Commencement Address

This post was inspired by the following question via The New York Times Edit Newsletter: If you were giving a commencement speech, what would you say? Here’s my address to the Class of 2018.

Graduates,

I’ve been wracking my brain trying to figure out how to address you for weeks now. I’ve never given a commencement speech so I wanted it to be perfect. I wanted to leave you with words that would inspire you years from now. Like an Oprah or an Ava Duvernay or my favorite First Lady, Michelle Obama. But, I’m not them. So, I’m gonna bring you into my world for a few minutes. Let’s talk.

Lesson 1: Be authentically you (and proud of it.)

It seems like everyone is saying that these days. But, what does it mean? To me, it is the courage to stay true to your spirit or character. In every circumstance. Whatever that looks like for you, embrace that. Fully. If you are creative, be creative. If you are quirky, be quirky. If you are loud, be loud. (When necessary) If you are passionate channel that energy positively. If you are black, white, gay, straight, or just different, be that. Unapologetically. As long as it doesn’t tear down another person in the process. The saying goes, think outside the box. I say, forget that. Create your own. You owe it to yourself to put the best version of you out into the world. Authenticity > Perfection.

Lesson 2: Your words matter.

Our words have creative power. They were designed that way. Choose your words wisely. That goes for any and everywhere you find yourself. In your relationships with family and friends, on your job, behind your computer screen. Think before you send that tweet or post that comment. It costs something and you might not like the price afterward.

I’ll take it a step further, watch the words you speak to yourself. In the quietness of your own mind and private spaces. Yeah, those words matter too. Don’t expect the world to validate you if you haven’t made a habit of positively speaking over yourself first. Otherwise, you’ll be chasing unrealistic expectations all your life.

Think of it this way. You can either change your world or destroy it by what comes out of your mouth. As often as you can, speak life. Your words matter.

Lesson 3: Your choices matter

Young adulthood is for sure a time of exploration and discovery, but remember this, your choices matter.

Have fun, get to know yourself and others, but balance. Use this time to build. You will make mistakes, and even a few dumb decisions. I’ve made plenty. From overspending on clothes to staying up all night with 8 am classes the next day. That’s expected. But, try to stay on the straight and narrow. Don’t go so far off the grid that you’re still paying for decisions you made in your teens and 20’s twenty years later. Before making a decision ask yourself two questions: Will I regret this later? And, Am I willing to serve this choice full out? Meaning after the decision is made, am I prepared to deal with EVERYTHING that comes with it. Even the things I don’t know are attached yet, because they are both visible and hidden consequences in every decision. If not, don’t do it.

We can’t control everything that happens to us, but some of it is not random or left field. Some of it is us serving our choices. The good news, is that at any given moment you can choose to go in a better direction. Everybody wants to live their “best lives” these days. Choose wisely and build it. One choice at a time.

Lesson 4: Life doesn’t owe you anything (Be proactive)

If there’s one thing adulthood has taught me thus far, it’s that if you want something, you have to go get it. Period. From this point on, don’t wait for the world to hand you anything (because they won’t.) In college, the teachers won’t ask you if you’ve done your homework or papers. They expect that when a quiz or test comes that you’re prepared because you have. On your job, your boss won’t stay on you to get your work done or even show up. If you’re like the rest of us with bills and other responsibilities, you will.

If you need something, ask. There’s help available. Whatever dream you have, actively participate in making it a reality. Don’t slack. Don’t drag your feet, don’t wait for validation or recognition. If you do, you’ll be waiting forever. As they say, closed mouths don’t get fed. Be proactive.

Lesson 5: You are a work in progress (and that’s ok)

Today you feel like you’re unstoppable (as you should.) A few months or maybe even a year from now new realities will begin forming, For some of you, that means continuing your education or getting a job. Others will be taking time off to figure things out. Know that it’s all ok. Don’t run out of here thinking you’ll live out the college life or the young adulthood that you’ve seen on tv and read about on the internet all these years. That’s a set up for disappointment. The real world can be a scary place, adult life is hard. A lot of it is learn as you go. Trial and error. Also, don’t beat yourself up over what you don’t know. Just be open to learning from others, asking questions and for help if and when you need it. That’s what it’s there for.

