Four Elephant Emojis

I turned 31 yesterday.

The excitement of 30 has solidified and I am extra-reflective of last year’s celebration. The Instagramification of 30 guided much my outlook on entering a new decade of life, and as I embarked on a dream of accepting that I am not perfect (and may never be), I discovered that I can be loved even as a result of that/those imperfection(s).

This peace was very raw and real for me.

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Celebrating 30 in DC, accompanied by a new soulmate and giant group of friends was a stark contrast to the celebration of 29, which consisted of me embracing, “almost-thirty,” more than, “actually-29.” Instead of being surrounded by friends and loved ones in the open air on a DC rooftop, I was adventuring in northeast China, alone in a hotel room, journaling and reflecting. A lot can happen in 24 months.

In the spirit of self-disclosure, I spent 31 on the verge of tears.

Ultimately I was okay. In fact, I really was actually great – I felt and received so much love and support from friends near and far; I was treated wonderfully at work and around campus; I have the best partner who provided a fantastic weekend last weekend to honor the big day; and I heard from people who reminded me that I was so worthy and so wonderfully me.

All of this, and yet, the almost-tears-lump still remained (please tell me you know this lump-in-the-throat feeling I am talking about?).

How did I manage to fool all of these folx into writing on my wall, tweeting at me, texting me, and calling me with cheerful and joyous messages? 

Our brain can be a scary thing.

I explained some of these feelings to a dear friend of mine, the friend whose elephant moment I captured in my last post. In our conversation, I shared some of my thoughts around why I was so distracted, and why I didn’t feel good enough in this particular place and time. Here’s a bit from our conversation:

Me:  “I’m seriously standing at a food place getting dinner, crying, and wondering why I feel so unworthy. And why I can’t shake that.”

Friend:  “Because you are human. Flawed. Full. Imperfect. Perfect. And going through a lot of transition.”

This friend then typed out four elephant emojis, and stated, “That’s how many elephants you’re up against right now.”

Of course, I started to cry some more. Good tears.

If I (we) truly believe, “eating an elephant,” requires taking one bite at a time, four metaphorical elephants becomes a new challenge, and a new journey.

I cried not because I was down or sad or upset, I cried because my friend was right. Sometimes we don’t just have just one elephant to get through – sometimes there are many more, some bigger than others, and some to remind you that your worth is subjective, enough, and whatever you need it to be in any particular moment or time. Knowing your worth is about knowing what elephants you have in front of you, and knowing that some may be there that you didn’t even know about (“you don’t know what you don’t know,” and all of that). I didn’t need to have any major wins yesterday. I didn’t need to have a “perfect” birthday. I needed to take care of myself, my heart.

That was enough for me.

And thanks to my friend, four elephant emojis, and a reminder that sometimes the process we’re told to trust isn’t always all that trustworthy, I feel whole again.

I feel 31, deservingly so.

I feel loved, valued, and mostly worthy.

I feel more present than I have in awhile.

I feel ready for a new year of chance, hope, and humanity.

I feel unapologetically open and raw.

I feel.

Another year, another learning lesson, another road ahead.

Brain-battling,

Michael

Mary Prusha Art Up
*Art and photo by Mary Prusha

The Instagramification of 30

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“Michael, you seem really happy right now.”

“No, no. I mean, you actually seem really happy.”

“Are you really this happy?”

While I value happiness to be purely subjective, over the past two months and more times than I can count, friends and colleagues have contended that I am in one of the best states of wellbeing than they have ever seen in me.

“Michael, you seem really happy right now.”

At first, this was haunting.

And then it was sobering.

Should I be? Was I? According to whose standard? What is, “happy?”

As a skilled Instagram filter-user and twitter wordsmith, I chalked up initial concerns to be associated with the reality that social media and other tools for self-promotion (that’s all it really is, right?) reveal only what we want from them.

We control the keys, we sketch the answer, we move the dial.

Initial investigations lead me to believe that this all might actually be more than just a few Facebook posts and well-lit photos of my dinner. Perhaps, I was actually doing pretty well. Perhaps, I was, in fact, living in the murky waters of, “happy.”

What the hell happened to me? 

It was just one year ago that I was living in China, playing OneRepublic’s, “I Lived,” on repeat. I was begging for a sign that what I was doing and where I was living were more than just, “a wanderer wandering.” I was begging for a sign that ‘happy’ would come, and that it would be a seamless transition from the dissonance I was enduring. I was begging for an objective response to ‘happy.’ I was begging for a roadmap.

Alas, happiness is subjective.

It was a dear friend asking me the initial question yesterday that resulted in a bit of clarity around my conundrum.

