The Power of Our Stories

The Power of Our Stories

In 2018, I was asked to speak at the Union Pacific Law and Risk Management Conference. I excitedly said yes as it would be a wonderful experience to share my story. Little did I know that the theme of the conference was literally: TELL YOUR STORY. I’m sharing my speech with you here to encourage you to tell YOUR story as well! Maybe it’s to your children or your loved ones. Maybe you have a story to tell to your co-workers or neighbors. Maybe it’s simply that you need to get some of your story onto paper?



What makes it so hard to make friends as adults? If you think back to the people who made you feel the most welcome in new or potentially awkward situations, what WAS it exactly that they did to bring you into the fold? Why is it that we don't offer more of ourselves to others and take advantage of all that beautiful friendships have to offer? Why don't more of us take time to select and hold aside a special gift of friendship, or spanish onion flowers?

All strength is not loud (or wearing red)

The news isn't officially banned in our household, but it might as well be. There are very few sources that offer bipartisan information, so I choose to leave it turned off. I only visit my Twitter account these days to share something impactful I've heard or read lately (via a book, song lyrics or on a podcast) to give the author / artist a shout out that the art they have painstakingly put out into the world has found its way to a soul that appreciates the work.

The moments that my resolve cracks momentarily and I find myself scrolling through the 160 character spew fests, I immediately feel my heart beat faster and I know my blood pressure is rising. I can tell, because of my physical reaction, but yet I hold my phone, and continue to scroll, with my left hand thumb flicking upwards.

Attacking. Spewing. Anger flying. Hurting feelings. Speaking too quickly. 

No fact checking. No regard for the other's opinions.

Maybe they aren't opinions at all, but simply words they heard someone else say?

Name calling. Hashtagging.

Judging because they marched. Judging because they didn't march.

Changing their minds. Wavering between stated positions. Retreating, then lashing.

How dare you? Who are you? Why are you even here? Did you even vote? 

Go back where you came from. You don't deserve a passport. You disgust me.

Keyboard warriors. Laptop Activists. Movement obsessed.

I've removed the Facebook app from my phone, and have long utilized the Newsfeed Eradicator Chrome Extension (which literally means I cannot see my news feed when I log onto Facebook from my laptop). I didn't want to unfriend those who view life differently than me, but I needed to slow down the speed at which their opinions entered my psyche.

When someone near me is talking about politics, I set my jaw hard on the left side. I tap my tongue against the inside of my mouth ... on the smooth part of my teeth and listen. I listen to whether they have something new for me to learn. I want to use every opportunity to add value to the time we are given together. It isn't easy. My blood sometimes boils and my the hair on the back of my neck stands up often ... but we must first listen.

Our staunch beliefs are rooted in so many things. Our opinions are the culmination of how you were raised and how you were not raised. Whether you spoke openly at the dinner table about the White House or barely knew what a voting precinct meant. What we think about the climate of our world is colored by where we've lived and how you view government's control over a place. It is determined by whether you were bullied or supported, loved or abandoned. We even allow our experiences with religion, cultural events and education eek into the way we feel about those running our countries.

I have maintained a "head down" and "stay in my lane" mantra since well before the election. I grew increasingly saddened by the campaigns from both parties as we went into the election -- and that feeling hasn't changed since. Not because he won and she lost, but because the behavior I am witnessing amongst my fellow human race is defeating and disheartening.

It's a weird place to be, this in the middle lane that I find myself in. It's a location I sit squarely in on matters of race, and on matters of feminism and religion as well. I bite my tongue more than I speak, which is slightly ironic because otherwise, my mouth rants and rages on most topics.

What happens when the silent majority of those in the middle isn't loud enough? I recently watched the remake of Beaches with our 10 year old daughter and one of the recurring themes, said by CC to Hillary, is:

Not all strength is loud.

I have given myself permission to live in a "not all strength is loud" way of being.

