Lost & Found: (re)New(ed)

“‘Lost’ is said in many ways. It is juxtaposed with both winning and finding. One can lose something and one can be lost.

When we lose instead of win, there is a permanence to loss that appears to make it different from losing, for example, the car keys. The keys, under the status lost, seem capable of being found. But the permanent loss of, say, the World Series can never be undone. Still, it is not the notion of competition—of winning versus losing—that is troubling here. It is this permanence. For we can lose our virginity to a loved one, lose a loved one to death, or lose a weekend to alcohol: all permanent losses with no mirror possibilities of winning. The issue, however, is still more complex. That which is lost can never truly be found. All loss is permanent. The lost dog who makes his way home is found to be a new dog” (Steeves, 2006, p. 55).

As a human, loss has been a large part of my existence. When I came out many years ago, there was a part of me that was forced to move forward. To progress. Like a snake shedding their skin, I took on a fresher outer layer, a slicker exterior, a mostly-new me. And as a result, I experienced an intense amount of loss – both literal and developmental. I lost friends and family members, yet gained new ideologies, philosophies, and world views. I lost (and gained) weight, left cities (and countries), and expanded my brain in ways that brought me to and from ideas – all only to leave me a better, and (re)new(ed) person. Like the lost dog who returned to its home (Steeves, 2016) or the snake with new, post-shed skin, the new me, albeit at one point lost, was still me…just newer, fresher, more seen and capable of seeing.

As an educator, I understand loss in the practical sense, and in the philosophical sense. Students attend and leave institutions. They learn and grow. And sometimes I am part of that learning and growing. Students develop. They fail tests, they get dream jobs, they disappoint, and sometimes they disappear. Some even continue to grow long after they leave campuses and classrooms. In that growth and development, I think of Steeves’ (2006) sentiments, and wonder, (how) is loss associated with growth? Even when found (or when we find), are we still, then, experiencing loss? And at this point, what have we left behind when we grow or develop? Are we growing and developing?

And is this, too, associated with the loss that Steeves (2006) highlights?

I apply this same frame of thinking to students and their development. This was an “aha” moment for me in a student development theory class last semester. In addition to growth and development, students also experience a sense of loss when they move into a new existence. They leave something behind. And at times, they leave some people behind. For example, as a student develops a religious or political identity different from that which they come from (“home,” or wherever), they might also grapple with turning their back on what they have always been taught – the loss associated with moving on from beliefs, and who or what gets left behind in those contexts. Ultimately, the student who starts to make decisions for their self – failing and/or succeeding – is on a journey to being more independent and autonomous than ever before.

When I left the world of full-time work to be a full-time student, I left parts of me behind. Now, with each academic semester, I leave even more parts of the old me – my former skin – behind. With each year, I try to become a better partner, friend, educator, and human. As I start a new and challenging semester of school, work, and life, I continue to process the connection between loss and growth.

Most notably, much of my experience as a student thus far has consisted of grappling with my perceptions of perfection, and what it means to fall short of that standard – to lose in the “game of perfection.” Papers and projects are graded; feedback is plenty. And while I resist perfection, a journey I will never fully conquer, the pressure still looms over me. What am I leaving behind when I acknowledge (and embrace, accept) the reality that I am not (and will not be) perfect? What does it mean to be imperfect? To get lost sometimes? And what does it mean to view perfection with a critical eye, and still embrace the finding that is involved within that losing?

As I (continue to) challenge what I thought I knew, and what is left to be known, I embrace that which will not ever be the same. Just as students fail, progress, and develop, I, too, am in that same space. Growing. Progressing. Developing. To lose (at perfection), in this case, is still to grow (as a student, friend, partner). It is still to find (that which makes me worthy; new strengths; myself).

While the threat of perfection was the skin I shed last spring, I am holding on to this same sentiment as I settle into 2018. I am holding on to growth, and to growing.

A better, new(er) person;
but still the same person;
still, sometimes lost.
And still, totally ok.

Michael

“This process of self-discovery is not easy; it may involve suffering, doubt, dismay. But we must not shrink from the fullness of our being in attempting to reduce the pain” (O’Donohue, 1997, p. 108).

References

O’Donohue, J. (1997). Anam cara. New York: Cliff Street Books.
Steeves, H. P. (2006). The things themselves: Phenomenology and the return to the everyday. Albany: State University of New York Press.

