Seattle.

As you know, I am finally back in the United States of America.

I have a few weeks before heading “home” for the holidays, and I figured I would take time to treat myself to some travel and reflection. Aside from literally being “sleepless in Seattle” my first night (known to many as, “jetlag”), I am finding this city to be everything I could have ever needed for my acclimation back into the States. There is something about a manicured beard, Patagonia, beanies, and fit outdoors folk that gets me all kinds of inspired. And more so, this dramatic stereotype also just makes me feel really normal. Comfortable. Coffee.

But the learning is occurring, and I am being very intentional about trying to pause for some newly acquired life lessons. To start, I have realize just how important people are in my life. I have always been a people-person, and my entire life has been lived with the mantra, “People Matter.” I have always felt validated in that understanding, and have tried to set a similar tone for all the people who come and go from my life. Specifically, please observe the following from my latest cloud of travel ah-ha’s:

Learning Lesson, Seattle: Find people who _____.

As I was preparing to write this point, I started drafting out the varying things I need from people. And as this list grew and grew, I quickly realized it came down to a few key concepts of what I need most from those wonderful individuals in my life.

Find people who “get” you.

Find people who challenge you.

Find people who support you.

Find people who make you laugh.

Find people who will eat with you.

And for me, these people exist all over the globe. I have a few best friends in Florida, many in Oklahoma, California, Texas, Indiana, and the list goes on and on. And these people, all with multiple different backgrounds and life experiences, are exactly who I need to be able to live an active and healthy life. I thought about providing some sense of description for the five nuggets above, but in honor of my continued reflection, I am going to leave them as is, with hope for more understanding ahead as to why these are so important and impacting to me.

I had a teacher many years ago tell me, “People are the best and worst thing that will ever happen  to you.” I am inclined to agree, and of course, I am hopeful for the former. In this new month of transition, who are your people? Where are your people? When are your people your people? Take a minute today to reach out to someone who, through good and bad, serves as your _____. These people are necessary for growth. These people are necessary for self-understanding. These people are necessary. Be surrounded. Be close. Be well.

On the move,

Michael

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Wondering about wanderers, wandering…

Many summers ago, I did a photo project, capturing a few friends holding up photos of specific words from one of my favorite quotes, “Not all those who wander are lost” (Tolkien). It was 2009 when I discovered this quote, and I was in one of the biggest in-between moments of my life. I had just left my job at TOMS, and was gearing up to move to northern Michigan.

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This line became a mantra for me, and one which guided so much of my personal affirmations and self-efficacy. I even blew up the photos as large mats, placing them over the desk in my room/office (I worked in residential life, for all those who understand the reality of a, “room/office”). In many ways, this quote still exists as a personal exclamation. Hell, scroll up – it’s the title photo for my blog. I live this. I genuinely believe that we are never truly lost. And more so, I believe there is a plan and a purpose behind everything we do or can do (and not even as much in the religious context, but more so that there are little bits of life and love and learning which exist at every, even random and unplanned, corner). Learning is essential. Dissonance is learning. And wandering is real, and raw.

This summer I was introduced to the Slow Club song, “Wanderer Wandering,” and of course I wore the song out on repeat. It became a badge of honor, and contrary to the belief that, “Pompeii,” was played while taking flight to China, it was actually this song which resonated with me most in the initial moments of international risk taking.

Just before I left for China, a very good friend of mine introduced me to one of his very good friends who is also abroad right now. This particular individual is in Morocco, working for the Peace Corps, and doing much larger and more impacting things than I could ever imagine. He and I will email a few times per month, process out some of our experiences, and provide support to one another. He frequently blogs about his experience, and one of his most recent posts really struck a chord with me. One specific paragraph reads as follows:

“However, a dear friend once told me earlier this year, ‘Sure, not all who wander are lost, but how beautiful is it to be lost and have the chance to wander.’ Beautiful words, and throughout my simultaneous belonging in the lost and found box in this crazy overlapping phenomenon of pure joy and pure chaos, those images I dreamed of sure began to look different when wandering.”

