheritance” by taking the entire family to Hawaii. Honestly, I think that trip and the memories are going to be far more important to my cousin and his family after my aunt and uncle are gone than any inheritance!

After my moment of panic on Wednesday, I took Jen’s advice. I went for a walk along the San Antonio River Walk. I meandered through art galleries. I sat at an outdoor café and drank a margarita. I read a book my best friend had given me. I managed to walk 7 miles. I met Jen for dinner. Although it wasn’t a completely unplugged day (I sent and responded to a few emails), it certainly helped clear my mind for a very productive conversation with Jen.

I know that I need to make some changes. Hopefully, this week’s “wake-up” call will be the impetus to do so.

40 Years

There is a lot that can change in 40 years. Without question, technological advancements, that seem to be happening at the speed of light, change the way we communicate, work, and learn. In the past 40 years, we’ve been introduced to: the Internet, personal computers, mobile phones, e-mail, software, GPS (personal favorite), online shopping, online education, digital music and photography, solar and wind energy, fiber optics, DNA testing and human genome mapping, Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI), and non-invasive laser/robotic surgery (laparoscopy). Whew!

Forty years is basically two generations. It is also how long I’ve been married. When I got married in 1979, I didn’t have any grand illusions about the future. If I’m completely honest, I probably wasn’t thinking much beyond our wedding or honeymoon. But, even at the ridiculously young age of 21, I didn’t expect that marriage or life would be a fairy-tale. And, I certainly didn’t go into marriage thinking that I would “change” my husband. I just knew that I loved him, and that I was willing to put in the work to make our marriage last. I didn’t expect or want him to “take care of me.” I wanted a partner – a partner for life.

There were many people who didn’t think we were a good match, including individuals who worked with my husband. He had been a high school athlete and was a high school basketball coach when we met. I was a sophomore in college and had been a cheerleader in high school, not a basketball player. Let’s just say that my athletic abilities are limited. There were people who thought I wouldn’t be a good “coach’s wife” because I hadn’t played the game. Seriously. Ironically, my dad had been a basketball coach, and I loved the game. I still do. It may be one of the few interests that we actually have in common.

My husband knew what his career would be before he reached junior high school. I more or less fell into my career. He probably started planning for retirement around the same time he decided to become a basketball coach. That’s a good thing because, while he was planning for our financial security, I was planning the next vacation. He is conservative in his political views; I’m far left of center. He came out of the womb with “an old soul;” I’m Peter Pan. While we are both of the Baby Boomer generation, he is much more of a traditionalist, and I align more with Millennials, Gen X or Z or whatever. As I write this post, my husband is sitting in his car reading a newspaper, while I’m sitting in a coffee shop drinking chai tea and blogging.

Our marriage doesn’t look like the marriages of our parents or our friends. He was from a family where none of the women worked, yet he always supported my career. I never had any intention of not working. But during the summer of 1988, I looked at my 2 month-old daughter, and thought there was no way I could ever leave her. My husband looked at me and said, “I think you will always regret it if you don’t go back to work.” He was right (he will tell you that is the only time I have given him credit for being right, but that’s not necessarily true). While I love my daughter more than life itself, my husband knew that – just like Reese Witherspoon’s and Nicole Kidman’s characters in Big Little Lies – “I needed more!”

The thing is – everything good that has happened in my adult life and career is associated with my husband. When I said I fell into my career, it was because I followed my husband to Oklahoma City when he accepted a new job. Had we not been together, I’m not sure I would have ended up in Oklahoma City in the job that I landed after we moved. I wouldn’t have Staley or the friends that are so important to me. We never know what may have happened on the path not taken. There would likely have been different choices, different friends, and certainly different children. But, I’m pretty happy with the life I have and can’t imagine my life without the people I love in it.

True to form, my husband has been trying to plan a gift for our 40th anniversary for 2 years. He is prone to big grand gestures on special occasions, while I prefer drama-less episodes throughout the year. His first thought was to surprise me with a trip to South Africa. My best friend is from Cape Town, and he knows how much I want to visit that city. But, I nixed that idea, making it clear to my husband that I only want to visit South Africa if Carolyn and Dave are with us. So, he was on to Plan B. That’s the thing about my husband – he always has another plan waiting in the wings!

Just to contrast our differences, I ordered my husband’s gift last week – a set of traffic cones! He hates the traffic in Dallas (I love its energy), and he jokingly mentioned that he needed to carry traffic cones in his car, so he could park anywhere he wanted! His gift to me was a ruby (traditional 40th anniversary stone, of course) ring he designed. It’s beautiful.

