A Conversation With My Middle School Self

Never idealize others. They will never live up to your expectations.
— Leo Buscaglia

Leave it to Throwback Thursday, aka #tbt, to get me thinking about middle school.

Yes, that painful 3 years where we should have cocoons for the changes we go through, but there we stand, exposed to the world while we morph physically and mentally.

A time where it seems social pressure and standards are thrown into hyperdrive. Judgement, cliques and paths of association are formed. Gone are the playful days of coloring and recess and here are the days of locker combinations, passing periods and pressure. 

Immense pressure.

Now, for those of you reading this thinking "What? Middle school was easy. None of this was part of it," I envy you in a lot of ways. 

As I was posting a picture for #tbt on Instagram (seen above), I paused and looked at it for a bit. To the eye, you see a 6th grade boy, posing for his youth basketball picture with a hesitant, uncomfortable smirk. Now, to say that I was a bit heavy is stating the obvious. From 3rd grade on, I gradually gained weight and became what you see in the photo and with that weight, especially due to the timing in life, caused an onset of insecurity and depression.

The one thing you want to do during this time is fit in and I just felt that I struggled in doing so. I got caught up in the idea of being popular and quickly realized that that was going to be an uphill battle. This compounded the problem in many ways, causing a downward spiral mentally and emotionally for me.

It's odd to say that in 6th grade, I experienced one of my personal lowest points, but every day was a battle. I had some great friends and I truly appreciate those around me, but inside I always felt like I was the "pity friend." The one that you invited because you felt bad. Now, I'm still friends with a lot of people I went to middle school and high school with who are probably reading this thinking that this concept is absurd. Well, it's also part of the facade of what I had to do those days. 

It was in this picture, in hindsight, that I can see myself carrying the weight of not feeling good enough. Battling everyday to love myself and be happy with my life. Something I would carry for more than a decade after. 

Fast forward about 10 years after this picture and I'm sitting in my counselor's office in Des Moines, talking through the after effects of a horrible relationship where I was subjected to verbal abuse on a daily basis. After uncovering my underlying pain of self imposed inadequacy, my counselor asked me to bring in a picture of myself from my childhood where I can clearly remember pain. This was the picture.

He asked me what I'd say to that child in the picture if I could sit down and talk with him. What words would I share if I could have that movie moment where you travel back in time and sit next to yourself. With tears in my eyes, I struggled to say "You're going to be ok." Struggled because I didn't want to fall apart in his office, not because I didn't feel it. It was in that moment that life turned north for me.

Over time, I've continually seen this picture as a reminder. A reminder not to be so hard on myself. Not to judge or put all of my emotions in one basket. A reminder that that bottom of my emotions is a hell of a long way from where I am now. A reminder to always check in with myself as much as I check in with others. I don't regret one moment of the pain I went through or overcome. It allowed me to focus on my personality, my heart, my sense of humor and my ability to connect with others. Without that pain, without the growth, without having to battle and dispatch the demons of depression, I wouldn't be the man I am today. I thank God every day for the struggle.

While I'm the first to say focus on the future and keep driving towards your goals, it's moments like this that make me realize the emotional benefit of appreciating where you've come from. The phrase "honor yourself," has a ton of meaning for me because of this. 

I've come a long way in life, I've experienced opportunities that some can only dream of, I've connected and touched thousands of lives since that day in Des Moines, and even back to that picture. The one thing that my self doubt created was the emergence of my God given gift of caring for others and being able to connect to them through emotion and energy. It's formed who I've become today as a motivator and leader. It's one of the main things that has kept me alive and has provided my path in life.

So, if you're ever struggling, trying to find that new level of energy where you're at, or just need a jolt of perspective, get out an old picture. Maybe a time that you felt awkward or lonely, It's in that time that you need to realize that you're 100% successful at living your life since then. That you've successfully gotten up every morning and pushed on in life. 

Be proud of who you are, love who you are for all that makes you uniquely you and mostly....

Honor yourself always.

The love you have for yourself will allow you to be the best version of you possible for you and those around you.

What would you say to your middle school self? Comment below!

Pull Your Shoulders Back & Your Head Up

The other day, I was getting ready for work and wasn't exactly thrilled with the way my body looked. Then it dawned on me....I was slumped over.

