Write to Done: Lessons on Editing

Editing Picture

“Perfect is the enemy of good.” – Voltaire

One of the goals I set for myself as part of my 52 Weeks Challenge for trying new things was to submit an essay to a literary journal. I decided to submit an excerpt from my work-in-progress, a memoir on my Alzheimer’s caregiving journey with Granny. That required cutting a 9,000-word chapter down to 6,000 words – without losing my voice and the substance of the work. This was no easy task, because a writer’s first instinct is to think that everything you’ve written is important. Not to mention that in the quest for perfection, you can keep editing forever and never submit your piece or complete it. After much tinkering, I finally submitted my first essay to a literary journal. Although I was anxious about the quality of the finished product or whether it was “good enough,” I was proud that I had actually completed and submitted the essay. I had worked hard and it reflected my truth. I then looked ahead to the painful process of writing and editing future essays and my memoir. Editing my essay taught me a few lessons about the benefits of editing:

  1. Editing brings clarity to your writing. If your goal is to have your work published by others, you will have to exercise some restraint – both in word count and substance. This will require you to determine what really needs to be included in your work, and what can be trimmed. You will have to figure out what the purpose of your work is, and remove portions that don’t align with that purpose. You will also be required to read your work with a critical eye, and remove extraneous words and details. You’ll find yourself wondering, Do I really need to include a minute-by-minute account of an event, or will a summary suffice? Is there a simpler or less verbose way to say something? Do I really need to include every single anecdote, or can I just use the most salient ones? After editing your work, you will end up with a tighter, clearer and improved version of your original work.
  2. Editing makes your writing more organized. Perhaps because I am an attorney, I tend to organize my professional writing and speeches as if I am presenting a legal argument. I even construct my cover letters in this way, and once got a job interview on the strength of my cover letter alone when my resume failed to upload. I start with a premise, and I use each subsequent point as evidence to prove the premise. Although I use this approach in my business writing, I sometimes forget to use it in my creative writing. Such a methodical way of writing requires that you be very clear about the purpose of your writing, so that you can sufficiently advance it. While editing, this was often hard because I was sometimes unclear about my purpose. When in doubt, I wrote what I thought my purpose was and then outlined anecdotes and reflections to support that purpose. Ultimately, I gained clarity and my writing evolved from a (somewhat) meandering free-verse of thoughts to an organized essay (well, that was at least my intent).
  3. Editing improves your grammar and writing. I remember the day my 8th -grade English teacher covered grammar. I made sure to be absent that day. Since then, I’ve relied on Microsoft’s spellcheck and become a card carrying, dues paying member of the “if it sounds right, then it must be right” school of grammar. But, sometimes that’s not good enough. During the editing process, I dusted off an old copy of my Strunk & White grammar Bible. Who knew there were so many rules about when and where you can use a comma. Teachers, copy writers and editors have my deepest sympathies.
  4. Editing provides the necessary momentum to move your work forward. Editing and completing your work makes you optimistic about what’s possible and what you’re capable of accomplishing. It motivates you to look for additional writing opportunities and stirs up new writing ideas. Editing gets the ball rolling, rather than allowing you to become stagnate and wallow in self-doubt about your work (and worth).
  5. Editing makes you realize your story is already written. During a conversation with a friend about my work-in-progress, I kept telling her that I needed to edit it and make it perfect before I could say I was done with the first draft. “Your story is already written. It’s your story, so how can it not be perfect?” she responded. “Yea, yea,” I answered. I heard her, but I didn’t really believer her – until I started reviewing previous blog posts I had written. And then it was clear. My story is already written. I’ve been writing, blogging, journaling, and writing book notes for the last seven years. My story is already written. I need to get on with it already!When you’re editing, remember that you’ve already done the hard part. You’ve already put words to paper and written your story. Trust your work and the process, and get on with it already!
  6. Perfection is the enemy of done. Right after graduating from law school, I clerked for a judge. On one particular occasion, I needed to review court records and write a legal memo to my judge recommending a course of action on a particular case. Although she gave me a deadline by which to complete the memo, I missed it. I was so focused on writing the perfect memo, that I watched the deadline fly right by me. “If I had been a paying client and you had to submit that memo to court, you would have been sued for malpractice,” she told me in her dry, “you-done-f—-d-up” tone of voice. When I apologized, she replied, “Don’t be sorry. Just don’t let it happen again.” Ooops. My bad. My struggle to be done continues. I am notorious for starting creative projects, talking about them ad nauseum, outlining them, reading books and articles on writing, and then never completing them. And I could edit my work until Jesus cracks the sky. But, that’s not how things get done. There’s always room for improvement. At some point, however, you must bite the bullet and resolve to say “Done!” Deciding to be done with a project is scary, because it will mean you have no more excuses. Writing and being done takes courage. Being done means you will finally have to share your words and feelings with the world. That you will have to be vulnerable, bearing your soul and sharing inglorious moments often hidden in journals or whispered to therapists and best friends. You will have to face other people’s opinions and criticism. But, it also means that you will have the chance to share your lessons, triumphs, and gifts with the world. Isn’t that the whole point of this writing thing? Someone needs to read your story. Be done.

