How to figure out what to fix.

Screws fall out all the time. The world is an imperfect place.
— John Bender, "The Breakfast Club"

This is absolutely one of my favorite movies of all time, and one of my favorite characters.

And as Buddhism becomes more of who I am and how I live, I take this quote that used to be a sarcastic middle finger to be really truthful.

The world is an imperfect place. Screws fall out all the time. Shit happens, basically.

Our work in the world is to figure how and what to fix, and when and why?

We see a lot of people scrambling trying to fix everything, especially since our current election brought a new administration onto the scene. Social media is full of big fixers. Social activists, more fixers. Co-dependents raised in dysfunctional or unstable homes, (i.e. most of us)? Fixers.

How do I know? I used to be a BIG fixer. Still am, more than I wish most days. Fixing is part of how I function in the world, coming from my upbringing. And duh, also because I’m human and we’re wired that way. We’re motivated to actualize our potential before our flame flickers out. So we seek (and sometimes destroy) in our attempt to be meaningful in some way.

Fixing can be good! It can help bring fresh water to people is desperate need of it. It can also change a political landscape to bring justice to more people. But sometimes in our need to fix and help, we can sometimes lose sight of the reasons why we are and if we even should. The world is imperfect and things break or end and fall apart. This has been my biggest breakthrough from my Buddhist studies and my experience living so freely in my life. It’s something so many people try to avoid and prevent, spending incredible amounts of time energy and money in the process. And for the most part, it’s all in vain.

Because things need to fall apart for us to learn resilience. Adversity is the stuff of life. Often what needs fixing isn’t something or someone or a situation but our own mindset about it.

Becoming a coach was part of my attempt to fix things. It was totally subconscious at the time, I didn’t perceive myself as a fixer, just someone who “wanted to help.” Expanding beyond individual clients to support teams and companies came from my desire to help more people, more efficiently. I pursued a master’s degree all about the how and why workplaces become toxic and how to help.

The problem with all my helping is finding the right people who seek out the help. Most humans are wired to fix other things, but not ask for help to fix themselves in the process. Ironic, isn’t it??

I was reminded about the delicate process of helping recently when someone kept trying to “fix” me. I was so put off by the experience that I used it to step back and assess. Why did it bother me so much? What was wrong with someone wanting to “help” me? I realized it was because I didn’t ask for help. I wasn’t actually in need of it. So the “help” was occurring to me as anything but! It was annoying, in fact. Really, really annoying.

Help is most helpful when it’s asked for and needed. It works best when it’s wanted.

What really troubles me about marketing lingo and jargon is how it manipulates people into thinking they need fixing just to make money. It’s why I’ve stepped so far back from it. It isn’t authentic. I know it’s how capitalism thrives but I’m finding my own way around that.

If you find yourself wandering around looking for ways to make things work better, start with how well you feed yourself and how much sleep you get. Work on how well your body moves and how your mind wanders and where your thoughts take you. Fix whatever you can about your own life and keep an ear out for someone asking for help and how it sounds. It may not be exactly as you’d ask for it, if you even do. Do you ask for help when you need it? Just wonderin’.

This process has worked for me in my own life. And I’m focusing my energy on finding those who are ready, willing and able to ask for help and listening well for how I can do that.

Going Home for a Fresh Start

Last week I got a text from my friend.

“This might be something you want to do,” he said.

It was an opportunity to share a story on stage at WGBH: Stories from the Stage in Boston. I replied, “UM, YEAH!!!”

And so that’s what I did.

I left at 4:45am in the morning and drove back Home to Boston where I lived from 2006-2016 to tell a story on stage about coming back home to New Jersey this year and what it’s been like for me. I had less than a week to work out all the details and the hardest part was how to navigate the major point of why they invited me to share: because I’m transgender.

I struggled with it, wondering if I was being tokenized or provided an opportunity to share my story. After feeling a lot of feelings and almost not going at all and then processing since leaving the stage that evening, I’ve come to realize it’s always probably going to be a little bit of both moving forward. It comes with the territory of having a marginalized identity in a time of rapid cultural change. I’m choosing to embrace what feels uncomfortable about that and be grateful for what’s wonderful about it. Just surrendering to it being both/and, the Middle Way that Buddhism teaches me to embrace.

It’s the best way to be myself, which is the talk I walk for my readers and fans and followers and friends. I’ve been doing it since becoming a coach in 2009. After spending six years navigating my business “rebrand” by myself, I felt relieved to have words to share in ways I wanted to for the pre and post interviews at WGBH. And I told my story in a way that shared my experience and helped evolve our culture forward a few notches. At least I hope so.

