First Year Teaching: I bled through my skirt

I am a woman who has periods and it’s not the end of the world. I promise.

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Welcome back! Many of you are probably prepared to pity me or sitting on the edge of your seats to hear the full story.  Others of you might think this subject matter is too private or personal or taboo. For those of you fall in the last category, I wrote this post for you, as a female human. Cue rant:

One of the things that I am very passionate about is talking about periods. I feel compelled to talk about periods and “feminine products,” because people do not want to talk about them…NOT EVEN OTHER WOMEN (sometimes). We have grown up in a society in which speaking out about periods, vagina, tampons, pads, or diva cups, is to be whispered. I live in a world which makes me feel as though having a period is a negative consequence, bleeding is disgusting and unsanitary (hints “sanitary products”), and being open about my personal life is “unlady like.” Well here’s my lady card, because I’m about to complete this full rant.

I was in a bit of a rush to get to my office hours before teaching a course. So I am frantically whipping eggs into a skillet and brushing my teeth while putting on a turquoise, floor length maxi skirt (because I was a goddess that day). I take a transit bus up to campus and walk into my office ready for the day. I finish speaking with other graduate assistants and realize that I should head to my class at about 15 minutes til. I stand up and one of second year students exclaim, “Oh, we have a problem!”

I was so shook and startled that I am intensely listening to hear what just happened. He then motions to another woman in the room to enlighten me on the problem (which only confuses everyone more). After putting two and two together, I look at my skirt to find a nice red smear in a sea of turquoise fabric. I explained to him that it wasn’t a big deal, because I am a female human and this is nothing new. He then suggests that I sit the whole class, so that my students can not see the stain. So I had to get him together:

First of all, as a young black woman teaching at a predominately white institution (PWI), I will not be sitting to teach a lesson with the intention to not make my students uncomfortable with the fact that I had a period! I hold myself to a high standard and make a point to live my life unapologetically.

Secondly, this was nothing to panic about. I will admit that I did not like the idea of walking around campus with a stain, but that would be for blood or even coffee. As a teacher and graduate student, you want to look presentable to a certain extent…especially at the beginning of syllabus week! The only concern at this point was to not let it dry, because that turquoise skirt is my favorite.

So I head to a near by restroom to put some water on it and dim the vibrancy. I rotate the skirt, so that the stain is on my front hip and then I roll up the skirt from floor length to mid-calf. Still a cute skirt. Still professional.

Thirdly, if you were bleeding…and sitting…wouldn’t you…bleed through the skirt again?! Logic went straight of the window for my male counterpart, because he does not have to think about these things. I make an effort to be conscious of that which is not conscious to my everyday reality. Just because you do not deal with it everyday, doesn’t mean that it never happens. For example, I think about race ALL THE TIME. Why? Not because I’m racist or looking for an opportunity to “play the race card.” I think about it because I have to. It is a defense mechanism. I live in a country that separates families, hosts Nazi and KKK rallies/ marches, and doesn’t look for missing people with brown skin. I do not have the luxury to live life without think about the fact that I am black nor a woman.

As a woman, I bleed. Maybe it’s once a month. Maybe it’s once every two months. It all depends on my body, diet, and stress level. When this happens, I may have cramps and mood changes. For some women, cramps can be so severe that they physically can not move. So we take pain medication, warm water bags, or eat those food that just…hit the spot. I am a free-flower. If I can get away without using tampons or pads, I will and here’s why!

Tampons and pads are expensive and dangerous. I spent an hour in a Target aisle once trying to figure out which brand to get. I challenge you. The next time you go to the store, go to the women’s section. Notice that it will be at the back or in the cut and always linked to “family planning” or “pregnancy tests.” I want you to look at the prices and quantity. Just with a quick google search alone, the cheapest set of tampons is about 5$ for 40 of an off-brand and pads is about 3$ for 22. If we pretend that your cycle is monthly, let’s assume that your period will last at least 4-7 days per month. Your period flow will also be important in these calculations. You may change 1-3 times a day (some friends have done more in one day). So for the tampons that’s about 2-10 months worth, pads about 1-5 months. Reminder that you really need both, because sometimes just one pad or tampon won’t avoid stained clothes and there are time limits for wearing these products. Also, don’t forget the special taxes and also, do you know what they’re made with?