Our marriage hasn’t been perfect. Like all marriages, we’ve had our share of struggles, as well as more than our share of fun, happy moments. With all of the changes happening around us, it is unrealistic to expect that people and circumstances don’t change. Certainly, our bodies change. Hopefully, wisdom and experiences also bring greater understanding.

On May 25, 1979, I stood at the alter in the First United Methodist Church in Ada, Oklahoma with much uncertainty, excitement and hope for a future that I couldn’t fathom. Today, I’m as unclear about the future as I was 40 years ago. But, there is one thing that I am sure about – “I still do” to continuing this journey and figuring things out with the man who always has a plan.

Happy anniversary, Stidham. I love you.

Hope

For several years, I’ve been fearful, worried, exasperated, anxious (insert any synonym for fear and dread here). It’s no wonder. Weekly, if not daily, I am confronted with hate speech. Even though I limit my consumption of cable news and social media and try really hard to focus on “moments of awe,” it’s hard to ignore the constant assaults on protections that I value. When I try to have civil, respectful conversations with people who disagree with my concerns, more often than not, I’m dismissed or told my opinions and values are “wrong.” It’s hard to stay hopeful.

But, I found some hope last week. Four years ago, my friend Debi’s son, Dr. Scott Martin, established Odyssey Leadership Academy in Oklahoma City. I wrote about Odyssey in my March 17, 2019 post.

I come from a long line of educators. I am a product of and have always valued traditional public school education. My husband, parents, aunt and uncle, sister-in-law, and niece-in-law were or are educators. Some of my closest and trusted friends teach or are leaders in higher education. I excelled in that system, as did my daughter. Dr. Martin and his brother are also products of and excelled in the traditional school system. Their father was a long-time educator, and both of those young men were taught and coached by my husband.

But, just because that system worked for us, doesn’t mean it works for all. It often feels like our systems, including the educational system, have been programmed to churn out carbon copies of a version of a small subgroup’s opinion of what is worthy, as opposed to critical thinkers equipped to solve problems.

There were a lot of naysayers when Dr. Martin proposed his idea of Odyssey Leadership Academy, including my husband. But, Scott forged ahead, and Odyssey opened in August 2015. Things are a little different at Odyssey than your typical school. They spend a lot of time outside the four walls of a classroom and in the community to understand societal problems and ponder solutions. While they study traditional subjects, such as math, science, civics and history, they do so in the context of real life. They use their math and science skills to build furniture and houses. They debate ethics in the context of real world issues. They teach appreciation for the arts. They don’t give grades, yet the students are accepted and attend colleges and universities of their choice, including: Lewis and Clark College, Michigan State University, Westminster College, Savannah College of Art and Design, Kansas City Art Institute, University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, University of Arkansas, Academy of Contemporary Music, Southern Nazarene University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Brigham Young University, University of Central Oklahoma, and Hendrix College. Most receive President’s, Dean’s, Regent’s, Trustee’s, and Academic Excellence scholarships from their universities of choice totaling almost $1,000,000 in scholarships.

Debi had invited my husband and me to attend Odyssey’s end of year celebration, so last week, I flew to Oklahoma City. I listened to Odyssey students present their projects with poise and expertise that rivals anything I’ve seen in a long time. It had been a long day for me, but as I listened to the presentations, I noticed that I was feeling an emotion that has been dormant for far too long – hopefulness. I even purchased a painting from a very talented member of the freshman class (well actually, Debi paid for it, which has now resulted in an ongoing battle of how I’m going to repay her)!

It takes vision and courage to challenge the status quo. It takes empathy and compassion to understand that sometimes our educational system fails our students instead of blaming our students for failures. At a time when the college admissions scandal has garnered much attention, I wonder if our country could really go from mediocre to great if we used our energy to improve our systems rather than using that energy to scam and profit the elites? After meeting the students at Odyssey and hearing their presentations and stories, I’m hopeful.

Congratulations to the 2019 graduating class of Odyssey Leadership Academy. Our future is in your hands.

Well done, Dr. Martin.

Cuddle Time

On Saturday, I did something I haven’t done in a very long time. I spent 5 hours in one place.