Gasp, right? Real, right? I would add, raw and relevant, as well. And I would further argue, people are part of that chaos. And with each location, endeavor, job win/loss, challenge, barrier, and gain, people take up space in the beautiful, “lost and found box,” of life. And with each person we meet, a new and unique perspective is added to our repertoire of curiosity and knowledge. For example, I spent the weekend in Beijing (as you know, I’ve been living remotely two hours east of the city), and on my first day in town, I met a man in the elevator who was, ironically, from Morocco. In my attempt to connect this new elevator introduction with my electronic Peace Corps pen pal, I actually ended up making a new friend. Nearly four hours later (and five glasses of wine for me), we talked through the American preK-12 education system, diversity and racial dynamics, perceptions of the United Staes, travel, family (he and his wife have a precious 10-month old), and a myriad of other engaging and thought-provoking topics. And following this conversation, I was tired. My mind hurt, and I was intellectually drained. But all I could think was, This is growth. This moment reminded me of the power others hold to truly grant us perspective. Again, This is growth. It is important to be around people who inquire about our values and beliefs, and more so, ask questions which challenge us to know why it is that we know and believe what it is that we believe.

So, a new week is here. And there are millions of people out there with different experiences, perspectives, and life lessons ready to be shared and learned. How can you capitalize on that growth? How can you maximize your own story, thus letting others share in that learning and growing? Are you even sharing your story? You have one. We all do. And as you wander, wonder, or ponder, my challenge is to look up. Meet a stranger on an elevator. Give an honest and raw answer when someone asks how you are doing. Be open and honest about the current status of your heart. Embrace unknown. Accept unknown. Accept your most authentic and raw self. And then, be okay with the unknown that comes with that acceptance.

Still wandering, ever accepting,

Michael

“Soak up today. Ask someone, ‘How is the state of your heart today?’ Ask yourself the same question. Strive to be a human being rather than a human doing.” – Janine Myers

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When life serves you a perfectly clear glass door…

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The room I use as an office is a large conference room where 3/4 of the walls are large glass windows. We have curtains for the times where it feels as though we work in a fishbowl, and on any given window, curtains are up, down, half/half, or resting on the floor. And, of course, if it were not for a small silver door handle, on most days, one would think there to be no door at the entrance of this particular room. Clean, clear door. Thus, the following moment…

A few weeks ago, I was headed back to the office after lunch, pep in my step, and mentally preparing to take on some afternoon emails and other project details. Just as I turned the corner to enter the conference room, I experienced a jolting halt. Before I knew it, my glasses were on the floor and I was crouched down holding the top of my head. Had I been attacked? Did someone just hit me with a baseball bat? Was I bleeding?

No, to all aforementioned inquiries. I had just run right into the glass door.

Alas, humility via glass door.

Let’s pause here for a moment to honor all those who have ever walked face-first into a glass door. It happens, it hurts, and it’s super humbling. And no matter how sober or confident or charming you are attempting to appear, running into a glass door will always feel slightly more embarrassing than physically painful. And the added truth, not all glass doors are in the physical sense. The idea of a “glass door” goes beyond a possible bump on the head, and exists as a myriad of other life blunders.

This is life, right? Life is messy, and sometimes you think you have a total plan, yet life provides an undesired interruption. Dissonance. Crash. A glass door.

Some glass doors are deep and raw, and are more than just a bump on the head – they exist as as shattering moments, the loss of friends and family members, the loss of a job, the loss of a dream a hope, a plan, and the list goes on and on. But for the most part, the general life glass door really does just give us a bump on the head and an embarrassing story to laugh about days (sometimes years) down the road. And we embrace that reality, and we move on.

What is your glass door today? What sight or goal or dream or wish do you see so incredibly clear, yet are possibly missing the silver handle glaring right at you? This silver handle represents the ongoing temptation to pause, to reflect, to redirect. At times, it simply takes looking up and being present. Other times, it requires thorough and thoughtful planning and processing. And in rare moments, it encompasses a sensitive amount of grieving. Allow yourself to grieve, allow yourself to process. And always, be present.

