A lot of us working with youth today came from hard times. Whether we came from adversity or trauma, or if we grew up in challenging ways, we have to take care of our heart. The times we live in today are conscientious and aware of how these hard times affect us. This article is about surviving youth. Your youth.
What Is Your Youth?
Your youth is two things: First, it’s the time you lived when you weren’t seen as a child or as an adult. Second, it’s the young people you are meaningfully connected to right now, whether they’re your children, students, program participants or otherwise. Youth isn’t “yours” in terms of possession; it’s yours because you are engaged in youth, whether we’re talking about the time of your life or the people you serve.
You need to survive your youth if it’s affecting your adulthood in negative, hard or challenging ways.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve facilitated self-care learning for thousands of teachers, youth workers and other adults who work with youth. Many people have shared that their awareness of the adverse childhood experiences they lived through as young people shine through in their current jobs. They specifically work to support young people growing up with abuse, household challenges and/or neglect, and they’re very committed. These people are surviving youth.
3 Ways to Survive Your Youth
Many people are surviving the challenges of their younger years at the same time they’re working to support young people. When we work within these realities, we have to be precautious, patient and promising for ourselves.
Here are three ways I teach people to survive their youth.
Be Precautious. Your experiences make you relatable and grant you powers of reciprocity. However, they can make you vulnerable, too. If you haven’t addressed your childhood trauma intentionally, if you haven’t addressed your wounds and sought healing, then be precautious. Even if you have dealt with your suffering and challenges but still hyper-react, overreact or otherwise act disproportionately to the situations, you might need to continue being precautious. Take care of your heart.
Be Patient. While you may want to challenge your own inabilities or charge into changing yourself and the world, you should be patient. Your calmness and self-control can be a model for the young people you work with, however you positively express them. If you feel anxious, excited or too ambitious, be patient and know that the challenges of your younger years are teaching you right now. Allow calmness to hold your heart.
Be Promising. Seeing a greater picture, understanding the wider world and knowing the best possibilities are the best way to be promising to yourself. Don’t make promises you can’t keep, and don’t promise things you can’t follow through. However, hold your heart accountable, listen to your intuition and keep yourself true and honest with what you know best. Set the bar for your heart and keep yourself accountable.
Surviving your youth is essential to being a hopeful, supportive and effective adult ally to children and youth. The steps above can help you understand where to begin doing that. There are a number of great resources emerging in the field, and more organizations are supporting their staff dealing with their trauma as well as promoting trauma informed care throughout education, youth services, at home, throughout communities, and beyond.
However, ultimately you need to deal with your youth. Soothing the inner challenges can only go so far, and these steps are simply triage for the complex wounds you might have. Deal with those challenges, get help and move forward in your career, your family and throughout your life.
After working in hundreds of communities nationally, I am primed to explore this more. Call me to talk about my consulting, training and speaking services at (360) 489-9680.
“Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.”
While a lot of things in our world want us to watch shiny, flashy stuff going on around us, the practice of personal engagement encourages us to look inside. That doesn’t mean you have to sit uncomfortably and call out “Om” for answers, or spend hours journaling alone in your backroom.
When I look inside, I’m most often in a contemplative space.
When you take a look inside you might be sitting in traffic or getting dressed for work; walking your dog or grocery shopping. Of course, you can meditate, do yoga, journal or paint, or do anything that you know gets you inside of yourself, and away from the world.
Becoming personally engaged means we learn to do look inside on purpose, instead of by accident. Personal engagement is a choice we make in our every breath, whether consciously or unconsciously. Engaging in a practice of personal engagement means that you are choosing to become engaged on purpose.
Here are a few ways I looks inside myself.
Get alone. Whether I’m rushing through the airport or cooking dinner, when I want to look inside myself I have to get alone. That means turning inside myself and away from everything going on around me. When I do that, I can hear the small inner voice that animates my heart, and I can hear what it says. Sometimes I need to go away from everyone else, while other times I can be alone in the middle of a crowd. Either way, getting alone lets me look inside myself.
Still the racket. Good ol’ Carl Jung. “Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.” I have big eyes that like to see the world around me. I love traveling, exploring, being enticed by motion and getting absorbed in doing things. However, to look inside myself I have to still the racket. I have to acknowledge the things distracting me and then consciously, deliberately look away and turn them off.
