5 Steps to Forging a Fantastic Future!

At some point in their lives, everyone hits a dead end, finds themselves in a rut, or feels trapped in a life they did not plan for themselves.  This is just one aspect of life.  It can be easy to let these periods in life stifle the potential you have, and this is why it is crucial to pull yourself out of the past.  Whatever it is that is holding you down can be managed, and there is always a way to make your life better.  It will not be easy, but it will be rewarding.

Here are 5 steps you can take to forge a fantastic future:

1.  Let go of the past.  If you hold on to mistakes, regret, or long for something or someone that is already gone, you will never see the road that is right in front of you.  If you are plagued by regret, realize that every decision you made had led to you become a stronger individual.  You have learned lessons from your mistakes and you need to forgive yourself so you can move on.  If you missed incredible opportunities because you were afraid, you are still missing them because you are spending time thinking about the ones that are long gone.  The only way to have a great future is to let go of the past.  The good, the bad, and ugly.  Learn from it, and move on.

2.  Determine where you are in your life right now, and why it is not working for you.  You cannot possibly know where to go next if you won’t accept your current position and what is wrong with it.  If you are not happy, something is wrong.  It could be your career, your family, your health, or your dreams.  You are the only person that knows what you truly want in your life, and you need to evaluate it thoroughly before you can make changes.

3.  Determine what your dreams and goals are.  Odds are that if you are not happy, you have at least one thing wrong in your life that needs to be fixed.  Most likely, there is more than one.  The only way to start initiating change is to understand what you really want in life, and to make a list of your goals and dreams.  These are very different.  I dream of being a successful writer, making enough money to live comfortably on, and speaking to people about social issues.  However, I need short-term and long-term goals to get me there.

4.  Prioritize your dreams and set dates to accomplish them.  You cannot commit until you put a timeline to something.  I can dream all I want, but my dream will never come true if I do not make it a priority and hold myself accountable enough to reach each goal along the way.  This is one of the most difficult parts because it requires a great deal of work and dedication.  You cannot expect the world to hand you success on a platter, and you must put everything you have into making your dreams happen.

5.  Reevaluate and remind yourself of your dreams regularly.  You need to check in every week, every two weeks, or at least monthly.  Look at your progress, make sure you are on track, and if not, remind yourself of why it is important to you.  If you change your mind along the way, that is fine, you can change your list if necessary.  If you run into complications, you may want to remind yourself each day.  Write it down, get a picture that represents your dreams or make a chart that you can look at each day.  Some people will need more encouragement than others.

The important thing to remember is that as you move along your journey, you are learning and evolving.  Your thoughts, ideas, and goals may evolve as well.  Do not hold onto something if you lose the passion for it, let it go.  But, when you do reach a goal and eventually behold a dream, enjoy it.  Be proud of each accomplishment along the way because they represent a person moving forward in their life, not someone letting life pass them by.

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Why “Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg Can Help You!

I have heard fellow business students speak about Sheryl Sandberg’s book, “Lean In” over the past semester and knew I had to read it.  I am not sure if it is the fact that the business world is evolving and women are taking more risks, or if it is because I attend an all women’s day college, but the popularity of this book is making its mark.  I have lofty goals and know the glass ceiling still exists in many ways for women.  As soon as my semester was over, I dove into this book.  The main concept that is discussed in this book is the fact that women tend to steer clear of the table, when they should be willing to sit down, even if they are the only woman, and “lean in.”  It is necessary for women to become more involved in the business, the dialog, the negotiations, and to not fear discussing important topics.

Sandberg even goes as far as discussing the need for women to speak about their family choices such as having a baby, and to not turn down opportunities because they think their pregnancy or children will affect it.  Instead, they should determine the choice they make based on their desires.  I have seen how women limit themselves, and I am a shining example of this as I have always put others ahead of myself, until recently.  I think Sandberg makes an important point because women tend to remain silent when they should be speaking up!  It is crucial for women to know where they are going and what they want.

As more equality is found in the workplace, more fathers will need to step up, and I have seen this happening as well.  My husband is incredibly supportive, and while I can nitpick and say he is not taking on enough housework, he takes on a great deal of the work with the kids.  I assume that as I work more outside of the home, he will step up even more and take on housework.  Sandberg shows the unfortunate seclusion men face when they become the primary caregivers for their children, and this dynamic also needs to change if women are to rely on them more.  The important thing is for the dialog to continue so changes can be made.  Women need to “lean in” because their opinions and challenges matter.  Without an equal say, there cannot be an equal society.

