Give back…And make it last

iMentor - waiting teen boy.jpg

One young man sits alone during a mentoring session — even though he didn’t yet have a mentor at this time. Which reminds me: Guys, we need you, too!

I always thought I would study engineering when I was younger. I took what today are STEM classes – chemistry, calculus and anything I could get my hands on to make a technical future possible.

Until Day 1 of engineering school orientation at Texas A&M. That’s when I learned that, unless I declared an area of specialization that day, mine would be Aeronautical Engineering.

At which point I promptly changed my major — to journalism. Never looked back.

Starting college is one thing

It took me twice as long as most people to earn just one degree, but I did eventually finish. What I wished I’d had in high school, though, was a college and career counselor.

I don’t know if this support system is any better now than 30 years ago, but why doesn’t anyone tell you to study what you’re naturally good at? I mean, I got the news from a friend of my brother who hardly knew me!

Still, even if you get into college, it’s a whole other thing to stay in. There could be a whole slew of reasons why it’s so hard, but in my case, my dad was diagnosed with terminal cancer in what would’ve been my junior year. For two years, I worked odd jobs trying to help support my mom before realizing I wasn’t going back to TAMU and that I would have to forfeit my scholarships.

Perhaps feeling a bit rebellious, I tried next to travel the world as a flight attendant, only to ground my own travel career when I realized grief wasn’t a license to run away from reality.

Thank goodness my dad left me with perseverance. It took something like five tries before I earned my bachelor’s degree  – moving from city to city, school to school, earning credits, credits not transferring, withdrawing, re-enrolling. What a wild ride. Then I got married, still with two years of school to go.

I only hope my mentee has that “counselor”

So, that was me. Now, I mentor someone else who could very well face a first-generation college student scenario like mine. The difference is, this time someone will be there to catch her and keep cheering her on.

When we meet each month during the school year, a common theme in our conversations is how life often doesn’t run in a straight line…it’s a kind of winding thing. But we keep getting up and going — right turns, wrong turns…we keep going.

And she can totally do it. She can nail university studies. Heck, she could nail law school. I mean, this girl is smart and driven, and she can do pretty much anything she wants. Well, with the proper support system around her.

Family is (almost) everything

Thank goodness her parents are constantly encouraging her to excel in school so she can continue her studies in college. But even they don’t know what to expect or how to help her prepare.

That’s where Mentor 2.0 comes in.

I’d been seeking a mentoring opportunity for years. It started when I was a student at the University of Houston, where I eventually graduated, and where I’d seen a sign recruiting tutors for high school students at a school across the highway from campus.

Since way back then, I would get on mailing lists and wait for programs to spin up, when in 2016 I finally heard about Big Brothers Big Sisters’ Mentor 2.0 program.

The big sell for me was that Mentor 2.0 specifically targets college-bound high school students who may lack the support network needed to get them to and through college.

And honestly, Mentor 2.0 is really doable for the average working person:

  • One supervised, face-to-face meeting monthly (with mentors, mentees and super-committed school faculty and BBBS staff);
  • Simple, weekly assignments to collaborate on via a secure online environment, and
  • An optional note to the mentee in between assignments, via a secure chat tool, to help them stay encouraged.

The time commitment is usually about 30 minutes a week, with once-a-month meetings at about two hours each.

Now, don’t flinch: This is a four-year commitment. I mean, we’re not stuffing envelopes, friends; we trying to affect a whole lifetime, right? That takes a little commitment. For me after just one year, the payoff has already been huge.

So glad I did it

This is seriously one of the best commitments I’ve ever made. Not only are my mentee and I well matched (similar interests, goals and personalities), but she inspires me so much and makes me want to give her all the support I didn’t know how to find myself. (Heck, she even inspired me to return to school!)

I won’t lie, though: All the “woulda, coulda, shouldas” sometimes get in my head. It sometimes takes me a little while to shake it off and remember this is not about me.

An opportunity with loads of dividends

If you’re in a position to influence a young person’s life, do it. If you live in Colorado and can do it through Mentor 2.0 I’d be more than happy to connect you to this fantastic program.

The thing is, you just never know which other lives you might be affecting besides your student’s. Because when the mentee’s life starts to change, they will start to see themselves as an agent of change in the world.