“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said.

“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said…
Little do they know, I already cry a lot.

“You’re going to be stressed,” they said…
I have had a stress-related eye-twitch for most of my life.

“It’ll break you down,” they said…
Even when broken, I always land on my feet.

“You’re going to cry a lot,” they demanded.
And so, I continue to cry.

In what feels like 1/3-part care and concern, 1/3-part projections of self-doubt, and 1/3-part hazing, the PhD journey has commenced, and I am deep in the waters of my first semester as a doctoral student. In true Michael manner, I jumped in with an Olympic diving attempt that probably looked more like a belly-flop than a gold medal dive. Loosely proud of my belly-flop, I am making new commitments and reevaluating the way in which I maneuver through this journey.

“One day at a time,” they said.
I nod ferociously, leaning into the comfort provided by a one-day-at-a-time mantra.

In addition to being a full-time student, I hold a graduate assistantship and also teach a class for first-year students interested in learning more about leadership (Introduction to Student Leadership). During my first class session, I promised the students we would take one week at a time. Selfishly, a few dozen assignments lurked over me.

I ended the first session and opened the syllabi for my classes, attempting to map out each assignment in my calendar. As I planned ahead for what seemed like a semester of tears, stress, and brokenness (“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said), my inner self-preserver begged, “Resist! Resist! Resist! Slow down!”

I paused, laughed, and whispered aloud, “How do you eat an elephant?”

How do you eat an elephant?

Huh?

Several years ago I had a colleague who completely unraveled during a staff meeting. They were frustrated and overwhelmed. They were grappling with the, “we should be doing more, and with more time and resources,” dilemma that new and para-professionals often unearth in their first few years of working in education.

Following our highly contentious staff meeting, I invited the colleague into my office and engaged the, “what’s going on,” conversation. Through some tears and voice-raising, it was clear the individual was trying to do the best they could with what they had, while making meaning of the politics involved on our campus and in our office.

Drawing on an old adage I used most of my young adulthood, I quickly asked this colleague, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Frustrated, they replied, “I don’t know. I can’t with your metaphorical BS, right now. What’s your point?”

We sat in silence for several minutes, and I gently asked one more time, “How do you eat an elephant?”

Both exasperated and curious, the colleague finally responded, “I don’t know…one bite at a time?”

“One bite at a time.”

One bite at a time. 

Flash forward several years later, my calendar, syllabi, and heart all out on the table (figuratively and literally); I was having my own, “how the heck do you actually eat an elephant,” moment. If I have learned anything one week in, it’s that keeping up is the only option – for better or for worse. One bite at a time.

“You’re going to be stressed,” they said…
“It’ll break you down,” they said…
“You’re going to cry a lot,” they said…

With tears in my eyes, I agree. And in courage, I move forward. A pinned, internal, one-day-at-a-time, banner flies viciously in my brain. And I pause, forced to breathe in a philosophy that has guided much of my work over the past few years.

“They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds.”
–Mexican Proverb*

Universe, build me up.

A seed to be watered,
Michael

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*”They tried to bury us, they didn’t know we were seeds,” is often attributed to a Mexican Proverb, as well as Dinos Christianopoulos. Either way, powerful and important connection, and one that continues to center me.

You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to…

We know this old adage.

For the past five years, my desk has contained a sign that reads the following:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jeferson, and Albert Einstein.” -H. Jackson Brown, Jr.

Millennials will edit this assertion to include Beyoncé, Bill Gates, and [insert another famous person who does well financially and socially].

This sign has sat on my desk for so many years now that, unless noticed by a colleague, I have fallen numb to its offering. Yesterday, for some reason, I was drawn to reading the quotation over and over. Several hours after this revisit, I received an email from a good friend who, without conscious connection, shared the following quote with me:

“Everything changed the day I figured out there was exactly enough time for the important things in my life.”  -Brian Andreas

Of course, I gasped.

And then I started to reflect.

While there is no way to compare my actual days to those of Michaelangelo or Beyoncé, I am now extra conscious of the most important things in my life.

I do have the capacity for those (and to evaluate them).

