Mallory Bower recently wrote something that describes my thought process on writing these days:

“I’ve been blocking my shots before I even had the chance to take them. I want to write a book, but I want it to be perfect, so I don’t bother with the words. I want to go to Europe, but I want to see ALL THE THINGS, so I don’t plan it out. I want to be spontaneous, but the thought of endless possibilities is paralyzing.”

For me, a blank page and many avenues to take terrifies me into stagnation. I open my computer, click for a new tab, type in Medium, open anew draft, and sit. Staring at the page for 15 minutes, thinking of ways to start something, but nothing. Not a word. I close my computer.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

It’s why I’ve been missing my own deadlines. It’s why I’ve taken every easy way out of it. “I’m too tired.” “I don’t have enough time.” “I’m not going to write anything good.” “None of my words impact others.”

These recycled excuses pile up and here I am trying to shake out the rugs that they’ve collected themselves under.

I’m reminded that I can’t edit a blank page. I can’t publish a clean slate. The muddy and messy and stubborn parts of me are turning themselves over as I begin to dissect them.

Here goes nothing. Here goes something.

At the beginning of the month, I found myself frustrated with some of the student leaders I work with. The reasons aren’t worth noting, but the aftermath is.

We had a staff meeting and many of them were at the height of their stresses right before a four-day weekend. Basically I was attempting to use this staff meeting as a learning opportunity. There were some areas that weren’t up to expectations and I wanted to show them that it’s not acceptable.

My intention was to be firm but still supportive. What ended up happening is a passionate and pointed lecture that only filled those students with feelings of letting me down. Deflated. Not worthy. Unsupported.

The impact I made didn’t match the intentions that I set for myself. I missed the mark completely.

The next day, I had multiple conversations with some of them about how that meeting went. They wore honesty on their sleeves and expressed how it made them feel. I was controlling the damage as best I could but by the end of the day, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of not being a good supervisor or mentor for them.

Just as the work day was ending, a student knocked on my door.

Student: “I know you’re probably tired of talking to people today but can we chat?”

Me: “Sure.”

After some processing of the meeting the night previous, this student says, “I appreciate that you want the best for us. But I think you’re pushing too hard.”

Sitting back, I realized that maybe she’s right. Maybe I’m expecting too much. Maybe I see their potential and am pushing them to get there faster than they want to go.

I don’t tell you this story for you to tell me otherwise. I tell you this to make a point: having a standard of excellence that you expect and meeting students where they are is not always synonymous. Sometimes it’s messy. It takes patience and work. It drains you of energy and sometimes leaves others feeling the same. Finding the balance of love and respect but also honesty and discipline is challenging. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t have the tough conversation. It may move us back a few steps, yes. But maybe that’s exactly what we need to understand where we need to go next.

A friend’s reminder to me after processing with him.

I took a surprise trip to Akron and didn’t tell anyone I was coming. I wanted see people but I didn’t want it to be a big deal. I left on a Friday afternoon and just kind of showed up unannounced.

It’s refreshing to leave a place that I once called home and to come back as a visitor. Even more refreshing is coming back and being met with a smile by those that I love. It’s like a hug that you don’t want to end but has to eventually. It’s the warm embrace; an opportunity to show people love them without offering up words.

I imagine this is what healing looks like for some; to leave and to come back, to know that you’ve grown, to be okay with it and to embrace every step forward.

One thing is certain: I’m exploring this world and myself, but I wouldn’t be who I am without these two.

Has anyone realized that it’s election season?

I’ve only been around for 25 years but I can’t remember there being a time where a nation has been this divided. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have brought out some kind of latent monsters that have been hiding in the most obvious of places.

Coffeeshops. Libraries. Living room couches. College campuses.

Every corner of this country has embraced some type of avenue: Trump’s hateful demeanor and lack of any real substance; Clinton’s flip-floppiness on big issues and her track record of bad decisions; third-party candidates who just want to be heard but are often drowned out by the stature of others running; a general apathy towards everything altogether.

I don’t see candidates that aren’t truly problematic based off of the things they’ve done outside of policies or platforms. Everyone has an opinion about one or the other or both giants running and it’s leaving America with a lack of hope for the future.

One thing is for certain: the world will not stop spinning after November 8th. We will wake up and go about our days and months just as we had before. We will rise each morning and carry ourselves throughout our lives while we grow and transform into older beings.

What we need more than anything is to come from a place of honesty, of understanding, of love, with ourselves and with others. No matter where we sit on the political spectrum, what unites us are the problems that we will continue to face as people and as a nation.

I hope that we don’t lose hope in the world and in one another. We need each other more than we realize.

I’m wondering lately about how much I’ve allowed myself to live in the shadows of others. There’s a certain sense of impact that those that came before me had. Their legacy continues to shine through in all that I do. It’s been there through graduate school and up to this point in my professional journey.

It’s not necessarily a bad thing, but I wonder how much I allow it to be. Can you see this in me? Can you see how I compare myself to them? Can you understand why?

I’ve seen so many great things from my predecessors. I’ve also seen areas that can be improved from how they left it. All the construction they’ve done has brought me to this point; I get to build on top of it and have the opportunity to make it better than it’s ever been before.

Still though, living in the (sometimes self-imposed) shadows is exhausting. Taxing. Never-ending.

For most of my adult life, I have compartmentalized the different areas of my life. That is, I’ve worked hard to keep things separate. Work doesn’t usually intersect with play. Writing — at least the process of is — doesn’t intersect with family. Relationships don’t enter the work realm. And so on.

It’s safe. Comfortable. Easy. It leaves little room for a mess to be made.

What I’ve noticed, though, is that my respective identities have begun growing in d i f f e r e n t d i r e c t i o n s. While one aspect of my life grows, another sits idle. I bring a different self to work than the self that I am with my friends. As I shift through environments and groups of people each week, I recognize how much energy it requires to bring someone different to each compartment.

If there’s one thing that I’m working on the most, it’s allowing the various parts of my life to intersect a bit more. Realizing the gaps between who I am with different people will bring me closer to myself.

That’s what this season of life is about. One foot forward, one step closer to understanding who I was, who I am, and who I still have time to be.

My purpose board. Pictures, knick knacks, and words that inspire me to follow my purpose.
An example of the kindness that Ashley–the grad student I get to work with–carries with her. 
A reminder for you and me both: invite people into your life no matter how messy or unfinished.
Stolen from Brainpickings.org. A wonderful reminder of the power words have in our lives.

Published by Robbie Williford

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

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