Mental Health Mixtape: “My Anxious Mess of a Beautiful Life”

 

This is a mental health mixtape full of honest + raw stigma crushing storytelling. It’s for the people pleaser who compromises their values to avoid confrontation and avoid being alone. It’s for the person who has convinced themselves that who they are isn’t enough.

It’s honest words about a life lived feeling afraid of everything all the time, the journey to get help and trust others, and the struggle that remains.

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Why Everything I Thought About Humility Was Wrong

I have been a terrible example of humility in my public and private life. Much of what I’ve done has been to receive credit. It is scary as heck to admit that, especially since I’m so concerned about what others think about me. But, I want those who are influenced by me to know who I really am: flawed and human. I want anyone struggling with being humble to read this and realize that they are not alone. Kanye, if you’re reading this, hello.

I used to think that people who constantly preached about staying humble did it to be condescending or mystical. Whatever their motives were (probably to help me be a better person) I didn’t want to hear it. Anyone who knows me knows that I love being in the spotlight. It’s who I’ve always been. But, what happens when the spotlight goes to my head?

I have had seasoned folks say things about my millennial generation.They talk about how we are painfully entitled, but they complain about how we want recognition for building a webpage, getting 2,000 social media followers, or finishing the sandwich we ordered. There is some truth to that, but I’m hit hardest when they say: “It’s not all about you.” Great. Just great. What the heck does that mean? I rarely ask for an explanation. I just feel offended and want to walk away. But, I respect my elders, so I listen. They go on to tell me that other people need attention too, or that other issues are bigger than me. I begin to understand and I get over myself a bit more each time. Then they go on to tell me about how frustrated they are with my generation and all the selfies we take. The conversation becomes about social media and usually ends there. I get that. I could totally take less selfies and spend less time on social media, but humility goes deeper than that. It requires me to ask myself: how does focusing less on myself benefit others? I have spent hours helping any community I’ve lived in since I was a kid. We, the helpers, have dedicated much of our lives to help others. Why are we required to be humble if we are doing selfless work for others? Here’s the thing: anytime we want recognition for the things we have done, have our egos stroked, or receive validation from others, we are not being completely selfless. Okay, I’m getting a little too philosophical. Let me get to what I hope you take from all this.

The topic of humility has been on my mind for a long time. Recently, it occurred to me that there were aspects of humility I have not explored. I realized that it went beyond  shying away when a person gives you praise. It is more noble than saying, “My team is who we should really thank for that.” I do better with lists, so…

Here Are Three Things I Now Understand About Humility 

1. When people sayIt’s not all about you”, it is NOT a diss. It is time to stop feeling offended every time I hear this. This phrase is just a reminder that while I can receive recognition for each good deed I do, there are others doing good things at the same time. It all counts. I have yet to find anyone that likes the person on the team that seeks to absorb all the attention. It gets us off track and isolates said attention seeker. When one wins, we all do. It’s not all about you also means that you are not the only one suffering at any given moment. (Though your suffering shouldn’t be diminished and you deserve care and support). Someone is always going through a more devastating situation. When I can, I need to be mindful enough to shorten my sulking hour, and get back to supporting those who need me.

Next steps: Learn to be okay when others do not acknowledge the work you do, and take the initiative to collaborate and be of service to others. But do not neglect yourself. If you need help, ask for it. You can’t always help. Others can pitch in too.

2. Focus less on looking good and more on doing good for others. At one point, I sought advice from at least three people before I posted status update or Instagram photo. Okay, that is sad. While it is important to get approval on things, especially when we represent our organizations, companies, families, and selves at any moment, we can over do it. If your intentions are good and you are looking to improve the lives of others, take some of the focus off how polished you and your project will look, and put more effort into what you’re actually doing. The people you are serving are more concerned with what they’re receiving than you and your image. I recently started writing positive and uplifting letters to anyone who wants one at my institution. I put up a Google Form so people can request a kind note from me or someone on my letter writing team. One day I noticed that some of my teammates were signing each note: “from someone who cares.” I asked them why they didn’t write their name. I had been signing every letter with my first name so I could get credit for sending it. I sat with this for a few days, and realized that my ego had been getting the best of me in other areas of my life. I had such a thirst for validation that I was a loving and amazing person, that I made sure everyone knew all the cool things I was doing. I am enough without doing a thing. So, why do I try so hard?

Next steps: Get better at loving and taking care of you. Look at what you do and ask: “Am I pleased with this?” If the answer is no, switch it up, and figure out what you’d like to thank yourself for later. I’m terrible at this one. So if you are too, know you’re not alone. It feels good in the moments when I do well at loving me.

