“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” – Paulo Coelho

And so it is that I have discovered something new about myself – yet again. I’ve grown accustomed to living based on a sense of shortage, so much so that I have manufactured conditions to keep myself trapped within those limitations. I give myself deadlines that are incredibly unrealistic and stress inducing. I use automatic savings as a way to hide money from myself because I spend less when I feel broke. I am in constant pursuit of minimalism, so that I can target spending to ethical vendors (fair trade ain’t cheap) and I can stop accumulating things that clutter my limited space. In and of themselves, these are wonderful practices in restraint. But, I have never truly learned to be disciplined. Instead, I tame my environment, so that I don’t have to be.

Let me give some examples of how I have this all wrong. I am afraid that if I have $20 in cash, that money will burn a hole in my pocket and I’ll use it to buy something dumb. When I have lots of time to complete a paper, I will procrastinate until the last minute and then “bang it out.” This all has worked well in the past, but today it’s no longer serving me.


Photo: me.me

I think I’ve pinpointed where this limiting impulse comes from. This is going to sound weird, but I have always felt that I would die young. (I don’t know why and don’t try to make this into a “thing” – it’s not.) This feeling has been with me forever and it has always driven me to accomplish everything I want at the earliest possible opportunity. There’s been no waiting for later, no pause button, and certainly no ease in my sense of urgency. It makes sense that if you think you’ll die at 25, you’d ensure that every hour of every day is packed to the brim with experiences and accomplishments. Ok, so, the thing is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Going at breakneck speed for so long has got me winded.

The scarcity model has stopped working for me principally because my environment keeps changing.  There’s no use in trying to use my Washington, DC cash free logic in southern Africa where the internet is shaky (you never really know if the ATM or credit card reader is going to work). I have to learn to keep cash on hand it and use it wisely.  Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have be completely booked for me to feel productive. When I had a car, that felt like the right approach, but now that I’m taking Lyft to appointments, I realize the cost of being overbooked.


Photo: Mashable

One benefit of moving is that I get to explore new places. But, one thing it has brought me is self-exploration. I don’t get to justify my actions on being coerced by daily circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change and I’m left with those same unsustainable bad habits, but no good excuse. In this case, I have to learn to function with discipline in times of abundance, rather than manufacturing opportunities to cry wolf on scarcity.  It’s just not sustainable.

This year, I am intent to break the habit of telling myself that I don’t have enough – time, energy, love, money, knowledge – and I must overcompensate for the deficit. I want to be disciplined enough to build in time to be thoughtful about my actions and decisions and to celebrate the process along the way.

Sure, I could write a paper in one night, but WHY?! It’s just a bad idea. It’s always been a bad idea and an even worse experience. I have time to do it well, to not torture myself in the process, and to be proud of what I produced when its ready, rather than bullying myself with falsified pressure to do it the least enjoyable way in the shortest possible time period.



When I have $20 I have to think about how awesome it feels to have cash, to be able to buy something if I wanted. Better yet, I can be disciplined enough to see beyond the immediate consumerism conundrum and appreciate that I can use that money to buy something if I truly needed it and, thankfully, that’s a priceless privilege that comes with abundance.

Paulo Coelho’s quote reminds me that looking at this from the opposite lens can produce the same results. If I reframe my thoughts, I think I can control my approach rather than continuing to control the environment in which I operate.

Discipline is a craft I’m cultivating in a whole new way.



A look back at 2017 (in books)!


crushable.com via pinterest

It’s hard to start a new year without, well, properly closing out the previous one. Last year was a big one. I moved houses, changed continents, pretended to write a PhD thesis, became a mom, and reconnected with loved ones. I moved back to the DC area while public servants and politicos are under a microscope. But this town is tougher than it looks. Between Ta-Nehisi Coates book launches hosted by Sankofa Bookstore and Solange concerts at the Kennedy Center, haters are going to have to come harder. Even with all the crazy politics afoot, 2017 was quite good to me.

Despite all the changes, one thing that stayed the same, however, was my love for books. In 2017, an audible subscription and a lengthy vacation contributed greatly to my successful consumption (I dare not say “reading” since, I audio-booked it out a lot) of 50 books over the course of the year. There were countless articles and excerpts mixed in there too, but that’s neither here nor there. “I done good,” if I may say so myself. You can see the full book list here, so you can say so too.

In keeping with tradition, here are my top 5. Perhaps you’ll want to pick them up for your own 2018 challenge!

