Choosing Mental Health, Simone Biles Has Already Won

Simone Biles has already won.

Tokyo will have no say in the matter.
These Olympics will not be the last word.

Her professional resume speaks for itself.
Her physical prowess, preserved forever.
Her athletic achievements, inarguable.

We are witnesses. Our eyes themselves have recorded her greatness.

For years, we have had a front row seat to her beautiful sorcery: a prolific young magician capable of stratospheric feats that transcend our belief and seemingly stretch the very limits of gravity.

She has been a living superhero in our unworthy midst, needing no guide wires or GC manipulations to leave us breathless and stir our spirits—and we have all been spoiled by her greatness.

We have seen Simone Biles do miraculous, inexplicable things so many times, that they became commonplace to us, so much so that we never realized that the magic comes at a very high cost to its worker, that there is a mortal just beneath spandex who bruises and bleeds.

No matter how strong and steady and capable they are, twenty-four year-old shoulders aren’t meant to carry the weight of the world or the expectations of a nation. Simone doesn’t need to hold up the planet or carry the flag another second to be worthy of our reverence or deserving our gratitude.

Beginning her young life in the tumult of the foster care system, the distance she’s already traveled to reach the pinnacle of her profession and to this Olympics cannot be measured by simply medals or judge’s scores. They are the sum total of thousands of brutal workouts and personal sacrifices and taped ankles and shed tears, that we who sit in the stands will never comprehend.

Simone is a winner, today as much as any day.
She has chosen truth.
She has chosen health.
She has had the courage to shed the cape and the costume and to show us her humanity with the same grace and boldness we’ve come to see her display on and above the mat with such regularity.

Simone Biles the human being is the story here, and it is the story of a champion. She is a human being who because of her extraordinary skill sometimes seems more; who places us on tiptoes to watch her defy belief and gravity for a few seconds, who briefly diverts our attention from the terrible gloom life often surrounds us with—but still human. Those of us who daily fight our battles for mental health find ourselves in her story today. She is reminding us all that we are worth choosing: over obligation, over role, over expectation, over whatever it is that tells us we are second place. She is saying no to the dangerous myth of toughing it out, and yes to the wisdom of asking for help.

Simone Biles has already given us far more than we deserve.
She has already done enough magic and shown us enough of the superhuman that she could stop now and we’d all be fully spoiled, all be in her debt, all be far richer for it. Now, we owe her something: to see the fullness of her humanity.

Today is not a day to lament Simone’s absence from the Olympic Team, it is to celebrate her presence on the planet, one that she makes better, one that she brings beauty to, one she does not need to hold up to be declared victorious.

How to Become an Influencer

People often refer to me as an influencer and ask me how I became one. They invite to influencer gatherings and put me on influencer conference panels and ask me to contribute to influencer podcasts.

I’ve never been quite comfortable with that term, as it’s always felt rather hollow and meaningless: some manufactured label arbitrarily affixed to people in order to artificially elevate them. I think of people who are known simply for being known.

But lately I’ve come to embrace it, to own it, to celebrate it.

Yeah, I am an influencer.

You are, too.

Influencers are simply ordinary people who have by their own choosing or by circumstances, or because of their talents, skills, or stories, become public figures others look to for guidance, affirmation, or encouragement.

We’re all influencers. All that changes about us is the scale of our followings.

The only thing that the people you recognize as influential have that may separate them from you is the size of their platform—but rest assured, you do have a platform. You possess a circle of influence, an audience with people for whom you are a household name, a devoted community taking cues from you every single day, a passionate tribe of affinity who see themselves in you and are altered by you.

Look around you today.
Consider your audience.
Notice your influence.
Identify your community.

Your children, spouse, partner, family members, friends, classmates, neighbors, coworkers (and yes, your social media friends and followers) are all being moved by the ripples of your life—some slightly and others substantially. With all of these people, your words carry weight, your voice has resonance, your story is transformative.

