Writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle

“Writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle.” –Dr. Kilgore, University of Texas at Arlington– 

I wish I could take credit for these words, but someone much wiser than myself said them first. This phrase has been resonating with me and I thought I  should make it into one of those cheesy motivational posters or something for my office.

Cheesy Motivational Poster

By the way, you can make all of the cheesy motivational posters that you want to using Motivational Poster Generator…it only takes a second or two and it’s free!

I’ve always had a passion for writing. I wrote short stories and founded a poetry club in elementary school. Recently, I stumbled upon a collection of our poetry club’s works that my third grade teacher had bound for each of us. Wow! I laughed so hard that I cried and I contacted one of my old friends who had also contributed to the book. We reminisced about the many recesses spent rhyming words and stringing together limericks and a haiku or two while spinning around on the merry-go-round. While our collection of poetry isn’t something that I would send to a publisher, we were writing daily and I think that that, in and of itself, is pretty special.

Why should you write every day?

  1. Writing can be therapeutic. Have you ever kept a diary or a journal? If not, I definitely recommend it. Often when I feel stressed or overwhelmed, writing is a wonderful way for me to collect and process my thoughts. It allows me to write (or type) until I have released that ball of energy (either positive or negative) and can then begin to think more clearly, to focus, and to see my own situation from a new perspective.
  2. If you don’t use it, you lose it. This is true with a lot of skills. Writing is not like riding a bike. The skills that you use need to be kept up and sharpened. If you don’t feel like you are a strong writer, do not be discouraged. Writing improves with time and practice. If you aren’t a good writer and would like to be, write, write, and write some more!
  3. Writing helps to build communication skills. Whether it is a restaurant review, an op-ed for a newspaper, or a letter to your grandmother, your written word has to be understood by your intended audience. Learning to express yourself in a clear, concise manner through writing spills over into other aspects of your life.
  4. You can improve your critical thinking and analytical skills. Writing often requires you to pull information from various sources and to determine what material is credible, valid, and important. It encourages you to ask questions, to search for answers, and to fill in the gaps in the current body of knowledge.
  5. Vocabulary maintenance. One of my old coworkers and I play a game together. We take turns finding new, interesting words that the other has to work into either daily conversations or their writing. Not only is it fun, but it makes us both accountable for expanding our vocabularies. Can you work the word boondoggle into daily conversations or into what you’re writing? I can.:PBoondoggle
  6. You’ve got something to say. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people mutter something along the lines of, “I don’t write because I don’t have any ideas” or “No one cares what I have to say.” You don’t give yourself enough credit. You do, indeed, have things to say that someone, somewhere wants to hear. Maybe you haven’t found the right audience or maybe you haven’t let your creative juices flow yet. Stop limiting yourself. You have a voice, which brings me to my next point.
  7. You are the only person who has lived your life experiences. Your story is unique and you are unlike any other. This alone gives you a reason to write. Your perspective is shaped by all of the events that have happened to and around you. Your perception, emotions, judgments, resiliency, passions, etc. make you uniquely you. If you ever feel like writing, but are discouraged by your lack of audience, please feel free to send me your written work. I would be more than happy to provide you with feedback and to support you on your journey.
  8. Write often so that you can see your growth and progress. Am I still the third grader who writes poetry on the merry-go-round? No, but I do write often. I write continuously as a researcher and a student. I write this blog which provides me with a voice in the social media stratosphere. The blog has been an interesting experience thus far because it is so different than writing for academia. This type of writing forces me to cater to a diverse audience that I do not typically write toward and it leaves me open and vulnerable. Occasionally I dust off an old journal or read a paper that I had long forgotten about. It is incredible to see the progress that I have made, not only in my writing skills, but in my perception as a whole. My outlook has changed and I have a vastly different worldview than I had, say four years ago. I can see that in my writing and it is a great indicator my personal and professional growth, the goals that I have reached, and the areas in which I still struggle. I can then use that information to plan my future trajectory. I know where I was, where I am, and where I want to be, and it is all reflected in my writing.

Often, as students and young professionals, we think of writing as a means to an end. We write to get A’s in our classes. We write to complete our coursework and to get degrees. We write because our jobs require it. We write because we have to in order to move on to the next steps in our plans.

