“I needed connection with people who lived in gardens of possibilities and opportunities; not wastelands of insecurities and threats.” with Maria Dowd and Sasza Lohery

I needed connection with people who lived in gardens of possibilities and opportunities; not wastelands of insecurities and threats. Those few moments inside the ballroom awakened something in me. I knew this was my pivot point. It was time to remove myself from the no-win cat-and-mouse game I’d been forced to play. It was either […]

I needed connection with people who lived in gardens of possibilities and opportunities; not wastelands of insecurities and threats. Those few moments inside the ballroom awakened something in me. I knew this was my pivot point. It was time to remove myself from the no-win cat-and-mouse game I’d been forced to play. It was either revival or survival.

As a part of my series about “Connecting With Yourself To Live With Better Relationships” I had the pleasure to interview Maria Dowd, whose mission is to energize and equip women with tools and strategies to take bolder stands for the quality of their lives. As a catalyst for women’s empowerment, Maria inspires women to be more courageous, wise, and enterprising — to design a life built upon uncompromising values, their true genius, and with clear visions of what they want and deserve. Maria’s My Amazing LYFE brand of empowerment programs holistically deliver this promise.

Thank you so much for joining us! Let’s Get Intimate! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.

Several years ago, I was working as the founder and producer of African American Women on Tour (AAWOT), an empowerment conference she toured with for 13 years starting in the 1990s which profoundly touched the lives of over 29,000 women worldwide by embracing, fueling, and celebrating their strengths, endurance, and brilliance. I later went on to work as a network marketing consultant, representing a line of botanical body care products, where I trained and mentored a team of over 1,100 consultants committed to uplifting their economic well-being and sharpening their leadership skills while promoting self-care and healthy living. 
 I’ve shared pieces of my story by authoring three inspirational books: Journey to Empowerment, Journey into my Brother’s Soul, and Journey to a Blissful Life, which was featured in Essence magazine as one of the best books on personal renewal. I’ve also contributed to Delayed But Not Denied Books II and III.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?

Yes! I have launched the My Amazing LYFE Map Course, an interactive holistic life planning system that includes coursework, personality assessments, action partnering, community support, vision boarding, and more to help women (and men!) powerfully navigate and activate transformative life goals.

My Amazing LYFE Map focuses on your WHOLE SELF … not just the sexy parts.
 This journey challenges members to slow down, to quiet their mind and body; to connect with their core needs and desires — then commit them “pen to paper” enhanced with soulful, energizing visuals, affirming words and symbols, then activated through coaching, peer and mentor support and partner accountability.

Participants are challenged to create a soul-stirring, whole-life blueprint with action steps that promote greater inner peace, physical well-being, prosperity, more harmonious personal and professional relationships, and uncompromising optimism and happiness.

And, to further help women adopt daily best practices to exponentially elevate their quality of life, I host a private Facebook Group called LYFE Lifts: Your Healthy Habits Haven when women and men share and garner healthy lifestyle tips.

Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?

My life took a dramatic turn after a divorce in 2012, which served as a “lightbulb” moment, for I, like so many women, had fallen into the trappings of financial and toxic emotional co-dependency. Determined to never find myself in such a vulnerable position again, I created a holistic life map to help me through the journey of expanded self-awareness, course corrections, and remarkable levels of clarity and traction.

(Delayed But Not Denied Book II excerpt)

“It was April, 2012.

I was sitting in an audience at an empowerment conference, among maybe five hundred women and thirty men. Most were entrepreneurs. The scene was so familiar it made me shudder. People were on their feet, whooping and hollering. The motivational speaker, Lisa Nichols, had stirred all this up.

While I should have felt the same euphoria as a woman, and an entrepreneur. Instead, I felt an intense heartache. Next up was a mini parade of well-dressed women, each with personal testimonials everyone in the room could relate to. Listening to them I became even sadder, and ever-so-slightly envious. Okay. Maybe the envy wasn’t so slight. They all seemed so unbridled, free to be, do, say, and dance in their respective Universes — fearlessly and unapologetically defiant. Goddess, Wild Woman, Amazon, Free Spirit all came to mind, as I absorbed each word of their fascinating success stories. Maybe I was reading more into the scene, but I felt irritated and numb. In that moment, I was challenged with finding any of those descriptions within my own soul.

All right, pull it together. Don’t start crying, Maria.

