Self-Improvement Efforts You Can Implement Today for a Better Tomorrow

Photo Credit: Pexels

As we move forward in this new year, guest blogger Melissa Howard shares some fabulous tips for making positive changes in your life:

Are you of a mindset that you need to turn your life around? Many of us make the mistake of thinking that the best thing we can do for ourselves is to make big, sweeping changes to our entire routine. After all, we think, if what we’re doing right now isn’t working, wouldn’t it be best to make major changes? Although this is well-intentioned, it relies on the logical fallacy that bigger is always better when it comes to self-improvement.

In reality, small changes are likely to make the biggest difference. Why? You’ll actually stick with them. DeepCurvesAhead takes a look at some techniques you can use to make yourself healthier, happier, and more excited to face each and every day:

Take Charge of Your Career

Many of us move through our careers in whatever way feels most natural and expected of us. We get a job that uses our skills or degree; we do the work and put in the time; we take the raises, promotions, and opportunities that come our way. Although this happens to work out well for some people, it can leave others feeling listless and out of control of their lives.

If you’re in the latter camp, take little steps each day to reclaim and take charge of your career. For example, you might decide you’d rather work for yourself than for a large company. Rather than jumping ship right away, however, you can start by taking on a little bit of freelance or contract work on the side.

Always check your contract to avoid breaking a non-compete clause, and consider forming an LLC if your work requires taking on any legal risks. Little steps each day will push you toward your ultimate goal.

Make Time for Exercise

It feels almost contradictory at first blush, but most of us live busy sedentary lives. If you have an office job, there may be days where your only real activity is the walk from your car to the office and back. As more and more of us work from home at least some of the time, even this short jaunt gets cut from our routines.

This constant inactivity leaves our bodies restless and in desperate need of movement. This can lead to increased anxiety, fatigue, and, of course, poor health overall. Fitting in something as simple as a thirty-minute walk each day, however, can make a huge difference.

Mix Up Your Style

Finally, now is a fantastic time to take a look at your personal style and see if it’s truly representing who you are. Many of us dress to satisfy others’ expectations of us, instead of wearing what we feel best in. Although you may be bound by formality expectations, such as wearing business clothing in the workplace, you should still strive to represent yourself as much as possible in what you wear.

However, many people don’t really know what their own style actually is. Consider picking up a new piece of clothing or accessory at a regular interval, such as monthly or every other week. Try it out for a while, and see if it suits you. If it does, you can use that as a launching point for the next item. If not, sell or donate it and try something else; avoid falling into the trap of too much stuff. This is a great way to gradually transform your wardrobe into items that feel authentic and empowering for you.

These are just a few of the ways you can make a big difference in your life by taking small steps. Remember, the smaller the change, the easier it will be to stick with, and the bigger an impact it will have in the long run.

About Melissa:

“Every suicide is preventable. After losing her younger brother to suicide, Melissa Howard felt compelled to create Stop Suicide. By providing helpful resources and articles on her website, she hopes to build a lifeline of information. Went to school at University of Colorado, Colorado Springs and currently works as an executive assistant.”

You Can Do It

Welcome to 2022, y’all! Here’s to…not having a nervous breakdown, I guess?

In all seriousness, I’m taking my life back this year. The past few years subjected all of us to things well outside our control (global pandemic, anyone?) and I–like many of you–have had about enough of it. If the world’s going to shit, I might as well captain my own boat. 🤷‍♀️ So I’m doing stuff for me alllllll 2022!

Some of the things I’m working on are:

  • Keeping a daily planner (to keep my commitments close at hand)
  • Keeping a wellness journal (to track my mental, physical, and emotional health)
  • Exercising 5-6 times a week (strength, cardio, and stretching)
  • Adding new/different content to the blog (to keep things fresh and interesting)
  • Finding a new career path (and, hopefully, my true passion)
  • Learning Spanish (because I’ve always wanted to!)

I’m also focusing on meditation and keeping a positive mindset. The past two years have left me feeling…well…defeated. While I can’t change everything going on, I can change my perspective and point of view. My therapist recommended meditation to help with this, and now is as good a time as any to try it out. In fact, today I did my very first five-minute meditation! Shoutout to Yoga with Kassandra for providing the inspiration (and also some pretty awesome yoga videos–my husband and I do a stretch every morning using one of Kassandra’s videos). Today’s meditation was:

I am capable and competent; I know my worth.

Yoga with Kassandra

I can’t be the only one who forgets who they are and what they’re worth. Too often, the outside world–and the negativity in it–clouds my vision and makes me forget I’m 100% that bitch. (Shoutout to Lizzo for the lyric!)