With that mindset, writing seems like a chore. People think and speak of writing negatively and, somewhere along the line, many of us stop writing altogether. We forget that writing is an opportunity, not an obstacle. I encourage you not to squander your precious gift, your voice, your opportunity. Write, write, and write some more!

Be the change,

Erin

 

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What do you want to be when you grow up? Daring to dream and discover your passion

What do you want to be when you grow up?

We ask children this question and marvel at their answers as their interests and personalities change and develop. My little brother used to respond instantaneously with pilot or firefighter and now he carefully mulls over the question and talks about becoming a police officer or a marine biologist. He’s only eight and I can’t tell you what career he will end up pursuing, but what I can tell you is that I like that he doesn’t feel that his options are limited. My sister and I have made it our personal mission to ensure that our sweet, inquisitive sibling gets introduced to the diversity of the world around him in whatever ways we can make that happen, i.e. books, museums, documentaries, and adventures of all sorts.

Shark

Age 8–After his painting class

Why is this so important to us? Well, to make a long story short, my sister and I felt limited by the lack of opportunity in the small town that we grew up in. Throughout my youth, never once did I think that the sky was the limit. I didn’t dare to dream of something outside of the box. I graduated high school and immediately began college with my future completely planned out. I would become an elementary school teacher, just like I’d always said I would be.

Spoiler alert: I’m not an elementary school teacher.

Thankfully, about 2 1/2 years into my schooling to become a teacher, a professor asked everyone in the classroom the same question: Why do you want to become a teacher? Easy question for someone who’d always wanted to be a teacher, right? Wrong. I stumbled over my answer and cannot even begin to tell you all of the incoherent thoughts that I tried to string together into words. Hadn’t anyone ever asked me that before? No, never. Since kindergarten (and probably before then), I had been answering the old what do you want to be when you grow up question with the same answer, a teacher. Yet, in 15+ years, no one ever took the time to ask me why.

Amidst all of the mumbo-jumbo that I spat out, I clearly articulated a few things: 1) I wanted to give a voice to those who did not feel they had one, 2) I wanted to ensure that everyone had a fair shot and level the playing field, and 3) I was willing to fight for those who needed me…While teachers can do all of the things listed above, I didn’t describe a passion for teaching and my answer seemed completely left field compared to that of my peers. I wasn’t passionate about teaching, but, unbeknownst to me at the time, I was fired up about social work. Luckily, my professor recognized that spark and linked me to the more appropriate field. The rest, as they say, is history. I transferred majors and universities, graduated with honors, went on to complete my Masters, and am now chasing a PhD in social work. My work is so much more than just what I do, it is who I am.

Becoming a teacher was a comfortable dream. My mom was a teacher, all of her friends were teachers, a lot of my friends were becoming teachers. I knew the steps it took to become a teacher. Becoming a teacher was safe. But, as 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, says, “If your dreams don’t scare you, they aren’t big enough.” Now, I’ve got dreams that terrify me, but also inspire and motivate me. They challenge me to step up to the plate and to become a change agent so that I am able to provide a voice to the voiceless, fight for social justice, and advocate on behalf of marginalized populations.

Dreams

 

Earlier this week, I had the unique opportunity to speak with a number of high school students who are interested in the health care field through a program called Camp Med Academy. None of them knew what social workers do or the ways that they can use their perspective and skill sets in medical settings. It was empowering to stand before them and to advocate for the profession.

According to their website,  “Camp Med Academy is an annual summer day camp for high school students interested in discovering the health care field. Students will explore the different health professions, visit health institutions, learn how to prepare for college, gain hands-on experience and much more.” For additional information, visit Health Careers Promotion & Preparation.

I wish I had been given opportunities like this when I was in high school. It would have been informative and eye-opening. There’s nothing wrong with being a teacher or a ______(fill in the blank). However, there is something to be said for expanding your horizons and for pushing yourself so that you are able to step out of your comfort zone and to dream. In doing so, you will either solidify your original plan or discover your life’s true calling .

CampMed

Linda and I with our Camp Med group and the therapy dogs

I am honored to have played a small part in the lives of these young people. I hope that when people ask them, What do you want to be when you grow up, they don’t feel limited. And, when I ask my little brother the same question, I want to continue to hear his answers evolve. The possibilities are endless if you are willing to trade in the safe plan and chase those dreams that make life worth living.

