It’s Okay to Not Be Okay

We can have everything we need in life, and still feel like crap. Our bills can be paid. Our jobs can be awesome. Our friends can be the most amazing people in the universe. But, we can still find ourselves feeling unsettled, upset, or depressed.

This isn’t about being ungrateful.

It’s about watching everything in your life fall into place while negative messages float through your brain…

“This is great, but I want more.”

“I feel like I’m not doing enough.”

“I don’t deserve any of this.”

“People will think I’m weak if I step away from all this. But, I really need a break. I can’t keep this up.”

“I have so much now, but if I make one mistake, this will all go away. I can’t mess this up. I can’t.”

So many of us are silently suffering. Some of us our grieving. Some of us are working to heal our wounds. Some of us are just trying to get out of bed every day and be a person. But, people don’t always get this or take the time to understand. They’re confused when we’re not feeling okay, especially when our lives appear to be in good shape.

The reality is that our insides don’t always match our circumstances. They don’t have to. Mine haven’t.

Things have been going really well for me lately. Improv is awesome. Family life is great. My health is on the up and up. At the same time, I’ve had some intense moments with my anxiety. Between the shortness of breath, and racing thoughts, I have no idea of how I’ve been able to show up to life. Prayer has helped. Rest has helped. But, it’s been rough. At some point, I realized that it’s okay for me to feel successful and a little terrible at the same time. It’s okay for me to have bad days and bad weeks.

It’s okay to not feel okay.

It’s okay to be afraid of losing that new person you’re with, or gaining back all that weight you just lost. It’s okay to be doing well in school, and at the same time be experiencing family issues that have your mind in two places. There’s no such thing as perfection.

There is a such thing as beating yourself up for not being perfect.

You’re never going to be perfect. None of us are. Even on the best day of your life, things will still get messy and go wrong.

I’m the kind of person who overthinks so much that it’s difficult for me to even leave the house in the morning. I don’t want things to go wrong. I’m not comfortable with the fact that life is in constant flux

Part of me realizes that we get to show up to this messy world with frowns on our faces, tears in our eyes, and pain in our hearts. We get to come as we are, even on days when we’re called to smile and be positive, because no one should be expected to be happy all the time. No one should be expected to have it all together.

You don’t have to have it all together, despite what others say.

You don’t have to keep smiling and responding with: “I can’t complain” when someone asks you how you’re doing.

Be honest the next time someone asks you about your day. Don’t be afraid to bring the mood down. Allow the other person to make room for your energy, and be open enough to make room for theirs.

Part of what fuels the stigma around mental illness, is a culture that views anyone having a bad day as weak, abnormal, or in need of a stiff drink. We need to spend more time with our emotions, and with the emotions of others. We need to share more. We need to empathize with others more. We need to hear the stories of those who are hurting (which is most people you interact with on a daily basis).

We get to be real with each other, because real is what a lot of us need and want.

Your feelings are valid. Your hurt is valid. Your hope is valid. And you, all of you, is who we need to survive.

###

What’s up! Like what you read? I send weekly emails to over 400+ subscribers every Monday. Sign up here for real talk, inspiration, and motivation.

Your Words Hold Power

“Stand before the people you fear and speak your mind–even if your voice shakes. When you least expect it, someone may actually listen to what you have to say. Well-aimed slingshots can topple giants.” —Maggie Kuhn

 

Your words hold power. They do. Think about how impactful words told to you as a child were. Consider the stinging insults from the playground bully. Or, the advice from the family member who made you feel invincible.

Words hold power. Your words hold power.

And yet, how often are we called to use our words before we feel ready? How often are we called to speak up when no one else seems to care?  Our words still matter. They matter when we stutter. They matter when we overthink them before saying anything.

At times, unspoken words can have the greatest impact. They can do the most violence.

Your words matter.

You might be in a situation right now where you’re doubting yourself. Imposter syndrome has crept back in.

You’re being asked to present, teach, or proclaim, and you’re thinking: “They have the wrong person. I’m not ready for this. I’m not right for this.”  Let me tell you something: you were called to the table for a reason. You are right for this. Someone saw brilliance, answers, and better questions in you.