Our sanitary products are laced with all sorts of chemicals and pesticides. I don’t even think that companies are required to tell you what’s in them. So recently, there’s been this new wave of interest in organic or diy products. But I purchased a diva cup. This isn’t common within my family or friend circle. It is 40$ and you can use it up to a year and wear it for longer hours than tampons. The material doesn’t have nasty chemicals. As I am writing this, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but again…it adds up and men don’t have to think about any of this. Plenty of women live their mature lives without knowing about their bodies or cycles. I am not good at math but worst case scnario, you could be paying about 10$ for 2 months of period related products…which could be 60$ a year (depending on flow, brand, and financial status). These products are a luxury that many women do not have access to all over the world. We shouldn’t have to pay for this…or worry about where to get the funds to do so.

So back to the original story: I checked in with some women around me to see the adjustment with my skirt looked like it had been planned. I strolled across campus and walked into my classroom to teach about 5 minutes or so early. After class, I took the transit back home, so that I could soak the skirt, because it makes me feel like a goddess. So I left all my clothes to soak in the sink with cold water (you can also use your own spit or hydrogen peroxide, apparently). I drove back to campus in my personal vehicle to pay for parking, so that I wouldn’t be late for my next meeting and class that I TA for.

I began by stating that this post was written for those of you who think that this topic is too “private, personal, or taboo.” I wrote this piece for you because I wanted you to know that this happened to me and the world kept going. I want you to know a little bit about the world that I live in which doesn’t support me. Having periods is normal and sometimes an interestingly timed surprise, but that’s okay…or at least it should be. I wrote this piece for you because I want you to be able to calmly say to another woman, “You have started your period and there is a stain on your skirt. Do you need help getting anything?” I wrote this for you, so that when you go to the store and see all of these products hidden a way, you start to imagine the unspoken shame attached to that. I wrote this piece for you to notice those who may not have access to pads, tampons, or cups. I wrote this piece because it is a real life, every day occurrence. I am writing you so that you may one day ask the right questions to the right people. I am writing you this piece so that you can help the next woman. 

Yes, I am a woman and I have periods, but I continue to thrive…and next time I’ll have spare clothes.

Best,

CDJ

What’s a Mindset Shift?

I will admit that I never realized how much of a mindset shift would be require in graduate school. Many people say that graduate school is intense, but will be the most exciting, fun time of your college career (obviously, for us nerdy types). While all of this is true, I do not recall having a conversation with anyone about the change of mindset.

When you opt into a graduate program you are making a statement to the world. As Professor Barajas said in a group session, getting a Master’s says to the academic community that you are wanting to specialize in a particular area and getting a Doctorate says you are being an expert on a specific area. My undergraduate professors explained that we were creating knowledge. With knowledge and the power to pass it down to others requires great responsibilities.

In addition to being a graduate student, I am an instructor and teaching assistant for undergraduate students. So not only am I expected to be on my studies and giving back within my discipline and communities, I have to be a greater example to young adults. I’m still figuring out adulthood and some things I have mastered pretty well, but I am now in a space where I am “the professor.”

Within that role, there are quite a few unspoken rules, because this community is so small. Though I was never one to frequent parties and bars, now I have to think about the optics of that, whether here or elsewhere. My role in certain on campus organizations may be different. It’s less about “let me hang out with my friends” and more so “what will project me to that end goal.” With that in mind, how one even approaches dating is different. I do not say these things to communicate that I am feeling trapped or restricted. I say these things because I am noticing a shift in my approach to life. Like leaving behind non-sense and moving forward in non-toxic environments.

I am making personal and mature decisions with more intention than I think I ever have before. I am surrounding myself with people who get it and with people who are go-getters. I am lucky to be surrounded by a team that supports me and holds me accountable. I am working with wonderfully, skilled individuals who can coach and collaborate with me on various projects.

I feel like a lot of trust has been placed on me and my ability to develop better humans. And I am ALL ABOUT IT. It is fun, but it’s different than what you would imagine it to be. It requires you to ask the right questions and be intentional with your actions. Although I’m sure it will be stressful (just give it 3-4 weeks), I’m excited to be in the place in my life where I am more aware of who I am, the roles I play, and the life I live unapologetically. 

Best,

CJ

End of Gap Year: What’s Next?

I’ll be starting a new adventure soon and hopefully I’ll have more time to write.

This time last year, I was going through one of the biggest transitions of my young adult life. I had completed my undergraduate studies and begun to define womanhood for myself. I made a terrifying, yet beautiful decision to take a Gap Year. Here’s what I learned from that experience.