Hear the small inner voice. In the middle of everyone is a small inner voice calming waiting to usher us through life. This voice is our connection with the middle of us. For me, it can come in the dark of night when I’m rolling around and unable to sleep; as I walk down the street and I’m approached by someone for a few dollars for a coffee; or when I’m rushing around and trying to do too many things at once. Its can be inconvenient! But its always true. Your small inner voice is waiting to talk with you.
Looking inside is an avenue towards personal engagement. In his classic work, Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse wrote,
“‘I shall no longer be instructed by the Yoga Veda or the Aharva Veda, or the ascetics, or any other doctrine whatsoever. I shall learn from myself, be a pupil of myself; I shall get to know myself, the mystery of Siddhartha.’ He looked around as if he were seeing the world for the first time.”
What are the ways you look inside you? I would love to hear your ideas – please share them in the comments section!
The sound of flip flops slapping across the old oak floor of the gym greeted me every hot summer night of 1995. That year, I was a determined youth worker in the neighborhood I grew up in. The news blared to the rest of the city that our hood was racked by gang violence, drug abuse and rampant vandalism and theft. I thought it was home.
I was a goofy 20-year-old white guy who moved from Canada as a kid to grow up in a hood I knew nothing about. I was jumped more times than I could count for ten years of my life. Crips and Bloods and Vice Lords roamed our blocks at all hours, with drivebys, drug deals and all kinds of crap happening all the time.
I could have been afraid of life then, and I wouldn’t have been wrong. But instead, I found inspiration in the strife and disruption; motivation from the pain and struggle. My parents struggled to teach me better, and their friends expected more from me. Adults who mentored me, including ministers, nonprofit workers and cultural teachers in the community, helped me decide early who I was and what I wanted to do in my life. My fears didn’t have a choice but to be allayed.
Eventually the sound of flip flops slapping went to the back of my mind, but the fear of living hung around somewhere in the back of my mind.
Growing Into My Future
A lot of life has conspired since I moved from my hood. I’ve made mistakes, learned lessons, built some things, destroyed others, made amends, held hands, grown vegetables, prayed, stolen, travelled, taught, broken stuff, and all the other sundry things some people do when they’re living. I’ve loved some people who’ve stayed on straighter and narrower paths than me, and envied others who veered so far astray that they never made it back.
It was when I was a youth that I found my trajectory in life. Growing up as a homeless child of a Vietnam veteran, border hopping ad naseum and unable to develop healthy attachments to the world around me, I struggled to make meaning in the world around me. However, as my life became more stable and I grew more adapt at learning (both through formal education and self-learning), I became more capable of finding meaning, constructing knowledge, critically evaluating, and sharing what I’d been through, as well as going into new experiences again and again. Transferring learning from one situation to the next, keeping an open mind in new situations, and critically thinking about what I’d experienced and learned let me become a knowledge creator, instead of simply collecting learning from other places.
All these experiences, from the “slap, slap” of flip flops to the challenges, rewards and realities of daily living have constantly startled me into living larger and more spectacularly than I ever expected to. The fear of living stayed in my imagination along the way though, as I moved from being a youth program worker to becoming a youth researcher and trainer, and then as I transitioned towards writing and speaking more. I’ve found that knowledge isn’t armor: As I’ve learned more, I’ve become more vulnerable and insecure. Where I stand, the world is becoming less and less firm under my feet, and I’m becoming more anxious to move. For a while now, I’ve been afraid of confronting the reality that I face today, rather than living in a projected fantasy that simply isn’t what’s happening.
This insecurity is the fear of living.
I am not a fearful person. I am generally not an immature person. However, just like everyone, I have my moments. Sometimes I am a chicken; sometimes I flinch; and sometimes I disappoint myself and others.
The days when I’m not busy ill-serving myself, I expect that I will grab a hold on my life, and do what Charles Fillmore affirmed to himself every morning at the age of 93:
“I fairly sizzle with zeal and enthusiasm and spring forth with a mighty faith to do the things that ought to be done by me.”
I want to live that! There’s the book I’m afraid to write, and the physical shape I’m afraid to get into. There’s the studying I’ve been neglecting, and the speeches I haven’t given. So many flights to be taken and world to experience, and the classes I want to teach. I want to love another person freely and endlessly, and raise more kids – I love kids! There are places I want to go with my family, including my awesome daughter, my wise mom, my spectacular sister and my best friends. I want to have great long conversations with old friends, and make new friends in places I want to be. There are so many things and places and people and opportunities and experiences I feel I’ve only been preparing for in all my life, and so much ahead of me that I look forward to.
