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

Stop, and go.

Have you ever switched lanes in frustration, only to later watch drivers from the lane you previously occupied pass by with ease?

Several years ago, I made the decision to stop doing this. And at the time, it was one of the best decisions I could have made for myself. Of course, now that I am car-less in DC, I have found validation through a new and related challenge: crossing the street.

When I lived in China, crossing the street in Beijing was mostly an, all-hands-on-deck, experience. While a car may try to break the pack, it was more difficult to plow through a sea of 50 people all trying to cross the street at the same time. There was great safety in great numbers. And time and time again, especially on major intersections, I watched people pack together to cross the street.

And a similar sentiment exists while crossing streets in DC (although, I generally like to consider myself a rule-follower, waiting on the crosswalk signal to provide pedestrians with permission to move forward). Whereas a light will change and people will walk, it is also not at all uncommon for people to dart across the street, with grave attempts to dodge cars and traffic. These people stress me out.

I walk ten blocks to work every morning, and as a rule-follower, I try not to follow these renegades into the road without an accompanying, you-may-walk-now-you-good-citizen, affirmative light. Around block two this morning, I was joined by a man who was clearly in a hurry and visibly stressed. Three blocks in with this individual, I realized the other passers-by had also noticed his frantic behavior, and we shared, “Yeah, I know, dude needs to chill,” expressions.

Every time a light blocked us from crossing the street, this man would huff/puff in frustration, and find the least dangerous opportunity to cross the street. Every single block. And between his dart across the street and arrival at the next light, I caught up to him. Three times. And to be clear, I caught up to him in my normal, easy-breezy (beautiful, Cover Girl) pace. It almost became a game for me. Same pace, same result each time. Again, changing lanes only to pause.

Of course, I have no clue what was going on with this individual, and chances are, it was something deeper than just a lack of patience and a load of frustration. Although, these things happen a lot, right? Impatience and frustration. We get “stuck” in a space, and think the only option is to switch lanes. Or, in the case of my fellow-DC busy bee this morning, we rush through intersections, only to be stopped by the ones glaring and waiting ahead. This is also a metaphor, y’all.

Please, friends, let your current reality happen. Sometimes, you’re going to be in a lane with no movement. And sometimes, you’re going to hit every red light. Pause. And let this be a gentle reminder to slow down. Let the flow happen. Trust the process, and let the process be a partner to your trustworthy spirit.

You’ll get there.

Patiently,

Michael

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Oxygen Mask Warrior

In education, it’s easy to pause and ask the daunting question, “What will they do without me?”

In fact, if you work in any student services or client-based field, this question has probably crossed your mind at least once in your career (and for some, once, per week). I certainly had this moment as I prepared to leave my previous posting in higher education, and covered it some in the piece, “The Educator Curse.”

I recently visited with one of my closest friends, who is currently torn between a huge possible job opportunity versus staying in his current position. Mixed within the layers of, “What if,” the aforementioned question, “What will they do without me,” was certainly alive and well throughout our conversation. And this was, however, a bit surprising to me. Up until this moment, I had always viewed this particular friend as an oxygen-mask warrior.

safety_oxygen_maskYes, you read that right: Oxygen Mask Warrior

I’m talking about making you your #1. I’m talking about securing your own oxygen mask before assisting others. I’m talking about making yourself matter.

This specific friend has always been one of the few people in my life to argue, “Michael, take care of you first,” and in the most, if-you-can’t-love-yourself-how-in-the-hell-are-you-going-to-love-somebody-else, kind of way. Furthermore, he has modeled the way in doing this, living as an example to me in all of his actions. But life happens, and sometimes we forget how capable and unique and talented and worthy we are.

And, all of this leads me to the question, Is your oxygen mask secure? 

Amidst the busy weeks, crazy hours, long nights, and unpredictable life moments, are you an Oxygen Mask Warrior? Are you kind to yourself?

So much of my move to Washington, D.C. is dripping in personal and professional selfishness, and in the best of ways, I have fully embraced this new reality. I’m excited about this. And, in fact, I’m thrilled about it. The only way upward is onward. Secure away, life warriors.

Taking care of me,

Michael

“Instructions” for a “Bad Day”

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Sometimes we contribute “ah-ha” moments on social media, comment with great energy, and soak in the impact as it relates to us in that very instance of posting.