The Joy of New Discoveries


“Life is like a game of poker: If you don’t put any in the pot, there won’t be any to take out.” – Jackie “Moms” Mabley

I recently began reading The 52 Weeks: Two Women and Their Quest to Get Unstuck, with Stories and Ideas to Jumpstart Your Year of Discovery by Karen Amster-Young and Pam Godwin. After feeling stuck and bored with their lives, they decided to embark on a 52-week challenge of self-discovery. They vowed to try something new each week for 52 weeks. The idea behind the challenge is that trying new things not only relieves boredom, but provides the momentum required for growth and development in our lives. Amster-Young and Godwin argue that trying new things may lead to new-found passions and realizations, and more joyful lives.

I was drawn to 52 Weeks because it’s not often that I try new things. These bursts of adventure are few and far between. There are movies, plays, concerts, and classes I have put off attending, always promising to get to them after I complete some other grown-up responsible task and have more time. Even a waitress at my favorite restaurant thinks I should live a little closer to the edge.

“Don’t be afraid to try something different. You might actually like it,” she told me as she tried to convince me to order an apple martini and something other than my usual salmon croquettes with collard greens and mac and cheese. Yes, I am in need of a life reboot.

So, I’ve decided to embark on my own 52 Week Challenge – albeit not for 52 consecutive weeks. I need to ease into this “try new things on a regular basis” routine. I commit to making a conscious effort to try something new. It’s time to dust off my old bucket list. Here’s my list thus far:

  1. Go on a NYC walking tour – Although I have lived in NYC all my life, I am unfamiliar with many of its neighborhoods. Whenever I visit a new city, I love walking around and exploring. Why not do that at home?
  2. Visit NY’s Metropolitan Museum of Art – I’ve been to the Louvre in Paris, but not to the Met in my own city? Clearly, I need to get my life together. Don’t judge me.
  3. Take a pottery class – This has been on my list for years – like 8 or 9 years. Pottery is beautiful.
  4. Take a photography class – I love taking pictures, particularly of buildings, trees, and flowers.
  5. Go on a writing retreat – I’m a writer. ‘Nuff said.
  6. Go to a writers’ conference – Ditto
  7. Submit an essay to a literary journal – Ditto
  8. Submit an essay to a website/magazine – Ditto
  9. Volunteer – Giving to and making time for others is important and fulfilling. I haven’t volunteered in a very long time. There are organizations I keep saying I’m going to contact, but never get around to actually doing it. There’s no time like the present.
  10. Take an improv class – This seems like a fun way to face my fear of public speaking and become more spontaneous.
  11. Hang a picture – I’ve never hung a picture for fear of banging a hole in my wall. I bought a painting almost a year ago and had it framed – and it’s still sitting on the floor. Don’t judge me.
  12. Take a cooking class – I am a horrible cook. Point. Blank. Period. Exclamation point. I blame Granny. Whenever she cooked, she’d chase me out of the kitchen and tell me to go read a book or do my homework. So that’s what I did, and continue to do. Speaking of which, I should replace the batteries in my fire alarm.
  13. Cook new dishes – Maybe I should change this to “turn on my stove at least once a month.” When I first moved into my apartment, I contacted my building’s management office because my stove wouldn’t turn on. I thought it was broken or hooked up incorrectly. It turns out that my turning-on-a-stove skills were broken. Yea, I’m trying to get my life together.
  14. Travel to a country I’ve never been to before – I love to travel, but never make it a priority. Prior to a recent trip to Montreal, I hadn’t been out the country since 2009. It’s time to get more stamps in my passport. My Australia trip is coming up!

Okay, I’ve only got 14 weeks covered. I’ll add as I go. What new things would you like to try?