Becoming an influencer is actually pretty simple: figure out what you care about and then live and speak and work in such a way that people know. Move through the world intentionally and with specificity, and your community will reveal itself. It may garner you book deals and hundreds of thousands of social media followers—or it may simply alter one person’s story. Either outcome is world-changing.

You are, through the path you are carving in this world in the small and the close decisions you make, curating a very specific community around you and people are paying attention—and because of this profound influence you’ll need to mindful today.

What will be the brand you cultivate?
What will you be known for?
What story do you have to tell?
What do you have to say that no one else is capable of saying?

Influencer, choose your words and actions carefully today.

They are capable of giving people wings or crushing them beneath their weight.
They can declare with clarity the world you dream of and name the injustices you will not abide.
They can amplify love or they can boost enmity.
They can remind people that they are not alone in the grief they carry.
They can become the thing others stand on to become what they could not otherwise become.
And they will be the legacy you leave.

There is no separation between the influencers and the mortal humans. Your very humanity is what gives you influence, and you have a responsibility to leverage your gifts and voice and life in order to leave something more beautiful and safe and equitable than when you arrived.

It turns out, no one needs to teach you how to become an influencer, that title actually comes with the gig.

You just need to wake up to the reality that you are one, and then to decide what you’ll do with that platform you’ve been given for as long as you have it.

Carefully curate the content of your life in such a way that in the end you can be proud of your body of work.

Be a good influencer.

 

The Sadness of Sharing a Country With Trump Supporters

A similar thing happens to me on many mornings lately.

My eyes open and I suddenly become aware that I’m awake. My mind quickly begins assembling the first few seconds of my day (making plans, organizing my checklist, contemplating dinner already), when a terrible interruption breaks in and reminds me:

People actually still support that unhinged madman. They admire him. They look up to him. They feel affinity with him. They are fighting for him.

The realizations turn my stomach and I consider going back to sleep but know that I can’t. I replay conversations in my head with people from the day before and I scan my timeline and I think about the family members I no longer speak to and I struggle once more to make any sense of it all.

I see people regurgitating fictional Fox News talking points and hear them parroting back conspiratorial nonsense and I watch them pass by with his name affixed to their heads and attached to their bumpers in cultic adoration—and it grieves me to know how far gone so many around me seem to be. I no longer recognize the place I’ve always called home.

And I know that I’m not alone. I know that right now, variations of these thoughts are being played out millions of times inside the heads of people all over this country; empathetic human beings like me who have found the reservoirs of hope dangerously low and who can’t seem to shake the profound sense of dread hovering always in the periphery of their daily life.

It’s simply demoralizing sharing a country with people who think Donald Trump is someone worth emulating: to be surrounded by that kind of moral inversion every single day, to be continually encountering such cruelty. It’s a source of profound and sustained grieving to believe that everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and afforded opportunity—and to know how many simply do not share that belief. I don’t hate these people but I am deeply saddened by them.

It isn’t just the reality of the despicable human being who we’ve allowed to ascend to the Presidency that beings that sadness, though that would be reason enough for despair. It’s the ugliness we’ve seen in our neighbors as he’s made his way there, and perhaps even worse now following his departure: the doubling down despite all we know about his reckless and incompetence. It’s the sickness that the America we love has shown itself afflicted with: the weight of every horrible reality about our nation; all our bigotry and discord and hatred set upon our chests, hampering our breath.

But it’s much closer than that, too.

It’s the words we’ve heard from family members, the stuff we learned about our neighbors, the social media posts from church friends, the incendiary sermons from our pastors, the arguments we’ve had with co-workers. Every square inch of life seems polluted now. Nothing about this place feels untouched by the ugliness. 

And the question becomes: How do we transform this near paralyzing sense of sadness into something redemptive?

As with all grief, eventually there must be movement. When there is profound loss of any kind, the only real path is forward; to craft something beautiful and meaningful and life-affirming in response to what has been taken away. You learn to walk again, even if it is with a limp. You begin the painful, laborious act of living in direct opposition to your grief.