I wish I could say my life is as perfect as my Instagram page. (It’s not) I don’t believe anyone’s is. Don’t get caught in the comparison trap. It’s pointless and just brings you down. Just remember that you are a work in progress and so is everyone around you. Nobody’s perfect. As long as you know that and consistently work to be better, you’re ok. Celebrate your wins, acknowledge your losses, appreciate the progress and keep playing.

I hope you learned something today. I hope you were encouraged. It wasn’t Oprah or Ava, but it was honest. Congratulations again to the Class of 2018. I can’t wait to see what you bring to the world.

Jasmine Barnes

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Authentic

Authentic: True to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

That’s the formal definition I got when I looked up the word earlier this week. But, what does that mean to me? How does it translate in the real world? Those questions are a little harder to answer so I took more time and thought about it.

I agree that authenticity is about being true to your own personality, spirit, and character. However, more than that I believe authenticity is about having the confidence to do so. No matter what. It’s about being unapologetically you, even when it’s called weird or unpopular. Authenticity is a choice.

The best examples of this in action happen to be two of my favorite people right now. Comedian Tiffany Haddish and reality star turned rapper, Cardi B. As a whole, we love them for their authenticity. I know I do. They worked their behinds off to get where they are, and it seems the fame/notoriety didn’t change them. They aren’t shy about sharing their stories either.

Tiffany Haddish spoke about using Groupon so much to save money when she wasn’t making as much, that eventually gave her an endorsement deal. (And a Superbowl commercial.) That’s amazing. More than that, I respect her honesty. We all know how to pinch pennies when needed and can relate to using Groupon and finding deals. That’s real.

In Cardi’s case, she’s just a regular, degular smegular girl from the Bronx (her words) and I live for it. Watching her, I feel like she could be one of my friends from my neighborhood. She’s still that candid, in your face, big personality from Love & Hip Hop with that youthful spirit and a hustle only found in New Yorkers. Which, as a Brooklyn native, I can only respect.

In both cases, I believe they hone the true power of authenticity. Again, that courage, that choice to be unapologetically you at all times. No matter who’s watching. They sometimes receive criticism and backlash, but they keep going. They don’t try to fit in anyone’s box. They each have their own.

Authenticity is a quality that seems to be so rare these days. That’s why when we find it, it’s refreshing. It shouldn’t be. We should all choose to be the best version of our real selves. For one, yes everyone else is taken. Secondly, pretending is boring, exhausting, easily detectable and overrated. Lastly, I don’t think that was the original plan.

Be you and let the world adjust. Not the other way around.

JB

A Letter to my Teenage Self

Dear Jazz,

LIVE. It’s ok not to have every second of your life planned. Take care of you first and foremost. But, never forget to lend a helping hand. Don’t feel obligated to make other people happy. Smile when you feel it, cry if you’re sad.  Shout if you’re angry. Let those emotions go. It’s ok not to be ok.  There’s no weakness in that. Perfection is overrated.

Even though you disagree, right now you don’t know everything. So, be open to learning from everything around you. The people you meet, the places you go, the experiences, all have something to teach you. Open your eyes and ears and listen close.

Yes you can. Yes you can scream at the Giants for lack of defense one minute then switch it up and grab a pair of heels to go hangout the next. It’s ok to be both. Though you will never be fond of the color pink. Ever. Yes you can accomplish all your dreams if you work at it. Stop doubting. Be you. Invest in you.

Your job right now, is to stay a kid for as long as you can. Don’t worry about the future too much. Explore new places, make memories with your friends and family. Take a ridiculous amount of pictures. They’re important. Go shopping with Mommie even if she takes forever as usual. Tell her you love her and anything else you think she should know. You’ll never be this free again. So laugh, play, take chances. Travel. Read. Discover something new. Don’t ever lose your curiosity, wonder, or your magic. It’s yours.

Develop ALL your talents. Don’t put yourself in a box. Create your own box. Become three dimensional. Follow your instincts. Be fearless. Be open. Love God. Be confident and unapologetic in your faith. Build that relationship to be strong. It’s the most important one. Love your chocolate skin, your muffin top and your natural hair. Don’t let anyone talk you out of it.

