Conversion Therapy Must End

“Hello?”

“Michael, it’s [Chris], can you talk?”

“Yeah, of course, hold on a minute, what time is it,” I asked over the phone.

It was just after 1:00AM.

“What’s going on, are you crying? Are you ok?”

“Yes. No. Yes, I’m crying, no I’m not ok,” my friend whispered back. “I just woke up to my parents and a man from my church standing in my room.”

“Wait, what? What did you do?”

“I just laid there. They were begging for Jesus to heal me, to forgive me, to cure me. They were praying for me. My mom was crying-”

“-Oh, gosh, [Chris], I’m so sorry. That is not ok, not ok” I tried to reassure him.

“I gotta go, I think they’re still awake.” And with that, Chris hung up the phone.

I remember this conversation like it happened yesterday. I was 23 years old, and had just moved back to Oklahoma from Los Angeles. I was only out to a few people, and at that point, even some of my best friends didn’t know that I was gay. But Chris knew.

Around the time I started my coming out journey, I had a very good friend connect me with Chris, a new friend from Arkansas, who was experiencing a similar struggle as me. Chris came from a Catholic family, and we both viewed “telling our parents” as the scariest part of the entire coming out process. We had endured childhood and teenage bullying, but learned how to navigate the system. We figured out how to “pass” as straight, or at least undetectable, and checked in from time to time to make sure the other was doing well. The situation I reference above, when Chris called me in the middle of the night, was not uncommon. Chris had it harder than me. He was still around family, through college and beyond, while I had an opportunity to live somewhat independent from some of the bigger fears involved in my struggle.

Chris is now very proudly out as gay, but this was almost not the case. If it weren’t for people in his life who assured, validated, and made space for him to be his true self, Chris might have either existed in the closet (as many men do), or worse.

Worse was almost an option.

Chris’ parents gave him the option of “going to camp.” They didn’t force or demand, but they did strongly recommend. They plead. But of all the things Chris knew to be true in life, it was that he was gay. And that no camp or prayer would change that.

Much like Chris, the ongoing nature of my coming out journey was not fully positive, and even today I am still nursing the scars that were initially deep wounds created as a result of my being gay. But I never went to conversion therapy. I was never prayed over in the middle of the night. I was never beaten or physically assaulted into admitting I could or would change. And while people did attempt to “pray away the gay,”I resisted. Unfortunately, some are still trying.

If you happened to catch 20/20 this week, you will know where this post is going…

“For every camp like this, there are a hundred more that nobody knows about.”

While the progressive part of my brain wants to argue this statistic, the practical part of my experience tells me this might certainly be the case.

Conversion therapy must end.

“Praying away the gay” must end.

Physical and sexual assault as a means of conversion must end.

If you know someone who is currently feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation where they are not able to be their true self, please make space for them. Please validate, love, and uplift them. If you cannot make the space, or are at capacity in other ways, please invite others to assist. Remind people that they are loved, and that they are and can be who they are meant to be – their true and authentic self.

To those who might be that person I am referencing…feeling or physically trapped or stuck in a situation like conversion therapy, an abusive family, or more… Please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on. Please know that conversion therapy is not ok. Any emotional, physical, mental, and sexual abuse is not ok. And whoever sent you there or did (are doing) this to you did it without considering you. You matter. You absolutely matter.

But I imagine you are confused, frustrated, hurting.

If you are still called to Christianity, know that there are accepting churches and Christians out there. The version of Christianity or Christians that you are seeing is just one sliver of what that faith might represent. There is a bigger picture of love out there. Love really is out there. If your biological parents won’t accept you, I promise there is a chosen family out there ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you. I am ready and eager to accept, embrace, and adore you.

You are acceptable, embraceable, and worthy of adoration.

You are loved.

You are loved.

You are who you are meant to be.

And that person is loved.

I cannot possibly imagine what you are going through, even as my plea comes from a place built on assumptions. But please, if you do anything today, let it be holding on.

Please hold on.

