“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given to you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, love along some distant day into the answer.”

-Ranier Maria Rilke

There are times when I sit with myself and listen. Just listen. No strings attached. Not pitch, no catch. Listening to the sounds that my mind makes, the sounds that my body makes: blood flowing through my limbs, my heart thump thump thumping away to the beat of my life, and a voice inside telling me to keep listening.

Keep breathing.

Keep moving towards whatever it is that this life gives me and nothing it leaves behind.

I begin to realize that there are so many questions I’m searching for the answer to. Like how is it that we can love something or someone so deeply and still struggle to keep it/him/her close to us? Or why do we worry more about teaching someone else and not learning ourselves first?

Listening isn’t the easiest action. It’s certainly not the smoothest. My mind wants to respond. It wants to find the answers that my heart keeps asking. It wants to figure this life out.

This month, I focused my energy on using anything but my tongue to understand the world around me better.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Listening is the active choice to sacrifice your own voice in order to take in, comprehend, and understand the voice of another. It means giving up a response to every question, every answer, every in-between, every silent moment in a conversation, and all urges to add your two cents. Not everybody wants your money anyways.
  • “I’m not okay.” It’s as simple as that. Relinquishing the idea that you have to keep it together for the people around you means that you’re liberated from the invisible walls you put up. It means vulnerability. It means being your true self. If I’ve learned anything this month, it’s how to be honest with myself; to feel something so deeply and to allow others to do that, too.
  • There’s a voice inside of you that is telling you how you really feel. Don’t neglect that voice. It’s telling you something for a reason. No matter how irrational or wild of a tremble this voice is giving to you, give yourself the time and space to take that message in. When you stop listening to that voice, you begin to give up your ability to be a human being. You give up your ability to have a clear voice altogether.
  • There are multiple students I work with who really struggled this past month. Tests and exams and heartbreak and the feeling of intense overwhelm took their lives over. Helping them sift through these feelings is what it means to be a mentor and advisor. Listening to them tell me a small part of their story is truly rewarding. Listening without an agenda of your own has a way of helping old wounds close up. It has a way of helping new wounds begin to heal.
  • Listening will center you. When you’re always doing the talking, you’re never doing the learning.
Photo by: Michaela Tuesburg, Graduate Assistant of the Emerging Leaders program at The University of Akron and an all around cool cat.
  • You only have one body. You get to decide on how to treat it. For me, listening to the way my body reacts to me looks a lot like getting up early to exercise and also to fill my body only with things that are going to nourish it. This isn’t a perfect process. Yes, sometimes I have ice cream. No, I’m not a body builder. But what I do know is this: my ideal self has ample energy throughout the day to tackle the biggest activities in my life. If I don’t get enough sleep and if I don’t eat right, my ideal self is not attainable every single day. I want to put myself in the position to love everything about me in a way that shows the world who I truly am.
  • Listening looks a lot like soul-searching on a Saturday afternoon:
Artisan Coffee Shop. Akron, OH.


  • It also looks a lot like a pillowy sky with the sun peeking through.
Akron, OH.


  • “How is your heart?” I have a mentor who asks me this question every couple of months when we finally get to catch up. It’s jarring to think critically about where my heart is in that moment. The only way I know how to respond is with as much honesty I can muster. “It’s in a constant state of awe when it comes to life and all of the beautiful things in it.”
  • Shawn Achor wrote a book called “The Happiness Advantage” where he talks about some key principles to living a happy life. Interestingly enough, it’s never about seeking it out explicitly. But he does mention that happiness can be attained through the small, everyday actions that you take to change your circumstances. This bulletin board is a reminder of how grounded we can be in relentlessly seeking happiness that we forget our purpose altogether.
  • Photo by: Kouryn Stromsky. She reminds me of how listening happens with more than just your ears.
  • I have a friend from my undergrad years who I worked with on-campus and also studied English/Creative Writing with. During my first year of graduate school, we became pen pals and would periodically update each other on life happenings via snail mail. One day I received one of her larger-than-life envelopes in my work mailbox. Inside of it, a painting that said, “Be an explorer of the world.” It resonated so much with my soul that I had to put it on my wall as a constant reminder to seek out every opportunity to bring myself closer to my purpose.
  • I recently came across this graphic and it showed me that I, too, need a few reminders to listen more, and that being an explorer of the world means committing myself to wholeheartedly listening to what the world is telling me:

For April, I will express.

On the other side of listening is articulating my thoughts and feelings in a positive manner. For me, it means being able to express my gratitude to the people in my life that mean the most to me. I am constantly surrounded by students, mentors, loved ones, etc. who bring so many good things to my life. This next month is going to bring so much change (I anticipate there will be much of that in 2016. Maybe a word for down the road?). These people need to know that I love them, that I’m rooting for them, and that I’m in their corners.

At the end of the semester, when everyone finishes up their finals and moves home for the summer, I will likely have spent the last of my time at The University of Akron and in the Department of Residence Life and Housing doing my very best to simply help people. I will have given everything I have to the students I get to work with on a daily basis. I will have guided these students in life decisions. I will have done my best to help these students build something great — for themselves and for the community — and that’s something that can’t be bought. It’s not something that can be trained. It’s something that can’t be replaced.

I must express my deepest gratitude to the individuals who have given me so much. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it were not for their encouragement, challenges, and moments of growth.

In April, I will express.

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

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
March: Listen

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

Published by Robbie Williford

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

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