It takes guts to have desires and make them a priority.
I will be the first to tell you that it is scary to dream, want something and hope for it to come to you. I have had many a dream not come true and if I am honest, it is sometimes easier to not amp up my desires just so I don’t experience the feelings of disappointment.
However, what I know to be true is that if I allow my desires to be shaped by only one set of memories, I will end up making decisions based on limited and inaccurate information. Our brains find it easier to hold on to memories of negative episodes while positive things just don’t stick. Think a burnt pot with gunky stuff stuck to it forever (negative memories) versus Teflon (positive memories.) That is just how the brain structure works. This is designed to keep us safe and protect us from harm.
Therefore, as we explore our theme of possibilities, I encourage you to make sure that you are pushing yourself a little bit out of your comfort zone. It is often too easy to not take a risk, or not hope for a particular outcome because our brains try to keep us safe and remind us of the negative memories, so we do not go through that again.
This is why I keep a gratitude journal, and in my writings, I use the power of narrative to create stories and wonderful details around good and meaningful experiences. This grounds and anchors my memories in good soil that in turn feeds my desires for good things that I want in my life.
In this way, I think of desire like a lotus in the mud. There are usually a lot of strong murky feelings swirling around, competing with desire and it takes intentionality to let the voice of true desire be the strongest clarion call. It is in our best interest to slow down and really discern what is going on and what it is that we actually desire. Listen to your desires and see what they are trying to tell you. Remember to honor your desires and pay attention to them. The more you honor them, the clearer you will hear them, and it is up to you to choose to trust your desires and show up for yourself.
The beauty of desire is that it connects us to the events we want to experience. If we do not desire something, we do not go looking for what we want intentionally. Yet, as we search for whatever it is that we want, we do not know exactly how it is all going to unfold. Beloved, your desires are pregnant with possibilities. We don’t have to know it all to move forward towards that which we desire.
And disappointments will come. But, if we do not take the risk, then we can never experience genuine fulfillment. And we will never explore what those desires are truly all about.
This past week is a fine example of a fulfilled desire for me.
As I write this, I am 32,000 feet in the air on a flight back to Atlanta from Baltimore.
I spent three days at a training in Baltimore. I have been planning this week for two years. When I first heard of this training, it felt like a perfect fit. Given my coaching, I loved the idea of training people to develop aspects of their leadership skills as they focus on developing their leadership identity, so they can function in their work in the most natural way possible.
However, every time I went to sign up for the training, the class was full. It was offered in other cities, but I was determined to do it in Baltimore as I would be able to see friends and take care of some other business. I was quite disappointed that I could not attend the first two or three that I tried to sign up for. I did not want to plan something a year out as sometimes, that is a challenge for me. Although we talked about using planner’s last week, I am not that much of a planner to actually plan an event a year out. I started to wonder if I should be bothered with this training.
But then, I kept getting more and more excited about the subject matter. I would hear about it again. I would come across some information that was directly related to it. And my desire for it would swell up. And I planned it, and it happened.
I have wanted this trip for so long and to watch it unfold and try and connect all the dots as things happened and fell into place, was an incredible experience. I felt a little anxious. I had chosen to meet up with all sorts of people and I wanted it all to go smoothly.
First, I stayed with a friend from high school (“secondary school” as we like to say) in Nigeria. We have stayed in touch all these years and we first met each other when we were 11 years old! She is an amazing connector and is always able to get the four of us who were close friends and now live all over the planet, to connect. We have an epic squad trip planned for all four of us in November.
I know me. I might be a little famous for running about five minutes late to everything. I may leave the bathroom a mess as I am hurling out the door and I know my friend is the kind who is probably about 30 minutes early to everything. So, I was giving myself that pep talk: “Be on time. Make sure the bathroom is spotless. Make your bed.” Phew! Why do I do this to myself?
My friend’s warmth and hospitality felt like glue to my bones. I felt so safe and trusting around this person who knew me in all the various historical contexts of my life. A hard worker and an amazing mother, her personality is so different from mine, but she had this amazing gift of allowing me to be myself while she went on being her extremely organized and efficient self. She was totally unconcerned about my uptight need to make sure I was not a bad house guest. She accepted and loved me and asked nothing of me for her comfort.
Lesson: Accepting difference does not mean being the same.