Long story short, I graduated without a plan, but had great options. I deferred my enrollment at the University of Arkansas, in order to gain more focus in my life. My undergrad career was draining physically, mentally, emotionally, and academically. So during my Gap Year I completed internships in event planning and studio art, served through AmeriCorps to develop Social Emotional Learning or soft skills in young students, traveled aboard, attended conferences and trainings, while having a lot of fun (some might say too much)!

During this time, I learned that I am someone who has high expectations for excellence and will work endlessly to improve a situation. I have been creative, strategic, and intentional with putting myself in the right circle of people and places. I learned the importance of taking care of yourself and what that might look like for me. I also learned that teaching is where I am meant to be. However, I do not believe k-12 is my calling.

During my Gap Year, though I enjoyed working with middle and high school students, I do not believe that the Education system supports teachers to develop great students. Therefore, I applied to four different graduate programs around the U.S. I am now enrolled at the University of Arkansas to encourage more inclusive communities and be a part of changing what education looks like in the U.S.

Through serving long hours in various school systems and summer camps, I noticed that I was passionate about giving students the best quality experiences. I noticed that I put my students first in every capacity. I believe that those intense emotions or connections should never be ignored. I hope that my graduate studies will show me ways that I can be more influential and allow me to make tangible goals to improve our education system.

This learning matters because I noticed my calling. I think I had been running away from it for so long and not identifying it for what it was. In every aspect of my life, I have been a leader and teacher. I use to think that I was the only one without “a thing” or passion or clear direction. But now I believe that my “thing” is leading within education and what better way to do that than through graduate school.

As a result of my Gap Year journey, I gained more focus on what makes Cayla happy and who adult Cayla might be. I am still writing my story in pencil for now, but I’m starting to get a better picture of the final chapter.

I want to thank everyone for following me on my Gap Year Journey. I will continue writing about my new transition on the First Year Grad tab.

Take safe risks and always put yourself first.

Best,

Cayla Jae

Back to Top Priorities

Weeks ago, I wrote about priorities and choices. I wrote about my top priority always being the warm embrace of happiness. Throughout life, our choices may be limited or affected by our environments which question our commitments to that which matters the most.

I left undergrad in a place that was uncertain but proud. I had finally met Cayla. I listened to, supported, and embraced her. Through allowing her to thrive, I learned that she needed to be in the gym at least 3 days out of the week, silence for a good portion of the day, and to create things that were both important to her and others. And even if I moved, it was my responsibility to ensure that she continued to have those things which made her smile.

I did not do my job well. During this gap year experience, I’ve noticed that I’ve stopped supporting myself. I placed myself too far from my chosen family, outside of the gym, into 57 hours per week of noise, and within an uninspiring location. Instead of listening to her, I added distractions to my life which have veer me off of a path that I fought so hard to build.

At one point, I knew that I was meant to live alone somewhere near the sun. Somewhere where I could read books, enjoy hot tea, and dance to the sound of the wind. I knew that I wanted to help people by creating solutions to issues that make my heart sad. I knew that I didn’t care for economic wealth, just financial stability with zero debt. I knew that I would move the bubble to a place I could call home.

However, this year, I have developed unhealthy relationships and habits. I can’t remember the last book I read nor cup of tea I’ve drank. In the past, when I danced, there were always two friends who’d join in, but now I’m more of a spectacle. I have an endless list of things to do and no motivation to start them. I lie in bed eating marshmallows and watching Grey’s Anatomy for the 10th time thinking about all the places my body screams to go to.

9 months ago, Cayla would’ve written this to current Cayla:

1. Set Priorities

2. Assess Your Situation

3. Check Happiness

4. Plan Small Goals

My ultimate priory is to be happy and have silence. I can’t get that from anyone but myself.

I’ve allowed people into my space who don’t deserve my attention. However there were quite a few new relationships that I hope will stick. I’m also making some good decisions with how use my money. So I feel that I just need more structure to my life to rebuild some good and healthy habits.

I am unhappy because I’m not content with my environment. I want more choices and freedom than I currently have. I feel like I’m suffocating. As result, I’ve become more defiant and nasty, because I’m fighting… without a goal (besides freedom of course).

My current plan is to finish my service term within the next 2 weeks. Once released from service, I can allot time to think about myself, achievable goals, and actually follow through. So small steps: finish service, live alone in a pretty place, join a gym/ dance studio, read for pleasure, and eat healthy.

Hopefully by this time next month, I will have attempted some of these goals to get back to my priorities.

I’m Trying Not To Care

Semi-Structure Mini Rant about how fake and sick my view of my world is. And gee, was it cathartic.

