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.

Committing to Thrive in 2017

This post initially started out as an apology letter to all those who experienced a flaky or unavailable Michael last fall. I have been a tad unresponsive since August, and the beginning of this past winter allowed for time to process and grieve the reality that being a student again has been quite a challenge. 2016 was quite a challenge.

2016 started with, “will I get into graduate school,” anxiety, and finished with, “am I good enough to be in graduate school,” anxiety. In between those insecure moments existed finishing and starting jobs old and new, and a giant relationship advancement of moving in with my partner – who, just before January 31st, asked me, “Is the New Year hard for you?”

Easily, my answer was, “Yes.”

I struggle with change.

I always have, and probably always will.

Ever since I was a child, change was hard for me: when school ended each year, holidays, friends moving all around me (military kid), and various family circumstances over the years. While I am just now reaffirming this into existence, it is an important part of my story. In 2016, it has been a prominent and overwhelming part of my story.

Change.

Outside of the celebrity and icon deaths, electoral college results, and slew of social injustices to serve as a benchmark, 2016 contained more change in twelve months than I had experienced in many years. As a result, I was more critical of myself than ever before. I even changed my twitter bio at the beginning of the semester to read as follows:

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“PhD student battling impostor syndrome.”

Even while keeping up in a tough graduate program, “You are good enough,” lingered out of reach, and the stories I consistently told myself this past fall were mostly self-deprecating, dismissive, and unnecessarily limiting.

As a new semester has officially commenced, amidst embracing my status as a student, I am also reminding myself of a few key values:

I am so much better than what I told myself last year.
I am worthy of so much more than I gave myself last year.
I am capable of more than I endured last year.

The initial stories I told myself last year weren’t true. They were limited. They limited me. They were harsh and unfair. The stories I will tell in 2017 have to be authentic. They have to be filled with self-validation and courageous movement. The stories I tell myself in 2017 have to be ones where I am conscious of myself and my capacity.

The stories I live in 2017 must be ones where I am taking care of my heart and my well-being – taking care of me. I will take care of me in 2017. The reality of impostor syndrome is a huge part of my story. And outside of the self-deprecation, impostor syndrome will exist as a benchmark for how I plan to live (and thrive) in 2017.

…how I plan to move forward.

I lived my truth in 2016. I left a phenomenal job to be a student again. I’m a student again, at an incredible institution with a brilliant set of faculty and colleagues. I have a partner who loves me more than I knew I deserved or could ever deserve. I have a chosen family I probably do not deserve. I am now taking one day at a time, and inviting you to join me on this adventure.

Will you commit to thriving in 2017?

No impostor,

Michael

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“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 are about to start something amazing.”

This week I started my graduate assistantship, and soon I will begin my new routine as a full-time doctoral student. Ideally, this is my last degree.

“Terminal,” as many will assert. Terminal.

I will continue on to the Metro, where I will walk to campus and better understand this new personal and professional life journey. And as my partner reminded me a few weeks ago, I am about to start something amazing – something scary and terrifying, but ‘amazing,’ nonetheless. Fortunately, from pre-K kiddos to other doc-dreaming souls, I will not be alone.

“The first day of school,” is a rite of passage for many, and for others, it’s the reminder of a reality of education-based inequities.

“Is the student prepared?”
“Does the student have grit?”
“What will the student bring to our school, our program, our reputation?”
“What baggage accompanies the student?”
“Will the student survive?”

The idea of survival connected to an academic endeavor has always left me somewhat unsettled. At a previous institution where I worked, the reputable business school provided, “I survived…,” shirts to all students who finished their comprehensive exams. Related, my college experience housed a fraternity hazing process that reeked of, “JUST SURVIVE,” sentiments, and it has never been hard to see the connection between this survival-mentality and hazing. It’s surely there.

More than, “Will the student (I) survive,” as I start this new expedition, I am forced to navigate my own self-inflicted processing around worth.

“Am I good enough?”
“Is perfection enough?”
“What if I don’t deserve this?”
“Do I deserve this?”
“Surely, I don’t deserve this.”

I previously posted about this when I made the decision to officially go back to school, and packaged it simply as, “A Dark Place Called, ‘I’m Not Worthy.’”

