I was honored to be included in Refinery 29 ‘s piece, “What to Say in Life’s Most Difficult Situations.” They featured five troubling situations and offer words of wisdom on how to handle these sensitive situations. We all know that it is often a struggle to come up with the right words to say and just as tough to show support. My thoughts were included in the fifth situation, What to Do and Say When Someone You Know is in Grief. You can read the piece here .
Last month I went to Nairobi, Kenya with a small group of widows. We were connected with a charity organization that services widows and their children. We were given the opportunity to meet with the widows and visit their homes. I had the absolute joy of meeting Peninnah, a mother of three young children. Peninnah is one of those women who you would expect to be depressed and pessimistic, and frankly who could blame her? She lives in a slum, called Kibera, the largest slum many believe to be in Africa. At times it is estimated that nearly 1 million people live here. Peninnah doesn’t have running water, electricity, a bank account, or even access to even a bicycle. She spent part of her afternoon with me telling me about her daily life: how she waters down the food to get two meals out of it, cares for her infant, and how she makes necklaces (photographed below) to earn cash.
Peninnah explains the process necessary to make these necklaces. She uses discarded paper, measures and cuts it, then dyes it. Once the paper is dry, she rolls each strip of paper with a toothpick and then puts it together, like you would stringing beads on a necklace. I ask her how long it takes to make one necklace. She responds by telling me that she can make five a day, and has even taught other women in the group how to make the necklaces so that they too can earn a living.
This all seems rather hopeless to me. I think she’s living in a disaster zone, and I can’t believe that she is smiling and loving on her baby while telling me this. When I ask about how she accesses health care, she calmly explains that she has to save up money to obtain transportation to get to the NGO hospital whenever one of her children needs medical attention. She is a warm and even asks about my late husband. Our conversation comes to an end when she realizes the women are getting together to participate in a group activity. I tell Peninnah that I can hold her baby so that she can participate with the other women.
The next morning our group met the women, and I immediately saw Peninnah holding her baby. Upon sitting next to Peninnah, she opened her purse and gave me a bracelet. I am speechless. She was so grateful for my time in taking care of her baby that she’s giving me this bracelet as a token of gratitude. Full of love she said, “This is for you because you held my baby (so) I could be with the group.”
This mother who supports her family on less than a dollar a day, has found her way to gratitude. And once she has found it, she then decided to give with an open hand. Most humbling is knowing that the bracelet she gave me could have sold to earn a few shillings.
An open heart fosters gratitude, which in turn as Peninnah knows, produces joy. Gratitude despite any circumstances isn’t easy. And so every time I look at the bracelet Peninnah gave me I think of what this gift revealed: gratitude that knows no bounds leads to openheartedness and openhandedness.
Published in Huffingtion Post Healthy Living on 11/17/2014
“Be the change you wish to see in the world.” — Gandhi
Last month, I had the honor of attending the United Nations Association of New York Humanitarian Awards Dinner. The theme of the evening was Empowering Women: Promoting Peace and Progress. Lord Raj Loomba, CBE was honored for dedicating his life to doing just this — empowering women. More specifically Lord Loomba, CBE, has promoted the empowerment of widows and their children across the globe. As Founder and Chairman of the Loomba Foundation, he has personally taken on the plight of widows and their children by shining a light on their challenges and developing initiatives to support their needs.
I first met Lord Loomba, CBE, at his office in London, England. Lord Loomba is humble despite his vast accomplishments. In 2011, Forbes India presented him with an NRI Philanthropy award, and earlier this year Northampton University bestowed upon him an Honorary Fellowship. Lord Loomba is kind and generous. It was during this meeting that he asked if I would like to be his guest at the United Nations Humanitarian Awards Dinner where he was due to receive his lifetime achievement award.
