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Branded

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A few weeks ago I squeezed in attending a workshop for a handful of people within my organization selected to be a part of an inaugural protégé/mentoring program.  The workshop was titled “How to Brand Yourself” – – well it probably wasn’t really called that because that conjures up images of a branding iron and either horses or slaves, so I’m going to guess that they called it something else, but you get my meaning.  I arrived about 30 minutes late to the virtual workshop but what I caught was really very good. I wrote down on one of the hundreds of post-it notes that are scattered all over my dorm/office a challenge from the presenter … Fill in the blanks: “I want to be known for being ____ so that I can deliver _____ to _____.”  He dared us to complete that sentence as we attempted to discover our personal brand.  Moreover, he said, we could use it in both our professional and personal lives.

It’s been over 4 weeks since I attended that workshop and I find myself at times, looking for that scrap of paper so that I make sure I don’t forget to fill in those blanks.  You see, I really want to fill in the blanks.  It feels like something that not only I should do, but that I really need to do.

For the past 15 months, I have spent so much time being an over achieving employee, a bewildered student, a so-so mom, an elderly care-giver and let us not forget a jilted ex-lover that branding myself in a good light has been non-existent.  Week after week, month after month has gone by and I think to myself that I am grateful because my life is better than most.  But in my heart I feel like very little to rejoice over and I wonder what happened to my joy?  I believe I had it at one time, at least I think I did.

Since the time of Aristotle (throwback to last semesters’ Ethics course – – yikes), man has been asking the question that I now ponder of myself, why are we here, what’s the meaning of life, what’s my brand statement. Well maybe the great thinkers of all time weren’t quite thinking about the latter, but I believe they are all loosely tied to one another.  One day soon (I anxiously await), I will finish this undergraduate degree and I will put it behind me.  One day even sooner (sadly), I will stop having to baby my 17 year old.  She will be making grown up decisions on her own.  Sure, she will always need her mother, but not in the same way as today.  And someday soon (please God, sooner rather than later) I will stop being a Sourcing Manager for this nightmare of a position and I will advance to other work.  When all these things, that are so much a part of me now, wrap up, what will I look back on and say? Will I have found joy throughout the journey, so that when they come to an end I will say it was all worth it and I’m a better person because of it?  About seven years ago I dated a man who I believe was the one true love of my life. I remember saying to him, in his cozy condo, over large glasses of wine and even larger plates of pasta, “No matter what happens, no matter if this ends terribly, I will never regret one moment I spent with you. This was the best feeling I have ever had, exactly what I had always dreamed of, and I’ll never ever be sad it happened”.  I have dated a lot of men before and after him, and I’ve never said or even thought it with any other.

Makes me wonder, what else I feel that way about.  Being a mom? Of course, no brainer, my daughter is the most amazing person and the sole reason I haven’t tossed in the towel years ago.  Returning to school?  Yes, despite how much I hate the homework, and the expense and the juvenile classmates, I will never regret the decision to come back to college and finish my degree.  My job? Yes, even that.  Despite how much I absolutely hate pest control, office politics, and multi-client RFP’s, I will never regret the path that I took to get this role because I wouldn’t have advanced to this level without it.

I think the joy is there, underneath the layers of self-doubt and sadness I often feel, it’s there I just have to dig for it a little deeper some days, some months.  I have to be careful not to let my joy get over shadowed by the perils of a life unbranded.  So in that respect, I took my first stab tonight at my branding statements.  I think they may need a little tweaking and massaging here or there, but it’s a start. Let me know how you do with yours….

Professionally, I want to be known for being highly competent and trustworthy so that I can deliver positive, common sense results to people who trust and depend on me.

Personally, I want to be known for being worthy so that I can deliver joy and happiness to special people (and one day a special man) who loves me.

How Ugly The N-word Can Be

August 26th was the first day of my fall semester class of Ethics and frankly it hasn’t been all that eventful.  The reality is college is pretty monotonous.  You search for classes on-line, you register for class, you pay for class (you cry), you take class, you hate your annoying classmates, you silently judge your professors, you study (or not), you take (and hopefully) pass exams, then you finish class, get your grade and you start all over again. The point of chronicling this journey isn’t to document the minutiae of each course I take, but rather to keep me energized to keep trudging through the minutiae by relating it to what’s happening in my life and in turn perhaps motivate some other student along the way.