And then there’s just no stopping them.

Help them get started. Join us.

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Whole30: The end of the tunnel

street-car-italy-porsche

For me, Whole30 has been more about focusing on finding answers. So this image represents coming into the light more than coming out of the dark.

Well, it’s down to the wire.

Down to the end of my Whole30, anyway. I can’t even begin to tell you how worthwhile this process has been for me. What a gift. (I didn’t feel that way during the first week.)

Between all the prepping and cooking and what I’m going to call foraging – not to mention starting a new job – my plate has been full in more ways than one.

So now that my Whole30 is nearly over, I decided it was time for an update.

Actually, it’s not really over until I’ve reintroduced key foods back into my diet. So in another 10-12 days, I’ll really be done. And this is where it gets really interesting.

Po-tay-to, po-tah-toh

One example of how this works comes from my recent decision to take in more white potatoes. I was looking for sustained energy for tennis and, let’s face it: I missed something filling and starchy.

Anyway, last year, the Whole30 authors allowed potatoes into the diet, however reluctantly. In the last few days I found myself eating more of them, and it became very clear very fast that they are not my friends.

So we are breaking up.

Not the one for me

It took about three days to realize my fatigue, mental fog and pronounced aching in my joints (which I hadn’t felt as much since before Whole30) were all tied to my increased potato consumption. That’s how it is with Whole30 – and this was with on-plan food.

Other things I’ve learned on Whole30
  • So many new cooking techniques. If Whole30 doesn’t make you creative in the kitchen, I’m not sure what does. It’s been great in teaching me new things – flavorful and easy.
  • I’m stronger than I thought. Actually, I wanted results from this so badly, it became my sole motivation, and that beats will power any day. So it was easy to say no when I was around off-plan foods.
  • Eating out is really hard on Whole30. Many say it’s impossible, but in the right restaurants – sometimes mom-and-pop shops and at least at our local Carrabba’s – the staff will happily custom-make your meal. Our Carrabba’s went out of their way to make sure my Johnny Rocco salad didn’t contain any sugars or dairy. Made my meal so much more special.
Things I have fallen in love with since starting Whole30:
  • Coconut water
  • Coconut milk
  • Sweet potatoes
  • My new energy level
  • Looser-fitting clothes
  • New lifestyle-changing knowledge that is likely to help me sustain gradual weight loss over time
  • Good, healthy food. I told the hubby today that not only am I eating better than ever, I’m enjoying what I eat more than ever. Not too shabby, eh?
Bringing it all back?

Not really. As part of my reintroduction, I am on the fence about how much I really miss alcohol and dairy.

But my smart hubby reminded me that since I’ll be traveling soon, I should know how I’m going to handle the dairy, at least.

So over the next 10 or so days, I’ll be testing the following:

  1. Legumes (I can’t wait to eat edamame and hummus again.)
  2. Non-gluten grains (Man, I miss me some oatmeal.)
  3. Dairy? (I don’t miss it at all, but it might be my only coffee creamer option when traveling over the next few weeks. I guess thin-crust pizza with some cheese would be nice, too.)
  4. Gluten grains

Before Whole30, I was like the Pillsbury dough girl. I have always loved bread and bready carbs. Now, I might appreciate them now and then, but not every day and hopefully never again in the quantities I consumed them before. This decision will just make me feel better – pretty much a no-brainer.

As a way to discover what foods work and don’t work for you, I strongly recommend you and your medical provider look into Whole30.

While I always hate claims like “let us change your life,” I’ve gotta say: This one really did.

Why I’m doing the Whole30

It has been a crazy last few weeks. I’ve been wrapping up work from freelance clients so I can focus on my new, fun full-time job building a communications program for the research team of a large nonprofit.

In the chaos, I’ve been studying up on how to improve my health: diet, exercise and just overall, how I feel.

I want more energy. I want more mental acuity. I want less joint pain. Heck, I’d love to weigh less and more easily fit into cute clothes.

There are a ton of “diets” out there, none of which I’ve ever tried. And it’s not because I’m a skinny person. I was when I got married. In that 25+ year timeframe, however, I’ve grown — I wish I could say taller.