It is the same in these days for those of us who feel cheated out of a kinder, more diverse, more decent America than the one we now have. Individually and collectively we will have to be the daily, bold, defiant pushback against all that feels wrong here.

This pushback will come in the small things; in the art we create and the conversations we have and the quiet gestures of compassion that are barely visible.

It will come in the way we fully celebrate daily life; having dinner with friends, driving through the countryside, playing in the yard with our children, laughing at a movie we love.

It will come as we loudly and unapologetically speak truth where truth is not welcome.

It will come as we connect with one another on social media and in faith communities and in our neighborhoods, and as we work together to demand accountability from our elected officials and our neighbors.

It will come as we use the shared resources of our experience and our talents and our numbers to ensure that our children inherit a world worth being here for.

It will come as we transform our grief into goodness.

Yes friend, there is a great deal to grieve over in these days and there will be more to ahead—but there is even more worth fighting for.

So yes grieve, but then move.

Be fueled by your sadness, strengthened by your anger, fortified by your discontent, and do something in this day that moves the needle toward beauty and justice.

And find a way to keep moving forward, even if it is with a limp.

 

 

For Conservatives, The Cruelty isn’t the Point—Power is

The cruelty is the point.

I’ve heard people use this phrase when speaking about Conservatives in America for a while now.

In the face of a decision as objectively adversarial to human life as Tennessee Republicans’ pressuring the Department of Health to cease vaccine outreach to children, they assume that this callousness is itself the objective—cruelty for cruelty’s sake.

This is not true, though I wish it were.
In some ways, that would be the more desirable scenario.
That would be easier to deal with.

If Republican lawmakers and their rank-and-file voters were simply defending terrorist attacks on our Capitol or denying the value of black lives or assailing free healthcare or suppressing votes of color or perpetuating election fraud lies or assaulting the rights of women or punishing the poor because they solely desired brutality—these would be symptoms of their amorality.  It would mean that they lack the fundamental ability to love or to feel empathy. It would mean they simply don’t know any better.

The truth is actually much worse than that.

The cruelty is not the point—power is.

The barbarism and malevolence are not the goal, they are the violent, brutal, ugly means to an end.

It isn’t that Conservative Evangelicals are incapable of expressing compassion (which would be tragic enough), it’s that they are selectively wielding it in order to accrue political power and acquire dominance. The cruelty isn’t a blind and unavoidable instinct, it is a strategic weapon of intent designed to eliminate obstacles.

That’s the grieving that comes for so many of us, because we know these people and have lived our lives alongside them. They can and do express true compassion and show real kindness to those who they see as their tribe: their families, friends, church, and party members. To the people their theology and politics tell them are fellow soldiers in a righteous march to transforming the world, they are as effusive with affection and capable of gentleness and fiercely loving as anyone.

But outside the narrow confines of religious or political affinity, the cruelty comes easy, the brutality effortless. That’s why these seemingly unfathomable acts of malice are so troubling: they are being committed by people who should and do know better; people of professed faith, who understand that their actions are inherently malicious but who believe their noble cause justifies them. Other human beings are simply the acceptable collateral of getting whatever they believe God or Donald Trump (for many these are one and the same) wants. They do not lack the ability to love, they just fully love something completely destructive.

Because of this, the rest of us face profound relational crises: people we love dearly, people who raised us, people we once saw as family, people we’ve spent years in deep and empathetic community with—now commit acts and support legislation and celebrate human beings that we cannot fathom, not because they don’t know any better but because they don’t care. They want the sprawling kingdom laid out before them and don’t mind the deal they need to make with the devil to have it.

In each of those very sacred and specific relationships, we’re going to need to decide if those across from us can still be reached; if they can come to believe that establishing a theocracy isn’t worth the human toll it will require, if they can widen the expanse of who they choose to love so that it includes the rest of us. If not, we’re all going to face separations and disconnections and our nation is going to fracture further.

If the cruelty was simply the point we could walk away and grieve these relationships as lost causes.

As it is, we have the deeper sadness of knowing that they could be loving but choose not to be.