I have another friend whose dad says, “You should love your job and your bed – you spend the most time there” (stay with me, it’s all is in the same wheelhouse). Friends, if possible, get a comfortable bed/mattress/sleeping apparatus. Next, and more important, think about your days. Outside of sleep and work (which are critical, don’t get me wrong), how are you spending your time? 

Are you happy?
Are you taking care of yourself?
Are you prioritizing the important stuff?
Are you just trying to stay afloat?
Are you failing to stay afloat?

Sure, sometimes we don’t love going to work because, well, work. And sleep patterns come and go. But at the end of the day, how are you contributing to experiencing a happier and healthier life? Are you in a place or time where you feel good? Do you feel good? Are you filling your days with the important things in your life?

Do you know the important things in your life? 

After bills are paid and life is taken care of, where do you pour your extra energy? Do you have extra energy? Can you have extra energy?

Will you give yourself permission to have extra energy?

…the important stuff awaits.

Time, ticking,

Michael

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*Photo from… pretty much everywhere on the internet

You’ll spend your whole life waiting for the water to turn on.

A few weeks ago, I washed my hands as I usually do after going to the bathroom. I enlisted two pumps of soap, rubbed my hands together quickly, and rested them under the faucet to rinse off. My mind wandered as I stood for about ten seconds waiting for the water to turn on.

It didn’t.

With frustration and soapy hands, I walked over to the next sink and did the same gesture: hands under faucet, signaling the water to take its course. Just as I was about to pull my hands back with another fit of frustration, I realized there were two knobs sitting on both sides of the sink.

I looked up at myself in the mirror, shook my head, and turned one of the knobs with an, are-you-kidding-me, laugh.

And that’s when it hit me:

I would have spent my whole life waiting for the water to turn on.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t have waited my whole life – I would have, at least, tried a few more sinks. Is this what 30 feels like?

While my current reality doesn’t feel much different than 28 or 29, I do feel more responsible. Specifically, I feel more responsible for taking care of myself – for finding inner peace; for reflecting more intentionally; for guarding my heart; for taking risks.

For turning knobs.

I think I experienced my 20s with an assumption that the water would always turn on. And it usually did for me. I was privileged enough to almost always have “clean hands.” And even in the darker times of my past decade, I still held this expectation while knowing it was not always or actually going to be the case.

And as such, I am now more aware of the work I need to do in moving forward.

I accept that the only two feet I can stand on are my own.

More than #selfcare, this is my vision of self work. Self work is hard. Self work is unconventional. Self work is the antithesis of self-help. Self work matters.

In order to become a better and more capable human being, I am aware that no one is going to do the work for me. I have to do the work myself. Sometimes, it’s easy. Sometimes, it’s complicated. Sometimes, we look into the mirror and know what and when and how we need to change. Sometimes the faucet turns on.

And sometimes it doesn’t. And that’s okay.

When I turned 30, I expected there to be some incredibly revealing moment that would help guide me into the next decade of life. I expected 30 to be a lifetime supply of “water.” I expected vulnerability and change to be expired, and a new freedom to emerge as a beacon of hope for me to cling on to.

But today, 30 feels a lot like 29. And 28. And that’s totally okay.

I’m still vulnerable. And I’m still hopeful for change.

Here’s to the introspection. Here’s to the knobs. Here’s to self work.

Faucet-forward,

Michael

“Today will have lots of sunshine… and tomorrow is just a Wednesday.”

“Thank you for your unwavering support and patience for me as I continue to live my truth.” – Me, September 16, 2014

Thanks to TimeHop, this was my, the-day-after-my-birthday-I-love-everyone-thank-you-appreciation-note, to all my Facebook friends last year.

“Unwavering.”

Such a strong word. And a continued truth in regard to birthdays. Seriously, social media has transformed the way we share and receive birthday wishes. Snail mail and mailboxes have essentially been replaced by technology and other forms of online engagement (and this is coming from someone who fundamentally believes in and will not give up on sending letters and cards via the US Post Office).

Before I scrolled through my social media, I actually woke up in somewhat of a dark place. A mixture of birthday anxiety and aging threat contributed to my generally shaky start to the day, and by 8:00 AM, I was ready to have a full-on meltdown.

But when I got to my office yesterday morning, I was greeted by a g-chat message from an important human in my life that read, “Today will have lots of sunshine…, and tomorrow is just Wednesday.” 30 starts today. 