By checking out of social media, you are not irresponsible

By refusing to watch the news, you are not ignorant

By choosing to get a pedicure and watch The Voice recordings in the afternoons, you are not anti-feminist

By marching or by NOT marching, you are likely still not doing enough

By reading personal or business development books instead of the latest op-ed or Medium article on the most recent EO, you are not turning a blind eye

By asking someone a question on why they believe the way they do, you are dropping a small ripple of goodness on its way towards change

By listening to that person while they answer your question, you are furthering the cause of progression

By insisting that kindness and hopefulness still reign supreme, you are not being ridiculous

By reminding each other that we can impact our local climate, we are supporting each other in healthy ways.

I wrote all of those words a few weeks ago, but was reminded today, on International Women's Day, as I'm being asked from my friends - the world over - if I'm participating in the #ADayWithoutAWoman movement, that I never hit submit.

I could easily get blasted for speaking "from a place of privilege".  I'll be honest that the fear of speaking my mind (on topics of racism, feminism, equality, etc.) and then being subjected to that "place of privilege" being thrown in my face has kept me from saying much on the topics until now. I've never been one to shy away from sharing my opinion and my truth, so I'm not sure why I've let it hush me for so long. I do speak from a place of privilege - I will say that out loud, and acknowledge it. Whether it's white privilege (even though I'm biracial), socio-economic privilege, religious, sexual preference, citizenship, you name it -- I have it.  I have cringed when reading one article (from a "privileged" author) be lambasted and challenged by someone without the same privilege in a "how dare you" tone of voice. I have winced when listening to someone who feels oppressed share their stories, and have felt sad, helpless and hurt for them, only to then hear that someone ("privileged") supported their plight, but was shunned for pretending to know what it felt like.

We cannot continue to -- in a sweeping manner -- call people out on their privilege as IF it automatically negates their activism, waters down their voice, their power or their truth.

Whether you are oppressed or have every privilege afforded to you, no matter who you voted for, why you voted for them, or what you're now doing about the world you live in, I am so happy to see SO many rising up, showing up and speaking up. I honestly have been encouraged by the increased discussions taking place around what is happening in our world.

International Women's Day was designed to:
... reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role in the history of their countries and communities." - United Nations website
Then there is the #DayWithoutAWoman, designed to encourage these actions:
Do not engage in paid and unpaid work. Wear red in solidarity. Avoid spending money (unless it's at an establishment owned by women or minorities).
If we are celebrating those acts of courage and determination by ordinary women, it seems like the DWAW only takes us a step back. Let's all "stay home" and for some, risk losing our jobs. Let's not spend the money WE worked hard to earn. I still haven't figured out why we are encouraged to only spend money at establishments owned by women OR minorities. Confused, but whatever.
So ... in answer to the questions I have fielded today:

I am not wearing red today.

I am showing up and getting work done.

I am spending money that I earned today.

I wonder what it would look like if we encouraged:
  • Wear a color that is any hue you choose, but be sure it's BOLD (and then when someone sees that boldness, own it and say "thank you!" with the same fervor our male counterpart would).
  • Go to work and teach someone else a new skill or talent that will empower their future paid and recognized work.
  • Spend your hard earned money in a way that empowers the true progress of women in this world, whether philanthropically, buying to support local makers, etc. or in any other manner of empowering and lifting up.


Worth a ponder, don't you think?

On another similar, but separate topic. I have a question (a real question, that I'm looking for the answers to): What IS the feminist movement, as it's currently being used in 2017?


Danielle Laporte says:
In terms of leadership, I'm not that interested in someone's gender. I'm interested in their wholeness. Just because someone identifies as a female doesn't mean they're working on behalf of the "Divine Feminine." If more females move into positions of so-called power, but they're operating on the patriarchal mindset, then it's hardly progress. It's only adding to the illusions and confusion around what power and equality really mean. (Side Note: used on its own, the term patriarchy can trigger brushstroke judgments that anyone with a penis is a patriarchal asshole. The patriarchal mindset is not gender-specific, it's a paradigm that can corrupt anyone, at any age, from almost any culture. There are MANY men out there who are "heart-led, with spines of direction and ambition, and with profoundly tender attentiveness, who embody wholeness."
What does feminism mean to you? What does it mean for the way you go about your every day?