3. Invite others to join you without even trying. Whenever I try to prove myself to the world, I get ignored or make a fool of myself. It is usually when I have the courage to be vulnerable and honest with others, that people are drawn to me and what I’m doing. I end up not even noticing that people are drawn to my honesty, and I fully enjoy the conversations I have with others about how their experiences relate to my story. I’ve been trying to be a rockstar at life all this time, and all anyone wants to interact with is the real version of  me. This might be true for you. I don’t know, I’m not a psychic. If it is you, I challenge you to stop trying so hard to be the Big Shot that has tons of fans. Recognition won’t keep you warm night after night. It is not your best friend. It’s a reminder of what someone thinks about you. Humility makes that recognition so much sweeter when it finally arrives, because you’ve been appreciating yourself all along, and putting your work out there with better intentions. People are either going to love you, hate you, dismiss you, or never hear about you. If we continue to base our self value on what others care about rather than commit ourselves to helping others, we are going to be miserable, alone, and the world won’t get the special flavor we bring to it. And, I know you bring something special to our world.

Next steps: Give humility a try. Be honest with others about who you are and what you bring. Put yourself out there a little – the real you – and see what happens. If people shoot you down, take time to heal, work on finding like minded people, and repeat.

Obligatory concluding sentence: there isn’t one. That would be people pleasing.

5 Things You Probably Beat Yourself Up About

5NumberFiveInCircle

This might seem like post about me, but I don’t think we’re all that different. I’m betting you’ll see yourself in at least one thing written below. 

1. You don’t have the relationships you want with others. I’m so guilty of this one. I think it’s because I set high expectations for others. I want them to love me instantly and tell me all about their lives. I want them to be open, extroverted, forthcoming, interesting, patient, (geesh, the list is too long and too ridiculous to continue writing). This is unrealistic and relationship building takes time. It’s hard for me to accept this, but I’m working on it every darn day.

Note: Food is better when time and effort are put into it, and the fake stuff is left out of it. Relationships with friends, colleagues, students, and family aren’t any different. I might write this on the back of my hand just to remind myself. 

2. You think you should be today, what you’re not even ready to be yet. I hate this one. I want it all now. I want the doctorate, the followers, the fans, the expensive clothes, the big paychecks, and the recognition in my field. But all any of that means is that I need to work on accepting who I am today, and realizing that I am enough. Fans, books, presentation/keynote invites don’t inform that – I do.

3. You produce content just to stay relevant and known. I’ve been scheduling out positive social media updates to inspire others. My intentions are good because I seek to positively inspire others. The other – more embarrassing – reason is because I think others will forget me if I don’t let them know I’m here …like every couple of hours. That’s ridiculous. You’re here, I’m here, and we’re all busy living. Take time for yourself and treat yourself. Remind yourself of what it all really means. Remind yourself that you mean something even if no one is calling you, texting you, or inviting you anywhere. They haven’t necessarily forgotten, and it’s not always because they don’t like you. They just have their own lives to live, journeys to experience, and challenges to face. Dig into that loneliness and figure out why it feels so bad. Yes, yes, I’m going to take my own advice. It’s a struggle.

4. You and your worrying are getting in your way. I’m afraid of being wrong and of being alone. 10 points for you if you’ve figured this out by now. I don’t want the pain, guilt, and shame that potentially come with letting others down or making a fool of myself. So, I overcompensate by being super duper on top of things at work, at home, and in my friend groups. It’s causing so much stress in my 27 year old body. Gah, the aches!!! On top of that, worrying is exhausting. I imagine all the brain power and happiness I’d have if I just worried for ONLY one hour a day (which my counselor recently suggested), and spent the rest of time floating from one thing to the next, with a bounce in my step and a smile on my face. Pain is going to come, but I don’t have to spend every moment anticipating it. Neither do you.

5. You don’t know what you really want from life. I want real friends, a happy and fulfilling marriage (as of 7-16-2015), a good savings account, and to have an impact on others. The problem is that I think my wants aren’t that great. So what if  I don’t want what you want or what person x wants. So what if my wants aren’t noble, humble, good enough, or whatever. What happens when I embrace who I am (even the yucky stuff)? What do YOU really want from life? Does the answer bother you? 

Take what you want, and throw away the rest. Share this with someone if you think they can use it.

Managing Greatly: The Way of the Vulnerable Supervisor

This article was co-authored by Sinclair Ceasar and Lisa Endersby and originally posted on the Student Affairs Collective.

I inherited a staff that didn’t trust me at all. My first day of work was their last day of RA training. They experienced a lot of turnover and at some point ended up with me. We had a really rough start. At some point, a staff member and I got into an argument at a staff meeting in front of everyone. No one ever volunteered to help me clean, put things away, or set things up. Things were toxic and I felt like I failed at creating a safe space. At some point we all knew something had to give.

Sinclair’s story isn’t uncommon. Most likely, you’ve been part of a malfunctioning team. Sometimes the tendency is to work against the group and isolate yourself. Another option is to retreat altogether. Is there value in going back to the drawing board and noticing where trust fell through? How much should you self-disclose your feelings on the team’s situation? We have the opportunity to be bold, and help our team repair by practicing vulnerability in supervision, but this is easier said than done. Fortunately, we have advice from authors and scholars like Simon Sinek and Brene Brown to help us strategically move toward unification and stronger relationships with our teams. Below are lessons and ideas inspired by readings, research, and hard won inspiration drawn from our professional experiences; both the successes and failures.

