You May Say I’m A Dreamer

I have some big dreams and visions. And I’m not the only one. There are lots of us who want to do big things with our lives. We want to make our lives count for something. Many of us try to accomplish big things, but because we only have our piece of the puzzle, we fall short. But when we come together, we’re stronger and better able to do big things.

I have a dream to see kids who are growing up in less than the best of circumstances to be connected with churches in communities throughout the country. I can envision kids who have experienced abandonment, abuse, neglect, poverty, or homelessness (or all of the above) connected with the good people in local churches who will look them in the eyes and see the value they don’t see in themselves.

I envision these kids, like the one I used to be, learning to mine the lessons out of all they’ve been through, learning work ethic and character building, and learning how to have healthy relationships with good people. Having been abandoned, neglected, abused, hungry, and homeless in my life, I am confident that what I envision would be prevention of homelessness, drug use, criminal activity, and trafficking.

Kids who feel valued and cared for are less likely to feel pain that leads to self medicating. The sense of belonging they would feel in a church family would make them far less likely to fall for the lure of a trafficker. And kids who learn relationship skills, work ethic, and good character in the safe environment of people who will gently teach rather than judge them are far more likely to find and keep a good job that will help them become responsible, self-reliant adults.

That’s why I’ve invested the last two years creating the YOUR REAL SUCCESS curriculum. The curriculum is designed to help foster kids and at risk youth learn the valuable lessons that will make them employable as they move toward independence. The curriculum is designed to be facilitated in churches in communities across America. It begins with a full day immersion program where kids learn their individual strengths, talents, and abilities, and begin to see themselves as the unique and awesome people they are. They leave the day with a Life Assignment plan, complete with goals, timeline for fulfillment, and connections with healthy people who want to help them achieve success.

That first day is followed by nine two-hour sessions held at the church one Saturday morning every month. In each of those sessions there’s guidance and accountability for execution of each participant’s Life Assignment plan, a lesson that builds on the founda- tion already laid, and the priceless camaraderie of all participants.

To my point of each of us having only one piece of the puzzle, I created the core materials, Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.01.45 AMbut I’m not a teacher. I have no training in creating engaging, impactful curriculum. I want to see the emotional wounds of the trauma kids have experienced, healed, but I am a business person, not a mental health professional.

It’s expensive to create and print materials for a million kids and volunteers, but I have no clue how to get funding. But I have faith that I’m on the right track, and that others who have a similar dream and vision and who have the other necessary pieces to the puzzle will meet me on the way, so I keep moving forward.

Dr. Karen Bergstrom, Family Psychologist and Executive Director of Safe Families, Western States, has come alongside to help me make sure that volunteers understand trauma informed care before interacting with kids.

Dr. Sandie Morgan, RN, Ph.D., and director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice shares my dream of preventing trafficking by equipping vulnerable kids to avoid the “pull factors” that result in a life of slavery.

Mari Parlade, attorney and former judge is the Manager of Appeals, Records, Contracts, Fatalities, Litigation, Legislation, Community Partnerships & Engagement for Clark County Nevada’s Department of Family Services. In her work as a family law judge and lifelong child advocate, Mari has seen the tragedy of kids who didn’t have the benefit of a program like the one I’m advocating for, and who consequently live lives of incarceration, drug addiction, homelessness, and other desperate circumstances. Mari is committed to collaborating to do all we can together to help kids in Clark County and across the country to create good lives for themselves.

I’m grateful for the people and organizations that share the dream of kids who’ve had a rough childhood becoming the strong, resilient, resourceful people we believe they can be. Now, we need to figure out how to make the dream a reality in the lives of kids who desperately need our help. If you share the dream, please consider what puzzle piece you might bring, and contact me at [email protected] I look forward to hearing from you.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.12 AMRhonda Sciortino, author of Succeed Because of What You’ve Been Through, is the National Child Welfare Specialist for Markel Insurance Company. Rhonda is a foster alum who chairs the Successful Survivors Foundation and serves as a spokesperson for Foster Care Alumni of America.

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 8.02.01 AMDr. Sandie Morgan, Ph.D., is Director of Vanguard University’s Global Center for Women and Justice, overseeing the Women’s Studies Minor, as well as teaching Family Violence and Human Trafficking and produc- ing the Ending Human Trafficking Podcast. Sandie’s background as a Pediatric Nurse brought her into contact with her first victim of Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children. She is committed to equipping our communities to be a safer place for vulnerable youth.

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Do you know how to attract awesome people into your life?

Most people don’t know what specifically contributes to having a great life, so they carry around aspects of awesomeness and aren’t even aware of it. They don’t act like the awesome people they truly are and the confident people they could be. Consequently, they miss out on the opportunity to live a great life and to enjoy all that comes along with it.