And there is nothing like Facebook on your birthday.

Very similar to my post from one year ago, I am deep in the trenches of reflection as I have officially established the big 3-0. From people telling me what they’ve learned from me (for better or for worse), to friends providing life advice, this year was one for the books. A milestone, as many have argued.

And I agree.

A milestone.

This year’s birthday reminded me that I am loved. And that I have a group of people out there rooting for me. This is why it is so important to share love on Facebook when you see it’s someone’s birthday. And this is something I am seriously vowing to be better about this year. “Happy Birthday,” goes a long way. “You are loved,” goes a long way.

And as one friend beautifully captured, “This is when all the wonderful begins.”

Here’s to all the wonderful.

Thriving,

Michael

Mary Prusha Art Up
*Art and photo by Mary Prusha

When Brené Brown Strikes

Like a thief hunting through my bank of emotions, Dr. Brené Brown did it again.

If you read my blog, you know this is not the first time Dr. Brown has pushed me into some heavy self-reflection. Specifically, and to no surprise, she spoke a bit of truth this past week when she visited Sixth & I while on her book tour.

“If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.”
-Dr. Brené Brown

Okay, I know. I should have prepared you for that.

If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.

Powerful stuff. I’m still processing.

While I would love to go on and on with a play-by-play of the learning that occurred, I’m going to pause here for a moment as the nuggets continue to marinate.

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle of their own” (or some variation of this)? This assertion exists in the form of thousands of memes on Pinterest and beyond, and I experienced it as a living reality while traveling on the Metro yesterday.

I boarded a sweaty Metro car full of people headed every which way, and ended up sitting next to a woman who was curled up closely to the window, holding her arm which was heavily wrapped and held by a sling.

We sat in silence for around thirty seconds when a man shouted from across the train, “You wanna have a staring contest, lady? Let’s do this!”

The guy was in his early-30s, and accompanied by 2-3 friends who were as equally obnoxious as he. Sitting in a handicap-reserved seat positioned right by the door of the Metro car, he was staring and shouting at the woman next to me.

The woman stared back at him, and with tears welling up in her eyes, yelled back, “Are you kidding me? How is this okay?”

At this point, the entire Metro car was tuned in, and the man coughed a line to his friends to provoke a bit of laughter. The woman next to me looked back out the window with emerging tears and continued frustration.

Without joining in on the confrontation (and history reminds us that I’m not the best at thinking on my feet in these kinds of situations), I leaned over to my seat-neighbor, and whispered, “People suck. I’m so sorry you experienced that.”

With tears still occupying her eyes, she looked at me and said, “I’m just tired of it. It happens all the time. And he wouldn’t even give me that seat when I couldn’t hold my bag and stand up [on the train].” She was visibly and audibly rattled.

In attempts to calm her down, I asked her how she hurt her arm. Amidst the deep breaths, she shared a scattered explanation of her dog’s leash and an encounter with a neighbor’s dog’s leash. I could feel her calming down with each sentence.

The train neared my stop and I looked over to her and said, “Be kind to yourself.”

Of course, I walked out of the Metro station feeling very unsettled. That woman was so brave to stand up to that dude on the Metro. People do suck.

Bravery is hard.

And often, the enigmas of people sucking and the provocation of bravery intersect in a heavy and raw manner – sometimes they emerge in the most confusing and unsettling depictions. People suck. Bravery is hard. And, there’s no predicting when either of these circumstances will materialize.

So much of Brené Brown’s sentiment was drenched in the challenge of pausing, and as I walked home that night from the Metro station, I couldn’t help but think that this woman was so much more than a passerby on the train – she was a coworker, a family member, a friend, a bystander, a frustrated citizen.

If you make the decision to lead a brave life, you’re going to get hurt.

Still powerful. Still resonating.

What does bravery look like as we enter each new day? And new year?

What does bravery look like for you (for us, me, others)?

Is it in you?

While Brené Brown may be paying her annual visit to my head and heart, the conundrum still remains: Am I brave enough? Do I have the courage to honor curiosity, and even at the risk of getting hurt? Am I worthy?

Fully aware. Alarmingly vulnerable. Pausing patiently. Still.

Will you be brave today?