Semi-Structure Personal Rant Here:

And suddenly, somehow, everything you know is smoke and mirrors. But, you know, not even the real smoke, just an intern dropping dry ice.

I’ve been taking some days to myself, since I’ve fallen back into my busy bee habit. I was hoping that with every renewed 24 hours I’d get closer to answering that which doesn’t exist yet stings so hard and rings so loud. It’s human logic and greed that suffocates and confuses me.

It’s the reason I cringe when people ask “what’s all in you” or “how’d you get good hair.” It’s the reason I pause when I catch myself saying “why would she accept the drink” rather than “when did they learn it was okay to poison the drink.” Its that learned reason I smile and pleasantly get myself out of situations of sexual harassment on a weekly bases. Its the hesitation I face walking into a gender neutral bathroom, even though I believe people have a right to pee and poop in which ever stupid room has toilet paper and soap. Its the boiling in my gut when people say “i need to eat more” or say that I’m not their standard of beauty because I’m not a curvy girl. It’s the helplessness that divides me when students are pleading in blood, everyone but the 1% is praying for a better tomorrow, and the U.S. looks like some terrible, sick joke in a world full of knowledge. It’s the reason I tell myself not to care because people vote and things don’t change, people march and things don’t change, people document and things don’t change, people cry and beg and reason and things still don’t change.

And you’re told to pray, because even if things don’t change, tomorrow might be a little brighter or maybe you’ll be lucky enough to die and take refuge in heaven. And you’re told to be persistent and optimistic, because not everything is all bad, I mean look at your privilege. And you’re told to watch your words, tone, and actions, because you’ll fit the stereotypes or you won’t get that job or you’ll just be another misunderstood social media meme.

Every day you scroll through articles and posts that are so triggering and terrifying, you’re paralyzed. But I’m not sure others see it. And you focus on work because you need a house and food and zero debt. But I don’t think others think it’s problematic. And you try not to educate yourself because you see the dots and it makes you sad. And maybe others won’t think you truly understand.

And hey, maybe you don’t understand that a country built on the back, blood, spirit, and knowledge of the oppressed, has written its history to have been the savior of the unjustifiable horrors. And then celebrate such hatred in subtly or heck have a memorial day for it. Maybe you don’t understand that years of neglect, trauma, and insane classification, have lead to broken families, wounded hearts, violent communication, and nonexistent bootstraps. Maybe you don’t understand that intersectionality and a multifaceted identity, has caused so much internal and external confusion. Maybe you don’t understand how toxic relationships and situations can be so normalized. Maybe you don’t understand that it’s not about you and you can’t fix your country (that’s not even really your country because your ancestors didn’t choose it, but for some reason anyone who does choose it, has to wait to be chosen).

I’m not angry, I’m disappointed. I’m not a know it all, I’m curious. I’m not “not black enough,” I’m a culmination of my ancestors prayers. I’m not unappreciative or woke, I’m honest. I’m not adding to the “black agenda” or on some bandwagon, I’m hurt. I’m not “too sensitive,” I’m speaking out. I’m not steady and won’t just smile and be pretty and be happy…I don’t even know where to start.

It feels like there’s been a huge valley carved into the body of someone silenced by labels and stupid human’s needs to consume everything good. But instead of assessing the injury or stitching them back together, we lay 1/5th of a bandaid over it and then set it on fire and try again. I hate being confused, hypocritical, and unrightfully judged. I hate thinking that common sense isn’t so common. I hate feeling toxic, powerless, and just not enough. I hate wanting approval and perfection. I hate explaining my hesitation to living life, suspicion in new places (without enough black people), or my experience with race to those who “just don’t agree.”

And suddenly, somehow, everything you know is smoke and mirrors. But, you know, not even the real smoke, just an intern dropping dry ice.

Because race is some bull that oppressors made up to make themselves feel better. And gas lighting allowed terrible people to sleep better at night. And ethnicity determines your eulogy. And all of the isms just feed into some constructed lens of reality that just isn’t real. And people say what they hear without a question, yet only question you because they haven’t placed you yet.

We owe money to people we can’t see and for a system that doesn’t support us. We sell our time, bodies, and minds for a machine that doesn’t nurture us. We have blind loyalty to that which we don’t understand and we’re okay with it because we see only what we want in our mirrors. Because maybe it’s more frightening to see what’s just outside of the funhouse. Some idea of fun it is.

I don’t know. Millennial rant over. I’ll go back to eating avocados while trying to rationalize my choices.

