Category Archives: Life Planning

Relocating With Your Dreams

This is a guest post from Keena Stephens

In July 2010, I made a career and life move by relocating to Atlanta, GA. My decision to move was greatly influenced by a trip to Atlanta in May 2010 during a visit to my cousin. My perception of the city prior to this visit was largely connected to the family trips to Ellenwood (suburban Atlanta), AUC Homecomings, and the glamorized view of Atlanta from TV shows such as The RealHousewives of Atlanta. During this trip, I gained a real perspective of the city of Atlanta. While visiting, I volunteered for a career day event at Sylvan Hills middle school. I witnessed the teachers work overtime to develop this event and their everyday curriculum with limited resources while working to reshape the minds of the students and expose them to positive role models and examples of the fruits of a college education. More importantly, the teachers were accomplishing this with within a community where the students were regularly exposed to images that were the extreme opposite. Here I was, in the middle of the beautiful “A-Town” and it looked no different from my neighborhood in Roseland or my dad’s old neighborhood in Englewood in Chicago. These students had the same fears, hopes, and dreams as the kids back home, and unfortunately the same barriers.

Atlanta Skyline

Atlanta Skyline (Photo credit: k1ng)

What I realized most was that although Chicago will always be my hometown, this city that others see as the Mecca for Black Wealth has ghettos, poverty, poor healthcare, violence and disparities in the delivery of resources to poor communities. These are the same issues that you will see in almost any American city. This changed my perspective of community to a more all-inclusive look at poverty across the country. I realize that no matter what a city may look like from a visitor’s perspective, it must be acknowledged that those that dwell in that city may share the same struggles of what you know of your very own city. The grass is not greener. There is work to be done across this country and more, globally. I personally focus my efforts on communities that are impoverished, considered low-income or have a poor school system. Other factors of service for me include- limited access to healthcare and other necessary functional resources. However, the community you choose to assist with should be near in both distance and to your passion. So, as my heart and efforts will still be tied to my hometown and my old Roseland southside Chicago neighborhood, I will not dare overlook and refuse to take part in the Sylvan Hill, Bankhead, West-End areas where those that look like me are suffering like my people back in the most impoverished areas in Chicago.

Tips on relocating or consideration before moving

1- Visit the community for an extended period of time. This will allow you to develop a connection to that community and build relationships. You can become apart of the community if you don’t associate with the people within it. If you have not chosen a neighborhood, this will help you determine which areas fit your personality and interests.

2- Join a volunteer group after moving. My first major activity upon moving to Atlanta was the CHAMPS Health Summit in 2010. I worked with Morehouse School of Medicine, Emory, and the Midtown Urology Staff on this health screening drive for men of color. Not only was this a rewarding experience to be able to coach these men in taking care of their health, but I also met new friends and people that were doing great things in my career field. I later gained a great position working with one of the companies at the Health Summit.

3- Try not to compare your new place to your old city. I find a lot of people who constantly compare their new city to their old city, sometimes end up moving or completely missing out on the experiences that they can gain from relocating. For me, Atlanta is not Chicago, but I have found wonderful things specific to Atlanta that have made my move worthwhile. Every city has its own character, so exhaust the possibilities that your new city has to offer.

4-Try new hobbies and find new friends ASAP. When in Rome do as Romans do. I am a die-hard Bears fan, but I tailgate with the Falcons fans as often as possible….with my Bears shirt on of course! The best thing about relocating is that you have the opportunity to try things that you did not or could not try at home. This may include new foods, outdoor adventures, or anything fun that you may not have done in your old city. A great website to meet new friends and find out what is going on in your new city is You can find a group that may have hobbies you do or hobbies you have always wanted to do.

5-Before you move at all consider finances first. This is the number one tip I can give before you relocate. Please do your homework. Actually find out what the actual cost of living is for that city, not just relying on the internet posted prices. Look into all additional costs as well including sales taxes, costs to insure and register vehicles, gas and proximity from home to work, and average utility costs. Finally, research the costs to move from your location to your new destination. These figures will help you to determine if your budget will support you relocating.

