Sunday, January 27, 2013

Balancing the 3 "Hs"

Dear Jessica, my name is so and so and I'd like to ask you to come and talk to Hispanic youth ministry kids about leadership... please let me know. Thanks!

Hmm, OK?! I think I spoke to students, granted, college-age students, about leadership once. Hispanic kids from the youth ministry program at the local parish? That's a little different.

And so it began. For the last month I have been trying to figure out how to put into words, the right words, what does learship means, or might mean, to Hispanic teens in Dayton, OH. Clearly, it will be different than any other talk on leadership I have heard in recent months.

Leadership is word that is used so often, too often and used in vain. In my humble opinion it deserves a little bit more respect than it gets, like the word "community" (don't get me started on that one- another blog post for the future! WINK!), or so many other words that are thrown in every other sentence we use in the vernacular of our daily lives. Oh, but wait, I mean work.. not life, although our life is very much affected by our work, and vice versa, isn't it?? I think so.

Fine, but what do I mean by respect of a word? Why respect the word leadership? We hear it used in the news, "the leadership of our county needs..." We hear it in our office, "because it is the leadership of our organization is that is..."

Here's why I choose to blog about leadership in this matter and eventually to tie it in with what I said to my darling Latino kids (by the way- Hispanic, Latinos- some of us DON'T CARE what word you use to describe us, just as long as you do it with respect, so RELAX! ;)) from the parish. Leadership is HARD!!!! Leadership is a concept manifested in individuals... and it is full of pressure. It is also overflowing with expectations to fulfill and meet often unreachable goals and a an unwelcomed ear to a heck of a lot of unsolicited advise from people who have little or no opinion about why and how you do things.

Leadership or leaders, and I can only speak from having looked up to great leaders, but also been disappointed in weak and insecure ones, are people too. We forget that. We forget that leaders are placed on a pedestal of steel, seemingly unbreakable, but when you look close, it is made out of the thinest glass, almost shattering at your touch. In other words, our leaders need a bit of slack at times.
Or do they... ;) Yes, but, maybe we can do a better job at shaping individuals at a certain age, at a certain time in their lives so they grow and develop in a healthy way so students, in this case,  become the leaders of our future. Simple, right? Yeah, sure.

PAUSE for mental thought processing - where is she getting all this? What does she mean by all this? What's the point? AND how are we suppose to "teach" leadership in a way that works better than what is already out there.

Simple, really, at least for me to write about it. No, wait, to talk about it and to address a group of young minds. LIGHT BULB! I did it. Yesterday.

What? Without a doubt in my mind, I realized that every summer I stand in front of teens, open for adventure, embracing their faith. The life skills we discuss in our retreat begin with listening, then self-acceptance, onto self disclosure and that leads to affirmation. Finally, we embrace our mission in order to be commissioned and be sent forth... Simple, this is the sketch, the themes of a little retreat called LIFE: Living In Faith Experience. It too deserves more respect and not to be taken for granted as it is at times, for it is a perfect model for leadership formation and development.

The life skills sessions flow throughout the week. In my humble opinion, as leaders we must listen first. Listen to ourselves, which is also listening to God IN ourselves, in order to then be ready to listen to others. We must self-accept ourselves, our faults, our sins, our imperfect perfection, made in the image of God. We all, as individuals, must then be OK with ourselves in order to self-disclose. We can choose to to disclose certain aspects in our lives with others, or just with God, and it is in the disclosing and sharing that we then connect with others and are able to be present to them, in good and bad.

When we take care of ourselves, like in the airplane when the flight attendant tells you "put your mask on before you assist the person next to you" and we are OK, at peace, hopefully, in a good place with God regarding WHO WE ARE, THEN we are ready to embrace our mission. The mission that is the journey of our lives and the mark we will leave in this world. Ahhh, lucky and blessed are those who figure this out sooner than others. For it has taken some of us quite a long time to get here... Ultimately, what does matter is that we did make it, after all. Better late than never!

