I personally struggle with accepting that I’m in panic mode. It feels weak.
I tell myself messages like: “Sinclair, you’ve been through worst” or “Dude, generations before you actually went to war, what are you freaking out about?”
But, that doesn’t get me anywhere. You’ve heard that acceptance is the first step, right, but how often do you allow yourself to accept how bad things get when ish hits the fan?
It’s difficult to do. It’s hard to sit with our thoughts in between Netflix episodes. It’s challenging to be with our pain and misery.
Still, it’s important that we do more than just lean into discomfort, we’re called to face it. To look at it, roll around in it, and get to know the things that are bothering us.
I, too, am tired of seeing words like pandemic and crisis, and I know it’s not healthy for me to over-consume news updates. In no way am I suggesting that we should over do it.
But, we can find a middle. Ann Friedman wrote about existing at the crossroads of caution and courage, rather than navigating the line between panic and caution. And that’s something for us to aim for. For us to have the courage to be honest about however we’re feeling and to voice it.
“I’m feeling really ______ right now, and I don’t know what to do!”
“I wish I could _______ but instead I _______.”
Fill in those blanks for yourself.
Wrestle with them. And share what you come up with with someone you trust. Hop on the phone and do some social long-distancing or just take the time to get to know your fear.
I suggest setting a time limit on this. I heard someone call it a Worry Hour once, but for you it might be beneficial to limit it to 10-15 minutes.
I’m done feeling embarrassed by my fears. By mulling over the polarized rhetoric of whether or not we have anything to panic about. If we’re panicking, we’re panicking.
There’s power in accepting this. At some point we’ll move through it. But, let’s not run away from the part of ourselves that tell us what we need to know.
We will get through this.
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A few weeks ago, I was at my weekend retail job silently cursing to myself. I was upset, feeling over it, and feeling pretty embarrassed.
But let’s jump back a decade real quick.
Jersey City was my home during college. I interned at MTV, helped plan large scale university events, did service in Honduras (while surviving an earthquake), and got a degree.
A few years later I got another degree. Married the love of my life who birthed the world’s most precious baby, and took on several master’s level positions in the higher ed field. The resume was on lock.
Then disaster struck. My brain was hijacked. Our life and finances in shambles. My situation dire.
2019 crawled forward and the world kept moving as it does. I eventually picked up weekend work in the fall while continuing to be a stay at home dad during the week.
And let me tell you, though I am over the moon about getting to raise my daughter so closely and for so many hours a day, I felt a great sense of pride when I was cleared to work again.
My therapist and psychiatrist told me I was “stable”. Stable enough to get a retail job and finally help a little with the bills.
I went from having back to back to back jobs with free housing, an excellent credit score (yeah, I was in the 800+ club), and money in tha bank, to spiraling to a really low place with lots of debt, tears, and pretty much the opposite of everything I worked with my family to build.
So off to work I was. I told myself my number one goal was to create an amazing experience for every guest that came to my lane. I’d bag their items with a smile, take genuine interest in them, and give them the service I’d expect.
October 2019 was me as the comeback kid and a busy Christmas season later, I’m still here. I’m still smiling – except for the other day when I stood silently cursing to myself while shuffling in carts from the parking lot and emptying trash.
“I have a master’s degree. What am I doing emptying people’s trash. How did I end up back in this stigmatized class of unskilled workers. I didn’t sign up for this! I worked so hard NOT to be here!”
And I didn’t, but God spoke to me in the gentle way He does when I’m feeling weak, broken, triflin’. He said, “Fam, what’s up? Have you forgotten what this all really means? Have you forgotten who you are and whose you are? I love you but you are no better than anyone.”
I’ve struggled with the idea of humility for a long time. I’ve been resistant to the idea that we’re all on the same page. Surely having more money, more degrees, better credit scores, more accolades, better character and morals, better better, surely all that put you further along and higher than others who weren’t working as hard.
Surely I could work to be better than those who gave up easily, committed crimes, held petty grudges, gossiped, lied, did their worst on purpose, pierced their upper ears and got lower back tattoos. Right?
Once, I even debated a close friend on this. I was high up on a horse that hadn’t even left the stable. I was judgmental with a capital J and indignant to a fault. I’d earned the right to be this self-absorbed and myopic – to be better.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it took having a world shattering manic episode to humble me, but I’ve certainly learned a new – more compassionate – version of humility amidst the ashes, the hurt, the pain, and the loss. So much loss.