Never forget the glass door, typically introduced as clean and clear. And, of course, always remember the glass door will creep up on you, catching you off-guard and unprepared. Never forget the life moment as it relates to the glass door, one which isn’t always clean or clear. And as we sift through the realities of our day-to-day, with hopes and dreams in mind, I hope you find clean and clear in your own way. I hope you process, and grieve, and find yourself still.

Are you patient enough? Are you eager enough? Are you aware?

Seeing clearly,

Michael

There will be times…

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There will be times when you travel, you move, you explore, you wander.

There will be times when you transition.

There will be times when you leave familiar for unfamiliar, and ‘decent’ for ‘just okay.’

There will be times when you get lost among a sea of maps and signs, yet lack the knowledge and patience to truly find your way.

There will be breakdowns. Several. And this is okay. Breakdowns are okay. Transition is okay.

There will be times when you find yourself at 6:00AM, wandering around a city, only to end up at a McDonald’s, and to order more food than you need, mostly because you felt completely and utterly alone before you saw that big golden arch.

There will be times when you want to walk away. And that’s okay too.

But if you do, walk quickly. And if you don’t, your mind must also choose to stay. Your body cannot operate alone. And your heart must pick up whatever pieces are missing in your new-found life.

There will be times when you find solace in a Pringles can, and mostly because you’ve worn out your welcome at McDonald’s. Eat those Pringles. Eat the entire jar.

There will be times when you loathe you’re own race or gender or hair color, when every familiar person you see darts their eyes in avoidance when all you seek is for acceptance and glancing-validation. Do not be this person. These people suck.

There will be times when you troll the internet, search for a flight home, and then remember this is now your home, and turning back is not an option. Remember your options.

Also remember that nothing is permanent. And whereas this may be your home now, you believe in taking risks, and home is where your heart leads you next, and next.

And next.

There will be times when you spend five minutes trying to cross one street, almost get hit by ten cars, only to eventually find fifteen other brave souls who are willing to take the walk with you, purely in solidarity.

There will be times when you are solo, and you must take this walk alone. This moment is essential. This is transition’s rite of passage.

There will be times when you are the only person who speaks the language, leaving you to only speak with the voices in your head. Befriend those voices. Nurture those voices.

There will also be times when you speak the same language yet lack shared-experience and personal connectedness. Befriend the voices in your head. Nurture those voices.

There will be times when wedding photos and baby pictures are the only way to truly celebrate with your friends, and technology serves as the only vessel for human connection. This allows you to opt in and opt out, and becomes a beacon of hope. It becomes a filter for all the bull shit you put up with in your previous adventures.

There will be times when all you want to listen to is Tracy Chapman’s, “Fast Car,” over and over, and in those moments, you start to believe you can actually cut it, and that you can actually thrive in this new-found space.

There will be times when you have camaraderie with your coworkers or your traveling counterparts. Celebrate together. Capture those memories and share them with your people, “back home.” You see, they too have a choice to opt in or opt out. Your captured-memories are essential.

Remember, “back home,” is, ‘back,’ and you’re moving forward. And even if or when you go, “back home,” you’ll be a different person. You get to decide if that’s a good or a bad thing. But either way, there’s no truly going, ‘back.’

There will be times when you cry. And you will wonder if the tears are from happiness of perspective, sadness of loneliness, or just pure exhaustion because your mind is on overload.

Your mind is on overload. Let the tears flow.

There will be additional times when you cry. And not out of anger but mostly because you lost 14lbs in five weeks and can finally fit into that pair of white jeans.

There will be times when you wear those white jeans, meet a stranger, and engage in, what can only be considered as, “what happens here, stays here,” behavior. Engage frequently, engage freely.

There will also be times when you gain 14lbs but you cry because the local food is just so damn good. Engage frequently, engage freely.

There will be times when you answer the same questions over and over again, yet discover that no one is truly listening. Start answering for yourself. You’re listening. Watching. Waiting.