And please please, don’t rush into a relationship. Or love. You don’t even know what it means yet. I know that seems like an impossible task, but trust me. It’s much more of a headache than you think. Seriously. Don’t get so wrapped up in the idea of being with somebody just to change your relationship status.

Everyone doesn’t have good intentions. Everyone isn’t worthy, so pay attention. You’re smart, peep game. Get to know yourself first. Inside-out. Be best friends with her. Be comfortable with her, and most importantly, know that she is complete on her own. Once that happens, then find a guy that’s worthy. Not a space filler, but worthy of meeting that dope young lady.

Enjoy every minute of this time, because once it’s gone, it’s just a memory.  Life will get tough, but the people around you will help you through. You might lose some friends, but the world doesn’t end. Some days will get dark, sometimes you’ll feel stuck, but don’t stop. No matter what. Keep moving, keep growing and enjoy the journey. Even when you feel like the walls are closing in, stay positive. You’ll be fine, we’ll get there, I promise.

Love,

Jasmine

#Talkback: What would you say to your teenage self? Answer in the comments below.

3 Lessons from Super Bowl LII.

David vs. Goliath. That’s what the Sunday night matchup between Philadelphia and New England felt like. The city was electric as fans young and old, near and far, watched their beloved Eagles beat the Patriots 41-33 in Super Bowl LII. For the first time in franchise history, they are champions.

From the start, I was hoping it would be an exciting game. It didn’t disappoint, literally coming down to the wire. The last 20 seconds nearly stopped my heart. Now that I’ve had an opportunity to somewhat process this historic upset, here are a few things I think we can all learn from this Eagles team.

The cover of today’s Philadelphia Inquirer. 

1. The Importance of Vision

I just heard this today and I think it fits perfectly here, “Sight is what you see when your eyes are open. Vision is what you see when your eyes are closed. On numerous occasions this season, the Eagles were doubted. First the question was, how would they do in the regular season? Then the question was, could their magnificent season, hold up in the playoffs? They were unlikely to win all their post-season games. Criticism far and wide.

However, they didn’t doubt themselves. They held on to their vision, what they believed in, even when no one else did. The fans wore underdog masks and t-shirts. They embraced that narrative and wanted to prove everyone wrong. The point is, having a vision matters. Don’t let anyone take yours. Ever.

2. The Power of a Great Team

One of my favorite things about football is that it is truly a team sport. It takes offense and defense. Of course every team has stars, but if the collective doesn’t come together, they won’t win.

I am not an Eagles fan. However, I respect that this team truly works as one unit. Each time the Patriots looked threatening last night, someone stepped up and a play was made. Whether it was a block, sack, a defensive stop, a catch, whatever.

Let’s also not forget head coach Doug Pederson. He seemed fearless against the combination of Brady and Belichick. His gutsy decision to go for it on 4th down, which led to the Foles touchdown, we still can’t wrap our heads around. They came together and produced when it mattered.

The lesson here, we all need people who keep us focused on the big picture. The ones who cheer for us when we win and hold us accountable when we make a mistake. Most importantly, we need people who help us see the light when we can’t find it. No one succeeds in this world on their own. No one. Your tribe, your team, whoever they are, find them and hold on to them.

3. Stay ready. You never know when it’s your time.

When Carson Wentz suffered that season-ending injury in December, many thought that was it. The Eagles’ season was over.

Enter Nick Foles, the back up quarterback. Skeptics wondered if he had it in him. They questioned whether he could and would rise to the occasion. Boy did he.

In his three games this postseason, he was magnificent. This includes going for 352 yards and three touchdowns on 26 of 33 passes in the NFC Championship. Last night he went for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Including a beautifully executed one yard TD pass. The first of his career.

Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles with the Lombardi Trophy. (Image: philly.com)

We also can’t forget the rookie kicker, Jake Elliott. His 42-yard field goal in the 4th quarter was the longest by a rookie in the Super Bowl. As if that wasn’t enough, he later nailed another 46-yarder late sealing the deal for his team.