Some people go throughScreen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.46.57 PM life with a chip (or a cement block) on their shoulders, eaten up by feelings of envy toward others who they think got the advantages that were not afforded to them. They feel like they were dealt a bad hand at the game of life; like they’re owed restitution by someone, somehow, but they go through life never quite able to figure out how and where to collect.

Those poor souls with the chips on their shoulders wish they’d been born into a loving family, or that Dad hadn’t left, or that Mom hadn’t lost her job. They wish they had gotten a better education, or that they’d had it as good as those kids who appeared to have all the advantages they didn’t have. They wish…they wish…they wish…but none of those wishes will ever change their present reality. No one can go back in time and choose a different family through whichScreen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.47.08 PM to enter into life. No one can change where they grew up, what happened, or what they didn’t get.

The good news is that awesomeness is not a prize awarded at birth to only a select few, never to be attained by anyone else. Awesomeness is attainable by each of us. Every one of us can embark immediately on a journey toward our own awesome lifestyle. It’s not complicated. But it does require a commitment to a shift in our attitudes and thoughts.

Each of us is able to identify those things that make us awesome. We can develop each characteristic of awesomeness by doing every step in this book until one day we realize that we’ve become who we want to be, and that we’re living the life we want to live. Somewhere along our journey we can brush the chips off our shoulders and see ourselves in a whole new light as the awesome people we are—the awesome people we were always meant to be!

When that happens, no longer are we the ones left unchosen for the team. No longer must we stand at the sidelines like spectators, watching others play the game of life. No longer must we sit at home while others advance to greater levels of success.Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.47.17 PM

The new book, How To Get To AWESOME, identifies the 10 key characteristics that make people awesome. You will see yourself as you read the characteristics and descriptions of awesomeness. You’ll see that you’ve had awesomeness inside all along, and you’ll likely see areas that you can work on to become even more awesome!

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.47.27 PMAlong with each of the 10 characteristics of awesomeness, you will find practical guidance for developing those characteristics and for applying them in every area of your life. This advice is broken down into 10 steps that will help you develop, strengthen, and hone each invaluable characteristic.

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.57.17 PM

Every one of us has a very special package of skills, talents, abilities, and characteristics that is unique in all the world. Once we arrive at an understanding of our awesomeness, we’re able to get along with others better than ever before. Why? Because we’re able to confidently communicate who we are, what we care about, and what makes us awesome. And, importantly, we’re able to recognize and celebrate the awesomeness of others. This is the basis for collaboration and collective impact because it eliminates the need for competition among colleagues because people who are confident in themselves know that when awesome people join together, each person’s unique package of awesomeness beautifully fills the weak places of the other, allowing the two to accomplish
more than either could on his or her own.

Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.47.42 PMAwesome people don’t feel badly about what they don’t do well because their focus is on their awesomeness, rather than on their perceived weaknesses. No longer do they envy the awesomeness of others because they know that each person’s special package of unique awesomeness is theirs and theirs alone. Awesome people know that each one of us is truly in a category of our own, not better or worse than anyone else, but unique and valuable, each in our own uniquely awesome way. Consequently, awesome people attract other awesome people like steel attracts magnets!Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.47.50 PM

How to Get To AWESOME will help everyone who does the steps to embark on their journey to the destination to their own uniquely AWESOME life!

 

 

 

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of the new book Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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Never Show Weakness

For over 25 years, I’ve been frustrated because my husband doesn’t help me carry the groceries in from the car. I’ve stewed about having to be the one who remembers what we need, drives to the store, deals with traffic, walks up and down the aisles (often in heels), and buys the groceries. I’ve concluded that THE LEAST he could do would be to come out and help me carry in the many heavy bags. SURELY I can get an “amen” from my girlfriends! 

Before you decide that Nick is an ogre, let me quickly add that never once have I actually asked him to help me.  I have, on the other hand, assumed that he should know when I pull into the garage that I may have a vehicle full of groceries. Furthermore, in addition to clairvoyance, I’ve simmered about him not immediately dropping whatever he’s doing to run out to the garage to do whatever heavy lifting may be necessary while thanking me profusely for keeping our house fully stocked, and thus a welcoming home.

It occurred to me recently, as I carried in literally 15 bags of groceries, my handbag, and a half-empty water bottle—all in one trip mind you—that if I were to actually ASK Nick to help me, he would gladly do so. The problem, it turns out, is me.

In my crazy childhood, I learned early on that it was dangerous to show weakness. I deduced that when you ask for help, you’ve tipped your hand to a vulnerability that can later be exploited. Consequently, I’ve gone hungry rather than ask anyone to share their food. I’ve walked rather than ask for a ride. And I’ve stayed home rather than ask to borrow something to wear to the party.