I am getting up on this Wednesday, March 8th and I am going to work. As a very dear friend said to me, "I am going to work today to lead. I am going to work today to learn. I am going to work today because my family depends on my income, and because it makes me a better woman than I was yesterday."  I have been on a long journey to get to where I am with "my work" and not showing up for it today feels ... not right for me.

I am going to spend my money today and do something that makes a difference in the lives of those around me (my "do something good" scale heavily  leans towards things like Ripple Effect Images or my continuing Kiva contribution or by simply adding some of my hard earned money to my Ellevest investment account.)

It is not enough to wear pink pussy hats or red tshirts with a raised fist in the air. It is not enough to watch important documentaries, but fail to discuss them after you leave the theater. It's also not enough to open your checkbook and give $200 to the refugees. It's not enough to pen thought provoking blog posts or share the most recent Upworthy video all over your social.

Perhaps you'll want to say I'm not "feminist enough", or am naive to today's world, but but I simply support the fight to -- every single day --  be a better person than you were when you went to sleep last night. Show up for people who are creating opportunities for themselves and their families. Stand behind those who see their leadership quotient and raise the bar for those they were called to lead. Share and elevate of the stories and goals of those who strive to learn and expand their consciousness and awareness.

I will however, bolster my strong spine, clear my throat, work my ass off today to be better than I was yesterday, give some of my hard earned money to impact someone else's life, and will do my part to raise children who are empowered to do the same.

The Divine Feminine sure ain't about being the first female president, dean or CEO of anything. Ranking high in a broken system doesn't necessarily make you a heroine of feminism - tho' it very well could, and women's history is abundant with those true pioneers. The Divine Feminine is the warrior and the healer ... it is justice and mercy, carried out with grace. It's economics and the arts ... that nurture the entire community. Being direct and loving the hunt of opportunities - these are characteristically masculine qualities. I am deeply intuitive and nurturing -- innately feminine qualities. When I'm at my best, I express all of these qualities in my ALL-WOMAN ways. My delivery is compassionate and often softly spoken; my business operates on a triple bottom line, so that we can ALL be well fed, even if it means I share my own food. I am BEING the Divine Feminine.  - Danielle LaPorte
 (P.S. / Side Note / This is where you come in -----> What you've just read is a LOT of unedited free-flowing thoughts from my brain. It's rambling and quite possibly messy in how well it reads BUT I welcome a conversation around this. I want to learn more from each of you, and understand more than I did when I hit submit.)

Let's Go To Work Chris Brogan




Ohio Welcome

Our family recently completed our seventh move in 13 years. We moved from Northern Virginia to Columbus, Ohio, after having lived in several places in the United States as well as in New Delhi and Singapore. With so many postal codes and zip codes we’ve called home, you might think that we have mastered the art of fitting in, making new friends and settling into our new digs. I find though, it’s not necessarily true. Yes, I’m a pro at unpacking the boxes, but the connection with neighbors and finding like-minded people is a challenge. I always worry – with each new move – whether the new neighbors will accept our version of crazy chaos, understand that our background includes a diverse collage of experiences, and welcome us into the fold anyway.

We've been in the new house for two weeks now. We have been blessed with great neighbors, a true Ohio welcome: everyone bombarded us with treats, including breakfast one morning, dinner another evening. But as we approached Halloween, I was faced with dread and dismay.

Halloween has always been one of my favorite celebrations. Yes, I dress up. But this year, since we are new, I was freaking out a bit. We don't really know anyone yet and I'm once again left to keep the cheerleading going for the family as we settle in. For instance, my kids have no one to trick or treat with, we have no idea what time the neighborhood starts trick or treating, and we don’t even know if older kids trick or treat here.


Last week, as I met some of the neighbors, many of them excitedly said, "We gather in the cul-de-sac for Halloween. Bring wine and some food and your candy bowl." I was thrilled.

