My younger brother, Aaron, died when he was 14 of brain cancer. Yup, fucking sucks. Nothing more can be said to prove that point of suckage. I learned so much from that death. But I am just going to share one thing with you. Voice matters. Let me explain.
I miss my brother, Aaron. Fiercely. Daily. I miss AC. After his brain surgery, he couldn’t speak for months. When he could finally talk (the miracle still baffles me to this day), he used his voice to tell all the things he was trying to say to us the months prior. All of the beautiful things (“I knew you were there. I heard you!”). And all of the beautifully painful things (“I want to get out of here.”) I knew that although we did our best (for the very best brother - “tied for first”), he still didn’t have a voice.
Our students are aching to be heard. And, our students are put on mute more often than we like to admit. I cannot sit back and let a generation of kids grow up on much. I want to see our students (like my brother!) live life out loud. Whatever that means for them. And, I want to make sure that no one is left out of the process. Having a voice - and being honestly heard, seen, and known with that voice - isn’t a choice. (And this could be applied to your co-workers and colleagues too. I'm sharing this through the lens of a teacher!)
You know where I am going with this little soapbox talk though. It starts with you. It starts with your sense of belonging. Do you feel like part of your school? Do you feel like part of your team? Do you feel like part of your classroom? Do you know what you’re doing? Do you know what to do when you don’t know what you're doing? Do you know what is expected of you? (And again, this could be with any job or community.)
Belonging isn’t a mind-frame shift. Belonging has nothing to do with having a positive attitude or mantras or mindfulness. Belonging is to be known. Take that in. Belonging is to be recognized fully. Just as you are. (Yup, bye bullshit!)
You must actively and proactively get serious about knowing yourself. About finding that sense of belonging to yourself. That doesn’t start at school or meetings. It begins with you. Wherever you are at. (Okay, okay. I guess mindfulness could help you with that! Mindfulness helps with everything.) It usually starts at your home. Ask those same questions about your home/personal life: Do I feel like part of this home? Do I feel like part of a family? Do I know what my role is at home? Do I know what is expected of me at home? If you don’t, that’s okay. But it’s NOT okay for you to wait to have a sense of belonging at school without a sense of belonging elsewhere. I always joked with my students, “I can’t teach you about life unless I have a life!” That goes for belonging. You can’t model, peruse, teach belonging unless you KNOW belonging.
So, I invite you to belong. Belong to a gym. Belong to a church or mosque or temple. Belong to “local coffee shop membership.” (That means you keep going to a coffee shop you like!) Belong to a cycling group or a comedy club. Belong to an Adults Who Love Legos group. Belong to a book club. Belong to a sci-fi gaming club. Belong to a walking group. Belong to a volunteer list. Belong to whatever hits a chord with your heart. That life - that belonging - gives you life and belonging. That way, when you show up at work (and I mean FULLY show up - all you - no one else), you will have ZERO urges to be needy. To make your calling, voice, and choice a “job” or “paycheck.” You will already have that elsewhere. Teaching (or whatever your job is) can now start turning into your craft, your art, your ease.
I joke with my husband that the 4-pack always puts people in a great mood. (Myself very much included on that list!)
If you are getting good sleep, nourishing yourself, getting pleasure (whatever that looks like for you!), and getting your body moving and heart going, it’s quite impossible to be in a bad mood. If something is off with you, check in with your 4-pack. (If you can think of a 6-pack, go for it! And share!) You are not just suddenly in a bad mood. You can’t wake up on the wrong side of the bed EVERY morning. It’s time to figure out what works best for YOU.
All of this returns you to that deep trueness of belonging. When you know you belong, it doesn’t matter where you are at. And guess what? Everyone around you notices it too. It’s like they get the memo that you don’t “need” them, and they can breathe and be authentically who they are too. Just make sure to explain and tell them your “secrets.” I used to say “thank you” when people complimented me and my well-being. “You take such good care of yourself.” “Thank you!” I would respond and leave it at that. Now (like most everything), I either respond with a question, “Tell me more about that. What do you see? What do you notice?” Because maybe they see something that I’m not intentionally putting out in the world. Or maybe they see EXACTLY what I am trying to put out into the world, and it’s oh so sweet when what I put out into the world aligns with what the world is seeing. Or I respond with, “Thank you! And it’s hard, voluntary, daily, sound work! But anyone can do it. Trust me, beautiful you. If I can do it (and I’m a hooooooot mess!), you can do it. Share what you know. Know what you share. And remember that what you share is hard, intentional, daily, sound work worthy of validation.
And make sure that if others do not notice, you become your biggest cheerleader. I’ve started the habit of taking a minute after I do something that I consider big to breathe and say, “Joel. I am so proud of you. Look what you just did! Look who you are becoming! I am so proud of you.”
I never want to waste such a beautiful moment waiting for others to notice me.
I tried that before, and let me tell you: It’s not a pretty look. Plus, intrinsic motivation always feels the best. I can give myself my damn stickers, thank you very much! I am NOT saying that you do not need a community of lovely people who validate you and see you. (That’s why we NEED belonging.) I am declaring that you must start with yourself and go from there. Sometimes, you’re all you got. And that’s more than okay.