Monday Morning Rhyme: How Do You Know?

Monday Morning RhymeHow do you tell a racing mind to walk steady?
How do you tell a soul burning with wild dreams, the world isn’t ready?
How do you tell a heart full of passion to feel less heavy?
How do you tell a dream laced with certainty and riddled with obstacle, the time is not now?

How do you cling on to hope when the clock keeps ticking away from you?
How do you stay true to a vision that constantly makes a mockery of everything you feel to be so true?
How do you quiet the doubt and the fear when they speak so damn loud?
How do you scream a scream piercing enough to be heard over that ever expansive, ever hateful crowd?

How do you know you’ll ever get where you’re trying to go?
How do you know you won’t cripple in failure before you reach that goal?
How do you know you’ll find the strength to endure all the ways it can go so wrong?
How do you know you’ll get past the melody and write your life’s song?

How do you know you don’t already possess everything you need to make a real change?
How do you know a good dose of faith and humility won’t be enough to make it that final stretch?
How do you know you don’t need to have all the answers to get to the top of the stairs?
How do you know hope, hustle and grit won’t get you there?

Happy Monday!

Love,
Word Share Junkie

A Love Lesson: Thank You for Not Loving Me

Love LessonDear Eric,

Sometimes we want something so bad, that we shut our eyes, and we follow it blindly, even if we step on hot coals as we do it. We clutch on to it, and we don’t let go despite that frightening feeling in our guts telling us it’s slowly killing us.

It’s now been about eight months since we stopped dating, six since I’ve seen you, and about five since I’ve talked to you. Still, it has only been maybe a month or two since the weight of your memory on my mind, on my heart, and through my deep struggle to move forward after what I Iovingly like to call the Major Mind F**k of 2013 begun to lift.

To some people, our relationship or the major lack thereof, was not real. It was fake and disingenuous and forced. It had too many rules, and none of them worked in my favor. It’s hard for them to understand why it became so big for me, why it hurt me so much, and maybe even why I’m still talking about it today. And for the most part, they are right. On your side it was all of those things and less. But for me it was real. It was very real. Our weak, borderline abusive, unhealthy, pathetic time together is the closest thing I’ve had to a real relationship in a decade. It meant something to me. It meant everything to me. And when you pretended to love me, I believed you. I shared things with you and opened up to you romantically in a way that I had not done with anyone in my adult life. I opened my arms, and I said, “Here, take it. Take it all.” And you did. The problem is you gave me nothing in return.

During that entire year together I struggled with my feelings for what I came to know as a bad person. I struggled to look in the mirror and respect myself, because I knew very well that I was putting up with all of the things that go against everything I believe in, and everything I preach. I let you control me. I let you demean me. I let you disrespect me. And I let you do it over, and over again. Although it was never anything particularly huge, the sum of all the small ways in which you would devalue me and the love that I wholeheartedly offered to you even when you didn’t deserve it (and your rarely did), became much more than I could handle. I began to see your lies, the coldness in your eyes, and the emptiness in your heart. Still my stubborn heart loved you, and at times I thought I’d never find the strength to let you go.

I spent all of 2013 questioning. I questioned my worth. I questioned what I might be doing wrong to deserve your cold-hearted ways and your refusal to commit. I questioned whether the games were real, or simply in my head. I questioned my strength, and whether I would in fact end up settling for someone like you, even though it has been my life’s mission to never settle. I was so scared. The good thing is that, much to your surprise, I did finally find the strength to let you go. It took me a very long time, but I did it. I said I’d had enough, and I walked away. Sure I struggled to cut the cord completely at first, and I might have reached out many times when I shouldn’t have, but as the days and months went by, I felt like I could breathe again. I felt like myself for the first time since I met you, and I began to regain my confidence and my strength. I began to see that it had been your negativity that had brought me down, and that I still had it in me to be very much victorious. My only weakness had been loving you. I was not depressed. I was simply in a bad, soul-sucking relationship. There’s a huge difference.

After more tears than I’m proud of having shed, in the onset of 2014, I made a decision. I was going to live more life. I was going to give up dating for a while. I was going to seek out new adventures, make new friends, take trips, invest in me, regain my center and heal. And for the last six months, I have filled my calendar with musicals, volunteering, ballets, dinners and travel. I intentionally sought out friends, I made plans, I lived. I stopped waiting around for you or for anyone, and I LIVED. Some days I was so tired from all that living that I wondered if it was all worth it or if I was going too far with it. Would this work? Could I once again take control of the happiness I had slowly and painfully let you suck out of me?

Guess what? I could, and I did. Today, as I write this, I am healed. Your rejection and your pain pushed me to reevaluate my life, to get back to my dreams, and to remember, that although I do very much want and believe in love, marriage and children, I have never wanted to be the kind of woman who revolves her life around a man, especially around an unworthy one. I have always wanted my life to be a big adventure full of progress, success, friendship, experience and healthy relationships. I want a partner who can add to my life, and not one who constantly takes away from it. I want to share my life with someone as bright as me, so that together, our lights can shine even brighter and help others in the process. All you ever did was dim my light. For a while there, you damn near shut it off.