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” —Nelson Mandela 

You are capable of so much more than you give yourself credit for. I believe in you. Believe in yourself.

Be the change,

Erin

Self Care in the Face of Uncertainty

 

With a new life chapter quickly approaching, I started to feel the anxiety that often accompanies the unknown. Recognizing this, I took some time off to seek the peace and clarity that, for me, can only be found in the stillness, the quiet, and through grand adventures.

Many of what I’d consider life-changing moments have happened in the face of uncertainty. The logical side of my brain knows that and is excited as the best is yet to come.

UncertaintyYet, there was a part of me that needed a break. Self-care in the helping profession is key to longevity and to effectiveness. You can’t pour from an empty cup. You have to take care of yourself or you risk developing compassion fatigue and/or burnout. Don’t be afraid to take some time for yourself. You’d be amazed at how much motivation, enthusiasm, and determination will surface after you take a little time to replenish those energies and rejuvenate your soul.

What did I do with my time off? Well, I relaxed, I laid on my acupuncture mat, I called up old friends, I played tabletop games, and I spent time with family. My brother and I went to the aquarium. My husband and I went to Hot Springs, Arkansas and hiked at Hot Springs National Park and bathed in the spring-fed baths. I drank wine. I read. I thought. I gave myself the opportunity to slow down and to be fully present in the moment (which doesn’t happen as often as I’d like).

So, forgive me for the silence as I temporarily stopped flooding my life with politics, blogs, social issues, policies, and news in general. While all of those things are of great interest and importance to me, I needed to focus my thoughts inwardly for a short time.

Now, as I read about what to expect from the PhD program and (attempt to) prepare for what is to come, I see a common theme: Write, write, and write some more. So that’s what I plan to do. Write, write, and write some more. I hope that you’ll join me on this journey!

 

What do you do for self care? Join the conversation by commenting below.

 

Be the change,

 

Erin

 

Lots of Love

“To change our culture, we have to have difficult conversations across differences with lots of love..Knowing how to have those conversation[s] is just the beginning of changing systems of oppression.” –Laverne Cox–

 

Several years ago, my sister and I went to listen to Laverne Cox speak at the University of North Texas (UNT). Both she and I consider ourselves to be advocates, allies, and (of course) huge fans of her show, Orange is the New Black. It was amazing to listen and to become so absorbed in Laverne Cox’s story and how she is using her platform to create positive change in our society.

I wish I would have had the opportunity and the foresight to record her speech. It was motivational, inspirational, and authentic. If I had the ability, I would play it daily so I could have a constant reminder of her message and spirit.

I made two notes while listening, both quotes I feel everyone should hear. 1) “Empathy is the antidote to shame.” and 2) “To change our culture, we have to have difficult conversations across differences with lots of love..Knowing how to have those conversation[s] is just the beginning of changing systems of oppression.”

Just one week after the tragic massacre in Orlando, I encourage everyone to keep those words close to their hearts. In the days following the shooting, I found myself avoiding reading opinion pieces on news outlets and commentary on social media. The hatred that resulted and continues to spew from behind keyboards leaves me baffled and concerned.

The amount of hatred and xenophobia in our society is ridiculous.

What we need right now is lots of love.

What we need right now is to have those difficult conversations, and while doing so, approach our fellow humans with dignity, respect, empathy, compassion, and (did I mention?) lots of love.

Call to Action

WeAreOrlando

  • How can we be allies if we are not listening to the diverse stories of marginalized populations? I encourage you to be silent and to allow yourself to use the time to actively listen and to learn. Have those difficult conversations. Soak it all in. Grow.
  • Get out there and share the love. Each of you have your own unique sets of talents and gifts. Whatever it is that you do, do it with love.
    • If you are talented poet or artist, you might consider helping this 6-year-old with her cause.  Madison Lindsay is sending homemade cards to the survivors of the shooting, family members of the victims, police officers, nurses, and others affected by the nightclub shooting. You can contribute cards by sending them to Sharing Smiles PO Box 560566 Orlando, FL 32856.
    • You can also send messages of hope to survivors and victims’ families online here.
  • Give blood. To find a donation site near you, check out oneblood.org.

How are you spreading the message of love in your community? Join the conversation by commenting below.