We are commissioned, or promoted, or offered the dream job, gig, invitation to talk about leadership and then.... we are sent forth. It's time to indeed go forth, journey on, to act, to do...

Are you still with me?? I know, this is a long one... I hope you got it. My caveat to the kids was also my own reality check. It may sound like it's about me, cause it starts with me right? Well, yes, but no. I say yes, because we need to be OK with US. I need to be OK with me. You need to be OK with you. Now, get over it. It's not just about you, but about what YOU can do for others, for the community, the team, for the world.

Great leaders are not necessarily born; some maybe, not all. They are not all born with a silver spoon or turn "leaders" by earning a new high title... Great leaders, I believe will emerge from strong, smart, confident and happy (in all sense of the word) young minds, who listen and follow their hearts and eventually learn how to use their hands to make the world a better place. They can do it all--not perfectly (child, please!!), the figure out how to mix it up - the great mind, the kind heart and the strong hands. The are a jugglers... great leaders gracefully balance the 3 "Hs"- Head, Heart and Hands...

Sunday, January 20, 2013

You have permission, you don't have permission. You have permission!

Last weekend's Richard Rohr's daily meditation was around "permission and possibility"- as soon as I read the title I perked up.

Here's a taste: "To be faithful to this inner love is in itself the greatest success. It is of itself the major possibility. No outer successes are henceforth necessary to be happy. This is what makes the mystics sort of dangerous: It’s not just possibility they experience—but permission. It’s permission to color outside the lines. It’s permission to be who they really are. It’s not just gay people who have to come out of their closets..." and I will leave it at that.

Richard speaks of love of self, love of the inner self, which is God's love IN you, in all of us. We need to do a better job at loving who we are, who we REALLY are. Once we are OK with that love, we can fully, truly, love others. That is the permission. I do agree with his reference of to the closet. Maybe some of you don't agree- that's OK, it's your opinion and I respect it. Respect mine.

At some point in our lives we have been closeted. We have been living certain aspects of our lives that are not quite representative of the people we really are. Appearances are important, I get it. You don't have to share all your secrets. I get that. What I hope to convey, simply based on my own personal experience, is that when we are at peace with who we are, and give ourselves PERMISSION to be who God meant us to be, POSSIBILITIES seem endless.

The realization of faults, limits and mistakes, only allows for possibilities to emerge. Some are not as evident or as obvious as others. Hopefully, we experience things, like a loss of a job, a broken relationship, and get to forgive ourselves when we are too hard our own faults. Hopefully, we move on. The moving on comes with that permission to explore new possibilities. Possibilities of a new career, a new relationship, a new YOU. Is it easy to do? Of course not. It never is. Is it worth a try? Life- giving, YES!

Another caveat or DISCLAIMER- yes, I usually have to include one, because unfortunately, some people may think I believe in certain things, issues and act a certain way, based on perception and not on facts--- that's the disclaimer. You know what they say about those who assume.

What I loved about this meditation and got me thinking for the ENTIRE week---I have been going crazy trying to figure out how to incorporate this into a post but couldn't quite find the groove--- began playing in my head over and over. It was like a mantra. This thought turned into somewhat of a prayer, a wish I wish on myself as well as on others: "I have permission, I don't have permission.I have permission, I don't have permission." Huh? Esssssplain, please! ;)

I really wish I could remember who I learned this from, but I can't. The sentimental part of me wants to say I learned this from my mother, but she wasn't around long enough. Maybe one of grandma's, maybe a teacher. The mantra is my head is the voice telling me: "you have permission to... but, you don't have permission to... "

You have permission to love yourself; you have permission to love others; you have permission to make mistakes; you have permission to change your mind; you have permission to live YOUR life according to what is best for YOU; you have permission to say NO; you have permission to walk away; you have permission to take the road less traveled; You have permission to NOT allow others to take advantage of you; you have permission to celebrate your beliefs; you have permission to LIVE".

The mantra continues..."but you don't have permission to be rude; you don't have permission to be cruel or mean-spirited; you don't have permission to be judgemental; you don't have permission to hate; you don't have permission to discriminate; you don't have permission to think you are better than others; you don't have permission to look down at others, and finally, you don't have permission to be condescending."