Those aren’t the words of a fearful person. I hold onto life truly and honestly, and I hope for all that’s ahead of me to happen, good, bad, ugly and lovely, all of it. They didn’t come to me overnight.
Five Ways I Challenge the Fear of Living
In order to move ahead in my life, I have used a lot of different ways to embrace what I’m doing, why I’m doing it and when its getting done. Here are five ways I face the fear of living.
Affirm what works in life. Whether or not your life is filled with suffering and pain or happiness and fulfillment, there are things that work in your life. When I’m feeling most fearful of living, I affirm what works for me by writing it down, drawing it, and otherwise naming it. Sometimes that kicks my butt back into seeing hopefully.
Listen to people who aren’t afraid of living. I talk with people about life a lot. In my workshops, I regularly lead participants through exercises that let them celebrate what they’ve done by sharing it with other people. If you can’t see fearless people in your own life, then listen to music, read poetry, watch movies and do what you can to listen to people who aren’t afraid of living.
Give thanks. When I’m afraid, I find that I’m refusing to face things in my life. Whether its a deadline, my bills, projects, my relationships, or any other situation that I don’t want to face at a particular moment, I have to face my fears. I start doing this by giving thanks for the things in my life that work, have worked, expect to work or simply want to work. Sometimes I give thanks for other things too.
Name what doesn’t work. When I’m struggling, I have to be honest about what doesn’t work in my life. Instead of spouting off random disappointments, I get deliberate and actually name what I’m struggling with. That can be a firm, strong and pointed way to face my fears and make a change. If I lied because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I ghosted people because I was afraid of living, I name that. If I screamed, cursed, cheated, stole, manipulated or otherwise didn’t something that didn’t work, I name that. There’s power in facing my fears head on.
Take action. I have to do something to make a difference. When I’m feeling afraid of life, I try to face it head on, and the best way for me is to do that is by taking action. That action can be as varied as the ways I show my fear of living. Facing my fears often starts with making honest amends to others. My apologies can be a simple “sorry”, or much more. I have to get vulnerable though, and be earnest with the people I’m apologizing to. Other times it means getting back on my bike after the crash and giving it another go around. I’m scared to do that, but I still will. It means actually talking with people who I avoid, even when I don’t want to talk to them. It can mean being candid, and sometimes it means being bold. I want that book published, and I’m going to tell the publisher that I’m a good risk just because of that determination. But in some way, I take action.
I might never overcome my fear of living, entirely. I might not feel like challenging it somedays. However, I can always face it, and the steps above are how I’ve learned to do that.
I may not know much about living or loving or being, but I know that when I follow my own intuition and do what’s right for me, my life feels more familiar to me, more knowable, and mine. That’s a good, firm and real goal for me, because when something is mine, I’m not afraid of it.
Working with the people in the places where I do, I am often forced to adopt a label. These last few years, I’ve taken to alternatively calling myself a speaker, facilitator, speaker, author and other things. While none of those are inaccurate, none really captures what I do.
What I really do is help people learn to engage more people, more effectively. Using a lot of different methods for doing this, I have spent my entire life doing this. While few of the titles I’ve ever had captured this, my livelihood remains the same.
Want to know how to engage anyone, anywhere? Here are three ways.
How To Engage Anyone, Anywhere
Learn What Engagement Is, and What It Isn’t. Many people want engagement to mean everything to them and their business, organization or life. They want to be engaged all the time in every way they can. In reality, engagement will not allow you to do that. The definition of engagement is “any sustained connection to anything within or around ourselves.” The key phrase there is sustained connection. From an ecological perspective, sustained doesn’t just mean long-lasting, but also includes healthy, welcomed, effective and meaningful. Learn the difference between what you’re trying to engage others in, and what engagement is not. Do you really want people to engage in your topic, activity, place, culture or otherwise?
Speak to the Heart, Touch the Mind. Don’t try to engage with the ways people think about things. Instead, engage with individual peoples’ Heartspace. Heartspace is the engine of personal engagement, and is entered through feelings, emotions and experiences as well as thoughts and ideas. Work with people, not at people; create opportunities for people to do for themselves without creating opportunities for you to do more for them. That’s speaking to the heart and entering personal engagement through Heartspace.