It’s your time to say what needs to be said. Offer up your opinions. Challenge the status quo. Say what only you can say: your truth. Don’t settle.

I know, it’s scary to be impeccable with our words. It can be frightening to tell others what we’re really thinking. What if we give them something to use against us in the future?

What if?

What if you say something that could help shift someone else’s story? What if your words are the difference between joy and pain for the person you didn’t even know was listening?  What if your words could liberate?

They can. They have. They will.

Speak up.

###

What’s up! Like what you read? I send weekly emails to over 400+ subscribers every Monday. Sign up here for real talk, inspiration, and motivation.

Being Black in 2017: The Allyship and Understanding I Still Need! [Podcast Episode!]

I had the absolute honor to be a guest on Jamie Piperato‘s Social Justice and Inclusion Podcast for Higher Ed Professionals! I’m still glowing from this opportunity and am so happy to be able to share it with you. Listen here. 

Here’s the abstract: 

Sometimes people from marginalized groups feel like they are the spokesperson for their entire population. What we know is that this responsibility is both burdensome and unnecessary. If only people would do their homework more before asking things like “Why are Black folx so upset about police brutality” or “What’s the big deal with Trump being elected?” or “Can you explain micro-aggressions one more time?” These questions can often be well-intentioned, but the impact is often grating and frustrating. We need to be more informed about those to whom we call ourselves allies.

Here are some key points from the episode: 

  • The importance of doing your homework and research
  • How to approach allyship
  • How to stop letting fear keep you from using your voice

sinclair-ceasar.png

Check it out. Share it with someone who needs to hear it. Learning to be an ally is a never-ending educational process.

 

 


Have you heard of Sinclair.ity? I send emails to wonderful and amazing people every single week. I do this because I appreciate it when someone speaks their truth. It helps me to feel a little more okay.  If you can use some real talk in your life each Monday, sign up here. Thank you for being you.

Fake Love: Letting Go Of People Who Bring You Down

I had a crappy middle school experience both inside and outside of the classroom. I told a snippet of my embarrassing story to around 700 people on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 with the Stoop Storytelling Series. After the show, several audience members came up to me, and briefly shared their emotional reactions and stories about bullying or feeling left out. What I learned is that we’ve all had some dark childhood moments, and many of us haven’t told a soul.

I also realized I’m holding on to toxic relationships. I’m still pouring myself into bottomless glasses. It’s draining and it’s unfair.

I turn 30 this year, and it’s causing me to re-evaluate many of the important things in my life. This month, my focus has been on friends.

Namely, I’ve been thinking about:

  • How often I try to hard to make friends – and keep them
  • The people in my life who seem to reject who I am, yet, I still try to get them to like me
  • The people who I’ve given so much to, yet, they provide so little in return

A former colleague recently reminded me to continue meeting people where they are. There’s nothing wrong with this. In fact, it’s what helps me connect with my college students. But, there needs to be a line with it comes to personal friendships and the people I invest continual energy in. I can meet people where they are and love them, but I don’t have to stay where they are. I’m realizing that I do have some things I need from my friends, and not everyone is willing to give it (and that’s okay).

Here’s a list of my non-negotiables.

I want friends who:

  • Are adventurous and outgoing
  • Are willing to share some deeper parts of themselves
  • Aren’t afraid to ask themselves big questions
  • Give to others and serve others
  • Are aware of issues facing marginalized/erased/oppressed people and don’t just ignore them
  • Love me for who I am and respect me
  • Want to make roots in or near Baltimore for the next several years

They don’t need to:

  • Have everything figured out
  • Be anywhere near perfect – no one is
  • Be enlightened
  • Be successful
  • Be a completely open book

I encourage you to take some time and make these list too. 

Some would say I’m being too picky, and I’d agree. We get to be selective.Think about it: we can’t pick our family, our co-workers, or the dude sitting next to us on the bus. But, we have a say in who we call friends.