We met a few weeks later at this dinner which also honored Mr. Stefan Persson and Dr. Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka. The room was quiet when Lord Loomba shared his own story. He was eloquent in speech and explained how he used his personal loss to transform an entire group of widows and their chidren across the globe. He witnessed his own mother’s grief and suffer with the status of “widow” after his father died from tuberculosis. He was just 10, but still remembers that his mother was blamed for his father’s death, and within hours of his death she was asked to remove her bindi. Equally as troubling was when his mother was asked to wear all white and was no longer able to dress in her colorful clothing. Essentially she was stripped of her dignity.
One of Lord Loomba’s goals is to restore a level of respect and dignity to all widows. His tireless determination knows only the boundaries that governments have established, and even there he worked to bring about change. Lord Loomba spent five years campaigning with the United Nations to have June 23 recognized as International Widows Day. This date was chosen because on this date in 1954 Lord Loomba’s father died from tuberculosis leaving his wife a widow and single mother of seven children.
The United Nations uses the Loomba Foundation’s report, titled “Invisible Forgotten Sufferers” published in 2010, as their handbook to understanding the plight of widows and their children. The publication says, “One of the main reasons why widows continue to be subjected to gross human rights violations is that although they number 245 million, there has been no comprehensive research or attempt to gather information on a global scale about their existence.” Often overlooked are widows for example who are living in Kenya, Rwanda or Uganda. The publication addresses the needs and challenges of these widows.
With the Foundation, Lord Loomba, CBE has created a number of initiatives, such the Punjab sewing machine project whereby helping 10k widows. This project has a tremendous reach; it helps 100,000 individuals. In London Lord Loomba, CBE told me that when you help a widow the “impact is tenfold. You empower economically and the widows are empowered socially.” When widows obtain a job or skill, not only do they support their children but often teach others the craft.
The foundation also recognizes the value of education. Lord Loomba said, “Rual India is hardest hit. There the widows are poor and undereducated.” In India alone, the Loomba Foundation has provided educational scholarships, for a minimum of five years or longer, to over 9,000 children of widows, and supported over 50,000 family members.
Equally as impressive are the number of notable individuals who have lent their support to the foundation. Lord Loomba has garnered the respect from political figures and celebrities, such as Cherie Blair, CBE, QC, His Excellency Ranjan Mathai, Sir Richard Branson, Yoko Ono, and Sir James Bevan KCMG.
There are vey few who have Lord Loomba’s spirit of generosity and passion for those who are first to be overlooked. He has embodied the change he wishes for the world to be.
To Learn More About The Loomba Foundation’s Punjab Sewing Machine Project, follow this link, theloombafoundation.org/helping-5000-widows-punjab-project-goes-live/
You can read Lord Loomba’s blog here theloombafoundation.org/blog/
Published in Huffintington Post Impact on 11/21/2014
Oprah Winfrey is on tour with her own version of a rockstar band that includes influential people she calls trailblazers. These trailblazers are: Dr. Deepak Chopra (select cities), Mark Nepo (select cities), Elizabeth Gilbert, Rob Bell, and Iyanla Vanzant. Her tour includes a two-day weekend called The Life You Want Weekend, complete with an interactive “O Town.” The “theme songs” of this tour are ones of courage, wisdom, clarity, gratitude, and unbounded positivity.
This tour has six remaining cities on their schedule, and I had the privilege of attending the one in Auburn Hill, Michigan. For hundreds of women in attendance, seeing Oprah was on their bucket list. Throughout the weekend, I heard dozens of woman say that hearing Oprah speak was a lifetime dream coming true.
Oprah was mesmerizing and brilliant. On Friday evening, when she took the stage there was silence. For two hours, she spoke with brutal honesty and humor, reflecting on her painful childhood, enormous career, and the people who molded her along the way. Oprah explained the conscious decision that she made to direct her television program away from rubbish and hate. She decided to use her valuable television platform for a greater good, and to help empower those seeking wisdom.
Each of the trailblazers took the on stage day two, and Oprah spoke throughout it. They shared their personal stories, and how they followed their passion. This wasn’t a superficial workshop. All the speakers acknowledged that life is messy and cluttered. Unplanned and unwanted things occur because this is a part of life, but learning how to transform these things is crucial. If you are stuck and frustrated, it may be because you’re looking for an easy out. Transformation takes hard work, and you are the only one that can do this work.