Heros Wanted: What’s Your Super Power?

The world could use a little love and help from you. Let’s find your Super Power today!

In a world where children run on leashes, umpa lumpas run the government, and memes run wild, it’s challenging to find what makes you you and unique. We are so distracted by noise, drama, and entertainment that we’re get disconnected from ourselves.

Most of my posts ask the question of your priorities and skills sets, but I don’t think we’ve ever dug deep into how you determine that. Today’s post will do just that, because in a world of distraction, we need grounded people who know who they are.

1. What Do You Do Well?

Although this may seem simple, people struggle with this question. So your answer can take time. This shouldn’t be a “I do everything well.”

Choose a maximum of 5 things you’re good at. Some questions to help you figure that out: Why do people come to you for advice? What projects or assignments have you enjoyed and excelled at? What themes or topics do you engage with? What interests you?What requires little assistance from other people? What skills have you acquired? What roles do you usually fill? How are these things connected?

Then just simplify everything to one or two words. For example, people come to me for help with resumes, entrance essays, and important emails. I’m sought out for art commissions, creative direction, clerk duties, and to handle people or celebrities. I think I do many things well: dance, sing, paint, draw, write, talk, etc. But let’s connect the dots!

What I do well: coordinate/ organized, research, effective communication, creativity, focused, and honest. People can depend on me to get the job done and tell them what they need to hear.

2. What Do You Enjoy?

This is super important, because if your job as a superhero is to put out fires around the city, but you can’t endure heat… we have a problem!

Let’s define enjoyment as things that you can get lost in for hours, brings joy/ smile to your face, and something that makes you extremely proud. So now create a maximum of 8 things that you enjoy.

Here’s some questions to help: What gets you moving in the morning? What could you talk about for hours? What do you read, watch, or see often? What do you value and why? What describes a fun night to you? What do you enjoy most about other people? What do you ask questions about? What do you care about? What grinds your gears? What could you never say no to? Now do these things connect?

Music is the only thing that gets me going in the mornings, otherwise I’m a zombie. When I’m inspired, I can get lost in art. I enjoy languages, food, dancing, ranting, and teaching. I follow the golden rule and wish everyone had common sense or empathy.

3. What Do You Bring to a Team or Group?

What individual strengths do you bring to the table? What is your skill set? What are you exceptional at?

So now we need to think of you in a collaborative setting because sometimes you have side kicks or you and another superhero have a common enemy. What is unique about you?

Guiding questions: What adjectives are used to describe you? What qualities do you possess that helps a team advance? What roles do you have on teams or in your family? What would your friends, family, or coworkers say about you? What qualities are important for leadership and teamwork? What do you value? What do others value about you?

Choose a maximum of 10 words this time. What makes you you? I’m organized, reliable, focused, I want my team to look good and be on the same page, artistic, detail oriented, and big picture.

4. What Is Your Super Power?

Now, our job is to put it all together. What do your lists have in common? What industries or position could they fit well? Who could you help? What is your super power?

Let’s go back to what you do well, what you enjoy, and what you bring to a team. I said:

“People can depend on me to get the job done and tell them what they need to hear.”

“Music… I enjoy languages, food, dancing, and teaching. I follow the golden rule…common sense or empathy.”

“I’m organized, reliable, focused, I want my team to look good and on the same page, artistic, detail oriented, and big picture.”

Overlap: I am artistic, organized, and dependable. I want to tell people what they need to hear.

This list will help you see your strengths and interests in a different way. The goal is to not only identify them but to see how they could be useful to you. Your Super Power doesn’t have to include everything but the most important parts that stand out.

For example, my list shows that I work well with people and meet their expectations. My Super Power is that I make people fall in love with me. With effective communication and a little focus it doesn’t take much to interpret what people want. In a way I’m a mind reader and I develop patterns with people to make them adore me. I use art, language, details, and focus to accomplish it.

I hope this post helped you. If you have any questions or get stuck, feel free to comment below. My mission is to help you, because the world needs more people who know their skill sets and can use them effectively.

Best,

Cayla Jae

How to Make Decisions

No one likes making tough decisions. These 6 steps will help you get through those tough times! All you have to do is decide to read it. 😉

Welcome back to another lovely Saturday evening. This is crunch time for decisions. Whether you’re looking for summer fun, accepting school offers for the Fall, or wondering what’s for dinner, you have a decision to make. Here’s my 6 Steps to Making THAT Decision!

