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Ethel Richards Headshot

Changes I Am Making To Enjoy Life And Redefine Success

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Saying no even when yes is a good option, or perhaps even the better option, is my personal motto. This inspiration came from a book written by Pastor Doug Fields, entitled What Matters Most: When No Is Better Than Yes. I have begun to employ my motto in phases, which means instead of agreeing to do something or go somewhere right away, I'll respond by saying: "Let me look over my schedule when I have a few minutes and get back to you, because I'd hate to commit and have to back out later." The second phase is simply saying "no" when I know right away I cannot do or attend something, or if I know I just do not want to do or attend what is being asked. Of course there is a tactful and respectful way of saying "no." Moreover, it is also important to note that phase two takes more courage and boldness than phase one; and that while I "graduate," if you will, to phase two, phase one never goes away, but is frequently used in tandem with phase two.

I am appreciating day-by-day that I cannot lead myself, let alone others, if I do not sleep. Leaders, heck humans, can only be as effective as their sleep life because the brain uses that time to not only scrub toxins, but also to reset, restore, revive, and refresh itself and for our benefit. For years, and I am only freshly 31, I measured my success in part by how long I worked at something with high quality and high-intensity. I thought that what I was taught about success was true: "Work hard and you'll have success," and somehow I equated that with relentlessly responding to emails all day and all night, among other things. And yet, I have to realize that as human beings, as much as we do not like to admit it, we are divinely designed to do one-thing-at-a-time. Oh yes, we can "multi-task," but how effective are we, really?

The notion that "you gotta get it the first time and go onto the next thing" is nonsense! We all learn relatively the same way and that is by repeated exposure and action. In other words, we learn by spending time with the information or the process; and like healing, learning is a process and it takes time. Somewhere along the way we have allowed technology to define "how fast" we are to learn new information; and the reality is that our ability to learn new information has not changed, much like healing, because it takes time. Now, one may argue we have new technology that results in reduced healing time, and I would agree that how we approach learning new things does not have to be "dragged out;" however, my point is that regardless of how fast we can access information, we still have to take the "quality time" with our individually established "quantified" learning curves and thresholds to learn the new information and learn it well, and sleep, which helps with memory retention and solidification of information.

So as a creature of habit, undoing the havoc of "success" I've built my life around came the medical scare of my life. I suffered a MTBI or concussion in January 2013 and it forced me to really slow down and take a hard look at my life, realizing that normal was being redefined, once again. (I was in a car accident in 2009). I had no choice but to withdraw from my PsyD program in Health & Wellness Psychology, take a pause from teaching Zumba and an aerobic class I helped to design called "Dance Party Plus!" In addition, I had to take a step back from various professional organizations, community service, and temporarily reduce my administrative involvement in ministry. I did, however, continue working two part time jobs, and "sneak" to actively participate in ministry administratively as much as I could do without being caught and told to, "Stop...Sit down Ethel; you have to heal." I didn't want to hear it, because I was determined not to let this concussion get the best of me. Prior to the concussion, my provider had been warning me to slow down, but when I suffered this concussion, she began prescribing rest - no more warnings. As many people know, the only way to heal effectively and properly from a concussion is to rest, sleep, eat a balanced diet; rest, sleep, eat a balanced diet; enjoy natural sunlight and a short nature walk with someone (in my case, my equilibrium was off); and rest, get the picture.

But I wanted to go immediately back to teaching aerobics and Zumba three to four times a week; continue in my PsyD program, work two jobs, stay at my peak in ministry, and be involved in my professional organizations and community, and find time to still spend with my family. Well, in my mind post-concussion, I thought I was making progress by cutting out aerobics and Zumba and professional organizations for what I planned to be three to four months. During which time I continued studying until one or two in the morning at a Barnes & Nobles or elsewhere, and then getting up to go to job one and then job two. Then one night, Mother Johnson from my church called me and asked me how I was doing; and of course I gave the "Everything is great; just driving home from studying" answer. Mother Johnson said in her sweet and gentle voice "You know Sister Ethel, school will always be there, but you won't. It's okay to take a break." All of a sudden light bulbs went off and for the first time I heard this message clearly. Three days later, I called Mother Johnson back, feeling 10-20 pounds lighter and sounding more cheerful, I said; "Mother Johnson, I just want you to know that I thought about what you said and I prayed about it; and today I started the process to withdraw from school." In her uneventful, sweet and gentle voice, she replied: "Well, that's good; you can always go back to school."

Now, I have the opportunity to "fill" my provider's prescription of "rest" and implement what I learned from Pastor Doug Fields' book one day at a time and one experience at a time. Okay, actually, my provider said, "go home and read a book. You don't have to work out every day." Whew! I was with her on the 'go home and read book' part. But, on the workout script, I nearly choked!

16 months later....

How's it going? Well, I do not have the phases down to a science. But, each day gets a little easier, and each day I become a little more relaxed, clear-minded, and introspective as I take time to enjoy this journey called life and define what it means to be successful. I take time to sit still and enjoy quietness, that I may reflect on the past to learn from and/or admire my present to check my course, and to ponder the future. I admit some days are rough -- I cry, I feel like quitting; but I know there is only one direction that I can move in and that is forward. So each day, I dig my heels in even further, take a deep breath and continue full throttle ahead navigating #thisthingcalledLife. But, most importantly, I remember to trust in the Lord, lean not to my understanding, acknowledge Him in all, and allow Him to order my steps.

Until next time... remember to make time for your health or your health will make time for you.

Be well and fit!

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