For resources, references, or help making meaning, please see the following:

The Lies and Dangers of Efforts to Change Sexual Orientation or Gender Identity, via the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

#BornPerfect: The Campaign to End Conversion Therapy

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I wish I could wrap all those struggling in a cocoon of love and support. If not physically present for you, I am here emotionally and spiritually. You are not alone.

Here, always here,

Michael

IMG_3911*Photo outside of Luther Place Memorial Church in Washington, D.C.
*The name, “Chris,” is a pseudonym to protect the identity of my friend.

My elementary school bully renamed me, “Gay Boy.”

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While my upbringing was drenched in a place of privilege and love, it was also one where I quickly learned the importance of navigating through the trenches of bullying.

At 30 years old, I am still navigating through these trenches.

Where I come from, “gay,” was a horrible thing. A curse. A sin. “A perversion,” some still argue. Needless to say, I resisted this reality for years, dodging any bullet which flew my way. And in addition to dodging metaphorical bullets, I also denied this reality by swearing up and down that I, Michael Anthony Goodman, was straight.

My elementary school bully disagreed. In fact, he never once referred to me as, “Michael.” Instead, “Gay Boy,” would become an identity. I accepted it.

And I avoided him at all cost.

My first encounter with homophobia appeared in fifth grade. From a social capital lens, I was a top tier elementary school attendee. Other kids copied my fashion (JNCO jeans), listened to my stories, and showed interest in the things I was interested in…everyone, expect my elementary school bully. My bully hated me. For two solid years, every time my bully saw me, he referred to me as, “Gay Boy,” pushing me into walls and imitating my, higher-pitched-though-not-yet-hit-puberty, stricken voice.

At some point, I even started to respond to this new identity. I was Gay Boy, no longer Michael Anthony Goodman, minus the “out gay” part, and in major fear of the repercussions of disagreeing with my bully. You didn’t disagree with your bully.

You couldn’t disagree with your bully.

You see, back in the day, there was something charming and rewarding about being a kid who had yet to hit puberty – no voice issues and no size issues. But when you hit puberty and one or both of these things had yet to change – all hell could break loose. And it did, on me. I avoided my bully at all cost, and made a conscious decision that I, Michael Anthony Goodman (or, “Gay Boy,” according to my bully), was not gay.

This moment still terrifies me today.

It terrifies me to remember the feelings of half-knowing who you are, yet half-knowing you couldn’t possibly be that. And my elementary school bully would not be the last bully I encountered through adolescence (and unfortunately, even adulthood). Just last night as I was heading home from dinner, and in preparation for the State of the Union, I watched a man drive through Logan Circle and shout, “FAGGOT,” at a guy who was trying to cross the street before the signal gave way.

Connections to our past (and our memories) are all around us.

On a cabinet behind my desk, I have a Post-It note that reads as follows:

Bullying has no place in our schools and communities.
Speak up for those who can’t.

This specific note was created for last year’s #DayOfSilence, however it was something that re-caught my eye last week as I walked into work. Furthermore, it’s something that has been on my mind as I continue to work in a world (specifically, the United States) and industry (education) where this kind of address is needed.

“Faggot”

“Fag”

“Gay Boy”

“Gay”

These words will not appear in an elementary school text book, however they existed as a giant part of my upbringing. Knowing the impact, how are these words still appearing in school environments across the country? Is this something we’re addressing? Of course, we can surmise multiple variations of how to answer these questions, however the truth remains as such:

Bullies continue to hold power over kids without. 

How does an 8-10 year old understand the idea that gay = insult? What example are you living for your kids, students, or communities? How do you approach bullying and oppression, from in-person to web-based violence? Are you even paying attention?

I’m reflecting on this part of my life journey today, as I was recently reminded of the power that bullying has over people. And in the spirit of living more authentic in 2016 and beyond, I am pushing myself to share more stories of who I am and how I’ve learned and developed. Here’s to all those gay boys out there (and gay boys-adjacent), just trying to evade their elementary school bully. March on.

Releasing, “Gay Boy,”

Michael

“The son who finds the courage to come out as who he is and the father whose love for that son overrides everything he’s been taught.”
– President Barack Obama, 2016 State of the Union

Hundreds of thousands have now shared these sentiments online via social media. This son, who President Obama references, is all of us, in some way.