But now, I’m in a whole new, beautiful place in my life. Last week I moved to NYC, and this Monday I started my dream job as a writer helping to inspire young girls to have courage and be all they can be. What could be better than that?! The possibilities ahead are endless, and my adventure lives on in true Sonia fashion. I am healed. I am happy. I am ready to date and believe in love again. I am ready to never accept anything less than the treatment I deserve. I am ready to stand up for myself and to be firm. I am also ready to be soft, tender and open with someone who will be able to accept it and appreciate it. I am ready to believe again in the power inside of me, in my resilience, and in my ability to move forward into bigger and better. I am ready to be Sonia again; whole, happy and ready to take on the world.

The lessons your pain taught me are proving to be invaluable. They have made me stronger and better than ever, and they have pushed me into this amazing place where I sit right now; a place where I feel almost invincible. My breaths are deep, and my gratitude is big. I remember now. I DO have control over my happiness, and no one can take it away from me unless I let them.

So thank you, Eric. From the bottom of my now-whole heart, thank you for not loving me. You gave me the love lesson of a lifetime, and changed me forever in the best way possible.

The end.

Yours truly,
Sonia

Grit and Glory: The Battle of Intelligence vs. Grit

Grit and Glory: Hello. I am a survivor.

I absolutely love TED talks. These days it seems I hardly go a day without listening to at least one or two. And each time, I am inspired and reinvigorated to dig a little deeper and push a little farther than I had previously thought I had it in me to do that day.

I find hope, reassurance and energy in every talk. It’s the kind of stuff I truly believe we could all use more of on the daily; real, eye-opening, often sensitive, and perspective-filled content that helps us to live better, to be more open and to experience life, if only for a few minutes, through the words and circumstances of others so that we can learn to be a better version of ourselves.

And, although I don’t think I’ve ever disliked a TED talk, the one I came across today has to be one of my absolute favorites. Go ahead. Trust me. It’s more than worth the six or so minutes.

Angela Lee Duckworth: The key to success? Grit.

There you have it. Grit and glory, baby! Grits are in fact a higher indicator of success than intelligence – I’ve always suspected it, but it’s nice to have a trained psychologist confirm it. In fact, I’ve written on a similar topic before related to a study I came across a few years ago. Grit (and hope) is the reason I’ve arrived anywhere in life. It’s how I made it into graduate school twice even though I’m a terrible standardized test taker (I mean, TERRIBLE). It’s the reason I completed an MBA with honors despite my more than lackluster ability with numbers. It’s how I’ve managed to become pretty tech savvy and contribute more at work. It’s the reason I’ve found my way through difficult economic times. It’s the reason I’ve been successful in my career (success has a different meaning for each of us). My driving force, grit and glory!

It’s how I’ve overcome the extreme shyness I experienced as a child and as an adolescent. It’s how I’ve conquered the emotional issues of my past. And its how I’ve slowly moved away from the statistic I could have easily become and the poverty I was born into (although very first-world in nature). It’s how I’ve managed to do and experience the things that often seemed out of my reach in my previous poor-girl mentality. Yup. You guessed it. Grit and glory!

It’s the reason I’ve accomplished or finished anything in my life – not because I’m smart enough to be a rocket scientist (yeah right!) as many of my schoolmates back in high school would say when they wanted to flatter me into helping them with homework or a big project – but because I have GRIT and lots of it. I never give up. I never take no for an answer if I really want something bad enough. I always find my way. I research. I figure it out. I stay up late. I wake up early. I ask questions. I dig. If this doesn’t work, I’ll try that. I examine all possibilities. And I get it done, whatever it is, and I get it done well. Dare I repeat – grit and glory!

So the next time someone tells you you’re not smart enough, or the next time you start to tell yourself that – I don’t want to hear it. Remember this TED talk and my subsequent rant, and remember that passion and perseverance – or grit – can get you there every time. No excuses, just hustle, grit and glory!

Love,

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Battle of the Chunks: My Struggle with Weight

My Struggle with Weight

This is one of my favorite pictures because although I’m smiling, it was the most physically and emotionally intense workout of my life . That day Eric put the weight back on me to remind me I must push forward.

All my life, I’ve been the chunky gal of the pack, and for the most part, I’ve always been OK with that, because hey, I’m still cute, right? But somewhere towards the end of 2011, that cuteness had quickly become a self-destructive, out of control, big ass PROBLEM. My struggle with weight had reached an all-time high.

After a bad dating experience in which my weight was crudely called out during a fight (don’t fight dirty, folks), something in me just suddenly awoke. Here I was, an educated, independent, successful, kind-hearted young woman, but my weight was allowing others to think it was OK to talk to me a certain way. It was making others believe I somehow deserved less respect, or had less for myself; that I must be pretty weak. I knew the depths of strength I had seen in myself, and I simply could not stand for it any longer. My struggle with weight had to be dealt with.

