Hey Tough Guy

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” – Sigmund Freud

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t cry?

But when your mom leaves without giving you a hug,

I still see that water well up in your eyes.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t care?

But the way your body shakes when you are worrying about your friends,

It seems like you do.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t need help?

But I remember you crying out for help when you fell and scraped your knee,

You needed me to know.

Hey tough guy, you say you don’t need anyone?

But when you grip my hand that tight when we talk,

I feel like you don’t want me to go.

Hey tough guy, you say you are okay?

But when you cross your arms and turn away

It looks like there’s still more you need to say.

Hey tough guy, you say you aren’t scared?

But when you hide your feelings aren’t you scared of being vulnerable?

Hey tough guy, you say you are strong?

But would you still feel strong if you took off that mask of masculinity?

Hey tough guy, you say that these things make you weak?

But does avoiding them really make you feel stronger?

Hey tough guy, I know the world has a lot to say.

They put the burden all on you.

They say you have to be brave.

And to keep everything inside, even if you don’t want to.

Hey tough guy, I know they tell you “you’re okay”.

They want you to brush it off, be a man, put up those walls.

The world has put too much pressure on you.

To be something that isn’t real, that isn’t natural

Hey tough guy, I know people will tell you to be a certain way

And it won’t be easy to tell them no.

But I am here to remind you…

That it’s okay to be sad, scared, angry, and worried too.

Even the toughest guys have emotions.

That it’s okay to open up to people.

Even the toughest guys have to let it out sometimes.

That it’s okay to have challenges.

Even the toughest guys have to overcome difficult things in their lives.

That it’s okay to be honest about who you are and what you feel.

Even the toughest guys aren’t tough all the time.

So release the burdens of the world,

Let those walls they’ve created fall down.

Speak from your heart.

And be true to yourself.

Because tough guy,

The thing I love about you most

is that you are so much more than just a tough guy.

It’s Who You Are

“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Fredrich Nietzsche

If I asked you right now to tell me about yourself, how do you think you would respond? Would you tell me about your job, your family, your home, your appearance? Or would you think to dive deeper into the depths of your heart and answer me with what you are feeling, what you are thinking, your beliefs, your hopes, your dreams.

When you ask children questions about who they are their answers are often so much deeper than what we would expect. Where we might have an easier time sharing the things that lie on the surface, the things that people can discover simply by scrolling through our Instagrams and Facebooks, for children its what they feel inside that seems to speak to them most. They share what they think and what they feel. They share their happiest moments and their biggest disappoints. They share about what they love, what they hope, and what they need. Just in giving children the same few questions we might give to an adult, for some reason we can learn so much more.

So why is it that children are so much more willing to open themselves up to others? What makes them so capable of showing who they truly are to the world?

In working with children one of my greatest joys has been to see the way that they embrace who they are so fully and honestly everyday. In my time as a teacher there has yet to be a day where I don’t see a child running around in their underwear with dirt smeared across their chest or a child crawling on all fours meowing or attempting to lick their friend holding an imaginary leash. In fact, I don’t think I could count on both hands the amount of times I’ve had to tell a child “It might not work to be a cat, dog, goat (etc.) right now.”

Every day I come to work I am inspired by these children because in spite of how odd we may see these things through our adult eyes, or how surprising we may think it is to see a child hiding under a table with their underwear on their head, the still embrace that beauty of childhood-the permission to be who you want, when you want, regardless of what anyone else things about it.

When I watch children live this truth I am always in awe at the confidence they display and unwavering faith in embracing all the things that connect to their souls. They lean in to life and in doing so live in the most authentic way. But at the same time there’s also this sense of envy that creeps in as my nostalgia reminds me of what it was like to be that carefree, unburdened by the stress and responsibility that so often plagues our adults lives. As I watch the children embracing themselves I start to miss the days when I too could live that way.

But why can’t we still live life this way? What keeps us as adults from living as openly and wholeheartedly as children do?

Once I let my nostalgia pass and ground myself back into reality it’s easy to start to understand why this is. Ideally it would be incredible to be able to live so carefree, unafraid of judgement or criticism, comfortable in our own skin. And while running around in your underwear may be pushing it (although some people may argue that even that’s still okay), why can’t we still embody the same confidence that children at my school display from the minute they walk through our doors?

Unfortunately the answer to that I think is one we are all familiar with, and one that likely poses many barriers to our own authenticity; societies expectations of us. One thing that I realize that stops me when I start to imagine myself letting go and embracing life the way children often do, is the image that might create for me in the context of society as a whole. I mean if we think about it, its much harder to be out-of-the-ordinary when we are constantly being fed the idea that we need to fit into a certain type of mold. Through society, social media, advertising, (etc.) this idea is being reinforced that there is one way act, one way to be, one way to live. And how much harder is it to take risks, open up, and be yourself in a world that tells you people will judge you for that.

We are adults, we are professionals, we are parents, teachers, and on an on. All of these labels being used against us as reasons why not instead of a foundation upon which we are encouraged to figure out how to.

But how do we change this image and make space for ourselves to live with that same freedom?