After the training one evening, I drove off to Towson in my car rental and revisited where I landed at 16 years old. I visited my alma mater, Goucher College and was dismayed that I did not recognize a single building. The school grounds are so well developed that I could not figure out where I used to live. I had to ask for directions to buildings and discover how even the old buildings were redone beyond recognition. While the burgeoning growth of the school is impressive, I felt a little discombobulated that what I perceived with my eyes did not match up with my memories. When I attended Goucher, it was an all-women’s college and it had 1,00 students. Today with 2,150 students, the school champions itself as “innovative” and is making waves in academia as they asked applicants to submit videos instead of written applications!
I felt grief because somehow I felt I had been left behind and my memories felt betrayed as I could not recognize anything.
Lesson: The only place where things say the same is in your mind.
At Goucher, back in the 80’s, there were four African students. One evening on this trip, I had dinner with my college “little sister” who was also from West Africa. Again, another highly competent person and mother who is really doing an exceptional job of keeping family and life together. We had not seen each other in over twenty years and the trust and core friendship was still there. I wondered why I had not done a good job, again, of keeping in touch with such a spectacular human being. We picked up right where we left off and chatted away about her family and mine. I get so fascinated with people’s children and how their personalities evolve. Her kids were no exception and I enjoyed getting to know them through their mother’s eyes.
We met at the architectural grandeur now known as Union Station in DC. I remember when I lived on one side of Union Station and walked to classes at Georgetown Law School on the other side of the train station. It did not look like it did back then. It was just a train stop for Amtrack as well as a Metro stop but today, it is a mall, a historically restored building and an amazing place to people watch.
We found a quiet spot and our conversation flowed with easy resonance. We both opened up and picked up where we left off 20 years ago. We have been social media friends and we both love literature from all over the world. We shared our hearts with each other and daresay, we both needed it. I know I did.
Lesson: Resonance is when the heart says, “this is where I belong.”
The next day, I spent a few hours texting with my bestie from law school. She is now some big muckity muck somewhere and a person recently reached out a few weeks ago, out of the clear blue sky and told me where to find my law school bestie. I found her, but it was her birthday weekend and her hubby had her otherwise occupied. Therefore, the best we could do was text each other and that was fine because I was in overload mode anyway. We texted about family, jokes, updates on life and “the Sade concert” that we went to during law school. Now, that is a story! For another day. Epic!
Again, the trust of an old friendship made way for me to be myself and be confident that genuine reconnection is possible.
Lesson: Deep laughter with an old friend is priceless. Seek it out.
Finally, I enjoyed lunch with a friend that I was meeting for the very first time, face to face. I met a coach on Facebook in January 2009, and I have watched her closely. She has been one of my coaches and I have taken her classes. She has been a resource to me and in turn I have encouraged her and cheered her on. Again, she is another Rockstar mother and highly competent professional. She is definitely in the category of favorite people on the planet because she is not afraid to show integrity and does it on a regular basis.
It started with her funny recipes that she would post on Facebook and I would nostalgically read them as she is a wonderful writer. What is adorable about her is that what you see is what you get. Our political leanings are different, or are they? We fall on the same spectrum of values and have more in common than not. She is outspoken against inhumanity and nonsensical policies. I am grateful for someone who identifies differently from me politically and yet we agree on core fundamental issues and have meaningful dialogue about it.
I am especially proud of the fact that I have secretly liked and admired her, and I was not wrong about her. Have you done that before? You meet someone, and you are like: “That is not what I expected!” Not here! I picked a good one!
Lesson: Show up and be that person that is the same in person and on social media. No faking, please.
Michele Woodward is a veteran executive coach and wicked smart. Over lunch, she was quoting unemployment rates for counties in the area. We talked politics, values, the training I attended and with all the generosity of heart, she made suggestions for how I could incorporate the training into coaching.
When I think of Michele, my spending time with her was important because she, according to my indigenous tradition, is my elder. I have no idea her age. I suspect we are in the same age range. But she is my elder, as a coach, because she has been at it for much longer, has experienced great success at it and is so confident in her work that she is able to be generous as she willingly mentors newer coaches like me. Michele adds to the dignity of the industry by having very high standards, being transparent and being excellent at what she does. This makes her my elder in the profession.
