Finding Home: Selma, 2016

This week, I was serving on an alternative spring break trip in Selma, Alabama. I know, it may seem random. But there is actually an extreme amount of history in Selma, especially in relation to the Civil Rights Movement. On this trip, I met some of the best people in my entire life. The group of students I was with, my co-advisor, the people and students in Selma…literally every. single. person. Y’all are just incredible people.

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Usually, I process through writing. I’m the guy that’ll say, “Okay, I’ll be over here in the corner,” while I pull out my journal or laptop to sit and process my thoughts for the day. But on this trip, I didn’t do that once. In lieu of that, our group had four hour debriefing conversations that went until two in the morning. And I loved every minute of it. But because of that, I’ve been having a difficult time putting my thoughts into written words. But, Sunday means a new blog post, so here we go.

This week, I have learned so much about myself. I have grown more than I have this week than in entire years of my life. I was given a new perspective. I began to release my own freedom from within. I connected with like-minded individuals. But most importantly, I found a home. I found a community of people who felt mutually supported, cared for, and loved. And although it is so incredibly difficult to condense all my lessons from this week into one post, I’m going to try my best. Because even the smallest snippet of what I learned might be useful for all of us here, no matter your age.

  1. Deconstruct Walls
    • We all have walls built up around us. From previous experiences, people we’ve met, etc. But in Selma, I felt as if all of our walls were gone. There was no reason to have walls in such a loving, caring community. And by the end of the week, with walls gone, we were all able to say that we loved each other, and we all genuinely meant it.
  2. Free Yourself
    • In many social justice trainings, we talk about eliminating stereotypes of other people. But what about the stereotypes that have been placed on us by society? This is a silly example, but this week, I learned that I love to dance. But before, I was always so reserved about it. Maybe it’s because I was trying to be “a professional” or maybe I was “too uptight” to let loose and have a good time through dance. But we have the power to free ourselves of those stereotypes. Liberate yourself from society’s expectations.
  3. Plant Seeds
    • Some of you may know, I tend to get frustrated with some folks who believe certain things. I get especially frustrated with people when I think that their eyes will never open, because I feel like there’s nothing I can do to help them see the truth in this world. But here’s the thing: you never know when you are planting a seed. You might say something that doesn’t make sense to them in the moment, but days, months, or even years later, they might call you in tears in a moment of finally understanding what you were trying to say. Or maybe they won’t. Either way, you never know when you are planting those seeds.
  4. Love All
    • A man I met this week said, “I love Donald Trump. I don’t love his ideas, but I love Donald Trump.” I was confused. I thought Donald Trump’s ideas were Donald Trump. But that’s not necessarily the case. Trump comes from an environment that leads him to believe what he does. Principle three of nonviolence states, “Attack forces of evil, not persons doing evil.” In other words, hate the sin, not the sinner. We are all deserving of love, and because of that, we have the ability to love all.
  5. Have Courage
    • Everything I’m saying here is terrifying. It’s not easy. As written in Hamilton, “Dying is easy, young man; living is harder.” Living is harder. It takes courage. The first principle of nonviolence, “Nonviolence is the way of life for courageous people.” This blog post is not a check, check off my list. It’s a process that I will be working on for a long time. But finding that courage and inner strength will help in that process.

And although there is a sense of heaviness with me today while I process leaving a place I grew to love so much, I am high-key excited to begin this journey, and learn to live out these lessons.

 

On Fully Embracing Who You Are. AKA, Self-Love.

“Right now, can you make an unconditional relationship with yourself? Just at the height you are, the weight you are, with the intelligence you have, and with your current burden of pain. Can you enter in an unconditional relationship with that?”

This question, taken  from the video that’s buzzing around Facebook, was asked by Tracee Ellis Ross. And when I watched this video, I felt like she was talking directly to me…it hit my soul in a certain type of way. So now, I’m posing the question to you.

Can you be in an unconditional relationship with yourself?

