Danielle Navonne: a Writer, experiencing and sharing the journey of life one Word at a time.

Posts tagged ‘self-help’

Be Your Own GPS

I recently had a conversation with an old friend who was appalled to learn that I couldn’t really read a road map. I mean, when I go on vacations, and need to navigate a few sightseeing streets on foot, I can figure it out. But taking a road trip and depending on a map to get me there? “Fahgetaboutit!”

My argument: “I can mapquest directions or call a friend with a GPS on their phone if I get lost. Reading a road map is antiquated (and, in my opinion complicated). I have no interest.”

His argument: “What if the way you mapquest has a detour? What if you lose the directions you printed? What if you can’t reach a friend with a smartphone? You need access to more than one way to get where you’re going.”


A few days later, one of my BFFs and I were talking about how, as we get older, life seems to be largely about learning to navigate the unexpected detours. It made me think about that John Lennon quote:

Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans.”

You know “life,” right? It can often mask itself as a divorce, an unexpected illness, a layoff, a pregnancy right in the middle of law school, or a $3,000 home repair needed right when your child’s tuition is due.

In undergrad, this BFF and I used to talk about how our lives would be by the time we were 30 (since at 19 years old, 30 seems like the age when you should have it all figured out! Ha!). According to 19-year-old me, as I type these words, I’m supposed to have a husband, two children, and a published book under my belt. At that time, I thought that was the only route to a fulfilling life.

Talk about a “detour!” Lol! I am husband-less, I struggled to take care of a cat a few years ago, and my book is still in piecemeal form scattered across various journals, notebooks and Word document files on my computer. Lol.

This route to a fulfilling life looks nothing like I thought it would when I was 19! Lol. But my destination remains clear, and I must still figure out how to get to that destination – “detours” and all.

Instead of pining over not having a husband, I have learned to appreciate the travel, freedom and adventure in single life. Instead of wondering when the babies will come, I’m enjoying the fact that I can be selfish without guilt! Lol. Instead of beating myself up about not having published a book yet, I’m reorganizing my life so that there’s intentional writing time built into it.

As I mature, I learn more and more that life is not about planning so much as it is about learning how to adjust (and readjust) your plans. (Not an easy lesson for a woman who thinks everything should be planned.)

During the conversation with my BFF, I thought back to that map-reading conversation and I realized that even if just on an figurative level, my map-supporting friend was right: it is important to have the tools and skills to recalculate when we get thrown off course.

This is why so many people have a GPS system nowadays. By knowing 1) where you are, and 2) where you’re going, a GPS can figure and refigure about a million ways to get you to any given destination. It will start with the simplest/most efficient route, but even when you miss your stop or make a wrong turn, the GPS will recalculate and still find a way to get you there.

I first experienced this years ago in the car with my brother. We were on an expressway somewhere outside of Los Angeles, and he accidentally passed his exit ramp. Just when my nerves got bad because the extremist in me concluded that we’d now be lost forever, lol, his GPS said, “recalculating.” A few seconds later, it gave us a new route. It took a little longer than the first route, but it got us to our destination.

The value in a GPS is not simply that it knows how to get you somewhere. Its value lies in the fact that it knows endless ways to get you somewhere – regardless of where you find yourself.

So it is with our value to ourselves. We are most valuable to ourselves, our goals, and our purpose when we are able to re-adjust, re-chart and re-calculate forward – even when we’ve been detoured.

Too many times I’ve seen people mistake detours for dead ends. Detours are not the end of our journey; detours always provide alternate routes. We can’t just set up shop at the detour! It’s not meant to be the end of the journey. We must figure out another way to get there.

  • Are you stuck at a place that was merely a detour?
  • Have you lost sight of what your end destination is really supposed to be?

Take some time this week to “recalculate.” And if you’re not there already, figure out a new route to get where you’re really purposed to be.

As for me? I’m off to call my map-supporting friend to tell him that he was right. I guess the next step is to let him teach me how to read a road map…


Take Your Cue. You’re On!

As the usher hands you the playbill and points you to your seat, you notice the theater isn’t as full as you expected. But you don’t give it much thought since you’re a little early. Empty or not, you’re just thrilled to be there. Thrilled that you’ve landed one of the hottest tickets on Broadway. And even more thrilled that you were able to bring your daughter to her first Broadway show. She’s been talking about this for weeks! Wearing her favorite dress, she is now frantically asking questions about every playbill page.