We have five neighbors on this cul-de-sac, the circular street that marks the end of the neighborhood. Two Italian-American households are related to each other, one couple has grandchildren, another house is occupied by a single, older man, and another is occupied by an older Polish woman and her Japanese husband, who both immigrated to the U.S. 30 years ago.

So when we were invited for Halloween, I of course accepted, and then a few days later, when I was talking "over the fence" to the Polish lady with the Japanese husband, I asked if they would also be there. They shrugged. In broken English, they said that maybe they could come.

Fast forward to tonight. In my head, I knew that we'd been invited, I KNEW that we were welcome, but I was anxious and nervous. Did they really want us to join them? What if we were supposed to cook something? Should I make a quick cheese plate?

Suddenly, I saw the kids were starting. Should I take our chairs over to their driveway, or sit in ours? I poured a glass of wine at 5:30 p.m. and hid behind the blinds, as I peered out and tried to discern the rules. I tried to hide my discomfort from the kids as I encouraged them: "Right! Go get your costumes on! Let's go, let's go. This will be fun!"

A bit later, it was obvious that the neighbors had indeed gathered in one central driveway. Soon enough, everyone was there around a bonfire. We placed our collective candy contributions on the centralized table for the visiting children and we had chili, and pizza from the Italian families' restaurant, and s'mores.

We talked and laughed and then I watched as the Polish lady and her Japanese husband met ---- for the first time in three years ----- the other neighbors in the cul-de-sac.

Flabbergasted, I asked one of the neighbors sitting next to me if they had never met this couple before. She said, "Apparently it takes the newest of neighbors to truly bring us all together."

When I dug a bit further, I learned that this couple moved in to the neighborhood when everyone else had a lot going on -- kids graduating from high school, babies being born, a death in the family. Their move-in was also complicated by a 10-month renovation project, so it was a bit less obvious of a move-in than when WE pulled up with our 40-foot truck, three obnoxious dogs, two cats and a red Jeep.

Tonight I watched them share their stories of life abroad, being expats in the U.S., with our neighbors and new friends. The Italian families then talked about their own parents who immigrated, the couple with grandchildren announced they were soon going to retire and go traveling, with the wife doing "on the road" hospice and other nursing care. Another neighbor's daughter discussed her plans to combine her psychology degree with a master’s in education so she can have an impact on the lives of students living abroad.

We all found we had more in common than simply the same cul-de-sac address. These new neighbors of ours had never talked about their worlds before.

Lesson learned? Just because you're the newbie doesn't mean you don't have something to offer the neighbors.

Moving is hard. Fitting in sucks. Figuring out where and how you belong is exhausting. But sometimes just showing up -- especially when it feels the most awkward and difficult -- is where the magic lies. When I said goodnight to everyone, the Polish lady gave me a tight hug and in her beautiful broken English said, "Thank you for inviting me to be a part of this."

For all those struggling with finding their people, and meeting new friends, I say: Change your perspective ever so slightly. Lead with an intention to serve, volunteer your time somewhere, or invite someone to the table. Asking "how can I help?" can be the best introduction to authentic and meaningful relationships.

I am often asked by my friends from around the world whether I am proud to call America home. With so many nasty things happening in America these days, I am reminded that this truly is the spirit of our country. Our basic nature is to welcome new friends. I am living proof that’s who we are.

God will never give you more than you can handle.

You've heard it before. God will never give you more than you can handle. I'm here to challenge that a bit! This post goes out to all the women who are holding it together.

god knows I'm a badass

The ones who are cleaning up dog shit from carpets that you just paid a fortune to have cleaned.

To you who are making sure that your children have all that they need, even when it means you go without.

For those of you who can't remember the last time someone told you "I like that sweater!" yet you consistently dole out accolades and compliments.

I see you, Mama Bear who wants nothing more than to see her son fit in, and have friends ... but you don't know how to encourage him, so you simply cook his favorite dinner and hope that suffices in some small way.

My friend, who struggles to know what's "cool" when it comes to planning a birthday party for a tween, yet chooses to plan away anyway, with no regard for the eye-roll and the hair flip.