Not from fatigue necessarily, but from stress, day to day dealings, worrying about the future, and ok yes, some fatigue.

In simply pulling my shoulders back and lifting my head, I looked different, more confident. I felt better about myself and how the world would be viewing me, but more importantly, how I'd be viewing myself.

I truly didn't realize how much I had let my mind and my emotions drop weight on my shoulders. It's as if I had just sat in a chair and let someone continually put weights on either side until I ultimately had to lean forward to bear the stress of it all.

The re-establishment of posture, the focusing on the inner strength of your gut/core to support your body and your soul, the open chested stance that projects strength and confidence; this is how we should all start the day.

Check yourself in the mirror. First thing in the morning, throughout the day and last thing at night. If you're slouched, remind yourself that you're strong enough to carry anything. You were built that way.

Now, get out there and take on the world.

Overcome Your Fears

“Fear defeats more people than any other one thing in the world.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson



What would you say you’re truly afraid of?

The dark? Being alone? Public speaking?

We all experience fear in our lives in some form or fashion. Whether first hand or vicariously through any kind of medium, we’ve felt our heart in our throats or the feverish heart pound that make you feel like you look like a cartoon character.

Throughout my life in talking with people trying to overcome one issue or the next, failure is always a common fear. What if I try _____ and it doesn’t work? What if it happens in my next relationship? Oh, I couldn’t possibly try to learn that.

Think about it: fear in this case guarantees failure as it derails the concept of attempt. I should know, I’ve lived it.

I learned and started adapting these steps when setting up my goals:

-        What’s the ideal end game

-        What’re the steps I need to take to get there (write these down!)

-        What type of support or resource would help me along the way?

By identifying these in any situation (work, weight, hobby, relationships) you can develop a clearer path to where you want to be. Isn’t it more empowering to visualize looking down a clear path (with a few twists and turns no doubt) but knowing where you’re going rather than having an idea but it’s so lofty and distant that you feel like there’s a dense forest in between you?

It’s also critical to understand where you stand right here, right now. I always say it’s a lot easier to plan a trip on a map if you know exactly where you’re starting from and know exactly where you want to go.

Be honest with yourself, write down your areas of improvement, your self-created roadblocks, your weaknesses and distractions. Make a plan to rid yourself of them or come up with a plan to deal with them when they arise.

For years, I’ve been terrified of branching out and going bigger with ideas. New business concepts, writing music, even starting EnRich Your Soul. What if no one liked it? What if no one even listened or read it to like it? I couldn’t possibly imagine doing this, it’s unrealistic. There are people who are better than me at it.

All of those thoughts have gone through my head a number of times. All of them crippling any potential for effort at all. Rather than pursue what started in my mind as a great idea, I’d stop dead in my tracks and concede the dream to fear. You win fear, I won’t even try.

That was a consistent and predictable behavior of mine. Come up with a stellar idea, only to not do anything about it…..until I started seeing smaller successes.

I have historically swung for the fence with my ideas. They’d start big and through brainstorming and daydreaming, they grew into nationwide, critically acclaimed success! That heightened expectation of myself, even before the first pen was picked up, scared the hell out of me.

I’m not saying all of my ideas would’ve even worked had I tried them (although the idea of opening a restaurant on a college campus that served cereal seemed pretty destined for amazing profits) but I never DID try any of them.

We do this to ourselves with lots of things: heartbreak, new ideas at your job, bringing up a touchy topic with friends, etc. Fear is the selfish bastard at a fork in the road that shows up when you’re trying to chase your dreams telling you to just stay put before something bad happens; that neither route is the right one.

I’m here today to tell you, choosing a path, ignoring that fear, and chasing a dream is one of the most liberating and intoxicating feelings you can have. Even if it ends up failing or falling short of your expectations, wouldn't you rather say you gave it your all than not have tried at all? Do you think anyone who comes in 2nd place in any event thinks "Yeah, I shouldn't have shown up at all today." I know you can do it because I’ve been where you are right now. If I can push past my army of doubt and reasons to not, so can you.

Our next steps are this:

-        Write down where you are (as a person, not your address) and where you want to go

-        Identify your potential roadblocks (self-imposed or otherwise)

-        Remind yourself that nothing worth attaining comes easy

-        Reassure your heart every day that the path you’re on is where you truly want to be

-        Start today