So as I tied that trash bag and hauled it to the back of the store, I realized – just a little more – how it’s important for us to resist thinking too highly of ourselves. Especially when much of the world lives without clean access to clean water or clean air.
Especially when all of us are broken in some way and in need of reconciliation.
Especially when none of us could do any good for anyone else by dying on a cross.
Especially when the richest of the richest still struggle with skeletons, mental illness, and grief.
And definitely when the person you secretly compare yourself to every time they pop up on your timeline still experiences hurt, loneliness, and insecurity.
All of this is a reminder of how short we fall, how messed up we are, and how we need to really actually die to ourselves daily so we don’t forget how to love and show up fully to the people who need us most.
I believe humility is an understanding that we can’t effectively serve others until we get out of our own way. I don’t wanna take advice or guidance from anyone who’s condescending.
And, I’m betting you don’t want handouts or pity from anyone either.
What we want is for someone to say, “I see me in you. Neither one of us is perfect. And still we get to do life together and give all that we can while we’re here.”
My hope and invitation today is for you to reflect on the small ways in which you puff yourself up, distance yourself from people you’ve judged, or have been hard on yourself because you’re not where you should be in life (I’m talking to the unemployed person, the person on medical leave, the person who just got out of jail, the person back in a rehab situation, the person who just fell off their diet again – the imperfect person).
My hope for you is just to get in touch with the whole, failure prone, probably-undeserving-but-still-worthy person that you are. That I am. That all of us are. Imperfect. Beautiful. Messy. And, though sometimes unnoticeable, loved.
Your storm will not last forever. You will get through this.
It’s hard to believe this when the calls stop coming, and the text messages go unanswered, and the showers become a chore to take. But, even still, you will get through this.
Though your relationships have shifted and your dreams don’t look the way they used to, there’s hope for you yet.
There’s hope for the person struggling to navigate a toxic relationship. For the person who can’t quite figure out how to stand up for their values. There’s hope for the person that cries themselves to sleep every night – often unsure of why they’re crying in the first place.
You will get through this.
No matter how hard it is right now, know that something brighter and sweeter is coming. These are not words to be taken lightly – not empty promises.
Keep showing up however you can – you don’t need to look your best or even do your best. Just keep getting to that next breath. And the next one.
Everyone was where they were supposed to be: in class, in an office, in bed. But, I sat in my 2014 Toyota Corolla with the air conditioner blasting and gospel music filling me up.
If I got out of my car and walked quickly to the office, I’d get to the staff meeting in time. But I didn’t want to attend another meeting that could have been an email.
I didn’t want to see my coworker’s faces or hear my boss give updates. My workplace was toxic. You could feel the disappointment when you walked into the office. Some people job searched during meetings, openly, unashamed.
We had a reputation around campus.
How is it in your department?
I heard Jack is leaving soon. Wow! He just got here.
You guys aren’t able to keep anyone for long, huh?
They weren’t wrong. Our office had more turnover than a hipster bakery. It was bad. I was getting sick. The kind of sick Urgent Care couldn’t do anything about. It was the kind of sick that made it hard for me to breathe, to actually show up and do my best work.
Quitting felt like the only option, and that wasn’t an option because I needed that job.
I was burnt out. Have you ever been there? Are you there now?
Burnout is you when you are:
Snapping at people more often than usual
Very easily frustrated by others
Tired of showing up
Lacking any shred of motivation
Overly sensitive to anything that’s said to you
Ready to call it quits
Inclined to settle for less
Far from being aligned with your values
Repeatedly making a lot of avoidable mistakes
Feeling isolated in your distress
And it’s not just at work. You can be burnt out with the significant other who keeps disappointing you and breaking promises, with the friend who seems to intentionally go against any sound advice, with a project you’re working on, with being a parent or guardian, with unreliable members of your church small group, with your government, with your life.
All of us hit a wall at times. Burnout is like hitting that same wall over and over again and feeling like you’ll never get around it, over it, under it, or through it.
It’s when you’re at the end of your rope, you’ve lost all hope, and you’ve said enough is enough for the last time.
Step one: Get clear on your goals.
So, what can you do about burnout? Well, first you need to get clear on your goals and you need to be realistic.