As I’ve grown older, and hopefully wiser, I’ve realized that I am who I am because of the awesome people in my life who saw right through my tough exterior, knew I didn’t have the resources, the clothes, or the self confidence, and stepped in without being asked.  I’ve been asked to stay for dinner, “we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” I’ve been told, in no uncertain terms, “you’re going with me, whether you liked it or not!” And, Screen Shot 2016-12-21 at 2.24.19 PM“please make use of this outfit so I won’t feel so bad about having it hanging unused in my closet.” I’m grateful for you in my life. (You know who you are!)

Because I’ve finally learned how to ask for help, I may actually be able to fulfill my life’s purpose of helping others mine the lessons from their pain, and use those lessons to create their own truly, uniquely successful lives. I know now that I cannot fulfill what I call my Life Assignment by myself, because it is much bigger than anything I’m capable of doing, which is to help millions of people to turn their adversity into their advantage and thereby succeed not despite, but specifically because of, what they’ve been through.

I have lived more life than I have left, and the clock is ticking. There are so many skills and talents that I simply don’t have and never will, like marketing, logistics, and strategic messaging, that are necessary to the success of my life purpose. The good news is that there are geniuses among us who do know how to do those things brilliantly. My hope is to find and connect with those awesome people, and collectively fulfill all our Life Assignments. I’m confident that together we can successfully accomplish this big, positive, transformational work, and now I finally feel safe enough to ask for help. And to practice my newfound confidence in showing my vulnerability, I asked my husband if he would help me bring groceries in. Not only did he agree, he offered to go with me to the store, carry it in, and put it away. Why didn’t I think of asking for help 25 years ago?

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of Successful Survivors and the 8 character traits of survivors and how you can attain them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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Coming Out of the Closet (of My Own Making)

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.56.09 AMI used to curl up in a ball and hide in the back of the one tiny closets in the old shack I grew up in, for all the good that did because the closet had no door. It was a shack the size of the garage with only one place to hide. Duh.

Somewhere along my journey I realized that when I was reading, I didn’t get hit. Hmmm, having a book in my hand somehow created an invisible force field around me in which I was relatively safe, at least from physical harm–much better than the little doorless closet! In fact, when I was reading, it was almost like I, myself was invisible. Sweet.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.56.20 AMFrom the time I was six years old, and thus eligible to get my own library card at Upland Public Library, they knew me by name. (God bless the people who thought up free, public libraries.) When I was done with the maximum number of books I was allowed to check out at one time, I’d go back to reading from the unlikely set of encyclopedias that were the only nice, relatively clean thing in that filthy little shack. I loved the feel of those hard bound books in my hands because that feeling meant that I was magically safe in the closet of my making–at least for a time. I loved those encyclopedias and read a little from them every day of my childhood, but I’d read the label on the ketchup bottle if necessary (sometimes ketchup was the only food in the house).

What a welcome reprieve reading provided. As the years went on, I learned a little about a wide range of subjects, my vocabulary exploded, and my test scores spiked. As an aside, I’m convinced that IQ scores reveal much more about a person’s vocabulary than they do about their intelligence. My heart used to break for the kids who only spoke a few words of English. They weren’t dumb. In fact, I knew that many were very smart–but they were often subjugated to the “slow kid” category and virtually dismissed because they had no idea what the foreign-looking words on the page said. I hope we are doing better for those kids nowadays.

Everybody Leaves

In my teenage years, after I emancipated and was on my own, I realized that it wasn’t just my mother and father who left. People I thought were friends left when I was no longer willing to go along with what they wanted from me or able to meet their expectations. I was like the kid who would give away the cookies in her lunch in order to be allowed to play with the cool girls. But the cookies always run out, and you’re no longer able to do what you always did to stay in the group. You either have to produce more cookies or get left behind. I always ran out of cookies.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.56.29 AMSo since people who get close enough to harm, ultimately leave and tear out a chunk of your heart when they go, why would I ever leave my nice, safe invisible- force-field-closet? Irrefutable evidence demonstrated time and again that there was great danger in doing so. The guys who said they’d love me forever said the same thing to the next girls. The girls who said that I was the sister they never had evidently found other long-lost siblings. Other than my husband and some precious girlfriends, everyone, eventually left.

You can’t be hurt if you won’t let anyone close enough to do so. And you can’t be left behind if you’re happily in peaceful solitude. And what’s not to be happy about? Over the years, my tiny, filthy closet, in which I would roll up in a ball and cover my ears until I thought it was safe to dare to listen, became an elegant, comfortable, cozy space that is my own, private, no-one-else-allowed place. Like a backyard “boys-only” clubhouse, the closet I’ve erected is off limits to other humans—even the ones I adore.

My closet has everything I need. There’s a phone to the outside world (but I don’t care too much for it). I ALWAYS have my books. Only now I own them. I still love the public library, but with my financial success came beautiful shelves filled with hardbound books I’ve acquired, accumulated, and yes, assimilated into the fabric of my being. And the internet allows me to follow the journeys of others, and to share what I hope will help those younger abuse victims coming up behind me on the path… all safely from my cozy closet.