(I have to apologize in advance to you fiction lovers out there, I’m a non-fiction aficionado. Novels aren’t really my schtick.)

34556334.jpgBraving the Wilderness – Brene Brown

You should already know that anything by Brene Brown is enlightening and well worth the cover price. In this text, she explores vulnerability even further, by contrasting it with the idea of belonging.  She goes into her own family experiences, as well as a confrontation with someone who assumes she’s an NRA supporter. Yea, it’s worth reading.


18540613.jpgSettled Strangers – Gijsbert Oonk

This text is a really interesting read about Indian immigrants to East Africa. The premise of the book is a bit novel in that it tries to contest the idea that all Indian immigrants were success stories. Oonk brings in the notion that the stories of failure simply never get told, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t exist. For research and for history, I see this book as a significant contribution to the body of literature about Africa’s diversity .


13073498.jpgUnsettling Memories – Emma Tarlo

I’m learning a lot about what I don’t know about India. Yes, you heard me. The more I read, the less I know. I had no idea that the world’s biggest democracy had a period when it suspended democracy.  Did you? During this period, there was an extensive effort to incentivize sterilization in exchange for urban resettlement for the poor. Sad, but true. This book explores it all, so get your tissues ready.


368593.jpg The 4-Hour Work Week – Timothy Ferriss

Anyone who has talked to me in 2017 knows how much I am fixated on retiring at the earliest possible opportunity. I discovered that that’s my lot in life after reading this book. A friend gifted it to me and it’s been a signpost of success ever since. It helps combine my inner productivity nerd and my outer personal finance ambassador, for a balanced life.


25744928.jpgDeep Work – Cal Newport

This book tells us to quit multi-tasking. We actually suck at it (even though we think we don’t) and it’s draining (even though we think it’s a time saver). I loved reading it and should probably re-read it every quarter, because I’m a horrible and compulsive multi-tasker. I’ve already relapsed, but you should save yourself!


Since there weren’t any flat out duds this year (woo hoo!), I’ll share some honorable mentions in recommended categories:

13642929.jpgI read lots of memoir & essay by people of color this year, namely Phoebe Robinson‘s break out You Can’t Touch My Hair, Gabrielle Union’s We’re Going to Need More Wine, Trevor Noah‘s Born a Crime and Sonia Sotomayor‘s My Beloved World. This is a new genre for me, especially since most of these folks are considered too young to really have a story to tell. I mean, Phoebe is 33! Even Justice Sotomayor only writes about the earlier part of her life, pre-Supreme Court. Anywho, it goes to show that the canon is changing. Just as Roxane Gay is redefining what it means to be a Bad Feminist, so too are emergent writers shifting the meaning of what is worth writing (and hence, worth reading) and that seems to include the experiences of younger voices.

723122.jpgLast, but not least, I’ve done a lot of reading about birth and parenting lately. For any expecting parent, I’d recommend Hypnobirthing, by Marie Mongan. It helped me immensely to prepare for and to experience labor (with no medication of any kind). It worked very well for me. I also took a 5 session course to practice the techniques. Find a hypnobirthing class near you.

All thumbnail pics lifted from goodreads.com

Frugal, ECO, Ethical Citizen


Photo: Washington State University

I am so excited to be back because I can finally be a more avid supporter of eco-friendly products, small & minority owned businesses, ethical spending and civic engagement. In just the last few weeks I’ve been researching options for her & home, so that I can get into a groove that I can stick with. What’s more important is that I can’t afford to do this on a baller budget. I’ve got to find a way to chop my spending by about half and to adopt a less is more approach to the items I accept into our home. Going from a 4 bedroom townhouse to a 1 bedroom apartment is sure to be great practice. Here’s what I’ve come up with…

For clothes, I’m trying to craft my life around Courtney Carver’s 333 Project, by using decluttr and thredup to shed stuff I haven’t worn in years and to restock with new fair trade, frugal and fanciful wears. So, I’m still working through getting rid of stuff that hasn’t even yet arrived in my shipments from Africa, but for now I’m focusing on fair trade PACT Organic‘s organic cotton that meets Fair Trade standards in India and The Global Organic Textile Standard for the factory workers who make the wears. At $20 a dress at their annual sale (going on right now), there’s simply no excuse NOT to buy.  And, since underwear don’t count towards the 333, I’m investing in the Black & women owned business that’s proven to be a pick me up, under my clothes. You! Lingerie is making sure my belly bump doesn’t turn me into an old maid one minute before my time. With styles & prices on par with La Senza & Victoria Secret, this ain’t yo’ mama’s maternity wear!