And then, we move on.

In fact, we move on a lot.

We post. We comment. We process. We move on.

Rinse, wash, repeat.

I am, perhaps, the most guilty of this behavior. For example, a few months ago, I shared the following video after an explosion of “ah-ha” moments:

In the initial reflecting of this video all those months ago, I emailed myself with the link, and the following line: “I’ll never be the same.” In watching again, I concur with myself.

Please observe:

Say how you feel without fear or guilt.

Remember the times when you could have pressed quit, but you hit continue.

Love and hate are beasts, and the one that grows is the one you feed.

If you are having a good day, be considerate. A simple smile can be the First Aid kit someone is looking for.

Check your blind-spot. See that love is still there.

Be loud. Make noise. Stand in poise and be open. Hope, in these situations, is not enough, and you will need someone to lean on…

In the unlikely event that you have no one, look again. Everyone is blessed with the ability to listen.

Again, I’ll never be the same.

If I had $10 for the amount of times people asked, “How are you doing,” as it relates to my current status, I would be driving around in a brand new Land Rover. Consequently, if I had to give $10 back for every brief and vague response to, “How are you doing,” I would be about as penniless as I am today. Let’s pause here for a moment.

With 1 being the lowest of all lows (parent passed away, unexpectedly fired, watched a puppy get hit by a car, etc.), and 10 being the highest of all highs (got a promotion, feeling beautiful and worthy, found love in a hopeless place, etc.), where are you right now? Seriously, pause – let this challenge sink in for a moment.

If you had to place yourself on a scale between 1-10 every single day, where would you place yourself today? Where did you place yourself yesterday? Last week? Last month? I have a good friend who, every once in awhile, texts me and asks where I fall on the scale. Before going to China, we would have this conversation in person nearly every single day. I was most often sitting at a 7.25 average, however I would find it tough to be okay with this rating when my perfectionist mindset had always guided me to only strive for a 10. This dissonance usually pushed me down from the previously-attributed 7.25 to a steady 7. I would quickly learn that a 10 is usually temporary and unrealistic, but that never stopped me from trying to achieve.

And, while in China, the daily number was a bit lower. I struggled with this. And more so, I struggled with the haunting question, “How are you,” as it related to that specific, and ever-changing, situation. Let me be clear, “How are you,” is quite possibly the worst thing someone can hear when they absolutely don’t want to hear it. Consequently, it can also be the best thing for one to hear, if coming from the right person – someone who has an understanding of what it means to truly pause, and listen.

Quantifying how we feel has, what seems like forever, been a reasonable reflection question for feelers and inquirers alike. How is it that we know what we want, how we want it, and when we want it? Hell, how is it that we know why we ever want something? This very well could be the reason, when asked, one would simply assert, “I’m okay,” and move along. Reaching a 10 is nice and ideal and potentially the dream for many, but our own self isn’t the only factor assisting in this potential achievement. Sure, we do hold the keys to some of the more immediate needs we might have for ourselves, but ultimately this is not sustainable.

Thus, is a 7 really all that bad?

Thus, “Instructions For a Bad Day.”

Thus, rinse, wash, repeat.

To my fellow perfectionists, what does happen when we finally reach a 10? Are we then done? What is next? Will we be satisfied? In a world striving for 10s, my hope is that we can settle for somewhere between a 5-8, and virtually never actually achieve a 10. And while, at face-value, the video above is simply a compilation of a YouTube video’d documentary accompanied by Shane Koyczan’s spoken word poem, “Instructions For a Bad Day,” the message is ripe for us all.

People are carrying a lot.

Pain is real, and raw.

Each of us know someone who is experiencing pain.

Reach out to someone today. Befriend someone today. Give an honest answer to, “How are you?” And more importantly, give an honest space when people answer with an unapologetic and raw response. Help people share by listening with empathy and understanding. Pause. Seriously listen. Intentionally listen.

Be real. Be raw. March on today, every day.

Doing okay,

Michael

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*jars photo taken by me while in China; second photo from the brilliant creative, Amber Rae

When life serves you a perfectly clear glass door…

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

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

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

Alas, humility via glass door.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seeing clearly,

Michael