Onward,

Michael

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Check out my other Dr. Brené Brown-inspired posts:

That one time I hung out with Brené Brown (and a few thousand others)…

“Stop dress-rehearsing tragedy.”

When “vulnerability” is no longer relevant, and you just start living your truth.

“Welcome to the world of, ‘You can’t have it all.'”

I caught up with a friend last week, one who knows me better than I know myself, and just a few minutes into our conversation, she paused and noted that I sounded different. A bit off. I admitted there were a lot of things on my mind, and as I started talking through some of the larger items, I discovered a lump in my throat that was ready to enlist a full emotional and hysterical meltdown.

Somewhere between personal life navigation, professional woes, and a Stretch Armstrong-needed reach toward certain dreams, I seemed to have slipped into feelings-autopilot. While I live each day in a pretty good emotional state (my woes are your woes, and all that other self-disclosure-blogging stuff), I realized while talking to my friend that I had a few things I needed to work through.

Eventually pausing for a breath, my friend stopped me.

“Michael, welcome to the world of, ‘You can’t have it all.'”

I gasped.

And then cried.

She was right.

Let’s pause here for a moment.

I recently got a letter in the mail from a friend who left their job. This specific friend has had a tumultuous year, and amidst the feelings of personal unrest, they were also feeling professionally drained. After loads of self-reflection and life-examination, this friend decided to pick up their life and move on to something new.

“Michael,

I’m doing it.

I’m choosing myself.

I fucking matter.

All of me.”

With excitement following receiving this card, I texted my friend about how proud I was of them. However, their response was dark and heavy. They were scared and frustrated, and thoroughly overwhelmed about what existed ahead.

And I was instantly brought back to the conversation I had with my other friend the week before. Welcome to the world of, “You can’t have it all.”

In separate situations and differing points of view, I sat in silence with both friends under two different circumstances that were scarily both just the same.

You see, choosing yourself is no easy task. In fact, the antithesis of our anxiety is often opportunity itself. Much of my own anxiety comes from a strict fear of the unknown, and a lack of control that stems well-beyond any confidence or preparedness I could ever muster up. This is why I found the first conversation to be so impacting. This past year has been one where I have actually chosen myself. I regained control.

Critical decisions do that to us. Critical decisions do that for us.

And while the work continues, we are still left with questions. Concerns. Needs.

“I’m in a job I love but I have no personal life.”

“I hate my job, but my life is pretty good.”

“My boss sucks but my employees are wonderful. ”

“My job is meh, but the people embrace me as I am.”

“I hate the city I live in but the opportunity is top-tier.”

These dilemmas leave us with uncertainties. Concerns. Wants.

We trade some of our personal and professional needs/wants for things that feel good or right, and in doing so, live in a world of, “You Can’t Have It All.”

And this is absolutely okay.

Transition is happening in every fiber of our beings – merely waking up each day is drenched in transition. It’s terrifying. It’s real. It’s raw. And it’s something we have to eventually accept (or learn to accept).

I want to close this post with a short article I read a few weeks ago on Storyline. This specific article by Shauna Niequist talks about moving forward, trying something new, and change (specifically, “You’re Never Going to Be Fully Ready”). In the piece, Niequist draws a link to paddleboarding, sharing the story of a friend who wanted to try paddleboarding but needed a little help.

This specific friend was scared to go from knees to feet on the paddleboard, and continued to argue that she couldn’t start paddling until she was stable. The truth is, it’s the paddling that makes one stable – not the other way around (thanks, Niequist!).

“You’ll never stay up unless you start paddling.”
-Shauna Niequist

Niequist illuminates something very real in my life, and in the lives of many others. This paddleboard moment represents various ways in which we aspire to be great. This paddleboard moment reflects many of the feelings we consider around our aversion to failure. Finally, this paddleboard moment exemplifies the truth that often, it’s as easy as simply standing up. You (we) may never have it all, but we still have to stand up to move forward.

It’s time to stand up. Push yourself. Find balance, and through the scary, tough, unsure reality of trusting things outside of your own control. Cry a little. Choose yourself. Leave jobs and start adventures. Make you your own most beautiful and best #1. Believe you can be a #1. You are a #1.

Onward, my friends. September has appeared, washing us all clean of August. May you move toward something great this month.

Standing,

Michael

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