Stop Trying to Engage Other People. Basically, the challenge is for you to accept responsibility. If you’re concentrating on engaging other people, you aren’t focusing on engaging yourself. If you’re engaged in yourself, other people will want to become engaged in whatever you’re engaged in. Like attracts like. The converse is true too: If you’re disengaged, others will not engage in what you’re trying to engage in. That means that if people aren’t becoming engaged in what you’re trying to engage them in, its truly because you’re not engaged in it yourself. The principle behind this concept comes from the Mahatma’s charge that we, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.”
Those three ways to engage anyone will work in schools, community programs, government agencies, businesses, at home and throughout society. What do you think? Share your thoughts, ideas and responses in the comment section below!
There are a lot of people working to change the world right now. They’re caught up in writing the Great Handbook, building the Perfect Website, organizing the Ultimate Protest, and securing the Most Support for whatever they’re doing. Everyone thinks they’re doing their part, hopes they have the most effect, and wants to make a difference.
I’m one of these people. For most than two decades of my life I’ve been working to change change the world. Starting as a young man, I was involved with movements for environmental justice, self-empowerment, anti-racism, and youth voice. My career has built on that action, and has focused on youth engagement, student voice, and community empowerment. I have continued volunteering and donating my resources towards those causes too.
I’m at a point in my life when much of this action seems like its no longer effective, and some part of me struggles with whether it actually was. I even wonder who reads this blog anymore, since I rarely hear from anyone.
In my 20s, I heard a lot of older people harp on the notion of acting locally and really focusing energy on local change. I blew that out of the water with my world-focused work through Freechild and SoundOut, as well as my national and international consulting practice. Now, I understand why they insisted on acting locally; otherwise, you feel like you’re yelling into a vacuum.
The noisy, noisy world doesn’t allow us a lot of room for comfort, if we’re engaged authentically within ourselves. It insists we learn to get quiet and do small things, rather than trying to scream over the din of daily life.
This work of changing the world reminds me of the lesson about the seekers: “Not knowing how close the truth is to them, Beings seek for it afar — what a pity! They are like those who, being in the midst of water, Cry out for water, feeling thirst.”
The world is already changing, and a new world is being born every day! Let’s take comfort in that, and allow everything to be what it already is. The world is changing, changing, changing… Is there anything more we need to do?
I’ve learned to go under the log laying over the trail more often than trying to climb over it. I get my knees dirty, but get to see the sky when I’m coming back to my feet. Standing afterwards, I can see where I dragged my feet, and my palms are dirty. But I wore jeans for this journey, and with a rustle of the leaves on the path, my tracks are gone.
All of life offers these movements, including blocked paths. It might not be pretty or expedient to crawl underneath these obstructions, but sometimes we’re forced to by our own will or lack of desire to climb. Other times, we’re simply following our mind’s logic. This is life.
What does your mind say to do most intuitively right now? Where does your heart take you? What are you yearning to be connected with?
“This is the threat to our lives. We all face it. We all operate in our society in relation to a system. Now is the system going to eat you up and relieve you of your humanity or are you going to be able to use the system to human purposes?
…If the person doesn’t listen to the demands of his own spiritual and heart life and insists on a certain program, you’re going to have a schizophrenic crack-up. The person has put himself off center. He has aligned himself with a programmatic life and it’s not the one the body’s interested in at all. And the world’s full of people who have stopped listening to themselves.”
For all my attempts to explain personal engagement, it comes down to this: Engagement is a mystery in which everything works the ways it works, no matter how I try to understand it.
Not a path
As much as I want to rely on them, engagement is not a process or a pathway. Instead, its a million stars scattered across the night’s sky, pulsating and gyrating to a universal heartbeat I can only dream of. The rhythm is mostly beyond my grasp, while the melodic tune that’s played is felt and never actually heard. The beauty is that everything is engaged right now exactly how it should be, no matter what is happening, right now. And now. And now.
Engagement is not linear, and it doesn’t lead from here to there to there. As a culture, we are fixated on sequence. However, engagement doesn’t necessarily lead toward anything in particular. I am almost wholly incapable of articulating the apparent bookends of engagement in our lives, which are birth and death. I can’t really describe what happened to me accurately at birth, since the experience became nearly imperceptible once I found the words to describe it.I surely won’t be able to explain the feeling of death, because like almost everyone on the planet, this show will be over once it happens.
