Why I Believe We Must Tell Our Stories

Lately I’ve been reading a lot about the stark realities of young women in Africa. As I look  through page after page of statistics on several blogs and websites, I think more about how important it is for me to tell my story over and over again, but it also made me want to share my thoughts on why telling your story is a must.

A few months ago my husband and I were in Brixton, discovering the smells and sounds that so uniquely belong to this London neighborhood. We had the pleasure of walking through Brixton Market, and given that I do love any and every vintage store I can find on my travels, I had to go the first one we found. It was there that I met the owner, clad in a linen sky blue suit with a British Caribbean accent of sorts. As I perused, he couldn’t help but ask me where we were from and what we were doing in London. And, I went on to tell him the truth. As I spoke about our work in web development, my background as a writer, my first book publication and my love of vintage, he paused long enough to look down at his feet, look up, peer into my face with intense curiosity and proclaim: you have to tell this story so a young girl in Mozambique can believe she can be you!

And when he said this, it was as if he had just decided that this is what I would do. I have been telling my story for years now. When I first published my book of poetry, Flowers Blooming Against A Bruised Gray Sky, I was deeply motivated by the challenges that young women around the world face. I was also compelled by my own experiences in college, where I met my mentor, who would later help me see what was possible in my life.

That shop owner was right, but I was a bit confused by what he said because I believed that I had already been telling my story. I also had forgotten that regardless of how many followers I have on Twitter or friends on Facebook, the relevance of my story to a young African girl balancing the weight of motherhood and hunger by age 15 truly does matter. For that young girl, the popularity contest has everything to do with finding role models who have her hair and eyes, something familiar. I had already published a book, drawing images with lines of poetry that spoke to what it was like to be young, Nigerian, immigrant and female in a household that was rocked by my father’s violence and my mother’s silence. I wrote the poems, told the stories, read them aloud at poetry readings and shared my experiences with anyone who wanted to know. But today, I was reminded that telling our stories is something we must do over and over again because we never know who we reach by doing so, and our stories are always changing in ways that can inspire others.

And so, I am a Nigerian born American writer who did not grow up unable to find food and pregnant at age 15, but I did grow up knowing more than any young girl should know about violence. And, on the other side of my history is my story today.  This is the story of a young woman writer, poet, blogger and co-founder who believes that anything is possible for her life and that in the midst of fear and all the things that get in the way of young women figuring out what they’re capable of today, there are those of us who do get that opportunity. I believe that when we come out on the other side, we have an amazing opportunity and responsibility to shine a light on all that we have become so others can see themselves clearly.

 

The Lack of Women as Founders

I recently attended a startup founders event with my husband where about 200 people were in attendance. I remember quite a few things about that night, but nothing struck me more than when a presenter asked the women in the audience to participate. Well, she did not really “ask” us, but if you were a woman in the room who wanted to know more about other women in the room who were like you, then you raised your hands when she asked the questions.

Her presentation was about the lack of women in the tech business, especially as founders and owners. As I said, there were about 200 people in the room when she asked how many of those people were women. I remember about 6 hands going up. Then she asked how many of us were women involved in start up business, and about 4 women raised their hands. And finally, she asked how many of us were founders in the companies we were part of. There were two women with their hands raised, and I was one of them. I kept my hand up for so long I did not realize that she was no longer asking questions. There were 2 women in that room that kept our hands raised.

That night I realized that I was not only interested in my project on behalf of me, my husband and our greater vision. I am also deeply invested in what we are doing on behalf of women. What if the most important part of being an entrepreneur is showing up, and raising your hand.  I want to be accounted for, don’t you? And I am even more invested on behalf of women of color, particularly African women. We all need models in our lives who can show us what’s possible for our futures. I’d like to be one of those people, especially because so many have done the same for me.

About Thriving Girl

When I was 10 years old, I walked into a bookstore and saw no books with African female authors.  This was in Boston, Massachusetts and I was the 10 year old daughter of Nigerian immigrants and wanted to understand who I was and who I could become.

Before leaving the bookstore, I promised myself that I would one day have a book in a bookstore so other African girls could read it and find something that resonated with them, and hopefully something that was useful as well.