I am usually in constant motion. If I’m home in the evenings, I’m working or cleaning. The same goes for the weekends when I’m not traveling. I don’t sit and watch television. I loathe naps. I don’t sit in coffee shops savoring a cup of coffee. If I’m in a coffee shop, it’s because I’m using their WiFi to work. My idea of “downtime” is a long walk or meandering through the Dallas Museum of Art.

It’s true that I love vacations and travel, but I haven’t been on a vacation since my husband and I cruised around the Greek Islands in 2014. This isn’t by choice; there are circumstances beyond my control that have hindered my ability for personal travel and vacation. Which brings me to another point – my idea of a vacation involves traveling. Whether it’s in the U.S. or another country, I want to visit a new place.

My family is very fortunate that we have a summer cabin on a river in northeastern Oklahoma. I often hear that “you should just spend a couple of weeks at your cabin.” First, if I had a couple of weeks, I would actually be traveling somewhere else. I love our cabin and spending time there, but that is not a “vacation” for me, and it likely never will be. Second, while well-meaning, that advice is irritating, particularly when it comes from someone who has never held a job, much less had a career or understands the demands of a work environment. It also makes me feel shame. Those who are familiar with Dr. Brene Brown’s work around shame understand that it is hurtful, not helpful. When I hear that I need to “spend more time at the cabin,” I feel like I’m disappointing someone, which translates to “I’m doing something wrong.” I should pay more attention to Dr. Brown’s words because they have given me insight and courage to trust myself and disregard unproductive feedback. She says, “If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I’m not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their lives, but who will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgment at those who dare greatly. If you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in what you have to say.” I looked with wonder at my tired niece who had (with Ben, of course) created the magical bundle

That said, I understand the importance of rest and relaxation and it’s restorative powers on the mind and body. A few weeks ago, I was in a meeting with my executive coach in which relaxation was the topic. Instead of telling me to take a vacation or shaming me for not, she simply said, “Find ways to build self-care in your activities.”

This past weekend, I flew to Oklahoma City to attend an event on Friday night. My husband had plans to attend a graduation and anniversary party on Saturday, and asked me if I wanted to go with him. I said no. Instead, I called my niece Madison and asked her if I could have some “cuddle time” with my great-niece, Audrey.

So, I spent 5 hours on Saturday looking at Audrey, marveling at her dark eyes, chubby cheeks, sweet lips, dimpled chin, spikey hair, and long toes. I kissed her and talked to her, as Madison periodically dozed in a chair beside us. I looked with wonder at my tired niece who had (with Ben, of course) created the magical bundle that was rooting, grunting and sleeping on my chest.

When I finally left them, I was feeling exhilarated and more determined than ever to continue working to ensure that Audrey and all little girls feel loved, safe and protected with opportunities to live an authentic life.

Thank you, Madi and Audrey, for a near-perfect day.

A Note to My Mother and Daughter

This week, as I contemplated my next blog post, it was really a no brainer as to what the content would be. It’s Mother’s Day – a special one for my family because my niece, Madison, is celebrating her first Mother’s Day as a mother, and it’s no secret that all of my family members have fallen head over heals in love with Audrey Marie Winter. So, I wanted to acknowledge this first for Madi, while also paying tribute to my mother, who is the reason for so much of who I am, and the young woman who made me a mother, my daughter. I’ll get to that soon.

But, as I was preparing to write this blog, I saw a Facebook post that my best friend had shared. It was a column written by John Pavlovitz, a pastor that I’ve also been following for the past couple of years. Pavlovitz acknowledged that while Mother’s Day means “celebration and resting fully in all that is good about loving and being loved,” for many people, it can mean hurt for what is missing or never was for so many others.

I have several friends who did not have loving relationships with the women who gave birth to them. Yet, these women have also used that pain to become strong and caring mothers, ensuring their own children know the depths of their love. I hope they know how much I admire them.

I recently read an interview with Tara Westover, the author of the book Educated, where she said, “I think it is hard to believe you are a good person if your mother does not believe you are a good person.” I was one of the lucky ones. I was the first child born to 21 year-old Yvonna Moore Stephens. My mother was an only child (my maternal grandmother suffered multiple miscarriages), so I was showered with love the instant I took my first breath. I have always felt safe in that love, and there was never a time that I questioned it or felt that it was conditional.

When I’m asked who has had the biggest influence on me, it is without question my mother. While there were times that it was “easier” to be my father’s daughter, it really was my mother that has had the greatest impact on the person I am today. It was my mother who challenged me to be “more than average.” There were times when that felt like a heavy burden, yet, it is the catalyst that propelled me to “try harder.” When I think about the professional success that I’ve enjoyed (and I have enjoyed it), I have to give credit to my mother.