I have to add the "don'ts" because, just like the ying and the yang, the two sides of a coin, etc. there has to be a happy medium. Nothing can/should be done to its extreme. We are not perfect. My beliefs are not the "right" ones. My life is not better than yours. We must be honest with ourselves and accept and own other people's rights as much as our own. I think many of you will agree, a lot depends on respect and self-respect.

At some point in our lives we may have been victims of "not asking permission" to be or do all that was mentioned above. Again, I must stress that all I write is coming from my place of P: perspective.
But I can't help but think, or maybe I just hope, that if we remember this mantra, not only we give ourselves permission to be better people, but better community members, better co-workers, better family members... oh for the love, better people, period! :) 

So I still can't remember who I learned these "life lessions" of a sort that we may learn from our parents when we are children. I'd like to think I picked up a lot from behaviors from those I grew up around.

Permission leads to possibility. Maybe some of us out there like to ask forgiveness, THEN permission ---yeah, smile out there, you know who you are--- WINK! ;) ----HOWEVER, this time, permission does have to come first, for it is our own, our inner self/person that will become a pillar of strength, a solid rock column, a majestic mountain of love that pours out of us. THAT is the permission we need not to ask, but GIVE ourselves.

You have permission to.... you don't have permission to...  and then, HELLO possibilities! :)

Monday, January 14, 2013

My life on the P list!

You never know how another person feels until you "walk in their shoes"- how many times have we heard that one? Many, at least, in my case. If I could change something about people, even at times about myself, is that of judging a person without first completely knowing, whole-heartedly understanding what they have gone through, what makes them do, act, be.

What makes woman act reserved and come across as rude? Is it because she is indeed reserved by nature or is she plain, ol' rude? Maybe it's because she doesn't like you? Maybe is because she is having a bad day or is it because her mother suddenly died and you keep rambling about how much you argue with your mother on a day to day basis. Pause and think for a moment. I'd like to tell woman no. 2 to change the subject or be a bit more sensitive. To have a bit of perspective and try to think of what woman no. 1 has gone through.

This past weekend I celebrated an "anniversary" of some sort. I call it an anniversary because for some reason I remember certain events that, while may seem mundane and meaningless for some,  mean the world to others, to me. My anniversary was about perspective. Not that I didn't have any before, but after experiencing a few life- shaking, personally mind-boggling moments of WTF, God?, I gained a heck of a lot more of it; perspective, that is.

Perspective is meant to teach us to look at things from a different angle, with a different outlook, with different eyes, almost. It's not easy and it not usually happening at the moment we want it. We don't go around saying "let me go get some perspective today".Or "I will give you some perspective." Or can we?

I am not that old (Hey now! My birthday post was back in November- read it and you'll know how I feel about getting older! LOL) but have experienced a few things that without them being planned - who the hell plans life anyway? --my cousin Juan Carlos would appreciate that statement!-- made me look at things from a completely different perspective. I lost my mother when I was 12. I have been married. I have had a child; I have had my marriage dissolved; I owned and rent; have traveled the world and have an intense desire to continue; have even hiked part of the Appalachia Trail through the Shenandoah National Park.

DISCLAIMER- There is a very fine line, a gray line, a muddy line or any other kind of line risky enough that may paint me as arrogant with an air to boast. Never in the world do I ever want to come across as that. In my heart of hearts, I know I am not. These amazing and unforgettable life events are those "anniversaries" I celebrate. It's life. It's happened to me and if out of these experiences I can bring a little bit of perspective to other situations, so be it. So if you have experienced LIFE, as only YOU know it, it's OK. You have gained perspective. Use it, share it, appreciate it, for the greater good.