Five Things I Learned From The Life You Want Weekend :
1. Everyone wants to know that they matter. One’s status in society doesn’t make them immune to this. Oprah said that after an interview was taped, a criminal and very famous people would often wonder the same thing. They wanted to know if their interview was okay. What they really wanted to know Oprah said is, “Did you hear what I said?” Everyone wants their voice to be heard and acknowledged.
2. The question is just as important as the answer. Oprah strongly encouraged you to ask yourself the right questions. These aren’t questions of self-pity or despair. Instead she encouraged the audience to ask themselves these types of questions: How do I give to myself and others? How do I nourish myself? How do I discover my passion? What do I know for sure? It is in the quest, that you develop a sense of what matters. She taught her audience to listen to everything, even the things that are difficult. These things, she contends, bring you information, and what you do with that information can determine your future. If you chose to deny and rationalize what you hear, the situation can fester and grow, until it forces you to pay attention.
3. Oprah is not detached. Quite the opposite was true. She was deeply aware of the pulse of the audience. At one point, while one of the trailblazer speakers was talking, Oprah noticed that a female audience member sitting next to Gayle King was tearful. Oprah was several feet away from this woman. Oprah signaled a male staff, and asked him to bring this woman some tissue. The woman was touched mouthed the words, “thank you” to Oprah. She nodded back. Perhaps no one else noticed this moment, but I did.
4. Each person in attendance could learn something valuable. Each participant was given a beautiful workbook, and Oprah guided us through each exercise. She spoke of her own career goals, and the things that she continues to work on. All of us are yanked down at one time or another by the issues of life. This workbook gives you the opportunity to create a “reset” plan for your life.
5. Oprah encourages everyone to develop a sense of clarity, so that on your own you can complete this sentence — what I know for sure is. Personally, what I know for sure is that with gratitude you will glow with unbounded positivity. Gratitude is the answer to nearly every question, and with unbounded positivity all things are possible.
This was orignially published in the Huffington Post on 9/16/14
Follow Kristin Meekhof on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Kristinmeekhof
A little over a year ago, I decided to pursue a freelance writing career. I started to write a book and wanted to expand my reach by writing blogs for The Huffington Post and the like. I continue to maintain my full time job as a clinical social worker, and write during my evenings and weekends. It is nice in the sense, that I don’t feel pressure to write all the time. However, there are moments, I feel pressure to leave my social work job and give everything I have to my writing career. Then logic weighs in to remind me that I need a steady paycheck and health insurance. In the past year, I’ve had the good fortune of meeting some very lovely people, even famous ones. At times, I feel like I am in an ultra-marathon, with no clear finish line. I stop here and there to take breaks, refuel, share my joys and woes, but I continue. It is surprising who along the way continues to cheer me on and who, to my disappointment departed from my cheering section. Some of the departures were unexpected. They came after I refused to compromise my integrity and do professional favors or when I simply didn’t feel endorsing their child’s work was the right thing to do. I am new to this type of “ultra-marathon” within the publishing industry.
I’ve learned many lessons by trial and error, and I’ve discovered that growth makes you vulnerable. This sounds obvious, but I was surprised that the growing pains I’ve experienced often came as a result of being raw and open. Early on, I knew virtually no one within the business, and had very little guidance. I sought out others who I thought could provide direction. I didn’t need handholding 24/7, but checking in to bounce off ideas turned into uncomfortable conversations. I sensed jealously on their part, and later it was often confirmed. I know what you are thinking, that is their issue, not mine, but still it caused deep disappointment. I began to withdraw and follow my gut and pursue whatever opportunities I sensed were right. It ended up paying off. Long story short, I was personally introduced to Dr. Deepak Chopra. This was my version of a “runner’s high.” He is just as genuine and authentic as appears in his work.