For food, I’m going back to my old faithfuls. Mom’s Organic Market isn’t for the paupers, but anyone on a budget can manage it and, frankly, I feel it in my gut – literally – when I’ve grocery shopped elsewhere. To balance the budget, I’ll be going back to my old ways of relying on a CSA for fruits and veggies. First, it’s cheaper than buying everything separately, but second I get everything in one box with so much less packaging than would be the case in a supermarket chocked full of plastic bags and paper wrappings. That makes me feel like there’s less waste in the world just cause of me! Because I’m moving to a new neighborhood I don’t think I can stick with 5adayCSA, but I’ll give From the Farmer a shot. At $29 per box with delivery, I can’t complain! Oh and what to do with all the scraps that come from my juicer? COMPOST babaysssss! I am committing to dropping off the waste at the old, reliable Common Good City Farm in the District.


Photo from The Make Your Own Zone

For the house, I’m back on the non-chemical disinfectant tip – well, as much as possible without creating a bio hazard. I’m stocking up on apple cider vinegar, which can be used for everything – literally – everything. And then I’m getting Dr. Bronner’s Peppermint in bulk, in spite of its weird label, so I can “Dilute! Dilute!” (read the label – it’s weird). And finally, I’ll oscillate between Organic Eco Nuts (which are so easy to use, have little packaging, are safe for the environment and simple as hell to (re)use) for my clothes & sheets AND True! Detergents (a Black & Veteran owned business that uses non-toxic & biodegradable ingredients) for the doggie’s goods and the hubby’s sweaty stanky wears.

I can’t wait to start afresh & I’m still open to other suggestions… send ’em my way…& keep ’em coming!


Get Geeky with It!

I’ve become an efficiency junky, which apparently has a following and a crew. Yes, we are nerds. We are geeks. But, we can come up with processes and systems to evade the minutiae of the daily grind quickly and get back to pretending to be social. Whoa, have I found my people. How did I come to this?

Well, I started working in a very inefficient office and started losing my marbles, one by one. I would send an email, never get a response, but be told that I must have lost it. My inbox must be full. I had piles of paper in my office that date back decades, with no apparent purpose. I would answer the same questions over and over again all day long. And while that’s bad in its own right, I had to do it with a face that did not betray the very fact that my soul was weeping for each breath spent so uselessly. I was exhausted and agitated, constantly annoyed. And I figured, somebody had to have more info on how to get free. I could not possibly be the only person struggling with this. I gravitated toward a podcast that has actually changed my life: Asian Efficiency (The Productivity Show).  Here are the top 3 things I learned from this podcast that I think can help everyone.

  • Running efficient meetings. My organization like many others, believes that meetings are must. However, I personally believe they are the Devil’s brew for inefficiency and paper cuts. People talk much, say little, while others just enjoy the camaraderie of looking “the team” in the eye. I think talking to people should be reserved for genuine strategic thinking and brainstorming, otherwise I resent the entire process. So, this podcast helped me think through ways to run effective meetings, how to bow out of ones that really don’t pertain to me, and how to streamline ideas so that people know what to do after they’ve talked themselves into a frenzy in the group.
  • Free your inbox. Well, I still use topical folders, despite the podcast’s insistence that the search function on most email programs is the fastest way to find emails in your inbox. But, one thing I learned that I use every day is setting frequently used template messages as “signatures,” so with just the click of a button I have 90% of my email messages self populate! I can make a few individual tweaks. Change she to he, insert a name, and I can be free to do something that really requires my undivided attention.
  • The ultimate to do list should capture everything you need to do, but it should be apparent when and where things need to be done. First, capturing everything comes from “Getting Things Done” and its teaching that people shouldn’t rely on their memory to capture what they need to do. Even when one has a great sense of memory, the brain isn’t smart enough to trigger you at a time when that thing can actually be done. It triggers all the time. Combining David Allen’s philosophies and tactics, by adapting a Mattieologie’s Slay your Day planner, I created 2 systems – one at work and one at home to capture all of my to dos in a transparent and trackable way. No longer do I wake up in the middle of the night to send off an email, so that I don’t forget tomorrow. Now, I just take a half hour each day to write it all down and an hour or two a day getting it all done. The rest of my life is mine.