I believe in respecting who and what you want to become. Respect looks like getting to know someone who is more successful than you are in your field. It is not just networking. It is a learning relationship. Observe the person. See how she (in this case) shows up. Check out her values. Give her permission to speak into your life. Form a solid relationship with her. Ask her how you can be of support to her. Be mindful of her time. Say, “Thank you.”
Respect is not the same as putting a person on a pedestal. Nope! Don’t do that. Respect says, “You’ve done the hard work of paving a path that actually makes my path easier. Thank you. May I learn from you?” Respect keeps you humble. You don’t know it all and if you do not make room to learn from others, honey, you are just going to be stuck. It really is that simple.
Lesson: Respect matters. Who do you respect? Why? Do you let them know it?
After lunch, Michele graciously took me to the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The former is the only museum in the United States dedicated solely to portraiture. Given that her mother was a history teacher, I could not have had a better guide in Michele. As we enjoyed the architecture of these two magnificent buildings, we shared our passion for beauty, history, learning, and the arts. We viewed the stunning Lansdowne portrait of a very European-aristocratic-yet-puritanical looking George Washington, a $20 million acquisition as well as the unfinished portrait of Martha Washington, also by the same artist, Gilbert Stuart. Finally, we got in line to see the iconic Barack Obama portrait. Pictures do not do it justice. I felt overwhelmed and tears stung my eyes as I thought of this man whose racial makeup is so similar to mine and what he achieved at such a young age. The portrait of Michele Obama was equally emotional. I almost feel as if I met Barack and Michele. What a privilege to see these portraits! Desires do come true.
As we said our goodbyes, hugged ourselves tightly and took the proverbial selfie, evidence of awesomeness, I wondered how I could be so incredibly blessed. Even now, my heart is swelling with gratitude as I recognize that there was a mysterious miraculous element to the weekend.
Lesson: Your desire has a voice. Give her the opportunity to be heard.
I don’t know what it all means. Lots of dots to connect. However, the confluence of each stage of my life, college, law school, my second career, old and new relationships, a significant new training and, as corny as it may sound, my imagined visitation and blessing of the Obamas on my trip, it all left me wondering about all the possibilities.
My hopes, my fears, my memories, my personal history, my rich relationships, my education, and new learnings all spoke to me on this trip as they wanted a voice in informing my possibilities about what my true desires are all about.
I feel that I went on a journey to Baltimore and it turned into a pilgrimage that expanded me for the better. Each piece of this trip held its own significance and was deeply meaningful to me. The entire trip held promises that are yet to unfold, and I look forward to each of them.
I do know, and I can say with all certainty that 10 years ago, I would have handled this whole trip very differently. I would have not called on old friends out of insecurity. I would have decided that my body looked too different from “back then” and I would not want anyone to see me. I would have decided that Michele (Woodward, not Obama. Don’t get it twisted! LOL) “did not want to be bothered” with me and would not have reached out. I would have gone to my training and it would have been just another business trip. I would have swept away feelings of guilt about not calling up and visiting friends and say to myself, “I just did not have the time.” I would have had a transactional experience, done the bare necessities, received my training and returned back to my life as usual.
But this trip was very different because I am different.
My priorities are different. As I get older, I want my friendships richer. I want to be with my friends that have known me for almost as long as I have known myself. I want to reconnect with those whom I have loved, and I am eager to love them again actively. I want to connect with new loves and new experiences of beauty. I want to make sure I let each of my friends know that they matter to me. I want to be intentional about cultivating healthy strong supportive relationships.
Therefore, I went looking for reconnection and new connection. And I got it. And it was awesome. And I am grateful. And I am full.
Beloveds, I do know that my desires matter. If I did not show up for myself, the desires within me to connect, learn a new skill, see the portraits and all the other wonderful things that happened, would not have happened. It is that simple.
I know that I could have talked myself out of the experience. But I made the choice, took the risk, planned it and today, I can tell you, my every desire for this trip was fulfilled.
What I thought was an opportunity for a professional training (and it was) also became an opportunity to receive love, care, and deepened relationships. My desires had profound wisdom in them as they guided me on this pilgrimage.
Lesson: Your desires want to be fulfilled. But first, you must show up for yourself. When you show up for yourself, the possibilities within your desires will flourish.
Beloved, do you pay attention to your desires?
How do you experience the richness within them? Tell me, what are some of your true desires?