Hide and Seek

Life in the very safe “invisible closet” I had erected to protect myself from harmful humans was great. It wasn’t broken, so I wasn’t trying to fix it. And then a game of Hide and Seek rocked my world and resulted in the throwing open of the plutonium-strength door that protected my invisible-force-field-closet-safe-place.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.56.37 AMI regularly play Hide and Seek with two of the most precious people in the world. The little boys, aged 8 and 11 as I write this, represent two-thirds of the “blood relatives” I have on planet Earth. (There are probably others, but I’d rather not to “seek” and “find” them.)

One date night I announced that I would be hiding first, with the oldest counting, because I had found the ultimate hiding place. I threw down the challenge, I gave them some vague clues (the whole idea is to help them learn to be adventurous in a totally safe way), and I ran off as soon as the counting began.

From my most excellent hiding place, I could hear the boys, along with my husband, looking for me. They looked in all the usual places. Then they looked in places they didn’t think I could actually squeeze into, but looked anyway because they were running out of potential hiding places. They called out, but I refused to “take the bait” and give away my position with a response or even a clearing of the throat—yep, I was that close. What they didn’t know is that I was hiding in a rarely used closet that the boys had seen a million times but had never been in. For them, it blended into the wall because they had never seen it open.

Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.56.45 AMI stood totally still in the dark space behind the closed door, barely breathing, trying not to give myself away with an untimely sneeze or cough, when I heard the boys and my husband seem to stop searching and start talking. The voices faded farther away until they couldn’t be heard at all. At first I thought they were huddling to strategize on a new and yet untried response to my amazing disappearing act. But I didn’t hear them anymore. I waited in the dark closet.

I refused to give up the whereabouts of my most spectacular hiding place by simply walking out and taking the chance the one of them would see from where I had just emerged. So, I made myself comfortable. I sat down in the dark closet and waited, knowing from the experiences of my childhood that I was far more equipped to wait than they were. I would WIN this. (By now you are probably wondering if you’ve missed something…a woman in her 50’s playing Hide and Seek?! Yes, that’s correct. You heard right.)

Well, the time ticked by, and they never did come back to look for me. The boys and my husband had gone on to do something else. They quit looking. Darn.

When it finally became clear to me that no one was coming for me, I realized that regardless of how lovely my beautiful and comfortable closet is, I have always secretly hoped that someone would come find me.

As a little girl, I had hoped that my big, strong daddy would suddenly show up, break down the door, beat up my abuser, and rescue me from that place. Later I hoped that some big, strong, handsome guy on a white horse (or a white 8-cylinder Mustang) would sweep me up and ride out of town into our new, wonderful, pain-free life. When I figured out that none of that was ever going to happen (and that I didn’t want to be a victim to be saved anyway), I settled in, decorated the closet, installed multiple padlocks on the door, and ordered high-speed wireless.

Right up until the fateful Hide and Seek game, I had forgotten about the little closet of my childhood. It wasn’t until recounting this story to a friend, that I realized that I was actually quite content to be in the social isolation of my own making. It was in that conversation that my dear friend gently guided me to connect the dots between literally being left in the closet and figuratively keeping myself safely in the “closet of my making” so that others wouldn’t have an opportunity to hurt me.

Thank you, Dr. Karen Bergstrom, Director of Safe Families for Children, for leading me to the stunning realization that I had never stopped isolating myself, yet secretly hoping that someone would come looking for me. Thank you for refusing to give up on helping me feel safe with healthy social connections—almost as safe as I feel in the isolation of my beautiful closet. (SAFE families isn’t just for the kids and families served!)

Out of the Closet and Onto the Bridge

I eventually had to come out of the closet the night of that Hide and Seek game. It was time to make dinner. No one cared about the hiding place anymore. And they seemed to be so engrossed in their new game that they didn’t realize I had been missing in action. As I cracked open the door to what turned out to be the ultimate Hide and Seek hiding place, I realized that there were people in my life who had been knocking on the solid door of the invisible-force-field closet that separated me from all the people who wanted nothing from me other than, perhaps, return of the friendship they wanted to share.

One friend in particular had steadily rapped for quite some time without being hurt or offended by my lackluster response. Being a retired therapist, she knew that I couldn’t give what I didn’t have. So, she started where I was (rather than where she hoped I’d be), she waited, and she continued to gently knock, never giving up. It turns out that her ability to wait patiently surpasses even mine!

I knew from my friend’s persistence, and from my finely tuned weasel meter, that she was “safe.” Since gingerly exiting my beautiful, safe closet (where I would still prefer to be), my new sister-girlfriend,Screen Shot 2016-11-22 at 11.55.56 AM the one I never expected to find at this stage of my life, has gently led me out of the closet and is now encouraging me to step out on the bridge to the other side of life—to a life I never knew (or wanted to know) existed.