I have been too open and too afraid to choose the people I want in my life. I’ve been under the impression that I need to take whoever shows me love. This has been damaging.

I’ve also been trusting people too quickly out of desperation. I need to take more time to let the relationship build. This means sharing a little less of myself, and not putting in so much investment after one meet up. At the end of the day – if I’m being honest – I’ve been lacking consistent connection for the past several years. It has a lot to do with attending college in Jersey, volunteering in three different cities in Oregon, moving to Pennsylvania, and then living two different places in Maryland.

That’s a lot of good-byes. So, now I’m wanting to be more grounded.

I’m realizing it’s worth it to take new relationships more slowly. If they don’t want me, I can’t make them stay, and I don’t need to make them stay.  It’s worth it to be mindful about the people in my life. Jim Rohn said we’re theaverage of the five people we spend the most time with.  

Here are my goals for friendship for the rest of 2017:

1. Befriend more men of color – especially Black men
2. Set better boundaries with people who are taking life away from me (mean people, jerks, those who threaten my Blackness, people who are myopic, people who intentionally make life harder for others, etc.)
3. Position myself to meet the people I’m wanting to find by volunteering, attending fun events in the community, and hosting more dinners/brunches.
4. Continue to connect with pen-pals and long distance friends
5. Pour more into my marriage – Tyensha is my BESTEST friend of all.

So, what about you?

Are you holding on to toxic relationships? Have you honestly been feeling a bit lonely or desperate to connect with others? Know that you’re not alone.

No one has it all figured out – stop believing what you see on social media. We move to new places, we leave home, we marry, we go off the grid, we take time to find ourselves, and sometimes all our friends just up and leave. We all have reasons why we are where we are. We also get to choose the people we keep in our lives. So who are you wanting to keep?

Who do you need to let go?


Have you heard of Sinclair.ity? I send emails to wonderful and amazing people every single week. I do this because I appreciate it when someone speaks their truth. It helps me to feel a little more okay.  If you can use some real talk in your life each Monday, sign up here. Thank you for being you.

An Open Letter to Anyone Who Identifies as a Woman

This is to anyone who identifies as a woman.

I’ve been hearing things that aren’t okay. They shouldn’t have been said.

It’s not okay that you’ve been made to feel unsafe. It’s not okay that you so often feel unsafe.

I’ll admit, I was slow on the uptake. I should have gone to the march. I should’ve encouraged my wife, Tynesha, when she told me she wanted to go to the march.  I was afraid for her safety.  But, I’ll handle my regrets some other time. This letter is about the unacceptable, that which breaks my heart, and what I now see needs to be done.

It’s not okay that some have written these things off as “locker room talk” or “just the way things are.” Apathy and lack of honesty are significant parts of the problem.

I, too, used to say terrible things. I still slip at times and I probably will again. But, I’m clear that your bodies are not objects. They belong to you.

It’s more than okay if you don’t want to be approached by a stranger on the street.

It’s more than okay if you ever say no. It’s more than okay for you to feel empowered to make decisions you feel are right to make. No one else gets to make those choices for you. No one.

I’ve been seeing things that aren’t okay.

But, know, that these actions are on watch – indefinitely. Too many of us are too awake to let anything go. I’m not letting anything go anymore.

They’ll tell me I’m oversensitive. They’ll tell me it’s not my fight. They’ll tell me I’m making something out of nothing. They’ll say they don’t believe me. You’ve heard similar messages.

We’ll here’s my response to those messages: thanks for sharing, but there’s work to be done.

I’m not here to tell you anything you don’t already know. I’m not here to re-explain anything you’ve already said.

I’m just here to let you know that I’m one day closer to better understanding how I can better support you. I’m one moment closer to learning about the violence of my own actions, and how to hold others accountable when they cause harm – intentionally or unintentionally.

I’m not perfect. But, I’m trying. And, I’m committing to give it more than I have in the past. It’s time out for the foolishness. No one gets to make you feel small, inferior, or less than. When they do that, they affect us all. Hatred affects everyone.