My life on the P list (yes, P for Perspective) sure got more interesting this year. I even appreciate the word itself even more. Today at work we were talked to about perspective. There was this book. We had to "read" it but there were no words, only pictures. The first image turned out to be smaller on the next page, then on the next page and so on... By page 12, the original image of a little girl playing with dolls was a tiny spec on a cruise ship, that was on a stamp, that was on an advertisement on a bus. Moral of the story: when we take the time to look at things from the outside looking in, from a different point of view, something that seemed big is actually very small. So face it. Deal with it, the best way you can.

We get caught up in the daily stresses of work, homework, classwork, housework, and every other kind of work we tackle. It's life, we deal. Can we do a better job at it? Of course. Can we avoid stressing out, or overreacting? Sure! But, remember, overreacting in my family is part of our DNA- yikes! God, watch over me- LOL! :) Like I used to ask my students, what's the point??  The point today is stop, step back and before the knee-jerk reaction takes full control of your actions (yeah, mine too!), look at the situation, if you can, from the other person's perspective. The pressure may not be all on you. All you can do is use your own life, experience and lessons learned to share your perspective and get through the day.  I enjoy life on the P list. I hope you do too!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A case for philanthropy...

Philanthropy etymologically means "love of man" in the sense of caring for, nourishing, improving, and enhancing the quality of life for human beings.   

Wait, what? Philadelphia? Philippians? Oh, philanthropy. Charity work? Got it.

At first I will admit to needing to look up the formal definition, and according to my friend, Webster, here it is, you can see it above. I had no idea what the word meant when I first heard it years ago. Maybe I did have some basic notion and understanding that it had to do with giving money away to support some charity. Maybe? Well, yes and no.

Let's take a quick trip down memory lane. Dreaded were the days at the beginning of the school year when our homeroom teacher would cheerfully, yet annoyingly announce: "Students, here are the chocolates for the sale!" - Gross!  I am sorry, what? What exactly am I suppose to do with these? Sell them?? Uh, no. I don't think so. Why? How am I expected to do that? Was I really expected to go door to door and sell these things? Um, no. I don't know how to do that; I can't do that.

From chocolates we moved to "Brazo Gitano", a jelly roll-type, sprinkled with powered sugar and stuffed with guava yummieness! Nope, didn't work either. The idea or whole-hearted comprehension that personally approaching someone and selling a piece of sweet delights would rely on me was not registering in my brain. Whatever...

Fast forward, ummm, a few years. :) I have been invited to this benefit and that benefit, benefiting this charity and that charity. I have been asked for money, to support great causes, to make a difference. Couldn't have someone explain to me that those chocolates, Brazo Gitanos and even raffle tickets (figuring out how to sell those was the worst!) were meant to be sold for a good purpose? Nope, the concept and lingo was not part of our day to day. That's OK. I eventually got it.

There are so many incredible organizations out there, that just as the official definition of philanthropy states, were established for the "love of man" or women, or children, to enhance the quality of life of people, young and old, ill or healthy, poor and needy. The lives and souls touched by the generosity of individuals who are "philanthropic" and support organizations that strive to improve and respect the dignity of all humans, change. Some changes are small and often go unseen, others are huge and inspire progress. And, that change is true and necessary change, for the greater good.

My personal preference when it comes to philanthropy is no doubt supporting education or educational organizations. It it certainly not because I work at a non-profit, private higher educational organization. It is simple. Not really. It is simple in a multi-layered, complex way.

In an educational environment, young minds are shaped, exposed to the up-to-that-moment unknown; unknown and exciting new "everythings" that, like a tiny pile of kindling lights up at the slightest touch and spark from a match. A fire has been lit. For some it's a small, little fire that burns for a while and generates enough light a dark night. For others, a bonfire is created and the flames burn bright, tall and can almost reach up above, lighting up the night eternally. They remind me of those eternal flames celebrating an undying presence, a life worth remembering everyday, day and night, forever. Education can light a fire in the mind and hearts of people forever. A passion is developed. A life is changed... the giver and the receiver.

At a school, grade school, high school or college, seeds are planted. Roots begin to grow and the fruit of that vine become food and nourishment to communities, social, political and health care organizations. At a school, leaders are born and educated. These very leaders join and support initiatives to improve the quality of lives of others. At a school, philanthropy is born.