I’m out of my beautiful closet, and I’m enjoying the walk toward the bridge. But don’t push me. And please don’t get too close—I’m still not convinced that someone won’t push me off in a well meaning attempt to teach me how to swim in the waters below.

Rhonda Sciortino PhotoRhonda Sciortino, author of Successful Survivors and the 8 character traits of survivors and how you can attain them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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A Blanket and an Evil Frog

A blanket in your trunk will help keep you warm if you are stranded out in the cold, but the better, funner use of a blanket is to make a totally spontaneous memory with the kids in your life by making a fort or a ground covering for an impromptu picnic.

I have a “fun kit” in the trunk of my car at all times. The contents of the kit are:

  • King sized, machine washable comforter
  • Plastic horse shoe game
  • Snacks (bags of nuts, bars, and other little semi-healthy things with a long shelf life)
  • Paddleball game
  • The evil frog

Every so often (I like to wait until they least expect it), I’ll take the kids in my life on an unexpected detour. We have a date on the same night every week, so there is routine and consistency that helps them feel safe and secure. But within the structure of the consistent date night, we have all kinds of different experiences.

When the kids see that we have taken a different route, they start to wonder (in a fun way) what’s going to happen next. When we pull up along side a park we’ve never been to, they know what to do. We pretend that we are the park review authority, and it’s our job to thorough check out every aspect of the park. Is it fun? Is it safe? If so, why? If not, why not?

Without knowing it, they’re learning situational awareness. They’re learning how to have spontaneous fun. And they’re learning how to have fun at very little expense.

Enter the evil frog. The kids had a plastic squeaky toy in the shape of a frog. I couldn’t stand it. It was ugly, and it was annoying. I don’t recall where it came from, so I’m relatively certain there was no sentimental value to the hideous thing. But the more I expressed displeasure, the more the kids took delight in placing it near me.

They’d sneak to place it on my chair at the dinner table before we ate. They’d sneak in and leave it in the bathroom knowing I’d wind up there at some point. They’d sneak into my office to put it in the middle of my desk or on a bookshelf where the evil-looking eyes would be gazing at me. The more displeasure I expressed, the more they’d laugh. I’d throw it away, and it would be retrieved from the trash can as soon as I wasn’t looking. So although I was having as much fun as they were, I’d put on my Academy Award worthy performance of feigned disgust every time the evil frog would pop up.

I put the evil frog in the fun kit in the trunk of my car for the times when the park we chose turned out to be just not all that fun. Because regardless of how boring a park is, seeing an evil-looking frog fly off a merry-go-round or launching a plastic frog into flight from a swing can be good for a laugh.

It doesn’t need to cost a ridiculous amount of money to make memories. Theme parks, miniature race car tracks, and carnivals can be fun (they can also be crowded, hot, and miserable), but the good memories and teaching moments that heal hurts and create solid foundations for the children in our lives can be had for little or no cost.

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author of the new book Successful Survivors: The 8 Character Traits of Survivors and How You Can Attain Them, used the coping skills from an abusive childhood to achieve real success which she measures by good relationships, good health, peace, joy, and financial prosperity. Through her writing, speaking, and media appearances, she shares how others can use the obstacles in their lives as stepping stones to their real success.

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THE TOP 10 MISTAKES OF PUBLIC SPEAKERS

We’ve all been there—suffering through a painful presentation. And many of us have been that person standing in front of a group of people, all eyes on us, knowing that the group is expecting more than we feel capable of providing.

Having spoken to many crowds and listened to many speakers, I’ve had enough experience both in front of the microphone and behind it, to weigh in on the good, the bad, and the ugly of public speaking. I’ll begin with my top 10 mistakes and finish with my best advice, all of which I wish I’d known before I ever gave a speech, workshop, or media appearance.

  1. Telling the audience how nervous you are.
  2. Telling a completely irrelevant story designed to “break the ice.” Unless it’s relevant or universally funny, skip it and get to the main message you’ve been entrusted to bring.
  3. Rambling all over the place without connecting the dots to the fragments of your speech.
  4. Giving a speech filled with bullet points bereft of story to provide context.
  5. Standing like a statue with no movement, animation, or facial expression to help drive home your point.
  6. Telling an off-color or politically incorrect joke. Just don’t. Ever.
  7. Giving TMI (too much information). No one wants to hear your intimate details.
  8. Going into too much detail, especially irrelevant details. No one needs to know the turn-by-turn instructions of how you arrived at the venue.
  9. Using “fillers” as in the person who says “um,” “you know,” etc. repeatedly throughout his or her talk.
  10. And the number one biggest mistake of public speaking is being OVER- or UNDER-prepared. The person who is over-prepared has memorized his or her speech which sounds “canned,”and generic. The under-prepared speaker wastes everyone’s time by failing to prepare a relevant and engaging talk specifically for that particular audience.