So I stepped on that scale I had been avoiding most of that year, mostly because I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty, and there it was, 248. Those numbers burned into my eyes like tar to a roof. For several days after that, I literally had nightmares with those three, seemingly innocent little digits. Having struggled with weight (although never to this extent) all my life, I wasn’t sure what I would do, but I knew I had to do something.

The next week, I dragged my reluctant, self-conscious butt to the gym, and asked to hire a personal trainer using a fitness benefit I had at the time. I wouldn’t even have to pay for it myself for the first 9 weeks or so, so what was my excuse? I had none. That is the day I met my now dear friend Eric-Todd Rushing. I didn’t know it then, but he’d be the one to save me from myself, and make me as strong on the outside as I knew I was on the inside. I’ll never forget our initial meeting in which he oh-so-confidently said to me, “I’m going to change your life.”

And he did. Over the next four or five months, I logged my foods every day and counted my calories. First 1,800 a day, then down to 1,500 and finally down to 1,200. I did an hour of cardio four days a week, and trained with Eric once a week. Our training session included a weekly weigh-in, and the weight was just melting off. I lost 50 pounds in about four months or so just by working out and counting calories – no pills or crazy gimmicks. Whenever I ran into an obstacle or it got too hard, Eric was there to motivate me back into action. And I never, ever felt better, stronger, more beautiful or more untouchable. Eric had become my hero, my counselor, my mentor, my friend and just the light I needed to make a real change. He had turned my struggle with weight into a triumph.

It was one of the best times of my life. I had finally conquered a life-long struggle with weight, but what I didn’t know then is that the fight had just begun. And it wasn’t just about looking better, but about fighting the emotional demons tied to my weight issues along the way, and breaking down many of those walls.

That’s the thing about losing all that weight. It requires being pretty overwhelmingly perfect, and no human being can really hold that up for too long without taking a break. The issue is I took too much of a break and really starting falling back into some old, devilish little patterns. I gained a pound here and there, and I thought no big deal, I’d still kept the majority of the weight off. Then about three weeks ago I went to the doctor for a totally unrelated visit, and of course they are always waiting for ya with that sneaky little bastard of a scale. Up I went, and so went the tears in my eyes. I was now the not-so-proud owner of 20 of my old, stubborn pounds.

At that moment, I was completely disappointed in myself. I had worked so incredibly hard, and did things I never thought I could with my exercise and food intake routine to lose those 50 pounds, and now I had taken a huge step back. So for the first time in a long time, I quickly and truly got myself together, and began logging my food and calories again; not estimating, not assuming, actually counting. Here we are about three weeks later, and I’ve already lost 10 pounds. Last week I got a little sick, so I got behind, but I’m right back on track. I feel so much better already, and after not losing a pound for more than a year (but gaining many if you recall), I found a way to get back on my game because I never gave up hope that I would, and somewhere deep down inside I had remained that different person Eric had helped me become. I never completely gave up on myself, and I would never let my weight spiral so out of control again.

My struggle with weight is a battle I will unfortunately have to fight for the rest of my life. I am just not one of those people that can slack on diet and exercise for a while, and not pick up pounds faster than you can say, “pick up pounds.” Often, it is our toughest and most daunting battles that we give up on the fastest. We fail and so we feel like there is no point in trying again. But there is a point, a big point. Fail 20 times. So what? If you get up and try again, you haven’t really failed, because you haven’t really given up yet. You really only lose when you’ve given up for good.

So whatever your toughest challenges might be, whether with your body, your heart, your goals, or anything else that weighs on your mind, just keep pushing, trying, fighting. From time to time you will get tired, and that’s OK. But you must never give up on yourself completely. Always remember that each new day is truly a chance to turn it all around, and failure is just really the universe’s way of teaching you something valuable. 

Right now I feel re-energized to work towards a healthier, happier and stronger me, because I know I owe that to myself. What life battle will you be re-energized to keep fighting today?

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

8 Key Career Lessons Grounded in Positivity

Career Lessons Grounded in Positivity

Today, check out eight career lessons grounded in positivity that have helped me be more productive, more successful, and stay just a little more sane.

Career Lessons #1: Be nice, and get a lot more done.

I strongly dislike the phrase, “You are too nice.” In my experience, nice is good, nice is welcomed and nice is productive! Even if you love what you do for a living, work is stressful. No one is paying you to just have fun ALL the time. So why not maintain a positive attitude, play nice with others (even people you don’t exactly want to bestie-up with), and get more done?

One thing I have found from always striving to maintain my cool and smile at work, even when others are getting a little edgy with me, is that I just get more done. Plain and simple. People are more likely to help me, to answer my questions, and to put my requests before those of others. Plus, the workday is just a lot more pleasant with a smile on your face, and around people who are not afraid you’re going to bite their noses off for every little thing. No one likes a crabster at work, even the crabsters themselves!