I’ve been thinking about what this truly means. Thinking back, my grandmother was the first person to teach me about unconditional love. And no, not through example, even though, I know we both love each other unconditionally. I still remember her saying it out loud, clear as day, “Unconditional love is when you would do anything for the other person, no matter what. I would eat shit off your face if I had to because I love you so much.” I was maybe ten years old.

But okay, two things:

  1. When we talk about unconditional love, why does it have to be about someone else? and,
  2. No matter how much I love anyone, I don’t think I would eat poop off their face. But, that’s my gram for you.

Anyway.

I was talking with a good friend last night about a similar idea: living the single life. For anyone that follows this blog, you know that the love life in Buffalo has been, well, nonexistent. But another good friend gave me some good perspective. She said, “Michael, why would you even want to meet your person in Buffalo? You know you don’t want to stay here, so why even get wrapped up in something?”

Well, damn. She was completely right. I wouldn’t want to meet my person in Buffalo. At all. And I mean, things happen. If I did meet my person here, I wouldn’t resist it. But it gave me a new perspective on actively “searching for love.”

My Buffalo years have been my years. I’m just about to wrap up my second year, and there has been so much internal reflection and processing about who I am. And I really want to put an emphasis on the I. All my life I feel like I’ve taken on these external identities as my primary focus – son, brother, boyfriend, student, employee – but for the past few years, I’ve really had to pause and take another look at who I was, without any of those other labels. Stripped down at the core, who am I? Who are you?

Tracee Ellis Ross ends the video with this: “There’s a lot that happens on the path to growing up and you are exactly where you are supposed to be. And enjoy those spaces and those times, and really listen not just to what’s happening outside of you, but inside of you. Be who we are in a really full and beautiful way, and live these lives that we’re all living.”

It ties directly back to a goal I had set for myself this past year: Be who you are, unapologetically. Fully embrace your own life, regardless of what anyone else thinks. Because your path is your own, and you have to be happy on your own path. Otherwise, you’re just living a life for the sake of someone else.

I understand it’s easier said than done. If nothing else, maybe this post will just be a spot of inspiration, maybe to help jump start the process or begin to reflect in a new way. But at the end of the day, when it’s just you and yourself, who are you? What are some ways in which you live out your life, fully and unapologetically?

Feeling Lost? A Twentysomething Guide.

For this week’s post, I was tempted to just come up with some creative title for this picture, post the picture, and then just leave it at that. A picture says a thousand words, doesn’t it?

Unfortunately, the inner writer in me felt the need to explain more in depth. What does this picture mean? Why did it resonate with me in such a way? Why is it on a twentysomething blog? Maybe some of these questions are obvious, I’m not sure. If that’s the case, please ignore the rest of this post and just thank me for posting the picture.

Anyway. I came across this photo earlier this week, and I never felt I related to a picture more than the one above. First, you’re a baby, then you’re a small child…some time goes by…and then you triumphantly hold your diploma high in the air, Breakfast Club style, after graduating high school or college. For me, it was college. As soon as I graduated, this twentysomething dizziness started to kick in. Fast forward thirty years, and the person at the other end of the time line seems to be thriving. Running, even! They are so excited about their amazing life.

So what is that chaotic jumble of squiggles in the middle?

Well folks, that’s the twentysomethings. That’s what this blog is all about. And in addition to the jumble, the title also caught my attention. “Lost in Life?” YUP. I am. So for this post, I thought it might be helpful to write about three ways that I, as a lost twentysomething, have found myself to be a little less lost.

1. Find your passion

  • I know this sounds like a daunting task. But the challenge here is simple. Think of your life right now and what you do. Work, school, XYZ responsibility, etc. But if you didn’t have any of those responsibilities, if you didn’t have to go to work tomorrow, or didn’t have to take classes, what would you be doing? In other words, how are you going to spend your days when you retire? In my case, I know I’m going to be sitting in a Starbucks all day, writing. And right now, I work at Starbucks, and I’m writing this blog post…so hey, maybe I’m not doing so bad!