 

Be the change,

Erin

 

 

Behind the Shadows: A Side of Homelessness that is often Overlooked

Because it’s graduation season (congratulations, 2016 graduates!), I thought this story was relevant. It is a little outdated, having made national headlines in 2014, but I still think its message is applicable and inspirational today.

Before we get Started

Close your eyes for a minute and envision what an individual experiencing homelessness looks like in your mind.

What did you picture?

If you imagined someone like these individuals, you aren’t alone. A simple Google image search will turn up countless images like the ones below.

My guess is, unless you work with individuals experiencing homelessness, you probably didn’t picture someone like this:

Now watch this video (it’s just over 2 minutes long).

America Strong

Takeaways and Discussion

  • Unfortunately, due to Mr. Furlong’s adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), he is at a statistically significantly higher risk of experiencing another episode of homelessness. That does not mean that I think  he will certainly become homeless again (we’re all rooting for him to overcome the odds), but I do want to shed light on our vulnerable youth who have the deck stacked against them.
    • Additionally, children who are experience homelessness suffer higher rates of the following in comparison to their peers:
      • chronic and acute health problems
      • exposure to violence
      • stress
      • fearfulness
      • depression and anxiety
      • aggressive and antisocial behaviors
    • On any given day, it is estimated that over 200,000 American children do not have a place to call home (Greendoors, 2011).
  • Among industrialized nations, the U.S. has the greatest number of women and children who are classified as homeless.
  • Not all instances of homelessness are caused by mental health and substance abuse. Medical bills and the rising cause of healthcare are often cited as contributing factors of housing instability.

Call to Action

  • I’ve had the unique opportunity to get to work with and for individuals who are experiencing homelessness and those who are moving out of homelessness into transitional housing. If there’s one piece of knowledge I can impart on my readers, it would be the strength and resiliency of these individuals. Their stories are as diverse as they are and I find myself humbled and grateful that they are willing to allow me to play a little part in their lives. All that to say, get involved. You won’t regret it.
    • Volunteer to take part in the Point-in-Time (PIT) Count which happens every January across the nation. It is a coordinated effort to count those living unsheltered in places deemed unfit for human habitation (usually on the streets, behind buildings, and in parks).
    • Volunteer at organizations that serve this population. This could include donating your time working at your local food pantries, soup kitchens, street outreach teams, and anywhere that provides services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
    • Make “Blessing Bags” with essentials and resource information. Carry them in your vehicle and give them out in addition to (use your best judgment) or in lieu of cash to those in need.
      • Blessing Bags I’ve made include:
        • Sunscreen
        • Hand sanitizer
        • Chapstick
        • Deodorant
        • Menstrual pads and/or tampons
        • Meal coupons
        • Restaurant gift cards
        • Socks
        • Hats
        • Non-perishable food items (crackers, granola bars, beef jerky, trail mix, etc.)
        • Instant coffee packets
        • Bottled water
        • Resource guide (Tarrant County puts out a Pocket Pal each year and I carry them in my car. This is the 2016 Pocket Pal so you have an idea of something you could create for your locality.)
  • Confront your own biases and the stereotypes that you hold. Chances are, if you think “all individuals experiencing homelessness are…(insert your word here)”, you’re wrong. I encourage you to pause and use this time for self-reflection. Ask
 yourself
 where
 your
 own
 thoughts 
and
 behaviors
 come
 from
, 
find
 the 
source
 of 
your 
socialization
, 
and address
 your 
misconceptions, 
misinformation, and 
myths
. Re-frame your thoughts,
 re-educate yourself, 
cease
 self‐blame, 
and
 be open to change.
  • Use person-centered and non-discriminatory language. Individuals experiencing homelessness rather than homeless people. A person is not defined by his/her housing status. Removing the labels allows us to connect on the basis that we are all humans. We are all worthy of dignity and respect.
  • Stay informed. Write your legislators and representatives. Be an advocate.

For more information about children and families experiencing homelessness, visit Greendoors 2011. The Pocket Pal was created by the Tarrant County Homeless Coalition (TCHC). Video credit to ABC News.

Have you made Blessing Bags before? If so, what sorts of items did you include? Have you volunteered with organizations serving the homeless population? How can others in your area get involved? Comment below.

Be the change,

Erin