Thursday, February 14, 2013

What Language Are You Speaking to Yourself?

I love enlightenment. That's pretty obvious from the theme of many of my blog posts, which discuss growth and self love. So, imagine my glee when I "discovered" Dr. Gary Chapman's "The Five Love Languages" book. I tongue-in-cheek say "discovered" as it had been sitting on my bookshelf for God knows how long. But after a close friend referenced some of its principles over dinner one evening, I made a mental note to pick it up, although I was sure I'd seen it somewhere before. Yep, on that bookshelf. So, with a trip to Barnes & Noble averted, I settled into bed one night with a cup of tea and began to read. And just as the plethora of critics over the many years of its existence have lauded it, the book was indeed, well, enlightening. And it definitely wasn't "rocket science," as the entire concept of the book could be summed up in another very simple principle: mirroring.

In other words, what I do for you, I want you to do for me, for the book makes it very clear that the love language we "hear" most clearly is the one we already "speak." Dr. Chapman categorizes those languages into five categories: Words of Affirmation; Quality Time; Gifts; Acts of Service; and Physical Touch. I'll spare you the breakdown of each and how to determine which language you speak (you can read the book for yourself or take the quiz here to find out). However, of the many concepts discussed, the notion of having our "love tanks depleted" when our language is not spoken back to us, in particular, was most interesting. So, when Dr. Chapman was featured on a recent episode of Oprah's Lifeclass, I eagerly tuned in.

Dr. Chapman gave a brief overview of his philosophy; even got Oprah to take the quiz (if you're curious, her love language is Words of Affirmation); then got to the business of giving couples in the audience (both live and Skype'd in) an opportunity to ask their questions. Most of the couples seemed genuinely in love yet simply lost in how to better demonstrate love to each other, while other couples seemed exasperated just talking about their challenges. It seemed the latter couples had simply hit a wall they just didn't know how to get around or climb over and the "wear and tear" was definitely showing. That got me to thinking deeper about the possibility of why both sets of couples seemed so different and that's when I had my own "a ha" moment: perhaps the success of the love languages is dependent on both partners already being whole as individuals when they enter into union as opposed to relying on the other to complete them, i.e., each person has to learn to speak those five languages to themselves first before requiring that someone else does.

In other words, have you learned to be your own biggest cheerleader and speak loving, encouraging words to yourself? (Words of Affirmation); Have you learned to enjoy your own company and spending time with yourself? (Quality Time); Do you spoil yourself with the things you want (not just the things you need) or treat yourself to your guilty pleasures often? (Gifts); Do you keep your commitments with yourself and show up in your life how you need to? (Acts of Service); Do you treat your body lovingly (massages, manicures/pedicures, etc.) or even give hugs or pats on the back to those in need (Physical Touch)?

Now don't get me wrong: there is nothing more enjoyable than having someone you love execute these things for you, but if you are relying on your mate solely or primarily to give you these, you will deplete their "love tank" faster than air out of a punctured balloon. No one can ever give you what you don't already have, even if just a tiny semblance of it. When you show up whole in a relationship, being able to speak and listen to--and thus, execute--love languages is probably a lot easier. And perhaps that was the difference in the two couples and the hope for change that one set seemed to have in comparison to the other. Where partners in one couple were just looking for the "utensils" needed to make eating their "meals" easier, other partners were looking to have their entire meals provided for. Big difference. Let's not over-tax our loved ones with giving us something we haven't learned to give ourselves first. That's too tall--and unfair--of an order for anyone to fill.

As I am truly blessed by what Dr. Chapman has shared with the world, I honestly can't wait until I can "test drive" these principles with someone special in hopes of creating something beautiful and lasting. But I'm also aware that until that time comes, the best way to prepare for that and ultimately, a healthy, happy marriage, is to practice these love languages with myself and pray that somewhere my intended mate is doing the same in preparation for me. Happy Valentine's Day!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Fly, Robin, Fly

Whoever said inspiration comes in the strangest forms was right. I was reminded of this the other day as I was rushing to make an engagement on an unexpected busy Saturday. Stuck in traffic on NY Avenue (and for my fellow D.C. commuters, you KNOW how that can be), I was relieved when--after waiting at least 25 minutes to move a quarter of a mile--I was able to pick up speed again and make up for lost time. Then it happened: I had to slow down again because a tiny bird had decided to teeter totter out into the far right lane to examine a scrap of discarded food. And without much thought, I yelled out at my innocent, feathered friend, "Really bird? You're gonna walk when you can fly?!" It didn't take the bird long to realize the scrap of bread wasn't worth losing its life for and it indeed decided to spread its wings and soar on to find what I hope was food in a safer environment. But my own "rant" gave me pause as I sat idle at the next stop light and thought: How many of us are walking when we're built to fly?