Where am I going with this? An educational environment creates and shapes and exposes individuals to needs and wants, and needs and injustices and more needs of this world. This is our world and our home and we must take care of it. While experience is key and those who have LIVED it can share it and be witness to those very needs in society, if we can educate more for justice, to indeed improve the quality of life of our fellow community members, wouldn't we be in a better place? I can certainly get specific and speak to the good work organizations like the Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity or the little Rainbow House, in Denver, do. I want to keep it in perspective. The big picture matters and from the big picture, the masterminds allow the details, the wheels to run and make things happen.

Again, my point here is that YES, there are amazing organizations out there that do amazing and groundbreaking work. I only make the observation that the leaders of those organizations were likely exposed to their passion for philanthropy, to support the charity of their choice, of their heart, during their educational and transformative years. We educate to ask and then to answer questions. We educate to find the truth. We educate to make the world a better place. I support educational organizations to provide access to students who may not have it for the very reasons or circumstances that enable and give birth to the needs for philanthropic organizations. It's my opinion, my passion and what I do. In my heart and in my mind I live to "put my money where my mouth is" and do what I say and say what I do. What about you?

I finally got the meaning of the word philanthropy. I care for the nourishment, the improvement and the enhancement of the quality of life-for others and I believe this difference, this change for the greater good can come as a result of what happens in educational environments. My name is Jessica and I am philanthropist.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

An extra suitcase packed... always! ;)

Dear God,

Thanks for making it possible for me to be born on an island. Thanks to my family and geographically obvious needs to feed the cravings to explore the world, I was introduced to the giant, metal bus-like birds that fly the skies taking people to places they wish to visit.

I first stepped foot inside an airplane at age 8. My parents and brother were with me when my heart would stop, leap and smile, the first of many. This time it was on route to Orlando. Duh, of course, it was a family trip to Disney World. Indeed, it was the first of many trips to the land of the mouse, but no matter how often we'd ride Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Peter Pan's flight or Dumbo (so dumb, even at 8!), that first trip was indeed magical. I stepped into the magical world of traveling, the "real" one, the official one, the traveling you did in something other than a car. Remember, my extent of traveling pretty much was summed up by a two hr drive to grandmas.

This entry is not about my childhood trips to Disney. It's an introduction to the experience of travel, traveling as an educational and undeniably transformative out-of-body experience. The quintessential "beam me up, Scotty", blink of an eye experience of beginning your day in one city, sometimes one country and wake up in another one. So cool. So time-travel like. So new and different every time, regardless of how often you take that one step into the plane before turning right and finding your seat. That moment when you give up control of your fate for the next 2 or 4 or 8 or 12 hours, but you do it blindly because the excitement of reaching the destination is worth any moments of anxiety you may feel. Did I say magical? :) I believe it as I make the sign of the cross. Hello, Catholic, here! I am good, God, you are always the co-pilot, right? ;)

I thought about picking one trip, one city as a highlighted favorite to write about and about how that particular trip stayed with me over the years, but I can't. It's too hard. I need to share with everyone a different, unconventional traveling experience, summed up in the most exciting two years of my life.

This entry and my most humble thanks, go to my fellow cast members, my bus dates and fellow stage flowers, stage managers and stars of Up With People, Cast C- 96 and Cast C- 97. For those that don't know what I am talking about, I shall explain...:)

February 1996 came and went in a New York minute (smile!) and I was a college senior. Panicking and breaking out in hives one Sunday afternoon, I ended up in the ER of Miami Valley Hospital because I was clueless about what to do when May came and life after UD officially would begin. Again, panic and hives all over- NOT a pretty sight. Just ask Yasmin, Eli and Rebecca, for they loyally sat by me as the I-V of hydrocortisone and Benadryl dripped slowly to bring the swelling down. Mental block, please!

Two weeks later I met Eric Lentz, from the admission office at UWP and I told him how my dad was an alum, how I applied on a whim a year earlier and got accepted but there was no way I could take a year off college to travel the world. "What about now?", he asked. Maybe, I thought.