What was going on inside that ballroom was my gig…once upon a time. I was instrumental in creating these same kinds of frenzied spaces, when the likes of Iyanla Vanzant, Maya Angelou, Gladys Knight and Susan L. Taylor hit my stages in every major city across the U.S. During my thirteen-year journey as the Founder and Producer of African American Women on Tour (AAWOT), a trailblazing women’s empowerment conference, I brought together the best and the brightest African-American female motivational speakers, celebrities, coaches, trainers, authors, mentors and spiritual leaders — as a unified community brimming with love, wisdom and Amazon-like fierceness. How did I get into this emotionally erratic space? I had morphed into a woman resigned to playing small and safe. I’d gotten lost in a toxic situation that left very little wiggle room for being my authentic self. My daughters spotted it right away, and were very vocal about it. Close friends stepped more gingerly around this shift in the way I was showing up in the world. And I… well… I minimized their perspectives, while rationalizing my own.

I had to escape from that conference room, filled with so many happy women. I’d become very familiar with “flight” — the art of shutting down. I had close to a decade of practice. I learned how to fly away from loud, vicious insults when I was deemed “out of line.” If I were lucky, it happened over the phone. I’d simply put down my phone — nonstop rantings still spewing out of the mouthpiece — and leave the room.

Today, a chord was struck, one that had been on lockdown for quite some time. I was done pretending. It took being surrounded by exuberance for that long-closed door to finally open. I had to leave the conference room to find a quiet place to download… and to sob. Today would be a marker, my line in the sand. No more eggshell walking. No more boundaries crossed. No more fretting over upsetting that damn, three-wheeled apple cart. It took me a long time to actually verbalized these words — I was in an emotionally and verbally abusive marriage and it was time to end it.

I found an empty bathroom, locked myself inside the handicap stall, and tumbled into a soggy, muffled breakdown, only a few feet away from the room once comfortably air-conditioned, likely now a sweat lodge. Each salty tear drop contained a familiar emotion — regret, resignation, discontent and distress, colored by fear and melancholy.

I knew the moment I stepped out of that public restroom would be the beginning of my breakthrough. I’d run out of decorum. I was not going to return to my seat and surrender to unhappiness. I was going to take a stand for myself… no matter what. I choose. My “flight” wings were now officially retired.

After a few deep breaths, I reapplied my favorite chili matte lipstick. My eyeliner was wrecked along with the tissue it stained. My brain was now shifting into strategic planning mode. I needed to figure out how to become a part of this community. My entire being was calling for liberation. I needed breathing room. I needed a scrutiny-free, judgement-free zone to rediscover the beloved woman I’d been slowly strangling. I needed connection with people who lived in gardens of possibilities and opportunities; not wastelands of insecurities and threats. Those few moments inside the ballroom awakened something in me. I knew this was my pivot point. It was time to remove myself from the no-win cat-and-mouse game I’d been forced to play. It was either revival or survival.

I chose revival. We separated in 2012, and our divorce became final in 2014. To get into the community I felt I desperately needed, I started out volunteering at their events, and eventually was offered a full-time sales position. During this season, I healed, re-connected with the personal power I’d relinquished to stay safe, comprehensively and holistically mapped my entire life, the designed tools that help others liberate themselves from limited beliefs, and get themselves squarely on transformational paths is living a higher quality of life, love, professional success and joy.”

According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?

Western society can be pretty cruel. “Ideals” are manufactured through photoshopping, filters and often excesses — dieting, make-up, fillers. When we scroll through social media, women are choosing to enhance. Yes, my publicity shots are professionally “done” to minimize my wrinkles and crinkles, and to maximize my clear skin, with added touches of blush.

Women bear the biggest brunt, and it’s kinda sad. While women of color are afforded more leeway culturally ( bigger rear ends, browner skin tones, maybe less pressure to be thin), generally women who are more slender and tanned with longer (blonder) hair are considered more beautiful..that look seems to dominate the “good life” images we see on TV, magazines and on social media.

The consequences are far-reaching, from low self-esteem, increased stress, depression, eating disorders, botoxing and surgical enhancements to body-shaming to extreme mutilation. And, we often pass our pressures and obsessions along to our daughters…and the saga continues. It’s really tough…and even more extreme because people can do their own photoshopping. It’s mind-boggling that so many women choose to look like aliens or something out of an Anime movie.

As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?

This is anything but cheesy. In fact, I believe the lack of self-love is at the root of all harm (emotional, verbal, physical) people inflict upon others, and/or themselves. I believe the inability to love one’s self is dark and haunting- emotionally,psychologically, physiologically. Imagine looking into the mirror each day and disliking who you see, and think about the far-reaching impact these feelings can have on the human psyche, one’s regard for others (envy, apathy, guilt, despair,and anger, for example) and quality of our relationships with others, and our overall well-being and contentment.

Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?

  1. Absence of witnessing what healthy relationships are supposed to look, feel and be like.
  2. We become blinded by feelings of unworthiness, thus easily sucked into marginal and toxic relationships, as we reason that “strange” love is better than no love.
  3. “The strong (Black) woman” syndrome. We convince ourselves of our invincibility..that we’re strong enough to handle being in a relationship with someone who struggles with their own well-being.