Keep in mind, stress is at the center of burnout. You can’t breathe and you’ve told yourself that you don’t have time to even figure things out.
Your goal might be to have more head space. It might be to have better boundaries in place. Maybe you want to be reassigned to a new team or group. Perhaps you want more help with the kids and it’s time to actually ask for help.
It’s going to look different for everyone.
The question to ask yourself is: If I had a magic wand, what would all this look like?
Step two: Identify what’s in your control.
Who can you work with to give you leverage at your job? Have you been clear with your partner about your needs and frustrations? Are you continuing to pile too much on your plate, thus getting in your own way again and again? Are you playing therapist with your friends when it’s really you that needs to book an appointment?
Be honest with yourself.
Step three: Take action.
I suggest taking one small action, then another, and building momentum. When you’re stressed out, it’s overwhelming to make big changes. Remember the last time you wanted to clean your house, but didn’t because it all felt like too much.
Don’t try to fix it all at once. Instead, pick one thing to tackle first.
Whenever my computer desktop is cluttered with files, I create a folder titled Old Stuff and a folder titled Current Stuff. Then I sort everything into the two folders.
My desktop is now clear and I feel better.
Your small step might be to put up an away message and close your office door. It might be requesting a few days off in the next month. It could be cancelling a meet up with a friend who can be extra draining.
The key here is to take a small, simple, and effective step. It needs to be something you can get done in less than 10 minutes. If not, you’re just adding more to your plate and falling even deeper in to burnout.
Final step: Get accountability and support.
If you’re overwhelmed or feeling over it, you might be keeping all this in your head. It’s time to vent and share your frustrations with someone you trust.
It’s also wise to let this person know what you plan to do and to ask them to hold you accountable. If your plan is to set up a meeting with your boss to have a difficult discussion about how you’re doing all the work on your team, your accountability buddy should be following up with you to make sure you’ve actually had said meeting.
Putting it all together.
Get clear on your goal, identify what’s in your control, take action, then seek accountability and support. You might find that it’s time for you to change jobs or leave a relationship, and if that’s where you land that’s okay.
But, sometimes, we’ve just got to a point where we don’t know which way is up. Where leaving isn’t the only option, and where things can be reconcilded and improved.
There aren’t always easy answers.
You can do this.
You don’t have to let burnout win. You can dig yourself out of this no matter the size of your shovel. Stepping back and getting a different perspective can make all the difference. It can give you a chance to see what’s been stressing you out.
So, no one is showing up. The retweets aren’t coming. Your inbox is empty. The callback never came. No one seems to notice what you’re sharing with the world. You feel like you’re wasting your time.
Only a few people have seen your work and said: “Well done.” Others were confused or uninterested.
You seek more validation, but you’re seemingly insatiable. You await the moment when all that you do is considered credible.
What do your friends say? What do your co-workers say? What do your toughest critics say?
Somehow, what you believe about yourself doesn’t matter as much. It doesn’t hold much weight.
This process leaves you feeling isolated. Some of this is a result of you pushing away those who actually matter. Some of this is the sadness that comes with you concluding that you don’t measure up.
When you’re fed up
Let’s be clear about this. You’ve been working your absolute hardest for a long time. You’ve cried from the exhaustion.
There are stacks of dusty rough drafts no one is allowed to see. Some ideas are tucked away because they’re too outrageous, outlandish, impractical.
“This won’t work. And it if does, no one will like it.” Bitterness and hopelessness taken up residence. They appear to be permanent tenants.
You’re giving up.
You think back to that time someone told you that your work sucked. Maybe they laughed at you. Maybe they minimized everything you brought forth. Maybe they promised they’d show up, but they didn’t. It was just an audience of one: Disappointment.
Disappointment has been hovering over every single one of your creations. It muddies things. It renders you incapable of seeing all those other good and needed parts of you.
Because you are needed. Your work is needed. What you have to give is what you have to give. No one can take that away from you.
Alas, the most formidable threat to your work, the most challenging adversary to all that you will ever do or create, is you. Every time you pull back and keep your gifts, skills, talents, products, projects, music, cuisine, teaching, love, dancing, writing, anything from the the world, someone loses.
This is not to say that everything you do is ground-breaking or awe-inspiring. It is to say that the thing which you’ve put a lot into matters.
You have no idea of who is better off because you’re here. And, you don’t get to say all of what your positive impact has been on others.