There will be times when you dream up scenarios and issue yourself a could-be play-by-play. Allow this to guide your next steps, your next adventure.

There will always be next steps, a next adventure.

There will be, “once in a life,” times, and times which, “take your breath away.” These times are not quantified by distance, duration, or depth. Only you define the validity and impact of these moments.

May your bags remain packed, and your feet eager for new pavement.

May you trust the process, and allow the process to impact and shape you. If you’re not dreaming big, someone is dreaming big for you.

Now, go. Move. Be shaped.

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The new, “walking two miles, uphill, in the snow.”

At fifteen years old, I coaxed my parents into buying me a cell phone. “It’s really more for you than it is for me,” I pitched as my selling point. I was a skilled orator, and in that moment, my life would never be the same.

My first cell phone was the Nokia brick. I loved that phone, and celebrated it’s existence by breaking “Snake” records and cringing at the possibility of being charged five cents per additional text beyond the 250 contracted expectation.

To today’s fifteen year old (or four year old, which is iconically how old my friend’s kid was when she got a phone), the terms, “Nokia,” “Snake,” and, “250 minimum,” are all a foreign concept. Hell, “roaming,” is basically a foreign concept. Long before Google was in our pocket at any given time, I counted texts and attempted to call a friend and finish a voicemail all before the 1:00 minute mark passed. You see, once you hit 1:01, you’re charged for a new minute and :59 seconds was virtually wasted.

We now tend to take advantage of that :59 seconds, and more times than not, fail to honor it’s very existence. The fact that I can remember a life before cell phones is baffling to me, and also has me wondering if the life prior to cell phones has become the new multi-mile walk to school in the snow.

“Well in my day, we had to walk two miles to school in the snow, and uphill on the way back…Get your ass to soccer practice.”

For some reason, the response always worked (or works, for those who still utilize this tactic). I image as the years progress, a parenting response will eventually become, “Well in my day, we had to count minutes, leave our phones off while in another state, and had no way to send sexts…I mean, photos.”

This is our updated reality. And as much as I would like to long for the olden days (yep, pre-cell phones are basically my generation’s, “olden day”), I’m left constantly appreciative of all the things I can do with Google in my pocket. This past month, I have elected to be without a cell phone, and have enjoyed leaving a wifi zone without having any obligation to check, respond, and react. And even though I created this previous obligation for myself, I must admit, I’m ultra conscious of how wifi has enabled an opportunity to reconnect to the world without a contracted plan. And the unique part of this is that I can opt in and opt out whenever and however I please.

This is quite refeshing. And a wave I’m riding quite nicely. In the meantime, here’s to all things refreshing, and all anticipated/future/next set of waves headed my way.

Standby,

Michael

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Having my moment.

When someone tells me to, “Lean In,” I almost always throw up a little in my mouth.

Let’s pause there for a moment.

I recently had a friend move across the United States with her family, and has captured her post-move adventures via her blog. She is one of the best writers I know (and hilarious), but also one of best human beings I know. Recently, this particular friend posted about her transition and it really hit home for me. To summarize her thoughts (though, I think you should read the post for yourself), said-incredible human being had an inner conflict about how she was feeling versus some of the messages she had put out into the world via social media and through her blog. The truth about transition is that it’s yours alone – no one person can predict or anticipate how they will react or accommodate to a change in pace. Needless to say, this friend nicely packaged some of the very things I had been feeling for the past few weeks.

Similar to my friend’s sentiments, I, too, have had somewhat of a challenging adjustment. This process has been tough, and though my Instagram and twitter are filled with detailed photos and delicious food and breathtaking sites, the struggle is still real (and not in a, “the struggle is real,” kind of way, but actually, this struggle, is a reality for me). When you go from a job where you are surrounded by people and tasks every single day to a remote city where you are one of few people who think, talk, and dream like you, the battle is truly uphill. And as I have previously noted, the reality of being alone with my thoughts has been a new endeavor, and one which has actually prompted many more life ‘ah-ha’s.’