“Michael, are you as happy as it seems?

Where does that come from?”

It was the second part of these questions that resonated with me most.

What had contributed to this change of pace?

According to Instagram, I love my new Fitbit. According to twitter, I’m moved by the Campbell Soup two-dads commercial. According to multiple platforms, I’m elated that fall is here. I love my community of friends in DC. I love food. Doughnuts on doughnuts on doughnuts. #NoFilter sunset. Photo of my super handsome partner.

These assertions are all so much more than a social media declaration. Each of these arguments ring very true for me – some just have a better filter than others.

So, what has contributed to this change of pace from the questioning and fluid state I was in just one year ago?

Instagram.

Okay, I’m kidding. It’s much deeper than that.

For starters, I found love. And I found it in the most striking of ways. While I’m not a perfect partner, I am learning to be loved even as a result of that lack of perfection. And this is absolutely okay. Accepting that I am not perfect (and may never be) is one of the biggest places of peace I have relished in as a young adult.

For years, I sold myself on the idea that if I worked really long hours and juggled dozens of tasks and to-do lists, someone would find me to be talented and successful and utterly appealing. This was not the case whatsoever.

I was left resentful and frustrated with the work I was doing, and in a lot of ways, I’m still surviving through this “ah-ha” moment. Instead, I have found joy in being present for my own life and the lives of others. Specifically, being around others who are living joyously or contributing to a joy-filled world is more important than a list of accolades or wins. This is my current win, and the unapologetic opportunity to be fully present is a new and exhilarating feeling.

While I valued being challenged at work, I assumed success to come in my personal life via the same method as I received as a professional. I lived in a space where I believed I had to always be facing some type of adversity. And then, beating it (whatever, “it,” might be for each journey). This was (is) exhausting.

I’m vowing to live a less exhausted life. And I hope you’ll do the same.

Finally, embracing 30 has informed much of my current outlook on life. A lot of people were actually nervous about this rite of passage for me. So much so, that before, “Happy Birthday,” sentiments, they inquired, “Are you okay?”

Making decisions for my person rather than my profession has become a new life mantra. I have come to realize that learning is not exclusively found in a classroom or office. Learning will happen in your personal life. Once we accept this reality, we are left with the opportunity to learn and grow.

Vulnerability is scary, but we’re all better because of it.

Whether it is the instagramification of 30… or 25… or just simply the instagramification of being happy, I challenge you to choose you. I implore you to be true to yourself in revealing how much or how little you need to be in your current here and now. “The only way upward is onward,” and all of that…

I’m thirty years old. How rad is that? I have a world of life and living to unearth, and in the times of good, bad, ugly, favorited, reblogged, and retweeted, I’m going to keep pausing on the good stuff, and breathing out the bad.

Will you do the same?

Here’s to something great…

Regramming,

Michael

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Ain’t no party like a doughnut party, cause a doughnut party don’t (but probably should) stop.

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Let it be known, this post was almost titled, “When the doctor tells you you’re obese…”

Of course, coming off my, “Yes ogre,” post, I felt like it might be a bit aggressive to continue harassing myself with such strong speak (“Celebrate Every Body,” and all of that). But, yes. My doctor did tell me I was obese. Or, am obese, for that matter. And immediately after, all I could think was, Good thing he doesn’t know about all the doughnuts I consume on a weekly…er, daily, basis. Needless to say, I was instantly defensive following this exchange.

“But, I’m big-boned,” I argued.

He wasn’t having it.

“I have strong thighs and calves.”

“I hold a lot of water-weight.”

“Did I tell you I’m big-boned?”

“But food gets the most likes on my Instagram!”

“The doughnuts aren’t going to eat themselves!”

As a general FYI, “A doughnut a day keeps the doctor away,” is not actually a real thing.

Let’s pause here for a moment.

You should know, doughnuts are much more than just a sweet treat I like to parade on my Instagram. I grew up on doughnuts. I love doughnuts. I am one with doughnuts.

Aside from the step team I was on in my youth group, one of my more profound memories from the church where I grew up is what we called, “Fellowship Sunday.” On the third Sunday of every month, my church would turn our Fellowship Hall into a doughnut-smorgasbord. It was magical, and there were 5-10 tables covered in various kinds of doughnuts every single month. And the best part: I had no limit. I could eat as many doughnuts as I wanted on Fellowship Sunday.

And I usually did.