Do you have the courage to override everything you’ve been taught?

Yes, ogre.

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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

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*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: 

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Request: “Can we talk about race?” Most People: “Can we not?”

I read a book in graduate school, one which probably should have been consumed sooner, called, “Can We Talk about Race?” If you’re in higher education or student affairs, you have probably read this book (which is usually accompanied by, “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?”), and it was more than likely part of your, “diversity class curriculum.” I hope this is resonating with some of you. For those who have read these books, re-read them – keep learning. For those who have not read or heard of these books, please borrow or order them today – you can benefit from this knowledge. They are so much more than curriculum for diversity class…they are essential in truly understanding the landscape of education, and how it impacts all students and all communities.

Addressing race relations and related issues in the American education system, Dr. Beverly Tatum’s book is a must-read for any person even remotely invested in education (or, simply, anyone who merely gives a damn). I read this specific book around the same time I was having the, color-blind-is-actually-not-a-thing-regarding-race, “ah-ha” moment. And the sentiments within still sit with me today, and especially anytime someone asks, “Can we talk about race?” As a result of social media’s sponsorship of creating dialogue for various groups and individuals, this question appears verbatim, as well as without specifically asking, “Can we talk about race?” Let’s pause here for a moment.

As I have previously shared, my job search is complete. Thankfully, I have found a phenomenal position which will require doing equity and justice work for a non-profit education association (and, of course, the thoughts and feelings in my blog and social media presence are all my own, and not a representative of my future employer). A few weeks back and during an interview for this particular position, I was asked, “Can you share with us your opinion on the current reality of race in the United Staes,” or something along these lines. I knew a question similar to this would be addressed, and I had somewhat prepared for what my answer would be when asked to disclose (of course, while remaining cautious about the fact that I can often come off as a bit too raw – interview etiquette, and all of that).

“Can you share with us your opinion on the current reality of race in the US?”

As soon as I opened up my mouth to answer the question, I started word-vomiting my thoughts on race, race relations, parenting, the perceived experience of young Black men, online micro-aggressions, neighborhood segregation, and the list went on and on. Oops, I thought, after I spent several minutes spewing my scattered thoughts and opinions all over the interview panel. Their response was coy, and they quickly moved on with more questions. Interviews, if done right, can be one big professional development opportunity for those who apply and for those who engage. In fact, during my first interview with this same job prospect, I had the opportunity to dig deep with the hiring manager, who blew my mind about the idea of allies identifying as, “color blind,” in reference to racial viewpoints. Specifically, she noted, “It seems, ‘color blind,’ is the one disability everyone wants to possess.” Now, imagine my reaction.

Yes, if you held your hands up to your head and did an explosion motion, you correctly guessed how I responded. It was brilliant, and I was inspired then and now by the real and raw approach this organization took in interviewing me. After all, if we want real and raw, we have to give raw and real. And learning was (is) occurring either way.

But I want to go back to this idea of “being color blind.” It’s happening a lot right now. Especially as it relates to the Sigma Alpha Epsilon moment at the University of Oklahoma, the, “I’m color blind,” moment is alive and well (in addition to, “My chapter has a Black member,” “I don’t see race,” “We’re not all racist,” “This is making every [historically white] Greek organization look bad,” and, “We do all sorts of other really great things for the community”). I get it.

But a door has been opened (…again, and again…), and if we (you) so choose, we (& you) have unique opportunity to acknowledge our privilege and engage thoughtfully and consciously. To move forward, I’m white. And, if you’ve subscribed to the reality that no one is actually color-blind when it comes to race, you already knew that. This fall, I published the piece on my blog, referencing the diversity of my high school, as well as the need to continue making Black students and Black student experiences matter. Shortly after, I had a piece published in Perspectives, a magazine for Fraternity and Sorority professionals through the Association of Fraternity/Sorority Advisors, called, “Because Race Matters.” Of course, both of these highlights came with a lot of questions, and even a few people asking me to stop dialoging about race (assumably because I am white). Specifically after the post about my high school, I received hundreds of messages, emails, and comments, all with stories and examples of how an individual agreed or disagreed with my sentiments. Dissonance for both myself and the readers. Dissonance which still exists today.

