What kind of world do you want?

“If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”

I believe it was Malcom X who coined this provocative and relevant thought (and if my citation is inaccurate, I’m sure Malcom X said this at some point, while living this philosophy as his truth). And it’s so accurate, right?

I am obsessed with great content, and especially when that content assists in creating real and raw perspective. For example, when Kerry Washington accepted the Vanguard Award at the GLAAD Awards this past weekend. Pause and listen to her speech. This speech is incredibly valuable, and something which should be replayed over and over – there is a lot more we can be doing, and a lot more inclusion we should be observing. I’m curious to see how Kerry continues the dialogue.

Outside of this speech, and, of course, the previous posts I have used to articulate my thoughts on activism or the current reality in my home state of Oklahoma, I want to pause and show some appreciation for my alma mater, the University of Central Oklahoma. This past week, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion at UCO launched a campaign, advertising The Tunnel of Oppression, which is a phenomenal simulation to help students better understand privilege and oppression, and how these concepts impact everyone. Check out the posters below:

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Asians..

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Black Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Disability...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Muslims...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Gay Men...

UCO Tunnel of Oppression - Native Americans...

First, I want to thank these brave students for “coming out” in these posters. Whereas many people of color are already “out” as noted by race (being, “color blind,” is not a thing, and all of that), sitting with these search items is a heavy and intense moment – a reality faced by any oppressed or marginalized individual. Next, I want to highlight that these, “Societal assertions,” are very real and are played out for people every single day. And this should not be a surprise. In fact, if you gasped at the items listed in the search bars above, I challenge you to think about your surroundings a bit more critically. This is certainly the case following the OU SAE incident, and has been a theme in a lot of the conversations I have had with friends and colleagues now two weeks after the release of the video. We must challenge a little harder, and push a little deeper.

And this starts with inclusion. How are you integrating inclusion into your conversations and into your personal and professional engagements? As Luke Visconti argues, and I tend to agree, it is so much more than simply asking (expecting) baristas to talk about race in the 20 seconds they have with a customer at Starbucks. If we want inclusion, diversity, equity, multicultural understanding, etc. to be something that is espoused and enacted, it must be something that is integrated through every fiber of an operation. As Visconti points out, it must start from the top (and in the most, see-someone-to-be-someone, kind of way).

One year ago, I was a cluster facilitator at LeaderShape, a leadership retreat for college students. The university where I was working did a campaign to advertise this opportunity, and passed around various flyers reading, “I see a world where ______.” Individuals could write in what kind of world they see. For example, “people have clean water,” “cancer is fully treatable,” “we find peace,” and, “everyone has a puppy,” were a few of my favorites. When I filled out my own flyer to be hung on my office door, I thought long and hard. What kind of world did (do) I want to see?

And, today, I ask you this same question, among others:

How do you see the world? What kind of world do you want? What kind of contribution can you and will you be willing to make? Do you dare?

Engaging,

Michael

*I see a world with liberty and justice for all.

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,

Michael FullSizeRender-3

Leadership Camp & My Quest to Connect the Disconnected

So, I have a confession. Roughly two weeks before any facilitation experience, and leading right up to a report date/time, I have a moment (several sometimes), one where I get really close to backing out of the opportunity. I freak out. I let my nerves get the best of me, and have a period of weakness where I think I will either A. not connect with students and/or co-facilitators, or B. completely fail at inspiring students/young adults to do whatever it is that the curriculum is guiding.

My confidence may fool you, however this happens almost every single time I am set to facilitate or lead a group through some high-level leadership or processing experience. And like clockwork, it happened this past weekend as I prepared for LeaderShape, a six-day intensive leadership retreat for undergraduate students in higher education. Thankfully, I did not drop out of the experience (and never do), however last night, I had a moment that affirmed a feeling of being exactly where I was supposed to be. Upon meeting my small group “Family Cluster” of 11 students, my opening note was that I believe everything happens for a reason. Furthermore and in experiences like this, there is a reason we are all (our small group and other small groups) in this (any) specific environment together. Ideally that reason will reveal itself at some point, however the truth is we often do not realize the power of “that (or any, for that matter) moment” until weeks, months, and/or even years later. Needless to say, the reason is there and, in due time, it will reveal itself.

Several years ago I had the privilege of facilitating another leadership camp-like retreat, and during that experience, questioned the process so much so that I was unable to truly invest in the powerful moment that was happening all around me. I have since learned that I was in that particular moment for the mere reason that, in the future, I needed to trust the process.

Trust the process.

How often do we allow ourselves to do that, and in whatever facet of life it arises? One of the most inspirational people in my life once told me, “Connect the disconnected.” She said this to me in the context of the “general member” of an organization or company (or work environment), however today this is resonating with me in a way that reflects the disconnected parts of my self and my own leadership journey. Trusting the process and connecting the disconnected are valuable ideas that are aiding me on this goal of bettering my self-confidence through more thought-out ideals.

What parts of your life are disconnected? Are you trusting the process? Do you even know or see or feel the process? Is “checking our confidence issues” a reality? Another day of leadership camp is ahead, which means more reflection and processing for me both internally and externally. I am present and accounted for, ready and eager for more learning.

Connecting,

Michael