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.

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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.


Part two 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. The first word for January can be found here.

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

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“I am not a strong boy. But I am trying to learn what it means to build.” –Phil Kaye, Poet

January served me well. The word that guided me was build. As it was the first month of the year, my mindset revolved around building — physically, emotionally, figuratively — the areas of my life that needed to be strengthened. Anyone who knows me knows that one of my favorite metaphors of life is this idea that we get to build great big things with people around us. This is something that I subscribe to every single day.

Here are some ways that January helped me understand what it means to build:

  • Multiple important people in my life experienced some sort of heartbreak. Relationships lost. The breaking up of two people in a love that is shared. Sometimes we just don’t really know at all what tomorrow brings. But if we build a love that inspires us every single day, we’ll be on our way.
  • January 15 was my birthday. I was reminded of how many wonderful people I am surrounded by. Each person submitted a picture and a note with words of encouragement, hope, and love as they wished me a happy birthday. Building means relationships. (See below.)
Grateful for those who took the time to tell me how much I mean to them.
  • Presenting (and secretly nominating colleagues for awards) at a conference is always a building experience. I was able to build networks, presentation skills, and my knowledge base as I listened to others and gave others something to listen to. (See below.)
The University of Akron’s team of presenters, award winners, and professional developers. (OCPA, 2016)
Someone who challenges me and supports me in all that I do.
  • It’s the beginning of my last semester of graduate school. Nobody ever tells you how short these two years go by. Building comes in the form of students I get to work with, projects assigned (or not assigned), and experience in different functional areas. More on this to come in a later post.
  • Building my portfolio of experience has become important in 2016. Job searching is a challenging and rewarding process. The more I put into it, the more I seem to get out of it.
  • My comprehensive examination is less than a month away. Building my study materials hasn’t been much of a challenge; I keep everything from every class. Identifying what is useful to know for the exam is the challenging part. I’m actively building my materials with pieces of information that will help me stay prepared. (See below.)
Policy, Student Development, Finance, Curriculum, Student Services, Administration, Law, and History.
  • These last two years have been hit or miss with my writing; some months I’ve really put forth effort, other months I’ve missed the boat completely. There’s something, though, about waking up early on a Saturday morning, grabbing my writing materials, and heading up to Denny’s to people-watch, write, and reflect. A poem or two may have found its way out of me that morning. Potentially more to come there soon.
  • People. My whole life revolves around people. Family, friends, a significant other, and finally, myself. So when my lifelong best friend says, “I’m coming to Akron,” you move some things around to welcome him. (See below.)
We didn’t take too many pictures while he was here, but here’s the goodbye.
In case you needed evidence of what a real smile looks like.

January has been bursting at the seams with opportunities to build. Sometimes we don’t realize that we are building until we take a step back and reflect on the day-to-day moments of our lives.

For February, my word is feel.

Part of being a human being is experiencing some of life’s most intense, jarring, unfiltered emotions. What I have come to realize in my (short) time on Earth is that feeling so many things can be a blessing and a curse. Knowing what you feel is so deep and complex and vivid, but not feeling as if there is anyone that can understand or relate to us, we are sometimes stuck in this box that we place ourselves in. We limit ourselves. We put parameters on the things other people see in us. We cover ourselves with pretty wallpaper, a mask of confidence, something heavy that hinders any light from warming us at all. And there we are. Stuck in this cycle of what we are and what we allow others to perceive us as.

In February, I will be guided by the idea that feeling what I feel is important. Good, bad, or ugly: I will feel whatever it is that is inside of me and is trying to withdraw itself from my heart. I will observe it and I will move forward.

February, I will feel.


Earlier this year, I wrote an article for a weekly email series called Project Wednesday. The premise of this project is to motivate and inspire people across the world through an email sent out every Wednesday. People from all walks of life contribute to this project, which is run by a woman named Holly Pilcavage. Her TED talk can be found here. My article, published January 6, 2016, can be found here.

It’s important that you read that 2-minute article before moving forward; it serves as the foundation for what is next.

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Every new year, people make resolutions to eat better, lose weight, go to the gym, or begin a new habit. What I’ve found about resolutions is that they rarely last through January. By February 1, most people are worried about other things. Life gets in the way. Perspectives change. Resolutions take a back seat to work obligations or family matters. By April, most resolutions have gone disappeared from our lives altogether.