For the most part, people were pretty supportive of the piece, however there were a few individuals who took time to send (some, pretty lengthy) emails and messages filled with anger or hate. Seriously, some people were mad. Of course, I spent more time dwelling on these messages than celebrating the positive notes, however it did remind me that not every person in my social circle (or social media network, for that matter) was willing and open to the/a conversation about race. And many still are not. Sure, some do get it (despite my struggle with the term, “it,” and exactly what it is they are getting), however overall, the hope for dialogue still remains an area where, when asked, “Can we talk about race,” people respond with, “Can we not?” And this is why #BlackLivesMatter. And this is why #OUMatters. In these moments of high profile (and the truth is, this SAE-like incident occurs all the time, mostly when cameras are not around), people throw their opinions in – just as I am doing now – all in hopes that people will, “get ‘it.'”

I brought this up in that same interview a few weeks back,  the idea of, “it.” This happens a lot in education, our hope for individuals to get, “it.” In regard to race, or understanding related to any oppressed group for that matter, “it,” is a hard outcome to measure. And still, we do this a lot. We take our own version of, “it,” and then we project this, “it,” upon others as a standard to live up to. The idea of, “it,” and whatever the hell, “it,” actually means in the context of diversity and programming, is scarily subjective – we should pause more, reflect more, dialogue more, challenge more. More. People will take to social media. People will protest. People will march for some resolve – people will challenge. And this is all okay.

The title of this post alone reveals a pretty common rebuttal between friends and colleagues. More people are more comfortable not talking about race. Hell, I certainly had my own pause before answering the question in my interview. And this sucks. The dialogue has to happen. There are only so many times one can flip a channel or scroll through social media to avoid a message or instance regarding race. Race matters (this, not to be confused with or overshadowing, “#BlackLivesMatter”). And at the core, we need more people talking about race, and why and how it matters. We need more pausing, more dialoging, reflecting. Hell, we need more, “it.” And we can’t sit quietly. I was in my friend’s office the other day, and one of the students she supervises posed the question, “Why do we have a Miss Black,” in reference to a pageant on campus. My friend slid around her desk with quickness, and instantly engaged a conversation with the student. Why? Because, we have to keep engaging the conversation. We have to keep sliding around our desks with quickness, even if it feels tired, directionless, and frustrating. The conversation must continue. The learning must continue.

Eyes will roll. Assertions will be made. People will reveal ignorance. Videos will be made of racist students, only to provoke countless stories of similar hate and bias (which was more than likely not “caught” on camera). The difference between, “why would some idiot film this,” over, “why this is hate and threatening and so horrific,” is a real and accurate description between the conversations occurring in the days following the SAE incident. Keep talking.

I am lucky enough to work in education, and I will continue to advocate for more of this dialogue. People have to feel comfortable, valued, and welcomed in regard to race and culture. Just as we need more than just women fighting for women, more than gay people fighting for gay stuff, and specifically relevant to this post: those who are fighting for racial equality cannot solely be those persons of color who see ignorance and hate right in front of them (often directed at them). The list goes on and on, of course, including groups I am further oppressing by not including them in an example – needless to say, you get the point I am trying to make here.

We all have a part to play in hope to achieving progress. Stand up, make no assumptions, and engage the dialogue. Be uncomfortable. And while digging and diving, teaching and learning, challenge people to be and do better. Just because you assume something does not affect you does not mean it won’t impact you. And just because you have a circle of inclusion around you does not mean bias and hate are not still dripping in other aspects of your community. Trust me, most things that are, “not your problem,” are more your problem than you think.

Perhaps, you might actually be the problem. Are you reflecting, processing, dialoging? Are you allowing others to do the same?

Fighting,

Michael

PS – For some other relevant readings/opinions/perspectives, related to the SAE incident, please see the links below:

Facebook Status from Michelle Guobadia: “OK!!! FINE!!!!”