Sandberg brings up important topics, some of which are already widely discussed, but her overall message is important to the development of women in the workforce.  There are many things I will take away from this book, but more importantly, when I find myself backing away from a situation because I am one of the only women, or I am nervous, I will “lean in.”

Leadership Series: Having a Vision

One of the first things a good leader should do is know their vision.  Part of this requires a strong personal mission statement.  Before you can lead others, you have to know what you expect from yourself and how you plan to bring this about in a way that will influence your life and/or others.  This is what will get you more acquainted with yourself and what direction you plan to move in to achieve your mission.  This is just one step of creating your vision.

Every leadership role I have held has required me to create a vision that is unique to that particular role.  To successfully lead and engage others, you must be clear on what the main objective is and how each person involved will take part in your plans.  It is like an engine with many parts that all have to work for the car to start.  You cannot find success in any project if any of the parts or people who play a role in your plans are not doing their job.  Everything needs to work, and as a leader, you are responsible for this.  You have to have an extremely strong plan that will help you meet the end goal, or vision of the project.

So, while it seems like having a goal or vision can be quite easy, once you realize the amount of work that goes in to designing a plan that can be well utilized and executed with strategy and efficiency to make your plan the best plan, you may find yourself overwhelmed.  This is why having a plan is so important.  Your vision is merely the fuel to keep the engine running.  Everyone want to reach this goal because you make them believe in it.  However, this means you have to have workers who care, and you have to champion them when things get difficult.  You are the inspiration, and the guide.  You are the one that will be there when someone isn’t doing their job to make the tough decisions, even if it means replacing this person.  You are the one that is responsible if the goal is not reached.

Being a leader is tough, and people can provide you with inspiring quotes all day, but if you are not prepared to work hard, you will not make it.  You have to have the strength to carry a team, and the nerve to challenge them.  You have to be resilient, and flexible.  Sometimes, mistakes happen, and you have to find a creative way to fix the problem. You have to take risks, take criticism, cheer, support, and be ready to celebrate when hard work pays off.  Yes, vision is important, but the realization of everything that leads to obtaining that vision is even more important.  Everyone can have a dream, but success will come only to those who are willing to invest themselves completely into manifesting them.

The Power of Determination

It seems only fitting that I blog about this truly important word.  Determination.  I am at the end of the fall semester, and I have papers, projects, tests, and plenty of other assignments to complete.  Like all college students, I am having to pull from the massive force of determination I have to complete my assignments, and to do them well.  I have the added work load of having my wonderful family to care for, and my job as well.  In fact, as the holidays approach, my home has erupted into mayhem and my son has become quite a handful as he has decided to give up on his grades in high school.  Yes, this means I am faced with many challenges, all at the same time.  This is when determination becomes central to my ability to overcome.

I know everyone has their own unique roadblocks that seem to erupt at once, so this is a topic that can apply to everyone.  I have found the more I am weighed down by these obstacles, the harder I push back.  It is because my desire to achieve great things and to help others is stronger than the weight of chaos.  Unfortunately, this is not necessarily going to inspire the same initiative in everyone.  I have tried to inspire my son to push back as well, but his mind works differently, and the more I try to control him or even help him, the more he pulls away.  I have backed off to see if this makes a difference.  For those with a mentally ill child, you know the difficulties that can arise, and that they do not always respond how you may expect them to.  So how can we help them to become determined?  The honest answer is that I do not know.  This is something I am still working on.  In the meantime, I can control myself, and I will carry as much as I can, and I will succeed because I will not accept less from myself.

Determination is not only useful in education, it is needed when adopting a healthy lifestyle, it is used in your career, when budgeting and saving money, and in so many other ways.  People who excel in sports must have this trait.  Those who become leaders, politicians, authors, and so many other fields need to be determined.  So how can you find this within yourself when you are overwhelmed?  You have to have a reason to work for the ultimate goal.  What is it you hope to achieve and why is it worth it?  If it is important to you, you will find the determination you need to succeed.  The semester is almost over for me, and I know only one more semester is between me and my graduation.  This is what pushes me to excel.  Think about the goals in your life and if you are working as hard as you can to reach your goal, if not, you may not be as passionate about it as you thought.  Perhaps it is time to reevaluate your goals and plans because you should be passionate about what you are working towards.  You should be working towards fulfillment and happiness.