I’ve survived too much. I’ve persevered too long. I’ve accomplished too many things to let life crush my spirit. I deserve the absolute fucking best this life has to offer and I’m taking it! And you should too.

It is so easy to give up, to just let life happen to you. But you are amazing, capable, and competent. You can tackle anything that stands in your way. Know your worth and treat yourself accordingly. Not everyone and everything deserves your time/resources/energy. Love yourself unconditionally, respect yourself wholeheartedly, and treat yourself with care.

As I say these words to you, I say them to myself as well. We all forget just how spectacular we are, so any reminder to you about your badassness is a reminder to myself also. Let’s make 2022 a year of personal transformation, a year of realizing our dreams, a year of loving ourselves so fully we won’t need validation from the outside world. You are capable and competent! Know your worth…and I’ll be here to remind you if you happen to forget.

What Do You Mean?

Every year, my family goes to the movies on Thanksgiving Day. I can’t remember how, why, or when this tradition started, but I think my mom’s deep love of popcorn—movie theater popcorn in particular—had something to do with it. So on Thursday evening, right after my mom secured her medium popcorn with extra butter, we sank into our reclining seats to see King Richard.

King Richard is the story of Richard Williams (father of tennis superstars Venus and Serena Williams) and his role in his daughters’ rise to fame. Richard, played by Will Smith, pushes his daughters to excel in a predominately white sport and his efforts pay off handsomely. Venus and Serena are two of the greatest tennis players of all time.

The film was fantastic. #Nospoilers here, but there were many amazing moments in the movie. The one that inspired this post is honestly one of the smaller details, something many people may not have given a second thought.

In one emotional scene, Richard’s other children were mentioned.

Now, the only two Williams children I was familiar with were Venus and Serena. After seeing the movie, I looked up Richard Williams and learned he was married before his relationship with the Williams sisters’ mother. In fact, his previous marriage resulted in five children—three sons and two daughters.

I wondered how these children felt, watching their father pour into their other siblings. How they interpreted their father’s actions. If they blamed themselves for their father’s departure.

Divorce is a tough experience, especially for the children involved. When my parents parted ways, I felt like my father didn’t try hard enough to make things work. In my eyes, he abandoned us. He chose his drinking over me and my mom.

How would I feel if he then sobered up and made a new family with new kids? If he gave those children a solid, stable, supportive father figure? If he gave them everything and left me behind?

Confused. Devastated. Worthless.

I know this small section of the film wasn’t the major focus, but I felt something in my heart break when I learned of the other Williams children. I can’t speak for them or act like I know exactly how they felt growing up. But as a a child of divorce myself, I know the kids involved have a unique perspective. I hope all the Williams children (now adults) have the relationship they always wanted with their father, even if that is no relationship at all. I pray they were able to get the resolution and closure they needed.

I dream for the day I’ll have the same.

Thank U

This week I (like many of y’all) am celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday in my hometown. Family, fellowship, and food–the holy trinity of this particular celebration. An opportunity to appreciate all we have…then go out and buy more on Black Friday! And of course, the question asked around dinner tables every single year…

“What are you thankful for?”

The pandemic made me extremely thankful for the many blessings in my life. I imagine others had a similar onslaught of overwhelming appreciation for life, health, and other things oft taken for granted. COVID really helped us put things in perspective, y’all.

But sometimes it’s hard to see the sugar for all the shit.

Lately I’ve been stressed, depressed, and just plain exhausted. Work life has tried me. Home life has tried me. My inner saboteur has been working overtime to convince me I’m a terrible human being who only deserves the worst in life.

How am I supposed to find the sugar in all that shit???

I’m thankful I have a job, even if it feels like work gets added but never gets taken away. I’m thankful for my family and friends, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. I’m thankful to see another season, even with the cold, dark, windy days. Every day I draw breath is a great day, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. Because each day gives me the opportunity to be thankful for the beautiful things–big and small.

And if you have nothing else to be thankful for…

Be thankful for the ability to be thankful.

Buy Me a Rose

“Give people their flowers while they’re here.”

You’ve heard that saying, right? Basically, we should tell people how much they mean to us while they are around to hear it. It’s a call to action we can all take on.

Sometimes, I wish it were taken more literally.

I absolutely adore fresh flowers. (I honestly think it’s a hereditary thing–a lot of the women in my family are flower freaks.) While expensive to send, I know nothing will thrill my grandmother more than a beautiful bouquet. My great-aunt always had fresh flowers in the house when she was alive. Just last week, my husband surprised me with flowers and I thought my heart would explode. It’s wild how something a small as a $15 arrangement from the grocery store down the street can bring so much joy.