There Will Never Be Another Black S-A-E

Keith Garcia: “SAE at OU: My Response

Lindsay Ritenbaugh: “Hoping for Change: Sooner than Later”

Najah Hylton: “SAE Just Showed Us Why There’s Not Enough Love For All Of Us”

My previous post about my issues with Oklahoma: “Oklahoma (needs and up)Rising

“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

Pick 10 Friends

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Last August, I emailed a group of ten friends with the following sentiment:

Hi friends,

I hope you are all doing well, and that the fall is nice and crisp for you.

Since I’ve been in China, I have been thinking a lot about my support system, and also the ways in which I need or seek validation. With each thought, one or all of you have come up at any given moment in making me feel good about myself, my decisions, my (#)perspective, and my future. In honor of this, I’m asking that you ten serve as my personal Board of Directors. And contrary to other designs of BOD-like support-systems, this one is purely based on people who fill my cup – people who make me feel important, and loved.

I have always struggled with the idea of a professional board of directors, because to me, these individuals are hiring, firing, or constantly evaluating. In this case, I’m looking for love, and for people who, at the core, have my best interests at heart (not, at head, if that makes sense). I won’t require much of you, just constant vibes and positivity (though, you’re already pros at that).

Sometimes I could give two shits about what people think. But most of the time, it’s everything to me. Please let me know if you’d like to go on this journey with me.

More to come…

With much sincerity,

Michael

To my surprise, each of these friends agreed to be on this journey with me, and have been life warriors on the front lines of my multi-month transition. To pause and diversify my support system, I went beyond, “my best friend from college,” or, “my people who ___.” I wanted to be intentional, and add a more structured layer of support to my weekly/monthly routine (after all, I’m still a Type A personality, which is certainly not changing anytime soon). To do so, I examined my personal and professional network, and identified the following individuals in my life:

A very intellectually-stimulating person

Someone who “gets the bigger picture”

The most empathetic person I know

The most authentic person I know

Someone who knows my journey, my heart

Someone not afraid to cry with me

The most loyal person I know

Someone who values my voice, my opinion

Someone who has known me longer than most

Someone who is comfortable challenging me

Of course, I am thankful to have considered multiple phenomenal humans under each of these expectations, however the ten individuals who I asked to be part of my personal Board of Directors (BOD) are ones who have provided me with a different experience than I would have had if I simply asked the handful of friends I talk to or see everyday. And more than that, these friends come from all parts of my life – including various points within the many lives I have lived up to this point. This is much bigger than my “right now.” This is the heart of perspective for me, and a chance to honor voices in my life who push me to grow, hope, believe, be. Do.

My first post in the new year challenged people to engage, connect, and collaborate. If you didn’t read it, here’s the gist of my growth-suggestion:

And this has become my challenge for all those reading today’s note: capture your growth.

Sure, I previously referenced resolutions and my belief and advocacy for such dreams, however this is different. This is real and raw, and, in-the-moment, learning. Capture these moments. Get a notebook, email yourself and create a special folder to file these specific emails, and share with yourself any and every learning lesson you experience in 2015. When you get chills, document it. When you have the, oh-shit-ah-ha, moment, save it. Bottle these up, and let them guide you, teach you, train you, and prepare you for the next round of life’s simple gifts. You owe this to yourself.

And if you’re willing to take your learning to an even higher level, share these moments with a friend. Find someone who is dedicated to growth, and use them as a means for processing. Set a bi-weekly coffee meeting (or, “coffee,” for those anti-), and swap notebooks – ask questions, challenge each other, support each other’s ah-ha’s. If you want to grow, and learn, and develop, be about it and do something to elevate your perspective. Be held accountable.

Grow.

In honor of my continued belief in this sentiment, I want to encourage you to also set up a personal Board of Directors. Who cares about you so much that it scares you? Who cares about you so much that you know, if anyone, they have your back, your voice, and your heart? Who matters in your life? Take this, and run with it. In 2015, ideas are shared like wildfire, and it’s up to us to take the ones that mean something to us… and run with them. Run steady. Run fast.

How are you connecting with your friends, your community, your “network?” Are you merely a click and favorite away from your people, or are you engaging with them in a way which truly makes for change on both ends? Are you being challenged? Are you open to challenge? Are you self-disclosing? Are you connecting?

