I’d like to start off by asking a quick question. Can anyone tell the difference between these three pictures?
The one on the left is my official Department of Defense photo. That’s Ms. Ericka Reynolds, Assistant Deputy Director of the Cyber and Strategic Enabling Directorate. Ms. Reynolds is a professional and has received numerous awards for her service with the Department of Defense. She’s ran major programs within the Pentagon to include a 7 billion dollar aircraft flying program, erected new programs from nothing but a thought in her leadership’s mind, and was selected for a prestigious fellowship in California three years ago. So, she pretty cool, right?
Now, how about the picture on the left? Who is she?
She is Ericka, the writer. Ericka has been writing the majority of her life and technically published her first book when she was 7. How you ask? She came home from school one day, went in her room and proceeded to write and illustrate a book. The next day, she took it to school, and showed it to her teacher. Her teacher liked it so much tshe help her laminate it and they bond it together with yarn. Later that day, her teacher read the book to the class and placed the book in the reading corner of the classroom.
Fortunately, thanks to Dr. Taylor, I now have a fabulous illustrator, Ms. Brittany Adams who is a graduate of Hampton University. My work with Brittany has produced my first work in 38 years, The Adventures of Cleo and Sophie: Trip to the Moon and I am happy to announce I dropped of my novel for review with the Pentagon a few weeks ago for a security review so Ericka, the writer is doing great!
Now, for the picture in the middle, this is who I was for years. Conflicted by my understanding I was a writer and my fear of pursuing the dream in my heart.
I want to talk to you today about avoiding a life a self-imprisonment. And I want to share a brief story with you first.
I am about to take the Hemings tour at Monticello. On the bus ride up to the house I overhear this conversation between a mother and her daughter who is around 10 years old:
Mother: "You know Thomas Jefferson didn't free all of his slaves when he died."
Daughter: "I'm sure there was a good reason."
Mother: "Maybe they didn't want to be free.
Daughter: "That seems unlikely."
Me thinking: "This is going to be a long day."
But as I exited the bus it hit me. Maybe they didn't want to be free. Not because freedom wasn't desired but freedom was an unknown.
Heck, I slow down my writing sometimes which I've accepted as fear of the unknown. Not to sound vain but I know my writing will take me out of my familiar life of being a federal employee and catapult me into a great world but yet so unknown that it scares the crap out of me.
So while I believe there are other reasons why Jefferson didn't free his salves when he died; likely to do with they were part of his children's inheritance and it was known he was in debt and those slaves were sold to settle part of that debt. And most certainly he didn't take a poll to see if they would have liked to have been freed.
But I digress. This is about fear. It's about seeing what lies ahead and not stepping forward into your vision. But, imagine if you were atop a mountain looking out at 40 miles of beautiful landscape. This is what the slaves at Monticello would have seen. But, should you invasion a life beyond that mountain top, should you dare to reach out to have a life beyond your current existence you would be hunted down and beaten to near death. You are trapped, you are enslaved.
How though does this differ from today? You are young, you are black, you are stopped by a police officer. You have a clear vision of what lies ahead; your home, your family, your future but you are trapped. Should you move - be it literally or verbally you too will be beaten to near death or shot dead. You are enslaved. You are 200 plus years past the existence of slavery in this country and yet you must watch every move; must not appear to step out of line; must not appear to envision a better life.
This may be true when it comes to police violence of today but where we can be completely free, are we? Do we choose the path that is aligned with our heart’s desire or the one that appears to make more money or make our family happy? Do we free ourselves to dream, to embrace our calling -that thing we love to do, are gifted, talented at?
For me the answer was for many years, no. I existed on my own plantation, my own self-imposed prison and called it Shawshank like the movie the Shawshank Redemption. The rest of the world calls it the Pentagon.
I believe we are all sent to this earth with a purpose and a dream. Sometimes we know it as early as 7 or younger and sometimes it comes to us later in life.
I do believe there are no wrong choices though even if you don’t step out and immediately pursue your dream. I believe the Universe takes us on a journey and one way or another we will find our way back to our heart’s desire. And, sometimes we will be ready and sometimes we have to travel down a few different paths.
For me it took years. 41 years to be exact. I Majored in accounting and received an Masters of Business Administration not once giving any serious thought to majoring in English although many of my professors tried to encourage me do so and my English professors loved my work and would often read my papers to the class. However, the most I did was work in the English lab as a tutor in college.
Majoring in Accounting was mainly due to not understanding what I could do with an English degree. I didn’t ask nor did I do any research on my own to discover the many avenues I could have taken (editor at a publishing house, grant writer, college professor).
After college my desire to write was still with me and throughout the years, I would write and stop, take writing classes and stop, go to writing conferences, receive great positive feedback - even asked to submit my work to a few literary agents and would put the breaks on. I wasn’t ready to embrace the dream God placed in my heart. But why? For me it was a few reasons:
1. Lacking the self confidence and taking the easy route – while accounting may not seem like an easy route, it was for me. I was sure to get a good job, sure to please my parents who grew up in the south picking cotton who wanted to have a daughter go to college and become someone – though I never asked them their opinion about majoring in English.
2. Not educating myself on what I could do as an English major. Again not knowing what I could do resulted in me thinking I would receive my parents disapproval.
3. Not understanding that a dream given to you by God never dies and He always gives you what you need to achieve the desires of your heart. Be it money, time, meeting the right people, etc. There is nothing impossible when you have faith in what you were called to do and move out accordingly.
I’ve comprised what we in the Air Force refer to a Lessons Learned - things I’ve learned over the years that I would like to share with you in hopes to inspire you to avoid self-imprisonment.
Things to consider to keep from self-imprisoning oneself:
- Stop any worry fear or doubt and trust what’s in your gut. Your instinct is never wrong. If there’s a dream in your heart, it’s true and meant to see the light of day!
- Our calling is always to make this world better.
- Never settle. Work if you must to support yourself but never rest for in a place that’s not meant to be your home. The jobs are okay and they help you pay your bills and live your life just don’t settle into them if it’s not truly your heart's desire.
- Don’t live a life so materialistically rich you can’t step away from it when you’re ready to pursue something new. The freer are you are from debt and material possessions the easier it will be to pursue what you love and one day you will have all those things but you will acquire them doing the work that you were meant to do.
- Don’t live up to anyone’s expectations but your own. Live your life for you and no one else. Living someone else’s dreams will never yield satisfaction.
- No one is standing in your way - you have the freedom to dream and achieve
- Never settle.
- See where your dream can take you. Do the research.
- Whatever path you take will yield goodness and many lessons to be learned but you will always circle back to what’s in your heart -so how cool would it be to embrace your calling sooner vs later?
- Don’t worry about can you do it. Know that if you have the dream it’s meant to be and all things will align/fall into place the right people the right timing!
- Your life is limitless!