When I talk about self-love and understanding I don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?

Yes, after my second divorce, I was a bit of a wreck. There were so many breakdowns, I had to be very, very patient with myself to figure it all out. My marriage was ending and I was grossly unprepared for that financially, I’d been in a toxic marriage and I wasn’t aware how much it’d been impacted by it, so there were emotional hills to climb. My business which I didn’t even like was failing miserably. I worked diligently on not becoming depressed, leaning on the support of mentors and coaches. The I shut down everything for a several days, and started re-designing my life — which I felt was from ground up. A critical first step was taking stock and responsibility for all of my breakdowns. I walked through every aspect of my being…asked questions of myself I (almost) didn’t want to hear the answers to…but wrote them down.

Among the major moves I made included:

– Selling my home, and moving with my mother (who lived with me) to Los Angeles where my daughters and grandson live.

-Moved forward with launching the MY AMAZING LYFE program, including a 15-module eCourse, LYFE Lifts deck of action cards and eGuide and LYFE Partners affiliate program.

-My LYFE Map as been my guidepost for years now. I review it several times a year, setting new goals for myself, ticking off accomplishments, with new and revised activation plans.

So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?

We go through so many stages throughout our lives, and that “aloneness” takes on many shapes and forms, highly influenced by the dynamics and quality of our previous relationships. Sometimes “aloneness” is a relief, other times it feels like you’re losing in the game of life, especially when we have the ability to peek into other people’s seemingly wonderful, exciting lives.

I do feel that it’s important to schedule aloneness, even in relationships. When alone not by choice, it’s important to amplify your self-care practices, exercise, and partake in some kind of creative, artistic, educational, spiritual or philanthropic endeavors.

How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?

Higher levels of mindfulness results with achieving greater self-understanding and self-love. With heightened mindfulness, we are more open to exploration, expressing our owns needs and desires, learning more about our partner’s needs and desires, as well as elevate our communication effectiveness…all keys to deepening our relationships with others.

In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?

Start young. However, our educational systems are not necessarily design to EMPOWER children, but merely to get them through school in one piece. Far too many parents don’t have to tools to help their children in this capacity.

Then, how do we reach an agreement on “what society should do” — at least agree on some rudimentary guiding principles with vast culturally, familial, privilege, cultural, socio-economical, generational, historical, experiential differences, exposure and access, it would be difficult to come up with a playbook on self-acceptance. And, with shorter attention spans, self-understand is very primal, and deeply rooted in our childhood experiences, packed in with self-righteousness and ego. Schools can do more, but it also requires supporting moms and dads with parenting skills. Unfortunately, people don’t necessarily want to take the time to learn, much less practice effective parenting that empowers and inspires children to better understand and accept themselves, as well as others. Passive and aggressive behavior (e.g., bullying) is rooted children’s challenge with self-acceptance and self-love.

What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Be clear about my reality.
  2. Be clear about what I truly want and desire.
  3. Fix what makes me unhappy.
  4. Eat healthfully, exercise and practice various forms of self-care.
  5. Be in daily massive action in my legacy work, which is my expression of self-love.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?

  1. I take daily shots of Medium articles, either from my laptop or mobile.
  2. I look for quotes to post on my SM platforms, I search for just most resonating one, I’m personally inspired for many.
  3. Book reading is a bit more challenging,but I keep my library on my phone, so I can pick up anywhere, anytime,

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…

My Amazing LYFE is that movement. My Amazing LYFE Map inspires relentless energy, dynamic drive, and connection to who you are and who you are meant to be. It brings you to your purpose by tapping into your personal ‘Badass Magic’ that drives you to be your best self everyday. You have everything you need to succeed on this journey-let us show you how.
 By taking a holistic approach at your life, you learn to identify your genius, strengths, passions, core values and flow to assure you’re pointed in a direction that’s aligned with your natural gifts, heart’s desire and likely to achieve the highest and best wins in your life.
 Supports the building of a solid foundation, a blueprint from which to grow and flourish holistically. You may be doing well, but there may be something dragging your down. You’re better able to identify and course-correct it.
 Coaching, mentoring and accountability play large roles in getting what you want and deserve out of life…and we often don’t leverage it enough. Here, it’s a key part of our ecosystem: socially engaging, collaborating and celebrating together!
 You’ll finish the program with a well-charted map you can use to reach your heart’s desires.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by? 
 Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?

I love (and collect) quotes. Nothing rings louder for me than the one below. Not only do too many women run on empty, even when we dare to focus a bit more on ourselves, our family and friendship circles can’t often handle it…and we’re deemed selfish or self-centered. In other words, our personal self-care often comes with this unfair emotional “tax,” resulting in feelings of guilt, “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.”

Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!

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