Knowing all of this, and battling the worth-demons that swim through my brain, I continue to recenter myself by answering the following question:

Why am I going back to school to get a PhD?

For starters, curiosity guides much of my current perspective.

In separating a professional aim from my personal understanding, and perhaps more important than any other reason to press forward, I am training myself to believe and embrace the idea that I am good enough.

I am absolutely good enough.

Brené Brown argues, “Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” She also posits, “Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together.”

“Imperfections are not inadequacies…”

The paralysis of perfection is so real for me.

As scared as I am of my imperfections (impostor syndrome, and all of that), I am more scared that I will lose some sense of myself along the way. This is where I understand the survival component to the academic process (“hazing,” as I previously suggest). And the idea of survival is not always present in the physical context.

Will I lose bits of who I am in this process?
Will I sacrifice my identity?
Will I be vulnerable to the parts of me that do need updating?
Can I truly embrace the imperfection?

This new endeavor is about more than survival, and it is certainly more than a quest for a perfect outcome or journey. This endeavor is about landing on my feet. It’s about understanding who I am, and what role I can and will play in this big world we live in.

For now, that is enough.

For now, landing on my feet is enough.

This is my peace, and I am enough.

Survivalist,

Michael

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“Grab on to some light, every corner that you can.”


I took a stroll through the Madison farmer’s market this morning, and found myself in a bit of a deep reflection. I have a massive amount of life and career transition coming up – finishing one job, starting another, being a student again, and beyond.

Somehow music always seems to appear when I need it most (and even in times when I don’t think I need it). This song found me, and wrapped me in exactly what I needed. I hope it finds you wherever you are today. 

Michelle Willis, It’ll Rain Today

“Grab on to some light, every corner that you can.” You are brave enough, beautiful, and completely and absolutely worthy.

Now, bloom. 

The world thanks you in advance. 

In truth,

Michael

Reevaluating Change

I have a lot of friends right now who are currently in transition. Whether it be via relationships, job dissonance, geographic uprooting, or just general life stuff, a lot of my friends and colleagues are navigating through change’s murky waters.

And the waters are surely murky.

Over the past two weeks I have had the opportunity to attend two conferences – one for professional development and the other for work. Both of these conferences hosted dialogue around the idea of change, and one point in particular remains most salient to me.

“Are people coming into an experience expecting a pedicure, and yet, getting an amputation?”

Or on the flip-side, are you simply giving a pedicure, when what is really needed is an amputation?

This is certainly relevant to both personal life endeavors and organizational management, and it takes me back to earlier this summer when I facilitated at an institute for work. One of the faculty members – an incredibly brilliant and remarkably inspiring education administrator – noted the following:

“Too often, we are feeding steak to someone who may need baby food.”

Ok, you’ve heard all the metaphors you can handle today.

No matter how it shakes down, these points are important. And these points can guide wonderful dialogue around the idea change and how and when you approach change within the communities where you are active. The title of this post says it all – I am reevaluating change. And I hope you’ll do the same.

The only sure thing is that today is a new day. What you do with that understanding, and how you navigate through whatever journey you’re on, is up to you.

Now, go get those toes touched up…

Examining the steak,

Michael

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Dear graduates, you’ve been fooled…

Do you ever end up on a website, only to look up after two hours and find that you’ve actually fallen down a rabbit hole of content? This happened to me recently, while trolling the confines of Humans of New York. While I remain addicted to Humans of New York, there was something about this past trolling that made me more reflective and more life-aware (“life-aware,” is a new concept I am flirting with, pausing and pushing myself to live in the moment – it’s a, “YOLO,” for old people, if you will).

I recently posted a piece addressed to upcoming graduates, and in a love letter-like fashion, challenged all who are taking the plunge to, above all else, pause and reflect.

Though, I must add, you’ve all been fooled.

Well, we’ve all been fooled. In general, graduation is scary and terrifying and real, and following my post, I received quality feedback from friends and colleagues who assured me that they, too, were still grappling with some of the moments I highlighted in the piece. And some, even ten or so years later. The transition is ongoing, and if we can fully embrace this reality, it doesn’t come as such a slap in the face. You see, graduation can seem like an “end” for many people. And it certainly did for me. I remember standing in front of my entire community of friends, family, and university staff, all in attendance for my graduation reception, and sobbing mid-speech because it hit me in that very moment that my college days had ended.