Now that you know what NOT to do, here are some tips on what TO do to earn the appreciation of the people who have invited you and to be asked by others to share at their events.

  1. Know your audience and what concerns them. This is key to being relevant.
  2. Know the theme of the event, and understand what they expect from you. Be sure you can meet their expectations before you agree to speak.
  3. Prepare your talk so that you know your main point, and deliver it with passion, enthusiasm, and with relevant stories that drive it home.
  4. Prepare yourself mentally and emotionally so that you arrive at the venue with a genuine smile on your face and a message in your heart and mind that you are prepared to deliver with every ounce of energy you have.
  5. Prepare yourself physically by getting plenty of sleep the night before the event, drinking plenty of water, and eating lightly before the event. It’s important to eat something so that you don’t get lightheaded or distracted by hunger, but it’s equally important not to eat too much so that your stomach isn’t trying to process a heavy meal while your mind is trying to coordinate with your mouth to deliver an engaging message!
  6. Prepare what you will wear so that your clothing doesn’t distract from your message. It’s important to wear colors that make you stand out in the crowd but not so far out that you aren’t taken seriously.
  7. Be sure that your attitude, facial expressions, and body language match the message you’re trying to communicate.
  8. Never, ever, under any circumstances distort the truth. If you’re not sure about something, verify it before stepping out in front of the crowd. If you are put on the spot in front of the crowd, don’t be afraid to say, “Gosh, I don’t know.” It’s better to admit that you don’t know everything than to prove you’re a liar. Remember that practically every attendee in the audience will have a little device in their pocket on which they can verify the veracity of what you have to say in less than 10 seconds. Don’t lie. Ever.
  9. Be early to the event. Remember that whoever invited you has put his or her reputation on the line to vouch for you. Unless you’re in the emergency room or the morgue, you do not get a “pass” for being late.
  10. In the last 10-15 minutes before giving your talk, don’t look at email. Do not check your social networking pages. And be careful not to engage in serious conversation. This little piece of advice will help you avoid the avoidable disaster that can happen if you receive bad news that you can do nothing about right before you become the center of attention.

If you’ve been entrusted with a message to share with others, I wrote this for YOU. If you fall prey to these mistakes, your message will be diminished. On the other hand, if you avoid these mistakes and follow this advice, you will be better able to communicate your message with those who can benefit most from it.

 

rhonda-sciortinoRhonda Sciortino, author Successful Survivors — 8 character traits of survivors and how you can attain them

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Pretending Suicide Isn’t A Problem Won’t Make It Go Away

Originally published by Foster Focus Magazine.

Victims of abuse are at higher risk.

We can’t prevent suicide if we don’t talk about it. So, let’s have an honest conversation about the fact that those of us who have experienced the pain of being abandoned, abused, neglected, sold, or treated in any way that made us feel unloved and unworthy of love, are at a much higher risk of suicide.

According to Dr. Daniel J. Pilowsky of Mailman School of Public Health, adolescents involved with foster care are about four times more likely to have attempted suicide than adolescents never placed in foster care. This probably comes as no great surprise to anyone who has ever been in foster care.

Suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15-24 year-olds, and the sixth leading cause of death for 5 to 15-year-olds in the general population. According to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, “teenagers experience strong feelings of stress, confusion, self-doubt, pressure to succeed, financial uncertainty, and other fears.” If teens in the general population experience those feelings, imagine the exponential magnification of those feelings by the factors of abandonment, neglect, and abuse that preceded time in the foster care system—a system of living with strangers (hopefully well-meaning, but strangers, nevertheless).

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention says that every 40 seconds someone commits suicide in the US. This is a national tragedy, which is particularly poignant because it’s often foreseeable and preventable.

Depression and suicidal feelings are treatable mental disorders. The challenge is that many current and former foster kids don’t seek help. This unwillingness to talk about depression and suicidal thoughts can be rooted in various issues including, but not limited to, being unaware that no- or low-cost services are available and accessible, an inherent feeling of hopelessness that there is anything that can make life any better, a feeling of being unworthy of receiving help, or the stigma and shame that can accompany thoughts of suicide.

Many of us have been touched by suicide. This is, in fact, one of the factors that increases our risk of suicide. Once someone in our life has taken their life that person’s action becomes an option in the back of our minds should the pain simply get beyond what we can bear. For people who had a parent who suicided when the person was young, there can be an additional underlying sense that it is their destiny to repeat that tragic family history. In addition to childhood abuse and knowing someone who suicided, other risk factors include previous suicide attempts, family history of mental health conditions, mental health diagnosis, and substance abuse.

– See the complete article: http://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/pretending-suicide-isnt-problem-wont-make-it-go-away#sthash.xVTRhYem.dpuf

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You May Say I’m A Dreamer

Originally published by Foster Focus Magazine.