You see, I was born in Nigeria, raised in the United States but so clearly had one foot in each culture. There was never any kind of blueprint that signified what was to become of me and what the possibility was for my life.  As many first generation immigrants know, we are making that history now.

As a girl, I knew the chaos of violence in my home and in my body.  My parents represented everything I wanted to be and everything I did not want to be at the same time.  As I got older, I realized how capable I was after I left my parents home.

And so, I believe in passing along what I’ve learned. Thriving Girl is about advice, support and a conversation from women to girls. I’ve been there and I know that there are things I would have liked someone to tell me when I was a girl and I want to share them with girls around the world.

Investing in a girl takes sharing what you know with her, and that’s not much to ask of us if we are to enable the next generation of global women to become all of who they are capable of being.

 

 

The Meaning of Luck

I’ve always believed that there’s no such thing as luck. Well, kind of. I guess the truth of what I am saying is that for me luck is not something that one just happens to stumble upon due to good fortune or some unspoken heavenly alliance with the universe. In my opinion, even eating enough servings of vegetables, drinking 6-8 glasses of water and flossing daily (instead of finding the must have cookie drawer) does not get get you there. For me, luck is a delicate combination of readiness and opportunity. It’s about being ready when an opportunity presents itself to you.

I believe we are ready! When I say “we”, I am speaking of my husband and I. Since January, we have been working to get our startup off the ground and running. And now, after getting out of town for the summer to retreat and actually do our best to pour all we’ve got into this venture, I do believe that we are just beginning to understand what readiness means. For us, it’s meant relocating for the summer to clear our heads, take in a different culture and simply shift focus from our wonderful family back home, so we can strategize and move forward. Readiness has also meant laying next to him at night with our fingers carefully enlaced, hearing nothing but the night air and the slow but steady hum of the necessary but noisy summer fan and simply drifting off to sleep with tomorrow’s ideas drifting off to sleep with us.

It’s meant the first year of our marriage being front and center, intentional and very important. We’re writers, web folks, User Experience Designers, poets, dreamers, believers, receivers, wine lovers, food fanatics and simply devoutly passionate about changing the world one word, one sentence, one blog post, one piece of code, one website, one design and one big spoonful of readiness at a time. This week we have been given the opportunity to pitch our startup idea to international investors. And, this is an amazing opportunity and I do believe we are getting so close to being ready. And please do wish us luck because we’ve worked so hard and are ready for luck to meet us.

Becoming a Courageous Bride

Dear Thriving Bride,

As most of my readers know, my parents did not come to my wedding.  To sum up the reason: They were not capable of doing so in a way that supported my happiness.  And so, they were not present.  The thing many of you don’t know is I have not heard from them for many months now, and there was not even a “congrats” after the wedding.  These are my parents, and they are who they are. You’ve all seen me struggle with the emotions leading up to my wedding, and then slowly come to resolve many of the pressing issues that came along with the emotional roller coaster of family unavailability, death, and anything else you could throw in there.

And the winning wedding dress is......the strapless, ivory, silk gown!

Courageous brides can be very hot brides as well!

photo courtesy Amici Wedding Photography

But, I am here and happy and married to the man I love.  I am writing to you (whomever you are) because I want to keep sharing my thoughts and experiences and I want you to understand that at the end of the day, creating and sustaining the wedding of your dreams (and not the expectations of others) takes a lot of courage.

I am hoping that you can hear me say this without flinching at the idea that courage might be something you may or may not be able to muster for your big day.  But, I need to let you in on something I have not told you yet.  In all honesty, there were days when I was choosing a venue, or viewing the flower arrangements or going for a run and all I could do was stop and cry.  I did not feel courageous or brave.  I simply felt tired.  I simply felt that despite the love and support of my Chosen Family, my parents inability to show up would not only signal a very clear separation in our futures with each other, but it was also as if by not being there, they were in essence “letting me go” to start my new life.

I am writing all of this because I want you to know that I found courage in knowing this: At the end of the day, I had to ask myself what I could be okay with in the end.  The thing about me is that I can’t stand regret, but I can accept rejection.  If I want a job and the employer turns me down, I always feel proud of myself for trying and I don’t have to go to bed at night wondering what would have happened if I applied to the job.  It’s like the words “no” are not as awful (for me) as the words “I regret not doing this or that.”