I dare you to grow. I dare you do go. Do. Be.

Watering roots,

Michael

*photo stolen from somewhere on social media

Feeling, “enough.”

I have two friends who are going through different life moments, and both exist as individuals who I consider to be near and dear to my heart. Friend 1 is wondering, “When will love happen, and how will it be served?” And Friend 2 is juggling the work, life, and home balancing act involved in being a young 20-30-something.

Through email, the idea of, “enough,” hit me twice this week, and I felt like it was important to share some of my thoughts gleaned from these conversations. Friend 2 and I email back and forth on occasion, and in her most recent email to me, really left me inspired and challenged all in one brief set of paragraphs.

Dear Friend 2, I am going to use a piece from your email to help me better unpack this idea of, “feeling, ‘enough.’” Thank you, in advance.

Isn’t it interesting that no matter where we travel or work… there is always some form of drama. I had my fair share last week. I bawled my eyes out, almost puked, almost quit, almost got fired…. and then felt unimportant and felt a denial of the impact of my emotions. I will say after that experience, as horrible as it was, I did learn two things. 1. I can always count on [my husband], (who brought me cupcakes and then sat with me in my office so I didn’t have to work alone on a project – gushy, I know), and 2. I will always respect someone else’s emotion and let them work through that emotion whether or not I understand or believe in their feelings.

We all have emotions and sometimes it is hard to understand emotion, especially when it is coming from someone else. What I have learned is that we don’t have to understand someone else’s emotion… we just have to respect that emotion for what it means to that person.

I have a feeling that last one will come back to bite me in the ass someday if I ever have a teenage daughter. 😉

Do you know the saying, “Whatever you do… be a good one?” Or was it worded, “Whatever you become, become a good one?” … I usually agree with this statement, but not this week. This week, as a student, educator, wife, friend, dog mom, cat mom, daughter… I am not going to be good or great. But just being enough is good enough for me… this week, of course. Next week, I expect to be the best ever at everything again, and be over-goal reaching, and way too hard on my self, and strive for perfection. As for this week, though… good enough and present will be the status quo….

*I’ve edited the email a bit to pull out identifying sentiments and also to fix a bit of her grammar and punctuation (don’t judge me, I’m a grammar monster). 

First off, I have phenomenal friends, and am thankful for friends who let me share their emails without me unveiling their identity…or asking if I could use their email for my blog (see what I did there?). Second, this email was everything to me, and I was, yet again, paused by the raw and real moment occurring in my friend’s experience.

I have always struggled with the balance of, “enough,” and have constantly argued that there is a huge difference between the personal and professional feelings of worth (and, “balance is subjective,” and all of that sentiment too, of course). Feeling, “enough,” is perhaps one of the best and most important feelings a young adult can experience. Aside from personal and professional dissonance, we are also juggling with the impact our, “enough,” has on others. Hell, it is even not uncommon to wrestle with the thought of how we impact the world, and what that impact looks like within the communities we directly serve (in whatever capacity, in whatever variation).

We have to be constantly developing. To become, “enough,” we have to pursue what it is that fills our cup, gives us life, and inspires us to be truly fulfilled. I talked about employee and professional development in my last post, but should also add that human and personal development is equally as important. This is balancing the, “enough.” This is the same pause I experienced from Friend 2’s email. Enough. Sure, this week, ‘enough’ is enough. And yes, a new set of goals exist next week, too. But sometimes, those goals are paused and, again, being ‘enough’ is good enough. And so starts the cycle of pausing and doing all you can with the cards you are dealt. Enough.

So, how do you feel? Do you feel ‘enough’ today? Will you feel ‘enough’ tomorrow? Is ‘enough’ quantifiable or even easy to understand? How will you define ‘enough’ for yourself, your life? In the areas where you are ‘enough,’ are you finding the same congruence in other areas of your life? Today, be ‘enough.’ Be free from the pressure of feeling inadequate. Be free. Period. Be ‘enough.’ Here’s to filling your cup, always half-full, and that simply being just ‘enough.’

Aspiring,

Michael

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