And mistakenly, I assumed college ending also meant the end of gaining knowledge, making tough decisions, having fun, celebrating with friends, and the list went on and on. But as I have grown older, and now a few years from being a decade away from college, I am realizing that these moments appear much differently than how I was socialized as an undergraduate. And the learning and life-having exists outside of the safe bubble that higher education often provides. Needless to say, some new feels are hitting me today, and to honor my HONY time-suck, let’s begin here:

HONY job-happiness photo

“When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I’m 35, and I need a plan to be happy.”

Now, I will not be addressing the happiness piece too deeply, as I am finding happiness to be incredibly subjective and contextual (and have actually felt this way for a long time). I will note, however, as graduation nears for many (and nostalgia rears its head for the rest of us has-beens), life-awareness and self-awareness are more important than ever. The post above hit me hard, and caused a hailstorm of “ah-ha” moments to follow. With the help of my Humans of New York binge, please pause and consider the following post-graduation (and general life) permissions:

Permission to be You

“We’d been having a sort of tacit conversation about it for a couple years. Then one day, his sister, who already knew, was teasing him about having a crush on a boy at school. And I heard him say: ‘Well, maybe it’s true!’ So I said: 'Son, we’ve never really talked about this. Are you gay?’ And even though he was 6'4”, he came over to me, curled up in my lap and just sobbed and sobbed. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, actually.”

“We’d been having a sort of tacit conversation about it for a couple years. Then one day, his sister, who already knew, was teasing him about having a crush on a boy at school. And I heard him say: ‘Well, maybe it’s true!’ So I said: ‘Son, we’ve never really talked about this. Are you gay?’ And even though he was 6’4”, he came over to me, curled up in my lap and just sobbed and sobbed. It was one of the most beautiful moments of my life, actually.”

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Michael Anthony Goodman post without some sense of, “live your truth” (and associated demands). But I believe this, and with all of my heart. You see, (most) colleges and universities foster a phenomenal space to be brave and free. Consequently, not every space inside that brave zone shares this same value, and many students will graduate college still feeling as though they were not able to be their true self (fraternities/sororities, student government, athletics, just to name a few sub-environments). Sometimes we need to be a 6’4” closet-case, and to curl up on someone’s lap and sob and sob (metaphorically or literally, and on any or all accounts). If you are itching to be your true self in/as whoever you may be, and you don’t feel you can be that wonderful and beautiful you in college, know that your time and permission is coming.

Permission to Take a Coffee Break

“I’m working from 8 AM to 8 AM. But I do get a coffee break.”

“I’m working from 8 AM to 8 AM. But I do get a coffee break.”

Graduation often brings a sense of wanting to prove yourself. I remember my first job out of college, I worked early morning to early evening, volunteered for nearly every special event, and talked work/task/project with my colleagues at any given moment. It was obsessive. And sadly, this habit is (was) hard to break. Even within the past five years, I often have to stop myself when I’m out with friends, as for many, the last thing they want to hear or talk about is work. And the hours are part of that stability, as well. Professionals cite this as, “work/life balance,” and I just like to view it as life. Sometimes you’re going to work and talk work from 8AM-8PM, and sometimes a coffee brake is enough. But you have to give yourself that coffee break. Take that coffee break.

Permission to be Shirtless

“We’re doing an annual fun and sexy memorial run for our friend Joe. Joe’s still alive though. He’s actually perfectly healthy. We’re just trying to raise awareness for him. Awareness of Joe.” “So wait, are you raising money for something?” “Nope. Just raising sexy.”

“We’re doing an annual fun and sexy memorial run for our friend Joe. Joe’s still alive though. He’s actually perfectly healthy. We’re just trying to raise awareness for him. Awareness of Joe.”
“So wait, are you raising money for something?”
“Nope. Just raising sexy.”

Before you strip down and blame me for your indecency, pause. There is something really liberating about shedding your insecurities, or coming together in community. The shirt can be real or representative of something you need to let go of – and either way, let it go. Have fun, build community, celebrate the people in your life. And above all else, feel sexy and free. Losing my hair, finding greys in my beard, and having to work out twice as hard to achieve what I want for my body are all quite exhausting. And confidence is essential. And I’m working on this every single day. Lose your “shirt,” gain your worth, and dare to be a bit more wild, spontaneous, and free.