So, in every way possible, your liberation is my liberation and my freedom. I’m committing to work harder for it by listening more, speaking out more, and being their more when you say: it’s time to fight.

Know that you have one more person who takes you seriously. I know you matter and are worth it because you are. I know there is nothing you need to change to be loved. You have one more person that realizes that this is an everyday thing.

So, I’m here every single day, right alongside of you, to do the next right thing as best we can. And, when you need space – because there are some spaces that I don’t need to occupy – I’ll back off.

I want to do better.

Thank you for your continued patience with a continuously imperfect ally.

With Eyes Wide Open,

Sinclair P. Ceasar III

How to Start a Successful Campus Wide Note Writing Project

Last week, we launched a note writing project called Hound Notes, here at Loyola University Maryland. It’s really taken off, and has added a positive buzz in our college community! While this project can be a lot of work on the front-end, it’s not so bad once you get started.* Plus, I’ve outlined most of what we’ve done, so you’re already halfway there. I’m hoping the following guide will assist you in bringing this same project to your campus.

*If you’re wanting more tips or information after reading this, send me a quick email to hello@thesapronextdoor.com and I’ll get back to you!

I. Highlights of the Project

We emailed a link to a sign up form to our commuters, residents, and administrators in our division. Then, we had information about the project posted in the online campus bulletin that’s emailed to the entire campus each week.

  • Within the past 6 days, 200+ students, faculty, staff, and administrators have signed up to receive anonymous and positive notes in their campus mailbox. 65 first year students have signed up. Commuters will get their notes mailed home.
  • One goal is to write 300+ notes during the 2016-17 year. 20+ students, faculty members, administrators have officially signed up to be note writers on a weekly, monthly, and semester basis.
  • Another goal is to form a student club by May 2017, help them to raise funds for material costs, and continue to have an organized recipient database and system.This adds sustainability and added potential for growth for the project.
FullSizeRender.jpg
The first few notes we sent!

II. Boosting Engagement, Inclusion, Retention & More

Our division of Student Development has been charged with connecting and engaging with “every student”. In addition, our institution is moving towards being an university that  is more intentionally anchored in its surrounding community. Hound Notes hopes to meet these aims by: 

  1. Engaging students who are and aren’t part of other student organizations by inviting them to write notes to other students.
  2. Fostering a more inclusive environment on campus through late night on-campus letter writing parties at our on-campus Starbucks (between 8pm-11pm) and bundle nominations. Note: Our on-campus Starbucks stays open late if we request it in advance.
  3. Discovering ways to give back to the Baltimore City community through letter-writing campaigns for local agencies and organizations.
  4. Helping students who study abroad for a semester or more, to still feel connected to campus through a post-card letter writing campaign in collaboration with International Programs. Note: A large amount of our students study abroad during the second semester of their junior year.
  5. Creating and cultivating a sense of belonging with first year students, and other class years.
img_7413
Notes on their way to commuters and employees at satellite campuses.

 

III. What We Did

Hound Notes was largely inspired by Hannah Brencher and More Love Letters. We made it our own and gave it a name our university community would love (our mascot is a greyhound). This section will outline everything you will need to get started. The most important things to know are to be organized, get your office’s/department’s buy in, and to be careful not to over-complicate things. After all, it’s supposed to be fun and meaningful. 

Materials and Supplies Needed: Each note writer receives a Hound Note Pack that includes a sharpie, pre-labeled envelopes (saves time and prevents the campus post office from having issues with legibility of handwriting), notes, and a note writing guide. Target had a great deal on notes + envelopes: 200 count for $14.99, Spritz. 

Note writers can sign up to write on a weekly, monthly, or per semester basis. To make for easier workflow, we send each note writer their Hound Note Pack through campus mail. Next, the note writer completes each note, and returns the finished and unsealed notes to our central office for review. Once that’s done, someone will seal each envelope with a sticker and send them to the recipients via campus mail or outgoing mail. Here’s a preview of the note writing guide. You can see the rest here.