Good luck!


Keena Stephens is a 28 year-old African-American woman, born and raised in a two parent home in the Roseland Community on Chicago’s Southside.  Her upbringing instilled in her the passion for community outreach and has been a major influence in her work as a healthcare practitioner.  At the age of 18, Keena received her license as a Practical Nurse and worked her way through college, graduating in May of 2007 with a Bachelor of Science in Community Health from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.  Upon graduation she worked at Mount Sinai Hospital in Chicago, IL until her move to Atlanta, GA in July 2010. 

While in Atlanta, GA, Ms. Stephens has worked as a Research Coordinator for Morehouse School of Medicine and more recently as a Research Project Coordinator for the Atlanta VA Medical Center.  Her affiliation with both Morehouse School of Medicine and the Atlanta VA Medical Center has afforded her the opportunity to reach a diverse healthcare population; underserved areas through community clinics and health education fairs as well as Veteran support outreach.  She is currently in pursuit of her Doctorate in Nursing Practice with a specialty in Family Practice.  Her goal is to provide holistic, comprehensive healthcare to patients of all levels of income through evidence-based practice.  Keena is a social butterfly and enjoys spreading her positive energy in and out of the workplace.  In her free time she enjoys traveling, great food, and getting acquainted with her new city.


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Resolutions That Don’t Have to Wait Until the New Year

New Years is a time that promotes reflection and goal setting, two of my favorite things. Today I have taken a few minutes to look over the book “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose” by Eckhart Tolle. eckhart tolleI originally read the book in 2008 and revisited a few pages in which I had folded down the corner of the edges. The points below yet again put my attention in a chokehold and I am hoping that moving forward I can exist with the following in mind.

1. Focus on healing the inner and the outer will follow

I.e. my inability to lose weight is the physical manifestation of all that I carry

2. No longer use the words I, me, my, or myself unless necessary (the rest of this post will be difficult to write-lol)

I.e. avoid engaging with people in a way that puts personal opinions or preferences at the center of dialogue

3. When in doubt believe the following: Life will give you whatever experience is most helpful for the evolution of your consciousness. How do you know this is the experience you need? Because this is the experience you are having at this moment (Tolle).

4. Know the difference between a fact and an opinion

Tolle explains that we often perceive an event in relation to our reaction to the event, thus leading to confusion. He further explains that an instinctive response is the body’s direct response to an external situation. An emotion is the body’s response to a thought.

5. Redirect unhappiness (this is related to number one)

Tolle says: “Unhappiness is an ego created mental-emotional disease that has reached epidemic proportions. It is the inner equivalent of the environmental pollution of our planet.”  Tolle asks: “Can you see that your unhappiness about being unhappy is just another layer of unhappiness?”

6. Accept that it is so…..

Using a quote by Shakespeare and focusing on perception again, Tolle reminds us that events and happenings “are as they are. What is dreadful is your reaction, your resistance to it, and the emotion that is created by that resistance.” Shakespeare’s words, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

7. Become a better listener (this ties in to number two)

I.e. in conversation or in reading and writing allow others to go through their own process. Tolle states that the power of allowing lies in noninterference, nondoing.

8. Stop being over dramatic about the past

Tolle encourages us to know that whatever we learn through self observation or psychoanalysis is about you. It is not you.

9. Live in the moment

Tolle suggests that we frequently ask ourselves: What is my relationship with the present moment?

I can say I right now because this is solely about me :). In closing these are the lessons I am guided by beginning right now.

Where have your reflections led you to today?


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Success Formula: Leading Lady Larvetta Loftin

Larvetta Loftin has made a personal and professional commitment to assure that the leadership of women does not go unnoticed. Her definition of leadership is “being able to fill in the gap for a friend or someone who needs your help.” For Larvetta, leadership ranges from buying groceries and doing laundry for an ill friend to executing marketing campaigns for large companies. Leading Ladies International is undoubtedly about celebrating women who have devoted time to lead with and for people they love.

It seems clear that being a leading lady is not a calling that allows for a tight schedule or quick fixes.  I was curious about how do leading ladies SMARTLY endure. Larvetta stated, “you have to be pressed and squeezed and put into some uncomfortable situations to elevate your game… grapes that are turned into wine, the pressure allows it to be a timeless drink.” Speaking of drinks, life is about having a glass half full for Larvetta. She also acknowledges that the glass does sometimes get half empty and that’s when you must take action. When you find yourself in neglect- lots of mistakes, not getting the proper rest, and when you are not operating in a stabilized community (i.e. daily routines), that’s when you know you’re half empty. Larvetta says this is when you have to take accountability, keep your end goals in mind, and do what is NEEDED to fill the cup back up.

To understand someone’s success, I always like to know more about their personal fiber (character in plain English but its way more than that). Our interview hit home for me when I asked, “What moral challenges do you face in your career or daily life that make you think about the phrase:“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”(Ralph Waldo Emerson)?” With no hesitation Larvetta replied, Kindness is the greatest gift you can offer to your life and to your business.” In the words of Larvetta, kindness is about listening and being present, not taking interactions with others for granted, and treating others how you want to be treated. Kindness is also a way to stand on your brand. I needed to hear that of course, and have since been working more intentionally on being kind. Another great strand of Larvetta’s core is her stance on honesty and integrity. She considers these the core competencies of her business and self.

Because so many of our interactions with people are online today we must be conscious of how we represent our brand, including our core competencies. Larvetta provided sound advice about how to manage your online reputation. Larvetta stated that, “it is important for your web presence to show that someone is present. It reminds me of a relationship, if your site is outdated, I feel like you are not investing in our interactions. I like to go to websites that help me see things different.”

My interview with Larvetta provided me with an example of a woman who is confident in the lessons of her experiences. Larvetta has found a way to validate the nature of women and our varied experiences as a valuable leadership quality. Boundaries are pushed each day because of Leading Ladies International through the vision of Larvetta as a personable, fun, and dynamic individual.

Larvetta Loftin’s Success Formula = Honesty + Kindness + Leadership that fills in the gap

More on Larvetta Loftin:

What is one of the biggest issues you see plaguing communities? What is your personal commitment to alleviating this?

Making sure that our children are exposed to the arts. The arts gave me the confidence and self-esteem to perform. In school I used my artistic acumen to really understand.

What is a good read that you would recommend to people working on personal and or community development?

“Boundaries”- as women we love to say yes. We say yes to everybody else but we sometimes do not pursue our own passion and success. Learn not to be everything to everybody.

“E-myth Revisited” – for people in business.

“Tipping Point”- helps you understand who you are. When you understand who you are it helps you be a better sound person.

What are some community assets and resources that you would recommend to others?

  • Community does not mean where you live, it is the community of people who you share interest with. It is important for you attend conferences that are about empowerment and professional development. These are the communities that you should get involved with.
  • People should also attend their local library. Look at and understand different trends and read a variety of magazines. Using the community to help to learn- the more you learn the more you earn.
  • Attend intentional networking events. If your community is small business owners you may want to attend program geared toward that. Program the dates in your phone and go every year.


  • Eliminate debt within 12-18 months in order to create wealth. List of all my bills and checking them off.
  • Come out of sole proprietorship and come into an S-Corp – by October
  • Be more smart with my time and make sure my time is being vested in my SMART goals.


Have you ever heard the phrase, “life is not a sprint it is a marathon”?

A marathon is about endurance and everyone who manages to cross the finish line successfully completes the race. Not sure if race is even the right word for a marathon, more like an event. It can be a race, but so many people run marathons to challenge and compete against themselves, not really focused on the concept of beating others or placing first. A marathon is an opportunity for someone to examine their ability to endure.

That’s what I really want to focus on today- endurance-SMART endurance.

At times I find myself running on fumes getting lots of stuff done, but not with very good rhyme or reason behind my actions. Sure, I have tasks to complete, but running thin without clear purpose or goals is taxing. When I begin to feel run down I always have to ask myself am I multi-tasking or multi-achieving- two very different things in my mind.

Achievement implies that I have worked toward completing a goal or task that means something to me. I don’t consider getting things done for the sake of saying, “it’s done”, an achievement. Achievement is not only an action but it is a feeling; you can feel a sense of achievement.  Too many times people go through the motions of tolerating and enduring any situation that they are faced with. This is not necessary.

Instead, we should focus on SMART endurance- tolerating struggles and overcoming obstacles that directly align with our personal SMART goals.

When you have clear SMART goals, your efforts are never in vain, your decision making process begins to make more sense, and you know when and if something is worth enduring.

What do you endure unnecessarily? How have you endured SMARTly?

Ways to Endure SMARTly

  • Look at how you spend your week- How is most of your time spent? Answering phone calls, emails, chatting with friends, business deals, reading, etc.? Become aware of how and WHY you spend your time the way you do.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I satisfied?”- In review, do you think that how you spend your time provides a sense of purpose or well-being? Make sure that you are on the right track.
  • Satisfied or not, create SMART goals- Knowing what you are working toward and how you want to continue or change how you spend your time will help you focus and be intentional with the decisions that follow.

Check out this article below on building resilience in order to better endure.


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Coasting to a Full Glass

Coasting…..I am not a person that usually does this.

Lately I have allowed myself to coast…..surrender to His plan instead of my own. I am enjoying coasting. How did I get here? How did I get to a place where I am not stressing or worrying about the next step (Not to be confused with me not caring about the next step)?

Because everything is moving forward and I have stopped trying to control things and instead I allow myself to be in a place of alignment. What do I mean by moving forward? All of the people that I put timelines on and have taken responsibility for are progressing at their best. I hone in on people because it has recently dawned on me that most of my goals and wants involve other people. For example, if I want to go on a cruise with a group of friends there are many steps that involve interacting with other people and systems (still led by people) that affect whether I will go on the trip as planned.

Friends schedules

Friends money

Friends goals for the trip

These are just to name a few, but one of the most important things on my list that cause me stress or to stop coasting when dealing with people is:


If I ask my friends in December do they want to go on a trip in May but they do not respond until April, I may be out of luck regarding my trip. Fortunately I have been able to coast because all the people that I am currently aligned with and dependent on are working at their best as it relates to interactions with me and my time. Currently all of my relationships, (friends, significant other, family, co-workers, volunteers, etc) are collaborative and I am confident of who is on my team and who cares about working with me (my schedule, my goals, my timelines, etc.). Therefore, I can surrender-no matter what the outcome- because I know that good will is at play.

Have you ever found yourself frustrated, arguing with people while in groups or in organizations, or coming home miserable after work? It is probably because someone in your space is working against you. And I do not mean that they simply disagree with you; they are actually trying to hinder your progress or are careless to your concerns and needs.

After many years of being in negative spaces in which I was forced to be “on 10” ALL of the time (i.e. trying to control, out think the next person, and worry about outcomes) , I am now at a place where I can trust that people I am involved with are respectful of my time, circumstances, and goals.

Have you been able to “coast” lately? Have you found alignment with the people (systems included) that you are surrounded by? How does it feel? How has your life improved?

Tips to Coasting

1- Create SMART goals-if you do not have clear goals and priorities for your self you can easily wind up in a place of frustration, anxiety filled experiences, and confusion.

2- Remove the opposition– again, opposition is not people that disagree with you, but those working against you or your agreed upon interactions.

3- Practice peace and appreciation– CHOOSE to be in a peaceful place; CHOOSE to stray away from negativity; CHOOSE to acknowledge good things in your life- the glass should ALWAYS be half full.

Check out this website to fill up your cup:


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“Later” or “No”- ASCW (life plan 4)

The most important part about writing down your goals and planning for your future is REVISITNG your plan and goals. As a consultant I have worked on a lot of business plans for clients and it is amazing to see how invested I become in their futures by engaging in their work. I have noticed that the longer I stay away from my personal and professional goals, the less connection I have to them.

Recently I reviewed my life plan. And I want to share with you all my Volunteer Category. As you will see below, I think volunteering is a mutually beneficial opportunity for the volunteer and the organization or persons seeking assistance. At the time I drafted this section in early March everything below was true.


Purpose: To bridge resources for causes that need assistance

Outcomes: “Ashley contributed countless hours of service that assisted in building individuals self esteem, decreasing homelessness in urban cities, and redirecting youth to become social agents for community change.”

Vision: I volunteer 2-3 hours a week of my physical time on site. I volunteer my skill set 2-3 hours a week off site to help improve the sustainability of an organization. I learn about new opportunities and meet new people who help increase my perspective on the organizations I support. I complete one-time, short- term, and long- term projects. My volunteer life is secondary to my income activities and the needs of my loved ones. I will not have more than 2 volunteer projects simultaneously.

Reality: I physically volunteer about 2-3 hours a month. I volunteer about 10-15 hours a month off site to help improve the sustainability of organizations. People refer me as a volunteer for my skills and reliable reputation. I am willing to volunteer to learn new skills or enhance existing ones. I have had to cut back on my volunteering due to rising gas prices and re-prioritizing.

My current update is that I am trying to align my volunteer activities with my studies and professional experiences. I am interested in a lot of topics, but looking back at my life plan reminded me of what I made a conscious decision to become involved in. For a person like me, compassionate, always wanting to help, and easily intrigued, it is important to have a guide that allows me to know what to say “no” or “later” to.

As I was write this, I recall hearing friends and family say that they are learning to say “no” when asked to assist with certain projects.

I do not want to always say “no” but instead want to be able to say “later” or figure out a schedule that will allow me to take on an additional opportunity when the time is right. So many issues and people are correlated and sometimes you can’t learn about one without engaging with the other.

What helps you guide your volunteer choices or other decisions that dictate your time?

Below is an article that discusses why you would say “no”. It is also provides some insight on the benefits of saying “no” and offers strategies to help you do so.


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SEEing Your Community

I thought of this entry after taking a second to truly look at my surroundings. I realized that I was still able to find new sites and treasurers on a trip I had easily taken more than 50 times.
Upon “discovering” the new objects, places, and colors, I was able to understand spaces, events, and scenery that were once foreign or unexplainable to me. 

It all happened when I was leaving the north side of Chicago to return to school in Urbana- Champaign. Currently surrounded by agricultural landscape, the city view that I thought I knew all to well, came alive.
As I drove down lake shore drive I found myself going slower and slower, observing, appreciating, and seeing the intentionality of the design. I was beginning to see that everything had its place in the city and I longed to stay put so that I could receive all that the clear sky was trying to show me about Chicago.
I’m sure that my urban planner eye was kicking in, but either way, it was not until I truly looked at my surroundings that I understood what was there for me to learn from.
The new views made me feel creative and I wanted nothing more than to find the words to describe what I was experiencing. For me, this experience confirmed that people MUST travel outside of their community to SEE their community, suggest improvements, and ultimately to know more than we already do in order to be builders of the future.  

Leaving Chicago was the only way for me to SEE Chicago. As a planner, I know that I will have amazing opportunities to go into communities and suggest changes. I hope to always remember this experience and find ways to help residents SEE more outside of their community so that they can think of innovative solutions for the problems in their communities.

When did you begin to SEE your community?

Below is a link to the Education for Sustainable Development website. The page provides an activity readers can use to work with residents to SEE the effects of local development.


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