On Self-Care, Because You Matter

I can’t keep this up. Something has got to change. That’s what I usually tell myself, as I sit at my desk at 7 or 8 o’clock (sometimes later) at night chatting with the cleaning lady. Plagued by more to-do lists than I can keep up with and a fatigue that lingers no matter how much sleep I get, I frequently think about my need to de-stress. Sometimes I feel so exhausted and overwhelmed that I can feel a stroke coming on – not that I’ve ever had one. But, my pounding headaches and bouts of dizziness tell me that I need to find a better way to handle stress than drinking Cokes and Frappuccinos. So, I started looking for ways to relax and unplug from my Blackberry, computer, and the manila folder full of work I carry in my bag every day. I started reading New-Age-Buddhist-Change-Your-Thoughts-Change-Your-Life books in the morning. That lasted for a few days. Sometimes I’m just not in the mood for all of that esoteric philosophical Super Soul Sunday-ness, and those books are never as entertaining as the books I read during my daily commute. Books like my most recent read, the memoir Black and (A)broad: Traveling Beyond the Limitations of Identity by Carolyn Vines. That book is amazing, but I digress. Then I started writing in my journal every morning. A writer by nature, I like processing my life and purging all of my angst onto the page. I even bought purple pens and Moleskin notebooks in vibrant joy-inducing colors like yellow, hot pink, purple and turquoise to mark the special occasion. I enjoy journaling and it has helped. There’s something very liberating and cathartic about writing through your stress, fears, plans and dreams without worrying that others will read it and judge you. But, I don’t journal every day and needed something more. Although (I’ve heard) exercise decreases stress, the experience of going to a crowded gym after work, jockeying for enough room to change my clothes and waiting in line for the Elliptical machine adds another unnecessary layer of stress. Besides, I cancelled my gym membership on New Year’s Eve. Being a gym rat is just not in the cards for me.

And then I took my first yoga class. Who’d a thunk it? The Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Art (MoCADA) recently started a series called Self-Care Sundays, featuring yoga classes and meditation sessions every Sunday morning. I was intrigued by the fact that a Black museum was offering yoga classes. Although many Black folks practice yoga, I don’t know very many who do. I don’t normally associate yoga with Black folks. Instead, the image of a thin white woman marching earnestly with her yoga mat slung across her back or shoulder comes to mind. Making yoga and meditation accessible and emphasizing the importance of self-care in the Black community was a wonderful idea. Self-care was exactly what I needed, except I didn’t know that’s what it was called. I’m not a morning person, so I knew I wouldn’t show up to a 9:00 yoga class. So I decided to look for yoga classes in my neighborhood – and found a yoga studio nearby. I signed up for the beginner’s class and loved it! Hell hath frozen over.

My class only had six people in it, which is great because I hate crowds. The class was pretty diverse – ethnically and in body type. Two Black women, a White guy, two Asian women, and one Asian guy. Some folks were very thin. Others, including the instructor, weren’t thin and had butts and guts. But, there was no judgement or competition. Folks were friendly and just coming to get their Zen on.

My body is not very flexible, I have no upper body strength, and my gastrointestinal system does strange things. This hurts! Gravity is a muthafucka, I thought as I attempted the downward facing dog pose before giving up and falling flat onto the floor. When I hugged myself during another pose, my joints cracked. Clearly, I need to love myself more and am an 80 year-old in a 36 year-old’s body. As I leaned forward in the child’s pose with my arms stretched out in front of me and my head turned to the side and resting on a rubber block, I thought What the hell am I doing? As I twisted my torso into unnatural positions, I tried not to fart out loud. With my legs lifted in the air, I ended up rocking from side to side and wiggling around on the floor trying not to let loud gaseous bombs escape into the quiet room. With one eye open, I gave my instructor and classmates the side eye during our Namastes, Ohms, and prayer poses. I can see how some religious folks might be skeptical.

But, yoga was also relaxing. I think I fell asleep briefly. Yoga forced me to slow down and be still, which I rarely do. We focused on our breathing, coordinating our breathing with intentional controlled movements. We stretched our bodies. The teacher prompted us to think about our bodies – what felt good; what felt uncomfortable; what was tense and tight; and what was loose and relaxed. Yoga required letting go, which I also don’t do often. Letting go of vanity – I looked like a damn fool. Letting go of expectations and perfection, or even basic competence in my case. Yoga required me to test my body’s limits – which wasn’t very far, but was further than I initially thought. The next morning was the first time as far back as I could remember that I woke up without my back hurting. And I woke up more rejuvenated than I had in a long time. Since that first class, I find myself feeling less stressed and exhausted; and more relaxed, restful and focused during the day. I’ve gone back to yoga class since that day, and even bought my very own yoga mat and a few yoga DVDs. I make sure to eat light and avoid gassy foods on yoga days. Mind over gas, mind over gas.

Like yoga poses and breathing exercises, self-care is an intentional act. We have to make time and room for self-care in order to sustain ourselves and replenish our energy reserves. I need to do that more. We have to remember that we matter. We matter just as much as our jobs, co-workers, bosses, family, children, and friends. We must show the same care for ourselves – our physical, emotional and spiritual selves, that we show for others. Because we matter.

In honor of myself, I’ve resolved to:

  1. Not work past 6 (ok, maybe 6:30; I left work at 7:30 tonight; baby steps);
  2. Practice yoga at least twice a week;
  3. Go to sleep earlier (I’m watching Little Women: New York for the second time tonight as I type this post; I’m a work in progress);
  4. Use my vacation days for vacationing and doing what I enjoy (I’m planning a trip to Sydney, Australia!);
  5. Say “no” more often (I don’t need to join every committee/meeting);
  6. Wear dresses more often (I recently re-discovered that I have nice legs and dresses make me feel sexy/happy/fabulous); and
  7. Use lotion everyday (let’s just start with using it “more often”; don’t judge my ashy elbows; God ain’t through with me yet).