It’s not that I have a problem with resolutions. People who make resolutions are the best kinds of people; they want to be better and do more with their lives. I admire that.

It’s just that resolutions aren’t as effective — in theory and in practice — as people think.

For 2016, I’m not creating any resolutions. Instead I’m going to do a monthly word that guides me in everything that I do.

My goal with this is to find a word that resonates with my life on the 15th of each month. This word can change or it can stay the same. Most of all, whatever word I select to guide my life and work will be one that is designed to challenge me, to move me out of my comfort zone, to stretch me in ways I’ve not stretched before.

The goal is to embrace this life we all live. If we aren’t careful, it becomes elusive. It winds and shifts and turns in ways that we can’t keep up with. People change. You move out of the state. Loved ones pass. Relationships end. Your inbox fills up and you become overwhelmed. You forget your passwords. And so on.

I want to be intentional with living each day with a growth-mindset. I want to learn from myself and from the world around me. I want to make more of an impact on the lives of others. This comes from being mindful of the life that I live, and being present with the activities I fill my life with.

I will fail. Undoubtedly, I will make mistakes, choose a wrong path along the way, or make bonehead decisions. But with that, I’ll learn. I’ll adjust. I’ll become what I’m supposed to become, broken parts and all. I’ll carry heavy things that I never expected to carry. I’ll work harder than necessary. I’ll let people down. And I’ll embrace it.

January’s word: build.

Building things has always been in the back of my mind: lego structures, pieces of art, the people around me, my self-image, and so on.

There’s many miles to go before I get to where I want to be. But along the way, I plan to make the most of every day before they turn into weeks, months, and years.

Who know’s where I’ll end up? I suppose that’s the beautiful part of this journey I’m on, that we’re all on. There’s a whole lot that I don’t know. I won’t know until I get there.

Until then, I build.

On being.

This article was originally published in Project Wednesday’s weekly email on January 6th, 2016.

“It takes guts to tremble, it takes so much tremble to love.” –Andrea Gibson, Poet

Well, here we are. 2016. A new year. Fresh mind. Different perspective. And yet, it still feels like 2015. It doesn’t feel like a new year. Yesterday was summer and the day before that was February and the day before that was 2012. Isn’t it funny? Time keeps moving on and here we are — broken and beautiful — trying to convince ourselves that we’re still the humans we thought we were yesterday. But we’re not.

We’re different. Changed. Transformed on a daily basis by the things that surround us: people, ideas, the Earth spinning as it does, and ourselves. We don’t necessarily see it happening and then it happens. One day we look back and realize how far we’ve come.

Maybe 2015 held so much pain for you. Maybe you felt like you took up too much space. Maybe you thought that you weren’t enough. Maybe you felt like you were stuck in some kind of recycled nightmare or that you had too many flaws to ever be accepted by others in this world.

That’s what today is about. It’s about accepting who you are today: every victory lap, every broken bone, every bruised heart, every moment that we thought we weren’t going to be okay, every song that made us feel alive.

That’s what today is.

It’s a journey through mindfulness of being. Just being. It’s a constant reflection of who you used to be and who you want to be.

It’s an opportunity to take breaths deep into your lungs, to realize where you’re at, to center yourself. It’s an ongoing adventure of coming home to yourself.

This life is going to pass you by, day by day, week by week, until the months become years and you’re still stuck in 2011 and you realize that you’re not the you that you used to be.

But this is your moment. This is meant for you.

Let 2016 be the year that you commit to thinking a little deeper, to loving a little harder, and to growing a little closer to yourself in every moment. Allow yourself to outgrow the people and places and ideas that no longer serve the root of who you are. Allow yourself the safe space to be authentic and vulnerable and brave. You were not meant to fit so neatly into other people’s boxes.

Let 2016 be the building of a foundation with which you construct your life. Let it be the year that you forgive yourself for every mistake you made; every standard you never upheld; every expectation you never met. Buddy Wakefield once said, “Forgiveness is the release of all hope for a better past.” He’s right.

Most of all, let 2016 just be. Everything that happens will happen just as it should, good or bad. And when 2017 comes, maybe letting the light in won’t hurt so much. Maybe you won’t feel like the problem or the solution.

Let 2016 be. Just be. And you, too.