2. Find your center

  • Life is stressful. Life throws challenges your way. But when everything becomes too overwhelming and chaotic, what do you do? What do you do to find your balance? Your center? What brings you back to the core? For me, it’s those deep breath moments. When everything in life is getting to be a little too much, just take a deep breath and think what do I need to do right now? Take a walk, stretch into a few yoga poses, some more deep breaths, eat twenty pieces of chocolate. Anything! As long as it makes you feel more connected to yourself.

3. Find your purpose

  • This one is my most recent challenge, posed to me by a good friend. It’s the why. Why are you doing what you’re doing? Why do you do what you do? It could apply to anything. Work, school, friends, anything. And if you don’t know the answer to that question, I would suggest some soul-searching, or consider trying something else. I had a tough time recently. My question was why do I want to work in Student Affairs? And after some good conversations with mentors and friends and some internal reflecting, I’ve found a partial purpose. Some days, I forget that purpose and want to do something completely different…and that’s okay too.

So, friends, the moral of the story is that life is hard. It will give you ups and downs. But don’t let it throw you off course. It’s easy to get lost. I’ve been lost the majority of my time as a twentysomething. But I don’t think that means I can’t keep working to find myself.

Finding Yourself

“And just when I thought I had found myself…”

Isn’t that a testament to being a twentysomething? Just when I thought I had everything figured out, life is uprooted and I’m thrown into something completely different. And even more specifically, it’s not “life” that I needed to figure out…it was me. I needed to figure myself out. I’m speaking in the past tense as if this is no longer an issue. Don’t let me fool you. It is still an issue. Who am I? How do I find myself again? Why is everything changing? Why is life different? I sound like a boy going through puberty. But nope, just your average twentysomething year old trying to find his way.

I’ve been questioning this a lot lately. Why are things different all of a sudden? Can two years really make that much of a difference? Yup. It can. Two years ago, I was still a senior in college. I was searching for my first full-time job. I was surrounded by people i loved and cared about. Marriage was not a concept for my friends. And kids were the farthest thing from my mind. Most importantly, however, was that I felt like my complete self. I felt whole. I felt like Michael.

That is to imply that now, I don’t feel that way anymore. I don’t know who I am to the fullest extent to which I had hoped for at this point in my life. Since that time, I’ve graduated from college. I’m in my second year as a full-time professional. I’m also a student again working on a master’s degree (who would’ve thought?!). My single status is ever-impending and I have to do everything in my willpower to suppress kidnapping every chubby baby I see in Starbucks. The thing that is most alarming, however, is that I no longer feel like my complete self. Since I started graduate school, I’ve felt like my identities have been limited to two things:
1. Full-time employee
2. Graduate student

I want more than that. I want more out of life. I am so much more than an employee and a student. I am a friend, a brother, a son. Someone who loves coffee chats, laughing until the early hours of the morning, and playing the piano. Sorry, I accidentally copy and pasted my Tinder headline.

But seriously, folks. I want those parts of my life back again. And lately, I’ve been trying really hard. When an opportunity to do something outside of my routine presents itself, I’ve been asking myself, “Is this something that you want to do? Yes? Great, then go get ’em tiger and have fun!!” Before, I would automatically say no because I knew I probably had reading to do or papers to write. But since this new “doing me” outlook on life, I’ve really been enjoying life so much more. Just in the past two weeks, I’ve gone to a Poetry Slam with a new date, went to go see a local production of Spring Awakening, had Sunday breakfast with a friend, caught up with an old friend over delicious Indian food, visited my cousin over a few drinks, and finished editing a memoir that I have been working on. Within TWO WEEKS. *Cue applause*

Relating this back to being a twentysomething, I’ve been thinking…will we ever truly know who we are? Benjamin Franklin once said, “Without continual growth and progress, words such as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.” Well said, Mr. Franklin. I don’t think I’d ever want to live a life where I am 100% aware of who I am. I think that would lead to complacency. I want a little challenge. I want a little time to figure it out. I want a little time to rediscover me.

Bring it on, twentysomethings. I’m ready for you.