You’d surely miss something.
You don’t truly get to say what your work can and can’t do, because you will never be able to read the heart and mind of everyone whose path you’ve crossed.
While you’re permitted to give up, quit, run away, hide, or shrink someone misses out on their blessing.
Every time you hide your light, someone loses.
Things that don’t belong
All of your fears, feelings, and reluctance is valid because hurt is real and harm is sometimes everlasting. Guilt nor shame have any place here.
This is simply a reminder: what you have to give matters so much.
I say all this with grace and love and openness, knowing that everyone doesn’t have the access and privilege and space to do all they wish to do. This is about all that you can give right where you are right now. Whether it be glamorous, or unassuming. Require funding or none at all.
I say this from the deepest parts of me because I too have wanted to give up so many times (and have) because I didn’t get the feedback I wanted.I didn’t get the response I thought I needed. I created and created and no one came. There have been times when I’ve set things up and no one showed up.
I can easily call back those feelings. At times, I still feel afraid of launching something new, sharing something I care about, or showing others my work. I’ve faced rejection countless times.
What’s often hurt most is feeling misunderstood and convincing myself that what I do isn’t actually useful to anyone. But, today, I’m sure that my values have been misplaced when it comes to this. My assumptions have been inaccurate.
I’m not here to share my light in order to receive validation. I’m not here to be the biggest change this world has ever seen. I wasn’t purposed to create just so others can show up and say: “Wow, that was just what I needed.”
To be honest, I don’t fully know why I’m here. But, what I do know is that there’s power in continuing to create, show up, and put out the best work that I can. Consistency got me to today.
Consistency had me up at night writing this message to you. Consistency is what has made me a better husband, friend, writer, performer, supervisor, colleague, practitioner, speaker, Christian, human.
Not perfection. I’m wholly imperfect. Not fame. It’s fleeting.
It’s worth it because at least one person will come across what I’ve made, what I’ve let flow through me, and will benefit from it. All that you’ve been given, all that you’ve worked for, and all that you have, isn’t just for you.
If you’ve been hiding the parts of you that could potentially be a gift to someone else, I encourage to set aside a few minutes and consider the following prompts:
What if my work – though rough, unfinished, incomplete – could help someone else?
What if all the bad that was said about what I create was only part of the story? What if there’s some good they missed?
What if I’m keeping a blessing/gift/invitation from someone else who needs it by holding back what I have to give?
Am I waiting too long for this thing to be perfect?
What permission do I need to just push this out and see where it lands, fail, and try again?
If you want to process this with someone, you know I’m here. Let’s hop on a life coaching discovery call. It’s free, and it’s all about you for 30 minutes. I’m here to listen and see how I can work with you on your liberation.
I also encourage you to reach out to someone who does the work you do or makes the thing you make or is on the path you’re on. See what they have to say. Challenge yourself to open your heart a little and share something real. Then, actually listen.
This is what was on my heart today. I’m glad I didn’t hide it.
According to Google, the definition of purpose is: “the reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists.”
So, when someone asks us: “Hey, uhhh, what’s your purpose in life?” They’re asking us why we exist?
When I was a child, I had a close family member who’d repeatedly confront me with similar questions but from a place of anger and intimidation. They’d ask 9-year-old me: “Why are you even here? What do you do around here? Nothing. You do nothing!” They knew how to break me down. I felt like I was always making mistakes and feeling I wasn’t good enough. I internalized those thoughts, and part of me is still struggling to come up with a good response.
But I’m healing.
And, I’ve come a long long way. I bet you have too.
Maybe you’ve had some bullies in your life. Maybe someone has made you feel like less without even meaning to, but you still question your impact, your meaning, your reason for being. Am I doing enough?
Maybe you saw a groundbreaking TED talk, or you heard the news about an amazing child prodigy, or your friend told you about someone who has this really cool start-up. What am I even doing with my life?
Perhaps, you’ve found yourself scrolling on social media late at a night and feeling like everyone but you is living their best lives.
Or maybe you go deeper with it and ask yourself: “Is there even a reason for me to be here? Do I even have a purpose? And if I don’t, what’s that mean about my existence.”
A lot of us end up here. You’re not alone.
We spiral and find ourselves viewing our lives as meaningless and worthless because we aren’t doing what others are doing. We internally berate ourselves for not accomplishing what we could be accomplishing based on our qualifications, ability, privilege, network, or training.