1. Realism

Before you rush into making up your mind, you must have the appropriate mindset. I’m all for being realistic because being honest with yourself is the greatest form of kindest to you. Depending on the crossroad you’re at, you may have to challenge yourself to remain objective in this step.

We’ll use this blog post as our themed example. One of my Gap Year goals was to become a more influential writer. Because of that goal, i made a decision to use my website to create journal entries each week about my life and thoughts and art. Today was tough because I didn’t know what to write about.

In being realistic with myself, I know a couple of things: I’m on a personal timeline so there’s no rush. I shouldn’t force myself to create art without a need to communicate an idea. My readers are open to almost any topic (but really love life and romance advice). I am encouraged by myself and our community to be HONEST and unapologetic about that.

2. Priorities

After writing or thinking about the details of the situation, revisit why you’re in this space (physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually). What are you going through? What is your goal? Is this decision worth your time or energy? Think about what commands your attention.

As previously mentioned, I took this Gap Year for the purpose of knowing myself and developing myself personally. One thing I wanted to improve was my writing skills. With that being my goal then this promise I made to myself is important and low risk. I have time today to think and write. I have an open mind today to be present in this writing process. I can afford to give my thoughts.

3. Outcome

Now that we are honest with the situation and it’s important enough to be a proity, let’s look at those consequences. Consequences aren’t always negative. What may happen after you make a decision in which ever direction? What can you look forward to?

If I write today, I will smile and be happy that so far I’ve only slipped up 3 times on my promise to write once a week (most of those, I just lost track of the days of the week, tbh). If I write today, I have an opportunity to inspire or assure someone of their next step. If I don’t write today, I will wonder why I didn’t and will have 4 weeks of no blog posts. If I don’t write today, I might loose the opportunity to help another human or my personal goal.

4. Urgency

Now that we can visualize these consequences, let’s review how important this decision is. Must it be done this hour, this day, this week, or this month? Are the negative consequences so bad that is better to get this decision off your plate?

There is a but of urgency in that I’ve promised to make an evening post every Saturday. However, again, if it didn’t happen the negative consequences aren’t life or death. So I know that I only have a few hours to write about something.

5. Intuition

The most important thing to do is follow your gut. Some people call it your heart or the ancestors, but just know that our bodies are intuned with the universe. The universe is a part of you and you are a part of the universe. However there’s been so much sound placed in between humans and the earth that it’s hard to hear the universe. However with huge decisions or things that are important to you, I believe the universe starts screaming its answer! So listen stupid, well not stupid… silly!

The universe told me that I was being a hard headed lazy bum. The fact that I couldn’t decide on what to write was an inspiration to help other figure or what to write, do, or say. And I felt that it was a great topic because is relatable, useful, and interesting. It’s simple, yet complex, and a lot of fun to think about. How do humans make decisions?

6. Intention

Your final step is to consider your purpose. What will this action or decision really do? What will it mean? Are you going to make a decision out of fear or with the intention to make something happen (or not happen)? Are you hiding something?

My intention here is to publish my thoughts and free myself. My intention is to be bigger than myself. My writing is firstly for me and secondly to anyone who could use it for better. I am making a decision to write for these reasons. I am making a decision to make a decision because of these reasons. It will mean that I kept a promise to myself.

Have I missed anything? Leave comments or questions below!

Best,

Cayla J.

How to “Hot Button” with Confidence

Whether it’s a Hot Topic or an inconvenience, there are ways to navigate conversations that we don’t want to have. Here’s a start!

Welcome Back! While February is recognized as the love month and celebrated for black history, empathy and appreciation for diversity have been placed on the back-burner. It feels as though there’s this obligation to buy candy, hearts, and red tissue paper. Also, I am often under-impressed with our approach to black history month with the same 10 people being highlighted with little to know call to action. This past year has been the year of great tension causing many people to beat around the bush when it comes to tough conversations.

Below are 4 tips for how to have those tough, hot button conversations peacefully and productively.

First, let’s define hot button/ tough conversations.

Hot Button Topics are subjects which elicit strong emotive responses. Hot Button Topics usually present a spectrum of responses which most people choose an extreme to represent. These are the topics that are not brought up at southern dinner tables or do not make for great work related conversations. Examples of current Hot Button Topics would include religion, abortion, income, immigration, police brutality, guns rights, the 45th, race, etc. As mentioned previously, many of these topics are presented in black and white, yet the grey zone is often left out of the conversation. They grey zone can cause tension within these tough conversations. For example, a biracial or mixed person with pale skin not being considered “black enough” for the African American community. Or those who are politically pro-choice and personally pro-life. In conclusion, when faced with Hot Button conversations, just remember that people will have strong stances on them, but everything exists on a continuum. 