With the blessing of my father and with multiple rolling of eyes from other members of the family, I packed my bags one more time. This time I was Denver bound and from there, the world.
Up With People, for those who know, is so much more than a song and dance show about peace in the world, stemming from flower children in the 60s. It's about each and every one of the people we met on the road, at our host cities, and the towns, countries and cultures they represented.

I always believed I was open-minded. Growing up in an island either makes you "island-minded- centric"--I totally just made that up----, which enables you to focus mostly on the activities and ins and outs of the beautiful, floating world you call home, OR it makes you want more, know more and appreciate more of the world outside of the one you have only known as your own. I chose the latter. However, my open-minded mentality had not been accurately prepped for meeting people, some who would remain friends 15 years later, visiting their countries and understanding their language and customs.

Canadians and French Canadians have a distinctive way to express their own loyalties to the history, politics and pride for their culture, the Japanese are really funny while coming across as quiet and shy and the Scandinavians gave the Swiss a run for their money when it came to chocolate talk! I learned so much from them. No offense to Toblerone, but Marabou wins in my book! Bravo Sweden.

Bermuda, Italy, Germany (I LOVED Deutschland and loved learning to 'Sprechen Sie Deutsch?'- Ya, Danke!), Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden, Poland (Oh, Poland, I will never forget thee), The Netherlands, Africa, Ireland, Canada and USA. These are most of the countries we saw and/or were represented by my new friends. We traveled mostly by bus; long, tedious bus rides full of laughter, song and pranks - HAND CHECK! ;)

We flew to Stockholm from Atlanta on a cold late winter morning. Spent a month all over Scandinavia, slowly making our way down to Germany. A month in Germany to the Netherlands. Lichees- gross. Ah, moment of intercultural and international education: there are many people from Indonesia in Holland. I learned about the colonies and the cultural influence. Very cool! I also got to go to the University of Nijmegen, where some of my Marianist colleagues had studied years before. Small world indeed!

Woke up one morning during an early bus ride in Switzerland to a sunny "hello!, we are the Swiss Alps." One word: magnificent! There they were the Alps. Majestic, magnificent, who cares! Huge and scraping the sky's ceiling with their peaks literally breaking up the clouds as to ensure we knew how tall they were. We made it to Italy. To the mountain top tiny village of Castel San Angelo, to the Vatican and singing in front of JP2, to Venice and the beach of the Mediterranean.

We've lost some, Arthur from Ireland, Barret from the US, among others I have likely missed the last few years. May you always laugh, sing and dance (Arthur was a horrible dancer, but we loved him so!!) in our memories for ever!  Some of us get together north of the border, in a lovely French-Canadian home, where the hostess with the mostess very well knows what time "Wine O'Clock" begins! We say cheers, salud, prost, skol, chin chin!!!!

I am not giving justice to the details of the "being there"- words cannot describe all. When we concluded the year I had accepted an offer to stay with the organization and recruit participants. That began my journey to college campuses and schools, interviewing and recruiting students to experience, to live, to travel, to learn... Eventually, and fast forward more than a year later, I began my career in higher education. I have Up With People to thank. It was while being a member of this community that I became a member of the global community and most important, the higher education professional community. My professional journey began as a result of not knowing what to do with my education, and it brought me back to an environment of learning, of searching for knowledge, for truth. I recruit for experiences. I am such a nerd!!

Traveling is not for everyone. It is not of interest nor it is a part of some people's items on a bucket list to visit foreign countries or even places in their own backyard. That's OK. It's different for me. It is like breathing to me. It is a feeling of being alive; alive in a world that gets smaller every day. The world is ours to explore and I have been blessed to have explored part of it. Blessed and lucky I am for the friends I met during those amazing years. Near and far they are, but not forgotten. While my college years were the best, my years "on the road" - both in the USA AND abroad- with Up With People, gave me life, showed me the world and left deep, beautifully sculptured scars in my heart and my mind. In a way, I guess my bags are packed always... I am sooo ready to go!