And no, being nice doesn’t mean being a push-over. It just means putting a little extra effort into understanding the stresses of others in different roles, being receptive to questions and to mistakes (you make ‘em too!), and always being willing to talk through any issues to ultimately accomplish your goals.

Career Lessons #2: Find intrinsic motivation.

You can’t always wait for accolades, compliments, smiling faces, and lots of dough to motivate you to do a good job. Besides, these things are not part of the everyday. On most days, you just have to look inside yourself to stay motivated and produce good quality work.

One thing that has always worked for me is that regardless of outside stressors (outside of myself), I refuse to put my name on bad work if I can help it. So when the goin’ gets tough, I motivate myself with the thought of producing high quality work, not because someone is going to come by and start clapping for me or hand me a wad of cash, but just because that’s the way I roll. It makes me feel good and it gives me purpose. Plus, it is something I can control.

Career Lessons #3: Be helpful.

Please never, ever say to someone, “That is not my job.” Say it to yourself, with your inside voice if you like, but never utter those words. Job descriptions are never going to be 100 percent comprehensive, and hey, stuff comes up, so relax, roll up your sleeves, and always be willing to help. Besides just being good Samaritan-like to do so, this also helps your co-workers and managers build trust in you. And when you need a little hand, others will be more likely to be there and give you what you need.

Career Lessons #4:  Be a rock star problem solver.

I don’t care what anyone says. Whether you have five years of experience, 10 or 25, no one knows everything, especially in a world where things are constantly changing and evolving. Don’t worry so much about having all of the answers, and just practice being a rock star problem solver.

Don’t have the answer to that email right now? Not really sure how to attack that huge project your boss just emailed to you? Heck, maybe you don’t even know what she/he is talking about. That’s OK. Kindly express that you’re not sure, and say you will do a little digging and provide an update soon. Then, go. Research, ask, and think. You’re a smart cookie. You’ll figure it out.

Made a mistake? That’s OK too. Focus on rectifying it instead of drowning in self-pity and making excuses. I have noticed time and time again that everyone understands we make mistakes, but no one likes a terminal attitude. Unless you are conducting surgery, there is usually a way to make a situation better, fix a mistake and find a better way. Take a minute to feel bad, and then get to fixin’!

Career Lessons #5: Find a good balance between salary and passion.

Unfortunately, passion alone doesn’t pay the bills, and salary alone doesn’t buy happiness or feed your soul.  When thinking about what career to go into or change over to, or what job to take, try and find a good balance between passion and salary. Don’ take a salary you can’t live on to do something you love, and don’t take a job you hate just because it pays a lot.

Take me for example. I am a writer to the very depths of my little heart. It’s what I have loved to do since I was a kid. It is what drives me, excites me and fulfills me. So I chose a career in marketing which allows me to write but doesn’t leave me livin’ the starving artist life. For a girl who already comes from poverty, that is just not cute ya’ll. This way, I make a good living at something I enjoy, and still get to do what I absolutely LOVE most days. Sometimes, when I’m stressed about money, I think I should have been a pharmacist or a lawyer, and make more money, but then where would my HAPPY be? It’s not worth it. Just find a balance.

Career Lessons #6: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Don’t do something wrong just because you’re afraid to ask questions. Again, none of us know everything. Plus, we all have different ways of learning and absorbing information. I know it can be hard especially if you tend to be a little shy like me (hard to believe, right?!), but suck it up, and ask. When the job gets done the right way the first time, everyone will be glad you did.

Career Lessons #7: Show a little personality.

Take some time to scope out your surroundings, and the personalities of your managers and co-workers, but don’t be so afraid to show a little personality. We spend a lot of our lives at work, so why spend it putting up a front? Save your energy for the actual work, please. Of course, you always have to gauge what is appropriate and what isn’t in your particular professional environment, but don’t think you have to be such a robot all the time. I’m fairly certain companies realize you’re human. It’s OK to tell a tasteful joke, add a little professional flare to your attire, and just be you. And if your environment doesn’t allow you to be even a shadow of your actual self, I’d venture to say you are in the wrong profession or the wrong company. Just a little bite for thought.

Career Lessons #8: Fake it ’till you make it.

Finally, always remember to fake it ‘till you make it baby! It’s taken me a while to really see myself outside of the career-less world I come from. Throughout this learning process, I’ve really had to muster the confidence, self-motivation and strength to believe that I belong here in this corporate world just like any other, more privileged individual. I’ve had to constantly remind myself that the education I was fortunate enough to receive and work my booty off for means I will never be stuck in the bonds of what could have very easily been. So no matter what your particular obstacles are, believe in yourself, push through the doubt, and make it happen!

And remember, a little positivity always goes a long, long way.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Confessions of An Achievement Junkie

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This week I’m feeling that old familiar feeling that only really escapes me occasionally. For me, that feeling is restlessness. It creeps up on me often, and maybe it’s the result of many years of school, moving around, constant change, and constant achievement. I always think I want stability, but a few months into a routine, and the dream wagon in my mind begins to churn its wheels again. They are so loud and abrasive that it’s almost impossible to ignore the noise.