I have some big dreams and visions. And I’m not the only one. There are lots of us who want to do big things with our lives. We want to make our lives count for something. Many of us try to accomplish big things, but because we only have our piece of the puzzle, we fall short. But when we come together, we’re stronger and better able to do big things.

I have a dream to see kids who are growing up in less than the best of circumstances to be connected with churches in communities throughout the country. I can envision kids who have experienced abandonment, abuse, neglect, poverty, or homelessness (or all of the above) connected with the good people in local churches who will look them in the eyes and see the value they don’t see in themselves.

I envision these kids, like the one I used to be, learning to mine the lessons out of all they’ve been through, learning work ethic and character building, and learning how to have healthy relationships with good people. Having been abandoned, neglected, abused, hungry, and homeless in my life, I am confident that what I envision would be prevention of homelessness, drug use, criminal activity, and trafficking.

Kids who feel valued and cared for are less likely to feel pain that leads to self medicating. The sense of belonging they would feel in a church family would make them far less likely to fall for the lure of a trafficker. And kids who learn relationship skills, work ethic, and good character in the safe environment of people who will gently teach rather than judge them are far more likely to find and keep a good job that will help them become responsible, self-reliant adults.

– See the complete article at: http://www.fosterfocusmag.com/articles/you-may-say-i%E2%80%99m-dreamer

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If I could give you anything, I’d give you these 10 things:

gift

  1. I would give you eyes to see yourself as the awesome person you are.
  2. I would give you a healthy awareness and confidence in your strengths and an acceptance of your weaknesses.
  3. I would give you an ability to speak the truth in a considerate way and to listen carefully to everyone in your life.
  4. I would give you fresh sense of optimistic anticipation of good things every morning.
  5. I would give you healthy, meaningful relationships with good people.
  6. I would give you excellent, pain-free health so you could live your life to the fullest.
  7. I would give you happiness—no, scratch that. I’d give you joy, which, unlike happiness, isn’t diminished by our circumstances.
  8. I would give you a clear vision of your unique life assignment.
  9. I would give you financial provision to fulfill your life assignment and to have all the good things that accompany it.
  10. I would point you in the direction of the steps to fulfilling your life assignment so that you could earn the incomparable feeling of doing what you were made to do…I would “point you” rather than “give you” because only you can fulfill your life assignment.

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Grieving the Irreplaceable

Grieving the irreplaceableI lost someone who can never be replaced. I suppose that no one can truly be replaced, but there are some relationships that no one else can ever fill. Like losing your mother, father, brother, sister, or a beloved grandparent. There will always be others who come in and out of our lives like neighbors, coworkers, bosses, and others. It’s healthy to accept that these types of relationships may be for a season rather than for your whole life. There are no guarantees that anyone will be in our lives forever, but there are some relationships that are in a category all their own. These are the relationships with people who give us life or who so powerfully influence our lives that we will feel their imprint on us forever.

I have lost irreplaceable people before, so I know the unquenchable pain of losing a piece of your heart—a piece of your life that is never going to be there again—a part of you that’s so important, so interchangeably woven into the fabric of your being that you’re not sure who you are without that person—or if you even want to find out.

I lost my mother and father when I was a little girl. One day they were there—and the next day they were gone. I was too little to understand logic or explanations of why they chose to live their lives without me. I only knew that they were gone. I know intimately that others can try to fill those vacancies in our hearts, but the hard truth is that anyone who tries to fill that open space isn’t ever an exact match. Picture a jigsaw puzzle. There may be a piece that seems to fit–sort of. You can try to force it, but it will never be the exact fit.

Grieving the irreplaceable

When I met Janet, I was like a leaky bucket that would never be filled—I was so in need of a sense of worth and value, yet unable to believe that I was worthy of anything good.

When I lost my dear friend of forty years, I knew intuitively that the hole in my heart would never again be completely filled. You see Janet wasn’t just a casual friend. Janet knew me when I still lived with my abusers. She saw the shack I grew up in. She saw that I was dirty and dressed in clothes and shoes that were dirty, often had holes, and didn’t properly fit. She surely noticed that I smelled–we had no shower and I didn’t even own a toothbrush when I first met her. Despite all of those reasons that others shunned me at best and ridiculed me mercilessly at worst, Janet treated me the same way she treated everyone else. She included me, she joked with me, she made it ok to be me.

Through the years, I learned that I could truly trust her–something that doesn’t come easily to someone who has been through what I’ve been through. I learned through the experiences of her sticking with me as I made stupid decisions, that she never judged me or thought less of me. She didn’t preach to me or scold me, despite the fact that I probably could have benefitted from either or both. When I showed poor judgement, as I did on many occasions over our forty years together, she simply stood by me.

