Let your heart be light.

Written by Hugh Martin, the song, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” was made famous by Judy Garland, then Frank Sinatra (non-academic writing allows for Wikipedia citing, right?), then xtina, and more recently, via Sam Smith.

In the song, one lyric has always stood out to me, even as a small tot, and it was not until recently that I learned this specific lyric was almost never part of the hit we so eagerly sing throughout all of December. According to Chris Willman and Entertainment Weekly, the song was actually super depressing before being released as what we know it to be today. Specifically, the lines, “Let your heart be light / Next year all our troubles will be out of sight,” were originally, “It may be your last / Next year we may all be living in the past.”

Dark, right?

While Martin was resistant, he eventually changed the lyrics to be more upbeat. Thus, “Let your heart be light,” and all other holiday cheer.

As I continue to process what this means for my own life, I’m challenged to ask you the same question. What does it mean for one to let their heart be light?

Let’s pause here for a moment.

I’m currently sitting in Starbucks, and, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” is now playing overhead, and I’m a mixture of tears and full-body chills as a result the gift the universe is now providing us. This is the universe’s way of saying, “Listen up folks, this message is important!”

 

I’m certainly listening.

So, what does it mean for one to let their heart be light?

What barriers exist in your life to truly embrace, “light?”

What baggage are you carrying?

Can you check some of it, or do you have to deal?

In addition to my 2016 charge to you, I am ending the year with a commitment to letting my own heart be light.

And with the added challenge for you to do the same.

Let your heart be light. 

I cannot say this enough.

Let your heart be light.

In whatever form you celebrate, have yourself a merry one.

Toward peace, with love,

Michael

let your heart image

“We proudly brew Starbucks coffee,” and Other Arguments for Enhancing Equity

bux cup2

I went to a movie a few weeks ago, and when it came time to empty my wallet on refreshments, I saw a sign to the left of the concession stand that read, “We Proudly Serve [Starbucks logo].” Of course, my tolerance for late night movies has decreased significantly, and in that moment, coffee seemed like the best option to aid me in getting through any post-8:00PM obligation.

I purchased said-Starbucks coffee, mixed in my coffee fixins, and took a sip before leaving the concession area. Before I could swallow the mouthful of lukewarm coffee, with a disgusted look, I glared at the concessions attendant as he gave me a, “My bad,” shrug.

“It’s, Starbucks-ish,” he laughed.

The shrug continued as I walked away, enduring the movie with my Starbucks-ish.

“We proudly serve *Starbucks coffee.”
*Starbucks-ish

We do this a lot.

We accept the, “-ish.”

In many ways, this is an, “espoused versus enacted,” moment. This is about congruence (are you doing what you say you’ll be doing, and all of that).

I worked professionally with fraternities and sororities for several years, and continue to do so as a consultant and facilitator. This idea of congruence is a big piece of the conversation, and continues to disrupt what we believe about values and values alignment. In fact, many of The North-American Interfraternity Conference programs coin this concept as, “Values are what you do.

For the most part, I agree.

And while this post goes beyond fraternities and sororities, it’s important to understand this simple philosophy. The philosophy of doing.

Let’s go back to the concession stand moment I experienced a few weeks ago. The theater had a Starbucks sign. Cups. Social capital. In theory, this was a perfect combination of what I think I needed (wanted) from the sign that beautifully read, “We Proudly Serve [logo].” Ish. We do this a lot. We accept the, “-ish.”

And specifically, we accept the, “-ish,” as it relates to equity.

Pieces were missing from my movie Starbucks. I experienced Starbucks-adjacent. And when I think about equity within companies, schools, organizations, etc., I see a lot of equity-adjacent outcomes. Equity as a value must be what you do.

And it goes beyond a quick fix. 

“We’ll have a speaker.”

“We’ll have a program.”

“We’ll have a unity barbecue.”

“We’ll hire a Diversity Director.”

“We’ll giggle when someone says, ‘Bye, Felicia!'”

Some, indeed, have the right resources: the books, the materials, the buy-in, the marketable labels. However, if you’re not brewing the real stuff (see what I did there?), and if you’re not actually living and doing in a space of integrating these values, it will play out as values-adjacent rather than values-enacted.

Folks, hiring a diversity officer may help reach more students, however it alone will not address your diversity, equity, and justice problems.

Do you value equity (+diversity, social justice, inclusion) as a lived part of your organization, school, or company, or do you simply honor it as a box to check?

Often, schools and companies will hire a person to, “lead diversity initiatives,” without actually infusing diversity and equity into the very DNA of their organization. This edit is essential, and will make for a better and more inclusive inclusion strategy. You may have the sign, the cup, and the belief, but do you have the action to support the spirit of what these pieces can create together?

Do you have an inclusion strategy?

Are you talking about equity?

Is equity more than one line-item in your budget?

How do you frame hiring or admissions as they relate to equity?

Do all departments value diversity and multiculturalism as important?

And finally, are you more than just a Starbucks sign?

You have a unique opportunity to influence those around you (humans and corporations), to stretch your and other’s minds, and to achieve real and authentic impact. I hope you’ll consider the possibilities.

Seeking congruence,

Michael

bux cup

Yes, ogre.