True story, I still work long days, but they are smart days, not hard days.  It’s made all the difference in managing my sanity and my workload. And, while I still don’t know what work/life balance actually means, I feel like I have more time for life and spend less time toiling over work. I’m not sure if geeking out can help your quality of life, but it’s helped mine immensely… check out the podcast and see for yourself. #trypod

Best Books of 2016!

Like I do every year, I signed up for Goodreads’ 2016 Reading Challenge and failed miserably. My plan was to read 52 books and just yesterday, as I read the final chapter of Paulina Chiziane‘s Niketche – a novel  in Portuguese language novel about polygamy in Mozambique – I closed the page on my 39th book of the year. Thirteen books behind, I could feel guilty, but why? I discovered audible and listened to 3.5 books (not counted), saved so many life minutes that I would have spent listening to garbage music or actually reading Mindy Kaling’s horrible book. I would say that’s a victory. And so, I will only feel, but so guilty before I share with you my annual book review…

First, I have to say that my reading heavily focused on the two areas – productivity and my PhD. So, while both may seem boring as hell to you, they were fascinating to me and really pushed me to my professional limits. Second, you can imagine why this year is extremely difficult for me to judge – naming favorites across vastly different genres is really hard to do. Third, I apologize in advance because many of the books I read are not readily available. Last, if anybody is particularly interested in reading in Portuguese, I suggest you get very familiar with wook.pt and their global shipping rates.

So, let the fun begin…

My top five are as follows:

978-0-8223-4191-8_pr.jpgLiving with Bad Surroundings by Sverker Finnstrom

You can read the book if you want to know what it’s about, but I particuarly enjoyed it for its excellent writing. As a PhD student struggling to contextualize and explain how everyday violence affects individuals and their life choices, I plan to fully mimic Finnstrom’s writing techniques and adapt them to my own study.

African Workers and Colonial Racism by Jeanne Marie Penvenne51ZX1QEahZL._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

As I wrote in my amazon.com review: “I found this study to be utterly fascinating and eerily relevant to the contemporary labor constraints in the capital of Mozambique. Anyone looking for a serious text about Mozambican economic and social realities should read this closely. It is not about the countries beaches and it doesn’t wax prophetic about the Portuguese colonial system, which I’m sure damages some people’s idyllic view of Mozambique as a country and Portugal as a racially proximate colonial master. But, with Portuguese colonialism lasting well into the 1970s, anyone living, studying or working in the country could well benefit from reading this text and understanding how it affects present day realities.”

514B-YWWBmL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgOur Black Year by Maggie Anderson

While every year I have tried to become a more mindful consumer, this book taught me how hard that can be. For those of us who live in food deserts, it’s hard. For those looking to support small businesses it’s hard. But, this family’s quest to try to exclusively patronize Black owned businesses while living in a predominantly Black neighborhood really showed me that the economics of poverty and patronage in the U.S. context are more complicated than I thought. I, for one, am taking a second to check the owners and competitors of businesses and products that I buy regularly. Entrepreneurship is to be praised and supported. Now, many years after this book was written, it’s even easier to support – no excuses. Your funds fund corporate ideologies and empires, the choice is always yours, consumer.

This Present Darkness by Stephen Ellis* 41y5BdSQ5sL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_.jpg

This book was written by a dead man. Really! He died while doing the research, but the study was so valuable and fascinating that his team continued his work. The study focuses on Nigeria’s black market scams and underworld. If you know anything about my interests, you know that mob movies and illegal activity are my schtick, so this story strikes a chord in my intellectual and entertainment soul. You’ve got to read it!

Essentialism by Greg McKeown514M9KlQKQL._AC_US218_.jpg

I have become a productivity addict and while listening to Asian Efficiency’s Productivity Podcast, I heard Mr. McKeown speak. Basically, he takes a 100 years after your death approach to prioritizing what you should do daily. By his definition, you can throw away half the stuff on your current to do list and never look back. It’s very freeing to pay attention to your legacy rather than your inbox, but it’s also a lot of responsibility. Once you figure out what you want your contribution to humanity to be, there’s really no looking back.

The bottom dwellers:

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read by Daniel R. Solin

The 7 Secrets of the Prolific by Hillary Retig

The Americanization of Goans by Ladis da Silva

Actually, all of these books suck, so I won’t waste more time on them than is necessary. They all have great premises and are about really riveting subjects, but they are poorly executed in my opinion. So, read them if you must, but don’t say you weren’t warned.

I look forward to a 2017 without a goodreads challenge, but still with a lengthy reading list…

I welcome your suggestions. Leave ‘em in the comments.