1. The Environment Matters

When entering or hosting tough conversations, you must take location and environment into consideration. By this I mean, are you within a large group, a public or private place, at an event, or in a location that would allow for a healthy conversation between the two of you? When hosting tough conversations it helps to not put the other person “on the spot.” My advice would be to have a one on one, if possible, in a space with little to no noise and poses little threat. Your goal here is to make sure that both parties can be heard, are comfortable, and will not get distracted. You want to be considerate of your surroundings and conscious of what is happening within the space and the other person.

2. Check-In with Your Goal

Before entering a highly tense conversation, it helps to be centered and grounded. Most importantly, you want to enter the conversation from a good place with good intentions. You need to assess your mental and emotional state to have that tough conversation. You must be honest with yourself! Are you calm or secure enough to consider a different point of view? Remember that people have firm stances on Hot Button Topics, because they were presented with a strong case or experience earlier in life. Humans are stubborn. Once we believe something is true, it is difficult to accept a new point of view. Your goal should never be to convert the other person (regardless of your stance). Your ultimate goal is to reach understanding on both sides. Hopefully, through a constructive conversation, the other party will take little pieces of what you said and think about it later. However, the process of being presented with new sound information is uncomfortable. It’ll make them squirm and reevaluate their stance. Helping them to understanding you while you active listen to them is success in itself.

3. Create Space for Conversation

Earlier we spoke about the importance of your physical environment and your personal state of mind. Now we want to discuss what a healthy space for conversation looks like. The number one thing here is a Safe Space: that which is non-judgmental, private, respectful of all views, and familiar. You want to build a relationship and trust with the opposite party, because it’s hard to listen to a stranger. You want the questions to be about the topic and viewpoint, rather than personal lives. For example, when speaking about abortion, I stick to policies, access to information, and the fact that it’s a woman’s decision is she wants to grow a whole human. What I won’t do is ask about their personal experience with abortion, family’s history, or say “what if you were…” All of that would immediately put the other person on defense and stop them from listening to you. Again, because you’re goal is mutual understanding, you want both parties open and receptive of the trading of thoughts.

4. Next Step: Action or Disagree

In the spirit of that last statement, the end of the conversation can be a sort of call to action or agreeing to disagree. You want to bring the conversation full circle with a nice close. You want to leave on good terms. You can either end the conversation with your preference or how you interactive with the topic. You can invite them to another conversation or event for them to give their point of view to others. You can ask them to just think about and consider the points you made. When all else fails, just agree to disagree. Remember your goal wasn’t to change someone’s view point, your goal was to have a healthy, productive conversation about something that people don’t want to talk about. It may take many conversations until they see eye to eye with you, so above all else, be patient.

Let people be who they are and appreciate their unique perspective. It isn’t our place to judge them or hate them for having an opinion. It’s our job to educate the masses and do the best we can to respect all views. If you have additional tips, please leave a comment below!

Best,

Cayla Jae

How to “Online Dating”: From Stranger to Friend to Exclusive

Learn how to transform your relationships (whether romantic or not) in the age of online dating.

Last year, I wrote about reasons someone doesn’t deserve a swipe to the right. Today, I felt the need to highlight those who made it to the final round. Here are 5 tips and tricks to take some stranger’s selfie to someone worth building a future with. Kinda crazy, huh? Well welcome to the 2010s!

  1. Mr./ Mrs. Right

Thanks to centuries of romantic comedies, novels, and story plots, we are desperately searching for our soul mates. There’s this idea that somewhere out there is a person made specifically for you. There’s this concept that someone out there meets all the criteria on your list (and some of us have fairly lengthy lists). Unfortunately, this gets in the way of building friendships and allowing the potential for romance in those relationships.

When it comes to online dating, I entered with the mindset of “what do I need and want”? What’s most important to me is having someone who communicates in a similar way and is open to exploring the world. I also need them to be honest, loyal, and oozing with positive vibes. However, while scrolling through sites, I try not to get distracted by all of my wants (the small details). So after listing your non-negotiable items and needs in a relationship, we must be aware of the deal breakers (ex. stoners, cat lovers, or those who put pineapple on their pizza). So you don’t want to spend all your time checking of items in a box, but you do want to be realistic about who complements you.