I bet when the season started, no one imagined that would happen. The lesson here is simple. No matter where you start or where you are, keep working hard and stay focused. You never know which moment is yours. It only takes one to change everything. Ask Nick Foles and Jake Elliott.

This Eagles team reminds us that truly anything is possible. Congratulations to the players, the organization, and one of the most dedicated fan-bases on a historic season. This win is well-deserved. Yes Philly! Fly Eagles Fly!

JB

Me vs. Me

Time for a transparent moment.

During my downtime this week, I came across a new video on YouTube. It was a sermon/teaching with the title “You Can’t Stop Me”, by Pastor Michael Todd of Transformation Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

If you have 50 minutes to spare, take some time and view the entire video here. I sat quietly and listened. God proceeded to blow my mind and wreck my life simultaneously. It was a message intended for this past New Year’s Eve, but it still applied to me. I thought I’d pass the knowledge on. These are some of my takeaways:

1. Response matters

Nobody is exempt from life. We don’t always have control over what takes place, but we can control how we respond. That’s what God is looking at when the inevitable trials, tribulations, and turmoil comes. Do we run, hide and panic? OR, do we remain calm, confident and collected under pressure because we know that God has everything under control? What’s your default when trouble comes?

We’re only 30 something days into the new year, but I know that life has hit my friends and I. Already. As much as I’d like to say I’m that calm, collected person in distress, I’m not. At least, not as much as I should be. Not on the inside anyway. This was a clear sign that I need to work on it. The power is in my response. Cc: Romans 8:31.

2. Me vs. Me

The only person that can stop you from being everything that you’re supposed to be is you. That was a gut check. A hit in the soul. I was convicted.

On one hand, this idea that no person, place, obstacle or external force can stop God’s plan for your life. If you grew up in church, you’ve heard this a million times. We know it back and forth. That’s encouraging.

On the flip side, the notion that it’s not always the devil after you, or your “haters” on Facebook, Instagram, at work, etc, but in fact you that can slow up the process or shut it down. Yes God is in control, but he also gave us free will and the option to choose. We work with him. We are just as responsible for the outcome as He is.

Question. What does your self-talk sound like? Self-talk is the things you tell yourself when nobody’s watching or listening. Is it positive or negative? Are you building yourself up or breaking you down? What we say to ourselves is just as important as what others say to us. These are all the little questions that popped into my head. All of my self talk is not pretty. I stand in my own way sometimes. Now that I’m aware, I can do better. I will do better.

The bottom line is this, God is good. He’s for you no matter what the temporary external called life looks like currently. We just have to remind ourselves who is on our team. Also, in order for 2018 to be your year, commit fully. No more excuses. Don’t be the reason you don’t succeed. Don’t talk yourself out of your own destiny.

Be encouraged. I hope this year you discover how unstoppable you really are. Til next time, stay in peace.

JB

Setting Boundaries

No is a complete sentence.

No is a self-care act.

My NO is a boundary that must be respected.

These affirmations are some of the ways I remind myself that it’s ok to say no sometimes. Which, by the way, is not easy for me. It’s one of the lessons that is taking the longest for me to learn.

In my different circles, I’m “that friend” the first one to get a call when problems arise. The advice-giver, the counselor, the optimisic, bright and cheerful one. My high school friends have appropriately named me, Dr. Phil. I’m used to it. I’m good at it, it’s what people love about me. Most times, I don’t even mind it. Most times.

However, too much of anything is never good. Long story short, the shift came when I found myself dealing with a difficult situation. I needed a listening ear and a friend. I discovered then that my call list was shorter than I anticipated. The thought never crossed my mind to reach out to those people who were always leaning on me. I didn’t have a “me” to lean on, and it hit me like a bullet. It hurt my heart, but it was definitely the wake up call I needed.

Now, this is the part where some people say, “They’re just gonna stay to themselves, or they’re gonna do them, focus on them, and “fall back” from others. About two years ago, that would’ve been my solution too. But, there are two things I know. One, you can’t grow in isolation. Two, you can’t change people. You can only change how you deal with them. So, I set boundaries.