Starbucks_Birthday_Cake_Cake_Pops

I recently bought a hot tea from Starbucks, and mostly because I was embarrassed about the two cake pops my body was forcing me to purchase.

Yes, forcing.

You see, it took me twenty steps from Starbucks to remember that throwing away the hot tea wouldn’t get rid of the cake pops.

Or the cravings.

Or the guilt.

Or the ogre I see in the mirror.

Yes, ogre.

I’ve learned that no amount of therapy or counseling will erase the struggle or pain one goes through after years of hating the way they look. Or looked. Counseling did, however, help. And it does. And it’s ongoing. But moments of weakness happen.

I’m not perfect.

I struggled on my ten block walk home, balancing the hot tea and my beloved cake pops. Starbucks’ cake pops are pretty damn good. As are the doughnuts. And the lemon loaf. And most Frappuccino drink options.

Dissonance.

I walked ten blocks back to my apartment, while scorching hot tea burned my fingers as I devoured my cake pop within the first minute of leaving Starbucks. Of course, God forbid I wait until I get home to destroy the evidence. Burning fingers: the universe’s way of saying, “Slow down, you beast!”

Cake Pop One: down.

Cake Pop Two: down.

I could barely contain myself with CP2. And in one bite, I said goodbye to my fix.

You see, if I could make it home without the cake pops, I wouldn’t be reminded that they were ever really a thing to begin with. “If a cake pop falls in the forest, did the cake pop really ever exist at all?” Furthermore, if I fell down in a forest, what was I doing in that forest to begin with? Was I looking for cake pops? I digress. Years ago, I came to terms with the reality that what I saw in the mirror did not necessarily match up to what was actually happening with my body. And, at the center of this lack of congruence, existed a world of issues with control, self-confidence, and self love.

And getting help taught me this. Several years ago, I had a very good coworker who sat down with me and had the, “Michael, the way you talk about yourself is concerning,” and, “I think you might be working out too much,” conversation. This coworker introduced me to a counselor who specialized in men’s body image stuff. I was resistant at first, and mostly because I was a 24-year old know-it-all. And while I’m an almost-thirty-year-old know-it-all these days, it’s not hard to view a cake pop stress-fest as a vehicle for emotional time-travel, back to when food and image were much more obsessive. Back to when I mastered “appearing to be confident.”

And today, reflection is learning. And while processing, I am confident that years of counseling has helped me pause and acknowledge a few key life lessons:

1.  It’s okay to admit that, “years of counseling,” is even a thing.
2.  I am not defined by the hot, fit, and athletic men who run shirtless through the city.
3.  There will be good days, and there will be days when you can barely move after a spin class.
4.  People who struggle with food or image are not all experts on food and image.
5.  I am so much more than what I see in the mirror. I am so much more than what any scale will assert.

Of course, these takeaways continue to resonate with me (and are often accompanied by the points, “You can only hold your phone up so high to get rid of a double chin,” and, “Take many seats, Michael – you are not a candidate for TLC’s, ‘My 600-lb Life'”). And I am far from a 600-lb life. And I am thankful for that. And I am thankful that the haunting voice, one who frequently interrupts a cake pop rendezvous with hate speech and fat-shaming, is now easily ignored.

It’s a work in progress. I am a work in progress. And, in honoring the work, it is all certainly still progress. And I have such a peace about this (remember, “A work in progress is still progress,” and all of that). And I have such a peace about cake pops. You see, in striving to be more honest, healthy, and happy, I have learned that it actually starts with cake pops. Happiness, that is. Cake pops. Sure, I can scarf down two beautifully painted pops with ease. And yes, I can destroy a large pizza in one setting. But, I can also get to the point where, more times than not, I feel fine after these moments of consumption. And I can look in the mirror, and not feel defined by an extra-slice, or second-serving, or double-patty. I can look in the mirror and not be defined by the cake pops or my, perceived, moment of weakness.

Because, we can all be weak, right?

At the core of any insecurity, I am certainly not alone. None of us are alone. For years, I felt like I was a freak, as both a male and someone who struggled with the way I looked. And the more I talked about it, and the more I opened up to other people, I realized there was a community of love and support right in front of my eyes. And this community of support still remains.

I implore you, when ready and comfortable, feel courageous enough to talk about your struggle. Be brave in a space of love and care. Be open to disclosure. Address your body and image battles outside of the walls of therapy, and outside of the confines of your diary or journal. You are so much more than what you see in the mirror.

And you deserve to use your voice.

Yes, ogre. Yes, you.

In a world where, “Nothing taste as good as skinny feels,” make the conscious decision every single morning to choose to feel good. And to feel free from the chains you place on yourself every time you look in the mirror.

And, of course, to have a love affair with cake pops.

The pain never stops, and the struggle is real. But you are beautiful. And you are right where you are supposed to be. Now go, feel the love, you beautiful, wonderful ogre.

Forward,

Michael

shrek-fiona-cake-pops

*Huge thank you to a dear friend, Jenny Hainline, who inspired me to write this piece, and who constantly inspires me via her blog, “Ramblings on Recovery.”

**Photos stolen from somewhere in the interwebs, and after getting sucked into a page after page, “cake pops Shrek ogre,” google search. Oh, and… doughnuts: 

IMG_2960

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.