Permission to be Random

“I love her randomness.” “Tell me about a time she was random.” “Three hours ago. I went to pick her up, and I found her double-dutching on the sidewalk with some kids. Then she went inside and came out wearing this.”

“I love her randomness.”
“Tell me about a time she was random.”
“Three hours ago. I went to pick her up, and I found her double-dutching on the sidewalk with some kids. Then she went inside and came out wearing this.”

First, if ever given the chance to double-dutch, get your ass out there and jump that rope. When I was a kid, I could do a round-off back-handspring into a turning rope – it was awesome, and it always shocked people. Go, shock people. Be random, surprise those around you, and most of all, have fun. Date people, and reconnect. Be present, wear many hats, and be exciting at every stop. There is nothing more boring than a person from whom you know exactly what you are going to get. And go on dates. Seriously, go on lots of dates as a young adult.

Permission to Self-Doubt

“When I told my mom that I was going to rehab, she was about to catch a flight to her 40th High School Reunion. I told her: ‘I guess you won’t be bragging about me to your friends.’ She said: 'Actually, I’ve never been prouder of you.’”

“When I told my mom that I was going to rehab, she was about to catch a flight to her 40th High School Reunion. I told her: ‘I guess you won’t be bragging about me to your friends.’ She said: ‘Actually, I’ve never been prouder of you.’”

If I have learned anything in the past decade, it’s that we don’t always see in ourselves what others see in us. Additionally, and more times than not, our own perception of self is often much harsher or more critical than how others see us. And this is more than a confidence moment. It’s about courage. Have the courage to step back and critically evaluate your current reality. And beyond that, examine who you have in your corner – even the ones you thought you might be disappointing most. Have the courage to give yourself some grace. You deserve grace.

Permission to Invent a Fart Gun

“I’m going to be an inventor. I already have some good ideas.” “Oh yeah? What are they?” “I had an idea for an electronic cigarette with a whatchamacallit in it that makes mist so you feel like you’re smoking but you really aren’t. And also a toothbrush where you put the toothpaste in the bottom and it comes out the top when you’re brushing.” “Those are some solid ideas. Anything else?” “A fart gun.”

“I’m going to be an inventor. I already have some good ideas.”
“Oh yeah? What are they?”
“I had an idea for an electronic cigarette with a whatchamacallit in it that makes mist so you feel like you’re smoking but you really aren’t. And also a toothbrush where you put the toothpaste in the bottom and it comes out the top when you’re brushing.”
“Those are some solid ideas. Anything else?”
“A fart gun.”

Sometimes a first job can often feel stifling. And for those who have a huge imagination, please remember, you are not defined by your ability or inability to create. Never, ever, lose your sense of wonder (and yes, in the most, I-hope-you-dance-and-feel-small-by-an-ocean, kind of way). Furthermore, never lose your sense of wander. Be silly. Have fun. Explore and create. And dream. One of the best things a potential employer or supervisor can tell you is, “It’s okay to dream here.” And when you get to dream, allow yourself to also create, and fight for the opportunity to create. Sometimes places don’t realize they are stifling someone’s creativity, and all they need is for that person to speak up and say, “Hey, I want to try to make this happen.” And then, make it happen.

When I started this piece, I noted, “you’ve/we’ve been fooled.” And the more I think about this assertion, perhaps we’ve only fooled ourselves.

Is post-graduation really the “end?”

Is a “dream job” and “dream hours” and “dream scenario” shortly after graduation fair or realistic?

Is this just?

Are we talking about grace?

I graduated college seven years ago, and I still wrestle with these questions even today. I still get choked up, just as I was standing before my friends and family, balling my eyes out. I still wonder if I’m good enough to take on the world, and brave enough to be my true self in this big, scary universe. But I’m hopeful. And I’m scared. But most of all, I’m hopeful – for both you and me. And I am confident that, if you give yourself enough credit/grace/positive energy, you, too, can beautifully navigate through this transition.

You don’t always get a map. And sometimes the map you do get isn’t any good anyway.

Onward.

With hope,

Michael

*Photos have been pulled from Humans of New York… get lost