Long after my Fellowship Sunday sugar-highs, doughnuts have remained a big part of my life. I should also add, nowadays, not a week goes by without someone sending me some type of doughnut correspondence (found in the form of screen shots, doughnut shop highlights, doughnut paraphernalia, and the list goes on and on). I even had a friend pick me up from the airport once, and greeted me with a sign that, at first glance, appeared to read, “HEY MICHAEL, I HAVE DONUTS” (the word, “DON’T” was placed in tiny font between “I” and “HAVE” – she had jokes, apparently)!

This is not uncommon. And aside from my own doughnut-shenanigans, I kind of love the adventures I get to go on via social media and text (mine, and others’).

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When not my own doughnuts, I can always respect the doughnuts of others. And if Instagram tells you anything, it’s that my timeline will become immediately less appealing if doughnuts are no longer part of my weekly (daily) repertoire (or any kind of food, for that matter).

Let’s go back a few weeks to when my doctor called me, “obese.” Honoring my mother’s advice to a weight-struggling teenager (me), you can’t completely eliminate treats and sweets from your diet and remain happy. “Moderation,” she’d argue. And she was (is) right. Let’s be honest, there is a big difference between one doughnut per week and three doughnuts per day (I warned you, I’m a monster).

And my doctor is right, too. 

According to the Body Mass Index (BMI), I am actually around 50 lbs overweight.

Pause.

I know what you’re going to say – please save the, “But Michael, I’m a doctor [or medical student or nurse or someone who actively trolls WebMD].” The BMI is a product of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (or, “CDC,” as we call it on the street). These folks set the standard for nutrition, physical activity, and obesity. I understand your nutrition professor or life coach may have told you otherwise, but until this changes, doctors across America and insurance companies examining folks for the 40-year old price-break will continue to use this as a benchmark.

And, I’ll even half agree with you regarding the BMI BS – I really am big-boned.

Even while navigating my own issues with food, I was still very much like, eat whatever you want, live in whatever body you want, do you, be you, blah blah blah. But the truth is, you can’t actually eat whatever you want – without repercussions, of course. And through all my big-bone’edness, I, too, can’t eat whatever I want – and this goes well-beyond body image. I’m talking about health.

There are many truths in a commitment to living a bit more cautious with food. I love my daily doughnut(s), however as I am getting older, my body is starting to remind me that those little nuggets of joy aren’t what they use to be for me. I’m no nutritionist or life coach, but I know enough to understand that several doughnuts per day (even if they are my favorite food) is not the wisest decision – and on top of already living with a pretty unbalanced meal plan.

“Live your own life.”

“Celebrate every body.”

“Every body is different.”

“Let Michael have the doughnuts!”

“Go nuts for doughnuts!”

“Doughnut power!”

I appreciate your concern, but I’m cutting back. I have to be more responsible. And if I want to live a healthy and active (and long) life, I need to make some cuts as I draw closer to the one-month window of my 30th Birthday. This means no more calling myself, “Shrek.” And it means continuing to understand myself and my inner-workings (specifically, how to be more in-sync with a healthy body and healthy mind). We all have to be a bit more responsible.

And as one really important person in my life says, we have be kind to ourselves.

And this includes being kind to your body.

Doughnut-dreaming,

Michael

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The 60-seconds following, “I do…”

Shortly after college, I went through a period where my calendar had more weddings than I could count. I attended many, while others received a disappointing regret.

Of course, the weddings I attended were wonderful, and the ones with open bars were ever better. A group of my friends and I even established wedding rituals. Sitting with the same 4-5 singles at each wedding (several of whom are now with partner, and/or child), we would take bets on how long the ceremony would last – in Oklahoma, a wedding could last anywhere from twelve minutes to sixty minutes, and counting.

I watched some of my best friends get married those years after college, and now as I exist within another wave of marriages, I am finding weddings to be significantly less stressful for me (I know, I know, “It’s not about you,” and all of that). Weddings can be expensive for out-of-town guests. I can always appreciate the folks who understood/stand that an, unfortunately-I-can’t-attend, remark is mostly as a result of limited coins, and not because I don’t want to celebrate their love. And more than expensive, weddings can be disappointing for 20 to 30- year old out-of-town guests. Because celebrating love is fun, and it’s beautiful, and can be incredibly inspiring. In this context, there is nothing tougher than realizing you don’t have the funds to celebrate the love of some of your most important people. I digress.

I received a second wind last summer while attending the wedding of a very dear friend of mine in Michigan. I was pretty unhappy at this juncture of my life, and even while driving to the wedding, I remember anticipating how horrible it was going to be to only know one person outside of the bride and groom at this particular event. I even almost turned around and headed home while driving from southern Indiana to western Michigan. I was super-single, and sulked in a pity party for 80% of the drive.

And then something magical happened.