So I want to start giving people their flowers by literally giving them their flowers.

Over the next year, I want to send surprise flowers to people I care about. Family, friends–anyone who’s made a positive impact in my life. Not for a holiday or anything in particular, just because they are special to me.

I hope their hearts are fill with joy.

I hope they feel special, appreciated, loved.

I hope they see the beauty in the gift as a reflection of the beauty in them.

I’ve heard more than once that flowers aren’t a great gift because they eventually die. Who wants a gift that doesn’t last? Cut flowers show their colors and slowly fade away until nothing is left but the memory.

But isn’t that true of all of us?

We eventually die–we cease to exist. While we’re living, we show our colors: our talents, our feelings, our love. We grow older, and eventually all that is left of us is the legacy we leave behind.

We are flowers: beautiful, colorful, fragile, temporary. Acknowledge the beauty in everyone you meet, but especially those who’ve impacted your life in a positive way. Cherish those people; give them support and encouragement just as you’d give water and sunlight to the beautiful blooms you arrange in a vase.

After all, flowers don’t last forever.

No More (Baby Imma Do Right)

“I’m gettina lil’ tired of your broken promises, promises…”

Y’all remember that song??? 3LW had middle school me hype! I was really out there singing (definitely off-key) to my (completely imaginary) boyfriend to get his (entirely hypothetical) shit together. 😂😂😂

Now, those three little women didn’t know what the hell they were singing about either. (Or maybe they were more sophisticated young adults than I was—who knows?) Either way, I appreciate the message behind the song in a way I couldn’t back then.

Sometimes, we stay in situations we know aren’t good for us. Whether it’s a job or a relationship or something else entirely, we stay because we feel comfortable. We stay because it’s what we know. We stay because we can’t imagine another way.

So we put up with the lies. The abuse. The broken promises, promises. We push aside our intuition and let the situation control us, instead of the other way around. Eventually, we find ourselves two options: stay or go.

Not an easy decision, but a necessary one.

Today, I stand at this crossroads. I can stay comfortable (and unhappy) where I am. I could journey to a new (scary and unknown) place.

I don’t know what to choose.

Without sharing too much, I’ve been in this situation for a long time time (over a decade actually). Many aspects of the situation are excellent, but a few key areas conflict with my personal values. I can choose to overlook those few things and just focus on the good, but that makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t want to lie to anyone, especially myself.

So here I am, between a rock and a hard place. I don’t know what I’m going to choose, but I do now this—I need to make a choice. Because as those three little women sang all those years ago…

“You do, or you don’t. You will, or you won’t.”

Dream On

Somehow, I lost my ability to dream.

I’m not talking about the dreams we have when we sleep—I still have plenty of those. (Honestly, my nighttime dreams are so active sometimes I wake up still tired.) I’m talking about dreams for myself, my life, the person I want to be.

When I was a kid, I used to dream I’d be a famous actress making movies in Hollywood.

As a young adult, I dreamed of becoming an executive at my company helping to make change for sick people around the world.

I even had dreams for this blog, that it would blow up into my own lifestyle brand where I inspired all sorts of people to be the best versions of themselves.

But somewhere along the way, I stopped dreaming. You know what?That’s actually not true at all. I didn’t stop dreaming…

…I just stopped believing my dreams could actually come true.

How do you find the courage to dream again? How do you find the hope when you’ve lost it? How do you dare imagine a better future when the present day beats you down so thoroughly?

I truly don’t know. I wake up every day and go to sleep every night and just continue through the motions. I tell myself I’m stuck, there’s nothing else than what is now. Be grateful for what I have and never wish for anything more.

I am grateful for what I have, no doubt about it. But I want to allow myself to dream of more again. I want to rediscover that version of me who was convinced she’d make an impact on the world.

So I’m back on the blog after almost a year of inactivity. Maybe this blog won’t turn into anything at all. Maybe nobody cares a rip about what I have to say.

But hey, a girl can dream.

My Life

The first time, I was young.

I don’t remember my exact age, but I was a kid–probably around 5 or 6. I was at a friend’s house, playing with girl about the same age as me. We were acting out our favorite TV show, Saved by the Bell.

She was having a hard time choosing who to be: Kelly Kapowski (the beautiful cheerleader) or Jessie Spano (the super smart class president).

My choice was already made for me. I’d be Lisa Turtle, the rich fashionista.

Not because I was rich. Not because I enjoyed fashion.

I would be Lisa because I was Black, and Lisa was Black. Plain and simple.