I began to ponder this even more while watching a recent episode of "Mary, Mary," the reality show, which follows the gospel singing duo's life in and out of the spotlight. Most recently celebrated for their latest hit, "Walking" (I know, the irony), sister Erica Campbell has begun to share her desire to take her career to the next level; to reach platinum status--even if that means leaving behind her sister, Tina Campbell, who seems to prefer a more relaxed schedule that will be sacrificed by chasing something greater. Once on the same page of how and what level of success they wanted to achieve, this new proverbial fork in the road for them has resulted in numerous arguments, breakdowns in communication, hurt feelings, and stress. It may make for good TV, but if anyone has been in this predicament, it does not make for a happy life.

And thus that begs the question: how many of us have been--or are--in that predicament? Be it a job that is not allowing you to grow to your full potential; a relationship that does not allow you to be your best self; friendships that keep you stuck in a routine rut; or even family relationships that force you to hide your true light as not to ruffle feathers, are you walking when you should be flying? Are you compromising when you should be challenging? Are you settling when you should be soaring? Are you refusing when you should be accepting? Try to fool yourself all you want, but praise be to our higher selves, our souls always know the difference. And if you're quiet enough to hear it ask, "What are we doing here?"--wherever that "here" may be--honor yourself enough to know, as the old folks say, "If God put a new dream in your heart, He's already given you what you need to realize it." Then begin figuring out how to make that dream a reality starting today! (see previous blog post, "Are You Missing the Parade?")

Let's stop merely wandering in search of whatever "scraps" will sustain us for the moment, much like that tiny bird. Let's not risk losing our true selves (or even our lives) before we realize our true potential, much like that tiny bird. And let's be reminded of our capacity to spread our wings and fly...yes, much like that tiny bird.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Are You Missing the Parade?

When I'm in an occasional unhappy or restless place in life, I often think of a story--more like a parable--my father shared with me when I was young. A father told his young son that the parade was coming to town and he wanted to take him. As expected, the young son was excited and could hardly wait. On the day of the parade, the father found a perfect spot up front on Main Street to await the grand event. With his son on his shoulders, they cheered and waved at the numerous floats, bands, and circus animals that passed by. Soon the parade ended and, after a long, exciting day, the father placed his son back on the sidewalk atop a sea of colorful confetti that had fallen, and announced it was time to go home. Perplexed, the young boy looked up at his father. "What's the matter, son? the father asked. The young boy paused and then replied, "But when is the parade coming, daddy?"

You see, the father never explained what a parade is and, so, the son had no idea how to identify it when he saw it. We could see this as the simple, cute naivety of a child, but how many of us are "missing the parade" every day because we don't know what "it" looks like? And that "it" could be anything from a good job to a good relationship to an overall good life. Call it human nature or an over saturation of pop culture stimulating us, but we seem to be less and less satisfied with what we have and more and more desperate for what we don't. We jump from relationship to relationship; job to job; home to home; city to city in search of.... Exactly. That's where it begins: taking inventory of what we do have by making a list (literally, if need be) and checking it twice (just like Santa ;-) so we can figure out what it truly is we're looking for or looking at.

Now, for many, doing that may be easier said than done if a person 1) has no point of reference for how to identify what it is they're seeking or 2) is not 100% sure what they're looking for in the first place. For example, a person who desires a good marriage may have never actually seen one, so they'll either create an unrealistic fantasy of what one should look like or all too easily dismiss the "good marriage" they do have because of their tarnished perspective. Or, even more common, desire a relationship period when what they're really looking for (or need) is more love and acceptance of self. And most of us know a relationship is never a substitute for that. Same with looking for that "good" job. Are we confusing a solid 9 to 5, with full benefits, an above average salary, vacation time, and "somewhat tolerable" co-workers with us looking for an opportunity that allows us to explore our passion? If so, those are two very different things and we better learn the difference real quick before all of our complaining lands us in the unemployment line, for no one ever said you couldn't have a job and cultivate your passion at the same time.

Now, I am in no way condoning doing or staying anywhere or in anything that does not allow for true growth or in any way feels taxing to our soul or diminishes our value. However, it's important to first dig deep enough to explore where the true discontent lies so we can better recognize what we have before losing or leaving it for something we think we want. Then once we can successfully do that, we must seek out those people who are where we want to be and are doing the things we'd like to do. Talk to them; ask them "how it looks"; what it takes; and how to get there, if need be.

If you desire a good marriage, talk to couples who have one; not the single person griping about being so. Or if you want to own your own business, talk to the entrepreneur who has one and stop wasting time complaining to the person in the cubicle next to you, for the blind can not lead the blind. Constantly changing or looking for something different or new will not necessarily fulfill you, if you don't know what or why that is. For a lot of our discontent with what's outside of us truly starts with what's within us, and as my favorite saying goes, "Wherever you go, there you are." But starting our search within; discovering what we're truly looking for; seeking mentors who are already where we want to be; and charting a course to getting there or, even better, finally being able to identify when we are already there, will!

Let's not get caught standing in the middle of our "parade" waiting for it to come and, possibly, missing it all at the same time. Let's learn to better count our blessings from yesterday; have joy today; and better prepare for our tomorrows!