Part three of a monthly series on observing the human experience in all of us. Every month, I’ll reflect on the past, observe the present, and cast a vision for the future with a word that guides me in all that I do. Here are past months:

January: Build
February: Feel

My Project Wednesday article that inspired this small project, published January 6, 2016, can be found here.

— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —

God, this is what I was talking about
for like 37 years,
a true story,
of oceanthroat,
of grace,
the holy goodness glory
I was praying to your face,
My Man,
is what I meant
and this is what I’m meant to do
so sit me down inside us now
and let me praise the greatest good in you
by laying down my weapons
including the shield
in rest,

on cue, my friend,
you came
your name
well lit,
stenciled on the walls of Fremont County
years before we even met
in landscape,
in scope
and so,
wing tipped,
I wrote it
down to the ground you walk on
with the heels of my helium shoes,
“Put your ear to the sky
and listen my darling,
everything whispers I love you.”

Buddy Wakefield
(Click to hear it for yourself.)

A quick note on the poem above: feeling what I feel as a reader and a lover of poetry means reading or hearing something that resonates with me, even if I don’t know why yet. It’s a journey of becoming; an observation of emotion that is learning how to live and breathe inside of me. I’ll keep reading until I’ve arrived at the point of understanding what this poem means to me.

I’m still trying to process this idea of feeling what I feel. So much of my identity has been built in being a role model for others that sometimes I forget what it means to feel something so full, so consuming, so genuine.

February was unfiltered. It handed me a number of things that gave me the opportunity to be a human. I took a few of them.