Philosophy 1104: Philosophy and Social Ethics is a course designed, it feels, to thoroughly confuse me. Once we learn about a particular philosopher’s argument about morality we then quickly learn why that same philosophy is riddled with flaws and inconsistences.  It seems that the more mankind has explored the questions of “why are we here” and “what are we supposed to do with this life”, the more mankind has discovered that they have no real idea.  What does it mean to be moral? That appears to be the question that everyone from Plato, to Socrates, to Mills and Freud have tackled. Centuries later, their pontifications provide the backbone of modern day study which are applauded as ground breaking hundreds of years after their deaths.  What a legacy! In today’s day and age people post funny videos of their cats on YouTube to secure their long term legacy. Sad.

My professor, a very young, laid back Philosophy major studying for his doctorate, paints dozens of scenarios each Monday and Wednesday night in which our class explores ethical dilemmas.  So far we haven’t addressed the ethics of friendship but I find it easily applicable to the cases we have explored. Friendship is a funny thing, it requires something that other institutions like marriage, parenting, and family, don’t – – it requires you to stay in it because you want to, not because you have to.  With adult friendships you CAN walk away without much baggage. True it can be at times painful to end a friendship, but there isn’t a social stigma in breaking up with your friends the same way there is with divorcing your spouse, putting your kids up for adoption, or institutionalizing a family member. Friendship exists because it’s important to both parties in the friendship, not necessarily to anyone else or to the larger society.  If you don’t like something a friend does, if it feels wrong, or not quite right, or downright crappy then you have the option to forgive and forget or end the friendship.  You may lose other friends in choosing the latter option, but generally speaking, the choice is yours with minor long-lasting repercussions. Few people spend multiple years as adults in friendships that give them little to no positive return.  Simply put, if your friend’s not nice to you, then eventually you cut them loose, you move on.

In my first 8 weeks of Ethics, I have discovered that at the core of most philosophical teachings is getting to the root of what makes humans act and which actions are right and which actions are wrong.  It’s a fascinating discussion because in my mind, up to this point, what is wrong and right is everyone’s individual opinion.  If you think it’s wrong to jaywalk and so you never cross the street without the traffic light being green, then that’s what you hold important.  If your best friend crosses on the red, are they wrong? Or because it doesn’t matter to them, are they right and you’re wrong? Ah, the twists and turns of philosophical debate.  But jaywalking is a pretty lackluster example.  The scenario gets more challenging when we start talking about much more weighty topics such as abortion, gay rights, veganism, and corporal punishment — just to name a few. And even juicier still when it comes to that precarious state we call friendship. At what point do differing opinions of what is appropriate behavior for a friend become worthy of an “ethical” battle ground?

When I was in the third grade, my teacher, whom I adored at the time, Mrs. Stenhouse, returned my English assignment to me full of red ink.  She had circled the word “nice” a dozen times.  She pulled me aside and said, “You’re a good writer, but you have to stop using the word “nice”. There are thousands of words that can be used in its place, STOP using the word nice.  It’s overused and over done.” Clearly it was a hot button word for Mrs. Stenhouse, and it instantly became a hot button word for me. From that day on I tried very hard never to use “nice” to describe people in written or in spoken word.  It was a generic, all-encompassing word that had no backbone or meat behind it; it was for all intents and purposes the generic version of any number of better adjectives that would more aptly describe a person, place or thing. Impressive choices such as, winsome, copacetic, ingratiating, simpatico and so on and so on – – anything but that hateful N-word.   

Lately, however, I’ve been wondering if perhaps I have given “nice” a bad rap. Perhaps when I disowned it from my vocabulary, I somehow disowned it as a requirement for the basics of how people are supposed to treat me and how I should treat them.  Maybe what’s right about the word “nice” that I’ve let slip away, is that it’s just what Mrs. Stenhouse condemned it as — a very simple, basic way of describing the act of just being good and kind.  Perhaps, in fine literature that is a curse, but in relationships, it should be a fundamental cornerstone.  If you can’t expect your friends to be nice to you, then do any of the other adjectives that might describe the relationship even matter?

Roughly every two weeks, I buy myself a bouquet of fresh flowers for my kitchen table.  It’s a tradition I started when my boyfriend left me a year ago.  When I walk in my house, it’s the first thing I see as I enter and it makes me smile each and every time.  Yes, you guessed it; it’s a Nice feeling to see them.  I want to have that kind of reaction on the friends in my life and I want them to be that for me. I don’t think it’s too much to ask, I don’t think it needs any fancier word or description.

I think it would be great if we all just were nice to one another.

Sorry, Mrs. Stenhouse, Sorry Plato – – it may not be the most elegant prose or the most poignant philosophical musing, but that’s just how I feel.

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Kalia Kornegay

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