You can Google her name and not find a single picture of her. She had no website. She had only the wisp of a “digital footprint” in the form of a lone Facebook page that she never even uploaded her profile picture into. She didn’t care about clever “posts,” or “likes.” She didn’t follow Hollywood gossip or fashion trends. Although she was interested in theater and music, she was completely out of touch with who the actors, actresses, and famous musicians were. She didn’t care. Fame wasn’t a measurement of a person in Janet’s estimation.

Grieving the irreplaceable

Rhonda and Janet in New York City with a minion. It was classic Janet to have no idea what a minion was or what I was singing about when I broke out into the “Happy” song.

Wealth didn’t impress her either. As I went from the dirty young girl who often didn’t have enough to eat, to a financially prosperous business owner and investor, Janet’s opinion of me didn’t change. She cared only that I was a good person doing good in the world. THAT is what she asked about and on which she expressed her pleasure. She was oblivious to my house overlooking the ocean, luxury automobiles, and my matching shoes and handbags. She was clueless about name brands and designers, in fact, in Janet’s economy, anyone who’s purse was worth more than what was inside was probably foolish.

Janet’s big, hairy, audacious goal was to create an online program to help people who had been diagnosed with cancer. She wanted the program to help those who were at a crossroads in life to choose to find and follow their passions. Janet believed that cancer could be a turning point for those who were willing to make dramatic changes by focusing all of their attention to living out their passions, and in so doing, would be “flipping a switch” that engaged the systems of their body to fight and win against cancer (or whatever other life threatening diagnosis was trying to diminish their lives). Janet didn’t get to finish her project, and in the end, apologized to me. Can you believe it? She apologized as though she’d failed or somehow disappointed me.

The truth is that although Janet had an ambitious goal to help others, and was fully qualified to execute it down to the tiniest detail, doing so evidently wasn’t part of her Life Assignment. Janet had absolutely nothing to apologize for. She fulfilled her Life Assignment beautifully. She influenced so very many people that we will never know this side of Heaven what all she did, but this one thing I do know for sure: she changed me.

Grieving the irreplaceable

Showing the love of God to someone who’s never known love is the greatest thing any of us can ever do in this life.

Janet’s acceptance and love helped me to go from feeling like a caterpillar crawling around in the dirt, expecting at any moment to be stepped on by the next malicious beast who came along, into a beautiful butterfly, free to fly from here to there, touching people with my message of turning adversity into advantage, the message that it’s possible to use the lessons mined from pain to create a meaningful life.

I suspect that God knew that a 13 year old girl who had never been loved and didn’t know what love was, would only open up and receive love from another 13 year old girl—one who didn’t judge, didn’t look down on me, who never took offense at my very often rough, tough actions and words, who included me, was kind to me, joked around with me, and stuck with me through good times and bad. Giving love (expecting nothing in return) to someone who’s never known love is the greatest, and perhaps most difficult, thing that any of us can ever do in this life.

It took her all of our forty years together, but she finally taught me, with her life, that it was better to let the walls of defense down enough to enjoy people rather than continue to keep those walls up in ever-present expectation of being hurt. Janet thought everyone was interesting. She looked for the good in everyone, and seemed to always find it. I, on the other hand, have kept most people at arm’s length. My theory was that the closer the person is, the more likely it is that I’ll be hurt. And I’ve simply had all the hurt I can bear.

I have a litany of experiences I could recount that would support the wisdom of keeping the padlock on my heart locked tight. But as I process the fact that she’s gone on without me, that we’re not going to be “little old ladies” together, that there’ll be no more 5 hour conversations over endless cups of hot tea, I’m asking myself what of Janet can I take from her and incorporate into my life. How can I be part of the legacy of this amazing and wonderful woman who changed me forever by loving me when I was very difficult to love.

Grieving the irreplaceable

Janet Kay Reid loved me when I was very difficult to love. She was a priceless, irreplaceable gift.

There are likely to be many times in the future when I’ll realize Janet’s influence on me on one thing or another, but what I know so far is that I am going to let down the walls around me and let people into my life. I see now from Janet’s well lived life that I can let people into my life and into my heart, and that the fuller, richer life that will result will outweigh any hurt.

In the end, despite that Janet didn’t complete her big, audacious goal of a program for people diagnosed with life threatening disease, she did far more than that—she gave love freely, received love gladly, and taught others to love. The three most important things in this life are faith, hope, and love, and the greatest is love. Janet intuitively knew that—she had and shared all three freely with everyone within her influence.

I know from experience that there is life after the loss of an irreplaceable person. Life is never again as it once was or as we hoped it would be, but we realize that although we might have thought we wouldn’t be able to go on breathing, we do. Planet Earth continues to turn. And somehow, through okay days and awful days, we realize that a new normal exists. There is change, but the change is inside us. We’re better, wiser people for having had the honor of having those irreplaceable people in our lives.
Grieving the irreplaceable

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