There are days when you will not feel courageous, especially because sometimes you can’t feel that way on your own.  Sometimes, you need the support and encouragement of others to do so.  And it is when you find the courage within yourself that you can say “no” and “yes” and mean both without regret, guilt or shame that often happens with weddings.

I believe the joining of two lives no longer needs to be something we “get through”, like a root canal or a morning gym class we despise yet know we must do.  I want to bring the joy back to the wedding planning and experiencing process.  So, I am writing about my joyful wedding in the face of many challenging circumstances, and I will continue to write about it.

So, my parents have not contacted me and I have not contacted them. The truth is, I don’t want to go through the usual yelling, screaming and accusations.  I love constructive criticism, but I do not tolerate verbal or emotional abuse in my life, even if it is coming from my parents. I am doing  the best I can to make peace with this within myself.  It is not always easy, but I know that if I had to do it over again, I would still choose to create a meaningful wedding with my partner that embodied our vision of how we wanted to honor our commitment to each other rather than agree to my parents demand that we change everything according to how they wanted the wedding to be.

And I am also enjoying the new family that includes a wonderful and supportive step-mother, niece, nephew, sister-in-law, brother-in-law, step-son, and my wonderful husband PJ.  There are also many cousins, aunts and uncles in the mix as well.  I find myself remembering how important it is to have courage even now.  Wherever you are on your journey, I do believe that you are capable of mustering the courage and determination you need to create the wedding day you want.

Next Post: Top 10 Tips for Becoming a Courageous Bride!  Want to receive updates when I post next?  Please sign up here  to receive email notifications for this blog and my new blog, Thriving Wife: Cultivating a Conscious Marriage.  Do you have a question to ask me? Please fill out the “Ask A Thriving Bride Question” on the Thriving Bride homepage.

What’s the secret to finding a life-long partner?

Today is my two month wedding anniversary.  I am very excited because I can tell you that each day I am more inspired to love fiercely, forgive easily, express my range of emotions often and marvel at the opportunity that this life has given me.  In honor (and celebration) of today, I will be answering a question that came in through the  “Ask A Thriving Bride Question” link on my bridal blog.  If you have something you want to ask or say, you can write to me about weddings, marriage, family dynamics, etc.  It really doesn’t matter.  I just want to keep this dialogue going, and see if our collective energies can help create more sustainable partnerships, weddings and families.  In recognition of how your support and connection to what I am saying inspires me, today’s post will answer a recent question I received:

Dear Thriving Bride,

My question is a simple one: what’s the secret to finding a life-long partner?

Dear Thriving Reader,

Thanks for asking.  Your question is simple, but the answer really forced me to think a lot about my own experience and open up and share my own doubts and insecurities as I built my relationship with my now husband.  But, I do hope this story about my honeymoon and our relationship will help answer your question. I can’t say it’s “the” secret, but I can say it was “my” experience and it worked.

During my honeymoon, I spent a lot of time looking at the ocean because it represented a certain kind of calm.  There were also many occasions when I got to watch watch my husband rock back and forth in a hammock and clutch a book to his chest as his sun glasses slid off his face and the breeze whisked him away to a long needed nap. This is the poetry I have been writing these days. These are the words of deep thankfulness and rich experiences with my beloved.

Saying our vows at our wonderful wedding! Photo by Michael Amici

Saying our vows at our wonderful wedding! Photo by Michael Amici

I think being a Thriving Wife is about taking the time to realize (and act accordingly) that, husband, sweetheart and every other name I could come up with for him is also now my beloved. Let me explain because it is different and I am experiencing just how unique it is.

When I met PJ, he was my friend and then he became my boyfriend and then he was my fiance and now he is my husband. If you aren’t really into titles and names, then you don’t have to care what I call him, but I definitely care. As I mentioned in my bridal blog, there are countless engaged couples that do not get married for one reason or another. And guess what? We did! Every time when a friend asked how we were doing with everything leading up to the wedding, I would always say “We still want to marry each other.” For me, this was important because there is so much stress that goes along with weddings and many couples do choose to end the relationship before they say “I do.”

And so now, we have crossed that bridge, signed all the right dotted lines, committed our lives to each other (and to each other’s communities) and there was no way we could have done all of this without becoming each other’s “beloved.”