For the better part of my 20s, I was always working on or finishing up some degree or other (I LOVE to learn!), starting new internships or jobs, moving, ending and beginning chapters, losing weight, movin’ on up, getting that big raise. And now that I’m here, in a good, stable place, and it’s time to settle into my career, into routines, into life and bills and errands, I am struggling to sit still.

The blogs can’t write themselves fast enough. My book can’t seem to move forward as fast as I’d like. My motivational author/speaker career seems so far off in the distance, although sometimes I feel like I can almost touch it. My professional challenges can’t seem to stay challenging enough to keep me excited. I want more, higher, better, all the time, and it’s hard to keep up.

On the other hand, I get tired, I can be totally lazy sometimes, and I’m not always as motivated as I’d like. After a full day’s work, the gym (when I make it there), errands, etc. it can be hard to put as much time into everything I want to accomplish as I’d like. But nevertheless, my mind is always going, always planning, scheming, dreaming. Sometimes I think this restless nature and accomplishment obsession will be the end of me, but mostly I realize it’s what keeps me so alive.

You see, I never want to get too comfortable. Coming from an environment of mediocrity, complacency and routine, comfortable is my absolute worst nightmare. Although it might make me crazy sometimes, I never want to lose this fire, and this unquenchable need to do more, reach new destinations, experience more out of life.

Sure, I realize complacency might be the easier route today, and sometimes I wish I was more comfortable with simplicity and routines, but in the long-run choosing restlessness will undoubtedly create a much more full and satisfying life. And that’s what we’re all after in the end, no? So as I struggle with my own restlessness, my message to you is to embrace it, fire it up, and let it drive you. Don’t try and quiet it. Don’t put out the flames. Definitely don’t listen to people who tell you you’re asking for too much out of life. They are just asking for too little.

I wholeheartedly believe that restlessness will lead you to something amazing. I know it will get me there. I’m not sure when or exactly how, but I know it will.

Tell me, do you ever feel restless?

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

There are No Expiration Dates on DREAMS

Sunflower

When we have goals or dreams we ardently desire, we tend to get discouraged by the ticking of the clock, and the passing of the weeks, months and even years. I struggle with this all of the time. There is just SO Much I want to do, and even though I work on it all a little at a time, in-between work, errands, and life, I never feel like I’m doing enough or moving quite fast enough. But I think that’s just the nature of a passionate heart and a super over-active brain – probably not bad things to possess.  The thing to always remember is that there is no expiration date on dreams. There is no – if you don’t accomplish it by this date or that year, it’s time to give up. It’s not milk or a steak. It’s a DREAM. If you let them, dreams will die, but they never expire on their own.

So on this hectic Monday, my advice to you is to try and focus on the big picture, on the small steps you are taking each day, each week or each month towards you dreams and goals, and I will try to do the same. I think that as long as you continue to hold those dreams in the forefront of your mind and heart, and never completely abandon them, you will eventually reach that goal. Just remember to feed it, water it, and nurture it, even if it’s for five minutes today, an hour tomorrow, and a day next month. Focus on your progress, not your set-backs.  Because I have experienced it firsthand many times, and the universe really does reward effort, patience and perseverance.

That’s my quick note for today. Here’s to a happy, positive and productive Monday. Dream on dreamers!

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

3 Ways I Never Gave Up

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I’ve never been a huge fan of the word NO. It just always seemed too limiting to me, and little by little, I discovered that NO is usually nothing more than an easy way out; nothing more than a test of how fast I, or anyone, will give up.

When I was younger, I remember asking my overly strict father to give me a good reason why I couldn’t go to the movies with friends. I held a job since I was 15, I was an excellent student, I was a responsible kid, and I deserved a YES. After all, I wasn’t asking to go to a rave or anything outlandish for a 16 year-old. So I’d say (in Spanish), “Give me a logical reason why I can’t go, and I will let it go. I don’t even need money to go. I make my own.” Dumbfounded, more often than not, he’d budge and say YES. Why? Because you can’t fight logic, and most of all, it’s hard to fight that kind of gumption from a teenager. It might be important to mention here that I grew up being terrified of him, so standing up for myself was an even bigger deal. I think it was the beginning of a life of fighting NO, even when I was shaking in my boots while doing it.

So how do you fight NO? It’s simple. You fight NO by never giving up, by not allowing others to define your limits for you, by showing people you really want IT (whatever that IT might be), and by demonstrating that you’re worth the YES. To illustrate my point and hopefully inspire a little NO warrior action in you, here are three ways I fought NO and never gave up (I’ll share more examples in the future). I’ve briefly discussed some of these situations here before, but I really want to take a fresh look at them through a “never give up” perspective, so here it goes.

1. When I applied for my first master’s program with the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, I was denied acceptance based on one factor. I’m a horrible standardized test taker, and I just wasn’t cutting it on the GRE (Graduate Record Examination). The rest of my academic record was impeccable, but the test weighed more, and there I had it, a big ugly NO staring me in the face.