Self-care is a journey and the struggle is real. How do you care for and pamper yourself?

On Breaking Up With Facebook

“Comparison is the thief of joy.” – Theodore Roosevelt

Breaking Up with Facebook


I broke up with Facebook. Temporarily, at least. Why? Because I’m nosy, oversensitive, and probably am deeply in need of therapy/a life coach/a reality check. Hey, I can admit my flaws. It all started with a status update about somebody else’s business. Intrigued by some tidbit of news shared in said status update, I got all up in my feelings. I just talked to them, so why didn’t they tell me this? and Since they didn’t tell me, I guess we aren’t as close as I thought we were. And my curiosity carried me on a wild goose chase through the Facebook profiles and google searches of friends, friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, you get the idea. It was all topped off by a case of “the comparisons.” I started questioning my own goals and accomplishments, thinking that maybe I hadn’t done enough with my life. I started comparing my life to this person’s life – and comparing my life to an imaginary cadre of ideal and fabulous “other people.” As crazy as it sounds, it didn’t even matter to me that I didn’t want this particular Facebook friend’s life. I felt as if I should want their life. And the fact that I didn’t desire the same things and hadn’t achieved the same things was proof that I had failed in the game of life. All of this stemmed from obsessing about news that someone hadn’t even called me personally to share; news that wasn’t my business to know in the first place. I can admit my craziness.

I knew this way of thinking was ridiculous and unhealthy. So, I suspended my Facebook account. But, I also began to reflect on my FB experience over the years and the role of FB in our lives. Facebook taught me five lessons:

  1. Oftentimes, folks don’t want to engage in real discussions on Facebook; they just want attention.

This is just a reality. Know it. Own it. Embrace it. I remember the day I learned this lesson. It was the day a FB friend posted something about a recent breakup. This FB friend was someone with whom I had gone to junior high and high school, although we had not seen or spoken to each other since graduating. One day, he sent me a friend request and I accepted.

Fast forward to the day said FB friend posted a series of status updates about a recent break-up with his boyfriend. In response to one of these posts, I asked him a question about the breakup. Said FB friend promptly responded by deleting my post and ignored my question. Well, that’s too personal a subject to ask someone about or Perhaps he didn’t feel like sharing his personal business with you, a reasonable person might say. To that, I would respond, You’re absolutely correct. Except, said friend was the one who put all his dating business on front street. Pardon me for thinking it was an open topic for discussion. In any event, I realized that what he wanted was attention and sympathy – not to talk about the actual break up.

We’ve all seen variations of this theme: the angry soul who posts cryptic messages such as, “These Bi–hes are fake” or “Don’t no real men exist no mo’. Why dudes gotta be lyin’ and cheatin’ all da damn time?” or “Man, folks at work get on my last good got-damn nerve! I swear I had the day from hell!” And then when you ask them what’s wrong or what happened, they respond, “I don’t wanna talk about it.” Yup, I learned my lesson. I just ignored these types of posts. Why would they even waste time posting? Because they just want attention. My FB friend who posted about his break-up also used to post about such fascinating topics as the number of gray hairs he has, the new pimple he popped, and his adventures in nose picking. Yes, attention whore. This leads to lesson number 2.

  1. Facebook creates a false or shallow sense of connection and friendship.

Sharing is not the same thing as caring. Just ‘cus we roll together on FB whenever Scandal is on TV doesn’t mean we’re real friends. Whenever I needed some friend therapy, there were only a handful of people (i.e., five or less) I would call – out of 100 FB friends. Well, who are the other 95 people, you might ask. N.A.P.s! (Nosy Ass People). Don’t act like you ain’t never known or been a N.A.P.

  1. Facebook is a way for folks (i.e., N.A.P.s or random people you don’t talk to very often or at all) to be nosy.

Please get off your high horse. We’re all guilty of this. I am straight up nosy. I’m the old lady in the window who will lean over and tell you, “Now, I’m not one to gossip, but HONEY I was on Facebook the other day and guess what I saw . . . .” I’ve checked out the profiles of ex-boyfriends and the pages of their spouses/significant others/third cousins twice removed by 5 divorces and 8 baby’s mommas. And folks have done it me. I saw that you moved and took up sky diving and naked yoga, someone might tell me. You stalk my profile, but I haven’t seen you in 10 years and you never give me so much as a drive-by hi on Facebook, I think to myself. Honey, Facebook is voyeurism for the masses! But, everybody doesn’t deserve a front row seat in the goings on of your life. Some folks don’t even need to be in the nosebleed section. Sometimes, ya just have to deny admission. But, this has its own challenges.