Basically, PJ is my husband and my beloved. The process we have gone through to get to this point and the ways we have chosen to deal with the challenges along the way makes him my beloved and him mine. You see, being beloved is based on giving another person the opportunity to truly love you for who you really are so that you can ” be loved” by that person. I believe it is often hard for couples to make it to the altar because one person is not willing (consciously or not) to become beloved. Let’s not kid around here, it ain’t easy.

When I met PJ, I was not ready for him to see all of who I was. Again, to become his beloved I needed to “be loved” by him for who I truly was, which meant I needed to let him see who I truly was. Here’s where it stops being so fun. We all talk about love and finding someone who really loves us, but are we ready to reveal ourselves not knowing what the other side of things holds for us? We can reveal and get hurt and we can reveal and get love. It is up to us.

Once I was willing to be fully loved for who I was (scars and all), then PJ had the opportunity to see me clearly and decide to love me. And when he did, I had the opportunity to see that here was someone who was willing to take me straight off the human store rack and take me to the counter “as is.” Don’t get me wrong, I know that I have a lot to offer someone who is willing to see it, but we all doubt ourselves and unchecked self-doubt can lead us to hide behind it so much that we don’t see the possibilities staring us in the face.

I’ve said this before, but I want to reiterate that I am not a therapist of any kind but I do have a story to tell and I am writing all of this down in order to help myself and if I can help you, then that’s even more fabulous.

In truth, I also hope Oprah reads it.

At my wedding, a good friend asked me what my secret was when it came to seeing, loving and marrying Peter. I hope she is reading this because I’d like her to know that the secret is this: be ready and willing to become a special someone’s beloved and vice versa.  This may all seem pretty simple, but it takes some work. Are you ready?

Note: I am not advocating that you jump into a relationship and reveal everything about yourself to someone who has made it clear that he just wants to have a few beers and take you to his condo on the beach during your vacation in some coconut scented island. Sorry to break it to you, BUT HE IS MOST LIKELY NOT YOUR BELOVED. I might be wrong, and if I am and you do fall madly in love an end up returning to that beach for many anniversaries to come, DO SHARE YOUR STORY WITH ME.

THANKS!

Honeymoon TLC: Top 5 Honeymoon Tips

Dear Thriving Bride,

No matter where you are going for your honeymoon, the purpose is usually the same for most couples: to get a relaxing break from the stress of wedding planning and to celebrate the wonderful and courageous journey both people embarked upon when they said “I will” until the time they said “I do.” If you are reading this, you are probably still a bride who is thinking about (and planning) your honeymoon. I am where you will be in a few days, months or years. I am on my honeymoon. Before leaving, there were a few tips I thought to give to you as I packed, and I am finding those things to be true and very appropriate. Be it the beaches on Cancun or the Bohemian villages of Indonesia, your honeymoon will be an even better time with these tips.

1. Pack light! I cannot stress this one enough. Regardless of where you are going, packing light will always serve you. Choose multipurpose clothing that is appropriate for the climate and events you will be enjoying. I love scarves that I can tie on my head when I’m having a bad hair day or pants that can either be dressed down or up. FYI: Packing light means your hubby just may agree to your need to go shopping. Stay tuned for my upcoming Thriving Bride Honeymoon Packing List!

2. Know where to spend your money and where to save it. Friends told me that it’s common for most couples to sleep for the first few days of the honeymoon. I know that’s what we did for the first 24 hours. Regardless of how laid-back your wedding was, it’s as if you had a red carpet event starring you and you need to rest. Who says you can’t afford a great honeymoon! You definitely can, but you just need to know where to put your money. If money is not a concern, so be it. If it is, stay at the less expensive places for the first few days, sleep and get some R&R and head out for the 5 star hotels during the second half of your trip. Note: I have about 2 weeks for my honeymoon, so I can do this. If your trip is really short, then maybe a night somewhere budget-friendly and the next few nights in the place with the wonderful room service and spectacular views.

3. Plan your itinerary, but don’t over plan. Are you the one who just planned your wedding? If you are a bride, then you probably did. So, this is the time for you to give to yourself and rejuvenate as much as possible. So, make sure you have your flights as soon as you can, and find a place to stay, but be open to what happens when you don’t plan every detail. Note: This is not a play by play orchestrated event, IT IS YOUR HONEYMOON! Plus, it is harder to change your mind when you book every last event in advance. So, make a few plans and then let your trip surprise you.