My mother is the person who insisted that my sister and I take dance and piano lessons. She is the person responsible for our out-of-state family vacations, which undoubtedly contributed to my wanderlust gene. Whether she realizes it or not, she inspired my social justice activism.

During the early 1980s, my mother was active in trying to get the Equal Rights Amendment ratified in Oklahoma. The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) passed the U.S. Senate and then the House of Representatives, and on March 22, 1972, the proposed 27th Amendment to the Constitution was sent to the states for ratification, with a seven-year deadline on the ratification process. For the ERA to become a Constitutional amendment, 38 states had to ratify it. As the 1979 deadline approached, only 34 states had ratified the ERA. Congress granted an extension until June 30, 1982, and there was a huge push to get the four remaining states necessary. There was opposition to the ERA organized by fundamentalist religious groups across the country. My hometown was no exception. As we know, the ERA wasn’t ratified before the deadline, but that didn’t stop my mother from working for ratification.

While sex was a taboo topic in the households of my friends, it wasn’t in mine. When I was in high school, my mother very clearly told me she hoped that I would wait to have sex. But, she also said that if I decided not to wait, she would get me a prescription for birth control. Not surprising, when my daughter was born, my mother gave Staley anatomically correct dolls and told me never to use “silly” words when describing body parts to her. One day when our daughter was 2 years-old, she toddled in to our living room where my husband and I were entertaining a guest, and announced that “I like having a ‘gina better than a penis.” My husband looked at me and said, “I think we can thank your mother for that!”

I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to please my mother, and I’m glad that I was able to make her proud. I don’t regret a single thing about my childhood. My mother was a good mother. But, I have a different relationship with my daughter than my mother had with me. And, that’s fine, too.

My mother grew up in the 1940’s and 1950’s. I came of age in the 1970’s and 1980’s. My daughter graduated from high school and college in the 21st century. My daughter’s young adulthood looks different than mine.

I know there are a lot of people who look longingly to the past, but I’m not one of them. My definition of success is different today than it was in my teens and 20s. What I want for my daughter is not a prestigious title or wealth, I want her to be happy, in whatever form that is. I want her to be curious and to challenge the status quo. I want her to never tire of seeking knowledge. I want her to be able to always find wonder and awe. I want her to treat others with kindness and empathy. While those are my wishes for her, what I really want is for her to feel no judgment from me. I want her to feel safe in making her own decisions, to know that I’m always there when she needs me and when she doesn’t, and to know that she is loved more than I can ever articulate.

Several years ago when my parents were moving out of the house that I had grown up in, my sister and I found that our mother had saved an old Mother’s Day gift we had given her when we were in elementary school. It was a cheap ceramic collie and a plastic blue flower that we had purchased at a “five and dime” store. When we suggested she discard the trinkets, she balked. I understand why now. For 25 years, I have kept a post-it note with the words “I love you” written in Staley’s 6 year-old handwriting that she had left on my desk at work.

This week, I saw an Instagram post from Beth Silvers, one of the co-hosts of the podcast, Pantsuit Politics. It said, “Happy early Mother’s Day to all who mother out there!” I thought that was beautiful, and it reminded me that there are many who fill in and “mother” our children, whether they are related biologically or not. There were times when my daughter was in elementary school that she probably spent as much time at my sister’s house as she did our home. It was “Sonz” who sewed all of Staley’s Halloween costumes. I have no doubt that Audrey will have the same relationship with McKenna.

There are also people in my life that I’ve had the privilege to “mother.” Last weekend, several of us gathered to celebrate at the wedding of my friend Stewart and his new bride, Mary Alice. I’ve known Stewart since 2011 and have witnessed him suffer heartache. Stewart, who is from Pennsylvania, has often referred to me as one of his “Texas moms.” As someone who loves Stewart, I’ve longed for him to be happy for eight years. Last weekend, I got to see that dream realized when he married his love, a young woman that I’ve also come to love. I also got to meet Stewart’s “real” mom and to thank her for “sharing” her son with his “other” moms. I hope that my daughter has “other” mothers in her life, too.

So, whether it is a noun or verb, my wish is that all will feel the love of a mother!

And, to my daughter – these Abba lyrics seem appropriate: “I'll always want you near. Give up on you my dear, I will never.” Happy birthday, Staley. You are my reason for being.