Honestly, I identified more with Jessie–I loved to learn and I admired her passion for issues like saving the environment. I liked how she always said what she thought and worked hard to be the best. But I couldn’t be Jessie because we weren’t the same color.

I didn’t really think of it as racism at the time because, as a said before, I was a kid. But looking back I see how I was put in a box because of my skin color.

The second time hit a little harder.

Once again, I don’t remember my exact age. But I was still a kid. I was riding the bus to school, and an older boy kept trying to get my attention. He kept calling me a racial slur (one that I will not type here).

Yes, I told the bus driver. No, she didn’t do anything.

I got called this slur EVERY DAY until the boy got his driver’s license and stopped taking the bus.

The first day I got on the bus and he wasn’t there, I felt a trickle of relief. By the end of the week, I realized he wasn’t coming back. The trickle turned to a flood. Finally, I could ride the bus in peace and quiet.

What’s that saying? “Third time’s a charm…”

This one I remember in great detail. I was in sixth grade, in Ms. White’s classroom. It was almost time for school to be dismissed, and we had to be sitting at our desks when the bell rang before Ms. White would let us leave her classroom.

I was kneeling on the floor beside my desk, picking up all my papers and books. I wasn’t dawdling–I was putting stuff in my bag as fast as I could. But there was so much stuff.

The bell rang and I wasn’t in my seat. No one could leave until I sat down. I stood, then moved to sit down at my desk. That was when I heard it.

“Hurry up, BLACKIE!”

It came from a white boy I only knew in passing–his name was Jesse. I don’t remember ever speaking to this boy–before or after this incident–but I can see his face in my mind’s eye as clear as day.

I froze where I stood. All hopes of sitting down were gone–I couldn’t move. I just stared at him.

Ms. White made Jesse apologize to me–a quick “sorry” that was clearly more about getting to the bus line than giving an authentic apology. Ms. White released the class, and I shot out of that classroom with tears running down my face.

I was practically running to get to the bus, crying. Someone–I can’t remember who–asked what was wrong as I flew past.

“Nothing.”

I can’t even remember if I told my mom what happened.

It happened over and over again, and got more humiliating each time.

In high school, it poured rain on the day of a band competition. I was in the colorguard, wearing a hairstyle that required a lot of hold. Pump It Up spritz was the go-to product to keep my hair in place. (If you’re a Black woman reading this, you’re probably nodding in agreement right now. Pump It Up is an old school Black hair staple, right there next to Luster’s Pink Oil Lotion and my aunt’s favorite, Blue Magic scalp conditioner.)

“Ewwwwwww, what is that smell?!?

Apparently, Pump It Up + rain water = a slightly unpleasant aroma. And another guard member was LOUDLY letting everyone know about it. I just tried to stay as far away from everyone as I could. Not only was the hairstyle that took an ENTIRE DAY ruined, my day was too. I felt like such a freak, even though the white girls back then would use so much gel and hairspray they reeked of aerosol.

It presented itself so often, in so many different ways.

My worst experience with racism to date didn’t even happen in America. That’s why it’s the worst time–I didn’t see it coming.

I was in Denmark for a work trip, staying for two weeks. It was January, so the days were short and dark and cold there, but I was so excited. I’d never been to Europe before, and here I was–traveling abroad for business! I felt so fancy.

The first week passed without incident. There were a few snags with my work project, but I powered through them. Then the weekend came and everything changed.

I went out to dinner with a co-worker. We went to a fancy place and ate a meal with, like, seven different courses. We talked and laughed and enjoyed the delicious food and generally had a fantastic time. We took a car back to our hotel, and I headed to my room after a quick goodbye near the hotel lobby. Shortly after I got back to my room, I got a text from my co-worker. The man working the front desk said I couldn’t stay at the hotel.

He thought I was a prostitute.

I went back to that front desk, room key in hand. I explained that I’d been in the hotel for an entire week and hadn’t had any problems until today. I asked that man if he would have made the same assumption if I was a white lady.

He said NO. Had I been a different color, he wouldn’t have given me a second thought.

It felt like I’d been punched in the stomach.

I wish I could say those were the only times.

But there are so many moments I’ve left out.

The “You’re so pretty for a Black girl,” moments.

The time a classmate said it wasn’t fair I got a full scholarship to college because I was Black (even thought I was in honors classes and my grades were higher than hers).

The “You’re not like other those Black people–you’re one of the good ones,” moments.

The time a former coworker “complimented” me by putting both of her hands wrist deep in my fresh kinky twists–without my permission, of course.

The “I’m sorry, we don’t have makeup in your shade,” moments.