But, no ma’am. I wouldn’t stand for it. I knew I was just as capable of completing that program as other applicants with higher test scores, and I firmly believed I deserved a spot. So, I fought, and wrote a letter to the Dean that started out something like this:

Dear Dr. Treise,

They say 90 percent of life is just showing up. This is me showing up.

Then I went on to explain that my rejection seemed unfair in light of an otherwise impeccable academic record, and the fact that I was passionate about the degree I wished to obtain. I asked her not to judge me based on one day and one test, but on a lifetime of hard work and dedication instead.

So what happened? I can’t remember the timeline exactly, but I think it might have been about a week after I sent the letter that I received a phone call from Dr. Treise herself expressing her awe at my initiative and personally welcoming me into the master’s program I had originally been rejected from. I finished that degree with a 3.77 GPA, and a successfully defended Project in Lieu of Thesis despite an abysmal GRE score. I don’t think I’ve ever worked harder in my life, but I wanted it, and I did it.

Bam. NO? I don’t think so!

2. Moving to Chicago from Miami took me about three years from ideation to fruition. It seemed like everything and everyone was against me. My family did not support it, and neither did my dire financial situation. Lots of people around me told me I was crazy, and that I should accept the life I already had. Say whaaat? That is super limiting talk, and this girl just doesn’t play that.

Despite all the negativity, I’d apply to jobs, get interviews, and get close to an offer, but at the end of the day I wasn’t local, and thus came the rejections. At some point, I started sending hard copy resumes and cover letters to employers asking them for an opportunity to speak to them, and explaining that I wasn’t looking for relocation assistance (heaven knows I needed it, but I’d figure it out when the time came). I even scrapped together some money to come visit Chicago and setup appointments with employment agencies. The answer was still I’d have to move first. Then, in one of my last desperate attempts, I applied for a 10k private loan to make the move. DENIED.

Finally, the idea came to me that I had always wanted an MBA, so why not now? That would be my ticket to Chicago. So I used my tax return to start the process, take the GMAT (Graduate Management Admissions Test), apply to several schools, etc. Here again, worst standardized test taker possibly EVER, so I bombed.

I was shattered. I’d never get into an MBA program now. I cried for a few days, and then I got right back up, and began devising my next plan. I borrowed the money to re-take the test, and this time I did a little better; good enough to gain me an acceptance from one great school, even if it was on probationary status.

So I made the move, and lived off of loans, part-time work/internships and entry-level jobs until I finished the degree and got settled into a great full-time position at the right level and for a lot more than I had ever made before. Plus, I was off academic probation within one straight A quarter, and was hugely successful throughout the entire program.

NO? I won’t make it? I’m not smart enough? Errrrr. WRONG.  I still made it ya’ll.

3. Back in 2009, life was ROUGH. Nothing seemed right. I was broke, heartbroken, lost and confused. I’d worked so hard my entire life, and it just didn’t make sense to me that I was struggling so badly just to make ends meet and keep my spirits up. It was then that I slowly started to awake to how my humble upbringing, lack of parental support, and history with emotional abuse had really affected me. There were days when something as simple as grocery shopping seemed like climbing Mount Everest. I remember oceans of tears, and a feeling of hopelessness that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.

But I kept chuggin’ along. I stayed focused on my escape to Chicago. I kept working through the tears, both at my day job and freelance writing at night. I scrapped money together to visit friends in other cities and take a few breathers. I pushed through the hopelessness, and I fought, because I always knew it had to get better, and there was something bigger waiting for me.

And now, if that Sonia met this Sonia, she wouldn’t even recognize her. I have taken control of my life, my surroundings and my feelings, and I’ve been on HAPPY Street for close to three years now. Of course, I have bad days. That will always be a part of life, but now I have the tools to recover faster.  Plus, I’ve learned to seek more love from myself than from any outside source, and now I’m not so vulnerable to the things I cannot control.

Sometimes I think what if I had given up then? What if I had taken all of life’s NOs and ran with them? I would never have been able to enjoy the person I’ve become, the life I’ve built, the wonderful people I’ve met, and this frequent feeling of JOY that fills my heart where a lot of sadness used to live. And there we have it folks. The moral of the story is you should never let others define your limits. Just because someone else might not have been successful in a similar endeavor, doesn’t mean that you can’t find a better way.

Do you have a fighting NO and never giving up story you’d like to share? I’d love to hear it, and others can surely benefit from it as well. Come on, give it to me!! 🙂 And remember, success is not always about being the smartest person in the room. More often it’s about hard work, perseverance and heart.