Thus, Takeaway #2 from this experience: If constantly surrounded by the hustle of a busy life, your thoughts are often overpowered by the hustle of a busy life.

This follows Takeaway #1, which asserts, “When you entertain the hustle of a busy life, you will always expect the hustle of a busy life.” The mute is real, and I never actually understood what it meant to have a clear mind or fresh perspective until I got to China. I can tweet, “#perspective,” all day, but the reality was that my mind was never truly clear enough to see and think as freshly as I needed. That is, until I got to China. And, when work and life’s busy stressors and anxiety were no longer present, I was forced to actually be alone with my pure and authentic thoughts (well, you can decide if those authentic thoughts are pure). Why do you think it is that, when at our most busy, we decide to add yet another thing to the growing list of things to do? Could it be that our mind is just use to being on overload, and saying one more, “yes,” is trivial in the grand scheme of things? Or, are we just scared to say, “no,” because we don’t actually understand what it means to be alone with our thoughts, or with our true self?

I don’t know if I fully buy-in to these questions, or if they are even relevant for everyone (or at least, every “busy” person), however I do know they are provoking me to think a bit deeper than I have been over the past few years. You see, I am still coming off the high of being constantly surrounded by people. And being constantly “needed” (this, too, is a flaw in education, which I am starting to wrestle with as well – are we creating professionals, teachers, or educators who people “need” versus who are just doing the job we need?). Each day here has ended with some type of walk into town, where I have ventured around and explored most parts of the province where I am currently living. And in light of this newly enjoyed alone-time, I have been left with a better idea of the wants and needs that my mind was finally able to reveal to me. Before my latest ‘ah-ha’ truly came to form, I reached out two friends for a bit of support. Barely touching the surface of my struggle, both friends responded with some type of reference along the lines of, “Well, Instagram sure had me fooled.”

Thus, Takeaway #3 (yes, two in one post): Let people have their moment.

So what, if Instagram and Twitter are my way of finding some sense of community. So what, if I am electronically connecting in lieu of physical and emotional connection. So what, if I am just a tiny bit homesick (wherever the hell, “home,” is these days). Transition is not easy, and all folks will eventually discover their personal way of coping. Let us all let others have their moment, however these moments may arise.

All of this gets to a point, I swear. Just before I left the States, my mentor challenged me a bit on my decision to take this opportunity. He had previously processed with me that I was ready and hopeful for a family and also some sense of settling down. Roots. I wanted roots. And he understood and validated those feelings. Needless to say, when I informed him that I would be moving to China (and later discovering it would be rural China), he wasn’t pleased. And in a lot of ways, he wasn’t really supportive. Note to all mentors out there or persons who identify as a mentor to someone: you don’t have to approve of or support all of your mentee’s decisions – this actually makes for a really great mentor. To this day, I am glad he stood by his initial advice despite any way in which I attempted to justify my decision to move.

Since getting to China, I have spent the past month really separating the realities of what I thought I wanted versus what I actually want. Specifically, I have revisited this idea of “settling down” and what planting roots actually means for me and my next steps. Roots. After all, Im not going to be in China forever, and I have to always be thinking forward. Now one month in and following the latest rounds of ‘ah-ha,’ I decided to reach out to my mentor, the one individual who was openly skeptical of this life juncture (though, I’m sure many others are/were as well). I texted him this past week, and as vaguely as possible, noted, “you were right.” I say, “vaguely,” as it took several texts to get to that sentiment, which was masked in, “remember when we had breakfast before I left,” and, “sometimes people figure things out later in life, right?” He was on to me.

My mentor’s response? He challenged me to, “lean in,” to the experience, the heartache, and the dissonance. At first, I wanted to electronically punch him in the throat, though before sending the “punch” emoji, I paused on his suggestion (I should also probably add that I have not actually read this book about, “leaning in,” nor do I really know much about the phenomenon – I have just always resolved to gasp or sigh when I hear and see the phrase articulated as an easy response to get someone to experience some sense of discomfort). In this case, leaning in wasn’t a physical moment. My mentor wasn’t advising me to do something I was uncomfortable with, he was encouraging me to push myself to think from multiple vantage points. He was pushing me to think about my stubbornness, my ignorance, and also my jaded point of view. He was pushing me. Again. The final note from my mentor, resonating most with me, was the idea of our, “Circle of Influence.” When times are tough: what can you control? When people suck: what role do you play in that? When a situation isn’t ideal: where is your voice?