As soon as she gets to the character bios, the lights flicker and the announcement comes: “Please silence all cell phones, and do not use any recording devices during the show.” The theater goes black. The curtain rises, and the actor walks into the center stage spotlight. He surveys the audience with an obvious look of disappointment and disgust, then exits stage right.

The announcer returns: “Due to the popularity of this production, we are used to a much larger audience. We regret to inform you that there are not enough people to continue with tonight’s performance.” And just like that, your night at the theater is over and your daughter is crushed.

“But what about the people who are here? How come they don’t wanna do the play for us?” Your ride back home will be spent trying to answer these questions for your daughter.

Seems absurd (and kind of dramatic, lol) right? No self-respecting artist or performer who has been entrusted with a stage would forego a performance – insult their audience – just because there weren’t “enough” of them, right? Wrong. Many of us do it every day. Like it or not, we are all on a stage. And although we may not consider ourselves “performers,” we all have a calling. Something that compels us, impassions us and makes us feel most connected to ourselves. When we operate from that place on the stage we’ve been given, we illuminate the world. Our world.

We all have a calling. A thing that makes us come alive and positively affect a world. For me, it’s writing. For you, it may be volunteering, growing businesses, teaching, knitting, making people feel heard, mentoring, or styling hair. The list is endless.

Some of you know what that thing is, but for some reason or another you’re just not doing it. And the list of reasons for that is also endless. Maybe you’re waiting for someone to pay you for it, or until your pastor asks you to do it at church. But why can’t you do it where you are? On the platform you’ve been given?

And there is an audience – our circle of influence – that is waiting for us to use that calling: a daughter, a brother, a neighbor, a coworker. But we often forego using it because we don’t like the stage we’re on, or the audience we’ve been given. Maybe we’re waiting for a “better” or bigger stage. A wealthier or wider audience. But what message does that send to the audience we have now? Our family. Our coworkers.

Oprah discussed this very thing on her final show. And whether you’re an Oprah fan or not, the truth of her statement remains:

“Each one of you has your own platform. Do not let the trappings here fool you. Mine is a stage in a studio. Yours is wherever you are, with your own reach. However small or however large that reach is…Wherever you are, that is your platform, your stage, your circle of influence. That is where your power lies.”

(To watch the 5-minute clip from Oprah’s show, click here.)

For a while, I thought I would wait to write until I actually had a “writing” job. But composing this “non-paying” blog has quickly become one of the favorite parts of my week 🙂 . I may not be reaching millions, but if anything said here makes a difference in anyONE’S life, I have made use of my stage. And the one who may benefit from reading it now, is just as important as the millions who may read it later.

I implore you to use your calling, your gift, your talent, your passion. Whatever it is that you call it, use it. In whatever small or big way you can. On your stage. In your life. To affect your world. It will not only have a positive effect on your audience, but it will also bring you a deeper sense of purpose and connectedness.

I recently read “On the Right Track,” by former world champion track and field athlete, Marion Jones (a great read). In it, she candidly discusses her tumultuous road to self-discovery. In one section, she references a story about using what we have and who we are to make a difference in the setting we’re in. I will end with a version of that story.

Please take your cue. The stage has already been set. You’re on.

One day a woman was walking along the beach upon which hundreds of starfish had been washed up and now lay stranded on the sand. As she continued walking, she noticed a young girl in the distance, picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean. She approached the girl, and asked, “What are you doing?”

The girl replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean. The surf is up and the tide is going out. They need to be in the water, if I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”

“My daughter,” the woman said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish? You can’t possibly make a difference!”

After listening politely, the girl bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf. Then she looked up, smiled at the woman, and said: “I made a difference to that one.”

This Woman I’d Been Seeing…

For eight months, I was regularly seeing a woman and virtually no one knew about her. I changed my schedule for her. She took precedence over phone calls. I laughed with her. Cried with her. Shared dreams with her. Confessed struggles to her. This woman started me on a path toward a healthier, more fulfilling life. She was my therapist. My secret therapist.