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Celebrating Your Own Definition of Success

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This Friday, at the tender age of 28 (OK, maybe not so tender anymore), I will be moving into my first one-bedroom apartment. Since I skedaddled off from Hialeah to go to college at 17, I have had probably a half dozen roommates, and lived in efficiencies, pool houses, and most recently a studio. It occurs to me that this might not seem like a big deal to a lot of people who might have had different situations or might even be looking into buying an apartment at the same age, but me?  I am beyond excited for my new big-girl home complete with an adult couch, dining table and a porch! I’m also so proud of the progression I’ve seen in my life over the last few years. That is why I want to talk about the importance of celebrating your very own definition of success.

Success should never be defined by a certain salary, where you live, the car you drive, or the clothes you wear. Instead, success should always be measured by whatever that means to you, and in the context of your life and the specific cards you’ve been dealt. It’s so easy to get caught up in what others are doing or where they might be in their life, and what society expects of us at certain ages or stages.

In college, I always felt a little down because I had to live in the less fancy apartments or parts of town. It hurt a little to listen to others talk about expensive vacations and spring breaks I never had the opportunity to take, or the tuition or even fun money checks they’d receive in the mail. I was always on my own. Me, my financial aid checks, and my part-time jobs, and sometimes that felt so unfair. Sometimes it still does. Even between degrees, when I was working full-time in Miami and barely making it with a salary a lot of people my age were doing OK on due to less debt and more help from their parents, I felt a little cheated. Moving to Chicago even seemed like it was so much harder for me with the lack of support. And well, woe was me ya’ll.

But as I’ve progressed through my 20s and entered this whole new stage of maturity, understanding, positivity and love for myself, I’ve learned to look at my disadvantages as advantages, and celebrate my own definition of success. I’ve learned to stop worrying about what others are doing, and think about how hard I’ve worked to get to where I am now. I’ve learned to think about my success in the context of my life and my circumstances, not anyone else’s. And that has made me so much happier and more content with what I have.

Success to me means progress, and I think I do a pretty good job of constantly staying on that path. Moving to Chicago, and leaving my less than desirable situation in Miami was progress. Getting a series of paid internships here while I worked on my MBA was progress. Plowing through tough quantitatively based courses (I always joke that past 2 + 2, I’m not much in the math department), and finishing my MBA with a 3.5 grade point average was progress. Getting myself a 54% raise when I finished my MBA? Man, that was progress! Maintaining an above average credit score despite all of my money noise, that is progress. Going from a roommate to a studio to a one bedroom is progress. Even going from having to do my own nails, to being able to get them done was progress for me, and it still feels so, so good. What can I say? This girl likes to feel pretty.

Losing 50 pounds last year even though that makes me by no means thin, that was progress. Sure, I’ve gained a few back (very few, don’t get crazy), but I’m still thinner than I’ve been in years, and although I still struggle with weight, I’ve seen a huge change in myself. I worry about exercise and try to get to it at least a few times a week. I pay more attention to what I eat, and I make more of an effort to maintain. I feel stronger, I like how I look in my clothes, and I no longer feel like an obese person. I just feel like a normal person. That is not perfection, but it is major progress.

Success, to me, also means constantly moving forward in small ways. Finally working on my book and starting this blog, and getting serious about my author dreams now that I’m finally done with school, and I’m in a good place – that is moving forward. This relatively new sense of self-love, appreciation and understanding, and always working to come from a positive place is moving forward. Watching myself become increasingly better able to handle negativity from others without crumbling – that is a major step forward too.

For me, success is really a combination of being proud of who I am and how I treat others. It means working hard, and constantly getting a little better at life, my job, relationships, etc. It means constantly working on my craft. It means being liked and respected by others, and seeing that people know my word is worth something. It means sticking to my dreams and aspirations no matter how hard it gets. It means standing up for who I am, and not letting others make me into their own vision of me. It means being a little different and quirky. It means having great friends, and making the time to laugh, sing and dance regardless of how busy life gets, but also knowing how to have fun with just me. It means living and saying my truth, even when people lash out at me for it.

To me, success means being a person my little 11 year old sister can look up to and respect, and maybe want to be just a little bit like when she gets older. 🙂 It means never treating someone in a manner I wouldn’t want to be treated. And finally, it means putting myself in an increasingly better financial situation little by little, and breaking the chain of my past. I have no dreams of being a millionaire. I just want to be in a place where I can pay down my school debt, pay all my bills with ease, and have enough for the occasional luxury or trip (I’m obsessed with the thought of visiting Africa someday). It means one day being able to provide a much different, but still very much grounded, life for my sister as she gets older, and for my children (now there’s just the pesky detail of a husband!).

It’s really all about that fight for authenticity. That battle we all face to be who you are and live the life you want, to be successful in the way that makes you happy. So please, I urge you. Do yourself a favor, and start celebrating your own definition of success. It’s just another effective path to HAPPY.

And, while we’re on the topic of success, if you need a little help in the area, here’s one of my favorite articles on things successful people do differently. It’s an oldie, but a goodie, and you can read it here. Now I’ve told you what success means to me. What does it mean to you?