I told a story of going back to a place I once worked and how it felt to be there among people who once knew me. It involved having a major panic attack and calling my mom and was full of really relatable themes and issues any person can relate to. I am really proud of that story and I hope I’m able to share it more widely soon.

Going back Home has been a deeply intuitive journey. I stopped trying to plan or strategize back in 2016 when my Vermont move showed me how wonderful it is when we let go and jump. I lost some of my joy and playful spirit when my sublet in Boston last June coincided with Jim’s sudden death. He was my therapist of ten years and my rock. The shock of that sent me reeling and I struggled to find my feet and know what to do next. I just kept following my gut and ended up right back where I left in 2006.

And wonderful things are happening from this fresh start. I’m reuniting with my mom and forging a wonderful relationship. I’m meeting new people and making new friends and catching up and building new relationships with people I knew before. I’m spending most of my time alone, actually, having become a bit of a hermit these past few years. I don’t mind it and actually prefer it. I’m consciously integrating past and current versions of me and it’s making my brain explode but it is an essential part of my journey so I can help others. I couldn’t have predicted this is how my life would go but as it all unfolds, it makes perfect sense.

I think it’s true for every person. We grow and evolve as much as we allow ourselves to do it. Most people limit themselves more than anything. There’s a safety in staying the same but we stay stagnant to the extent that we let fear ride shotgun.

I spoke to someone in Boston who was born and raised there and has been very successful with his business. “But I’m really bored,” he said. I could see why he said that and I’m anything but bored and actually sometimes crave the consistency other people, like this man, have in their lives. But that quality about me, my literal inability to sit still for any extended period of time, has made me who I am today. I’m constantly seeking and searching for what’s next or the newer version of myself. It’s a gift for the work I do, and I keep this in mind when it feels challenging. It seems to be why I’m here.

And that was the fresh start I shared in my story on stage. I talked about how I’ve had to continually find more patience with the things people do and say to me since I came out as transgender and how much I’ve grown up from that experience. I literally am not the same person from the inside-out. Changing on the outside generated a total transformation and fresh start on the inside. But it isn’t all unicorns and rainbows as it may sound in hindsight. It’s been a difficult adjustment. It’s tested me like nothing else. But from the past six years, I’ve learned the invaluable lesson that we always control our response to any situation, we get unlimited fresh starts to be our most compassionate and patient self.

I had to leave Home to become this version of myself and come back Home to apply it. And then go back Home to Boston for a brief stint to see if staying where I am in New Jersey is what I really need to do. It was so tempting, to be back in a place that was familiar and fun and full of things that would make my life much easier than it feels right now. Where I am living, I am really being a trailblazer and I feel self-conscious much of the time. Rural New Jersey isn’t the metropolis of queer-friendly Boston. But it isn’t all that bad, either. In fact, I’m finding surprises around every corner and in people I would have ruled out based on my own assumptions. Isn’t it funny how we can do that? The way we make reasons why we can’t find freedom anywhere we choose to feel it.

Often we’re the very reason why.

And then I look down and see the tattoo on my arm, scrawled in my own handwriting that says, “the true home is within.”

My mom and me.

“Will you send that to me? It’s one of the best pictures of me since I don’t remember when.” 

My mom said this today. This is us smiling. She came to visit me for the first time since I moved back home to New Jersey a year ago today. It’s one of two pictures we’ve taken together in almost a decade. It was a great day.

For most of my life, my mom and I had a very difficult relationship. I never understood why but she said today, “we are more alike than different, I think that’s why we butt heads.” She’s probably quite right. Our sensitivity and empathy run deep as does our impatience. It’s the Irish maybe. 

My father left her with my sister, who was a toddler about to turn 3 years old, and me when I was 3 months old. He left his wedding ring in the dresser during a business trip. My mom found it and called him out while home alone with us. Then he left for good. My mother never went to college. She didn’t have a safe or comfortable home life. She hauled us both in her car and got food stamps until she could figure out another plan. That is her version of the story. I’m sure my dad has his. I may never hear it because he’s been pretty M.I.A. except for a few years when he really was great.

My mom is the one who fought through her pain and confusion and grief to make peace with my decision to transition my gender identity in 2012. It’s taken us six years to be able to hang out and smile like this together. Six years and a lot of work and growth on both sides. During brunch today, I saw my mother as a completely new and different person for the first time in my 40 years on this planet. It felt like time stopped.

This post is a short version of the long story of my mom and me.

This picture exposes the tenacious love and compassion we have for ourselves and each other. All I am I learned from this woman. I’m the mirror that reflects her. She’s so afraid of life but she’s a warrior. She’s the inspiration for all I do in my own life, leaving nothing unexplored and being brave beyond all limits. She conquered a big fear coming to visit me today. I’m fearless from her example.

This is my mom and I’m who I am because she’s who she is. Perfectly her.