We convince ourselves that we don’t measure up.
We tell ourselves that we’ll matter more when we get the job, the spouse, the money, the degree, the _____.
Sadly, our self-worth can often be completely tied up in everything we don’t have and everything we feel like we’re not.
We can find ourselves in the happiest experiences of our lives (like truly thriving), only to be swept under the waves of self-doubt and misery moments later, when we realize we don’t have ourselves all figured out yet. Or when we hastily push ahead and set another goal to accomplish. Or when we realize that some parts of us are still broken.
But, here’s the truth of it: all of us have brokenness. All of us have doubt. All of us have shame. And still, our lives have meaning.
Each of us has the capacity to add something to the communities we live in, the churches we’re a part of, the families we care for, the schools we attend, and the strangers we meet. We can make all those places a little better. Often we’re doing this by simply showing up and being ourselves – our clumsy, unsure, brilliant, zestful, intelligent selves.
Yes, I’m still talking about you and me.
I think we get to break up the concept of purpose into smaller and more realistic pieces. Instead of asking: “Why am I here?” ask yourself about what you enjoy, what breaks your heart, who has thanked you recently about something you did for them, what you’re good at – like naturally good at, or what you work hard at even though you don’t get paid for it.
Ask yourself about what you’ve made it through. Ask yourself about how resilient you’ve been. Ask yourself about the things no one can ever take from you.
What excites you – or what used to? What do you care about – even if others don’t find it the least bit interesting.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about these questions, and here’s what I came up with.
Pieces of my purpose: To be a kind, good, and caring husband. To be a supportive older brother and supportive to others in my family. To be a solid and dependable friend. It breaks my heart to know that others are struggling in silence with mental illness. I find myself thinking of ways to help others take better care of themselves – this keeps me up at night. I also find myself thinking of ways to create community with other black men around issues of health and wellness, because so many of us are dying and suffering from preventable issues. I enjoy doing improv, writing, connecting with people, dancing, and bringing people together. If I wasn’t afraid, I would go all in on my dreams – I’m getting closer. Even at my lowest points, my worst moments, my biggest failures, I am still loved. I wholeheartedly believe part of my reason for being on this earth is to share God’s light with others through my work. I’ve often struggled to communicate this, because I feel like saying I’m a Christian and I love doing the work of the Lord turns others off, but it’s who I am. So here it is: I love Jesus. And if you don’t, I’m cool with that, and I still love you and celebrate you and think you get to have the big wondrous life you want to live. I find that leading and living from my heart makes all the different. It’s about love for me. That’s the big picture. Lastly, I believe I’ve had a positive impact on the lives of many just by showing up and being kind.
And, there’s so much more to me.
There’s so much more to you.
If you’re struggling to get unstuck from feeling like you have to have your entire life figured out today, I encourage you to pause, take a deep breath, and find some time to reflect on the topic of purpose in a different way. Remember to break it up.
Here are some questions to ask yourself this week, as you dig into this topic a little more.
I don’t suggest trying to respond to every one, it’s not a test. See which question tugs at you the most, kicks up stuff for you the most, or just feels most salient for you right now.
What issue or idea has been keeping me up at night?
What’s been breaking my heart?
What am I already doing that has a positive impact on the lives of others – if only a little?
What have my friends, family, or strangers thanked me for lately?
What would I create, add to, join, or show up for if I had the resources and wasn’t afraid?
What have I been hesitant to tell others about who I am and what I believe?
Oh, and I just gotta say this. Sometimes, we need to put down the journal, and get out, do something, and shake things up. I’ve personally found that taking action is a healthy way to move through the anxiety of trying to figure out ALL THE THINGS. This means signing up to volunteer service, joining a book club, attending a free lecture at a nearby college campus, or signing up for a workshop gets you out of your comfort zone. Thinking and reflection are necessary, and so is getting lost in experiences, meeting people you’ve never met, and doing things you never thought you could do.
Perhaps you won’t find the entire meaning for your life by doing this (you don’t need to), but you will learn something about yourself. You will take memories with you, and you will hopefully feel a little more alive.
You do not have to know your purpose in life to have meaning on this earth.
You don’t even have to be living on purpose to be belong here.
You already belong, and you’re already enough just because of the fact that you’re living and breathing. Those are the prerequisites. Live. Breathe.