Yes, I play a lot of tennis. In a good week, I play several times for 1.5-2 hours. But it’s still not enough aerobic activity to keep me from losing much weight. I’ve also had some joint problems ever since my ACL reconstruction 10 years ago, and it’s easy to say that, in my joints, I feel my age a lot.

whole30

Not an easy decision, but a necessary one. I want to be as healthy as I can be for rest of my life.

So I decided to do Whole30 for a few reasons:

  1. Determine which foods give me energy
  2. Eliminate those that don’t
  3. Learn more re: my emotional relationship w/food
  4. Develop better eating habits overall

And then there are the real reasons why I’m doing the Whole30:

  1. To continue improving my tennis game with better health & energy
  2. To kick ass on the tennis court and be invited to join competitive teams
  3. To feel awesome before I hit the big Five-Oh (holy cow I just wrote that)
  4. Because ultimately, I want to do CrossFit, too
  5. And most importantly, to treat my body more like a temple. If God dwells here, I’d better keep my house cleaner than I have been doing.

This weekend I’ve been wrapping up grocery shopping and planning. I’ll start prepping some food for the next couple of days shortly.

I will probably post here, at least weekly – mostly to remind myself why I want this so badly. Who knows, maybe you’ll need the encouragement too. Lord knows if I can do this anybody can.

So here we go. Cheers to the Whole30 (and beyond). To better health!

Glancing in the rear-view mirror

rear-view-mirror-1182330-640x480Welp.

It’s going to be a lot harder than I thought to recover my blogging rhythm, but I need to start somewhere. It’s time to admit I may not be able to research, write, polish and photo edit like I am used to doing.

But one thing I can do is share what I’m learning along this new path – the path to gratitude for full-time work again. It couldn’t be a nicer arrangement with more rewarding opportunity. I’m pretty excited to start the new gig next week.

I hate to say good things come to those who wait, but waiting can really bring about the right thing, at the right time.

I do have to say, I’m really thankful for the season leading up to this, which I was so sure was empty and purposeless. (Yeah, I know – oh ye of little faith. Don’t tell me you haven’t been there, too.)

But God planned this time for teaching me some of the most important lessons of my life. Here are a few:

  • “Stuff” doesn’t matter. People matter.
  • We can get by on much less than we think. Anything besides the basics are wants, not needs. We confuse them a lot.
  • Learning can happen in any environment. We just have to want it.
  • Family is everything.
  • Kindness: Friends, we’re going to have to try a lot harder at being kind to one another. This world and all its challenges and distractions fool us into believing we’re that different from one another to be able to love each other — when in reality, we’re so much alike. Let’s focus on that.
  • Oh. It’s not about me.

Corners

house-appartement-corner-pmg

Corners are meant for one thing – for getting around to another side. They’re made for turning.

I’ve encountered lots of corners lately, and I’ve been trying to make sense of them the last few weeks.Here are a few of them and what I’ve learned.

  • Cooking: On a limited budget, you get better at a lot of DIY things. My experience making meals from food we grow has been so great. I’m so glad we know what it’s like to know the benefits of fresh, garden-to-table food. Even for meals that don’t come from the garden, I’ve found cooking to be incredibly relaxing.
  • Sewing/Making: Something I never thought I’d take on, especially since I’m building on skills I first gained in, oh, 7th grade. Time to quilt is getting slimmer, but I am promising myself that I’ll make it work. I plan to keep that promise.
  • Writing/Blogging: One of my best experiences in recent years. For all the hiccups that can cause someone to come to a full stop when blogging, my activity has slowed a lot lately (more about why in a minute), but I have no intention of stopping. I just hope Poor Mexican Gone will keep being about learning, discovery and connecting dots.
  • Employment : You may know I’ve been freelancing for the better part of the last handful of years – something that followed me more than I pursued it. Still, I took it as a smile from God during a season of intense questioning of my identity.

Which leads me to this: I start a new job at the end of the month. As good as freelancing has been for my freedom, healing and, heck, my tennis game, I’ve truly missed the social interaction that comes with being part of a team. So I’m joining one.

It’s not just one corner that led me to this. It’s more like a long series of four corners. You might even call it a full circle.