So, you get the point. I’m less aggressive about this whole idea of, “leaning in.” Hell, perhaps I can learn a thing or two from the buzzy framework. And, as I continue to learn more about myself, please accept my vulnerability as a means for saying, “Thank You.” The vibes have been felt, the texts and messages have been received, and it means the world (literally) to me that people are still reading this blog and haven’t begged my VPN company to shut me down. And more than all of this, thank you for allowing me to process and grow, while many of you watch and experience it all with me. The wind is picking up, and I feel the best may be yet to come.

Leaning,

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“AVOID KIDNEY FROM BEING STOLEN.” Check.

Co-Worker: “Mike, we need to talk.”

Me:  “Of course, Co-Worker, what’s up?”

Co-Worker: “Mike, this is really important, and I need you to listen to me.”

Me: “I’m all ears. Is everything okay?”

Co-Worker: “This is very serious.”

Me: “Shit. Okay, dude, what’s up?”

Co-Worker: “Don’t sell your kidneys under any circumstance.”

Me: “But what if they go for a really great price?”

Co-Worker: “Mike, I’m serious! Nice lady buys you coffee, next thing you know, you wake up in an ally with a ice-pack on your back and a sign that says, ‘Get to the hospital immediately.’”

Of course, this is when I gasped, followed by an immediate eruption of laughter. His final advice was to avoid the woods, send him a text message every single day, and if I ever get woozy in public, immediately take a cab home. All noted, and I shared with him that my actual plan is to just make a huge production about how my kidney was already stolen the previous week, and what a waste of time I would be for the thief. Great strategy, right?

Thankfully, I am finding my way and certainly taking it all in. Tomorrow marks two full weeks of life in China, and time is certainly moving quickly. I am mastering the art of using chopsticks, and have even had a few adventurous moments with food. Now looking back, it is kind of funny to think about my first night in town. That particular night, I debated what to eat with one of my new coworkers, and we eventually settled on Pizza Hut. “It’s probably the safest option for you at this point,” she argued. Touché. She was probably right. And speaking of food, my stomach finally has some sense of understanding as to what is headed down the pipe, despite earlier admissions of a summer of tough bowels. I’m feeling pretty good about some of the…outcomes, I have experienced thus far. Plus, the food has been amazing (sorry for the temptation posts via all things social media) – even bread and butter has been on point.

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Of course, this, “understanding,” does not cross over all paths of my experience. I am still not entirely sure what all I am eating. And furthermore, I am spending a lot of time walking around and picking up on no more than 5% of what is being said to me. Is this what aloof feels like? I smile a lot. And nod. I have learned that, in an environment where we don’t speak the language, we end up spending a lot of time with our own thoughts. This can be terribly destructive or incredibly beneficial. Im choosing the latter. It’s been nice to hear myself think for once.

Now that I am finally free of jet lag (which is absolutely a thing, y’all – though, I have only publicly admitted to a 2-4 day struggle when the reality is more like a full week of not sleeping – I still stand by the belief that if I had not taken that 4-hour nap on the second day in town, I could have actually achieved a quicker heal…woah, I digress), I’m moving past my rookie mistakes with ease.

Specifically, I am moving forward into a new weekend and great week ahead…hopefully with both my kidneys. As I have been reflecting more and more on this experience and the abroad-experiences of others, and amidst often blasting, “The Color Purple,” soundtrack and weeping alone in my room, I am certain that I am in the right place at the right time. I don’t know what that place and time mean or look like, per say, but I am certain I am there. Let it finally begin (whatever, “it,” has become for me).

Building an identity around, “Mike,”

Michael

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