I don’t answer the phone after a certain time, I don’t entertain negativity. I don’t let any call beyond family or business last longer than 15 minutes. I completely unplug on Sundays. I don’t respond to anything. I’ve even categorized my friends in my contact list. People are not allowed to just dump on me and leave anymore. I’m so much better than that. Thank goodness I finally realized it.

My mom used to say, access is a gift. She’s absolutely right. Access is a gift and anyone who abuses it doesn’t deserve it. With setting boundaries I said no to everyone else and their issues, and put myself first. It was something that was completely foreign to me, but I have to be real, it felt amazing.

That’s what makes saying no ok. I know there are instances when dealing with our friends, loved ones, or people close to us, it can be extremely hard. In my case, I want to make everybody happy and solve everybody’s problems, the impossible. But, if you say yes to everything, your no doesn’t hold any value.

What I’ve discovered, is that anybody that truly loves you will respect your no. YOU just have to stand firm in it. It’s not selfish, but necessary. Boundaries are put in place to protect valuable things. You should always see yourself that way. Valuable and worthy of protection.

It’s a beautiful thing when we realize the power of our own choices. No is a choice, and not a bad one. Use it when you need to. You might like it.

Until next time, stay in peace family.

JB

Question of the Day

Q: What’s your biggest pet peeve about the way people write about your generation?

I’m a millennial. By definition, anyone between the ages of 18-34 depending on who you’re speaking to. When we’re written about in the media, it’s usually NOT from our perspective. The people that write about us are usually older and more established in their careers and opinions. Oftentimes we’re depicted as lazy, spoiled, and other not so nice adjectives. That is my biggest pet peeve. The people negatively criticizing forget one small caveat: They raised us.

Our parents and grandparents raised us to believe that the only way to achieve success and stability is by getting a college degree. But, they didn’t tell us that college costs would skyrocket and put us in debt longer than we’d ever be in a classroom. Obtaining degrees for jobs that will most likely be replaced by technology within 20 years. Or less.

They raised us to believe that getting out on our own, with apartments, spouses and children is a sign of adulthood and “we’ve made it.” But, declined to take into account the cost of living has gone up without a reasonable wage increase. Pair that with the college debt and we can barely take care of ourselves. So yes, some of us live still live at home in our late 20’s. Some of us decide not to have spouses or children right now. We can’t afford it.

We’re not lazy, or spoiled. In fact, we are one of the hardest working generations I’ve seen. I have friends juggling multiple jobs just to stay afloat. We are entrepreneurs and innovators. We’re just in survival mode. Which naturally looks different than it did for our parents at our age. We’re finding our way slowly but surely. Allow us to. Without comparisons or the “When I was your age stories.”

Comparison. We are the technology babies. The Internet, social media and reality tv have given us three new worlds and all the possibilities. But a lifetime lived behind a screen is killing us. We try so hard to live up to the images we see and feel horrible when we don’t. So much so that the number of us who have anxiety and depression as a result has gone up. So before saying that we are lacking soft skills and don’t know how to communicate, dig deeper. Help us. Teach us how in that case.

My wish going forward, is that millennials be portrayed in a more positive, balanced light. For exactly what we are. Not just the negative things. We are not the lazy, entitled, technology addicts you might think. We are activists and world changers, innovators and non-conformists. The melting pot of cultures. The history makers and record breakers. After all, you raised us.

Bruno Mars and Cardi B Make Magic on Finesse Remix

Overnight, superstar Bruno Mars released the remix to his song “Finesse” from his 24K Magic album with an accompanying video featuring Cardi B. It’s packed with all the nostalgia, 90’s references, and good vibes you need right now.

Paying homage to the popular sketch comedy show In Living Color, the visuals reminds us why the 90’s were indeed all that. Both artists capture the look of the era. Cardi’s crop top, short shorts, big hoops and her hat to the back, gives me complete Mary J “Real Love” flashbacks. Coupled with their energy and her personality, she shines.

Let me say, I loved the Fly Girls reference and choreography as well. Personally, that was one of my favorite parts of the original show. The only thing that would’ve made it better was if JLo had a cameo reprising her role. I’m sure they made her proud anyway.