After a busy freelance season this summer that included shotgun international travel, it’s time to settle into a job offered to me on that trip. I couldn’t be more pleased, humbled and grateful.

I fully expect to pivot around a few more corners in my lifetime, but for now, this one is a great turn at a great time and, I hope, with the potential for great impact in the lives of others.

A good leader is a good follower

thomas-paine-writer-quote-lead-follow-or-get-out-of-theYou’ve probably seen this famous quote somewhere along the way.

It seems, in most group dynamics, we each fall into one of these three categories. Either we lead, follow, or … we’re one of “them.” Suffice it to say: anyone behind the leader is presumed to be a follower.

Alpha-Beta Pug

We used to have a cute little black Pug. Before Pugs were cool, people thought – especially when we took this little porker on hikes – we had a pot-bellied pig. Can’t say I blamed them.

Anyway, we took her hiking and camping a lot. Funny thing is, being “Alpha dog” (my translation: only dog), she saw herself as behind my hubby (her alpha) and in front of me (her slave and gamma, at best).

So there we would be, in the middle of some trail somewhere, and I would be fighting for my spot behind my long-legged, fast-walking husband…with an animal the size of a wind-up doll power-playing me right out of 2nd place.

It ticked. Me. Off.

Until my husband and I had the discussion and discovered the relationship between his pooch and his wife. We concluded that, whether animal or human, we are either the one in charge, or we aren’t. There’s really no in-between. In this case, I was definitely not the leader. I wasn’t even the one behind the leader.

And that was OK. We all fill our “roles,” right?

It depends. Some followers may blissfully happy following and making their best contributions in that way. But a good leader also needs to know how to be a good follower. (The above is not one of those examples, by the way.) In my experience, the best leaders know how and when to follow.

It’s a big part of letting other people find their own leadership ability.

Lighten the leadership load.

I saw another interesting quote the other day on leadership. It went something like this: “When the leadership load is lightened, great things really start to happen.”

It didn’t quite click then.

In this context, though, it makes sense. The more leaders are OK following now and then, the more great stuff happens. The more they delegate, the more leaders they produce. In today’s world, that’s the sign of a great future.

Audience: Don’t scratch what doesn’t itch

hand scratching what ppears to be male balding headHad a great coffee meeting with a friend the other day who is a very talented instructional designer. Not only does this woman  – I’ll call her Sandy – know the methodologies and techniques for producing great training – she understands the technology behind it all, too. What a great mix of skills.

We ended up chatting the most, however, on the topic of understanding your audience. (Fellow blogger and consultant Deb Nelson covered this recently.)

I mean, if Sandy is developing training for, let’s say, bank tellers on the front lines, the required skills, knowledge and compliance they require are very different from the body of knowledge a loan officer needs to develop.

This is just one example of how missing the target audience is crucial to accomplishing your organization’s goals – or not.

Patience, Grasshopper.

So the question, “Who’s your audience?” isn’t just a bunch of hooey from the comms nerds. It’s at the heart of whatever it is you’re creating. It is more than likely why you’re developing that message. That audience needs knowledge, and you can give it to them.

You’ll also want to have an answer ready for, “What does this [brochure, website, FAQ, training document, research study, etc] need to accomplish?”

  • Do you need to change someone’s mind or behavior?
  • Do you need to move them through your sales funnel, from Point C to Point D?
  • Perhaps educate them and deepen their understanding of a complex topic?
  • What do they think or feel now?
  • How do you want them to feel after encountering your information?
Take the time or else

Whatever it is you’re communicating, I guarantee without solid answers to these questions, the likelihood of hitting your mark is – well, let’s just say you’ve been warned.

Before starting any project that communicates an idea – copy, design, user experience, it’s crucial to know:

  • Who your audience is;
  • What you need to accomplish; and
  • What the consumer’s thinking or perception is today.

Twice in the last few days I’ve heard about someone totally missing these targets – one with a study that surveyed precisely the wrong topic; the other, a training program that equipped the wrong stakeholders with the wrong set of skills. Both epic fails — not to mention costly.

As my friend Sandy said, you have to address the specific needs of the audience – or else, you just might end up scratching an itch that doesn’t exist.