When I think about a frame, I think about a rectangular object constructed to hold a picture or painting. One doesn’t see the edges of this picture extending beyond the bounds of the frame; everything is contained within a discreet space with specific parameters. Growing up, I was socialized with nothing but familial and societal clues on where my boundaries started and ended. Not only was I a female child who would grow into a woman, but I was also born Black, thus doubly burdened. I watched my mother, grandmother, aunts, cousins, and elders exist in a world where they seemed strong enough to handle any trial, tribulation, or obstacle and come out on top. Why then did these phenomenal women always have a sense of sadness in their eyes? What were their dreams, hopes, and desires? And why did they settle for less (in my opinion based on observation) than what they deserved when it came to the career and romantic aspects of their lives?
At the age of 21, I was introduced to “One Day My Soul Just Opened Up” by Iyanla Vanzant and my world changed. I was transformed because she asked questions I never felt empowered to ask before, she spoke about deeply personal aspects of herself that I thought were too taboo to address, which in turn made me do the same. I started thinking about mental health, particularly in the Black community, and wondered if many of my family members and friends suffered from depression. I pondered why psychotic breaks happen? Is it due to traumatic home environments coupled with oppressive work and social spheres? Further, I mulled over why people are so “stressed out” in America? And why do we feed into a culture where being on the go, hustling and bustling, working ‘til we drop is revered? I wondered about pop culture and why we make celebrities into demi-gods, placing them on unrealistic pedestals only to tear them down 6 months later, turning them into villains. Our beloved stars then end up in rehab, and the dysfunctional cycle continues.
Frequently during conversations, my girlfriends or colleagues speak about the discontent within their own lives, and oftentimes their sense of failure has to do with a box that has been left unchecked on their “to do” list. I’m 30 and I should be in a relationship or married, I should have kids, I should have my PhD, I should own a home, I should be thin, I should be further in my career, I should…box, box, box, check, check, check. And while there is nothing wrong with having aspirations and goals, the problem manifests when your life’s purpose gets so wrapped around attaining a goal that you stop living in the present moment.
Who decided these life benchmarks anyway?
The real question is are you really living life, and who are you living for?
As student affairs professionals, we are used to benchmarking our institution against others on numerous issues. Growing up, we are compared to others, either at home or school, in church or in the neighborhood. But when do comparisons to other people cease, and the primary focus shifts to self-evolution? From my vantage point, the only person you are in competition with is yourself. Is the Angela Brizant Layne in 2012 more enlightened, grounded, and learned than the Angela of 2011, 2005, or 1998? The Psychology discipline has discovered through research that women are twice as likely to become depressed, in part due to rumination. I often wonder if we are setting ourselves up to be unhappy for perpetuity. And if this is the case, how do we reframe our minds to reshape our lives?
The biggest and first step in re-framing the mind is taking the time to challenge what is (addressing the things in our lives that we don’t like), then conceptualize and actualize on how to turn things into want we want them to be. You can break the frames that once outlined your life, when you break the frames that outline your thoughts. Challenge the lines that encapsulate what it means to be a woman, a person of color, your role in marriage, or a working mother, and define yourself for yourself. Regular reflection is an effective tool, though sometimes a major life event can springboard the process. Whatever the impetus, challenging the mind so that there is congruence between thoughts and action, paves the way for self-actualization.
In my life, specific events have reframed my perspective. While in college, I took a leave of absence. During my time away, my reason for going to college crystallized. Initially, I went to college because it was the expectation set by my mother, and all of my peers at my private high school were definitely going. While out of school, I worked two full-time jobs to financially support myself and pay the tuition required to get back into school. I realized university offered me a safe space to grow as a person and transition into adulthood; it was my way out of oppression, and provided the necessary tools to help me fight for others with a similar experience as me.
When I eloped nearly 7 years ago, we didn’t have a personal example to reference on what it meant to be in a meaningful, happy, reciprocal marriage; all we had were images from the media and role assignments we received as children. But my partner and I decided to throw all of that out of the window and make the rules up as we went along. And thankfully, that works for us.
Finally, the recent death of my grandmother has reminded me of the importance of unconditional love and sowing meaningful seeds. As I reflect on her legacy, I am reminded of the fact that life is not about the wealth you amass or popularity you obtain, but about the lives you touch through word and deed.
It is often said that “life is what you make it.” The most important two words in that phrase are you and make. I think that we sometimes forget how much power we have as humans to effect change and navigate our own lives. Undoubtedly we cannot determine everything that transpires, but our attitude, decisions, and state of mind are within our locus of control. Any great leader is great because they took action steps on a daily basis. Further, great leaders lift as they climb. When you speak to colleagues, and sister-friends, and they enumerate all the reasons why they can’t do something, proceed to list all the reasons why they can do it. Be available to help them think through their possibilities, then be a part of their support system as they seek to bring their dreams to fruition. Remember your mind is one of your greatest assets; thoughts determine your destiny.
So if you want a positive, dynamic, and meaningful life, your thoughts must reflect your desires.