4. Ask all and any hotels and restaurants about honeymoon packages. This may be an obvious one, but we recently stayed in a wonderful thatched roof style house and it was by no means a hotel, but it was spectacular. And guess what? They had a special three course dinner with wine and wonderful massages in our room. You won’t be newlyweds for too long, so always mention this!

5. Be clear about your “vacation mojo”, especially on your honeymoon. So, how do you like to travel. Do you both prefer a 5 star hotel to a condo rental? Are you both interested in exploring local culture or is a resort style experience more of your thing? It is crucial to get clear about this. If your vision includes room service and a golf course and your partner wants to rent a house on the beach and snorkel, it is time to have that conversation. And do yourselves a favor. Have that talk before the honeymoon!

In recognition of the fact that many couples do not take their honeymoons until several weeks to months after the wedding day, already married couples can read this article here on my most recent blog, Thriving Wife.

Wedding Day TLC: Top 5 Tips for Enjoying Your Wedding Day!

Dear Thriving Bride,

written on my wedding day (11/10/12)

I want you to know that I am the bride in you writing this for the wife you will be in the next few hours.* It is the morning of your wedding, and already the sun is coming up. I have always marveled at how each sunrise signals the possibility of starting over and beginning again. I want to tell you a few things that will be important for you to remember today, and I need to tell them to you now before all the business of the day starts.

Happy and excited on the morning of my wedding day!

Happy and excited on the morning of my wedding day!

1.Today is an exciting day, but the love and relationship you have with PJ is not solely about today. It is about the rest of your lives. So, remember to have fun and if something becomes stressful, remove yourself from the situation and find your dear man and hold him close. It is in this moment that you will remember why you are doing this and everything else will come second.
2. Don’t forget to take in every single second and savor it. Look at the love you have created and nurtured around you. It is an amazing thing! Do not let other people’s stress or business of the day take that away from you. Soak it in!

Want to read more?   Click here to read the rest of this article on my most recent blog Thriving Wife.   I’ll still post ideas, inspirations and memorable moments from my wedding on this blog, so don’t worry.  You can enjoy both! Enjoy!

Top 5 Tips for Writing Your Vows

Dear Thriving Bride,

The truth is, not every couple chooses to write their vows.  But if you do, I’m here to give you a few tips to help you! The choice is personal and not writing yours does not mean that you are not a Thriving Bride. It just means that you chose something different than I did. If in fact you are interested in writing your own vows, here are a few things to remember along the way. I am a writer, so that greatly helped me and my partner, but in the end what helped the most is that we made sure to keep this part of the process in line with the rest of our wedding: joyful, honest and as unique as we are.

1. Do something unexpected, but true to you as a couple! There are no rules when it comes to writing your vows, so you too can throw the rules out the window. Before my wedding, I went to several weddings where each partner wrote something to read and read it to the other person. That’s fine, but we chose to have a conversation instead. It was a dialogue of sorts, and we went back and forth between each other. This allowed our guests to take part in our vows in an unexpected way, and I think they actually listened to them as well.
2. Write your vows as soon as you feel inspired to do them, but don’t wait too long.  It is always a good idea to have a first draft that you start pretty early on as you plan your wedding, then you can always edit it.  The important thing is having a place to start, and getting an early start was helpful for us.  A month before our wedding, we felt inspired and many of the ideas we wanted to include in our vows were at the tip of our tongues. So, we just sat down and wrote them. It was a first draft, but it pretty much stayed the same except for a few changes. There’s nothing like capturing the truth of the moment!
3. Be open to making changes. A few days before the wedding, PJ told me that he wanted to add a line to our vows about forgiveness. I loved the idea because it is an important idea that felt so true to our relationship and something that we try and practice as much as possible. Your vows are not written in stone. So, give yourself room to add and/or subtract. We decided on and scribbled down the lines about forgiveness in the waiting room 2 minutes before we walked down the aisle (well, danced – but that’s a post for another day).
4. If you have a wedding officiant (or someone else you trust to share your vow writing process with you), share your vows with this person. It was super helpful for us to do this. Our officiant was after all marrying us and it helped bring us together before the wedding and we had a greater understanding of why we were all doing this. I say “all” because despite the fact that this is your wedding, your officiant is one of the many people that will be extremely involved on your wedding day.
5. Let your vows be true to who you are. Are you quirky and funny? Figure out how to add that in there. Are you spontaneous? Maybe you want to leave room to improvise parts of your vows? Whatever you do, let it be memorable for you and your beloved. The flowers will die and your dress will be completely soaked in dance floor sweat, but you will remember (and so will others) what you said to each other.