  1. Facebook makes it harder for you to take definitive stands about your relationships with folks.

I’ve always been pretty decisive about most FB friend requests. Like the one I received from someone who molested me when I was a child. I had an emotional meltdown as I remembered incidents long buried deep in my subconscious. And then I denied her friend request and blocked her from ever contacting me again. Ma’am, what on God’s green Earth would make you think I’d EVER want to be friends with you? Oh, you thought I forgot, huh? To the left, to the left sicko! The chick who bullied me in junior high and high school, and who I later ran into as an adult? I accepted her friend request, in part because we frequently saw one another at professional events. She was a chronic over sharer, and I found her posts to be annoying. Each time I read one of her status updates, a deep hatred boiled up in my stomach and my face twisted into something out of a horror flick. I had to be honest with myself. Let’s face it: I didn’t like you as a teenager, and I still can’t stand you. Delete! Like Ms. Molester, I guess Ms. Bully suffers from amnesia or some other memory disorder. I think I still have some of Granny’s Alzheimer’s medication they can take. And I almost never friended family members. I have a strict non-internet-fraternization policy with relatives – some of whom are crazy and have made me consider entering a witness protection program.

But, there are also those gray areas. The times when you wonder if unfriending someone will cause more drama than it’s worth. Folks take “unfriending” seriously out in these streets. A family member once sent me a nasty inbox message because I unfriended her. Is there a problem? she asked. No. You’re just a nosy, drama magnet, I thought. She didn’t know me very well. People who know me well know this about me: I will ignore crazy until Jesus cracks the sky. Keep waiting on that response, boo! A friend had major beef with me because she thought I had unfriended her. She didn’t realize that the reason she couldn’t see my profile was because I had suspended my account – not because I had unfriended her. But, she didn’t even bother to ask me; she just assumed. There are those folks you feel ambivalent about unfriending, even if you no longer speak or you’ve have grown apart, because you run in the same professional/social circles or might see each other at Christmas dinner. The pressure is just too much! At the end of the day, you must water your friendships like plants. Facebook can’t do that and it’s just too damn difficult to separate the weeds from the orchids.

  1. Real friendships are nurtured in real life.

In taking stock of my friendships on Facebook and in real life, I realized that I only interacted with a handful of my FB friends in real life. The people I talk to the most and am closest to either don’t have Facebook accounts, or I never talked to them on FB because I was too busy being nosy and checking out what was going on in the lives of the people I didn’t talk to in real life.

Nurturing real friendships and maintaining connections with friends takes effort. Rather than scrolling through status updates, I actually have to call or see folks to find out what they’re up to. But, those friendships are deeper and more substantive.


I haven’t been on Facebook in months and don’t miss it. I will reactivate my account at some point, so that I can retrieve pictures and review posts that will make great material for my writing. In the meantime, I choose to focus on my real life and my friends in real life. Rather than comparing myself to others, I am learning to focus on my own journey, accomplishments, and blessings. My life may not look like the next person’s, but it’s the only life I have. I may as well make it a great one, and live on my own terms!

Any other Facebook refugees out there? How’s your journey going? You ever get a case of the comparisons?

Returning to Fearless Living and the Child Within

“You have to stop thinking you’re not worthy or qualified. You already have what you need.” – My Granny, Annie Lee McKinney

“God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” – Somebody’s saved, sanctified, and fire-baptized grandmomma somewhere

Created by Kaylee Andrea

Created by Kaylee Andrea


As a little girl, I wanted to be a writer. I would sit on my porch and read books. Or, I’d write poetry in those little black and white composition notebooks – books I still have. I wanted to be a poet like Phillis Wheatley, an African woman who had been enslaved in Boston, and who published her first book of poetry as a teenager. In junior high school, I worked in the library and was in the drama club (although I never appeared in a play; that’s a different story for a different day). My drama coach, Mr. Murray, encouraged me to write and let me type all my poems up on his office computer. That was my first attempt to write a book – before self-publishing became popular.

“Think about how amazing it would be for you to write a book as a kid,” he said to me as I beamed up at him with a sparkle of excitement in my eyes. Who knows where that computer file is now?

In high school, I continued to write and my teachers continued to encourage my writing. One English teacher sent me to a poetry workshop on Saturdays in the city. Another constantly complimented why writing and commented on my papers that I should consider publishing my work. I think my previous teachers would be quite surprised that I did not become the writer I had planned. I wanted to be the next Susan Taylor, the regal and beautiful former editor-in-chief of Essence magazine.

In college, I resurrected a defunct student literary magazine for Black women called Soul Sisters. I didn’t know anything about running a magazine and had never done so before. I simply solicited writers from across campus. The previous summer, I had worked with a woman whose son was my age and a really good artist. He provided most of the artwork for the magazine. I wanted to write and run a magazine, and I did it. I didn’t stop to think about whether I could do it, knew how to do it, or would do it correctly. And I even met my publication deadline. And then something happened over the years.