Simon Sinek writes about a Circle of Safety in his book “Leaders Eat Last.” Assess your staff and establish the members within said circle.

 Safety looks different for different people, and what one person finds ‘easy’; someone else may be absolutely terrified of. Safety also doesn’t mean floodlighting or overwhelming team members with vulnerability and authenticity. Once, I made the mistake of being too open and trying to be everyone’s friend. There is no clear

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direction in a spotlight being shone on me and my, well, everything; only a harsh light where no one can see clearly and most people turn away from. The Circle of Safety, by comparison, is well lit, but not blinding. The Circle of Safety creates an environment in which folks want to support each other rather than compete with them. This environment consists of staff members who don’t fear losing their jobs and aren’t always trying save face because they fear someone else cutting them down. We need to start here, in the circle, before we can create a true space of sharing and vulnerability. I want my staff to feel wanted and feel they work in my office because they have the skills and drive to. With this strong foundation of support, my staff feels a little safer because we’ve established a mutual trust and respect. Moving forward, it’s about taking steps toward more sharing, more transparency, and everyone being on board about what direction we want to take our circle in. At the end of the day, the circle is about being safer with a group of likeminded people rather than being afraid and alone on the outskirts, feeling like you can’t trust your co-workers. If we continue to establish that safety during every 1:1 and staff meeting, eventually we can talk about our sad days and bad days. But if we aren’t there yet, we shouldn’t suddenly and surprisingly create this circle because folks can get hurt. Moreover, we risk floodlighting our employees and giving them more information than they wanted in the first place. I work under the impression that most people want to be heard and have a wide range of emotions even if they say things like, “I’m just here to work.” But here, we get to go a little deeper and create the type of environment in which folks know they can share stories, be upset, and talk about what’s keeping them from completing a project. It doesn’t mean we need a support group type meeting every day and all day, but employees can know that this space is safe enough where if they talk others will listen and care about what they have to say.

Utilize the 1st and mid-year staff retreat to create safe spaces for sharing. Get away from busyness and allow time for vulnerable conversations.

Retreats are great opportunities to get away from the very context and location(s) that can often be creating many of the problems that plague an inauthentic, reactive workplace. One recurring challenge we might face, however, is we often take the new environment for granted and all our good work gets lost when we get back to ‘reality’. It’s important to set up check in days throughout the year and develop small, achievable projects to extend the developed feelings of trust and motivation. It’s important in this case to be very visible in demonstrating how those lessons and ideas are being reflected upon and implemented Employees need to see and feel a part of the process. It’s not enough for them to just be presented with the end result for feedback. At one institution, we realized that everyone was hungry for more professional development opportunities while at our summer retreat. Eventually, we began to have Monday morning leadership meetings twice a month. We met with a senior administrator at some meetings, and at another meeting we discuss a professional development book on leadership that was assigned to us. This gets tricky with job description and union defined roles and responsibilities, but sometimes it’s as simple or as complicated as getting feedback and asking for help along the way, building on and leveraging the employee’s strengths and skills that can complement your own for the greater success of the project or initiative.

Be a hi-touch supervisor. Have frequent and effective check-ins. Express your own struggles and solutions. Be open and visible.

Visibility is key. Share what you’re working on and how it fits with what you’re asking others to do (for you).  Being open and visible, however, means walking the line between check-ins that are ‘high touch’ and feelings-focused without scaring someone off by being overly personal. Providing a space to be a human first and an employee second helps to ensure the “relationship” component of the supervisor relationship remains intact  so good work can continue to be done.

 Identify your team’s dysfunctions. Patrick Lencioni writes about how teams create their own roadblocks to trust in “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” Name the roadblocks.

 To remedy the toxic environment I had apparently walked into, I met with the staff I inherited individually and had them evaluate me. I wanted to discover trends and patterns. The trend was that I didn’t communicate well. They felt like they heard about things at the last minute. They also shared that they didn’t like my sarcasm and felt like I was trying to be their friend. What they wanted and needed was a supervisor whose main goal was to help them grow. While I think they were a bit too serious and pessimistic for my taste, they had a good point. I came in the door wanting everyone to like me and probably tried too hard.

It’s important to note that the roadblocks weren’t any individual person or collection of staff, but rather our fear-based approaches to the conflict. After these difficult yet ultimately insightful conversations, we went back to the drawing board. I started sending them updates about their areas and making the staff meeting agendas more comprehensive to make sure we covered everything they needed to know. I joked less and set expectations before each 1:1 meeting. I asked them what they wanted to get out meetings. I tapped into my strength of individualization to personalize each individual conversation. It worked. We didn’t look like a group of people who loved each other, nor did we necessarily need to be, but the environment was a lot less hostile. I think what these staff members needed most was to be heard and to see their own desires, goals, and ideas put into action. Of course, I had to be careful to still be the supervisor at the end of the day and not have it so that my staff felt entitled to run everything.

In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Make a commitment to not only see, but to understand your employees. Acknowledge feelings rather than running from them. Talk less, listen better, and share more.

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