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Suzy Smith and Michael Chandler, 2014

Aside from the wedding being absolutely beautiful and wonderful (I wrote about it here), I experienced an out-of-body feeling while watching the bride and groom walk down the isle after committing, “I do.” It was enchanting. There was an instant change in the way they walked, smiled, and even held on to one another.

And I sat with those emotions for quite some time.

As a result, I now strategically place myself toward the back of any wedding congregation. I have decided there is nothing more satisfying than watching a couple experience the, “I do high,” just moments after they’ve committed to one another. Those 60-seconds following, “I do,” are some of the more joyous moments I have ever witnessed outside of the last five minutes of any episode of Extreme Makeover: Weight Loss Edition. It’s so real. And incredibly powerful.

If you’re on any form of social media, you’ll know that I attended a wedding this past weekend in upstate New York. And it surely did not disappoint. And thus, I continue to believe in love. And to want love. And to spread love.

Sharing the same sentiments as I experienced last summer, I commit to, “happily ever after;” No gasps at wedding invitations and announcements of big life moments, no sighs of frustration in the celebration of other’s big life moments, and finally, no skepticism around love. Love love. And love it fully.

Here’s to newlyweds,

Michael

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Laura Persico and Chad Munkres, 2015

So, you’re graduating…

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I recently had dinner with a former, student-turned-good-friend, who is about to graduate next month. She was in DC for a few days, and between her visit schedule and my continued attempts to figure out this new city, we met and caught up over dinner. Amidst war stories on love and life, and a dip into current events and politics, I knew one thing was missing from our conversation: the individual in front of me would be a college graduate in less than 30 days.

As a higher education professional by trade, I knew graduation was near. May is upon us and college students everywhere are experiencing their “lasts” and “never agains” and “I can’ts.” I tried my hardest to refrain from forcing the conversation (preparation, reflection, anticipation, procrastination) upon her, though to my surprise, she brought it up in the most casual manner.

“And, this whole, I’m-almost-graduating-Holy-shit, transition has actually not been all that bad. I think I’m ready.”

This came out of nowhere.

“Tell me more,” I responded, as best and as counselor-like as possible.

“I mean, I’m sad and all of that, but I’m ready. And I’m proud of myself and all I have accomplished.”

I agreed and validated her, and not even because I am supposed to as a friend and fan, but mostly because she was absolutely right. She really did have a lot to be proud of, and no amount of training or theory or literature can provoke students in such a way. For that, I was left thankful.

I walked home, pondering our conversation and thinking about the hundreds of thousands of brave souls who, too, are in this moment of transition. And as I took a moment to honor these individuals and all of their accomplishments and accolades, I also jotted down a few notes. Just as I addressed those entering college just last semester, consider this my gift, my love letter to all those about to take the plunge from college and into the big, scary, real world.

Dear About-To-Be College Graduates,

So, you’re graduating…

To start, you should note, ‘back home’ is back, and you’re moving forward. Forward.

Move forward.

You’re going to have feelings, and those feelings are okay. Furthermore, some of these feeling may come and go, and some might appear while grocery shopping, taking a shower, or in my case, at my graduation party the morning of graduation as I sobbed through a speech in front of my 30 closest friends, family, and university staff.

“I’m fine,” I promised.

I wasn’t.

And that was ok.

It you’re not ok. That’s ok, too.

But some of you will not have feelings. Your friends will melt down around you, and you’ll be confused, assuring, “It’ll be ok.” Don’t forget, you’re processing this on your own terms. You’re okay too.

Moving forward, you’re going to get an apartment. And for some of you, you’re going to cook your first meal. You will burn something. And you will be surprised by your own culinary skills, even if that means a killer grilled-cheese. Be patient. And Pinterest. Always, Pinterest.

You’re going to love jobs and you’re going to hate them. You’re also going to leave jobs. And that’s ok. You’re ok. You have permission to leave jobs, and to be annoyed with your boss, and to toast to all things, “Happy Hour.” And to do brunch. Do a lot of brunch as a, college-graduate-turned-real-world, human. There’s something healing about brunch.

And in your healing, remember there are roadblocks ahead.

Specifically, your friends will get engaged.

Prepare yourself for this reality.

Your Facebook timeline will become filled with individuals who are changing their hair color, “trying out bangs,” traveling for work, reconnecting with old flames, and dating other friends who you didn’t know they even knew. Support them. Support curiosity. People are changing and growing, and as hopeful as we are that college is the vehicle for the greatest of change and growth, it’s not.

Many are changing.

And many, without you.

This is okay. You are still okay. And as a word of caution, do not project your own transition on others, and do not accept others’ transition as your own. Because you, too, are changing. Growing. Developing. Again, this is all okay.

