If you can't tell, I adore Brené Brown. I love her concept of breathing in so that you can breathe out. As Changemakers, we are continually breathing out.
Let me explain through my lens as an educator. We are breathing out ideas, dreams, and objectives. We are breathing out frameworks, timelines, and deadlines. We are breathing out the structure, discipline, peacemaking, and nonviolent communication. We are breathing out peace circles, morning meetings, and read-alouds. We are breathing out line orders, personalized learning, and flexible spaces. We are breathing out academic training, social-emotional knowledge, and executive functioning practices. We are breathing out compassionate listening, empathetic caretaking, and co-parenting. We are breathing out Spirit weeks, picture days, and graduations. We are breathing out concentrated work. fresh-pressed focus, and pulpy grit. We are breathing out workarounds, work throughs, and breakthroughs. We are breathing out the daily life of an educator.
Now, think of all that you “breathe out” in your personal and professional life.
We need to breathe in equally as much as we breathe out. If we do not breathe in as often as we breathe out, we will burn out, fade out, and get out. I don't have to create a poll or do a case study. I guarantee you know one or many more Changemakers who have burned out, faded out, or got out as soon as possible. That was not because they sucked at teaching. That was not because they were failures. That was not even because it was too harsh. I believe that they did what they had to do so that they could breathe in again. They were suffocating. It is so hard to see when people are gasping around you. And it is extra hard to know suffocation is happening while you are breathless in compassion fatigue. This secondary stress eats away at us. No wonder why people get out. No wonder why I have been on the edge of giving up so often. I forgot how to breathe.
I'm not here to judge or to say that it is easy. I'm literally on the floor of my office typing this book before the daily grind of the day begins again. When I am done typing this post, if I do not take the time to breathe in and slow down for myself, I will soon be on the list of Changemakers you and I know who couldn't take it any longer. If I don't breathe now, my suffocation will catch up to me later. Being a Badass Changemaker does not make me superhuman.
A few years ago, I start taking ballet to challenge myself to try new things that I am not good at. I naturally have decent rhythm, and I love me a live piano, so I knew ballet would be perfect for me. (And have you seen a male ballet dancer in tights? Damn! Sign me up!) Taking ballet classes starting to become my little mini joy of the week. For this 90-minute class, I would arrive 30 minutes early for a personal warm-up time. Every day I would practice my ballet and deepen my stretches. I would watch YouTube videos, read technical books, and take in every bit of ballet that I could. I thought that taking ballet with my time to “breathe in” - to have time for myself. But it is incredible how quickly I can turn self-care into work! It is amazing how suddenly I can shift from doing something for pleasure to doing something to impress others. It is fascinating how quickly I can change from breathing in for myself to breathing out to prove myself to others.
One late Wednesday afternoon, I had the whole day planned out. My husband was out of town, and I was going to rock self-care. I was going to be the best self-carer. I was going to win at self-caring. (Yes, as I type this I understand the irony!) I had a terrible day at work - one of those days where instead of accepting what was, I was trying to force it to be what I knew - I just knew! - it had to be! It had to be a good day. I could self-care my way to a good - no great! - day. Does that ever work? Has that ever worked? What was the story behind the story? I wanted to show the world that I was in control of how everything went. That went from work to play. That went from teaching to my ballet class.
There I was, being the best student I could be. We were only 10 minutes into class, and as I do, I was already profoundly sweating from my 30-minute warm-up and my hyper-focus trying to get into the zone and flow. (More irony! I know!) The last thing my body was saying was, “ I am present. I am here. I'm doing this because I love it and because I love myself.” It was more like, “Teacher! I'm over here! Notice Me! Notice how well I'm self-caring! Notice how hard I've been working! Notice how much I am producing! Notice that much I'm exhaling!” Oh, did my teacher notice me! It was a new teacher that I had never have before, and she walked right over to me. Internally I was thinking, “Damn you're good, Joel! No one even notices that you've had a sh*tty day! But I bet they sure do see how hard you're working and how good you are!” My ballet teacher merely asked a question, “Are you a swimmer?” Internally, I was thinking, “Not only is she noticing how long and graceful my arms are but I also how extra lean my body is becoming from all this dancing!” I nonchalantly replied, “No. Me? Why do you ask?” Without skipping a beat, she replied, “Because you have been holding your breath for the past four minutes.”
I exhaled so deeply. I exhaled so profoundly. I didn't think I could emit any more. But not because the lesson clicked. I am beyond stubborn, and I was f*cking determined to show my teacher that I wasn't holding my breath and that I knew how to breathe! I was f*cking resolute to show her that I knew what I was doing, was in charge, and was worthy of being noticed. She made her rounds again, and as I was grand plie-ing, I was focusing hard on my technique but all the more on showing her how deeply I was breathing. I think when she walked by, I sighed so hard that it looked like she was walking by a wind machine! She made her rounds yet again, and you could hear my deep breath in and out from across the room. “Notice me! Don't you see how hard I'm working? Don't you see how quickly I listen to feedback and immediately adjust? Don't you see me?” Oh, she saw me! And she came toward me again. Her words have stuck in my gut, heart, and head to this day.
She told me, “You know, you can have fun! I know you love to dance. I know you came here to dance and have fun. I know that's what you want to do! Let yourself have fun. Let yourself dance.”
I wish I could say that I have been a master inhaler and exhaler since then. I yearn to tell you that inhaling and exhaling were as natural to me as, well, breathing. But breathing is f*cking difficult! I know that to be true. I look around me and see so many people holding their breath. I get dinner with family, and I see a table full of people holding their breath. I go for a walk with friends, and I see kids holding their breath, runners holding their breath, couples holding their breath, and me yet again holding my breath. It is as if we have exhaled all day - giving, giving, giving until we have nothing left to emit. Our go-to then is to hold our breath rather than breathe in new life.
You must breathe in if you want to live.
This breathing in goes well beyond the physical need to true core need and longing that is mental, spiritual, emotional, and primal. You must breathe in if you want to breathe out. Breathe In. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.