To you folks who have partner who is away more than he or she is HOME. I can see their absence and raise you a "they are providing and doing the best they can."

Maybe you are the leave-ee. Maybe YOU are the one that is footing the bills and trying to make up for homeruns missed and bedtimes passed by. To you, I say, I can see your absence too ... and I don't judge it. Don't let anyone judge it ... do what works for you and your family.

On that note, to the ladies who are traveling for work, packing suitcases and saying goodbye. Make a habit of leaving love notes for your family. And if you're the one staying behind? Start training the leavee to scribble a quick note for everyone before they fasten the seatbelt on the way to the airport.

For those who are hurting because your current load is triple that which you signed up for, I'll bring you a frozen lasagna if you're close enough!

You may feel that god is giving you more than you can handle right now ... but if you'll be a bit transparent, ask for the help that you need, you'll find that people will show up.

(and if they forget to show up or neglect to commit, remind them again)



What are you? I check the "other" box

Mixed Race and Checking the Box
Mixed Race and Checking the Box

What are you?

I am deep in the middle of writing down my stories. I'm using Old Friend Far Away by Natalie Goldberg and the content of her book is enough to keep you writing for a year straight, I swear. I have decided (since it's a library book) to just pen the prompts that she provides (hundreds of them) into a blank journal and work on them as I have time.

One of the themes that keeps sneaking back to me as I perform her "just write for 10 minutes" suggestion is my mixed heritage. My mulatto status. My half-breed moniker and the box that I used to wish desperately that I could check due to the simple fact that my father is black and my mother is white.

As time goes on, those monochromatic boxes have expanded. Girls like me used to just be relegated to choosing white, black or other. It wasn't that long ago!

Then came the wave of Native American boxes being added ... then the inclusion of the Hispanic box. Now there is the "other" box and ahem ... drum roll, I am even seeing "mixed race" or bi-racial as a box.

Because I was not schooled traditionally, I probably only have 14% of the typical issues that others might be able to share who were born in the late 1970s and raised in the very non-diverse 1980s in the middle of America. I admit that I was sheltered from much of the pain that others have felt, but it doesn't mean that I don't have an opinion on what it means to be unsure of where you belong --- from an early age.

Smith Siblings
Smith Siblings

I grew up in a very small town in Nebraska. Actually, I grew up in the country, 30 minutes outside of a very small town in Nebraska. We were there because my father worked for Union Pacific and as I remember it, there were a lot of Hispanics also working for the railroad, but not very many families that looked like ours. I have four siblings, three of us are biologically related and there is one sibling (adopted as a very young babe) that none of us can imagine a childhood and life without. I can still remember the whispers at Hinky Dinky in the checkout lane while buying groceries, "where do you think that one came from?" (referring to the black kiddo holding hands with his very white mama) or the mean kids at the public pool who called us all names because we weren't pale skinned like them. There were assumptions made about our ability to succeed at sports, and even surprise uttered when my mother corrected a nosy nelly who had the gall to state that there must have been an affair inside of the marriage for there to be different colored babies. Growing up, it was ok for one of my brothers to use the "N" word and not the other.

Smith Babies
Smith Babies

White girls are jealous of the "body" that is ever present in my my curls. I don't suffer from a greasy scalp and have never known "limp hair" or the syndrome of "it just fell flat!" They purse their lips and buy "booty lifters", neither of which I need, because both of those things came with my bod, as do my semi-high cheekbones and year-round tan that looks like an expensive bronzer. The black chicks have been known to dis me (yes, that's a term and yes it's happened to me as an active verb) for the fact that I can comb through my "good hair" and had light skin and great cheekbones. My nose is not one that was handed down from my dad's side of the family and my skin doesn't tend to get too terribly ashy.

Smith Siblings
Smith Siblings
Smith Daughters
Smith Daughters

I cannot be easily identified as belonging to any one race or nationality at first glance.