And in the change which exists ahead, loss and grief will be part of the process. Both are scary and real, and both are incredibly raw. Grieve. Seriously, allow yourself to grieve.

You will lose friends and family, and others around you will too. And pain will happen. And it sucks. But never forget the people who support and love and care for you. Their love doesn’t stop after college. It just looks different. And you’re different. Receive this gift. Never forget that you’re young. And being young is still filled with insurmountable opportunities at your fingertips.

You have the world at your fingertips.

What will you do with this opportunity? How will you prepare for this dynamic endeavor? Are you scared? Good. Be scared. But be hopeful. And be curious. Lose your sense of direction and wander. Get lost. Learn. Grow. And be unapologetically you.

Graduates, as you prepare for the big day, pause and acknowledge that you are entering the world of privileged souls with a college degree. May it take you places, and may you truly understand its worth.

Onward.

Your cheerleader,

Michael

*Photo from a former student, Mary Prusha, after taking a line from my poem, “There will be times…” Check out her creative Instagram here

So, you don’t believe in resolutions?

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First off, I get it. Nothing is more annoying this time of year than the, “I promise to lose weight,” “I will be more green,” and, “I will spend less money,” New Year’s swears. I have certainly experienced my own share of declarations shortly after each December 31st, many to ultimately fall short of my original hopes and dreams. And while failure certainly happens, over the years I have learned that resolutions are essential – for all of us. To me, not believing in resolutions is a lot like not believing in hopes, goals, or dreams. And furthermore, “not believing,” can also, at times, come off as, “not supporting.” Let’s pause here for a moment.

Since the last time I used one it resonated really well, I am going to pull from my Grey’s Anatomy tool box, yet again. Please observe the following:

“Fresh starts. Thanks to the calendar, they happen every year. Just set your watch to January. Our reward for surviving the holiday season, is a new year. Bringing on the great tradition of New Year’s resolutions. Put your past behind you, and start over. It’s hard to resist the chance at a new beginning. A chance to put the problems of last year to bed.

Who gets to determine when the old ends, and the new begins? It’s not a day on a calendar, not a birthday, not a new year. It’s an event. Big or small. Something that changes us. Ideally, it gives us hope.

A new way of living and looking at the world. Letting go of old habits, old memories. What’s important is that we never stop believing we can have a new beginning.

But it’s also important to remember that amid all the crap are a few things really worth holding on to.”

What are you letting go of and what are you holding on to? Your own swearing off of resolutions doesn’t mean you aren’t dreaming, hoping, planning, and wishing. And the mere presence of other’s also shouldn’t hinder you from reaching out, supporting, and helping people achieve their short, temporary, and/or long-term goals. Again, “What’s important is that we never stop believing we can have a new beginning.”

A few weeks ago, I had a friend text me with the dilemma of what she wanted to be when she, “grew up.” Facing this same struggle every single day, and with hundreds of dreams always coming in and out of my peripheral, I found some solidarity with her, focusing less on an exact career plan. Instead, I focused on myself, and who I would be rather than what I would be. In fact, I would argue, who we want to be when we grow up is different from what we want to be when we grow up. Now, we can find parts of who we are within that what, but ultimately these are two different concepts. And it was this past few months where I have finally fully grasped and appreciated this sentiment.

unnamedIt has become a new challenge for me, and now a hope for all others. Separate the two. Aside from my aforementioned career-inquiring friend, one of my best friends from college recently reached out to talk about resolutions since she knows I’m a firm advocate for them. She has a goal of losing 50lbs. Of course, I support this, and am so thankful that she feels comfortable to share this with me. But then I started to doubt myself shortly after her confession. And as I grappled with this new information, I started to think about my role in her self-disclosure. Specifically, What responsibility do I now have to my friend to help her, push her, support her, encourage her?

And the answer is, a ton.

In fact, we all do. Sharing a New Year’s resolution is like sharing a secret. Some are big, and some super petty and fun. And either way, both should be engaged carefully and shared thoughtfully. And more than that, each resolution should be respected fully. And this is where the nay-sayer should pause and listen up.

No resolution? Anti-resolution? Embrace this: Focus on you. Focus on who you want to be, how you want to live, and when you are and can be your most authentic self. That’s a start, right? You see, these are the things which matter most. While I support all those aiming to lose weight, spend less, go green, and the list goes on and on, I am, more times than not, suspending my own dreams and destroyed-goals for these very sentiments. Me. And, of course, I challenge you to do the same.

Focus on you this year, and the rest will fall into place.

New year, new you. Embrace life, embrace the best you.

Resolved,

Michael