  • One-on-ones with the students I work with gave me the opportunity to connect. I facilitated a workshop in early February that allowed this group go a few layers deeper with one another. It was two-fold: first, they were to write down all of the things that they identified with a past self, a present self, and a future self. The goal was to help them reflect individually, but together, about who they were, who they are, and who they still have time to be. Second, they were to share 2–3 moments of impact in their lives that helped them become who they are today. The goal was to open up. To be vulnerable. To feel a little bit deeper. From this meeting came one-on-one meetings with each student to talk more about it. I was able to feel what they felt about who they thought they were, how they perceived themselves, and what they want to accomplish moving forward. This journey — short in the grand scheme of things —of my time with them is meant to be powerful. It’s meant to change us for the better. I probably won’t realize the impact made until years from now.
  • I had the opportunity to attend the National Association for Campus Activities (NACA) National Conference in Louisville, Kentucky. The feeling of conference trips can sometimes be exhausting. For me, this NACA could very well be my last. My graduate student experience has given me the opportunity to continue working in activities as I did as a young student leader. Having this opportunity again after graduating from my undergraduate institution believing I’d never see an artist showcase or attend a marketplace again was exciting for me. And now, with this last trip to Louisville with three young student leaders and my advisor, I’ve come to terms that I may never be able to go again. To feel the end of something in the middle of the ending is something that can’t be explained. Not with words. Not right now.
Louisville with students was the best way to spend my time.
  • Leadership speaker Jon Vroman came to campus and talked to students about living life in the “front row”. His message revolves around this idea of becoming a leader through being your authentic self, committing fully to your life, and the create your future. Prior to Jon speaking, the picture below was on the screen. It struck me that “coming alive” means being the person I tell people I am. It means not sugarcoating it anymore; I am an individual with values, with goals, with needs and wants, with a yearning to make life better for people in this world. It’s amazing, isn’t it? This idea that we can make a difference in the lives of those around us simply by committing to making ourselves better. Coming alive is a constant process. I’m still learning what it means to feel those words so much, to take them in, to own them.
Still learning what it means to come alive.
  • My Master’s-level comprehensive exam was this month. Studying for it meant eliminating distractions (Facebook, Twitter, most of the rest of my life) so I could commit myself to knowing what I needed to know to do well. Getting rid of all unnecessary distraction can be tricky. FOMO (fear of missing out) is so real! But at the end of the day, it meant more to me to do well on this exam than to be connected and up-to-date with things happening in the world. Disconnecting meant feeling less cloudy. It meant being able to feel in the moment, even if “in the moment” meant studying budgeting techniques in higher education or how student development theory impacts my role as an administrator on campus. It was entirely overwhelming but absolutely rewarding.
My graduate school coursework summed up in one snapshot.
  • Sometimes the feeling of being overwhelmed needs to be addressed by getting out of the environment you’re in and to reset your perspective. Spending a few mid-afternoons with a friend and colleague amidst so much studying really helped me process my life and feel confident about the future. It’s fascinating how some of the most impromptu moments can leaving such a lasting impact on someone.
  • Attending a job placement conference was entirely overwhelming. As a self-identified introvert, I do better when I’m able to spend some time with myself to recharge my batteries and assess where my energy is at. While that may be an ideal situation for me, it doesn’t always happen. Feeling that lack of energy start to take a toll. But learning how to manage the process will help me be a better version of myself.
Being with my best friend through the experience means a lot to me.
  • Much of what I do in my daily work is help students realize their development. Essentially what this means is to help students feel what they feel, when the feel it, and how to navigate those feelings, good or bad, in a positive way. Feeling anxiety over a test or feeling burnt out as a result of over-commitment to obligations is common for students who are still learning what it means to be alive. Being the reason why they want to do better, why they want to do more with their life, is one of the true gifts of working in higher education and student affairs. I will never really know the impact I’m making each and every day with every interaction. Questions as simple as, “How is school? How’s your writing? Are you eating enough?” can go a long way. Noticing in others what they sometimes don’t notice in themselves is a humbling experience for them and for you. Genuine care doesn’t always look big. Sometimes it’s small.
  • As a friend begins her writing journey and another friend learns to focus more on finding a voice in his writing, I’ve found myself feeling the effects of practicing a craft. Writing hasn’t always been easy. Most of the time it feels awkward, like a square peg trying to fit into a trapezoid hole. It hasn’t always been happy writing. In fact, historically speaking, most of my best writing has come from a place of doubt or anxiety. More feelings can be generated from the things lacking in life or the negative outcomes than the things to be grateful about. Feeling that weight is heavy. But helping others navigate that journey brings clarity to my own journey.
  • For the last few weeks, I’ve been committed to waking up earlier to get to the gym earlier. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because I feel as if I’m locking in more with my workouts and I’m more willing to go the extra mile, to dig a little deeper, to try a little harder. Whatever the case may be, the feeling of getting up before most of the world around me and getting a jump start on the day is a satisfying feeling.
  • As expected, feeling what I feel isn’t always a smooth process. Sometimes it’s tearing apart the parts of my life that I’m still learning how to own. Sometimes it’s developing an identity of broken-but-getting-better. Sometimes it’s feeling on top of the world, but only for a few seconds. Feeling what I feel means being vulnerable. It’s trusting that my next step will be the right one, even when it’s not. So for me, this past month has felt awkward and jagged. It’s clear that there’s not enough observance of what I feel when I’m feeling it. In retrospect, I’ve got a lot of growing to do. We all do.

For March, my word is listen.

I’ve always believed that the most important part of communicating is not the talking. It’s the type of listening where you’re not looking to respond to someone. It’s the ability to take in and to process wholly. It’s paying attention when another person is expressing themselves to you or articulating their thoughts.

The truth can sometimes (most of the time, if not all the time) be contextual. What I see from where I’m standing is likely different from what you see from where you’re standing. What I hear is likely different from what you hear. So on and so forth.

In March, I will be guided by the idea that listening can help me become a better person. Sometimes that means taking the time to process what someone has confided in me to hear. Sometimes it’s not responding at all with words, but with non-verbal gestures that say, “I’m here.”

March, I will listen.

Published by Robbie Williford

Writer from Flint, Michigan. Partial but slowly becoming. Educator. Storyteller. Bashful. Paying attention to the quiet.

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