Some people (OK, one person 😉 ) close to me knew of her, but by and large, she was simply “my appointment downtown.” My “meeting after work.” The “friend” I was “meeting at her office.” Granted, some of this ambiguity was merely because I’m a keep-to-myself kind of girl. But there was another factor, one I couldn’t really articulate. It had to do with the taboo associated with psychological therapy. I feared that a number of people in my community had certain stigmas attached to people who saw a therapist. I guess I didn’t want to be one of “those people” to them. So, for a while, my dealings with this woman remained a very covert operation.

As an African American Christian, my cultural experience taught me to “hold my peace and let the Lord fight my battles.” To simply pray about things and trust that God would fix them. Somewhere along the way, I learned that in order to be successful, I needed to simply overlook many of the stresses that accompanied being black in America. Many of us are taught never to ask for (or admit that we need) help; it’s sign of weakness, and we are a strong people. Don’t get me wrong, I value these lessons and think their premise is needed in order for African Americans to see beyond the societal labels placed on them. But do these lessons – ingrained in many African Americans from childhood – potentially inhibit us from seeking emotional/mental help? In her book, “Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We’re Not Hurting,” Terrie M. Williams suggests that our “black power” has caused us to (unhealthily) mask our black pain. Is this true?

I’ve come across a few cultural beliefs that may fuel the stigma of psychological therapy in the black community:

  • Don’t air dirty laundry
  • Not comfortable discussing personal problems with a professional and/or authority figures
  • Some things are better left untouched/Don’t rock the boat
  • Do whatever you have to do to keep peace in the family (even if it involves bottling your pain)
  • All you need is God; according to Isaiah 9:6, He is your “Counselor” (Especially true for those of us who grew up in church.)
  • Only “crazy” people go to therapy
  • It’s not a financial priority
  • Seeing a therapist is an outward admission of your (or your family’s) failure to handle problems internally
  • There is fear of misdiagnosis or extreme diagnosis

When our children need educational help, we find a tutor. When we need spiritual help/guidance, we pray, meditate, go to church (or a myriad of other things depending on your faith identity). When we need physical help getting in shape, we go to the gym. And if we can afford it, we may even get a personal trainer. Oftentimes, we brag about how much we are able to lift with our trainer – how many miles we were able to run. Why not be just as proud and intentional in reclaiming our mental health when needed? Is that somehow less important than the others?

In her Psychology Today blog, “Culturally Speaking,” Dr. Monnica T. Williams (a black psychologist) talks about her frustration in not seeing African Americans take advantage of the help available to them. She cites a qualitative study that found that among Blacks who were already mental health consumers, over a third felt that mild depression or anxiety would be considered “crazy” in their social circles. And so, they don’t talk about it. And as long as we’re not talking about it, the stigma will remain.

In other reading, it seems that many African Americans agree that schizophrenia, severe depression, and suicidal thoughts warranted psychological intervention, but that if it’s not “serious” like those, you should be able to deal with it on your own. But who decides what’s “serious?”

People who grew up witnessing abuse, or a parent leaving the home – not “serious” enough? Those who grew up hearing gun shots, fearing for their lives while walking to school – is that “serious?”  What about those who are confused about who they are because they’ve been told they’re going to hell for “acting gay.” Or the lawyer who’s totally unhappy and is only a lawyer because her parents expected it. What about the lady who keeps finding herself in abusive relationships? Or the friend who is constantly gaining weight because she eats her pain? Are those “serious?”

Some may not have labeled my reasons for seeing a therapist as “serious,” but I knew this woman had been trained to help me rethink and deprogram a lot of things that were inhibiting me from experiencing my “best life.” And so I went. And it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. Now I’m not suggesting that we all go running to the nearest therapist, but I am suggesting that we make room for these conversations at our dinner tables and sorority meetings.

I am always seeking to be better than I am, and I long to see people be better than they are. When I find something that contributes to my fulfillment, I’m compelled to share it to possibly help others on their path toward a more fulfilling life. So, I wanted to engage this dialogue. Maybe it’s for the simple act of engagement. Or maybe it will encourage someone who’s considering therapy, to look beyond their preconceived notions and take the step that may change their life. I’m no therapist (only an advocate), but if you have questions about my process, please reach out to me. I’m happy to share my experience. After all, if you’re reading this post, my secret therapist is no longer a “secret!”

%d bloggers like this: