Rhonda Begos-Zolecki

Rhonda Begos-Zolecki

I've Changed My Mind

Last night, I had dinner with a close friend of mine who I don't see very often. But who I have a huge amount of respect for. She is truly the epitome of strength, confidence, trust, and spirituality. She is someone you could talk to all night long. And I think one of the reasons why people are so drawn to her is because of her ability to treat you exactly the same, no matter what you're going through, no matter what mistakes you make. You matter in her world. BUT...if the opportunity arises for her to say "You know what I think you should do?" she will do that. Only if you ask, and only if she truly believes that you're ready to hear the truth. 


One of the things we talked about was the building of self-confidence and where that comes from. We talked about the walls that we build within ourselves, and the inability we often have to break those down. There is a real "us" lying beneath a lot of dirt and debris that we've put in the way of that person coming out. Why? Perhaps you don't like that real person. Perhaps there is no aspect of you that you like. Perhaps you're afraid of embracing your true self. Or maybe all of those things are in play. The real me has been slowly but surely emerging through a lot of things that have taken place over the past few years. Yes...the past few years. Not 10 years ago, but the past few years. It takes a while to get to that point of letting change happen, and being okay with it. 


When I sang, I loved the attention. I loved the gigs. I loved how they made me feel. I loved drinking too. And I loved the looks I would get from guys, and the control that I felt I had to make people feel a certain way. After a few years of doing that, it just didn't feel that way anymore for me. I wasn't feeling really anything when I gigged. Not because it was a bad talent to have, or because I was no longer in "control." It wasn’t because I wasn’t grateful for the opportunities. I just didn't have the need to be in that light. I always looked at music as a part of my life, but not MY LIFE. So when it was time to leave, I was okay with it. Totally okay with it. My mind changed. And I was fine with the fact that it had changed. Through that process, I thought that I was the sweetest most awesome trustworthy person in the world. Well, that's not true. I'm a good friend, and I am very loyal to those I'm close to, but I can be very manipulative and mean at times. I know now how to deal with it, but I know that's me. And because I’m aware of that challenge, it doesn't make me an asshole. IT just makes me aware, and I still love who I am despite that. So I changed my mind and realized that in order for me to be able to effectively deal with challenges I face, I have to be truthful about the challenges I have, and most importantly...I HAVE TO LOVE MYSELF AND LOVE WHO I AM DESPITE THOSE CHALLENGES. Because you see, you can't encourage nor effect someone's positive change with hate. Therefore, if I hate myself, how in God's name can I become better and let my mind be effected by change?


There are people who I know who read this blog. I know they do. And I know there are those who read it who really, REALLY don't like me. I know that there are those who read it who I've hurt in one way or another. Some of those people hate that I'm in a good place. Some are happy that I've found that good place. I know there are some who read this who I've never hurt, but they hate me anyway. And read this because they're looking for the one blog that says "Holy crap, what do I do now?" 


Well - I guess all I can say to those people is, I've changed my mind with you as well. The rhetorical way in which others have not only seen me, but have also conducted their feelings toward me, no longer affects me. To a degree, it brings back memories of times when I could have been better and wasn't. But what it truly does is allow me to always find that better place, and to make sure I'm always staying focused and moving forward. So it doesn't make me feel worse; it actually validates how far I've come, and how far behind many people still remain, and WITH THAT, I still hope that those who choose to just stay stagnant, find a way to get out of that stuck place. I don't wish harm on them. I actually know that once they are confident with themselves and move forward, the less that they'll continue to beat me up! So I pray for movement every single day. 


It is an awesome thing to allow yourself to continue to grow; learn; become more emotionally, spiritually and cognitively independent. Keeping my mind open to learning new things, and meeting new people, and enjoying new experiences, is probably one of the most fulfilling things I've ever done. So I continue every day to think about, what can I learn today that can change my mind? That can change my thinking? And add more to the list of "The top ways in which you can mike your life and the world a better place.” 


Are you going to allow your mind to be changed today? All it takes is for you to say "yep", and then let it happen. 


How many fathers have been asked this question by their sons? Even by their daughters? Can we play catch outside for a little bit? And how many times have we said “no” to this, because we just didn’t have enough time?


When I think about the times with my son, especially after I quit drinking, and I remember the countless times we’ve spent talking and learning about things, I know now that these experiences were not just about the actual activity; they were life lessons. I remember when my son and I went to a festival, and there was rock climbing. Keaton was 4, and saw all of these other kids crying at the prospect of climbing this wall. And he looked at me and asked me if I thought he could do it, and I told him I knew he could, but he had to believe it.


Every step he took up that wall, I saw him take his time and watch what he did wrong the step before, and how he could improve the next step, and all the while, I just kept encouraging him. I thought he was embarrassed by my talking, but when he made it to the top, and got down, he told me that my talking helping him feel like he could do it. So I never stopped.


When he played baseball at a young age, right before the season started, my son broke his arm. He was clearly devastated after he came out of the emergency room. And when we walked into Walgreens to get his medication, he just sobbed in my arms and asked me “how am I going to play baseball with a broken arm?” I asked “how do deaf people get college degrees without hearing? How do blind people move around without sight? They find a way, and they’re smart about it. But they find a way.”


My son’s first game with his broken arm and a case, brought him to the plate to bat. He hit that ball so hard, and made it around to all of the bases scoring a run. I waited for him at home plate, and took a photo that I carry around with me all of the time. That look of determination and that look of “I got this”. It’s almost as if he didn’t even know his arm was broken.


And the time my son asked if I could tell him about my life. And without getting into a lot of detail, I basically told him it was hard. But that if God told me I had to go through all of it again, and have him in the end, I would do it all over because it was worth it. And he just hugged me and thanked me.


So playing catch – talking with your child and getting to know them….teaching them how you learned, so that they can learn….when they drop the ball, teaching them that’s it’s okay, just try it again….when they can’t hit as hard, or throw as far, teaching them that it takes time and patience….when they get frustrated with themselves for not doing good enough, teaching them that we have to give ourselves space to learn, and that even if we don’t throw as far as someone else, it doesn’t make them better or us worse…When they get angry at us for throwing too hard, teaching them how to say “back off a little please” so that the person on the other end can hear your concerns, rather than your screams. When they back off from throwing hard, because they don’t think they can – showing them how to as hard as they can, and let them make those mistakes so that they can learn the correct way. When they say “I can’t do this” and teaching them that saying “I CAN’T” is what prevents us from “I CAN”.


When they ask “CAN WE PLAY CATCH?” What they’re really saying is “TEACH ME ABOUT LIFE.”


Take the time to do that:) You’ll be surprised how much more they learn than just how to throw a ball. 

How To Be A Leader – From A True Subordinate

Back in the day, I used to be a waitress. My first experience in that position came when I worked on a boat in Boston, MA as a singing waitress for a Boat touring company called The Spirit of Boston. I had never waitressed before in my life, and was very scared about the prospect of adding singing to the mix, serving drinks, having the responsibility of making folks who I had never met before excited about food, entertainment, and service from someone whose history they knew nothing about. I did not know how I was going to make these people WANT to follow me for an experience most of them had never had, and quite frankly, one I had never had. Being such a youngster at the time – 20 to be exact – I was just entering into something that was completely foreign to me. I also had to add in the fact that all of this would be happening on a boat. So if someone wasn’t happy or not satisfied, or if by chance I ran into people I didn’t like, I would trapped for almost 3 hours on water that none of us could escape from.


My first experience in understanding what it took to make this actually work came on an evening cruise close to when the summer was ending. A young man came onto the boat who, to me at the time, looked very ill. His face and hands were covered in sores. It was the late 80s and everyone was still in the beginning stages of fear with AIDS having been the headline in every US city in the nation. Many people had issue with the prospect of having this young man in their section.


He said in my section, in the back of the boat alone. I had very few tables that night. No one had assigned seating, unless the groups were very large. When other customers saw this man sit in my section, many stayed away from him. I heard even some of my co-workers telling me to make sure I washed my hands after every visit to his table.


To make an extremely long story short, my interaction with this gentleman started very frustratingly. He was not interested in hearing about my performance that would happen later on in the night. He didn’t know about the buffet that folks didn’t want to participate in, after seeing him pick food from the trays. He wanted a bottle of wine, and made it clear that he wanted to be left alone.


So for a bit of time, I left him alone after brining him his bottle of wine. But I really thought about it, and what I truly knew in my heart, was that he did not want to be left alone. It was safer to say that because then to him, it seemed instead of being in a vulnerable position of potentially letting people in who would eventually scatter, it was easier to say that you were controlling how many folks actually came in – instead of watching people walk away from you for no other reason except fear.


I came to this guy, and ignored every customer I had and spent an amazing amount of time trying to get him to talk…not because it was part of my job, but because I WANTED to know who he was. I really did. And I wanted him to know that I really cared. I didn’t know what he was sick with, but I knew he was really sick. And I just wanted this experience...THIS experience to be one that wouldn’t be like all of the others. We talked a lot, and he did open up. I remember his face. I remember his smile. I remember how happy he was that I let him in, and that he could do the same for me.


When he left, he gave me a tremendous tip, which I didn’t really care about, and tried to give back, and he told me the gift that the moment had been to him. And told me to keep it. He walked off and I cried because I knew he was going to die. I felt it. But I was happy that in that moment, he lived, AS IS, as he was. That made me extremely happy. Those people who talked about him felt terrible when I began to cry and talked about this man and who he was. So, indirectly, they were changed by the experience as well.


When college was over in Boston, I moved back to Milwaukee, and I realized as I continued waitressing that what made people come back, and what made people leave tips had nothing to do with the food. It didn’t even have to do with how fast the food came out. IT had to do with the experience. With being ACKNOWLEDGED. I always made it a point to tell people “I SEE YOU”, and even if it took a while for the food to come out, the fact that I let them know I knew they were there was enough. And I never complained about tips ever. Because the acknowledgment and genuine care is what mattered most to my customers. They followed me even when I went to other restaurants. They wanted to know where I was. One customer was a guy who NO ONE wanted to wait on, and I got through to him. He followed me too and bought me one of the most meaningful Christmas gifts ever. And he was Jewish:)


These lessons stuck with me throughout my life, especially after I quit drinking. Understanding the impact you have. Taking responsibility for the things you didn’t do right (I find myself doing that a lotJ). But what sticks in my head are the people I’ve met by chance because of my desire to know them, and to let them know they matter. Rich, poor, known, unknown, children, adults, men, women, blacks, whites, Jews, Muslim…..it was always important to ME that they knew I saw them and that I cared. Now, that doesn’t mean that at times, I haven’t had to be a hard ass and let people go who were wreaking havoc in my life, because I Have had to let folks go.


But I do know that folks don’t want to be a statistic in a study about how to engage employees more. They don’t want to be a part of a process of organizational charts, and hierarchy and uncertainty. They want to know for sure that people are in their corner. That they matter, and that their thoughts are considered. They want to be a part of a process, not just a brick in the wall, but part of the architecture, part of the cement that keeps those bricks together. They want to know that you believe their presence matters. They want you to care about what they can do best, not what their failing at, and they want those things to be brought out. They want help in breaking down the barriers in the own lives, that cause that backup in feelings and performance. Leaders can do this. Leaders, not just those with VP titles, but those who are equivalent in their job measure, can do this.


In all of my years of waitressing, I’ve had these conversations with my guests about their lives; their struggles; their triumphs. Becoming grandparents, losing loved ones, being vets. The talking and the caring is always what brought them back. My goal to make their experience count. The money was an added thing I never expected. THAT is leadership.


Be empathetic; know who your community is; get involved; work together; experience everything; come out of your bubble and more than anything…..


Be real, be genuine and let others be the same. LEARN. LEARN as much as you can.


A wonderful quote about leadership from my hero, Saint Teresa – “You can do what I cannot do; I can do what you cannot do; together, we can do great things”.


Leadership is not about a degree; it’s not about titles; it’s not about salary; it’s not about gender; it’s not based in fear; it is based in hope. Leadership is about allowing others to be leaders. When you do that, folks will not only follow you, but they’ll lead the way for someone else.


Be a leader.  


There is a story that I often tell. The first time I heard it, it truly changed my whole line of thinking regarding public speaking about sexual assault. 


Sexual assault is so huge. It's so big, and the victims are just left scattered about. Black, white, young, old, all religions, assaulted by family, assaulted by their church, assaulted by people who they thought were friends, assaulted by strangers...some surviving, some barely surviving, some having not even begun to heal, some in prison or in jail. And here I am - 1 person speaking about her experience. How can I change the mind of people who ignore the problem? More importantly, how can I change the mind of so many victims who are struggling to make it on a daily basis? Especially when there are so many avenues - the media, their friends, family, other people who don't understand - who tell these victims to "get over it." "move on." "It happened so long ago - what is your problem?" As if to assume that somehow, the fear, the triggers, the addictions to deal with the pain are things that we want and ask for. 


How does one person do this? 


The starfish story explains how it begins. There is a woman who is on the beach, and she notices that there are hundreds upon hundreds of starfish that have been washed ashore, struggling for air. They have no way of saving themselves, and no way of even screaming for help. She runs to the starfish, and one by one, she begins to put them back in the water. It is taking her quite a long time to get to them all - and she doesn't know if she will, but she continues. 


A man walking along the beach sees this woman doing this. He is totally taken aback by how many hundreds of starfish are still there that need to be saved. He asks her what she is doing. 


She responds "I'm trying to save these starfish." 


He says "But there are so many." 


She says "I know"


He says "But you won't be able to save all of the starfish. It's impossible You won't be able to. In the end it won't matter how much you try. You won't be able to save them all." 


She responds "It matters to that one." 


It matters to that one. 


After I read that, I took a long step back and asked myself about those moments when I've spoken and saw the pain on the faces of women and men who I knew hadn't yet dealt with their past. When I spoke at Taycheedah Prison, for women who felt that their lives were over, and the bitter sweet tears of healing that I saw them cry as I cried along with them, going down in history as the most successful and effective speech I have ever given. It mattered to somebody. Not to everybody, but to somebody. Imagine if we had more? Imagine if we had many involved in fixing these problems of pain, and misunderstanding that exist? How much it would matter? How much it would bring us to a point of not having to say "Black Lives Matter" but we all matter? 


My reason for telling these stories is because - that woman with the starfish, she didn't ask the starfish how they got there, just like I didn't ask the women at Taycheedah what brought them there. I was only concerned about where I could take them. She was more effective in her action to right a wrong, then in placing blame and judging which would have done nothing. She saw them as living things that needed help. And even though it was a starfish - it was up to her human heart to put that starfish back in an environment that could bring it life. 


Imagine if we had more people doing this collectively? More people judging less, and doing more? More people asking questions and listening rather than talking? More people understanding that there is no such thing as a "RACE CARD" because this is not a card game to us. More people looking at the hard working brothers and sisters in the black community who have jobs where they struggle to move forward because of their color; neighborhoods where they struggle to bring peace, because no one outside of the neighborhood wants to help; where they struggle to move to white neighborhoods even if they have the money, because then the white neighbors move out out of fear. Imagine if we had those conversations. If we had those collective conversations about fear, and race, and how to fix it. It would matter to not only the BLACK LIVES - but to WHITE LIVES, HISPANIC LIVES, GAY LIVES....to life. It would matter more than what a president could do...more than what a congressman could do. It would matter and put us back in control of our communities, and our safety. Having collective togetherness when tragedy strikes. Not just black people showing up when black people die, and white people showing up when white people die....


IT would matter to everyone. IT will change your mind, and your life. 


I hope to God it matters to you where this country is going. And I hope instead of judgement and fear, you are making a choice to get involved and see that those very people who you deem to be absent fathers, violent, drug addicts, non family people...for the most part, are just like you - with the same concerns, and same want for peace. 


If you haven't been there, GO THERE - and understand while it won't matter to everybody....it is going to matter to SOMEBODY....perhaps that 15 year old who broke down seeing his father killed on television; that 4 year old who watched her father get shot in the car; and the kids of those police officers who have a father who will not be coming home. 


Clearly, if you do SOMETHING, it's gonna matter to SOMEBODY. If you do nothing but talk, it will matter to NO ONE. 

The Best Relationship I've Ever Had

Man what a life. What a process these days have taken, and the tremendous lessons I have learned. It is really something, when I look back on just 8 years ago in 2008 when I was so lost and felt so alone. Then, I look in the mirror now, and I see someone beautiful. Someone worthy. Someone with so much to give the world and to give herself. 


My life has been a series of really failed relationships. Ones that were not based on love. Ones that were based on fulfilling loss, and obtaining something that I didn't even know I needed. It was like a drug for me - like momentarily, I didn't feel by myself, but man when those relationships ended, I felt more alone than I did the day before. And now I know why. 


I told those men - and those women - than I loved them. I told the how much I cared for them, and begged for them to stay. And they left. They had to. Sometimes, I sabotaged it to make it end. And when they were gone, I left with the one person who I wasn't telling those things to. The one person who I put down daily. The one person who felt the lowest of low. 




The last 8 years have been the most rewarding and opening of my eyes experience I've ever had. There are so many people who are responsible for this. So many. More than I can really even mention in this message. Some people are going to read this, and they're going to be angry. Some will read this and will feel nothing but joy. I only want to focus on where the joy is, and that is all I care about. Some may even leave comments. I won't delete them. Not this time. I will look and them and feel the blessing of life,and thank God that I'm not there anymore. 


I love who I am. I love my skin, and my face, and my hair. I love me at my worst. I love me at my best. I am always trying to figure out the why's behind my actions, and where they come from. Man - for the first time, I know who I am. I can be really defensive, and I anger easily - especially when i feel like someone is purposely trying to infiltrate on a life that has potential for good, or one that is on a path toward good. That makes me angrier than anything in this world. Sometimes I snore, and leave things laying around:) I forget stuff all of the time. Lose stuff all of the time. But man, I do my best to keep it together. 


HOWEVER - I love helping people. i love it when people ask me questions about my life, and when they want to get it. I love when people feel like they can trust me and share things that are close to their heart. When I mess up, I take full responsibility and I don't blame anything. I may say that something played a role, but I never say "I did it because that thing made me do it." That has been the most amazing growth period in my life. This has helped me learn how to not do it again:) 


The best relationship ever - that I've ever had - is the one with myself. The one that I've learned to accept without condition. This is the one that I've longed for, waited for, needed, and when it showed up, the one that I totally recognized. This is the girl I hug daily, the one who I watch movies with and laugh with, the one who I sing with, the one who I spend time with with my son. This girl is amazing. She will give you everything if you let her - but she'll leave you if you do things to make her feel less than what she deserves. The amazing part is, she will always remain receptive to letting you back in, with no questions asked. 


I will continue to nurture and give this person all that she deserves, and recognize when she needs help and be the one who lets her know how amazing she is. And I will do all I can to give back and help those who are looking for that person. That one person who can make all of the difference in life. 




And to everyone who sees this as a lie - or not true. All I know is, what has come with loving me, and knowing me is knowing who I am, and knowing where my intentions lie, and where my heart is. It doesn't matter what you think. It only matters what I know. And I pray that you find this within yourself and focus more on what could be not true in your own heart, rather than focusing what you think is missing from mine. 


Thanks mom for teaching me such valuable and wonderful lessons:) 

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