The great Beyonce once said, “Your self-worth is determined by you. You don’t have to depend on someone telling you who you are.” This is the beauty of what children have and what we as adults need. It’s not necessarily about changing other people’s image of you, its about not waiting for permission. It’s embracing who you are in the moment regardless of the pushback you may get. It’s about finding the best possible spaces, people, and outlets for you to express that person inside of you. Its about you channeling the confidence and self-love of your inner child and allowing yourself to be a little “weird” in pursuit of being you. It’s about simply being yourself, always, and never apologizing. Because it is who you are and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.

Are You Okay With That?

“Most of us are afraid of being human, afraid of being vulnerable, afraid of exposing our own beauty, afraid of being naked, afraid of shedding our masks off, afraid of relinquishing our defenses, afraid of the only thing that can set us free.” – Daniel Saint

It hit me like a ton of bricks…well actually, it was more like a big red ball. Standing in the yard I hadn’t even seen it coming, a big red blur moving through the yard headed straight at me. That’s when I felt it smack against the side of my head, my hand immediately reaching up to feel the spot where the rubber hit. Momentarily stunned by the bump to my head I looked down to see E’s eyes looking back up at me, her small hand clenching mine a little tighter. With concern in her eyes she asked me, “Are you okay with that?”

That’s when it really hit me, not another ball but the realization that I never had asked myself that question before. It’s something we ask the children at my work all the time. Five simple words that usually act as the foundation through which our children begin to advocate for themselves. Five simple words that allow them to express how they feel, acknowledge their struggles, and move forward with whatever boundaries or changes might help them and those around them grow. Just five simple words.

But for me those words didn’t feel so simple. In fact, when E first asked me this I didn’t really know what to say. For a few seconds I remember standing there looking at her before spitting out an almost robotic “I’m fine” and moving on. Of course E saw right through that and turning away gave me one more small reassurance saying, “That looked like it hurt.”

And you know what, it really did hurt. In fact the more I thought about E’s question the more I wondered why I didn’t just say that, why I couldn’t seem to acknowledge something as simple as being hurt. Every day I watch children share these feelings verbally and non-verbally with each other. Every day I watch them open up, let others in and allow themselves to be seen even when it’s hard and even when it requires our guidance. Almost every day I guide children through this process; so why in that moment couldn’t I advocate for my own feelings?

Something I’ve realized the more I’ve reflected on my own personal journey, is that as adults we don’t always feel safe to share what’s really going on inside. Instead of being open and honest about our feelings in the way that we encourage children to be, we tend to bottle them up or brush them to the side, avoiding any opportunities for other peoples input and the judgement and criticism that may invite.

What’s sad is that these feelings are often based on the true reality how vulnerability is viewed for adults. As we get older I think we are trained to see struggle (both internal and external) as a lack of capability. If we are struggling emotionally we are stigmatized as being weak or defective, making things like therapy or any form of seeking help difficult and terrifying. And if we are struggling with things outside of ourselves like our work we are seen as not being “good enough,” making us work harder for that outside validation instead of actually focusing on the things we need.

With this being the primary input that is received each time we are challenged, it’s no wonder we often shy away from any sort of vulnerability. Think about how much harder it must be to admit you are struggling, let alone ask for help, when you don’t trust that your vulnerability will be met with the empathy and understanding it deserves.

The problem with this is that by avoiding that vulnerability and closing ourselves off from the input and support of anyone else, we are actually stunting our own growth. When we build walls around our feelings we isolate ourselves, not allowing all of who we are to seen by anyone including us. It’s not until we break down those walls and start to invite others in that our struggles really become clear.

Instead of just seeing things from our own perspective we start to see who we are and what we are experiencing reflected back to us through the eyes of the people supporting us. This is what helps us acknowledge our feelings and accept our imperfections. It is what helps us start to set boundaries and make moves to push ourselves forward into true honest growth.

But how do we take that leap into vulnerability? How do we find the courage to allow ourselves to truly be seen?

The answer to this I think was best said by author and speaker Brene Brown who shared that “courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”

One of the biggest worries when we consider leaning in to that vulnerability is that it puts the spotlight on us. It highlights for everyone not just on the things that are joyful or pleasant but the things that are hard. It separates us, puts us in the hot seat, and leaves us open to so many things that are entirely out of our control. But when we lean in and put our true selves out there (even just a little bit), it is that very spotlight that also gives us courage. The courage to acknowledge our feelings even when its hard, to speak up for ourselves and advocate for our needs, to say we are not okay and ask for help, and to open ourselves up to connection, understanding and growth.

And while this may look different for each person, it is essential to all of us. It can be putting yourself out there by sharing more with friends or co-workers, being more open and honest about your feelings, or simply saying “that was hard” from time to time. What’s important to remember is that however you take the leap, and whatever support you need to get there, you are helping yourself grow.

So as hard as it may be to take that first step try not to be afraid, because that vulnerability is what keeps moving us forward. It is what reminds all of us that we are in this together and that struggling is part of the human experience. It is what grounds us and what helps us develop empathy and compassion for other people’s challenges. It is through leaning in to that vulnerability that we change how people see struggle and model for others that it’s perfectly normal to say “i’m not okay” sometimes.