The time a boy I had a crush on in high school told me he couldn’t be racist because he’d kissed me once. (This was years after the kiss, on a Facebook post about police brutality.)

The “You’re so articulate,” moments.

The time a judge at a speech tournament wrote me a ballot explaining that I shouldn’t just do pieces on Blackness–that I was “better than that.

The “I don’t even think of you as Black,” moments.

The time I competed in a local beauty pageant and won Miss Congeniality, but I wasn’t included in the photograph that ran in the paper.

The time I drove past the fairgrounds in my hometown and saw signs stating “All Lives Matter” and “Blue Lives Matter” and learned just whose lives clearly didn’t matter.

The time I had dinner at my high school boyfriend’s house and his father refused to speak to me. Seriously–the man didn’t say a single word to me the entire time I was there. He spoke to everyone else, but not to me.

The time I got pulled over late at night in my new car. Terror isn’t the word–it was worse than that. Thank God I hadn’t been drinking, had all of my paperwork, and had the wherewithal to put on my most “articulate” voice for the officer.

Every single time I change my hair and people at work say they can’t recognize me–even if it’s just a switch from curly to straight. (And it happens EVERY SINGLE TIME.)

It’s exhausting. It’s infuriating. And, unfortunately, it’s a regular part of my life.

If you read this and realized that someone you know has said or done something like this in the past, I hope you’re horrified. If you read this and realized YOU’VE said or done something similar in the past, I hope you are filled with shame. I hope you look back over your life and recognize every single racist thing you’ve been part of. I hope you cry.

And after all that, I hope you make a promise to do better.

I hope you realize you aren’t a bad person, but that you have some learning (and maybe more importantly, un-learning) to do. I hope you read up on how America has disenfranchised Black people since we were stolen and brought here. I hope you advocate for Black people with your time, energy, money, resources, and especially YOUR VOTES.

I hope you check your racist family members and friends–don’t let those jokes or comments slide. I hope you support reparations for descendants of slavery. I hope you protest for us and with us. I hope you stop saying you’re “colorblind” and start saying “I see your color, but I don’t devalue you because of it.”

I hope you take a look at your life, now that you’ve seen some of the uglier parts of mine.

Heat

Think about all the things going on in your life: work, school, family, friends, all that. Think about how much you time and energy you pour into those things. Now ask yourself this question:

What am I getting back?

If you are providing support, you deserve support. If you are giving respect, you deserve respect. If you are listening and striving for understanding, you absolutely deserve to be listened to and understood.

This applies at home, at work, and anywhere else. You should get back what you put in.

But–and it’s a BIG but–you also have to communicate your feelings.

Have you told the person (or people) that you’ve been supporting/respecting/listening to that you aren’t getting the same in return?

Sharing your perspective is the most important part of all this, and yet it’s the part that often gets skipped. How do I know this? Because I’m the one who hates confrontation. I will avoid it at all cost.

Communication does not have to equal confrontation.

If these people truly love you, care about you, and value you, they’ll hear you out. They’ll try to meet you halfway.

And if they don’t, just remember this:

I put my work in–day in, day out!

Baby I deserve it–don’t let me down.

You used to make me feel like a diamond.

Now it don’t even seem like you’re tryin’…

So give me one good reason I should need you?

Kelly Clarkson, ‘Heat’

Fighter

How long do you argue with someone?

You’re right. They’re wrong. Classic scenario, right? How much time do you spend fussing with this person to prove the obvious–you’re right, and they’re wrong?

Had you asked me this question a few years ago, I would have looked you in the face and honestly replied, “As long as it takes!”

Awwwww, Baby Ashley was so…earnest.

Nowadays, I just don’t have the energy. And, to be frank, it’s just not worth my time.

2020 has shown me that life is too short to waste on things that just don’t matter. And unless you’re one of the cov-idiots who thinks this pandemic is fake, you probably realized that WE DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THE BULLSHIT.

Seriously. If it isn’t something that impacts my health, my family, my community, or my coins, I’ve decided I’m not fighting with you about it.

This is proving easier said than done.

Last week, a man went awf in my inbox. Just going on and on about why he he shouldn’t have to…he doesn’t have time…why is he required to…and so on. And I had a #ThrowbackMoment. Baby Ashley read that email and started putting together a three point presentation on why she was right and he was wrong.

But guess what Grown-Up Ashley did, y’all?!?

She sent a reply that was merely TWO SENTENCES. Those two sentences said everything that needed to be said. So I said my piece, and I went on about my day.

Say your piece, then move on. Don’t let anyone waste your time, your breath, or your life!