Weeks later, after my meeting with Dr. Chopra, I had a series of conversations with another very successful business man. I met this individual through a writing assignment, which I did free of charge. Others criticized me for working for free, for cheapening “my craft,” and their comments gave me pause. Yet, something deep inside me told me it was the right thing to do. I was curious about the subject matter and pursued it. It ended up that I was introduced to this wildly successful and gentle soul. His guidance and friendship is priceless. During our conversations, I shared with him some of my earlier highs and lows. I knew he understood. He looked straight at me and said with all seriousness, “You should only be around people who lift you up and only let a few people into your inner (professional) circle.”
I knew that I needed to recheck my approach. My attitude towards my professional race so to speak mattered. This wasn’t anyone else’s ‘race,’ but mine. In many ways we all have our own races. We each have a goal line, a finish line that we strive to cross. Here are a few lessons I’ve learned from journey:
1. Growth can make you vulnerable both emotionally and financially. People you know will offer you suggestions which in turn benefits them, and disguise it as help. This sounds severe, but I wish someone had told me. Don’t get me wrong, there are growth spurts which are exciting and helpful.
2. Re-examine your game plan. You may feel that your plan is solid and able to withstand the test of time, but as new challenges arise, you may need to readjust things. I’ve learned to have Plan B formulated as I am pursing Plan A. This helps because it won’t leave you feeling disorganized when things seem to fall apart.
3. Be aware of social poachers. Before this may have been someone that you invited to the party and next thing you know your babysitter is at their home every Saturday evening. The risks at this level were minimal. However, when it comes to your career, social poachers can do damage. They will scan your network, zone in on who they want to target and go after it. They may be even so slick as to have you introduce them to their target. You won’t know what happened until after the fact, and this will leave you feeling emotionally drained.
4. Be careful who you listen to especially if they can benefit from you in any financial aspect. We all have blind spots and when money is involved. We may think that person may be giving you genuine advice. However, these nuggets of wisdom can be tainted with dollar signs.
5. Don’t take things personally. This is very difficult for me at times because I want to believe that everyone has my best interest at hear,t and I want to believe their comments are constructive criticism. People will judge you and offer unsolicited advice. Follow your gut.
6. You are your own cheerleader. People often ask, “What is your brand — your label?” You are the best to decide this. It is you who is running this race. It is you who is having to stop, readjust, make decisions on the spot. You know your body, your brand the best. Only run each mile at a time. In other words, don’t try to live tomorrow today. “Listen to your body” is a phrase athletes are familiar with and it means that only you truly know when it it time to rest. Remember, rest prevents injuries.
7. Gratitude is the answer to nearly every question. I haven’t had a situation yet where I couldn’t apply gratitude. It is the great equalizer of the heart. It allows you remember what matters.
I’m running on, literally and figuratively. Like all runners those who continue to work on their core strength, they do the best. I’m pressing on and looking at this ultra-marathon as a gift. I’m in the best race of my life. I’m not competing with anyone but myself, and I’m even learning to dance along the way.
You can also read this story on The Huffington Post
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Women need mentors. We all need that loving cheerleader saying, “Don’t give up. Stay the course.” More importantly, we need someone who offers wisdom and insight. This goes beyond the Facebook thumbs up you receive when you announce a recent accomplishment. Mentors provide guideposts and their own stories offer hope and inspiration. Yes, instruction books offer valuable facts, often provide detailed steps on how to complete a challenging task, but nothing can top an in-depth, no nonsense conversation. The mentor is someone you can have a frank conversation with, and your tough questions are met with honest answers. The mentor’s only agenda is to help you reach your full potential.
Mentors know what is close to your heart. They may be a someone with the title “coach” or they can have a less formal role. I found my mentors when I least expected it. In January 2012, like thousands of other Americans, I was trying to figure out a plan to achieve my New Year’s Day goal: run my first marathon. Let me preface this by saying I’m not a natural athlete. In elementary school gym class, when students were picking others to be on their team, I was the last one chosen. Then in high school, the assistant junior varsity track coach made it clear to the other students that I was “slow.” In other words, running a marathon was a stretch.