Need more help or ideas to help you write your wedding vows? Ask a Thriving Bride question and I will do my best to answer you as soon as possible.

Bridal TLC: Make your “Bad-Ass Bride” List

Dear Thriving Bride,

It is two days before my wedding (11/8/12), and everyone keeps asking me how I am feeling. The truth is, I am feeling very content. This is my response when I get asked, and it is true. I am feeling content because I do not feel as if I am lacking anything or as if something is missing from this experience. Yes, there are people that will not be physically present at my wedding: my blood parents, my blood twin sister, and my two deceased brothers.

As you know, my younger brother will not be there to walk me down the aisle. He is dead and I know many emotions will come up as I remember him today and on my wedding day. As you know, my brother Mike will be there to walk me down the aisle. I was not born into a family that included Mike, but after more than 15 years we have had the fortune of inheriting each other. So yes, I feel content.

I feel satisfied, full of joy and very proud of myself. So, this is the post where I encourage you Dear Bride to give yourself as much credit as you can muster. If in fact you have given yourself the ability to go through the challenging emotions connected to your family of origin, the permission to embrace your family of experience and allow others to give to you, you should be very proud of yourself. So, in honor of everything you have done to become a Thriving Bride, I’d like you to take some time before your wedding day and make a “Bad-Ass Bride” list. It sounds funny, but I am serious. It’s time to look back on everything you have experienced on this journey and give yourself (and others) permission to congratulate you.

There will be several people there to congratulate you on the day of your wedding. Some of them will understand what the journey has looked like (many of my friends and family members have been reading my blog) and others will toast to you having found the love of your life. Either way, find some time and do a different kind of toast if you can. Toast to your courage, your willingness to open yourself up to receiving support, encouragement and help along this journey and especially to your ability to make peace with whatever outcome has landed in your lap in regards to your family of origin.

My “Bad-Ass Bride” list looks something like this:

In 90 days (It is 88, but will be 90 when I get married), I ______________ (fill in your name here) have fulfilled my desire to live my life and plan my wedding as a Thriving Bride, which has meant paying attention to my emotional needs, allowing myself to feel them and making peace with any challenging past traumas connected to my family of origin. In an effort to do this, I set out to take care of myself (emotionally and physically) and have achieved that in the following ways:

1. I ran for 84 of my 90 days.
2. I got 8 hours or more of sleep for 82 of my 90 days.
3. On the days when I did not sleep for 8 hours, I at least got 6 hours of sleep.
4. I brought up issues with my partner and my family if and when they arose.
5. I allowed myself to grieve the absence of my blood relatives, to accept them for their moments of grace as well as their flaws, and to not let my happiness be attached to their decisions.
6. I asked very important people in my life to serve as my Surrogate Parents at my wedding and going forward in my life.
7. I asked my Surrogate Brother to walk me down the aisle.
8. I posted on my bridal blog, ThrivingBride.com four times a week for 90 days. Woo hoo!
9. I did not eat any sugar for 45 days leading up to my wedding in order to feel better after many months of antibiotics.
10. I allowed my community to shower me with love with a Bachelorette Party, a Bridal Shower and an Engagement Party.
11.I learned how to “follow” in my “first dance” with PJ. Many thanks to our Wedding Dance Instructor!
12. I told the world my story as honestly and truthfully as I could through my blog. This, yes this, is what I am most proud of.

So, what does your “Bad-Ass Bride” list look like? What are you most proud of on this journey towards your wedding day? Think about it and ask your friends and family to help you remember the things you have achieved and write them down so you can always remember them. You deserve a lot of credit Dear Bride, so give that to yourself as much as possible in these few days leading up to your big day.

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