I was overtaken by more practical goals, like becoming an attorney – although I have never practiced law a day in my life. I stopped writing and didn’t begin writing again until I started this blog as a way to cope with Granny’s Alzheimer’s. But, I didn’t blog regularly and my writing goals were still put on hold or I simply procrastinated or got distracted by life. Not only had I abandoned my childhood dreams of becoming a writer, a dream that still lingers, but I lost the fearless confidence of my youth. The “I can do anything and be anything I want” attitude. My fearless inner child gave way to the grown-up world of self-doubt and procrastination.

That self-doubt and procrastination have stymied some of my dreams and affect me daily. In The Now Habit: a Strategic Program for Overcoming Procrastination and Enjoying Guilt-Free Play, author Neil A. Fiore, Ph.D. talks about the habit of procrastination and its underlying causes. One definition of procrastination is that it is “a neurotic form of self-defensive behavior aimed at protecting one’s self worth. That is, we procrastinate when we fear a threat to our sense of worth and independence.” He goes on to write that we procrastinate to “temporarily relieve deep inner fear” – that is, the fear of failure, the fear of being imperfect, and the fear of impossible expectations. He then posits that rooted in such a defense mechanism is the belief that we ourselves, and not just our work, will be judged as unworthy if we don’t feel we can do something perfectly. Dr. Fiore recalled a client who was a chronic procrastinator and suffered work performance issues as a result. She procrastinated because she was paralyzed by the fear of being “just average.” For her, to be average was to be bad or unworthy. She also saw her work performance as a reflection of her self-worth. Dr. Fiore asked this client, “Where did you learn to talk to yourself that way?”

I then asked myself, where did I learn that I was unworthy if I didn’t know it all and have all the answers and do everything perfectly? I thought of the stories I’ve been told and stories I repeated to myself over and over again. And how that doubt crept into other parts of my life, such as my career and fear of taking on new responsibilities. How was it that, despite having some measure of professional success, I still questioned my abilities and had succumbed to “the imposter syndrome” that businesswoman Joyce M. Roché talks about in her memoir/self-help book The Empress Has No Clothes: Conquering Self-Doubt to Embrace Success?

It’s interesting how stories creep into our consciousness, replaying over and over in our heads: Like the story Granny often told with pride about how my White kindergarten teacher told Granny I was “borderline retarded” and should be left back and placed in a special education class. Reportedly, this teacher had told Granny that a certain number of first-grade seats had been reserved for children of other races – non-Black children. Granny threatened to call the NAACP and sue my school, thus ensuring that I wouldn’t languish in an educational system that failed to adequately address my needs. Instead, I subsequently received speech therapy and other supportive services. I remembered a White college advisor and psychology professor who once told me, “I know you got an A on this exam. But, we have to see how you do on the next exam to see whether it’s a true indication of your ability.” At a college luncheon for parents, I remember talking to a White classmate’s father and mentioning to him that I had wanted to attend my college so badly that I applied through the early decision process and only applied to one other college. “You must have gotten in when the SAT scores required for admission were lower,” he told me with a smile on his face, as if successfully masking his insult and conclusion that I didn’t really deserve to be at this predominantly-White Ivy-league school. While in law school, I tried out for moot court (a school club in which you compete by arguing mock court cases before a panel of judges). One of the judges, a White upperclassman and moot court member, told me, “You bordered between arrogance and confidence.” Arrogance. That word caused me to question myself; it reminded me of the stereotype of the loud, angry, aggressive, “ghetto” Black woman that I am always trying to escape. The idea that in order to make others feel comfortable, I couldn’t appear too sure of myself. I wondered whether he would have made the same comment to a White or male student. And then there’s the old adage Granny and Black parents everywhere tell their children: “If you’re Black, you have to be twice as good to get half as far;” or “If you’re Black, you have to do everything better than Whites; you can’t do what they do; you can’t afford to mess up.” Along the way, I had internalized messages that I wasn’t enough – not good enough or smart enough or qualified enough. I didn’t feel like I had the luxury of just being or existing in all of my youthful, indecisive, inconsistent, still-trying-to-figure-things-out, I’m-just-human glory. I developed this idea that my performance at any given moment is not only a reflection of my worth as a person, but a reflection of my race. Whether real or imagined, that’s a lot of pressure to live up to.

I thought about how this fear shows up in my life today. It shows up as procrastination and feeling overwhelmed with responsibilities. I feel as if I am on a never-ending merry-go-round to prove myself. The fear that I must do everything perfectly and that I won’t measure up often leads to delays in my starting things – both big projects and the more mundane, such as responding to emails. If I can’t be superwoman and solve the melodrama of the day in one fell swoop, then I often marinate in my self-doubt or procrastinate by analyzing and researching the matter until I feel adequately secure in my superwoman-ness.