Change in an instant
In between, my life has been devoid of grand resolutions to my engagements. While I like to point to jobs and relationships and moving, in the vast majority of engagements throughout my life there has been no final conclusions, and few great endings. Everything can change in an instant, and without ever expecting it I can be in touch with people I thought lost to the sands of time eons ago. Logical, sequential successions in my engagements are rare as well, as I generally don’t hop from one stepping stone to the next in a clear way. Instead, I wiggle and waggle according to the whims and winds of the moment. I’m not an udder-less boat drifting on an ocean; I am a star among a universe. You are too.
If you’ve walked through your engagements on clear and narrow paths, congratulate yourself on lively conversely to the massive majority of humankind. However, you might want to acknowledge that there is a forcefulness, a personal violence, that is inherent in that way of engaging in the world. It requires constricting the soul and submerging our nature in order for our Ego to reign supreme. Ego, that solemn force of will over our lives, demeans the inherent spirit of all creatures by lording itself over the pieces in the puzzle in order to make a picture. In reality, there is no picture.
It is what it is
Instead, engagement simply is. Everything exists in perfect relationship to everything else, without there being a logic or model hard at work behind what’s going on. The gods aren’t shooting lightning bolts and nature isn’t out to get you.
The opportunity here is to relax into engagement and to relax into life by knowing and being with the things that sustain you, that you feel most connected to. Go where your heart is, love as much as you can, and trust that everything is going to be exactly how it should be. That is the mystery of engagement, and where Heartspace truly is.
In the cliche world of self-help, it’s often said there are no conditions to true love. This is true of our connections in the world and within ourselves, too, no matter what they are. In the place where they happen, Heartspace, there are no conditions.
I’m sitting in the heat of a warm Pacific Northwest summer Saturday. The sun is beaming onto my lawn, and my flower gardens are dancing with the nurturing wisps of honeybees and bumblebees doing their day labor. My child is playing calmly in the shade garden, whipping around a bamboo rod and narrating a pleasant story of some sort. She’s just loud enough for me to know she’s there. Our cat is meandering through the grass, munching on the occasional chute.
I am connected to all of this in deep ways. There are no conditions for my connections. I don’t absolutely need my daughter to do anything in particular; yet, I’m deeply connected to her. I don’t totally need this yard; yet, I’m deeply connected to it. These two connections are not the same, and they vary by degrees, but there are no conditions for either one.
In the place where you make connections to the world around you, there are no conditions. Instead, there are only opportunities for you to personally engage with whatever you want. No right or wrong, good or bad, up or down matter here. Instead, it’s all about whether you see your connections or not, whether you see Heartspace or not. A spectacular thing about Heartspace is that it doesn’t require belief or even acknowledgment. Whether or not we’re engaged in Heartspace, its always going to be there. That’s the essence of there being no conditions.
Looking on purpose to become personally engaged within yourself doesn’t require yoga or poetry, prayer or dance. It doesn’t require that you volunteer in your community or spend more time with your kids.
Personal engagement is about getting up and facing the day full on, no matter what it holds. Becoming engaged within yourself and throughout your own life is one of the scariest and bravest things we can do.
Once, in the 1300s, a Persian poet wrote, “Today, like every other day, we wake up empty and frightened. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down a musical instrument. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” That was Rumi, and even 800 years ago he struggled like we do.
Its not about seeing the best in everything, aligning your thoughts with the universe, or wishing on your lucky stars. Personal engagement is about living within life right now, as its presented. When we feel terrible, its about feeling terrible and knowing that is the Universe at work through you right now. When we feel glorious, personal engagement is about fully feeling glorious. When things are rough, sweet, sucky, awesome, hopeful, or dreadful, we can simply know that because of all the ways we’re connected throughout the world around us, the exact right thing is happening, right now.
To me, the Heartspace Teachings show that honesty within myself and transparency in my own thinking are the highest places where my own engagement happens. That means allowing myself to acknowledge why I do what I do, or to know that when I do one thing, another thing will happen. I used to ignore those things. But now I know they’re part and parcel to living fully, living truly, and living within Heartspace.
“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”
Today, I kneel humbly before life and kiss the ground of my reality.