I get the question "so, what are you?", (what they mean is "what race are you" but no one is dumb enough to put it THAT way). Which box do I check when it comes to my race?  When I tell them what my nationality is (German, Danish, African American and some Native American Indian), most people say "I would have had NO idea!" When we lived in India, I had several experiences where I was asked if I was Punjabi and in Spanish-speaking areas, especially when in Florida, I have to consistently say "no habla espanol!" I am asked this question FREQUENTLY.

Just yesterday, one of the hotel staff, after several curious smiles and long stares looked at me, cocked his head a bit and said "Hey, so what are you?"  Oh, yes he did.  I just graciously smiled and said "Do you mean, what nationalities make up my background?"  I used to get annoyed and frustrated and tell people who asked "I am a girl, what do you think I am?" but have realized as I have matured (a bit) that ignorance isn't always rude or intentional, it's just a product of unawareness. Usually, I try to hold onto the conversation a little bit by explaining that so few of us anymore can identify with just ONE race, or just ONE nationality. The world is better with a melding of backgrounds and richer for it.

Here's where the post gets a little messy.

I do not identify with any one culture, or heritage that makes up my bloodline. I don't have a series of time-honored traditions that represent the nationalities that make up my genealogy. I also don't know where I fit in on the spectrum of issues that STILL divide a nation, a people group, a community when it comes to color and racism. My understanding of racism while growing up, and the issues I had to deal with because of the pigment of my skin revolved solely around the reality that my family was a mixed set of shades. The first life change that affected my interaction with racism happened when my parents divorced in the mid-80s. The next major shift happened when I left home at the ripe old age of 16 and was no longer seen together with the rest of my family. The older I get, strangely, the moments trickle away into a very quiet whisper that are only triggered by stories that happen to other people. I married an Italian man and my children all have olive-colored skin and we all *match* each other. We still get inquiries about the family's background, since we tend to blend in most any place we have lived, but weirdly, people seem to be most enamored by my husband's Sicilian background.

I DO cringe when people describe others using their skin color and get incredibly frustrated when black people holler about racism and white people continue to claim ignorance. I'm consistently saddened that we are still having discussions about equality and minorities and segregation and lack of diversity.

My honest reality is that it is difficult for me to feel I have a voice when it comes to discussing all of those really important things. 

There was a hashtag awhile back that had some air time on Twitter. While I watched tweet after tweet roll down my feed, I was extremely conflicted. I felt that if I were to jump on the bandwagon of a group of women calling for equality between white and black women, that I would literally ... be in the middle.

How am I to know what it's like to be a BLACK woman. How am I to know what it's like to be a WHITE woman? I check the "other" box. 

I bring all of this up to bring a little light into the discussion about cultural awareness and sensitivity as it relates to racism. Obviously the situation is one of complexity and confusion, otherwise we humans would have already figured out a way to live our lives without it. It's not just about black people and white people. It's about not being able to understand those who are different than you are. It's about being defensive when you feel your normal is being challenged.

It's about feeling uncomfortable when you don't agree that someone else is your equal.

It's also quite simply about refusing to listen.

If we would spend more than the 5 seconds that it takes to "tick the box" we might find that we get to know our neighbor, or actually befriend the grocery store clerk regardless of her hajib. The hooded boy who shuffles past your driveway every day after school might need a summer job cutting the lawn that you're too busy for. That grumpy old man who uses inappropriate slurs for that hooded boy might just be a product of a generation that uses the excuse that they didn't know any better.

I have been talking with a couple of people about their upcoming relocation to a place in the world where very few people are going to look like them. I am reminded of the very important need for cultural awareness and racial sensitivity when it comes to moving overseas, or anytime you find yourself in a situation where others don't look like you (or act like you, or eat what you eat, etc.).

What would happen - seriously - if we quit relegating everyone to a pre-disposed set of boundaries based on the way they looked? What if we didn't have to check boxes or label ourselves?

So, what are YOU?


Updated March, 2018, nearly four years after I published this: Meghan Markle has had her say on the topic as well. Published in July, 2015, she has this to say: More Than An Other