Ain’t nobody got time for that. Things must get done. The Now Habit reminds me to return to the confident fearless child within me – the little girl who knows she can be a writer or magazine editor or anything else she wants to be. The fearless being who doesn’t suffer from “analysis paralysis” or question whether she is qualified or how she will get the job done. The child who just does it and enjoys the journey. While reading segments of Oprah Winfrey’s journals online today, I came across this entry:

“Right now I’m wrestling with the notion of how, when, where to teach . . . under a structured setting. Stedman says just do it – and you’ll learn how to do it. Too many people wait for things to be ideal before trying . . . Me waiting to get thin before living my life.”

How profound. “Just do it – and you’ll learn how to do it.” Make the road by walking. You don’t have to have all the answers today, or know exactly what the end product will look like. You don’t have to be perfect or do it perfectly. Despite the façades others show the world, no one is perfect or knows it all. Everyone’s got their “stuff” to deal with. Everyone has had to try new things and embrace new challenges. No matter what the source of your fear may be, just start now, right where you are. Be that fearless confident kid who just goes for it. You’ll be one step closer to doing the things that need doing.

How will you return to the fearless child within?

The Honesty Revolution

Honesty Hour

“To thine own self be true.” – William Shakespeare

A new year is usually a time for new beginnings. It’s the time of year when the well-intentioned make New Year’s resolutions they end up breaking by February. Each year, I usually join a gym (or pledge to start going to the one at which I am already a member), join a dating website (or log back on to the one on which I am already a member), promise to finish my memoir (this deserves its own blog post; keep hope alive), lose 20 or 30 pounds (this number has now increased to 50 pounds), write “thank you” and “request” letters to God (a tradition I began with Granny; I still need to do this because Granny would be mad if I didn’t), and make a long list of other things I will start or stop doing (I can’t seem to find last year’s list). But, my track record is pathetic. I never met a New Year’s resolution I didn’t break.

This year, I made only one New Year’s resolution: to be honest with myself. To be honest about the people, behaviors, things and activities I like and dislike. To be honest about what’s important to me and about the things I couldn’t give two cents about. To be honest about how I want to be treated. To be honest about why I have or have not achieved certain things in my life. To be honest about my faults and flaws. To be honest about my strengths and blessings.

All other goals flow from our ability to first be honest with ourselves. How honest we are with others; the types of relationships we have and the integrity of those relationships; the goals we set and achieve; the type of life we lead; what we accept or refuse to tolerate in life; and the degree of harmony between what we feel and how we live – all of these are influenced by how honest we are with ourselves.

I’ve often been dishonest with myself for various reasons – because being honest meant hurting someone’s feelings or upsetting them; rocking the boat; or living below others’ expectations of me. But, I’m not living my best and most authentic life if my words and actions don’t match my feelings and thoughts. Being dishonest with oneself is also quite exhausting.

I got a head start on my honesty revolution by breaking up with one of my two gyms on New Year’s Eve (had to beat the automatic membership renewal clock). Yes, one of two gyms. Let’s be honest: in the past year, I have gone to the gym exactly two times – once to join and once to work out with a friend. Let’s be even more honest: I’m giving my gyms free money each month, I still haven’t dropped those 20, 30 or 50 pounds, and I have no intention of (or interest in) going regularly. Besides, walking my dog Buster counts as exercise. I resisted the gym manager’s attempts to convince me to keep my membership or at least freeze it until I become more motivated in the future. Honesty check: I haven’t been motivated to go to the gym since 2002, with a gym binge once or twice since then.

Being honest with myself just gave me an extra $100 in my bank account each month. Next up: cancelling my membership at Gym Number 2 (baby steps, folks).

Cheers to the honesty revolution! How will you start being more honest with yourself?

Twenty Lessons on Letting Go and New Beginnings

We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell

new beginnings

After living in my childhood home for the past 35 years, I finally sold it. Leaving the home granny had brought me to as an infant was bittersweet. Since her death more than two years ago, I have vacillated countless times between a resolve to die there of old age with my collected stray cats and the urge to walk out and leave it for the squatters to ramble through. Well-meaning friends offered sage advice in my times of indecision.

“Girl, you own real estate! In New York! Shoot, you know how many people wish they had a house? In New York?”

“You’ll regret it if you sell it.”

“It’s an investment. You shouldn’t sell.”

“It’s a money pit. The needed repairs will bankrupt you.”

“You need to start over.”

“You should fix it up and then sell it so you can get more money for it.”

In the end, my decision to sell was as much an emotional one, as it was an economic one. Moving was a necessary step in helping me to heal, move on, and create my own life and happiness.