After hearing about my goal, a friend suggested I join the 501 Novi, MI running group. Reluctant yet wiling to try anything to help reach my goal, I emailed the coach. Within minutes, Coach Suzi replied. Three days later, on a 12 degree Michigan winter morning, I was at a metro park meeting other runners. Before my first group run, I heard other runners talk about training for Boston (Marathon), running multiple times a week, and I felt then that I was out of my league. Recognizing that I was new to the group, Coach Doug guided myself and another new group runner through the snowy run. While running, he proudly announced that he was turning 70 next month and set various national race records. At this point, the only record I was setting was running in the winter.
The marathon regimen was intense. By July, I completed my first 20 mile run and the group cheered. This was a major training milestone. In late August, I was running over 50 miles a week. That month, I was injured. I could hardly walk and the panic set in. I sought three different medical opinions, and each expert had the same diagnosis: hip / groin injury. I was crushed. Sure, it wasn’t the end of my world, but not running a month before a marathon shook my confidence.
Immediately, Coach Suzi and others without prompting emailed me offering words of encouragement. They shared their own injury stories. My new focus was to complete the 26.2 miles without getting injured. On that October marathon Sunday, two miles from the finish line, I thought I was near death. I looked around and saw others walking. I seriously thought about doing the same until I heard my two friends and Coach Suzi yell my name. Surprisingly, they were standing there waiting to run me in. Just as I was trying to say “thank you,” I heard Coach Suzi yell, “you’re not slowing down here.” The three of them ran with me until I could see the finish line. I’ll never forget that moment when I conquered that marathon.
While you may not be running a literal marathon and aren’t searching for a “running” mentor, note that a mentor can also guide you in the right professional direction. Women tend to become emotionally involved when rejection occurs, wondering, Why don’t they like me? What did I do wrong? Women assume they made a big mistake, then fear and anxiety rises. These emotions can get in the way of rational thoughts. A mentor can bring you back to practical thinking. When you face an obstacle, the mentor provides an alternate plan to help you still reach the same goal.
Currently, I’m in uncharted professional territory. I’m cowriting my first book while learning firsthand how the writing world meets the business world. These are two worlds I’m completely foreign to. Lack of experience in both of these areas leads to a lack of confidence, and it shows. Recently, I was visiting with a lovely woman, who knew nothing about me, and my aunt, who introduced me by saying this, “This is my niece Kristin. She is writing her first book and writes for the Huffington Post.” The woman asked me about it and I felt my voice begin to go softer. She looked right at me and said, “You have to self-promote. It’s not about ego here. Tell me everything”.
This invitation led to a deep discussion about women in business. Recently, she started her own business and said, “women wear a lot of different shoes, literally, but we need help.”. She went on to talk being stretched in different directions, and feeling the growing pains of a new business. She underscored the importance of asking for what you want.
I am fortunate to have a mentor who also believes you should ask for what you want. She is best selling author Laura Munson. Over the past two months, we bonded over a few phone conversations, and several emails about the process of writing and publishing. I kept thinking, Why is she being so kind to me? I can’t do a thing for her.
Laura understands that my co-author, psychologist James Windell, and I took on the difficult task of transforming the way widows respond to grief. Part of the book research involves my co-author and I talking with widows who lost their husbands to difficult circumstances, and writing about how they overcame this tragic loss. Although in many ways, these are stories of inspirartion, I told Laura more than once, that I struggled with hearing about a death caused by suicide or substance abuse. Laura continues to encourage me to write about the stories that matter.
Eventually, I was led to a book agent. Last week, when the book proposal got rejected, I took it personally. She reassured me that there are plenty of wonderful agents. Her words of wisdom were, “Take heart. Believe in yourself.”
Within two days of these words, an agent contacted James and I. While nothing is set in stone with an agent, I know this much is certain, mentors all carry that same message, “Take heart. Believe in yourself.”
You can also read this article on The Huffington Post
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