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

Success is My Only Mofo Option, Failure’s Not

Yes, I just quoted Eminem. He’s a little hood. I’m a little hood. He comes from nothing. I come from nothing. He dreams big. I dream big. Plus, let’s be honest. Papi is just plain SEXY (don’t judge me). Also, can I say mofo on my blog? Hey, at least I kept it classy and didn’t use the real word. But anyway, let’s not get too far off the path here.

In all seriousness, Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” is one of my all-time favorite pump myself up songs, raps, whatever you want to call it. It’s real. It’s honest. And boy, can I relate. Why? Because I’ve always felt as if I had no option but to succeed, but to work harder than hard, dig deeper than deep. Because if I didn’t? I’d be totally, completely and utterly SCREWED.

Coming from a very low-income family with little formal education and a whole lot of dysfunction, I never had much support growing up like a lot of my peers did. And when I talk about support, I don’t only mean financial support, although money has definitely always been a significant factor in trying to get where I need and want to be. When I talk about lack of support, I also mean a lack of mentorship, of direction, of guidance – all those things I hear folks talking about having; all those questions and situations I’ve always had to answer and navigate for myself.

So growing up broke as an incredibly poorly told joke, things always seemed just a little harder. But I never let that stop me. I’ve worked a million jobs since I was 15, and I’ve always found a way to make it happen. Even if I barely make it, I’ve always made it. I’ve attained an incredible education, and built a pretty descent career and life for myself – full of a lot more progress and HAPPY than I could have ever imagined.

Still, when you start off at a disadvantage, that sucker balls up into the nastiest, meanest snowball you’ve ever seen, and it builds and builds. It builds up so much that even after three degrees, and 28 years of HARD work and hustle, I still find myself in an overwhelming amount of debt (guess that education has something to do with it), and always stressed out about money. I make more than a fair living now, and I am beyond grateful for it, but it can still be hard. I’ve never had anybody to count on in that sense or much help, and I still don’t. It’s just me, and just that can make you feel incredibly alone and overwhelmed at times.

But I keep fighting, every day, because it’s my only option. And in a weird way, especially for the last few years, as I’ve matured into and embraced this amazing lady named Sonia (yes, I just called myself amazing – it’s the greatest love of all, Whitney said so 🙂 ),  I am so grateful for the hardships. I’ve always had this insatiable drive and need to do more, do it bigger, make it farther, work a  little bit longer, and I’m pretty sure I owe that all to the situations and lack of that I’ve faced throughout my life. I’ve always known that if I don’t do it for myself, I might end up under a bridge (I kid, but not really), and that has driven me to my current success.

But that’s not all. In addition to money issues, there are always people obstacles to fight your way through. You know what I’m talking about. Those people that are constantly trying to put you down and tell you you’re not enough, you can’t do that, you’ll never make it there, you’re not worth it. And for me, unfortunately or maybe fortunately because it’s made so STRONG and such a fighter, that person was and is a very close family member (something I will definitely discuss more at length when I’m ready). Whether in the past or the present, it hurts like hell, and it is something I have to work through every single day, but you know what, I’ve fought through that sucker like a damn Gladiator, and I can stand tall and PROUD. I’ve proven time and time again that I am so much more than I was made to believe I was, and that is what you have to do too.

There will always be people, whether its family, colleagues, or even toxic friends that will try and question your aspirations, slow you down, make you feel like you cannot reach your destination. But you know what I say? Screw that! Always know who you are. Tell yourself as often as you need to. Write it on a damn mirror if you have to. But just keep it moving. And don’t focus so much on proving anything to them; focus on proving it to yourself instead. Nurture that relationship with YOU more than any other, because it’s the only one that you can count on unequivocally, forever, at all times.

If you’re not happy where you live, where you work or with your career, with your friends or your relationship, etc., trust your gut and make a change. Fight through the obstacles – they will only make reaching your goals taste that much sweeter. And always know you’re worth, know your talents and your strengths, know what you have to offer, and make those things work for you. Don’t let critics make you doubt yourself. I know it’s so hard. I still have to work at it too. I’m pretty amazing, but I’m not Superwoman here. Well, maybe on a good day. But anyway, are you catching my drift?

Even if you have been fortunate enough to have a little more help or guidance than I had, even if you have someone or something to fall back on right now, make success your only mofo option (Oops, I did it again. Dang, I think I just quoted Britney). Go out and create your very own, hard earned success. When you encounter “no” and violent opposition, and you will, find a different path, another option, and trust me, you’ll get THERE.

As for me, I’m going to keep chasing these dreams, trusting that I know who I am and that what I have to offer is valuable. No matter what anyone says, I will make it happen. I will keep it moving. I will fight through the bullshit, and I will come out the other side on top, sort of like Bey. Will you join me?

Sonia, Word Share Junkie

P.S. And just as a final little note, I’d like to give a little shout-out, as the kids say, to my friend Gaby who told me today that I’m doing something worthwhile by writing these blogs, and that I have a voice people can relate to. That right there is what’s it’s all about folks. Take your talents, go out into the world, and make a dent. It’s so worth it.