The process of moving also required me to finally sift through 3 floors and more than 3 generations of stuff, some of which I never knew existed. My house was a treasure trove of memories, and I was constantly getting sidetracked by new discoveries as I tried to beat the real estate closing clock. I cried ugly-girl, anti-sexy, headache-inducing tears as I read letters my estranged mother had written to my grandmother as a teenager, a college freshman a few months after my birth, and a prison inmate years later. It was the first time I saw my mother as someone other than a woman who had chosen drugs and her own whims over being a mother and daughter. Like me and my grandmother, she was a little girl who wanted to be loved by her mother. I laughed as I read a letter granny’s twin brother had written to her more than fifty years ago, in which he lamented, “I don’t have too much to say, because I have so many problems I can’t think straight.” Nestled between pictures and old Hallmark cards was a letter written by one of granny’s friends, asking granny for forgiveness about some perceived slight. In retrospect, the disagreement seemed trivial and this friend would later become part of the village that helped me care for granny after she developed Alzheimer’s. In another letter to granny, her best friend wrote that she had enclosed money to thank granny for her help with something. I also found a letter granny had written to the neighbor who used to stand in his backyard and cuss God out when it rained, in which granny commented that she had enclosed money in appreciation for his kindness during her illness. I discovered a list granny had written of the more than fifteen places she’d lived in since moving to New York over fifty years ago. And here I was complaining about moving for the first time in my life. Granny’s journal from 1969 reminded me that she had bestowed me with her writer’s spirit and I wondered whether our shared struggles were embedded in our DNA. A church booklet that contained a picture of a teenage minister we now know as civil rights activist Reverend Al Sharpton, a fellow church parishioner of granny’s years ago, made me smile. Pictures of the great-grandmother I never knew made me wonder what she was like. Granny’s old bills and bank account statements from as far back as 1978 made me grateful for electronic billing and my job. I found granny’s fifth-grade report card and a school picture. She even looked like a granny at 10 years old. I wondered what the non-smiling, tough-looking little girl was thinking. I wondered if she felt loved. These items gave me a greater insight into myself, my mother and my grandmother and taught me that there is so much I do not know about our stories. Had I not decided to move, I never would have taken the time to sort through these things, always promising to get around to it “someday.” As I examined, catalogued, photographed, and packed granny’s belongings, I realized:

20. Letter writing is a lost art.

19. People in this world are very generous.

18. Granny was a hoarder (and so am I).

17. Change is necessary in order to move forward in life.

16. We are all flawed, vulnerable, and want to be loved.

15. If you take the first step, God will do the rest.

14. Paper is evil. Electronic statements and bill payment are divine.

13. Real friendships can survive misunderstandings and conflicts.

12. I am stronger than I thought.

11. Everyone has a story. Our story does not begin with us.

10. When in doubt, choose happiness.

9. It’s okay to want something different in life and to change course.

8. We are all imperfect and doing the best we can.

7. Be humbled by your elders’ struggles and grateful for their sacrifices.

6. Perspective begets compassion.

5. Letting go of some things allows you to discover and more fully embrace greater things.

4. Everything is about timing.

3. My picture of what happiness looks like is the only one that matters.

2. I am not 25 anymore and Epsom salt is my new best friend.

1. Everyone deserves to be happy. Even me.

Wednesday’s Word

We succeed in enterprises which demand the positive qualities we possess, but we excel in those which can also make use of our defects. –  Alexis de Tocqueville

Memory Mondays: Gangsta Granny

During my time in law school, granny used to meet me at the train station when I came home at night because she thought it was too dangerous for me to walk alone (late or not so late) at night. Whenever she was unable to meet me, she’d “walk me home” by talking to me on the telephone as I walked from the train station. Although her actions seemed a little extreme in my twenties, I was used to her overprotective ways. In junior high school, she’d wait with me at the bus stop every morning. “Granny, the bus stop is right across from the police station,” I often pled. “So? You can still get kidnapped from in front of the precinct,” she’d answer. When is the last time you heard of someone getting abducted right across the street from a police station? In high school, she spared me the embarrassment of her presence at the train station, but gave me a very early curfew. “School lets out at 3 o’clock, so you ought to be home by 3:30!” she’d tell me. By the time I reached law school, both she and I reverted back to junior high. She’d be standing by the stairs behind the token booth, wearing a tough look on her face – no smile and her lips poking out like a pouting child. She looked rather intimidating – or as intimidating as an elderly woman wearing a wig that’s seen better days and a long black oversized down feather-stuffed coat with her legs stretched apart and leaning on a cane can look. “Granny, you’re not afraid someone’s gonna try to  rob you,” I once asked her, thinking that her cane might make her a target to neighborhood thugs. “No,” she answered. “I’ll just start swinging my cane and speaking in tongues or talking to myself. They won’t mess with me cus they’ll think I’m crazy.” That made plenty of sense to me. No one ever messed with gangsta granny.

Wednesday’s Word

“We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
― Joseph Campbell