2. The Right Fit

Once you have found a person or a couple of people who meet those basic needs, it is time to determine if you “click.” Again, it’s best to avoid our fantasies about romance, such as the foot pop or fireworks after you kiss someone. It’s more about following your gut and asking yourself “could they be a great friend?” Whether you are searching for someone to fill space or be exclusive with, you need to make sure that the two of you can effectively communicate comfortably in your style of communication.

I found my current partner on an online dating app. He was one of the few guys who sent with a unique and interesting message. While I can’t remember what that message was for the life of me, I remember how it made me feel. It made me smile and curious enough to talk with him. Texting for us was simple and enjoyable, because we had similar humor and personalities. While we were revealing deep thoughts and feelings, we were becoming familiar with one another AS FRIENDS. So remember, just take things slow and building a friendship. After building trust as friends, you’ll know if they would complement you well as a partner.

 3. Let’s Get Offline

You know what’s more annoying than receiving hundreds of notifications from strangers? Waiting on Wi-Fi to talk to that one person you can’t wait to receive notifications from. Somewhere in this span of building friendship with this stranger, it is advisable to move offline. If you feel comfortable enough to trade cell phone numbers, do so. If you want to meet them in an open, well trafficked place first, then do that. If things are going well and feel that they might be a compatible friend, then push for some face to face time. There is nothing worse than getting along great via text and not being able to crack a smile in person.

Meeting someone from online will be awkward and strange at first, but just remember that they’re a relatively normal person who is also very nervous. My partner and I had traded numbers because of my busy schedule and agreed to meet for Indian food. His profile noted that he was 6’9″ (yet no typo there) and I am just over 5 feet, so of course that created nerves. I greeted him with an awkward hug and talked about the nerves briefly just to break the ice. We continued conversations similar to our texting streak; however, we talked more about school, aspirations, friends, plans for the year, and of course food.

Having a face to face conversation definitely allowed us to open up more about what we wanted from this relationship. I was fresh out of school and looking for friends in the area to explore the city with. He was of a similar mindset and confessed to not being completely ready for a romantic relationship. Which is understandable! Most of the time, the goal of online dating is friendship rather than marriage. While you do things that would be considered “dates,” but it is also possible to go of “friend dates” which don’t end with kissing or an “I love you.”

4. Open Communication

If you do nothing else, you must develop open communication. Relationship are nothing without some form of consistent and honest communication. As time passes, you will have longer conversations with depth and life gets complicated. Therefore, it’s nice to let your friends know about changes in your life which may affect y’all’s relationship. This is especially important if you are seeing more than one person at the same time. It’s just nice to let others know where your mind and heart are.

My current partner and I talked about everything from work to friends from school and hobbies to future hopes. I often do check ins with my friends about their needs and wants. Sometimes literally saying, “What is it that you need from me as a friend? And what do you want from me?” My partner also discussed the possibility of us dating after about 5-6 months of knowing one another. Although I initially turned the offer down, I did ask him what changed his mind. So we had a full discussion about transitioning from friendship into a romantic relationship. We also discussed what that would look like for us and what would our norms be. In developing and maintaining a strong romantic relationship, vulnerability and transparency a vital for great communication.

5. Open Minded

In maintaining new relationships, you have to allow things the ability to grow in the way they would naturally do so. If things are not working, then it is okay for things to end. Often we encourage a push through it mentality, when in actuality some things and people are not meant to be together. While you may think you complement one another in the beginning, things may change which call for you to reassess your relationship.

For me, I had to be open to the idea of no longer being single. I had been dating myself for the last two years and celebrating my selfish lifestyle. I had been building and loving myself. I acknowledged and celebrated my growth, because I knew where I had come from. I had strengthened my self-esteem, self-worth, and self-talk by cleansing my life of toxic people. Now I was presented with this wonderful guy who was asking for my permission to grow with me. He loves to text just as much as I do, we make fun of each other in good taste, and we rationalize the world in similar ways.

He is skilled, bright, brutally honest, loyal, decently optimistic, and inspirational. He likes to travel and we’ll hopefully be traveling together soon. He is a nerd, morning person, and an old soul. He is hilarious, thoughtful, respectful, and romantic. He complements the Cayla that I have worked hard to build well and challenges me to do better. So I am happy to call him mine and I am optimistic about our future.

 

Alright now I’m done with the sappy love story. There isn’t an formula for finding love on a dating app. You just need to spend time with yourself to know what you need in someone else and find someone who complements you well. Add comments below to continue the conversation!

Best,

Cayla Jae