Advocacy Blog Series: Caregivers for the Elderly

This topic is going to become more prevalent as the years pass because while the elderly population is significant now, it is going to become much larger with the baby boomers reaching retirement age.  The care of the elderly has been split from nursing homes, to families.  Ideally, elderly patients would like to remain as independent as they can for as long as they can, but inevitably, the body breaks down, memories begin to falter, and independent living becomes impossible.  This is where decisions need to be made, and it is a truly complex process.  Some patients need more help than the families can or will provide and nursing homes are the only option.  If the family cannot pay, there are government run homes, but the quality of care may be a concern.  If the family can pay, there are plenty of options depending on the level of care.  However, more often, families are choosing to care for their family member.  It is often a child caring for their parent, and it can be a challenge.  This is where advocacy comes in.  Caregivers are the advocate for their “patient,” and with the way health care is set up, it can be incredibly difficult.

One of the problems with health care right now is that it is not built for the patient as a whole.  Most elderly patients have many problems, and they need to see many different doctors.  This needs to be monitored closely by the caregiver because with multiple doctors, there can be something missed, or too many medications prescribed.  It may seem odd for so many doctors to miss something, but if they are looking at one specific organ or system in the body, and not treating the person as a whole, they may treat a symptom of a larger problem.  Often, medications can interact with each other, and if one doctor does not have all of the information from another doctor, they may prescribe medication that could be problematic.  How can a caretaker manage this and provide the care their loved one needs?

Organization is the key.  A book should be kept with copies of doctors names, medications, diagnoses, and other pertinent health information.  As much as technology can help, there should be a paper copy that can be brought to each appointment and shown to each provider.  My mom is a caregiver for her father and sister-in-law.  She keeps records of everything, maintains them, and brings them to each appointment.  The reality is, her memory is shaky at times, and she is under a great deal of stress as a caregiver.  It is a difficult job, why make it more difficult by trying to remember everything.  Keeping thorough notes eliminates the additional stress she would have without the notes.  This also makes it easier if my father needs to take over at an appointment because my mom is ill, or if I need to go to the house to take over so they can get a break.

Caring for the elderly also requires nerves of steel because dealing with the continual problem of insurance can be tiresome and even a battle at times.  Ensuring the patient has everything they need may also require a battle or negotiation with the insurance and providers.  The patient may be violent or angry which is common in Alzheimer patients.  They may get depressed, upset, lose control of their bowels in public, and many other potential problems.  This means the caregiver must be ready to handle any complication, despite the feelings that may stem from them.  It is not an easy job, and the caregiver has to be prepared.  They may have a  patient who does not want to follow medical orders.  They must be their advocate and either enforce care, or enforce freedom.  Advocacy is not always what one pictures.  Sometimes, you have to make a decision you do not like because it is the wish of the patient that matters.  Sometimes you have to assert control if you feel their decisions endanger them.

Caregivers of the elderly are more than advocates, they are friends and companions.  They are the ones comforting the elderly as they lose their memories, suffer pain, and go through loss.  They stand up for them when it comes to their health care and insurance, and perhaps in other situations as well.  The healthcare system in place has not made this job easier, and it is up to the caregiver to navigate a broken system and try to see when miscommunications lie between the various doctors and hospitals treating their patient.  Caregiving can be thankless.  As my mother says, “Sometimes the payment is a smile and laugh that you get at the end of the day.”

Advocacy Blog Series: Parents as Advocates

I think it is crucial to discuss the aspect of advocacy that blends into the role of parenting.  When a child is born, the parent is automatically the advocate unless the child is a ward of the state or another family member.  There is an instant responsibility that goes deeper than basic care and devotion.  Every time that child has a problem, is ill, needs supportive services in school, requires a legal guardian for sports, or anything else, the parent falls into the role and becomes the child’s advocate.  Some parents take to this quite easily, and if they are lucky, they will make it through the 18 years of guardianship without a hiccup.  However, it is likely that something will happen.  The child will probably be hospitalized at some point, they may require counseling for depression or more severe mental illnesses, they may be a victim of bullying or abuse, and they may have a physical illness.  It is almost guaranteed that a parent will face at least one serious issue where they must advocate for their child.