Feel Good Music. This video brings me back to a time when music was just fun. Not overly sexualized, violent, or dramatic, just fun. Back to the days when we danced at parties and the only phones available were connected to the wall not in our hands. I saw it and immediately thought of the classics like House Party. A touch of BBD’s Poison with a hint of New Jack Swing. Issa vibe for sure. P.S. I’ve watched the video at least five times today(Don’t judge me).

If you haven’t seen it yet, do yourself a favor, click here. Is it a hit or a miss? Comment your thoughts below. Til next time, peace.

JB

2017 Taught Me

I posted this on my Instagram page (@_thejblife) a few hours ago. It hit me in my soul as I thought about how it applied to my 2017 this year.

One of the things that is confusing about being a twenty-something is navigating relationships. I’m not just talking romantic ones either. Friendships, family dynamics, there’s so many levels to this. More often than not, it seems like all the lines blur together. Then you look up and you wonder, what is life?! (That’s the best way I can describe it)

Simultaneously, I’m still figuring out this new person that has been developing. Her hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears and overall place in this world. In doing so, I’ve found that I don’t relate to certain people in the same ways anymore. My ideas about the world around me have changed from let’s say 10 years ago. Even five, maybe less actually. So, throughout the year I had to slowly begin removing chairs from the table.

Which by the way, is easier said than done. We all want to feel like we belong somewhere, like we’re apart of something. But, if those associations threaten your growth and forward progress, let them go.

It was scary and uncomfortable. It forced me to get real about my life and what I wanted out of it. I had to face some hard truths about people I really loved and respected for a long time. It doesn’t make them bad people either. I just know now that there are certain spaces they can’t occupy in my life anymore.

The twist? Removing chairs from the table also means that sometime you have to sit alone. Not everyone is authorized to go where you’re headed. I had to learn to be ok with that as well.

Side note, I’m still in progress. I don’t have all the answers. But, as I continue to get comfortable in my skin, I’m slowly but surely finding the right answers for me. What I’ve learned this year is that whether the seats at my table are empty or full, I’m enough.

JB

#1025

I did not learn what unconditional love was, until I lost the person who loves me unconditionally. Even now, I would give my last breath if that meant she could have all hers back. With no hestitation.
I say all this, as I sit here, writing. One of my ways to cope. Today is my mother’s birthday. She would’ve been 57 going on 30. She looked every bit of it so no one ever debated her. She was my sister as far as strangers knew. I miss her. It hurts. It hasn’t gotten easier yet. I’m still waiting.

No one tells you how to do this. There’s no rule book. Everyone who hasn’t been through, and even some who have, tell you to stay strong. But, that’s the politically correct thing to say right? Not necessarily what I wanna hear even if you mean well. And most people do. The majority can’t even fathom a loss of that magnitude. And if I’m honest, I don’t want them to know, because it hurts. Nothing I ever say will be accurate enough to describe this pain. The crazy part is, I can’t do anything about it.
Nobody tells you that it might not ever get easier. That more often than not the mention of her name will bring you to tears. Forget a photo, the floodgates. No one tells you that you’ll struggle to find the words and feelings to put everything together. Some days you won’t want to talk at all. You’ll feel alone.

Nobody tells you that holidays, birthdays, and every day not marked on the calendar is different. It just is. Deep down you know it. Some days, you may want to pray. Others, you might be mad at God for putting you in this position, and you question everything you think you know. To try to make sense of it all. Grief is a real thing. A very real thing.

In three years and four birthdays, I can say that I’ve found my new normal, which wasn’t easy. I’ve managed to keep living. Which is what she would’ve wanted. The tears still come, the days are still long, like this one. But I’m here, somehow. By the grace of God and the prayers of everyone who loves me.

For  those who think I have it all together, I absolutely, positively  don’t. Don’t get caught up in appearances. One day at a time. One foot in front of the other.  Occasionally, that means one foot is dragging. And I’ve learned to be ok with that too.

What  I know for sure, is that life goes on. No matter how much I want it to stop for me. God gives grace and a way through as long as I ask for it. And every day, every moment is worth celebrating. As far as my Mom goes, she is in the little things now. Like the sunshine. I am her, she is me and we are one. Always. Happy Birthday Mommie. I love you. #1025.

JB