Friday, December 20, 2013

The Kids Are Alright

“Behold the children and imitate them . . . They are interested in the present moment, in being curious and in learning, in showing and in sharing, in making and creating.”
-Clarissa Dinkola Estes, PhD

Perhaps the children really are the ones that truly “get it.”  The totality of their young lives exists, in so many respects, in the present.  They can seem so anchored there, relishing – or sometimes not – what they find themselves interacting with at that precise instance.  Ever watch a young child eat an ice cream cone?  There is no past, no future – only the present moment where ice cream meets mouth.  I can remember those days as a youngster down the Jersey Shore with my parents when, after a day at the beach, we’d walk along the boardwalk to the frozen custard stand.  I was transfixed!  The world as I knew it came to a screeching halt – all for the want of an ice cream cone. The singular focus, the ability to screen out everything around me . . . looking back on it through an adult lens, I can now appreciate the sheer beauty of its unfettered simplicity.  I had no idea then of how important that intense focus on the now would be to me later in life. More on that later . . . .

Once I made the decision a few years ago to give back to my community and “pay it forward”, I soon realized that I was essentially embarking upon a double life of sorts.  First there was the “day job”:  the responsibilities that I have in my current role as a corporate vice president at my company – and all of the duties and deliverables associated with it.  Then there is this “other life” that was developing outside of my daily work life.  Specifically, it is my activism and involvement in the LGBT community which quickly began to take up an ever-growing space in my life.  I owe this entirely to the difficulty I have with saying the word “no” when individuals or organizations approach me to get involved in some capacity.  It’s only recently that I have developed the tactic of the “polite decline” when it comes to being asked to serve on boards or committees beyond those I have already committed to.   But that said, it can quite often be a struggle of conscience because there is still so much work to be done within the LGBT equality movement, especially when it concerns the rights of transgender and gender non-conforming people.

So now, as I embark upon my life’s next challenge I have become increasingly aware of a troublesome incongruence between the day job and my work in the movement.  I suspect that some of you reading this may have experienced similar feelings.  For me, it has been a troubling inability to reconcile the two spheres I have chosen to live my life within.  On the one hand, there is my work in the community which I derive great joy from and where I feel I am most blessed.  Having the opportunity to contribute in some way to creating the change that we seek and inspiring others to do the same – in their workplaces and in their personal lives - is most assuredly a gift from a higher place.  It makes my heart sing.

On the other is the “day job” (it occurs to me I need to come up with another name for it) – nowhere near as exciting or stimulating as moving an audience who wants to learn from my personal story of embracing my authentic self – but I have to grudgingly admit it serves as the foundation for it.  Now of course I get that part.  My company pays me a very good wage, and furthermore, didn’t run me out of town on a rail when I came out a few years back.  But I still couldn’t wrap my head around how best to reconcile the two.  Or if I had to at all.  It’s been difficult, make that very difficult, to connect the dots.  I simply could not make the connection between these two very disparate worlds.  That is until the other night, when I had a telephone conversation with my spiritual director.

But before I go any further I feel it is important to mention that what I am about to share comes from my own personal belief system.  It is not an attempt whatsoever to convert anyone.  Simply take from it what you will, if anything at all.  Some of you may stop reading now thinking I going to get all religious on you.  Hardly.  Feel free to substitute God for something that works for you – be it, Buddha, Allah, the Divine or perhaps Spirit.  With that little disclaimer out of the way, I’ll continue . . .

As we discussed this issue she made me realize that among other things, I was “enduring” my day job and not truly being present to it at all.  She went on to explain that I needed to shift how I viewed my daily work through a different lens – the lens of God.  I did not come upon my job by mere happenstance, I’m there for a reason.  She urged me to consider these questions, “What is God guiding me to in my daily work that is valuable and important?” “What are the benefits I derive from my job that I can bring to others outside of the office?”  And finally, “What are the gifts there that God has for me?”  She helped me to better understand that I have but one life and everything I do, however mundane, serves a purpose and is invariably intertwined with some other aspect of my life. It keeps me grounded and provides balance.  She taught me a simple but very valuable lesson:  a compartmentalized life is not an authentic life at all.

This brings me back to the lesson taught by the young children I mentioned earlier:  live your life in the moment.  Always be present to it and embrace the now.  There is much knowledge to be gained by focusing one’s life there.  Live in the present moment as the children do, with the knowledge that I am also living my life in my day job with all of its “time to make the donuts” moments, just as much as when I am in the front of a room speaking.  My actions – all of them, in whatever the setting – affects others.  I am making a difference in both places, in all of the places where I live my life – and that’s where the connection is.  That’s where I found the proverbial “golden thread.” By choosing to allow God to teach me what I am supposed to learn there – even if I’m not in the spotlight.

All it took was the realization that I am supposed to be there, focused on the present, and rooted in the now, with the wonder of a child . . . 

Anyone up for an ice cream cone?

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

And So It Begins . . .

For those of you who know me and the contributions I've made to the movement for transgender equality - in particular with regard to workplace equality and inclusivity - I've always implored my audiences (especially when they were made up of primarily transgender or gender non-conforming individuals) to "follow your heart."  For in times of distress or indecision, it may be the only "real" voice to listen to.  When faced with confusion or conflicted feelings, centering yourself around your heart's compass - your emotional and spiritual "true north" -  may just be what is needed to get you past that perceived mountain that lies between you and the happiness and contentment that await on the other side.

There's only one problem:  I wasn't listening to my own words.  While I espoused this notion for so long, I never truly embraced it - but rather fell prey to old habits of living my life based on the expectations of others, rather than on my own.  

As I was out on my daily run on my birthday this past Friday I was thinking about what to start my blog with, and that's when it really hit me:  true liberation, true happiness can only be attained with a healthy and grounded sense of self - buttressed by the belief that what you do-whatever it is and on whatever level - makes a difference in the world around you.  You see, I got caught up in the notion that the only way I could be effective in the LGBT equality movement was to do EVERYTHING.  Wrong Answer!  

The ability to create the change you seek begins with first BECOMING that change from the inside out, letting your light shine forth so brightly that those around you cannot help but be touched by it.  From there, it's a matter of bringing your light to the world-your world, not in broad strokes, but rather in smaller circles where your sphere of influence is its greatest. Imagine if everyone did that.  Each in their own way, within their own circle.  If enough people do that the circles are bound to touch, to overlap, and before you know it the single light of change is like a second sun. 

Believe me, it's taken a while, but that's where I find myself today.  Finally comfortable, to a large degree, with what I have done and where I stand before you today.   

But I cannot get past the simple fact there is still so much work to be done.  To be sure, the needle is moving in a positive direction with respect to full equality and respect for the humanity of all transgender and gender non-conforming individuals. But is it moving fast enough?  Broadly enough?  Fairly enough?  Perhaps it is our Transgender Day of Remembrance services this month that so poignantly point to the answer.  There are still trans and gender non-conforming individuals being killed just for embracing who they are - and that is simply unacceptable.

That's why I've come to the realization that I must fully embrace the gifts that I believe God has given me to make a difference in this world, by speaking, training and facilitating about the importance of workplace equality and personal empowerment for all transgender and gender non-conforming people - and for the LGBT community at-large. Truth be told, I've been doing it for a while now, so it seems only right - in my heart - that I move forward in a more purposeful fashion. 

That's what Follow Your Heart, LLC (formerly Follow Your Heart Productions) is all about. It is the embodiment of my commitment to myself and to the community I am so proud to be a member of.  It's the only way I know how to bring my light to the world - inside and outside of the workplace - and witness to my life.  Perhaps it's really all about creating and connecting the circles. . .