Quick Start Guide Example.png

Organization + Files: We used a system called Qualtrics to create our form and download all pertinent data. But you can use Google Forms, Wufoo, or Typeform to capture the information you need. All data is stored in a Google Drive folder so any Hound Notes team member can access it.

A few tips… 

  • Make sure to have separate forms (or use skip logic if you’re fancy like that) for students and for faculty, admin, and staff. Also, make sure there is a way for you to accurately attain each commuter’s mailing address. Here’s are some key snapshots from the form. You can see the rest here (just make sure NOT to submit it): 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

  • Test the form several times before you send it.
  • We used tinyurl.com to shorten the link to the form. This was great because it looks good (tinyurl.com/houndnotes), but some students had issues when they clicked the hyperlink in their Outlook email. So, make sure to add something like: if the link doesn’t open, copy and paste this URL into your browser, or sign up on your laptop. 
  • Create a new folder in your email specifically for this project, and then create rules for each folder. For example, I have the following folders: Hound Notes Form Submissions and Top Secret Note Writers. 
  • Make your Excel spreadsheet work for you. Here are the fields we use to keep us organized:

Spreadsheet Example.png

Bundles and Letter Writing Parties: Each person who signs up, has the option of submitting a nomination for someone to receive a bundle of 20-30 notes. Recipients of the bundles are typically people who are experiencing a tough time, are sick or injured, or who are just really in need of a pick-me-up. As of the time this posting, 50+ heartfelt and detailed nominations were submitted by students, faculty, staff, and admin. Each semester, we will hold 1-2 letter writing parties. During this time, attendees will have the chance to hear the nominations, and write notes specifically for the recipients (people who sign up for to receive just one note typically only get a generic but uplifting message; bundle recipients get something that caters more to them because the writer knows more of their story).

Marketing and Getting the Word Out: Before this project launched, I spent several months getting my co-workers on board with it, asking students if they’d be interested in this project, working with our marketing/communications office (who provided over 200+ temporary tattoos with our school mascot – they had extra), and learning the culture of the school. If you already know the culture of your institution, and are confident that your community will enjoy the project, you can move a little faster.

Things to note…

  • The subject line of the email blast to the campus was: #HoundNotes: Happiness in Your Loyola Mailbox. It’s super catchy and probably helped with our email open rate, though we didn’t track this.
  • We created a simple powerpoint slide to be shown on the digital signs that are located in our student center. The advertisement is simple: “Make Your Loyola Mailbox Happier, Sign Up for Hound Notes Today at tinyurl.com/houndnotes”
  • We designed our logo (below) on Canva. I use this website for most simple graphic design projects because it’s super user friendly and it’s free to sign up. Here’s the logo:

AnitaBlack (1).jpg

Funding: I recently submitted a proposal to get this project funded…and it worked! Here’s what helped, as well as what to do if you don’t get any funding:

  • We started by launching the project, then asking for funding after were able to show that a lot of students were interested in it. Plus, we used some of the stories from the bundle nominations to show how much of an impact the project could have.
  • Develop and create a clear, succinct, and thoughtful proposal that speaks to your institution’s/department’s missions, goals, and aims. We are focusing a lot on first year engagement, late night programming, inclusion, and our investment in Baltimore City.
  • If you don’t get funding, don’t sweat it. Get creative. Have students write positive quotes on post-it notes and stick them around campus. Encourage a student organization to pick this project up and use some of their funding to purchase envelopes and notes (it could just be a one time writing project). Write notes to you co-workers and leave them in their work mailboxes (smaller project but still impactful).

Next Steps: If you’re ready to get started, do it! Think about how good it feels to receive something handwritten in the mail – that’s the feeling you get to re-create with your campus community. It can be a one time thing, a semester long project, or a year-long initiative. Workshop your ideas from people in other offices. Have coffee with various student leaders to see if they’d be interested in a project like this, and then go and make awesome happen!


If you’re stuck, have questions, or would like to talk through your ideas, contact me anytime at hello@thesapronextdoor.com. I’m here for you, because we’re all here to help our students live a better story!