What does this mean?  It means you must be willing to be informed, to question, to learn, research, have sleepless nights, make tough decisions, and do whatever else may be necessary to help your child get the help they need.  The system, whether educational, medical, state, or judicial, should be there to support you and your child as well, but things can go wrong.  Even the people working in the system may make misinformed decisions, stereotypical assumptions, or mistakes.  This is why it is so important for parents to put the extra effort in.  here are a few examples:

When my son struggled with mental health issues that threatened the safety of my family, we had to research his conditions, understand the medications, seek residential care, and fight the doctor who attempted to place him in a group home where he would have ended up in the state system.  It was not easy.  In fact, most of my days were spent researching, making phone calls, or sending emails.  The one truly important lesson I took away from this situation was the need to document everything.  When the doctor was acting unethically, I began to copy very detailed emails about his plans and our concerns to people in the government, at the top of the insurance company, and advocacy agencies.  This had a major impact, all info was documented, and he was fired.  We were able to get my son into a facility that was able to help him.

When my daughter was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome, we were shocked at first.  Thankfully, I had an incredible woman at the hospital who was an advocate for me as I tried to get my daughter on SSI.  It was a nightmare, and I had suffered abuse over the phone from my local SSI representative.  I was not strong enough at this point to fight, but this woman helped me, she fought for me, and was a perfect example of why advocacy is important.  After I grew stronger, and did some research, my life became about doing everything I could to care for my daughter.  My husband and I were proactive, we kept medication logs, medical records, notes, and anything we could to help track her care between surgeries.  This was another example of the need for documentation, but also the realization that outside help from an advocate can be incredibly helpful.

Finally, in the educational arena, we have had to work very closely with my son’s schools to accommodate his disabilities.  He has had an Individualized Education Program (IEP) since he was in kindergarten, and it was very useful.  For a parent, it can be confusing at first, but there are a few things you can do to help.  First, read the school’s handbook, next, research IEPs, and look at specific state regulations.  Pay attention to your child and how he/she learns, responds, calms, or reacts at home.  Take notes on a regular basis about things that help and things that do not.  This is information you can supply in IEP meetings.  The more knowledgeable you are about the school system and what accommodations can be made, the better you can be at advocating for your child.  You also need to be open to recommendations.  If something doesn’t feel right, say no, but listen to reasoning first, and do not be afraid to ask questions.

These are only a few examples, but they truly express the ones that stand out to me as learning experiences.  Every parent will need to step into this role in some way, and some more than others.  Do not fault yourself for mistakes, or feel guilty when you miss something.  There are handbooks everywhere, but none that can truly guide you in your specific situation.  As an advocate, it often feels like the weight of the world is on your shoulders, but if you reach out for others, you may be surprised at who is there, and who has been through similar experiences.  Please feel free to share your experiences.

Empowering Women Series: Gratitude

Today is Thanksgiving, and it carries with it the traditional aspect of giving thanks, or showing gratitude for what we have and for the people in our lives.  This is an important tool when it comes to empowering women.  It may seem like common sense that we should be thankful, but sometimes, we do not see the various ways to express gratitude or realize who we should thank.  When women become empowered, it is because they have accepted support when it was available, reached for opportunities when they were in grasp, and they developed the skills necessary to become strong, determined, knowledgeable, and confident.  As women flourish, they should express gratitude for the opportunities and support they have had because it helps them to remember where they began, and to realize there are other women that need the same support.  The expression of gratitude can lead to the act of giving.

I am a woman who was blessed with a group of family and friends who supported me.  They encouraged me, stood beside me when I made difficult decisions, and listened to me.  Without these people, I may not be where I am now.  It takes a lot of strength to rise from abuse to become confident and accomplished.  I worked hard, but it is important for me to recognize the people who guided me along the way.  I have had professors and people in my network who validated me, and pushed me harder.  These people deserve my thanks.  I have been presented with opportunities that have made a huge difference in the direction of my life.  I had to grab the opportunities, apply for them, or work for them, but the fact remains that without them being available, I would not be where I am.  Part of being empowered is the realization that success, accomplishment, etc… is a group effort.  We all gain when we give.

Three types of gratitude can help you to bolster empowerment:

1.  A simple thank you to mentors, teachers, advisors, employers, family, or friends who have helped you become strong can not only strengthen your relationship, and it can inspire them to continue helping others.

2.  When you are grateful you may be more willing to give back and help another woman rise from abuse, lack of self-esteem, or any other situation that limits her.

3.  Any connection made when networking should be recognized, and if it was from a speech, or someone who offered stimulating conversation, a thank you email can encourage a stronger connection and make them more willing to associate with more rising women.

This is only a small list, and there are so many ways to express gratitude and various reasons to do so.  The important thing is to realize we are not born skilled and ready to take on the world.  We all take various paths, but there are people and experiences that help to make us stronger.  Without recognizing this, we miss an opportunity to forge stronger relationships and to give back.